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UnVeiled by Snapegirl

Format: Novel
Chapters: 61
Word Count: 294,899
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Romance, AU
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Lupin, Snape, Sirius, Lily, Neville, Draco, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Arthur/Molly, Remus/Tonks, Ron/Hermione, Snape/Lily

First Published: 01/30/2013
Last Chapter: 07/07/2013
Last Updated: 07/07/2013

Summary:
A few familiar faces  return from the dead through the Veil--as children! Follow Sirius, Severus, and Lily as they get a second chance to live their lives over and correct the misconceptions and mistakes of the past.  Features child Severus and Sirius with adult memories of their previous lives and Lily with partial memories.  Sev is raised by Harry, Sirius by Remus, and Lily gets an entirely new family! AU, reverse Harry/Sev father/son.
 
 
 


Chapter 1: After the Battle
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UnVeiled

Written by Snapegirl

A/N: Takes place eight years after 'The Battle of Hogwarts'. Harry is twenty-five and the Defense against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts. Also, Remus and Tonks are very much alive, and James Sirius is their son rather than Harry and Ginny's. Also, Lily-Luna will not be in this story (you'll understand why later). This is an AU story, naturally.

Dedication: To my mom, who recently passed away, you were always my inspiration

This story was originally written by JLbrew27 in response to his own challenge where Severus, Sirius, James, and Lily come back from the dead as children and are given a second chance. He wrote the first 4 chapters and I wrote every other chapter till chapter 8, when he turned it all over to me. I posted it with his permission on my account. Hope you enjoy it, it's a very different story from my usual ones.

1

After the Battle

Written by Jlbrew27

It was a beautiful day on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was the next to the last day before the school year ended, and all the professors were busy grading exams and tallying House points. Professor Harry James Potter put down his self-inking quill (which wrote with red ink, of course) and sighed. Rubbing the back of his neck, he straightened and popped his back. He had been grading end of the year exams for the last three hours. But, he thought with a smirk, at least all of them passed…

Since he had taken over as Defense against the Dark Arts professor a year after the Battle of Hogwarts—he'd spent the year immediately following the Battle as an Auror—no Hogwarts student had failed in either their practical or written Defense exams. It might not seem like an accomplishment to some, but for him it considering all the dismal professors he and his classmates had had for Defense. Well, he amended to himself as he stood up, except for Remus

Remus Lupin had been the best Defense professor Hogwarts had had in a very long time, but sadly the war had left him with a bum leg that the Healers had been unable to fix. He would have to walk with the aid of a cane for the rest of his life. He had felt this handicapped him too much to teach Defense—since one needed to be able to move quickly in case a spell, hex, or curse went wrong—and had opted to return to Hogwarts as the Transfiguration teacher, since Minerva McGonagall had taken over as the Headmistress.

This was made possible thanks to Kingsley Shacklebolt, who had taken over the role of Minister of Magic immediately following the war. He enacted many changes in the Magical Laws, especially those laws pertaining to werewolves. Now those cursed with lycanthropy weren't treated as second class citizens, and couldn't be denied any position they sought due to their 'condition'. Thus, Remus was now the Transfiguration instructor at Hogwarts—as well as the Deputy Headmaster.

His wife, Nymphadora Tonks-Lupin, was now the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. They had two sons. Ted Remus Lupin, who had inherited his mother's metamorphmagus abilities, was eight years old. James Sirius Lupin, named for Harry's father and godfather (and Remus' two closest childhood friends), was six years old. Harry was both of their godfathers. Ginny, as his wife, was their godmother. The two boys were very close, mostly due to the fact they both shared a passion for pulling pranks—in private, Remus called them 'little Marauders'—which tended to get them into trouble, most of the time.

They were also close to their godbrother, Harry and Ginny's only child, Albus Severus, despite the fact he was their complete opposite. While Teddy and Jamie tended to be loud and boisterous, Alby—as he was so nicknamed—was quiet, thoughtful, and though he was only four, highly intelligent.

Harry smiled as he thought of his son—who had inherited his (and his mother's) emerald green eyes. He had named him after Albus Dumbledore—the greatest Headmaster Hogwarts had ever had—and Severus Snape…his mother's childhood friend and his old Potions Professor.

And was perhaps the bravest man I ever met, Harry thought to himself. And someone he had misjudged…badly.

True, Professor Snape had harbored a no-bones-about-it loathing of him, been mean, rude, and down right malicious towards him at the best of times…and yet…he had also [unfailingly] protected him whenever he was in danger.

It was only after the man had died protecting him, and Harry had inherited his memories, that he truly understood who he was and what he was all about.

Severus Snape was perhaps the most complex man Harry had ever known, and yet he was driven by the simplest of things: love.

Severus and Lily Evans (his mother) had grown up together and been childhood best friends.

It was Severus who had informed Lily of her destiny as a witch, after having witness her perform a bout of accidental magic at the park one day.

From that day and until their fifth year at Hogwarts, they had been inseparable.

Even being sorted into rival houses, Gryffindor and Slytherin, could not sever their friendship.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, as they grew older their interests shifted.

Severus, it seemed, had developed an interest in the Dark Arts—the forbidden magics and the like—something Lily strongly disapproved of.

During their fifth year, after a rather heartless 'prank' pulled by the Marauders (which consisted of both James Potter, his father, and Sirius Black, his godfather, as well as Remus and Peter Pettigrew) Severus did the unthinkable and insulted Lily unintentionally out of anger and humiliation.

Though he had apologized and begged her forgiveness, for reasons Harry did not fully understand, his mother refused and ended their very close friendship.

As time went on, and James began to mature, she became attracted to him and eventually grew to love him.

Poor Severus had to not only endure the loss of the only person he loved most in the world, since his mother had apparently died when he was thirteen, but also watch her fall in love with and marry his most hated rival.

No wonder he joined the Death Eaters, Harry thought to himself as he gathered up his exams and headed out of his office.

Though he didn't approve of his former teacher's choices, he could understand them.

Severus was lonely, and had wanted to belong somewhere—anywhere—as long as he could fit in and be useful.

Lucius Malfoy, the silver-tongued serpent, had known exactly what to say to lure the young, naïve teenager into the Death Eater fold and Voldermort's charismatic personality only cemented his transition.

So, he took the Dark Mark, and began what would be a four year period of delving into the darkest of magic and sorcery.

Harry knew from the man's memories that he never took part in any of the so-called 'rites' and 'rituals' which involved the torture and murder of innocent Muggles and Muggleborn witches and wizards.

Oh, he was aware of them, but apparently once he lost Lily he no longer seemed to…care.

However, despite the common Death Eater mentality regarding Muggles and Muggleborns, he never once stopped loving Lily…and that was his saving grace.

Though he foolishly told half a prophecy he had overheard whiles eavesdropping to the Dark Lord, he had no idea at the time that the raving lunatic would go after his former best friend and her family.

The moment he learned this, Severus knew he could not let the only person he still loved in all the world be harmed—even if that did mean also protecting James Potter and his 'spawn'.

Going to Albus Dumbledore, who was then the Head of the Order of the Phoenix, he had begged on his hands and knees for him to protect Lily and her family at all costs.

Unfortunately, the Potters had been betrayed by Peter Pettigrew—who was in league with the Dark Lord—and thus Voldermort attacked.

Harry's father was apparently killed within moments of the evil wizard breaking through the protective wards his parents had placed.

His mother managed to make it to the nursery to get him but was unable to do anything before the evil sorcerer was upon them.

After giving her a chance to step aside, something Lily refused to do, Voldermort killed her, and then attempted to kill him [Harry].

Fortunately, he couldn't.

His mother's death prevented any harm to befall him and therefore the spell rebounded and caused Voldermort's already fragile soul to scatter to pieces—essentially leaving him without a corporeal form to reside in.

Thus had the Dark Lord Voldermort been vanquished and he [Harry] had become The Boy Who Lived.

Harry snorted, as he continued down the corridor towards the Headmistress' office.

'Boy Who Lived' my arse! He thought to himself sneeringly. I didn't even do anything! It was all Mum!

Well, her…and Professor Snape.

For it was his former professor that had set things in motion, more or less…

Not fully trusting that Dumbledore could keep his beloved safe enough, Severus had decided to plead for mercy from his dark master.

He had told him a bold faced lie—that Lily Potter was merely a 'fancy' and someone who had 'just caught his eye'—and begged the evil wizard to spare her so that he might 'indulge' himself.

And for whatever twisted reason Voldermort agreed, and so he gave Lily the chance to stand aside before he killed her.

This made Lily's death a 'willing sacrifice', which was why it had created the magical protection that kept him from killing him that night—or again some seventeen years later.

Even then, Harry thought as he stopped in front of the Griffin statue that was the entrance to the Headmistress' office, he protected me…

After Lily died, Severus was devastated.

Had it not been for Dumbledore extracting a magically-enforced promise from him to protect him [Harry] with every fiber of his being, he was absolutely certain the grief-stricken man would have turned his wand upon himself and followed her beyond the Veil.

But he hadn't.

He'd kept his word and protected Harry in secret for years—ultimately giving his life, just as Lily had done, doing so.

As he lay dying, having taken a bite from Voldermort's familiar/Horcrux Nagini that was meant for him [Harry], Severus' last words to him were 'Look at me'.

After viewing his memories and having a sense of his thoughts and emotions, Harry knew the one thing he loved most about his mother—other than her vibrant personality and great capacity for compassion—was her eyes.

He knew then that what the man had wanted most as he left this world was to look into the eyes of the woman he had loved and cherished since he was only eight years old.

It was for that reason, as well, that Harry had named his son in honor of the man.

Alby was also born on his birthday, Harry thought with a smile.

"Godric's Grace," he spoke the password to the Griffin statue, and it began to spiral upwards, forming a staircase as it went.

Harry hopped on and rode it like an escalator straight to the top. Reaching the office of the school's Headmistress, he knocked.

"Enter," a strong Scottish brogue beckoned him inside and he opened the door and stepped in.

Minerva McGonagall, former Transfiguration professor and Head of Gryffindor House, was much older than she used to be.

Her once iron gray hair was now completely white, and yet her spirit—and will—were as strong as ever.

She looked up and smiled.

"Hello, Harry," she greeted him. "Please tell me you've come needing my assistance on some very crucial matter—one that will be so important that it takes me away from these confounded letters from the Board of Governors!"

Harry chuckled at that. "'Fraid not, Professor," he told her, holding up his exams. "I just came to turn in my exams."

"Ah," Headmistress Minerva said, sighing. "Just put them there with the others, then…"

She pointed to where several other stacks sat.

Harry obeyed, glancing at those colleagues who'd beat him to the punch.

"Hermione and Draco," he said, smiling. "Of course…"

Hermione Granger, his sister-in-law, was the Charms professor now.

She and her husband Ron, Harry's best friend and brother-in-law, had a little girl—Rose Helena Weasley—that was four years old.

Draco Malfoy, his once hated rival in school, was now the Potions Master and also Head of Slytherin House.

His wife, Astoria Greengrass-Malfoy, was the Astronomy professor. They had a son, Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy, who also was four years old.

"Yes," Minerva said, smiling. "I'm still waiting for everybody else's."

"I'm sure Neville and Luna will have theirs in by the end of the day," Harry told her, helpfully.

Neville Longbottom, a good friend, was now the Herbology Professor.

Luna Lovegood, Neville's wife, was the Care of Magical Creatures professor and also Head of Ravenclaw House.

They had a daughter, Frances Alice Longbottom, who was five years old.

They were also the godparents of Albus Severus.

"Susan and Justin will no doubt have theirs done after dinner," Minerva said, nodding.

Susan Bones was the History of Magic professor, as they had [finally] convinced the old ghost Binns that he was well and truly dead, and also Head of Hufflepuff House.

Her husband, Justin Finch-Fletchley, was the Muggle Studies professor.

They had no children, as of yet.

"Remus' is already done," the Headmistress continued, "as he has the End of the Year paperwork to see to."

Harry smiled. "I keep telling Ginny she has all the luck," he said, chuckling. "She doesn't have to worry about giving End of the Year exams!"

Ginny, after the Battle and completing her schooling, had played professional Quidditch for four years, but gave it up once she'd had Albus Severus.

She was now the flying instructor/Quidditch referee here at Hogwarts, as Madame Hooch had also retired.

They lived most of the year in quarters here at the school and then spent the summer at their home in Godric's Hollow.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful," Harry told McGonagall, sincerely.

"I sometimes wonder how Albus wasn't even battier than he actually was," Minerva said, sighing. "How he managed to run the school and the Order and handle the Ministry and the Board of Governors is beyond me!"

Harry nodded. "He truly was a great man," he said, quietly.

"Why, thank you, Harry," a voice from the wall spoke. "I appreciate the compliment."

Both Harry and Minerva turned to look at the portrait of the former Headmaster, whose blue eyes twinkled merrily at them.

"You're very welcome, Sir," Harry told him, bowing slightly. Dumbledore's portrait laughed at that.

"Oh, Harry, you do know how to keep an old man smiling," he told him, sincerely. "How is my namesake doing?"

"As of this morning, he was having a very hard time waking up," Harry told him, grinning. "Alby is not a morning person, that's for sure!"

"Hmm…neither was Severus," Dumbledore said, smirking.

At this, they all glanced to the portrait beside his. It was the only portrait that did not move.

That was because it had been painted after the wizard within it had died.

Harry had painted it himself, in fact, and had insisted it be put in its rightful place.

It was, of course, a picture of Dumbledore's successor: Severus Snape.

All Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts had their portrait painted at some point during their tenure at the school.

Once it was finished, they put a little bit of their magic and 'essence' into it and upon their death the portrait would 'come to life'.

Sadly, for Severus, whose tenure as Headmaster had been very brief as it had occurred during the pinnacle of the Second Wizarding War, did not have time to have his portrait made and put a little bit of himself into it before he died.

Therefore, his was the one and only portrait within the office that did not move.

"Indeed," Minerva said, smirking. "I can remember many a morning the only sound you'd get out of him was a grunt…or a growl, if he hadn't had his morning tea yet!"

"Remus says Teddy and Jamie wake up bright as a little eels," Harry said, smiling, "but with Alby it's like trying to wake the dead. Of course, most mornings all we have to do is leave him in his pajamas and send his clothes to either Molly or Andromeda—whichever one is watching him that day—and let him wake up on his own. We've found that works best."

"I'm sure, in time, he'll be bright as a bee in the mornings," Dumbledore said, merrily. "I certainly was, after all! Do bring him by, won't you? It has been some time since I've seen the little nipper..."

"I will, Sir," Harry promised.

"Are you all going straight to Godric's Hollow tomorrow after the Express leaves?" Minerva asked him, curiously.

"Ginny and Alby are," Harry told her, grinning. "I have some place special to go before I join them."

"Ah, of course," Minerva said, nodding. "The anniversary…"

Harry nodded.

Tomorrow was May 2nd, which had—since the Battle of Hogwarts at least—become the traditional end of the school year. (The children still returned September 1st, though.)

Not only was it the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, but it was also the day that Severus Snape had died…as well as the day Sirius had fallen through the Veil.

Ever since, on May 2nd, Harry had made a point of visiting his grave—just as he did with his parents' graves on Halloween.

"Well," Harry told McGonagall, "I had best go give my end of the year speech to my little lions (he was the current Head of Gryffindor House, as well). See you at dinner, Professor…"

"And you as well, Harry," Minerva said, watching as he exited the office.

"He turned out exceedingly well," Dumbledore told her, also watching his former pupil exit. "Don't you agree, Minerva?"

"Indeed, he did," the Scottish witch said, her brogue thickening slightly. "James and Lily would be so proud of him. Sirius, too…"

"And Severus," Dumbledore said, quietly. "Though, he'd never admit it."

"True," Minerva said, smirking. "Very, very true…"

With that, the Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry got back to work reading her 'confounded' letters.

Meanwhile, Professor Harry Potter was completely unaware of the fact that the next day his life was going to be changed forever.

 

 


Chapter 2: The Return
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The Return

by Jlbrew27

May 2nd—known now as Victory Day—dawned cloudy and overcast.

The students were picked up by the carriages and taken down to the station.

Since McGonagall's tenure as Headmistress had begun eight years ago, certain new traditions were started.

One of those was that the Deputy Headmaster and the four Heads of Houses had to accompany the students down to the depot and make absolutely certain they all got on board.

Hagrid, who had once traditionally been the one to retrieve the students from the train and escort them back at the end of the year, had sadly been blinded in one of his eyes during the Battle of Hogwarts.

This left him with a distinctive blind side, which more than a few students had taken advantage of.

To that end, Professor McGonagall had decided that perhaps students would be more inclined to behave if their Deputy Headmaster and their Head of House was there to keep watch.

As such, Remus, Harry, Draco, Luna, and Susan rode in the lead carriage down to the train station.

"Thank Merlin the little buggers are going home," Draco stated, smirking. "If I had to stop one more exploding cauldron I was going to explode myself!"

"Surely they were not that bad," Luna, always the optimistic one, said with a smile. "My dear Neville blew up loads of cauldrons and our Potions Master never 'exploded'."

"Only because ole Snape had bollocks of steel, I bet," the blonde haired man said.

The Head of Slytherin had aged rather well the last eight years.

He had allowed his pale blonde hair to grow below his shoulders—he kept it pulled back into a tail most of the time—and sported a blonde goatee on his chin, as well.

The Head of Ravenclaw could easily have been his twin…at least Harry had always thought so. Her pale blonde hair now reached well below her backside and she usually wore it cascading down her back and shoulders.

"You got off easy," Remus told Draco, smirking. "If I had to send one more hysterical girl to the Hospital Wing for some Calming Draught because she had transfigured her beloved toad or rat into something and couldn't change it back…"

He shook his head, sighing.

"Or become so upset before a test because they couldn't remember the date of the Goblin Wars," Susan added, smirking. "I swear, do they never study at all?"

Since she was Head of Hufflpuff students tended to believe she was a 'push-over' and tried to get away with murder within her classes.

She had, of course, proven them very wrong—many students had tasted one of her now legendary detentions…which rivaled Professor Snape's at times.

"At least the first years pay attention to all of you," Harry told them, smirking. "In my class, they usually just continue to stare at my scar the entire time. Every time I move, they follow me—it's downright eerie at times!"

They all laughed at that.

"So, what are all of your Victory Day plans?" Remus asked them, curiously.

"Tori and I are taking Cory to Mother and Father's tonight for dinner," Draco said. "Since they 'haven't seen him in such a very long time'."

"Didn't they see him just last week?" Harry asked curiosly.

Draco snorted. "Of course," he said, smiling. "But if they go one day without getting to dote on the 'wee little mite' it's like an eternity or something."

Again, they all laughed.

"What about you, Luna?" Susan asked, curiously.

"Neville, Frankie, and I are going to go see his grandmother," Luna told them. "Then, Father is coming to dinner."

"Justin and I are probably going to visit his parents in Muggle London," Susan said, sighing. "I'll probably have to hear his mother complain about having no grandchildren yet…"

"What about you, Potter?" Draco asked, raising an eyebrow. "The usual?"

"If by 'usual' you mean visiting Severus and Sirius' graves, then yes," Harry told him, smiling. "After that, we'll probably head over to the Burrow for Arthur and Molly's annual Victory Day dinner."

"'Dora and I are bringing the boys over as well," Remus reminded him quietly. Harry nodded.

"It's hard to believe it has been eight years already," Susan said, sighing.

"It sometimes seems longer," Luna added.

"And sometimes only seems like yesterday," Draco said, wincing slightly. They all knew he still woke with nightmares from his time with the Death Eaters.

"Every time I look at Teddy, I remember," Remus said, smiling. "I guess it's a good thing he's usually up to something—it keeps me from becoming melancholy."

"What did you do about the 'paint bomb' incident?" Harry asked him, smirking.

Remus winced at that.

The week before, Teddy had decided to pull a little 'prank' using one of the 'gifts' from his Uncle George's (all the Weasleys considered Teddy and Jamie as nephews) joke shop he'd been given as a Christmas present (George gave all the kids various samples from his newest 'gags' each year).

Teddy placed an 'invisible' paint balloon into his teacher's chair-the poor woman sat down and got brown paint all over her backside—and never even realized it!

The paint, apparently, had been charmed to not leak through so she didn't feel anything.

The kids in Teddy's class got a big laugh when she'd turned around to write something on the blackboard, as it had looked as if she'd messed all over herself.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Thomas was far from amused.

Since Teddy's class only consisted of eight children, it wasn't that hard to deduce the culprit.

It was a very livid Parvati Patil-Thomas (wife of Dean Thomas) who marched a wincing Teddy up to Hogwarts by his ear and into Harry's classroom.

She could do this, you see, as she taught in the wizard nursery school in Hogsmeade.

Teddy was in her 3rd year class while Jamie was in the 1st year class (taught by Padma Patil, her twin sister).

She had explained the situation, in minute detail, and then turned to head for the school's infirmary to get a Calming Draught from Hogwarts' resident assistant mediwitch, Lavender Brown-Jordan (wife of wizard radio host Lee Jordan). Poppy was still the Head of the infimary, but she was semi-retired.

She had brought Teddy to Harry's classroom because Remus was in a meeting with Minerva and the Board of Governors.

Teddy had known he was in serious trouble when he'd looked up and saw the stormy expression in his 'Uncle' Harry's emerald eyes.

Knowing he couldn't deal with the boy right then, Harry had sent him to stand in the corner while he finished his lesson.

Once the bell had rung, ending the class, Harry had sat down at his desk and beckoned Teddy over to him.

"Why'd you do it?" was the only thing he asked the boy, as it was the only thing he'd wanted to know.

Teddy had merely shrugged, his hair turning a bright red (which indicated he was embarrassed).

Harry reached out and lifted his godson's chin so that he was looking into his eyes.

"Shrugging is not an answer, Ted," he told him, firmly. Teddy was only ever 'Ted' when he was in trouble.

"I thought it'd be funny," the little boy answered, sullenly.

"Did Mrs. Thomas think it was funny?" Harry asked him.

Teddy had shook his head. Definitely not!

"Does it look like I think it was funny?" Harry had asked him next. Again, the boy shook his head.

"Do you think your folks will think it's funny?" Harry asked him knowingly.

Teddy had gulped, his eyes widening, and he shook his head vigorously. His dad would definitely not find it funny—not in the least!

"So, was it funny?" Harry asked him, pointedly.

Teddy sighed. "Guess not," he muttered quietly.

"There's nothing wrong with sharing a joke with your friends, Ted," Harry told him solemnly. "So long as that joke is not as someone else's expense. Do you understand?"

Teddy had nodded. "Yes, sir," he told him quietly.

"Then," Harry had told him, "I guess you owe Mrs. Thomas an apology, don't you?"

"Yes, sir," Teddy said, and then glanced at him hesitantly. "Uncle Harry, do you think I'll be in big trouble with Dad?"

In the Lupin household, big trouble usually meant receiving a spanking. (It meant the same thing in the Potter household as well.)

"That'll be up to your dad," Harry had told him. "But what are their rules concerning that?"

"We get a spanking if we do something they told us not to do," Teddy had replied. "If we tell a fib, or we do something that could get us hurt."

Harry nodded. The rules concerning spankings were the same at his and Ginny's house.

"Would you say this falls under any of those?"

"Um…no?" Teddy had said hesitantly.

"I'm sure your dad will think of something else, then," Harry had told him, smiling.

Harry smirked, remembering that Teddy had winced at the thought of what that 'something else' might be.

"He had to apologize to Parvatii in front of his class," Remus told them. "He was grounded for the weekend, and had to go to bed an hour early all this week."

The others all nodded, thinking that sounded like a fair punishment.

"I'm dreading when Cory is older," Draco said, sighing. "I remember some of the stuff I got in trouble for and if he does any of those…"

"At least you and Astoria aren't spoiling him rotten," Susan told him, pointedly. "That'd make it worse."

"Like my parents did with me, you mean?" Draco asked, smirking. "It's true, they did. But Astoria is very down to earth. She'd tan his hide and mine if I tried."

They all laughed at that, knowing he was right.

The carriages all arrived at the train station and the four Heads disembarked and began herding their students onto the train.

A chorus of 'Bye, Professors' 'See you in September, Professor Potter!' and even a few 'Later, Prof!' resounded all around Harry.

At eleven sharp, the Hogwarts Express pulled out of the station and headed on toward King's Cross station in London.

The Deputy Headmaster and the four Heads of Houses headed back up to the castle, and then separated to join their families in their private quarters.

Harry entered to find his wife and son finishing up the packing. Ginny had her back to him, but Albus Severus saw him as he came up behind them.

"Alby, love, will you—" Ginny had started to say, but that was when Alby saw him.

"DADDY!" He squealed, effectively cutting his mother off, and raced around her to jump into his arms.

"ALBY!" Harry returned the squeal, hugging his little boy close and breathing in the scent of his dark, auburn-streaked hair.

It smelled of his shampoo, as he and Alby tended to share the shower in the mornings…

Ginny smiled at him. "Kids get off okay?" she asked him curiously.

Even after seven years of marriage, she was as beautiful as ever.

She now wore her red hair to her shoulders—as it was easier to deal with when she was in the air—and her gray-blue eyes glinted brightly at him.

"Yep," he answered, coming over and kissing her. "Hey, look what I've found."

Harry bent down and retrieved the small stuffed Hippogriff that was lying at his feet.

"Hmm…" Harry said, teasingly. "I wonder who this could possibly belong to, eh?"

"Bucky's mine, Daddy," Alby said, giggling. "You know 'dat!"

"Yeah, I guess I did," Harry told him, smirking. "Here you go." He handed the stuffed toy to his son.

Alby took it and, always polite to a fault, said, "'Tank you."

Harry chuckled. Reaching out, he ruffled the boy's dark hair.

"You and Bucky ready to head out, pal?" he asked the four year old.

"Yep," Alby said, smiling. "Are you goin' ta see Sev'us, Daddy?"

"Yes, I am," Harry answered, thinking what kind of reaction Professor Snape would have had had he heard that.

His speech still developing, Albus Severus tended to speak with just the slightest lisp—something his godbrothers teased him about when not in earshot of either him and Ginny or Remus and Tonks.

"Well, we'd better get going," Ginny said, reaching for Alby. "Give Daddy a hug and kiss. We'll see him in a bit."

"Love you, Daddy," Alby said, wrapping one small arm around Harry's neck.

"I love you all, too," Harry told them, kissing him on top of the head. "Listen to Mummy, now."

"I will," the little boy promised, as he was pulled into his mother's arms.

"Bye, love," Ginny said, kissing her husband. "Don't be too long, okay?"

"I won't," Harry promised, grinning.

Ginny nodded and then stepped into the fireplace. Throwing the Floo powder down, she shouted, "Godric's Hollow!"

Harry watched as they disappeared in a flash of green flames.

Once they were gone, he changed out of his teaching robes and into a pair of blue jeans and one of his Weasley sweaters (emerald green with an H on it).

He then headed out of their quarters, sealing the entrance until their return at the end of August, and then headed out of the castle to the Apparition Zones; he then Apparated to the graveyard in Godric's Hollow.

They had buried Severus beside Lily, something Harry had known the man would have wanted.

Sirius, though they had no body to bury, had a marker on the other side; beside James.

"Hello, Mum, Dad, Sirius," Harry spoke to the tombstones, and then glanced to the fourth one. "Hello, Professor. Happy Victory Day…"

He knelt down, reaching out a hand to place on top of the tombstone that read:

Severus Tobias Snape

1960-1998

The Bravest Man I Ever Met

Harry had thought it a fitting sentiment, as it was how he truly felt, and thought the professor would have approved of it.

At least, he hoped he would have.

"It's been eight years, Professor," Harry spoke quietly to the deceased Potions Master.

"Everyone is much happier now. I can't help but feel bad that you never got the chance to be happy, too. Yeah, you made a mistake, but did that mean you had to spend the rest of your life being miserable because of it? Were you ever happy after Mum died? Even once…?"

Harry sighed. He knew he shouldn't be dwelling on things he could do nothing to change, but he couldn't help it.

"You deserved to be happy," he said, sighing. "The way I am now with Ginny and Alby. You should have had a decent childhood filled with love like we are giving to our son. If I could have given you that, Severus, I would have…"

Harry felt the air around him suddenly pick up. He also felt a strange tingling in the air, and the scent of…magic?

Glancing up, he frowned, as two spiraling…vortexes…opened up above the graves of Sirius and Severus.

Suddenly, from those two swirling pools of misty gray matter, two small figures dropped from them and landed on the ground.

They were two little boys, Harry noticed. He stood up, stepping back, and pulled his wand.

He wasn't sure what was going on, but he wanted to be ready for trouble…just in case.

The boy that had landed on Sirius' grave appeared to be slightly older than the boy on Professor Snape's. He had lightish brown curly hair and large gray eyes.

The younger boy had long black hair and dark obsidian eyes.

The two boys didn't even seem to notice him, as they just continued to stare at each other after they'd picked themselves off the ground.

Despite their different appearances they did have one thing in common. They were both completely naked.

Almost at the same time, their faces contorted into sneers.

"Black!" the younger boy growled at the same time the older boy shouted, "Snape!"

Both rushed forward and they collided on the conjoined grave of his parents.

Harry reacted instantly, casting a levitating charm, and prevented the fight from escalating.

Seven years of teaching and four years of being a father had obviously served him well.

It was then that the boys even seemed to realize he was there. They both blinked at him, as they hung in mid-air.

"H-Harry?" the older boy, who appeared to be about seven years old, asked with wide eyes. "I-Is that you?"

The younger boy snorted. "Of course it's him!" he growled, in a high pitched voice. "He's your precious Potter made over!"

"Shut up, Snivellus!" the older boy growled. "Nobody asked you!"

"You shut up, Mutt!" the younger boy said, crossing his arms and then glared at Harry. "Potter, put me down this instant!"

Harry raised an eyebrow at that. "I'm not in the habit of taking orders from little boys," he told him, firmly.

He glanced between the two boys. "Sirius?" he asked the older one. "Sirius Orion Black?"

"It's me, Harry," the little boy, Sirius, said with a smile. "Why? Don't you recognize me?" He laughed.

"Uh, well, you still kinda look the same," Harry said, hesitantly. "Tell me- what did you give me just before I boarded the Hogwarts Express for my fifth year at Hogwarts?"

"A picture of the first Order of the Phoenix," Sirius told him, smiling. "I gave it to you so you'd have it to remember your mum and dad by."

Harry nodded. That was very true. He glanced at the younger boy. "Professor Snape? Severus?" he asked, curiously.

The little boy snorted. "What do you want, Potter?" he asked, sullenly.

"What was the very last thing you said to me after you were bit by Nagini?" Harry asked him, narrowing his eyes at him.

"You already know what I said, Potter," the little boy, Severus, growled at him.

"Remind me, anyway," Harry told him firmly.

"I told you to 'look at me'," Severus told him, sniffing. "Happy now?"

Harry nodded, and then lowered them to the ground.

"How could this have happened?" he asked them, curiously.

"Beats me, Harry," Sirius told him, shrugging.

"Terrific reasoning, Mutt," Little Severus growled, tossing his head in annoyance.

Harry sighed. It seemed some things never changed…

"Here, you both must be freezing," he said, and then transfigured some twigs into shirts and trousers and shoes for them. "Put these on."

The two boys did so, and then he stared at them.

"So, you're both still yourselves," he told them. "I mean, you seem to have all your memories despite being…um…"

"Shorter?" Sirius asked, chuckling.

"Yeah," Harry nodded.

"S'not so bad, Harry," Sirius said, smiling. "I was always a big kid at heart, anyway."

Harry laughed at that. "I remember," he told him, reaching out and touching him. "Yep, you're real."

"No kidding, Potter," Severus said, glaring up at him. "I don't like this. Fix it."

Again, Harry raised an eyebrow at him. "I don't even know what's happened," he told them honestly. "How can I fix it?"

"Well, we can't just stand here all day," Severus reminded him irritably.

"True," Harry said, sighing. "Ginny is never going to believe this…"

"You married Ginny?" Sirius asked him, smiling. "I knew you had it in you!"

"Give me a break," Severus muttered, sourly.

Harry smirked at that. "Yes, I did," he told them, chuckling.

Deciding that the best thing to do was to take them home and then try to figure things out, he bent down and scooped both into his arms.

"Potter!" Severus growled immediately. "What in Merlin's name do you think you're doing?"

"Carrrying you," Harry told him, simply. "I don't live that far from here, but this will still be much quicker..."

"I demand you put me down immediately!" the five year old cried, struggling to get free. "I don't need your help—or want it!"

Harry sighed, setting first Sirius and then Severus down.

Instead of turning the younger boy loose, however, he merely grabbed him by the shoulders and stared him straight in the eye.

"That's enough," he told him, sternly. "We're going to figure this out, but until we do you are going to listen and do as I tell you."

The little Slytherin snorted. "And if I don't?" he asked, sneeringly.

Harry narrowed his eyes.

He knew what would have happened if Alby or one of his godsons or nieces or nephews had spoken to him in such a rude, disrespectful manner, but did he dare try it with the miniature version of the man whose memories he shared?

He might have Snape's personality and memories, he concluded, but it's abundantly clear his mannerisms are those of a child. Sirius', too. I should treat them like it.

He then proceeded to spin the little boy around and gave him a firm 'tap' against his bottom…causing him to yelp in surprise.

"And I can give you more where that came from," he told him, firmly. "I'm not your student any more, Severus, and you aren't the man you were. Since I am the only adult—both physically and mentally—here we'll be doing things my way. Is that clear?"

Severus glared at him, biting his lip, but then nodded (albeit grudgingly).

Harry nodded back and then scooped them up again. He glanced at Sirius.

"Any objections from you?" he asked his former godfather sternly.

Sirius shook his head quickly. "I'm good," he told him. "Carry away!"

"All right, then," Harry said, smiling. "Let's try this again."

With the two little boys secured to either hip, he turned and exited the graveyard. He then headed for home.

A/N: Jlbrew27 says-You may have noticed I changed a couple of things from canon. 1) Severus' death...not that it wasn't quite heart wrenching in DH, but I like my version better. 2) Sirius died on May 2nd, as well. There's a reason for this which will be explained in the next chapter. 3) Get Kleenex ready for next chapter, you just might need 'em.

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Chapter 3: Severus' Tantrum
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Severus' Tantrum

by Jlbrew27

Severus Snape was not a happy little boy…um, man…at all.

It was bad enough that he had been ripped from the only person that ever made him happy…again.

It was bad enough that he'd been 'unVeiled'—what other term could be used to describe their sudden return from beyond the Veil of Mysteries, after all?—as a mere five year old child.

It was bad enough that one of his two most despised people had to come with him.

It was even bad enough that it would be the spawn of James Potter—albeit slightly older than the last time he'd seen him—to find him and Black.

But it was absolutely intolerable that he now found himself being carried…as if he were an infant instead of five!

Plus, Potter had the unmitigated gall to actually swat and scold him!

Potter—who had had to be scolded numerous times as a child—had dared to lecture him!

The indignity of it all was simply too much for one small boy…um, man…to bear.

It really was.

Potter carried them from the cemetery and walked a short five minute distance to a quaint cottage nestled behind a stone fence and white-picketed gate.

Severus recognized it instantly.

It was the Potter house in Godric's Hollow.

The house he had once found the slain body of his precious Lily—and the infant Boy-Who-Lived.

It had apparently been restored to its former glory, and apparently Potter and his wife (the Weasley girl?) had taken up residence there.

Entering the gate, Potter walked up the walk and set him and Black down, but continued to hold their hands (another indignity). Severus sighed.

"Well, here we are," Potter told them, smiling down at them. "Home sweet home…"

Severus snorted. "Spare us the platitudes," he growled, annoyed.

"Shut up, Snape!" Black growled at him, and then glanced up at the man beside them. "I think you should just chuck him out on his skinny arse, Harry."

"Nobody is going to be 'chucked' anywhere," Potter informed the miniature mutt firmly. "And watch your language, Sirius."

Severus smirked. Ha! How does it feel, Mutt, to be scolded by your own godson?

Black glared at him and stuck his tongue out at him.

Despite knowing it was completely immature to do so, Severus felt compelled to return the gesture.

Potter sighed. "Stop that," he told them sternly. "Behave yourselves."

With that, he reached out and opened the door. He then ushered them inside.

Severus found himself in a rather cozy looking living room—decorated in neutral colors of emerald green (the walls), white (the trim and mantle), and tan (the furniture).

Pictures of numerous red headed individuals (confirming that Potter had indeed married into the Weasley clan) along with the former Miss Granger (who had no doubt wed the youngest Weasley son) as well as pictures of a boy who looked remarkably like Remus Lupin were scattered all about.

And speaking of Lupin…he was standing at the mantle sipping tea and leaning on a cane as they entered.

A woman he knew to be Nymphadora Tonks—sans the multicolored spiky hair—sat on the sofa beside a red headed woman that he knew was Potter's wife, Ginny.

They all turned at their entrance, their eyes growing wide at the sight of them.

"Harry?" Ginny asked, glancing at Potter in confusion. "What—?"

"Moony!" Black squealed happily and tore free from Potter's grip and raced across the room.

Remus Lupin, looking middle-aged with thin, graying hair and two scars across his face that looked like they had come from a fellow werewolf, was more than a little surprised to find the miniature version of his former best friend wrapped around him.

"Sirius?" he gasped, awkwardly pulling the curly headed boy away from him. He glanced up, meeting Severus' dark eyes. "Severus? It…it can't be!"

Severus snorted, and also tore his hand from Potter's grip. He crossed them over his little—um, underdeveloped—chest.

"Apparently, it can," he growled snidely.

"Severus," Potter said, glaring down at him.

"Harry, honey, what's going on?" The former Miss Weasley asked her husband, frowning.

Potter shrugged.

"Beats the heck outta me, Gin," he told her, sighing. "I was paying my respects to their graves when suddenly these two—swirling portals—opened and they popped out of them."

"Are you certain they are who they appear to be?" Tonks asked, raising an eyebrow.

Severus scowled at her, but was ignored.

"It's them," Potter said confidently.

"How can you be sure, Harry?" Lupin asked him curiously.

"Because they knew things that only they would know," Potter informed him simply. "Not to mention they've been giving me a headache with all their bickering…"

Severus glared up at him. Headache, indeed!

The indignities just kept coming, didn't they?

"This is amazing," Ginny said, wide-eyed, staring between him and Black.

"Yes, it is," Lupin said, gazing down at the Mutt affectionately. He reached out to touch Sirius' face gently.

"It's me, Moony," Black said, smiling. "Want me to prove it?"

Lupin smirked. "How do you plan to do that?"

"Well, remember that scar I had?" the miniature Mutt told him. "The one on my…uh, you know...?"

"Yes," Lupin said thoughtfully. "You told me you got it when you were three."

Black nodded. "That's right. I can show it to you, if you want."

He reached for the waist band of the pajama pants that Potter had transfigured for them to put on.

"Please, no!" Severus moaned, wrinkling his nose. "Seeing you naked once was more than enough, Mutt!"

Black glared at him. "I told you to shut up, Snivellus. Nobody asked you!"

"See what I mean," Potter said, sighing. He reached up and rubbed his temples.

"That's quite all right, Siri," Lupin told Black, placing a hand on top of his head. "I believe it's you."

"Great!" Black said smiling. "I'm glad. I've missed you, Moony." He hugged Lupin again.

"And I have missed you," admitted the werewolf, smiling.

Severus thought he might vomit, the sentimentality of the moment utterly revolting, and yet…a small pang of jealousy sprang up within him.

Nobody missed me, I'm sure, he thought bitterly to himself.

"Where are the boys?" Potter asked Ginny.

"Out back, playing," Ginny informed him.

"Teddy and Jamie insisted on coming over immediately," Tonks said, chuckling. "Apparently, the fact that they had just seen you this morning at breakfast didn't count…"

Potter smiled fondly. "Alby, too," he said, grinning. "He was pestering us to invite you over, anyway."

Lupin nodded, glancing at Severus. "Hello, Severus," he said quietly.

Severus glared at him. Just now notice me, did you?

"Werewolf," he said rudely. He refused to look Lupin in the eye.

"Severus," Potter growled, obviously getting annoyed.

"I still say you should hex him or something," Black said, to nobody in particular.

Lupin snorted, shaking his head. "Siri," he said disapprovingly. "Nobody is going to hex anybody."

"It's just Snape, Moony," the Mutt shrugged. "Nobody cares about him."

"Sirius Orion Black!" Tonks said, glaring at her miniature cousin sternly. "What a thing to say!"

Severus swallowed, feeling tears sting his eyes, but he refused to let them fall.

He was not a baby to cry at a few hurtful—made more so by the fact they happened to be true—words.

He must not have hidden his hurt as well as he had thought because Potter—blast him!—knelt down to stare him in the eyes again.

Severus flinched from that green stare, but was forced to look due to the man gripping his chin firmly.

"Severus," Potter said gently. "Look at me."

Despite himself, Severus started—his eyes flying up against his will, almost, as he remembered those had been the very last words between them before he'd gone beyond the Veil.

As obsidian met emerald, he saw within those bright green orbs three things: compassion, concern, and…caring.

For him? Surely not…

"It isn't true, Severus," Potter told him, gently yet firmly. "What Sirius just said—it isn't true."

Severus gulped, feeling those dratted tears again. A couple escaped before he could stop them, sliding down his cheeks.

"How can it not be?" he whispered. "The only people who ever cared about me are dead now…"

"I care about you, Severus," Potter told him, continuing to stare into his eyes.

Severus shook his head in disbelief. "You hate me," he told him, and a few more tears leaked out.

"I misjudged you," the green eyed man told him sadly. "You will never know how much I regret that."

"I was mean to you," Severus reminded him.

"And yet you protected me when I needed it," Potter told him. "You cared whether I lived and died—and it was more than just because I could defeat the Dark Lord."

"Because of her," Severus whispered. "Because you have her eyes…"

Potter nodded. "That's right, I do," he said, "and I'm not the only one, either."

He turned to glance at his wife. "Gin, will you call Alby in for a minute?"

Ginny nodded and went through a door that obviously connected the living room to the kitchen.

She returned a few moments later with a young boy of about four who looked like the spitting image of his father—except he had streaks of red in his dark, unruly hair.

"Alby, c'mere a minute," Potter said, holding out his arm to the boy.

"Am I in trouble, Daddy?" the boy, Alby, asked his father.

"No, son, there's just someone I wish you to meet," Potter said, wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulders. "Alby, this is Severus."

"Hi," Alby said, staring at Severus. Lily's eyes stared back at him.

"Severus," Potter said, quietly. "This is my son, Albus Severus Potter."

Severus sniffed. "Y-You named him after me?" he asked, surprised. The tears were falling freely now.

"Why is he kwying, Daddy?" Alby asked his father, puzzled. "Is he sad?"

"He's just had a bit of a rough day, son," Potter explained to him softly.

"Oh," Alby said, turning to look at Severus again. "Do you want to hold Bucky? He makes me feel better when I'm sad…"

Alby held out his stuffed hippogriff towards him. Severus cried even harder, but shook his head.

"That was very nice of you, pal," Potter told his son. "He'll be all right without Bucky this time, I think. Why don't you go on back outside and play?"

"Can Sev'rus come, too?" Alby wanted to know.

Potter smiled. "Maybe he will in a little bit. Go on now. You and Bucky have fun."

"Okay, Daddy," the solemn little boy said and then turned to walk back outside with his mother.

Once he was gone, Potter looked back at his former professor. "Do you believe me now, Severus?"

Severus, despite himself, nodded. "Y-Yes," he said, sniffing and trying to wipe his tears away.

Potter smiled at him. "I'm glad," his former student said, reaching out to place a hand on top of his head.

Harry noticed the slight flinch, and knew—from the memories they shared—what it meant.

He then stood up and turned to look at his former godfather.

"I think you owe Severus an apology, Sirius."

"What!" Black said indignantly. "Harry, you gotta be barking mad! I'm not apologizing to that…that miniature Death Eater!"

"Severus is not a Death Eater," Harry told him, angrily. "He never was."

"But…but…" Sirius sputtered, looking angry and confused. He glanced up at Lupin for support.

"Its true, Siri," Lupin informed him. "Severus died saving Harry's life—he sacrificed himself, just as Lily did, in order to keep him safe."

"I would have, too!" Black replied, stubbornly. "It's just…Bellatrix surprised me…"

"That's not the point," Lupin informed him. "You just said a very mean and hurtful thing and now you need to apologize."

"But—" Sirius started to argue, but was quelled by the stern look being directed at him from his old friend.

"Now, Sirius," Lupin said, sternly.

Black looked mad enough to spit fire, but glanced at him grudgingly.

"Sorry, Sni—uh, Snape," he said, sullenly. "Guess I was wrong. Somebody does care for you—though why I don't bloody well know!"

"Sirius," Lupin growled, shaking his head. "You always did have to have the final word, didn't you?"

Black just shrugged. "Would you have me any other way, Moony?" he asked Remus, smirking impishly.

"No," Lupin admitted, "but from now on if you don't have something nice to say don't say anything. Understood?"

Black sighed. "Yeah," he said, but he still glared at Severus as if to say 'you'll pay for getting me into trouble'.

Severus snorted. He could have cared less what the mutt thought of him.

"I wonder why they are the ages that they are?" Tonks asked curiously. "Sirius appears to be seven while Severus looks to be about five."

"Perhaps it has something to do with their magic?" Ginny, who had rejoined them, suggested.

"That's a definitely possibility," Lupin said, thoughtfully. "Siri, weren't you seven when you started to show signs of accidental magic?"

"Yep," Black said, proudly. "I made my favorite model airplane fly all on its own!"

Potter glanced at Snape.

"What about you, Severus?" he asked curiously. "How old were you when you started showing signs of magic?"

"Five," Severus admitted, sighing. "I set the sofa on fire by accident—my, uh, my father wasn't pleased…"

Potter glanced at him sympathetically. "It's okay, Severus. He's long dead now."

Severus nodded. "The memories are still there."

"At least now you won't have to bear them alone," Harry—Potter—said quietly.

"So," Black said, "I guess that means we have our magic now, too. Right?"

Severus eyes widened at that. He had his magic?

He could perform wandless magic if he chose? There was only one way to find out…

"Potter," he said, glancing up at the man standing in front of him.

"Yes, Severus?"

"I'm sorry," Severus whispered.

"For what?" Harry—Potter—asked, confused.

"This," Severus said, and raised both his hands out towards the man.

As if he had been hit by strong gust of wind, Harry—Potter—found himself thrown backwards by several feet.

"Harry!" Ginny exclaimed, rushing forward to help her husband to his feet. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Harry growled, glaring at him. "Severus Tobias Snape! Why in the name of Merlin did you do that?"

Severus glared right back. He knew his magic was always strongest when he was angry. He clenched his fists.

"Because I felt like it," he sneered.

Harry's eyebrows shot all the way to his forehead—in a rather amusing pantomime of one his former looks, in fact—and he took a step towards the boy.

A pair of glass vases sitting to either side of Severus shattered, his magic growing stronger with his heightened emotional state.

"Severus," Harry said, beginning to look angry. "Stop it right now!"

"No!" Severus shouted, causing several more glass things to shatter. The windows began to fly up and down on their own.

Harry took another step forward, only to stop as the glass shards rose off the floor and began to spiral around the former professor.

"Harry!" Ginny gasped. "If those shards cut him…?"

"I know, Gin," Harry said, swallowing. "Severus, why are you doing this?"

Severus said the first thing that came to his mind.

"Because," he told Potter, a lone tear trailing down his face. "I won't do it."

Harry frowned. "Won't do what?" he asked gently.

The spiraling shards were drawing closer and closer to the child.

Dangerously close, in fact.

But Severus didn't care.

"Live without her again," Severus said, his hair flying out from his face. The shards began to spiral faster.

"Her?" Tonks asked, wide-eyed and confused.

"He means Lily," Lupin said, looking rather pale.

"We have to do something!" Ginny cried, her maternal instincts going into overdrive. "We can't just stand here while a five year old commits suicide!"

The very thought made Harry's stomach flinch. "Severus," he tried again. "Please, listen…"

"You never listened to me," Severus told him, snorting. "Why should I listen to you?"

"Because I care, Severus," Harry implored him. "I care what happens to you!"

"Well, I don't," Severus snapped, the spiraling shards now only inches from his face.

"Just stun him," Black sneered. "Only Snivellus could make a temper tantrum a life or death situation."

"Quiet, Sirius," Harry hissed. "You're not helping!"

"Harry," Lupin said quietly. "The only one Severus ever really listened to was your mother…"

"I know," Harry said, feeling helpless.

He closed his eyes, squeezing them tight. Mum, I really could use your help right about now…

Ginny gasped. "Harry, your scar!" she exclaimed, as his lightening bolt scar began to glow.

He opened his eyes, and this time he heard Tonks gasp. "His eyes…they're glowing!" she exclaimed.

Suddenly, in front of him, appeared a beautiful red haired woman with emerald green eyes.

She glared at Severus, her green eyes boring into his black ones with an intensity so fierce it was almost palpable.

"Severus Tobias Snape!" Lily Evans-Potter exclaimed sternly. "You stop this immediately!"

Severus' eyes widened, and the shards dropped once more to the floor.

"Lily!" he exclaimed, shocked to see his childhood best friend—and the love of his life—standing before him. "W-What are you doing here?"

"T-That's a question I'd like to know, too," Harry said, wincing as his head throbbed painfully. "Mum?"

Lily turned to face her now adult son.

"Forgive me, darling," she told him, "but I could only cross over by going through you."

Harry smiled, weakly. "S'okay," he told her. "Thanks for coming."

Lily smiled, but then turned back to her childhood friend.

"Sev," she said, using her childhood nickname for him. "Why are you throwing this tantrum?"

Severus swallowed, refusing to meet her beautiful eyes—eyes he adored beyond anything else.

"Because," was all he answered.

"Severus, look at me," Lily ordered firmly.

As if she had placed a compulsion spell upon him, he found he could no more disobey her request than he could fly without the use of a broom.

"You've been given a second chance, Sev," Lily said gently. "A second chance for a happier life."

"My life can't be happy," Severus replied stubbornly. "Not without you."

"I know," Lily informed him, "which is why I will be returning, too."

Severus' eyes widened at that. "Y-You will?" he asked, swallowing hard. "Will you be a child again, too?"

Lily nodded. "Yes," she told him, grinning. "We shall grow up together again—only things will be different this time. I promise."

"We'll…be together?" he asked hopefully. "Always?"

"Always," Lily told him.

"What about James?" Sirius piped up suddenly. "Will he be coming back too?"

Lily glanced at him. "James has already been reborn, Siri."

"He has?" Harry, Sirius, and Remus all three asked at the exact same time.

"Yes," she said, smiling. "And he's already here." She gave Remus a pointed look.

"Jamie," the man whispered, wide-eyed. "Jamie is James…reborn?"

Lily nodded. "Yes."

"Why is his rebirth different from theirs?" Ginny asked.

"James had no regrets, no need of a second chance," Lily explained. "He was reborn into a completely new life—free from his old one."

"Why haven't you been, then?" Harry asked her curiously.

"Because, like Severus and Sirius, I have regrets," Lily told him, glancing at the five year old. "And Severus needs me."

"Yes, I do," Severus coughed, his throat tight. "When, Lily? When will you come back to me?"

"Soon," Lily told him. "As you know, with magic, timing is everything. I can only return through the Veil on the day that I died."

"Jamie was born on Halloween," Tonks realized, glancing at her husband. "The same night James Potter died."

Lily nodded. "But," she said, speaking to Severus, "that is still many months away. In the mean time, Sev, you have to listen to Harry and do as he and Ginny say. You may have your memories, but you are physically and emotionally a child again."

"I'll do anything, Lily," Severus told her. "I'll do anything if it means you'll come back to me."

"Even be nice to Sirius?"

Severus wrinkled his nose, glaring at Sirius across the room.

"If I must," he said sullenly. "But he'd better not start anything!"

"He won't," Lily said, "right, Remus?"

Remus nodded. "I'll see to it, personally."

"Huh?" Sirius asked, puzzled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you will come and live with 'Dora and me."

"You mean it?" Sirius asked, smiling. "I can?"

"Of course you can," Tonks told him. "You're family, after all."

Severus swallowed. That was all very well and good for Black…but what about him?

"I don't have any family," Severus murmured, half to himself.

Lily glanced at him. "Yes, Severus," she told him firmly. "You do. Right, Harry?"

Harry smiled at his mother, understanding what she was doing.

"Right, Mum," he said, going over and kneeling down in front of the former Potions Master. "You will live with me, Ginny, and Alby. We'll be your family now."

Severus blinked back tears. "Y-You won't be mean to me?" he asked him. "T-The way I was to you?"

"Of course not," Harry told him, "but like you I will insist you respect me and Ginny—and mind us and the rules we set you."

"I, uh, I suppose I can try," Severus told him, glancing at Lily. "I miss you, Lily."

"We won't be separated for long, Sev," Lily reassured him. "I promise. Embrace this second chance."

"I will," Severus agreed. "For you."

Lily smiled sweetly at him. "Until Halloween, then," she said, glancing at Ginny. "Do take care of them, dear, won't you?"

Ginny smiled at her mother-in-law. "My Witch's Oath, I shall."

"Goodbye, Mum," Harry told her. "See you soon, I guess."

Lily nodded and then looking straight at Severus, she blew him a kiss. Then she faded from the room.

Severus swallowed, sniffing.

Harry lifted him into his arms and held him close.

"It's okay to cry, Sev," he whispered to the stricken child.

The simple tone undid him and the five year old began sobbing his heart out onto Harry's shoulder.

Harry simply held him close, gently stroking his hair, and saying soothing words to him.

"You're safe, Severus," he whispered to the child. "You're safe…and you're wanted."

Severus cried harder. That was more than he ever had before…

A/N: Jlbrew27 says: More to come, I promise. Please, review and tell me what you think so far.

 


Chapter 4: Expectations and Understandings
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Expectations and Understandings

by Jlbrew27

After Severus had finished crying, Harry took him into the bathroom and sat him on the toilet.

He then ran cold water onto a wash cloth and handed it to Severus to clean his face with.

"Feel better?" he asked the former Potions Master.

He had knelt down so that the five year old didn't have to sprain his neck trying to look at him.

Severus looked so solemn, and while there was nothing new about that—the look just didn't belong on the face of a five year old.

"I guess so."

"Aren't you certain?" Harry asked him, smirking. "You always seemed certain in just about everything before…especially when it came to me."

Severus merely blinked at him and bit his lip, avoiding eye contact yet again.

So much for a little bit of levity to lighten the situation! Harry sighed.

"I'm sorry." The words had been spoken so softly that for a moment Harry had wondered if he'd heard them at all.

Reaching out, he lifted Severus' chin so that the boy was looking him in the eye. "For what?" he asked him, curiously.

"Being mean to you," Severus admitted, ashamed. "I shouldn't have been."

"Yes, that's true," Harry agreed, "but I also could have tried harder to look past all that to see you for what you truly were."

Severus frowned. "A greasy git?"

Harry frowned fiercely at that. "That isn't nice, not even when you're talking about yourself."

"You called me that," Severus insisted. "I know you did."

"And somebody should have washed out my mouth for saying it," Harry admitted ruefully. "You would have, I bet, if you'd ever caught me."

"Yeah, I would," Severus agreed, and then looked worried. "You're not, though? Right?"

Harry chuckled and shook his head no.

"Ginny and I have only a few rules," Harry began, keeping his voice low and reassuring. "And a few consequences that go along with them."

Severus nodded. "What are they?"

"Are you sure you want to have this discussion now?" Harry queried. "Don't you think it should wait 'til you're more settled?"

Severus shook his little head.

"I like knowing where I stand," said the little boy, sounding a great deal like his former self. "Please?"

Harry nodded. He had always preferred people to be straight forward with him, too.

Odd, how it seemed he and Severus were a lot alike in a lot of ways.

If only they had both seen it years ago…

"Okay," he told the boy. "First rule is a familiar one: Respect. We expect you to be respectful to us, to Alby, all adults, other children, and certainly yourself. Like Remus said, if you can't say anything nice—don't say anything at all. Second rule is Obedience: when we tell you to do something, we expect you to do it; same goes for if we tell you not to do something. Last rule is Honesty: don't ever lie to us—about anything."

It felt odd actually going over these rules, something he and Ginny had never had to do with Alby.

Being four, Alby instinctively knew what his mummy and daddy got mad about and tried very hard not to make them so.

However, since Severus was only physically and emotionally a child, Harry knew he could explain things out fully and he could be understood by the boy.

Severus nodded. "I understand," he told him, but then bit his lip. "W-What about consequences?"

"Well, with Alby, 'time out' or 'corner time' works wonders with the little things," Harry informed Severus with a slight smile. "However, if he ever breaks one of the Big Three…then he gets a spanking."

Severus' eyes widened at that.

"I-I suppose those will be my consequences, too," he said, looking like a deer caught in the headlights of a car.

"It's only fair," Harry said calmly. "Severus, you know I have your memories…"

Severus nodded. "I gave them to you," he said. "I wanted you to know the truth."

"And I am very grateful for that," Harry said softly. "But what I mean is…I know exactly what your father used to do to you."

Severus cringed. He didn't want to remember what his father used to do to him.

"And I want you to know right now that that will never happen here," Harry told him, firmly. "If you ever do something to warrant a spanking, you get turned across my knee and given five swats—no more. Alby, although it is very rare that he does something we tell him not to, gets four swats."

"That's all?" Severus asked, seemingly amazed.

Harry nodded.

"That's all," Harry told him, reaching out touch Severus' head. Again, he wasn't that surprised when the boy flinched.

"Sorry," Severus mumbled. "Not used to being touched…"

"Not used to being touched gently, you mean," Harry corrected him softly. "but that is okay. It'll take time."

Severus nodded. "Thank you, Pot—uh—Harry."

Harry smiled. "For what, Severus?"

Severus looked him straight in the eyes.

"For understanding. Nobody but Lily and my mum ever understood me before."

"We'll have to see about changing that, then," Harry told him. "If you let her, Ginny will understand you, too."

Severus nodded. "Can we go back out now?" he asked him, but then blushed. "My…my bum is going numb."

Harry laughed at that, unable to stop himself.

"I hate when that happens!" he told the child, picking him up and rubbing the small backside gently. "It gets all tingly and all you want to do is shake it all about to get the numb feeling to go away!"

To his immense surprise, and pleasure, Severus actually smiled at that.

"Used to happen a lot at Hogwarts," he muttered into his ear. "Could never get Albus to let me buy a comfy chair to sit on…"

"I know what you mean," Harry told him, smirking. "I usually stand up during my classes!"

"Me, too," Severus said, and then let out a small chuckle.

Harry smiled at that. "C'mon, let's go see what the others are doing?"

"Okay," Severus said, nodding.

Harry carried him out of the bathroom and back out into the living room.

"All better?" Ginny asked gently.

"Yep," Harry said, joining her on the sofa. "Severus? Do you want to sit in-between me and Ginny?"

"I'm…I'm good right here," Severus muttered, blushing. The boy inadvertently snuggled closer to him.

Harry was touched that he wanted to be near him.

Sirius snorted from where he was still standing beside Remus.

"Itty bitty Snivvy," Sirius muttered, scowling at him. "Throws a tantrum and gets hugged—figures!"

Severus scowled back at him and promptly stuck his tongue out at him. "Stupid mutt," he muttered.

"Severus," Harry said disapprovingly. "What did we just talk about?"

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," Severus quoted, verbatim.

"Exactly, now apologize," Harry told him firmly.

"He was mean first," Severus reminded him pointedly. "He should apologize to me—then I'll apologize to him."

"Severus is right, Sirius," Remus raised an eyebrow at the boy next to him. "What you said was uncalled for."

"Ah, Moony…" Sirius complained. "I already had to apologize to him once—isn't that enough?"

"No," all four adults in the room answered at the same time.

"Humph," Sirius muttered.

"Sirius," Remus said sternly. "Now."

A stubborn look crossed the seven year old's face and he glared up at his former best friend.

"What if I don't?" he demanded mutinously.

Remus' eyes narrowed, and the color changed from brown to feral gold—a sign of the dominant wolf within him coming out.

"Then I will escort you into Harry's study," he informed him, "turn you across my knee, and give you a spanking."

"You'll what!" Sirius exclaimed, shocked. "Moony! You can't!"

"I most certainly can," Remus said sternly. "It's certainly something I felt like doing years ago, but never could. I won't make that mistake again. Now, what's it to be?"

Sirius looked flabbergasted. "I thought we were friends!" he all but shouted at the werewolf.

"We were friends, Sirius," Remus told him, "but now I am more than your friend—I am your guardian…as is 'Dora. What we say goes, and if you disobey you get punished, so I repeat. What's it to be? An apology? Or a spanking?"

Sirius glanced around, but found no support from any of the other adults in the room. He sighed.

"Fine," he groused. "I'm sorry for what I said, Snape."

"Severus," Remus corrected, firmly.

Sirius looked ready to protest this, but apparently thought better of it. "I'm sorry, Severus," he muttered sourly.

"Severus?" Harry asked, nudging the boy gently.

Severus sighed. "I apologize, Bl—uh, Sirius," he said, looking as if the very name made him want to sick up. "I shouldn't have called you a mutt—even if you are one."

Harry shook his head. "Was that last part really necessary?"

"Yes," Severus told him, solemnly.

Harry and Ginny exchanged glances, each trying hard not to smile despite themselves.

They knew very well they were going to have their hands full with this little one—that was for sure.

Just then, the sound of the back door opening was heard and running footsteps pounding on the tiled kitchen floor.

"It's amazing to me how three little boys can sound like a pack of wild elephants," Remus said, just as Alby, Teddy, and Jamie entered the room.

"Mum! Dad!" Teddy and Jamie spoke at the same time. "We're hungry!"

"We're sorry, boys," Tonks spoke up, looking apologetically. "We completely forgot about lunch! We've been distracted."

"What about you, sweetie?" Ginny asked Alby, gently, as he came and sat in her lap.

Severus glanced at him hesitantly.

Would he mind him sitting in his father's lap? Harry and his son seemed really close, after all.

The four year old nodded. "Is Sev'us gonna eat with us, Mummy?" he asked, curiously.

"Yes, baby, he is," Ginny told him. "In fact, Severus is going to live with us. What do you think of that?"

"Will he be my brudder?" Alby asked. "Like Teddy and Jamie are each other's brudder?"

"Brudder?" Severus asked Harry, confused.

"He means 'brother'," Harry whispered to him. Severus nodded, understanding.

"Yes," Ginny told him. "He'll be like your brother."

"Yay!" Alby exclaimed. "I always wanted a brudder!"

"Who's he, Mum?" Teddy asked Tonks, nodding at Sirius.

"That's Sirius," Tonks explained to her sons. "He's going to come live with us."

"Why?" Jamie asked, puzzled. "Don't he have a home?"

"Not anymore," Remus explained. "He's your cousin—on your mother's side."

"He's older than me," Jamie said, frowning. "I don't want another big brother!"

"Well, I don't want another little brother!" Teddy said, also frowning. "He'll get on my nerves just like Jamie!"

"No I won't!" Sirius piped up. "Honest, guys! I'm loads of fun! I can show you all kinds of neat tricks and pranks!"

"Really?" Teddy and Jamie both asked, their eyes lighting up with the thought of mischief.

Remus sighed. "Heaven help us," he said, closing his eyes.

Severus whimpered, glancing at the three boys who were now standing side by side.

It didn't help that Teddy resembled his father and Jamie was the spitting image of his namesake (not to mention having his spirit within him). Add Sirius to the mix…

"Severus?" Harry whispered. "What is it?"

"The Marauders," Severus swallowed, leaning closer. "Lily promised it'd be different this time."

Harry glanced at the three boys, and understood what he meant.

"It will be," Harry told him. "I won't let them hurt you, Sev. They might like a good laugh, but they know better than to go too far."

"Black doesn't," Severus argued, pouting. "He's still the same!"

"And if he tries something, he'll get what he should have gotten before," Harry assured him. "Not one but two spankings—one from me and one from Remus."

Severus blinked at him. "But he was your godfather," he whispered, surprised.

"He's not anymore," Harry said, smirking. "Ironically, I'll probably end up being his godfather now…since I'm Teddy and Jamie's."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves Sirius," Remus told the seven year old. "We still need to get you settled."

"We should probably go then," Tonks stood. "We need to sort out a room for him and go shopping."

"Will you all be coming to the Burrow tonight?" Ginny asked, standing up with Alby.

"We haven't missed a Victory Day dinner yet," Remus reminded her, smirking.

"Mum was planning on making her famous cobbler again," Tonks told her.

"The boys will be glad to hear that," Ginny said, laughing. The 'boys' were all her brothers, of course.

"So, we'll see you there at seven," Remus said, as they all stepped into the fireplace.

"Bye, Harry," Sirius waved. "I still say you should chuck Snape!"

Harry sighed. "See you tonight, Siri, behave!"

"I always behave," Sirius said cheekily.

"Yeah," Remus smirked. "Badly. Lupin residence!"

With that, he threw the Floo Powder at their feet and they all disappeared in a flash of green flames.

"Well, I suppose I should get lunch started," Ginny smiled. "Alby, do you want to help me?"

"Yes, Mummy," Alby nodded. "What about Sev'us and Daddy?"

"I think we're going to go upstairs and sort out where Severus will be sleeping," Harry replied "Would you mind sharing your room with him?"

"Course not, Daddy!" Alby grinned. "I can share my toys, too."

"That's very generous, luv," Ginny said, "but I think we'll have to go shopping after lunch to get Severus his own toys and things."

"You don't have to," Severus murmured.

"Yes," Harry said firmly. "We do. You definitely need clothes, if nothing else."

"Okay, then," Ginny said, "Alby and I will be in the kitchen."

"And Severus and I will be upstairs," Harry said, smiling.

Ginny nodded and then turned to head into the kitchen with Alby.

"I can just sleep on the couch," Severus said matter-of-factly. "You shouldn't trouble yourself."

"I'm a full grown wizard, remember?" Harry reminded him, smirking. "It's no trouble, trust me. Now, let's take a look at what we've got."

Severus nodded. "Okay."

Harry chuckled, and then proceeded to carry him upstairs.

They had made good start, he thought.

They knew what to expect from each other and understood each other.

Now it was just a matter of time.

A/N: Jlbrew27 says: I hope you all are still enjoying it. Please, review. It's appreciated.

 


Chapter 5: Settling In and Sharing
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Settling In and Sharing

by Snapegirlkmf

When Harry and Severus arrived upstairs, Harry made a right down the hall, explaining that the nursery was down here and so was the bathroom. This was so that Severus didn't need to worry if he had to use the bathroom at night. He wouldn't have far to go, as it was right next door.

Severus glanced around, this part of the house seemed familiar to him, though he wasn't sure why. He squirmed slightly, he wasn't used to being held and carried at all, and for some unknown reason he was getting a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. But he said nothing, not wishing Harry-Potter-to think he was a coward.

Then they entered the nursery, which had once been Harry's as a baby. He and Ginny had fixed the roof and the rest of the upper floor after it had been blown to bits by Voldemort's miscast Killing Curse. Ginny had decorated it with lambs and moons and stars when Alby was a baby, they had since changed the walls to reflect Alby's new interests, which were books and jungle animals. There was a small bookshelf with colorful picture books and a large toybox against one wall. Alby's small bed was covered with a blue comforter with roaring lions, tigers, and giraffes that just touched the floor.

In the opposite corner was an old cot, it was the only relic left of Harry's forgotten childhood in Godric's Hollow, and Harry had fixed it up and used it when his son was born. Now Alby had outgrown it but Ginny had left it in the nursery just in case she was expecting again. Harry had planned to Transfigure it into a small bed for Severus.

"Here you go, Severus," he said, smiling at the boy in his arms. "This is Alby's room and as you can see, it's big enough to share—"

Severus had gone rigid in Harry's arms as soon as he caught sight of the cot.

He recognized that object instantly, as he had tripped over it upon rushing to kneel next to Lily's still form that long ago Halloween night. He would-could-never forget that awful instant, and though the nursery had been altered, Severus still recognized it as the room where he had found his beloved Lily dead on the floor.

The sight triggered one of the worst flashbacks he had ever had.

His eyes widened and he whimpered pathetically, fixed upon the upright cot in the corner, the last time he had seen that cot it had been overturned on its side and next to it had been Lily . . ."NO!" he wailed, but was unable to stop the memory from crashing over him.

Because Harry had once been linked to him before his death, he pulled the other wizard into his memory as well, and for the first time Harry experienced what it had meant for Severus to discover his mother lying so still on the floor, like a broken doll stamped on by a vengeful wicked child. . .

Severus paused but an instant on the threshold of the nursery, his eyes taking in everything—the overturned cot, the forgotten green blanket upon the floor, and the still form of the green-eyed witch lying next to it.

Her wand was still in her hand, as if she had fought till her last breath to protect her child. Her auburn hair spilled across the floor in a crimson swath, like blood, though the Killing Curse left no outward mark. Her face pale and cold as ice, her eyes dark and unseeing, gazing now upon a world no one living had ever seen.

His eyes knew the truth, but his heart cried out in denial. This could not be happening. Not to his Lily. . .the one good thing in his life.

He raced over to kneel next to her, stumbling over the cot in his haste to reach her. She looked as if she but slept . . . and all he had to do was touch her in order to wake her up . . . but a single touch revealed that she was cold . . . as cold as the grave . . . and something shattered deep inside of him then.

He picked up her lifeless body and cradled it close, as he had longed to do so many times. . .

What irony!

That only now, when she was beyond feeling anything ever again, now he could hold her close and whisper in her ear that he loved her . . . always.

He shook soundlessly with terrible wracking sobs, for a grief that was raw and all consuming, that he could not give vent to save by this terrible silent mourning.

"Lily . . . Lily . . . come back . . . come back to me . . ." he screamed over and over inside of his head, unable to deny the inevitable any longer.

He had failed . . . failed her, failed himself, failed her small son . . . Now she was gone and he was left alone . . . alone with the shattered pieces of his heart, which nothing could ever mend again . . .a love unfulfilled and a sorrow too deep for tears . . .

Somehow, Harry managed to wrench himself out of swirling maelstrom of despair, grief, and self-loathing. He had never expected such a reaction from the small dark-haired boy huddled against his shoulder to the sight of his former nursery. He had never even considered that Severus might still remember this room. But now he did, and he trembled with the force of the other's emotions. He felt his own heart break for the former professor, as he realized that Severus had mourned his lost love alone, sharing his feelings with no one. At least he [Harry] had had Ginny, Ron, and Hermione, the other Weasleys, and Remus to comfort him in his grief over Sirius and others.

But who had Severus had?

No one.

Harry gently pulled Severus around, sitting on the floor, and forced the child to look up at him.

"Severus, look at me . . . listen to me . . ." he began, drawing his wand. "I'm sorry . . . I always knew you loved her, but not . . . oh, God, this hurts so much..." Gritting his teeth against the battering waves of grief that surged against his mind, he managed to put up his Occlumency shields and then he placed the tip of his wand against Severus' temple.

Abruptly, the boy jerked away. "No! Don't make me forget! I don't want to forget her!"

"Shhh. I'd never do that," Harry reassured him, gently. "Not to you. I just want you to stop remembering for the moment, Severus. Just for now. I'm going to help you Occlude your mind. Just like you tried to teach me back in fifth year. . . "

Harry muttered something and slipped into Severus' mind, working quickly to isolate and cordon off the memory of his mother's death.

In a few minutes, Severus was free of the terrible memory, it had been safely Occluded away. "There! Feel better now?"

Severus slowly nodded. He then burst into tears, his child's psyche not able to handle the raw grief he had just experienced. But even at five, he knew not to make much noise as he cried, for he still recalled what happened to noisy little brats who woke his daddy crying over nothing.

Tears rolled down his cheeks and Harry instinctively pressed him against his shoulder, rocking him slightly and murmuring, "It's okay, Severus. Someday it'll be okay. When she comes back."

Severus said nothing, he just clung to Harry and cried, all of the tears he had never shed over twenty years ago came pouring out of him.

Harry continued to bear the deluge without complaint, in fact he shed several tears of his own for the mother he never knew.

"You're not alone," he found himself saying to the poor child in his arms. "Not ever again. I promise."

His own emotions were ragged and sore from that moment of sharing, and he wondered how in hell the Potions Master had ever managed to bear the depth of that grief for so many years alone . . .He was, indeed, truly the bravest man-boy?-person-Harry had ever known.

Harry held the stricken child for a long time, not saying anything further.

While he held Severus, he flicked his wand at the cot, cursing himself for not Transfiguring it first thing, and it morphed into a small sturdy bed made of oak with a green and silver coverlet and plump pillow. Then he relaxed and just let the child cry himself out. At last Severus stopped sobbing soundlessly and sat up. Harry's shoulder was damp but he didn't care.

Severus looked at Harry and said, "Forgive me. I . . . I didn't mean to lose control like that . . . I . . ."

Harry was astonished. "You're sorry?" he asked, shocked. "For what? For crying over someone you loved? There's nothing wrong with that, Severus. Nothing at all."

A grimace contorted the boy's features as he whispered, "My father would disagree."

Harry stiffened. "Yeah, well, the old bastard's dead," he growled. "Here, in this house, you can cry all you want to and I'll never punish you for it, Severus. I'm sorry I didn't think ahead and remove the damn crib before bringing you up here. I should have known . . ."

Severus shook his head. "How could you? I've never . . . I've never told anyone about that night, not even Albus knew the full story!" he sniffled, reached up to wipe his nose, and then said plaintively, "Do you have a handkerchief?"

"Uh, sure." Harry groped in a pocket and found a rather crumpled one and handed it to Severus, who immediately scrubbed his face and blew his nose.

"Um . . . you know, Severus, if you have any other memories that are . . . bothering...you," Harry said gently. "We could put them in a Pensieve for you. So then you wouldn't have nightmares or something. If you like, I can borrow the Pensieve in the Headmistress's office and place them inside it. Would you like that?"

Severus thought a moment. "Yes," he said, quietly. " That's a good idea, Potter. There are many memories that . . . I'd rather not deal with at the moment. Memories of . . . my father and . . . the Dark Lord . . ."

"I understand," Harry told him sympathetically. "I'll get the Pensieve from Professor McGonagall first thing tomorrow, and we can go shopping for some things for you this afternoon."

The little boy nodded solemnly. "All right. But there's just one thing."

"What?"

"I get to pick out my own clothes," Severus told him, firmly. " I am not a baby, Potter, contrary to my size. I don't need you to choose for me."

Harry chuckled at the former Potions Master's stubborness. "Okay," he agreed, "but only on one condition."

Severus lifted an eyebrow. "What would that be?" he asked apprehensively.

Harry smirked. "You don't pick out all black clothing. You have to pick out some colored ones, too."

"Very well," he agreed, heaving a 'if I must' sigh. "I only wore black because a Potion Master's robes tend to get dirty and sticky so often and black takes the protective and cleaning charms better than any other color, and because I was in mourning."

"I never knew that!" Harry exclaimed, his eyebrows shooting up in astonishment.

Severus shrugged. "Now you do," he said simply and bluntly.

"Uh . . .yeah," Harry said, hesitantly. "Why don't you go and wash your face and then you can. . .lay down for a bit? See, I've made up a bed for you, and then we can go shopping after lunch."

"I am . . . not hungry," whispered Severus, his stomach clenching at the mere thought of food right then.

He turned and went next door to the bathroom, where he washed all traces of tears from his face.

He felt himself flush in embarrassment, he had never allowed anyone to see him cry, not even Albus Dumbledore, yet Harry-Potter-had seen him cry twice in one morning! The cool water made him feel better and he yawned, for his outburst had exhausted him . . . as had coming through the Veil. Drying his face, he entered the nursery again, and this time noted with relief that the crib was gone and in its place was a small bed just his size. Harry was standing next to it, he had turned back the covers.

Severus hesitated before climbing in, and blinked as Harry tucked him in. "You don't need to . . ." he began.

"I always tuck in Alby," Harry said quietly. "You're part of my family now, Severus, and I'm not going to slight you because you're not my blood relation."

"Thank you," Severus whispered, and blinked away more traitorous tears. He didn't know what was the matter with him. He was sure that Harry-Potter-was just saying that to be nice, that he didn't really mean it. How could he? No one had wanted him since Eileen Prince had died when he was sixteen.

Still, it would be nice if it were true. He yawned again and closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep in seconds.

Harry watched as the exhausted child succumbed to sleep before gently brushing a lock of hair away from Severus' face. He had never thought such grief could exist inside one person, but now that he knew, he was determined to make the former professor's second life one with more laughter than tears. Somehow...

Over lunch, which was hamburgers and chips, Alby's favorite, Harry drew Ginny aside and told her what had occurred upstairs with Severus.

"It . . . was awful, Gin. I never even thought about what it might do to him, seeing that cot again . . . I feel so guilty . . ."

"Harry, how could you have known?" Ginny asked him pointedly. "The professor... Severus... always kept things so close, all bottled up inside . . . you ought to know that better than anyone. He only shared his memories when he was dying. It's going to take time, Harry, for him to trust us fully. Remember, up till now he's had no one he could really confide in or that was there for him."

"I know, but it is going to change." Harry said determinedly.

"Yes, it is," said Ginny, then she hugged him. "Let's eat before the food gets cold."

They returned to the table, where Alby had almost finished his little hamburger, ketchup smeared all over his face. "Daddy, where's Sev'rus?"

"He's asleep, buddy," Harry explained to his son.

"Don't he want lunch?" Alby asked, perplexed how anyone could possibly pass up hamburgers and chips...

"He was very tired, so Mum and I decided to let him take a nap," Harry told the four year old. " When we're finished with lunch, we're going shopping."

"Where?" Alby asked, his eyes growing excited. "At Diagon Alley?"

"Yes," Ginny told him, smiling. They both knew how much Alby loved Diagon Alley.

"Can we go in the book shop? An' the toy store?" begged Alby, hopefully.

"First we need to get Severus some clothes, then we'll see about the toy and book stores," Ginny said, gently cleaning her son's face with a damp cloth.

Alby clapped enthusiastically, sending his half-finished plate flying onto the floor. Pieces of bun and chips scattered all over.

"Oops! Sorry, Mummy. It was an ac-ac- a mistake." Alby apologized, fretful. He no doubt saw his chance to get a new toy flying out the window faster than an owl.

"Oh, Alby!" Ginny groaned, then cleaned up the mess with a wave of her wand.

Harry merely grinned, taking a bite of his hamburger to cover it up. Their son was going through a spilling phase and nearly every mealtime ended with something getting knocked over or spilled.

"I didn't mean to!" Alby told her, close to tears. Ginny could never stay mad at him with that look.

"I know. I'm not mad at you." She went and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Then she went to sit down and eat her own lunch.

Page~*~*~*~* Break

Once they had reached Diagon Alley, flooing into the Leaky Cauldron with Ginny holding Alby and Harry carrying Severus, Harry quickly hurried out the door, not wanting to answer any awkward questions. He knew eventually people would have to be told about his new "son" but he wanted to pick when and where, and how as well. The press had finally quit hounding him and he could now go out in public without fear of a reporter tailing him, demanding he tell the latest details of his life to the public.

Once they were on the street, Severus asked to be put down. "I have legs and can walk."

Harry set him down, then said, "I know, but please hold my hand. I don't want to lose you in the crowd."

The former Potions Master rolled his eyes, but did place his hand in Harry's large one. He knew all too well what sort of creepy characters sometimes lurked in alleys, waiting to snatch up an unguarded child to sell on the black market or use in experiments.

Ginny led them right to Kristoph's Kreations, a clothing store that catered to children of all ages, before they went to Hogwarts, that is. It was next to Madam Malkin's and Trimelda's Toy Exchange. Alby sighed longingly at the toy store display but didn't protest when Ginny walked past it and into the clothing store. He knew better than to demand toys. Such spoiled behavior was not tolerated by either of his parents.

As promised, they allowed Severus to choose his own style and colors of clothing, with a few suggestions from Harry and Ginny.

To their surprise, they found that Severus preferred more casual clothing for everyday wear, though Ginny did buy him a small set of dress robes in a deep green trimmed with gold and a matching silky shirt and pants along with small soft leather shoes. Harry learned that Severus liked not only green, but blue—deep indigo, royal blue, even turquoise. He also liked gray and chocolate brown or light tan, and preferred soft shoes with sturdy soles, comfortable boots, and white sneakers with green piping.

"I hate shoes that pinch and rub my feet," he told Harry seriously while he tried on different sizes and types. "I usually had one or two pairs of boots that I wore everyday, because there is nothing worse than trying to teach in ill-fitting shoes."

"I know what you mean," Harry laughed. "That's why I usually wear my old broken in loafers when I teach Defense."

Severus' eyebrows shot up. "You're a professor?" he asked, his mouth dropping open.

"Yes," Harry told him chuckling. " After a year as an Auror, I decided I really wasn't suited and the school needed a Defense professor so here I am. It's funny, but a lot of my yearmates became teachers." He told Severus the subjects that Neville, Luna, Ginny, Susan, Justin, Astoria, and Draco taught.

"Knew Draco had potential," was all Severus said, but then frowned. "How about Granger? Out of all of you, she is the one I would have thought most likely to teach."

"She's the Charms professor," Harry told him, grinning. "Flitwick finally retired."

Severus wiggled his feet in a pair of shoes, then stood up to walk about in them. Who would have thought the son of James Potter would become a teacher? He certainly had never thought Harry capable of the necessary discipline and dedication it took to teach disobedient brats every day.

"Do you like teaching?"

"Yes, I do," Harry told him, smiling even more. "I didn't think I would at first, but now . . . I really like it, except when I have students I want to throttle."

Severus smirked, recalling how many students he'd wanted to throttle over the years.

He came back to stand before Harry.

"These fit," he nodded down at the shoes.

"Good. Then you can wear them out," Harry said.

They picked out underclothes—Severus preferred black silky boxers but also simple briefs, too—socks, and pajamas and added them to growing pile of clothing. Ginny chose a silver handled comb with a green snake etched into it for Severus and one with a blue cat on it for Alby, so he wouldn't feel left out. Harry told the merchant to put it on his account, then he shrank all the packages and he and Ginny stuffed them into their robe pockets.

By then, Severus' stomach was growling as he had nothing to eat all day. But he said nothing, not wanting to be a burden.

Ginny looked down at him. "Are you hungry, Severus?"

Severus shrugged. "A little."

"Then," Harry said calmly, "We can stop for a bite to eat over at that café."

"Then can we go to the toy store, Mum?" pleaded Alby. "I wanna play with the trains." Besides books, paints, and animals, Alby was fascinated with trains.

Once Severus had something to eat, the Potters took the children into the toy store.

Alby immediately dragged Ginny over to the large model train display, and began to play with it.

Severus noticed that other children were also playing with it. He hardly glanced at it, however. Trains didn't interest him much, not the way books and potions did. Or a nice set of colored pencils and paper. He enjoyed sketching, and was a fair artist, at least when it came to replicating plants and animals. He obediently clung to Harry's hand, his gaze roving over the displays.

There was a large display of stuffed plush animals right across from the train alcove where Alby was playing with some other toddlers.

Severus found his eyes were drawn irresistibly towards it. He had always wanted a stuffed toy to sleep with as a child, but Tobias had refused to let him have one, claiming that was for sissy boys. There were all sorts of animals and birds on the display, dogs, cats, horses, lions, giraffes, monkeys, parrots, owls, hawks, eagles, even a raven.

It was that last that drew Severus' eye the most.

He had always wanted a raven familiar, but had never dared to search for one because of his duties as a double agent. He longed to hug the raven plushie, it looked soft as velvet, with real glassy eyes and a leather beak and feet that looked real. The bird was amazingly detailed, and looked as though it could fly off the shelf and perch upon his shoulder.

Harry caught Severus looking over at the display, it was the first time the boy had displayed interest in any of the toys and knelt down.

"Severus," he asked, knowing if he didn't the boy wouldn't speak up on his own. "Is there something you'd like to get?"

Severus looked down at his feet, unwilling to let Harry see the longing in his eyes. It was ridiculous, wishing for a stuffed toy, he might have a five-year-old body, but in his mind he was a grown man.

"No," Severus muttered. "I do not need any toys."

"If you like something, just tell me." Harry encouraged, all too familiar with the denial phase. That was something he had gotten much practice at growing up with Dudley. He'd convinced himself numerous times that he didn't really like something because he knew he would never get it and there was no sense in wishing for something he could never have.

Severus crossed his arms over his chest, scowling. "I'm a grown man, Potter. I don't need a stuffed raven, I need a potions kit and a lab!" But even as he spoke, his eyes drifted to the raven.

Harry ignored the other's indignant tone and walked over to the shelf and picked up the raven. It was the last one left.

"Here, Severus," Harry said softly. "Every kid needs a plush toy to sleep with, and even if part of you is still thirty-eight, there's another part that's five and well . . . here you go." He held out the plush toy.

Before he could stop himself, Severus' hands reached automatically for the raven. He clutched the velvety-soft bird close. His eyes found Harry's. "I . . . can have him?" he asked, not even realizing how childlike he sounded.

"He's all yours," Harry told him, firmly. "Matter of fact, when we get home, I can enchant him so he mimics you, like a real raven. You could tell him all your secrets or something and he'll never tell anyone else. Would you like that?"

Severus gave him a very tentative smile. "Very much so," he stroked the raven's soft 'feathers'. "I think . . . I'll call him Mimic."

Ginny finally managed to drag Alby away from the model Hogwarts Express, after buying him a tiny engine.

Then Alby grabbed Severus by the hand and led him over to the art section, where the two spent almost an hour picking out all kinds of paints, chalk, pencils, and drawing paper. Ginny also picked up several coloring books and paint by numbers.

They went to the book section, and Alby asked Severus if he could read yet.

"I can," the former Potions Master told him proudly. "I can teach you how."

Alby grinned. "I like having a big brudder!" he told him, hugging him.

Severus stiffened. He had never really been hugged like that before.

Tentatively, he put his arms around Alby and hugged him back, very gently.

A minute later, he had pulled away, muttering, "All right already! Enough with the touchy-feely stuff!"

Severus selected several books with Alby and promised to read one to him before bedtime.

Harry insisted upon buying Severus a child-sized cauldron and potions kit.

The five-year-old sputtered indignantly.

"Potter!" he informed the man, glaring. "I can use a standard cauldron, for Merlin's sake!"

Harry looked down at the pint-sized potions prodigy and said sternly, "Not right now you can't. You're too little to use one. From now on, you're going to have to ask permission before brewing anything, and promise me that you won't try and brew anything on your own."

Severus' eyes flashed in a familiar look of outrage.

"I'm a certified Potions Master!" he practically shouted. "And have been since before you were born!"

"You mean you were," Harry corrected firmly. "Right now you're physically five, Severus Tobias. Whether you like that fact or not doesn't change it."

"I still remember how to brew every potion," Severus insisted stubbornly.

"Let me put it to you this way," Harry said, keeping his voice to a whisper so no one could really hear him. "Would you let a five-year-old play with your potion ingredients and cauldron?"

"Of course not! It's too dangerous!" Severus snapped before he could think better of it.

"My point exactly." Harry said, concealing a grin. He knew this was one argument he was sure to win with his former professor. For once.

Severus sputtered and sulked, but had to admit that Harry's reasoning was sound. But he sure didn't have to like it! Not at all.

"What if I brew a potion anyway?" he grumbled rebelliously.

"Then you'll be banned from my lab for a week or more," Harry answered. "And maybe even get a few smacks, too."

"You're unbelievable!" Severus muttered, longing to throw up his hands. Imagine! He, the premiere Potions Master in all of Britain, not allowed to brew potions! He sulked a little as they made their way out of the store, Mimic held close.

Harry patted him on the head, understanding completely...but he still wasn't going to let Severus brew by himself.

Though he would never have admitted it, this made Severus feel a little bit better...

Lupin Residence, Godric's Hollow:

"Dora and I have decided to allow you all to share a room," Remus announced as he led Sirius up to the loft, which he had partitioned off originally to give each of his sons a room of their own.

But now with addition of Sirius, Dora and he had decided it would be easier on everyone if the boys all shared the loft. It would also get them used to sharing a room together, as they would do at Hogwarts.

The loft was large and roomy, with a tall wooden railing about the front portion which faced towards the front of the house. A blue and white bathroom was just down the hall, next to Remus and Dora's room, decorated with all kinds of sea creatures.

While Remus removed the wall separating Jamie's and Ted's bedrooms, Dora Transfigured Jamie's old rocking horse into a bed for Sirius, complete with a Snitch coverlet in white and gold. "There! How's that, Siri?"

Sirius whooped and threw himself on his new bed, bouncing up and down. "It's wicked awesome, Dora!"

Dora smiled, then busied herself enlarging the closet and chest of drawers so there would be enough room for Sirius' clothing.

Ted's half of the room had Quidditch posters all over it, while Jamie's had brooms and dragons. He wasn't, yet, half as Quidditch mad as his older brother.

Sirius' bed was inbetween the two Lupin boys and Dora had cleared a space on the wall for him to decorate as he chose. She knew from stories told to her by her mother, that Sirius hadn't really been allowed to decorate his room as he had wished growing up with his mother and father. Mrs. Black had insisted he keep his room a certain way, to reflect upon their ancient and Noble Name, which meant no Quidditch posters or rock star posters. Dora figured that giving Sirius permission to express himself now would lead to less rebelliousness later on when he was an adolescent.

"You can decorate the wall behind your bed any way you like, Siri," she told her miniature cousin.

"I can?" the boy cried, smirking.

"Any way that's appropriate for a seven-year-old," Remus amended swiftly, knowing all too well what that smirk meant.

"You ruin all my fun, Moony!" the other groaned, sighing dramatically.

"I'll go and make some lunch, shall I?" Tonks suggested.

"Please do. I'm starving." Remus said.

"Me too, Mum!" Jamie said. "I want cheese and pickle sandwiches."

"We had that last time," Ted cried. "It's my turn to pick. I want chicken nuggets and chips."

Familiar with this argument, Remus said, "Sirius, since it's your first day here, why don't you choose the lunch menu?"

"Uh . . . all right. We can have my favorite . . .hot roast beef with gravy and mashed potatoes."

Both Lupin boys looked pleased about that. "Sounds good to me," Ted grinned.

"I'll leave you three to get settled in," Remus said. "After lunch, we'll stop by Granny Dromeda's and introduce her to you, Sirius."

"Granny makes the bestest shortbread!" Jamie told his new brother.

"I know. I remember," Sirius smiled.

"Well, I hope you also remember not to stuff yourselves full of sweets because later on tonight we're going to the Weasleys for Victory Day and you know Aunt Molly always has lots of food." Remus reminded.

"Will Snivellus be there?" asked Sirius, impudently.

"Yes, Sirius. Severus will be there and I expect you to behave yourself. Which includes not calling him that name."

"But I always called him that in school, Moony!" objected Sirius.

Remus knelt so he was looking right into Sirius' eyes.

"Sirius," he told him, his face extremely stern. " I want to get one thing clear right now. What you used to do and what you ought to have done are two different things. It wasn't funny, it was cruel, and this time around you're going to treat Severus differently."

"He's still a greasy git!" Sirius told him, pouting.

"No, he's not," Remus lectured firmly. "He's a little boy just like you and the quicker you get that through your head, the better this will be."

Sirius glared mutinously. This was a side of his old friend he had never seen before-well, maybe, upon occasion...but not often.

"Now," Remus told him. "I want you to be polite and civil to him, and if not you'll spend the rest of tonight with your nose to a wall while the other kids play and have a good time."

"Aw, Remus," Sirius whined. "Come on!"

"I mean it, Sirius Orion," Remus glared, forbiddingly. "Now, are you going to behave?"

"If you don't, you'll be in big trouble," warned Jamie, who had learned the hard way never to test his father when he used that particular tone.

Sirius wanted shrug and say he was used to being in trouble, but then changed his mind. He didn't want to be punished on his first day back and there was something about Remus now that suggested he wouldn't hesitate to do what he said, unlike the shy quiet boy he'd gone to school with.

"Okay. I'll be good," Sirius agreed, sighing. For a little while, anyway...

"Glad to hear it. I'm going to go and help Dora," Remus turned and went downstairs, leaving the three boys alone to get acquainted.

Ted cocked his head at his "new" brother and asked, "How come you call my dad Moony?"

"Yeah, how come?" Jamie chimed in.

"Uh . . .I don't know . . . it used to be his nickname a long time ago and my . . .uh...my dad used to call him it, and he said I could." Sirius managed to come up with a plausible explanation.

"Where's your dad?" was Ted's next question.

"He died," Sirius told him, shrugging.

"How?" asked Jamie, his eyes wide.

"Heart attack," Sirius replied, smirking. It was true, after all.

"How about your mum?" Teddy asked, curiously. "Did she die too?"

"Yeah," Sirius said, nodding. And good riddance, too!

"That's too bad," Jamie said, sadly. "Is that why you're our new brother?"

"Yeah." Abruptly, Sirius switched the subject, not wanting to talk about his parents anymore.

"So . . . what's your favorite store in Diagon Alley?"

"Quality Quidditch Supplies!" both boys said in the same breath.

Sirius grinned. "Me too! But I also like the joke shop, Gambles and Japes. Ever been in there?"

"Uh huh. We went there a few times, but Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes is much cooler," said Ted. "That's the joke shop run by our cousin, George."

"A new joke shop?" Sirius' eyes grew very bright. "I can't wait to go in it! We're going to have such fun, boys! I know practically every prank there is."

"Cool! Will you teach us?" Jamie asked eagerly.

"Sure I will, pal. I'll teach you all I know." Sirius promised, sensing he had some very eager students. Then he lowered his voice even further. "You know what else? I'm an Animagus."

Jamie wrinkled his nose. "What's that?"

"Watch." Sirius concentrated.

Then he blurred into a gangly black mutt, all long ears and tail. He thumped his tail on the floor happily, glad that he still remembered how to transform. He wondered if Jamie could learn again, and if Ted could also, considering he was also a metamorphmagus.

"Wow!" Ted grinned.

"Bloody hell!" Jamie gasped.

Ted elbowed him in the ribs. "Don't swear! Else Dad'll and Mum'll wash out your mouth."

"Sorry! Don't tell!" Jamie begged.

"I won't. I'm not a tattletale," Ted rolled his eyes. His hair changed from its normal brown to purple.

Sirius transformed back and said, "See? I can become a dog. Pretty neat, huh?"

"Awesome! Can you teach us how too?" asked Jamie wistfully.

"Well . . . maybe not till you're older," Sirius hedged. "It takes a lot more concentration to change forms."

"Oh. But you can teach me how to fly, right?"

"I can teach you that," Ted put in, feeling a bit usurped in his brotherly duties by this new kid.

"I can fly real good now, Aunt Ginny said so."

"Great, because then we can play Quidditch together," Sirius said quickly.

Then he said softly, "Just remember, don't tell your mum and dad that I can change into a dog, okay? It's not something I want them to know about just yet. It'll be our secret, okay?"

"Okay. Wild hippogriffs couldn't drag it outta me," Ted said solemnly.

"Me too," piped up Jamie.

They all shook hands to seal the promise.

Sirius concealed a grin.

Despite Remus' supposed rules, he knew this life was going to be a lot better than his previous one. After all, here he was the son of a Marauder and had a former Marauder as his brother and another in the making. What could be better than that? It would certainly be a far cry from the way his strict parents had raised him before, with all their insistence on proper behavior and bloodlines and all that rot. Oh, sure, Remus would try to act strict, but Sirius knew how to wrap him about his little finger without half-trying. The only thing he wished for now was that Snape had stayed dead, because who needed the greasy git anyhow?

Just then Dora's voice floated up the stairs, calling them down for lunch.

All three boys made a beeline for the stairs and slid down the banister, whooping like a pack of wild things. The Lupin household had now gotten even noisier, it seemed...

A/N: Snapegirlkmf says: Hope you all liked, please let me know what you think.

Next-Vicotry Day dinner turns a bit nasty with a brawl at the Burrow!

 

 


Chapter 6: Brawl at the Burrow
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Brawl at the Burrow

by Jlbrew27

Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire...

Draco Malfoy had to surpress a yawn, as he listened to yet another of his father's stories about 'the good old days'. Unfortunately, Scorpius-his four year old son-adored his grandfather and his stories so it couldn't be helped. Cory was at that age where just about anything excited him. And to listen to one of Lucius' tales of his 'glory days' was almost as exciting as his favorite fairy tales.

"Did you really beat that Gryffindor like that, Grandpa?" Cory asked Lucius, his blue eyes wide with wonder and awe.

"I most certainly did," Lucius Malfoy declared proudly. "Showed him that a pureblood was certainly better than a half-blood any day!"

"Lucius! Dad! Father!" Narcissa, Draco, and Astoria exclaimed at the same time, each throwing a reproving look at Malfoy Sr.

Lucius sighed, wincing. "Sorry," he said, glancing down at his grandson. "That was a mean thing for Grandpa to say, Cory."

"I'm sorry I got you trouble, Grandpa," Scorpios told him, solemnly. "It was a good story, though."

Lucius smiled fondly at his grandchild. "Indeed, it was," he told him, reaching out to stroke the boy's pale blond hair affectionately. He had made such a mess of things when Draco had been younger, and he knew it. He had vowed upon the birth of his grandson that he would not make that mistake again and he and his son's relationship had improved in the last eight years, but the wounds he'd caused with his pureblood mentality and fanatism remained.

Draco loved his father, but quite frankly there were times he wanted to throttle the living daylights out of him. "Father," he said, shaking his head. "You know how Tori and I feel about you saying those things in front of him."

"I know, I know," Lucius said apologetically. "I am sorry, son." He glanced at his daughter-in-law.

"Apology accepted," Astoria told him. "Don't let it happen again."

"Or Daddy will put you in the corner," Scorpius informed his grandfather, wide-eyed. "Daddy put me in the corner yesterday..."

"And what could you, my sweet, sweet boy, have done to deserve that?" Narcissa asked him, causing her son to snort.

"By being anything but a sweet, sweet boy," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "Go on, Cory, tell Granny what you did yesterday."

"I rode Daddy's broom," his son admitted, teary-eyed. He knew how to milk sympathy for all it was worth. He was a Malfoy, after all.

"He bloody well did," Draco said, frowning. "Right down the dungeon corridor!"

"Oh, my," Narcissa said, stunned. "Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy, you could have been killed!"

"Now, now, Cissy," Lucius said placatingly. "I'm sure Draco handled it before he got hurt."

"Luckily, Harry was on his way there to discuss something with me," Draco said, "and stopped the little blighter just in time. If Cory thought I was mad, he really didn't know what to think when 'Unca Harry' got a hold of him."

"I can well imagine," Lucius chuckled. "How is Mr. Potter these days?"

"He and Ginny are well, as is Alby," Draco told him. "He was going to visit Severus' grave this afternoon, as he always does on V Day."

"Yes," Lucius said, looking forlorn. "Poor Severus..."

"Luc," Narcissa said, reaching for his hand. "You couldn't have known he intended to kill him."

"It was still I who brought him there," Lucius reminded her. "And all I cared about was that it wasn't me..."

Draco frowned. He had not realized just how guilty his father was for his part in Professor Snape's death...

It was Lucius who had originally recruited Severus into the Death Eaters, after all...It had been Lucius who had taken the shunned young Slytherin under his wing. He would never have admitted it back then, but he had actually liked the Potions Master, almost like a younger brother. He'd always wanted a sibling, much as Draco had, but it was a Malfoy tradition to only have a singular line: father and son. It was a tradition Draco and Tori were considering breaking...

"You know," Astoria said, realizing things had grown far too serious, "Molly and Arthur Weasley did invite us to the Burrow for their annual dinner."

Draco smiled. "That's right, they did," he said. "and I know Harry and Ginny are going to be there."

"Are we gonna go, Daddy?" Cory piped up, excitedly. "Can I go play with Alby and Rosie?"

"Yes, you can," Draco told him. "Father, Mother, why don't you both come too? Aunt Andromeda is coming with Remus and Dora and their boys..."

"Hmm," Narcissa said thoughtfully. "It would be nice to see Dromeda. I haven't spoken to her in almost a month, and Molly does have that wonderful recipe I've been meaning to get for the cook to try..."

"I don't know," Lucius said, hesitantly. "Arthur would not..."

"Oh, Father," Draco rolled his eyes. "Tori and I have been at the Burrow loads of times. It's time you and Arthur put aside this stupid boyhood spat and grew a pair!"

"A pair of what?" Cory asked, frowning.

This, of course, caused his father to blush fiercely.

"Yes, dear," Tori smiled sweetly, too sweetly, at her husband. "Do tell?"

Draco loved his wife dearly, but she really knew how to let him know when he was being a right regular ass!

"Uh, I'll tell you when you're older," he told his son hastily. He coughed uncomfortably.

"Come, love," Narcissa said, smiling at her husband. "Let's go. We had nothing planned for this evening, anyway."

Lucius nodded. "Very well," he said, reluctantly. "Perhaps I can get Arthur to give me the latest news from his department..."

Draco grinned. It seemed tonight the Malfoy and Weasley families were going to get together. Hell must surely have frozen over!

...

Andromeda Tonks' home, an hour later...

Remus, Dora, and the boys all stepped through the Floo into Andromeda's living room.

"Is that my boys I hear?" Andromeda Tonks came out of the kitchen wearing an apron and a bright smile.

"Granny!" Teddy and Jamie exclaimed, rushing forward to hug their beloved grandmother.

Sirius hung back. He only remembered Andromeda from when he was a boy the first time. She was, by blood, his first cousin. It did seem strange to him that she would be his grandmother, essentially, now. Of course, he had always been good at 'going with the flow'.

Andromeda looked up from where she was recieving and giving hugs and kisses. Her eyes widened.

"If I did not know better," she said, eyeing him sharply. "I would say I was staring at Sirius Orion Black!"

"Uh, hi," Sirius said, suddenly shy. "It's me, Andromeda. I swear!"

Andromeda glanced at Remus and Dora. "It's true," her werewolf son-in-law told her gently.

"How?" she asked, stunned.

It was her daughter that answered. "Don't rightly know, Mum," Dora told her mother honestly. "Harry found him this morning when he went to visit his grave."

"And Severus, too," Remus told Andromeda. "They both came back-as kids-together."

"Unfortunately," Sirius muttered, sourly.

"Siri," Remus glared down at him sternly.

"What?" Sirius asked innocently.

"You know what," Remus told him firmly.

Sirius sighed. "I miss the old Moony," he muttered, pouting.

"I rather like the new one," Dora said, kissing her husband.

"EEW! GROSS!" Teddy and Jamie exclaimed at the same time, wrinkling their noses in disgust.

"Give me a break," Sirius rolled his eyes.

"If you aren't careful, young man," Remus told him sternly. "I'll be giving you something all right . . . but it won't be anything you like!"

"Yes, Moony," Sirius said, sighing. "Are we going to the Burrow now?"

"Oh my, my cobbler!" Andromeda exclaimed, rushing back into the kitchen.

She returned a few moments later without her apron and carrying a large bowl.

"It smells great, Granny!" Jamie, who loved sweets, said. "Can we try some now?"

"No, you may not," Dora informed him firmly. "You can wait 'til dessert time at the Burrow."

"Let's be off, then," Andromeda said, smiling. "I'm rather looking foward to this year's celebration."

"Yes," Remus said, with a glance at Sirius. "It should prove to be quite interesting."

Sirius grinned. Quite interesting, indeed.

Together, the Lupin family headed for the Burrow.

...

The Burrow, same time:

As he and the Potters stepped out of the Floo and into the Burrow, Severus could not help but feel apprehesive. Clutching Mimic, his new stuffed raven, in a practically a death grip he held onto Harry's hand tightly.

"There's nothing to be scared about," Harry told him, glancing down at him. "Nobody here will hurt you."

Easy for you to say, Potter, Severus couldn't help but think. You weren't the one making them scrub cauldrons! He did, however, glare up at his former student. "I am not scared, Potter," he told Harry stubbornly. Now, if only he could convince himself of that...

"Oh, there you all are!" Molly Weasley emerged from the kitchen, smiling brightly at them. "Everybody else is already here...well, except for the Lupins, but they should be right behind you all."

As if on cue, the Floo burst to life once more and the Lupin family stepped through.

"Hullo," Remus greeted them. "How was your day today?"

"Eventful," Harry told him, glancing at Severus. "Yours?"

"The same," Remus said, placing a hand on Sirius' head.

"I aim to please," the boy told him cheekily.

Harry chuckled at his former godfather, shaking his head. Remus had his hands full now, that was for sure.

"Dad, can we go play?" Teddy asked his father immediately.

"Of course," Remus told him, "but don't get into any mischief!"

The two Lupin lads nodded and ran off to find their cousins.

"Me, too?" Sirius asked hopefully.

"In a moment," Remus told him.

"Can I go find Rosie?" Alby asked, referring to his favorite cousin. "Can Sev'rus come, too?"

"I shall remain here," Severus stated firmly. "I have no need to 'play'."

Harry sighed, but nodded at his son. "Go on, son. Severus might join you later."

"Okay, Daddy," Alby said politely. He rushed off, but not wihout first stopping to give his grandmother a hug and kiss. "Love you, Grammy!"

"I love you, too," Molly said, smiling at her daughter's only child. "Run along and play now. Scorpius is here, too."

"Draco and Tori are here?" Harry asked, smiling.

Molly nodded. "And surprisingly enough, so are Lucius and Narcissa," she said wryly.

"The Malfoys and the Weasleys getting together?" Sirius piped up. "Did hell freeze over or something while I was dead?"

"Sirius Orion Black!" Remus and Dora exclaimed at the same time, causing Molly's eyebrows to shoot clear to her forehead.

"If Cissy is here," Andromeda said smiling, "I'd best go see her...haven't spoken to her in a month, you know. She's so deprived!"

Laughing, the friendly Tonks matriarch headed for the kitchen.

"Oh, there you all are," Ron spoke up as he and Hermione came in from outside. "Wondered when you lot would show..."

"Who are they?" Hermione asked, smiling down at the two unfamiliar boys.

"Hiya, Hermione!" Sirius piped up immediately. "Don'tcha recognize me?"

"Should I?" Hermione frowned. There was something about both boys . . .

"Hey," Ron said, smirking and pointing at Severus. "With his black hair and eyes, he kinda looks a little like ole Snape!"

Severus glared up at him. "Astute as ever, I see," he growled, rolling his eyes. He then glanced up at Ginny. "I always knew you inherited the bulk of the brain cells," he told her. "There must be a genetic defect in the Y chromosome in the Weasley line..."

"Severus," Harry sighed, disapprovingly.

Ron's eyebrows rose clear to his head. "H-Harry?" he asked, wide-eyed. "Why does that kid sound exactly like Snape!"

"Probably because he is Severus, Ron," Harry told him, gently. "He's just a bit smaller than the last time you saw him."

"And this is Sirius," Remus told them, placing a hand on the boy's head.

"H-How is this possible?" Hermione asked, wide-eyed.

Harry sighed, glancing at his mother-in-law. "Can you go gather all the adults?" he asked her. "I'd rather only have to say this once."

"Of course, Harry dear," Molly said, still looking slightly bewildered.

Once all the adults had crammed themselves into the living room, no small feat by any means, Harry told them what had transpired that day.

For a long time, no one spoke, but then George piped up, "It's great to have you guys back!"

That more or less broke the silence and everyone began talking all at once.

"Can I go play now, Moony?" Sirius asked hopefully. He had never been a patient individual.

Remus chuckled, but nodded. "Go on, pup," he said affectionately. "No mischief!"

"Who, me?" Sirius grinned impishly.

"I see he hasn't changed," Narcissa muttered, shaking her head.

"You have no idea," Remus and Harry said at the same time, chuckling.

Harry glanced down at Severus. "Are you sure you don't want to join the other kids?"

Severus snorted. "I am not a child, Potter," he reminded Harry firmly.

Harry merely smirked. They would probably have taken him a bit more seriously if he weren't holding onto his stuffed raven for dear life. Mimic, however, was quickly becoming his security blanket and there was no way he was going to leave the raven at-Potter's-home.

"I just thought..." Harry tried to tell him, but he interrupted.

"You were mistaken," Severus informed him, nodding. "I will go over there with Arthur and Lucius." With that, he headed in the direction of where the two older men sat.

Severus never thought he'd see the day when the head of the Malfoys and the head of the Weasleys would be sitting down speaking-cordially-to one another. But they were. At his approach, he saw that they were discussing politics. "Hello, Arthur, Lucius," he said, hesitantly.

Both men, now grandfathers, glanced at him. It was clear they did not know quite what to make of him.

"My physical age aside," he told them, "I am still me-no matter what Potter thinks. I am quite capable of having an adult conversation."

Lucius swallowed visibly. "Oh, Severus," he said, scooping him up into his lap suddenly. "I'm so, so, sorry!"

Severus stiffened, wondering what had come over the man. "Sorry for what?" he asked, stunned.

"For...for...for EVERYTHING!" Lucius exclaimed, repentant. "EVERYTHING!"

Severus swallowed. Had Lucius gone senile since his death? Had the Dark Lord driven him insane somehow?

"I, uh, I," Severus searched for something to say and could only come up with on thing. "I forgive you."

Lucius' eyes widened and he crushed him to his chest. "Thank you, thank you," he said, tearfully. "Thank you!"

"Lucius, man, for pity sake," Arthur said, laughing. "I thought you were a Slytherin, not a Hufflpuff! Pull yourself together, man! You're disgracing yourself, for Merlin's sake!"

That seemed to shock the Malfoy patriarch back to his senses. "Quite right, sorry," he said, setting him back down. "It is good that you have been given a...second chance...Severus."

Severus, still slightly stunned by this turn of events, simply nodded. "Yes," he said quietly. "I guess it is."

"Sev'rus!" he turned at the sound of Alby's voice. He was approaching with a red-headed girl his own age by his side.

"Sev'rus," Alby told him, smiling. "This is my cousin Rosie. Rosie, this is Sev'rus. He's my new brudder!"

"Hi," Rose Weasley greeted him. "Would you like to come play with us?"

"Please, Sev'rus?" Alby pleaded, his green eyes wide. "Please?"

Severus could never say no to the pleading look in those particular green orbs. "I suppose I can," he said, and allowed himself to be pulled out of the house into the yard.

Numerous red headed children, naturally, were scattered about with a couple of blondes thrown in here and there. He and Alby, naturally, were the only dark haired children that he saw.

"What shall we play?" he asked Alby and Rose curiously.

He had not played that many games as a child and was certain they had changed since then...

"I like hide and seek," Rose said.

"Me, too," Alby said, clapping.

Severus nodded, relieved.

He used to be quite good at that game...at least when he and Lily had played he had been.

"Maybe you should play 'Catch the Death Eater'," a snide voice suggested and they all looked to find Sirius, Jamie, and Teddy standing there.

Severus gripped Mimic even tighter, trying desperately not to think of his former school days.

"Go away, Black," he growled.

"Sod off, Snivellus," Sirius growled back. "You might have Harry fooled, but I remember what you were like."

Alby and Rose gasped.

"Unca Remus won't like you sayin' bad words," Alby told him. "Teddy and Jamie get in trouble when they do."

"Uh, yeah, Siri," Teddy said, hesitantly. "Dad told you not to call him that, remember?"

Sirius snorted. Of course he remembered! "Moony's not here now," he said, "and I know you all won't tattle on me, right?"

The Lupin boys nodded. They'd never snitch on their new brother.

Rose glared at them. She had inherited both her mother and grandmother's temper, and as everyone knew there was nothing scarier than a red headed witch...even a miniature one. "You leave Sev'rus alone," she told him firmly. "Or I'll tell Uncle Remus on you!"

"Would she?" Sirius asked his new brothers curiously.

Jamie snorted, and nodded. "Nosie Rosie is nothin' but a little tattletale," he said, glaring at the girl. "She thinks she's sooo smart 'cuz Auntie Mione is!"

"Rosie is smart," Alby defended his cousin, glaring. "You say 'sorry', Jamie. That was mean!"

Severus stepped foward. He'd be damned if he let Black and his new cohorts insult and harm his namesake and his obviously favorite cousin! "This is between us, Black," he growled. "It always has been. Leave them alone!"

Sirius snorted. "You should have stayed beyond the Veil, Snivellus!" he told his rival. "Why do you have to ruin everything?"

"I did not ask for this," Severus reminded him. "I had no say in it! Lily said so!"

Sirius smirked. A look that was part imp, part gremlin. It never meant anything good. "You think you and Lily are gonna live happily ever after, don't you?" he asked Severus, snickering.

"She promised things would be different this time!" Severus replied, gripping Mimic even more.

"How can it be different?" Sirius asked, his lip curled. "You're still a slimy, no good, greasy git! 'Sides...James is back, too, remember?" He glanced pointedly at his new brother. True, the young Lupin had no clue he was James Potter reborn...but still... Sirius had never much cared about the minute details of things. "Why would she ever choose you over him?" Sirus demanded cruelly. "She didn't the first time. She won't this time. You'll see."

Tears welled in Severus' eyes, burning hot tears of anger, but he refused to let them fall. "You're a bloody liar, Black!" he yelled, furious. "I'll send you back beyond the Veil myself!"

Then he sprang at his tormentor. Mimic dropped from his hold the instant he leapt foward. Before anyone could react, he and Black were on the ground.

Teddy, Jamie, and Alby watched as their new brothers wrestled and fought. All three clearly didn't know what to do.

Luckily, Rose did.

"UNCLE HARRY! UNCLE REMUS!" the red headed girl screamed at the top of her lungs. "HELP! HELP!"

Severus and Sirius paid this no mind, continuing their fight, until strong hands lifted them off of each other.

"Ho now, what's this?" Remus asked, holding onto the struggling Sirius with an effort.

"Severus," Harry exclaimed, also trying to hold onto a squirming little boy. "Stop this right now!"

"I TOLD YOU THINGS WOULDN'T CHANGE! I TOLD YOU HE'D BE THE SAME!" Severus screamed at him, burying himself in his shoulder.

"Who started this?" Remus asked Sirius sternly.

"He did, Moony!" Sirius told him. "He attacked me...I just defended myself!"

Alby and Rose both gasped at that. "He's fibbing!" they both exclaimed at the same time.

Teddy and Jamie both winced, but didn't say anything in their new brother's defense.

"Alby," Harry said, holding a still sobbing Severus closer to him. "What happened? It's okay, son, you can tell us."

"He was sayin' mean things, Daddy," Alby said, pointing at Sirius. "He called Sev'rus Sn..Sni...Sniv..." He couldn't quite get the word out, however.

"Snivellus?" Remus asked, his eyebrows knitting together.

Both Rose and Alby nodded.

"Sirius Orion Black!" Remus glared at the boy in his arms. "What did I tell you this afternoon?"

Sirius shrugged. He refused to make eye contact.

Remus' eyes turned feral gold.

"It seems I will just have to show I mean what I say," he told him, a low growl rumbling in his throat.

He turned towards the house.

"W-Where are we going?" Sirius asked cautiously.

"Arthur's study," Remus told him, gripping his cane tightly.

Once they were gone, Harry glanced down at Teddy and Jamie.

"Did you two have a hand in this?" he asked them sternly.

The two Lupin lads shook their heads quickly.

"Then go play," Harry told them. "Alby, why don't you and Rose go play with Cory, okay?"

Alby nodded. "Okay, Daddy," his son said, obediantly. "What 'bout Sev'rus?"

"I'll take care of Severus," Harry assured him. "Run along now. It's almost time for dinner."

The four children did as instructed, leaving him and Severus alone together.

Harry stroked the still sobbing child's hair, offering reassuring words that didn't seem to be helping.

Noticing something on the ground, he bent down and picked up the stuffed raven that had not left Severus' grip all day.

"Mimic needs a hug, Severus," Harry said, quietly.

One small arm unlatched from around his neck and he placed the stuffed toy in the crook of it.

Severus pulled the stuffed raven against his body and sniffed. "T-Thank you."

Harry smiled. It was a start.

"Let's go get you cleaned up," he whispered to the boy, and then proceeded to head into the house.

He couldn't help but think that this was quickly turning into quite the Victory Day...

 

 


Chapter 7: Things Will Be Different
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Things Will Be Different

by Snapegirlkmf

**warning some spanking in this chapter-Don't like, skip that part**

Harry carried Severus into the bathroom so he could wash the dirt and blood off the little boy's hands and face. He set the child on the counter, and ran a washcloth under warm water, applying a small amount of soap to it. Then he gently washed Severus' face and hands. The boy never moved.

Harry frowned when he caught sight of a faint bruise on the side of Severus' face. He used a new washcloth, dampening it with cold water, and placed it against the side of Severus' face. Then he applied some salve to the scrapes on the boy's hands.

"There, how's that? Does it hurt anymore?"

Severus looked at him, and Harry winced at look of accusation and betrayal in the boy's eyes, eyes that had seen and known too much for a mere five-year-old.

"I've had worse," he stated, quietly.

"I know." Harry sighed, wishing to reach out and gently touch the boy's cheek. Unfortunately, he knew the reaction he'd get if he did. Maybe one day . . .

"Care to tell me exactly why you two were fighting?" he asked him, raising an eyebrow. "Was it just over him calling you that awful name?"

Severus stiffened. "That awful name, Potter," he growled savagely, "was the beginning of years of bullying and torment. If this was my second chance, as you put it, then why am I forced to relive the worst moments of my schooldays again? What's the point of being brought back if things will be the same as before?"

Harry removed the washcloth from Severus' face and tossed it in the sink. Then he sat down on toilet, figuring here was as good as anywhere to have a heart-to-heart talk with his new ward. "That won't happen, Severus," he said firmly."You have my word on it. This time, things will be different."

"Really? Black is still the same nasty little git he always was!" snapped the other. "You didn't hear what he said to me, before I punched him a good one. He said . . . he said that I should have stayed dead, that there was no chance for things to ever be different this time. That even if Lily returned, she would still choose James over me, just like she did the first time around." Pain flared in the too-wise eyes, a pain that had been decades in the making and which lingered still.

Inwardly, Harry cursed his former godfather's cruel mouth. What had Sirius been thinking? He shook his head. He groped for words to ease the former Potions Master's pain.

"Now tell me, Severus," he said, smirking slightly. "who are you going to believe? Sirius or Lily?"

After a long moment, Severus mumbled, "Lily. . . I don't trust the mutt as far as I can throw him."

"That's what I thought. Still, you know you shouldn't have hit him." Harry began, using the same tone he did on one of his godsons when they started a fight.

"I was provoked, Potter!" Severus declared stubbornly.

"True, but I seem to remember you lecturing me and Draco once upon a time about thinking before we reacted and how dueling never solved anything. Sound familiar?" Harry reminded.

"That was different." The little boy's chin jutted out stubbornly.

"What should you have done instead of punch him out?"

Severus bit his lip. Though he hated to admit it, Potter—Harry—had a point.

"I should have walked away and told an adult," he admitted. Now he felt ashamed, for allowing his temper to rule him. After all, he wasn't a child anymore. He knew better. "If Black had left me alone none of this would have happened. But he had to start with me, like always. And now I'll bet he'll get off, same as always." Severus snorted. "While I'll be in trouble!"

"Not this time he won't. Remus isn't Dumbledore, and neither am I."

"Lupin is the mutt's best friend." Severus argued. "He used to watch while your sainted father, Black, and Pettigrew ambushed me three on one."

"He told me awhile ago that was one of the things he regretted most about his schooldays. That he didn't do anything to stop what my dad, Pettigrew, and Sirius did. But he was afraid to say anything to them because he didn't want to lose their friendship. He said he knows now that he was wrong, and he should have stood up for you, done the right thing."

"Too late now." Severus snorted, rolling his eyes.

"For the past, yes," Harry agreed softly. "But the Remus you used to know has changed, Severus. He's not a pushover like you seem to think. He's learned from his mistakes. Ask Ted and Jamie if you don't believe me. They'll tell you how much trouble they get into if they play pranks at school on anyone. Remus doesn't tolerate that. He won't from Sirius either, now that Sirius is his ward. I guarantee you, Severus, that right now he's giving Sirius the worst lecture of his life and after it he'll turn Sirius over his knee too."

Severus tossed him a look of utter disbelief. "And pigs will fly, Potter!" he sneered mockingly. "How would you know anyhow?"

"Because it's what I would do if I had the raising of him." Harry said simply. "I don't tolerate bullies, not after what I went through with my cousin Dudley growing up. You ought to know that. Half the fights I got into with Draco were because he was an arrogant little bully. But eventually he grew up, and changed for the better. I'm hoping, that with Remus' discipline this time around, so will Sirius."

"I'm not holding my breath," Severus muttered.

Harry sighed. He wished Severus would trust him, just a little.

Then again, maybe he was expecting too much too soon, given the man's previous experiences.

"Okay, guess you'll have to wait and see if I was right." He handed Mimic back to the boy, he had set the raven on the counter while he cleaned up Severus' hands.

"Thank you," Severus muttered, quietly. He hugged the raven to him, as if it offered some kind of protection.

Harry cleared his throat, hesitantly. "Because Sirius was really at fault, I won't punish you for the fight," he said gently yet firmly. " Just don't let it happen again, or else you'll be spending some time in the corner and going to bed early without dessert. Clear?"

"Yes, sir." Severus put a hand to his mouth, he couldn't believe he had called Potter 'sir'! But it was an automatic reaction, drilled into him by Tobias Snape from the time he was three, to show respect for authority figures. And like it or not, Potter was in charge of him.

Harry concealed a grin, then reached out and swept the startled boy into a hug.

He knew that hugs had been few and far between for the Potions Master the first time around, but Harry intended for things to be different—very different—this time.

At first Severus went rigid in the older wizard's grasp, but after a moment, once he realized Harry was only holding him, he made himself relax. It felt . . . kind of nice being held this way. But he'd never admit that to Potter, and after another minute he wriggled to be put down.

Harry set Severus down and opened the bathroom door, giving the child a gentle swat on the bottom.

Severus whirled and glared at him. "What was that for?"

"Next time, don't throw the first punch."

"Do you . . . forgive me?" Severus whispered, sounding for the first time like the five-year-old he was.

"Yes." Harry answered. "Now, why don't we go and see if Molly's ready for supper? Something sure smells good out there."

Page~*~*~*~*~*~Break

Meanwhile, in Arthur's study, a very different talk was going on between Remus and his new ward.

Remus had limped into the study and immediately locked the door and cast a Privacy Ward over the room, so no one could enter and interrupt him. He was quite angry and upset at the way Sirius had taunted Severus, lied to him, and then got into a fight with the other boy the moment Remus was out of sight. Leaning rather heavily on his cane, he stalked over to Arthur's comfy leather desk chair and sat down, putting his former best friend on his lap.

"You, Sirius Orion Black, are in very big trouble," he growled.

Both of his sons would have known what that tone and those words meant, but Sirius just shrugged, unconcerned.

"Aw, come on, Moony," he said indifferently. "It's only Snivellus."

Remus glared at him. "Sirius, do not call him that again!" he snapped. "Or else you'll be eating soap!"

"W-what?" Sirius looked shocked. Surely he couldn't have heard right?

"You heard me." Remus stated.

He pulled out a handkerchief and used an empty tea mug Arthur had sitting upon his desk to fill up with water from his wand. "Aguamenti." He dipped the handkerchief into the water and began to clean the smudges of dirt off Sirius' face, as well as the trickle of blood from the fat lip Severus had given him. Once he had wiped off all the dirt and blood, he used his wand to heal the boy's simple cuts. Then he tucked his wand away and assumed what his boys always referred to as his "mad as blue blazes" face.

"What did we talk about before we came to the Burrow, Sirius?" he asked the boy.

"You're not really mad at me, are you, Moony? I mean, it's only Sn—Snape, the greasy grimy git of the dungeons," Sirius said, frowning. " You know what he's like, always trying to get me in trouble, the sneaky scumbag. You remember how he used to follow us around, looking for an excuse to tell on us. He started it, attacking me for no reason—"

Remus's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Don't lie to me, Sirius!" he yelled. "Your innocent act won't fool me. I know you too well."

Sirius squirmed a little under that stern gaze.

This was not the Moony he remembered at all, the boy who had shrugged off all the mischief they used to get into, and looked the other way when he and James decided to have fun with dear old Snivellus.

"All right, Moony! Don't get mad," he huffed petulantly. "It was just a scrap and he had it coming!"

"You broke your promise to me, Sirius," Remus reminded him. "You promised you'd behave and then as soon as my back was turned, you picked a fight with Severus!"

"Says who? That little red-haired brat and Snape's namesake?" sneered Sirius. "You're going to take their word over mine, old friend?"

"I am," Remus asserted. "Because Rose and Alby have no reason to lie to me, and they know quite well what the punishment is for lying."

"Oh, what's the big deal?" Sirius demanded heatedly. "So what if I gave Snape a bloody nose or whatever? He deserved it. He's nothing but a slimy Death Eater, and you know that!"

"I told you before, what he was then and what he is now are two different things," Remus said evenly. "But I'll get into that later. Right now, we're going to deal with the fact that you broke your promise to me and the fact that you lied when I asked you what happened, young man. I don't tolerate either of those things from my sons and I won't tolerate it from you either!"

Sirius was starting to grow uneasy. This conversation was not going at all as he'd imagined it would.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry, all right?" He gave Remus his best guilty mischievous little boy grin.

It had never failed to make Albus Dumbledore melt into a puddle of twinkling fairy dust.

Only thing was, it didn't seem to having the same effect on Remus.

"No, you're not and no it's not," Remus scowled, his nostrils flaring. "But after I'm through with you, you damn well will be!"

"Huh?" Sirius asked, frowning. "What do you mean, Moony?"

"Do you remember what I said would happen if you misbehaved today?" Remus asked him. "Or lied to me?"

"I . . . sure, but . . ." Sirius stammered, his eyes growing wide. "You wouldn't! Over Snape? He's a bloody Death Eater, for Merlin's sake!"

He started to climb off Remus lap, for clearly the werewolf was not amused.

To his horror, Remus grabbed him before he could wriggle free, and the next thing he knew he was over the werewolf's knee.

Furious, he tried to escape, yelling, "Moony, have you gone crazy? Let me go! I don't deserve this!"

"Yes, you do," Remus told him, holding onto him easily. "You've had this coming for a very long time, ever since you and James teased Severus that day on the Hogwarts Express. It was you who started this war with Severus, something which you conveniently choose to forget."

"But...But..." Sirius spluttered, indignantly. He was still squirming, trying to get up.

"But I never have," Remus went on, lifting his good leg slightly. "This is where it ends, Sirius! Things will be different. You're going to learn to accept the responsibility for your actions and quit blaming others for your poor decisions!"

"NO!" Sirius shrieked angrily, but Remus held him firmly.

The next thing he knew the werewolf's hand came down across his bottom.

"Ow!" Sirius yelped, wincing at the sting. "Stop it, Moony!"

Remus ignored him, giving the unrepentant child seven more stinging smacks, one for each year of his age and one for remembrance.

By the time he was through, Sirius was bawling, and promising he would never lie to him again.

"Good." Remus said, forcing himself to remain stern. He hated punishing the scamp like this, but he knew better than to issue consequences and not follow through on them.

He stood the child on his feet and pointed to the corner of the study next to the chair. "Now then," he said, still stern. "Go put your nose to the wall for seven minutes. That's for breaking your promise!"

Sniffling and rubbing his sore behind, Sirius shuffled over to the corner.

"You're mean!" he whined, sounding every bit the petulant seven year old.

He couldn't believe Remus had actually spanked him! He had never been spanked before. His mother's, the old hag, preferred method had been to berate him at the top of her lungs so the whole neighborhood could hear. And his father had scolded and locked him in his room for most of his transgressions, or taken away his broom when he was a child.

After he'd been Sorted into Gryffindor, he'd been ignored for the most part when he was home. His parents had lavished all of affection on his younger brother, the perfect Slytherin prince, Regulus. Which had only made Sirius hate them and him even more.

He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, trying to stop crying. His bottom was still smarting.

Who would have thought mild-mannered Moony would have it in him to actually spank him?

And over stupid Snivellus?

He couldn't fathom why Remus even cared about Snape . . . the Death Eater . . . when he never had before. Couldn't Moony see that Snape hadn't changed one bit, that he was still the same scummy kid? The same Slytherin dark wizard who had sold his soul to Voldemort?

Sirius shifted from foot to foot. Standing in the corner was so boring!

"Stand still before I add another minute!" ordered Remus.

Sirius froze, wondering where the hell his best friend had gone and who was this strict drill sergeant in his place was? Maybe this wasn't really Moony, but that creep Lucius Malfoy in his place, using Polyjuice Potion? That would explain a lot!

Remus checked his watch.

"Come here, Sirius," he called, his voice now gentle, like the Moony the Animagus remembered.

Sirius turned and walked over to the werewolf, pouting and dragging his feet.

Remus sighed. "Now," he said, "I didn't like that any more than you did, but that's what will happen if you lie to me. Are you going to behave now?"

"Yeah," Sirius replied sullenly. He still felt resentful and confused, but he knew better than to say anything other than an affirmative. The last thing he wanted was another spanking. "Are you . . . still mad at me, Moony?" he asked, his lower lip trembling.

"No. Once you're punished it's over and done with," Remus said, and picked the little boy up and hugged him. "I forgive you, scamp. Just don't do it again, or else!"

Sirius cried a little into Remus' shirt, for he found he didn't like it when the werewolf was angry with him.

"I miss the old Moony," he muttered, tearfully.

Remus snorted. "The "old Moony" grew up while you were in Azkaban, Siri," he reminded him. "And came to realize that what we did in school, to Severus and to others, wasn't funny or justified at all. Picking on someone because he was in Slytherin, or because "he existed" as Prongs used to say, was wrong. We should have let Snape alone."

"I don't understand." Sirius looked up into Remus' eyes, which were once again a warm brown. "Why are you defending him? He was never any good, even Lily realized that in the end."

"Did she?" Remus asked him, raising an eyebrow. "Or did she just think so because of the House he was in and because James was so insistent that he would turn dark?"

"He called her Mudblood!" Sirius all but yelled. "And then he became a Death Eater!"

"I know that," Remus said, quietly. "But there's a lot you don't know about Severus, Siri. A lot that I never knew, either. Not until he shared his memories with Harry before he died."

"What do you mean, he shared his memories with Harry? He hated Harry!" Sirius sniffled, taking the handkerchief Remus offered and blowing his nose.

"No, I don't think he did," Remus told him. "I think he hated the fact that Harry reminded him of James, and that sometimes Harry acted a lot like his father...but he didn't truly hate Harry, otherwise he never would have protected and saved his life for so many years."

"Snape saved Harry?" Sirius asked, in disbelief. "Moony, are you sick?"

"No, I am not," Remus told him, firmly. "Listen to me, Sirius. and listen good. Like I said, there are things you never knew about Severus. He wasn't all bad, he remained loyal to Lily and loved her till the day he died. He tried to apologize to her that night for calling her that awful name, he never meant to, but he was angry and humiliated because of the prank you and James played on him, his pride was shredded past bearing because not only was he the object of ridicule in front of half the school, but a girl came and fought his battles for him. He lost his temper and took it out on her. It was something he regretted forever, especially because Lily refused to accept his apology. If she had, he might never have chosen the dark road."

"But he did!" Sirius again reminded him.

"Yes, he made a huge mistake," Remus agreed with that point. "But remember, he also turned his back on You-Know-Who and came back to the Light. He turned spy at a great personal risk, Sirius."

"Because he was afraid of going to Azkaban!" Sirius sneered. "He did it to save his own arse!"

"Watch your mouth!" Remus ordered automatically.

"And no," he went on, quietly yet firmly. "He came back because he didn't want Lily to die. He tried to save her, Padfoot. It was Severus who told Dumbledore that Lily, James, and Harry needed to go into hiding. Severus who told Dumbledore the best spell to use was the Fidelius Charm. Now, would a true Death Eater have cared what happened to a Muggleborn witch who had thrice defied Voldemort? Who had rejected him and married his rival?"

"I . . . I guess not." Sirius admitted, reluctantly.

"No," Remus said, firmly. "A true Death Eater would have wanted revenge upon them. But Severus didn't. He spent the next eighteen years atoning for his mistakes, and he did it without ever being recognized for it. He risked his life over and over, protecting Harry from anything and everyone who tried to kill him when he was at school, from Quirrell to Voldemort."

"But he was a total ass to Harry at school!" Sirius reminded him, scowling. "A perfectionist git who always picked on him!"

Remus spread his hands. "Hey, no one ever said he was perfect," he told him, pointedly. "Neither were you, remember? But in the end, he sacrificed himself for Harry, he died doing what was right, not what was easy. Think about that. And then ask yourself, if the shoe was on the other foot, and you had to watch over Snape's son, who looked just like him and acted almost like him, would you have been able to do it?"

"I . . . dunno." Sirius mumbled, his innards doing a funny little dance inside his belly.

"Neither do I," Remus admitted gently. "We've all made mistakes in the past. But now we all have a second chance to do things differently, and learn from our mistakes, Sirius. Give Severus the benefit of the doubt, okay?"

Sirius nodded, reluctantly. He still wasn't sure what to make of Remus' take on Snape's motives, but for now he would agree...if only to save his backside from Remus' hand. You couldn't trust a snake. They always betrayed you in the end. Not even blood was sacred to them, look at how his cousin Bellatrix had murdered him. He was almost certain time would tell and reveal the Slytherin's true motives.

"Now," Remus told him. "I think you owe Severus an apology."

"Me?" Sirius exclaimed, indignant. "Apologize to . . . that . . . that . . ."

"Sirius!" warned Remus sharply."I'd think very carefully before I completed that sentence, if I were you!"

"Fine!" the little boy huffed, his lower lip sticking out adorably. "Since when did you become such a . . .a...hardass, Moony?"

"Since I had Ted and Jamie," Remus told him, chuckling. "Kids need discipline and boundaries."

"Sure they do," Sirius rolled his eyes. "We turned out all right without some bossypants telling us what to do."

"Did we? Sometimes I doubt it." Remus shook his head. "Have you learned your lesson, then? Because I won't hesitate to repeat this little 'chat', if necessary."

Sirius nodded, vigorously.

"Come on, then," Remus said, standing up and retrieving his cane. "Molly's probably putting supper on as we speak. You can apologize to Severus after dinner."

Remus waved his wand and removed the wards, then took Sirius by the hand and led him out of the study.

He just hoped the lesson stuck but, knowing Sirius, he suspected he might have to repeat it a time or two.

...

At dinner, Severus eyed Black covertly from his spot inbetween Alby and Rose. He noticed with some satisfaction that the mutt seemed to have trouble sitting, so Potter had been right about one thing, at least. He continued eating his dinner.

Molly had made delicious roasted rosemary chicken and dumplings, a pineapple-glazed ham, roasted potatoes, creamed spinach (not one of his favorites, but he forced himself to eat some), baby carrots with butter and parsley, and fresh rolls with butter.

Severus ate sparingly and neatly, unlike half the kids at the table, who seemed intent upon shoveling as much food down their throats as quickly as humanly possible.

Only Rose, Ted, Cory, and Alby seemed to have any modicum of table manners, Severus observed, faintly disgusted. The rest of them reminded him of his students at Hogwarts, bottomless pits the lot of them.

"Are you okay, Sev' rus?" asked Alby quietly, pointing to the faint bruise on the other boy's cheek.

"I'll live," Severus replied, thinking that little bruise was nothing compared to what he used to get from his father. Besides, he'd gave as good as he got...though Black showed no sign of the fat lip he'd received.

"Sirius was mean to call you that name." Rose said, glaring at the other boy.

"I know," Severus said, swallowing. In a lot of ways, the girl reminded him of Lily . . .

"But Uncle Remus spanked him good for it," the little girl declared.

"How do you know that?" Severus asked curiously.

"Cause everyone knows that's what happens when your dad or mum takes you to Grandpa's study," Rose said matter-of-factly.

"Mind your own business, you little know-it-all," Jamie spoke up. He still hadn't forgiven her for telling on his new brother.

Ted elbowed his brother hard in the ribs. "Shh! Dad's watching, Jamie," he hissed at his younger brother. "Shut up before you end up in the study like Sirius." He cast a glance over at the adult table, and saw both his father and his Uncle Harry looking over at them.

Jamie immediately stuffed a potato in his mouth, making a gross face at Rose.

"Eew! You eat like a pig!" the little girl grimaced. She primly speared a piece of ham with her fork and ate it. Boys! They were all annoying brats that acted like wild animals. Well, except for Alby, Cory, Ted, and this new kid, Severus. Clearly, they paid attention when Aunt Ginny, Aunt Dora, Aunt Cissy, and whoever Severus' mum was had taught them proper table manners.

"Don't be such a girl, Rosie," Sirius said, rolling his eyes.

"My name is Rose, and how can I stop being a girl when I was born one?" Hermione's daughter sniffed.

Severus couldn't help but snicker a little at the girl's comment, though he hid it behind Mimic. He ignored Black's glare and slid his eyes towards the adult table, noting that Potter and Lupin had their heads together, probably discussing the brawl that had occurred. Finally, dinner was over and the plates vanished.

"Yay! Next comes the sweets!" cheered Ted.

But before the dessert course, Remus rose and came over to the kids table, which was next to the adults table in the kitchen.

"Sirius, come over here," the werewolf beckoned. "You too, Severus."

Severus glanced up uneasily at Harry, who was standing behind him.

"Go on," Lily's son urged. "It's all right."

"I am not afraid," insisted the dark-haired youngster, though he was clutching Mimic for dear life. He approached the two Marauders cautiously.

"Sirius, what do you say to Severus?" prompted Remus.

Sirius dug his trainer into the carpet, looking down at the ground. Then he mumbled, "I'm sorry I called you Snivellus and picked a fight with you."

Severus was too shocked to say anything.

"Severus? I think you owe Sirius an apology, too," Harry reminded.

Severus grimaced. He'd rather have eaten fire crabs than apologize to Black. But he didn't want the Gryffindor to show him up, so he grudgingly said, "I apologize for hitting you."

"Good," Remus said, grinning. "Now, shake hands and there's an end to it. All right?"

Both boys eyed each other suspiciously, and it was a moment before Severus reached out a hand. Sirius took it for about a second, then drew back quickly.

Both Harry and Remus exchanged glances of relief.

"All right, who wants chocolate cake?" asked Molly. "And treacle tart? And apple pie a'la mode?"

All the kids squealed loudly at that, save for Severus, who permitted himself a half-smile. He did like Molly's apple pie, with a side of vanilla ice cream. He turned to sit down, relieved to have that apology over and done with. He had not expected Black to apologize to him, not in a million years. But even so, Potter and Lupin were naïve if they thought a single apology enough to end years of bitter rivalry. This was not the end, but only the beginning...

Did you agree with how the boys were handled? Why or why not?

Also, I have recently updated two other stories-Lily's Defender and Irresistible Chemistry if anyone hasn't read or reviewed them please do so! Thanks!

 


Chapter 8: Reassurances
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Reassurances

by Jlbrew27

Severus awoke the next morning in his child-sized bed in the bedroom he now shared with Alby.

He blinked, puzzled. He didn't remember going to bed last fact, the last thing he remembered was being at the Burrow listening to George tell amusing stories about his and Fred's earlier exploits.

All the children had sat in the floor, except for him, Rose, Alby, and Scorpius. The Weasley and Potter four year olds had automatically crawled into their mother's laps, while the Malfoy scion had crawled into his father's...He remembered Harry-Potter-picking him up at one point and sitting him on his lap, as well. Something about not wanting him to get trampled or some such foolishness... He'd tried to squirm down, naturally, but eventually complied and simply sat there to listen.

And then...

Oh, no! Surely not!

Severus' black eyes widened in horror.

No! ... NO! ... NO!

Surely...surely he hadn't actually fallen asleep on Potter's lap! Even worse...surely the annoying boy-uh, man-hadn't actually carried him home! And...worst of all...surely he hadn't...hadn't...hadn't tucked him into bed!

But how else could he have gotten here? And in his pajamas, as well!

Severus groaned silently in mortification, clutching Mimic even harder.

Hadn't he suffered enough indignities yesterday for one lifetime?

Hadn't he had to relive his schooldays?

Gotten into a bloody brawl with Black? (Humph, try saying that ten times fast!)

And been given a lecture-of all things!-by his former student!

Then, to top it all off, he had been made to actually apologize to that miserable, flea-bitten mutt!

Severus felt tears prickle his eyes as he remembered the heinous words that had spewed from Black's mouth.

Despite what Harry-Potter-had said, he still didn't trust the mutt as far as he could throw him... But Severus couldn't deny a part of him wondered if Black was right? If-when-Lily returned, what was to stop things from going in the same direction this time?

He did not see his interest in the Darks Arts waning anytime soon, especially given his new guardian was the Defense Professor at Hogwarts, and Harry had learned that in order to defeat the enemy you had to study his methods.

James Sirius Lupin was, indeed, James Potter reborn. He'd liked Lily the moment he saw her all those years ago. What was to stop Jamie from fancying her this time? And if Black had anything to do with it...he would!

A lone tear prickled down Severus' cheek. No, he'd lost her once...twice...he would not lose her a third time! But he needed to be sure! Absolutely, one hundred percent, beyond a shadow of a doubt, sure things would be different.

Potter's words notwithstanding, he still didn't quite trust the man, in fact he didn't quite trust anybody living at the moment. Which meant he would need the reassurance from someone not living at the moment...and there was only one person he trusted most in all the world.

Lily.

He would go see Lily...or at least her grave.

She'd appeared to him once, maybe, somehow, he could get her to appear before him again.

Getting up out of bed, he tiptoed over to his dresser and quickly got himself some clothes, clean underwear, and socks.

Then, with Mimic in hand, he made his way down the hall to the loo.

Knowing that a shower would no doubt awaken the Potters, and not to mention he could not quite reach the knobs to turn it on, he opted for simply washing his face with a wet cloth. Using the step-stool that he had been told was specifically for his and Alby's use ("We don't want you climbing," Potter had told him. "You could fall and break something.") he reached the sink without difficulty. After washing his face, he brushed his teeth, and then brushed his hair.

Hopping down, he took off his pajamas and old underwear and tossed both into the hamper. Putting on the clean boxers and socks, he put on a pair of blue jeans and a green t-shirt. Unfortunately, he realized too late, he'd left his shoes in the bedroom.

"Damn it," he muttered, and then winced.

He glanced up, almost expecting Potter to be there with a frown on his face.

He breathed a sigh of relief when no sound of footsteps was heard, and quickly tiptoed back out of the bathroom and to the bedroom.

He had to hunt for one of his new tennis shoes, as it had somehow been kicked under the bed. Probably by Potter last night, he thought as he climbed under the bed to retrieve it, when he tucked me in. I swear, he lives to torment me! Managing to get it, he scooted out from under his bed...unfortunately, not without managing to bump his head a good one.

He hissed with pain, biting back an epitaph.

"Sev'rus?" a small voice asked, and he looked to find Alby's emerald orbs staring at him.

Severus bit back another curse.

He hadn't meant to wake the four year old, knowing he needed his rest. "Shh, Alby," he said, quickly putting on both his shoes. "You'll wake your mum and dad."

The Potter child sat up, his black hair as dishevelled as his father's usually had been, and continued to stare at him in puzzlement. "What'cha doin', Sev'rus?" Alby asked him curiously.

"I'm going to visit a friend, Alby," Severus told him gently. "Just lie down and go back to sleep."

"Mummy and Daddy don't like me goin' places 'lone, Sev'rus," Alby said seriously. "Not supposed to wander off..."

"That's you," Severus reminded him, rolling his eyes. "You're their son. I'm...I'm just their charity case."

"Huh?" Alby said, clearly not understanding.

"Don't worry about it," Severus said, resisting the urge to sigh. Alby was only four, after all.

"Y-You're not runnin' away, huh?" Alby blinked back tears. "Jamie said he thought about runnin' 'way afore. I don't want'cha to run away, Sev'rus! I like havin' a brudder!"

"Shhh," Severus hissed at him again. "I'm not running away, Alby. I promise. I have nowhere to run to. I'm just going to visit an old friend down the street."

"O-Okay," Alby said, swallowing. "Daddy will probably be mad, though."

Severus snorted. "Turnabout is fair play," he muttered, and then picked up Mimic. "I'll be back in just a bit. I swear." With that, he exited the room and made his way downstairs.

Being as quiet as he could, he used his magic to open the locks and then quickly opened the front door.

Dashing out of it, he shut it with great care and then headed out of the front gate and down toward the graveyard. He wasn't really sure what he'd find when he got there, but he was sure there must be a way for him to speak to Lily again. There had to be.

Arriving at the Potters' graves, he glanced to the one beside Lily and shuddered a bit. It was strange to think he had been dead only yesterday.

Something sparkled in the corner of his eye and he glanced back to James and Lily's combined graves.

Narrowing his eyes, Mimic clutched tightly to him, he stepped forward to see what it was. A small green stone sat upon it-a stone he recognized all too well.

The Resurrection Stone!

But...how had it gotten there? And why would it be here of all places?

Reaching out, he picked it up in his small hand and grasped it tightly. Closing his eyes, he thought only of Lily. Opening his eyes, he smiled.

Standing before him was the woman he had loved since he was just a child...the first time.

Lily frowned at him.

"Severus Tobias Snape, you do beat all!" she scolded him familiarly. "Harry and Ginny are going to be out of their minds with worry, I hope you know."

"Over me?" Severus snorted. "Highly doubtful."

Lily sighed. "Sev," she said, kneeling down. "I know why you wanted to speak to me."

Severus' eyes widened. "You do?" he asked, amazed.

Lily smiled and nodded. "I do," she told him, "which is why I arranged for the Stone to be here. I can't keep using Harry...it drains him."

"Then, you know what Black said," Severus stated. "You know what he said would happen."

"I also know what Harry said to you, too," Lily reminded. "Why did you lie to him?"

"I didn't!" Severus exclaimed, wide-eyed.

"Didn't you?" Lily asked him shrewdly. "You told him you wouldn't believe Sirius as far as you could throw him...and yet here you are."

Severus glanced down at the ground. "I just needed to know for sure," he told him, glancing back up into her emerald gaze. "Please, Lily, tell me things will be different this time."

"Oh, Sev," Lily said softly. "Of course they will. Things have been arranged so that they will."

"I don't understand," Severus told her honestly.

"James won't love me this time, Sev," Lily assured him. "There's another love for him now."

"And you'll...love me...as much as I love you?" Severus asked hopefully.

"I've always loved you, Sev," Lily reminded him, "but if you mean will I marry you this time when we're ready again...then, yes."

Severus felt tears well in his eyes. "T-Thank you," he whispered.

"But that is for when we are grown again," Lily reminded him gently. "We'll be the best of friends, as children."

"We always were," Severus said, smirking.

"But, Sev," Lily told him. "You must let go of the past. And I don't just mean this stupid war between you and Sirius. You have to start trusting Harry, Sev. He cares for you. He wants to love you. Please, let him."

"He loves me?" Severus asked, stunned.

"He wants to love you just as much as he loves Alby," Lily murmured. "But it works both ways, Sev. You must care for him, too. You must let him love you."

"I, uh, I will...try," Severus said, swallowing. "I swear, Lily. I'll try."

Lily smiled."That's good," she told him, glancing past him. "Remember that in the next few seconds. All right?"

"I don't understand," Severus said, frowning.

"Severus Tobias Snape!" a sharp, male voice called out, causing him to jump about a foot in the air.

The Resurrection Stone slipped from his grasp and, with one final smile for him, Lily faded away.

Severus spun around.

Standing not more than a few feet away was a very, very unhappy Harry Potter.

...

Early morning was when the Lupin household was at its quietest. This morning was no different.

Laying in his new bed in-between Teddy and Jamie, Sirius stared up at the ceiling.

"S-Siri," Jamie whispered beside him. "A-Are you awake?"

Sirius turned on his side. His bottom, much to his dismay, was fine by the time bedtime rolled around. How was he supposed to hold onto his righteous indignity at what Moony had done if his bum didn't cooperate and stay sore?

"Yeah, mate," Sirius whispered back, not wanting to awaken Teddy.

Jamie bit his lip, something he did whenever he wasn't sure what to say or do. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

Sirius frowned. Getting up, he quickly dashed from his bed to the younger boy's. Climbing in, as he and James had often done whenever he'd stayed at James house, he propped himself up on his elbow. "What for?" he asked Jamie curiously. He didn't remember Jamie doing anything to him last night.

"For not defendin' ya ta Dad," Jamie told him.

"Oh, that," Sirius said, snorting. "Not much good it'd have done, mate, your dad was sure determined to wallop me."

"Yeah, he really doesn't like bullying," Jamie told him quietly. "Said no sons of his are gonna pick on people just cuz they can."

"He has changed," Sirius said, shaking his head. "Not the old Moony, at all."

"Huh?" Jamie asked, clearly puzzled.

"Oh, uh, well," Sirius said, thinking things through. "Your dad and my dad were old school friends. My dad told me how your dad didn't mind if him and a couple other mates played pranks and things."

"Dad says that we're supposed to give everybody the benefit of the doubt," Jamie said, "even if we don't like them much."

Sirius smirked. "That's 'bout what he told me last night after he walloped me."

"Does it still hurt?" Jamie asked curiously.

"Nah," Sirius said, smiling. "I'll be right as rain today."

Jamie giggled at that. "You're funny, Siri," he told the other boy. "I'm really glad you're going to be my brother, too."

Sirius had always considered James like a brother, so this sentiment he could relate to all too well.

"Me, too," he told him gently.

"Me, three!" Teddy exclaimed, pouncing on top of them all of sudden.

This, naturally, caused a small wrestling match that ended up with them on the floor.

"Must you lot always wake up like a pack of wild heathens?" a voice asked, causing them all to look up.

Remus stood there, in his bathrobe, smiling down at them.

"Mornin', Dad," Teddy and Jamie called out while Sirius said, "Mornin', Moony!"

Disentangling themselves from each other, the three boys stood up.

"Has Mum gone to work, Dad?" Teddy asked, his hair turning bright purple (which was his 'curious' look.)

"Yep, it's just us fellas today," Remus told him, winking. "What would you three like for breakfast?"

Teddy and Jamie both smiled brightly and said at the same time, "Pancakes!"

Sirius smiled. He LOVED Moony's pancakes.

"Yeah, yeah!" he chorused his new brothers, nodding excitedly.

Remus laughed. "All right," he told them. "Teddy, Jamie, run on down and start getting the stuff ready. I want to talk to Sirius a minute."

"Sure thing, Dad," his two sons hollered and then rushed down the stairs for the kitchen.

Remus knelt down. "You okay?"

Sirius reached back to rub his bum. "I may never sit down again," he answered, groaning dramatically.

Remus snorted. "You little whelp!" he rolled his eyes, ruffling Sirius' hair and tickling his belly. "You're such a ham and always have been!"

Sirius giggled, smiling. "But you love me anyway," he said, glancing up at the older wizard hesitantly. "Right?"

"Always," Remus agreed, pulling him into a quick hug.

Sirius enjoyed the hug, but then remembered he was still supposed to be miffed at his 'unjust' treatment and squirmed 'til Remus let go.

"You know the only reason I did what I did last night was because I love you, pup," Remus told him seriously. "I know you didn't have the most orthodox childhood the first time around..."

Sirius snorted. "No kiddin'," he muttered sourly.

"And I want better for you this time," Remus told him. "But with that comes things like rules, pup. Rules you have to obey and when you don't..."

"I know," Sirius said, rubbing again. "I know."

"Now, I know I told you what would happen if you disobeyed me about Severus," Remus told him, "but I think I need to go into a bit more detail about what our rules are around here."

Sirius sighed. "Can't it wait 'til after breakfast?" he asked hopefully.

Remus smirked. "I suppose it can. But we will be discussing it. Okay?"

"Sure thing, Moony."

Remus laughed. "C'mon, scamp," he said, standing back up. "Let's go make those pancakes!"

Sirius nodded, and together they both headed downstairs to join the other Lupin boys in the kitchen.

...

Harry knew he must look quite the sight.

Dressed in only his pajamas, his bathrobe hastily thrown on and hanging open, with a pair of fuzzy slippers on his feet, his hair uncombed, his glasses hanging half off his face, standing in the middle of a cemetery in the wee hours of the morning.

Yep. He bet the neighbors were just loving this.

He'd been awakened by the wards around the house, alerting him to the fact that somebody had just left it.

Rushing into the boys' room, he'd found Alby sitting on his bed with one of his favorite picture books open and looking at it.

The other bed was empty.

"Alby," he'd said, swallowing the wave of anxiety that threatened to cause him to spew. "Where's Severus?"

"He said he was gonna go visit an old friend, Daddy," Alby told him, "but he's not runnin' away. He promised."

Harry frowned. "Old friend?" he asked, perplexed.

"Uh huh," Alby nodded seriously. "He said it was right down the street. I told him you'd be mad 'cuz he left without you or Mummy and I'm not supposed to..."

Harry nodded, understanding.

There was only one 'old friend' that was just down the street...at the cemetery.

Now, why would Severus be going back to visit his mother's grave?

"Daddy?" Alby's voice had interrupted his thoughts and he'd glanced up at his son.

"Yes, son?" he asked, blinking at him.

"What's a ch...charity case, Daddy?" the four year old had asked.

"A...charity case?" Harry repeated, frowning. "Why do you want to know, son?"

"Sev'rus said he was yours and Mummy's charity case," Alby told him. "What's that?"

Harry's frowned deepened, but he quickly looked up again.

"It's nothing for you to worry about, son," Harry said swiftly. "Will you do me a favor?"

Alby smiled. He liked doing favors for his daddy. "Course, Daddy," he said, hopping up on his knees. Bucky, of course, was beside him.

"Mummy is gonna get cold," Harry told him, "would you like go keep her warm for me?"

"Yeah," Alby said, grabbing Bucky and hopping off the bed.

Harry smiled. "That's my boy," he told Alby, ruffling his son's hair as the child rushed past him and down the hall.

Once Alby was in his and Ginny's bedroom, he cast a quick locator spell just to make certain he was correct in where Severus had gone and then he Apparated himself right to the graveyard.

He found Severus, as he thought he would, in front of his parents' graves.

He appeared to be talking to someone, but Harry couldn't see anybody there.

"Severus Tobias Snape!" he called out, sharply, causing the boy to jump and spin around.

Making his way over to Severus, his first impulse was to give the child a good smack on the bottom for scaring him out of ten years of his life. He would have, too, if he had been dealing with Alby, Rosie, Cory, Jamie, or Teddy. Possibly even Sirius, too. But he was dealing with Severus and Severus had to be dealt with differently.

So, the first thing he did was pull the boy into a tight hug. Setting the startled boy back on his own two feet, he held Severus firmly by the shoulders and glared at him. "Don't you ever run off like that again!" he scolded sternly. "Do you hear me!"

"It's not like I went to China, Potter," Severus snorted, squirming out of his grasp. "I'm fine."

"You still left the house without telling me or Ginny," Harry said angrily. "That is not acceptable, Severus. Not by a long shot!"

Severus glared at him stubbornly. "I am quite capable of taking care of myself!" Severus snapped. He added a little stomp for good measure.

Harry again resisted the urge to give him a swat. One...two...three...four...five...

"Whether you like it or not," Harry said firmly, "you are only physically five years old! Anything could have happened to you and I wouldn't have known about it!"

"Humph," Severus muttered, "now you know how I felt all those years when you were at Hogwarts."

Harry smirked. He'd been waiting for that one.

"Yeah, guess I do," Harry admitted. "Guess you felt like walloping me good, huh?"

"You have no idea," Severus told him, smirking. He then frowned. "Are you...gonna wallop me good?"

Harry sighed. "I should," he admitted. "I really should...but I won't. However..."

Spinning the boy around, he delivered a smack to the jean clad bottom that was just a tad bit harder than the token one he'd given Severus the night before.

"...don't ever let it happen again," he warned. "Or else you will get a spanking."

His bottom lip poking out slightly, Severus said, "Yes, sir." He clasped Mimic even closer.

"Now, why did you come here?" Harry asked him curiously.

"I needed to speak with Lily," Severus told him. "I needed to be sure."

Harry frowned. "I thought we talked about this."

"I needed to hear it from her . . . Harry," said Severus, deliberately calling the other wizard by his first name. "And I did. She assured me everything was going to be fine."

Harry smiled. "Good," he said, standing back up.

Only then did he realize Severus had finally called him Harry. He concealed a grin.

Now that was progress. But he remained quiet about it, hoping it was not a fluke.

"Now then," said Harry. "Can we please head home before I get arrested for indecent exposure?"

Severus cocked his head at him, a small smirk stealing over his face.

"Indecent exposure? You seem pretty well covered up to me . . . unless you have a hole in the back of your robe that I can't see. Do you?"

Harry found himself blushing.

"No, I...hey!...you cheeky brat!" He coughed. "Come on, before Ginny wakes up and sends out a search party of Aurors."

"Very well." Severus said, reaching out to take a hold of his hand.

Harry wondered if he realized he'd done it, but didn't say anything for fear the boy would pull away.

Maybe, just maybe, he was beginning to earn Severus' trust.

Whatever you said to him, Mum, he thought silently to himself. Thanks.

Together, the dark haired man and the dark haired boy walked out of the graveyard and headed for home.

 

 


Chapter 9: Potter Picnic
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Potter Picnic

by Snapegirl

When Harry and Severus arrived back at the cottage, they found Ginny and Alby still in bed, happily dreaming. Severus looked over at the two and said, a little wistfully, "I remember doing that with my mum once in awhile, on the rare morning when my father was drunk down at the pub, and she didn't have to get up and make him breakfast. Then she could lie in for a bit and sometimes I would creep in bed with her." He was hugging Mimic tightly, his dark eyes far away.

"You know, Severus . . . you could do that with Ginny . . . or me . . . if you felt like it. We wouldn't mind, Alby does it all the time." Harry told him softly.

"But he's your son. I'm not." Severus shook his head. "Besides, I'm too old for snuggling."

"No, you're not. You're five, remember?"

Severus grimaced. "Physically, yes. But here—" he tapped his head. "—I'm thirty-eight, Harry."

Harry sighed. It was a difficult thing, this dichotomy between Severus' physical age and mental one. He often had trouble remembering that the boy wasn't just another little kid he'd like to hug, because at this age Severus was so . . . cute and innocent, in appearance any way. "Would it be easier for you if . . . you put some of your memories into a Pensieve? I mean, like the . . . nightmares of Voldemort and maybe your father too?"

"Yes, I will do that. There are many memories that I would rather not have to . . . recall the second time around." Severus agreed. Then he said, "However, I do not want to forget everything about my former life, because certain things shaped my behavior and I don't . . . I can't allow myself to . . . become vulnerable. Especially around Black. There's no telling what he might do if I let my guard down."

Harry knelt down so he was on the same level as the former professor. "Severus, you know that I'll protect you against anything—or anyone—that would try to hurt you, don't you? So it's all right if you . . . relax a little. When I took you into my home, I made myself a promise to treat you like I would my own son, and nobody, but nobody, hurts my kid and gets away with it."

"Not even Black?" asked Severus, still suspicious.

"Not even Sirius. And Remus will back me up on this."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I know what rules he sets for my godchildren, he told me them once I started watching them a few times a week when they were toddlers." Harry answered calmly. "They're basically the same as the ones I have for Alby and you, but with special consideration regarding bullying and malicious pranking. You see, Remus never wants his kids to be like the Marauders, he doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past anymore than I do."

Severus cocked his head, looking thoughtful. "If what you say is true . . . though I have trouble believing Lupin has changed so much . . . still . . . I'd wager Black is going to be shocked at the new rules Lupin has set down."

"No doubt. But he'll soon learn, if he hasn't already from that spanking Remus gave him yesterday, that Remus means what he says and does what he says also."

"Humph! I wonder where he learned that from?"

"Me. And I learned it from Molly, who told me that kids need boundaries and rules, and you, Severus. Because you always did what you said you would, no matter how much it cost you." Harry admitted, smirking.

Both of Severus' eyebrows rose into his hair. "So you finally figured it out, Po—Harry. And it only took you . . . eight years."

"So I'm a little slow. Sue me," Harry snorted. He rose to his feet. "Look, why don't you head on into the kitchen? I'm going to get dressed and wake up Ginny and Alby and then we can have breakfast."

"All right." Severus agreed. He turned to leave, adding over his shoulder with a small smirk, "Better late than never."

"Brat!" Harry called, and aimed a playful swat at Severus' retreating backside, chuckling.

Severus shut the door behind him and headed to the kitchen. He planned on setting the table for breakfast, since that was something he could still do, even in his child's body, and he wasn't accustomed to being waited on hand and foot like James Potter had been. There had been no house elves ever at Spinner's End and even at school, Severus preferred to rely on them as little as possible, for he treasured his independence.

As he took out the silverware from the drawer, he pondered on what Harry had offered, and what Lily had told him, and wondered if he could ever bring himself to let his guard down enough to allow Harry to protect him like the child he now was. It was a new thing, relying on an adult to protect him, since in his former life, no adult had ever really done so. Even Eileen had failed to protect him from Tobias, and he had learned early on to rely on no one save himself. But perhaps . . . this time . . . things would be different. Perhaps . . .

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Lupin residence:

After breakfast, while Teddy and Jamie washed and dried the dishes, Remus took Sirius into his study, where he could be assured a measure of privacy. This was where he usually discussed important things with his children, and sometimes doled out punishments as well. He indicated Sirius should sit down in one of the small child-sized chairs to the right of his rolltop while he scooted his desk chair over so he was sitting side-by-side with his new "son".

He cleared his throat and said, "All right, Siri, since I never really went over the rules of the house with you before, I'm going to do it now. Dora and I don't have many, but what we do have we insist you try and obey as best you can. I have a chart on the wall in the kitchen with a list of small chores that I expect to be done each day. We rotate the chores so you're not stuck doing the same thing every day, but other than that, everyone who lives here helps around the house and the yard."

"You mean, the way Kreacher used to do at Grimmauld Place?" Sirius clarified.

"Yes, but unlike a house elf, we don't expect you to wait on us hand and foot. Chores are dictated by age and difficulty, so Jamie won't have as many chores as Teddy or you, and so on. Here are some things you'll be expected to do—keep your room neat, that includes making the beds and picking up your clothes and toys, you don't live in a barn. Helping to set the table at mealtimes, washing and drying the dishes and putting them away. Teddy knows how to sweep and mop the kitchen floor and you can help with that too. Sometimes Dora will ask for you to help her fold the laundry, or weed the garden. Since Teddy is eight, he's also started helping clean the bathrooms once a week. Sometimes I might ask you to help me prepare dinner. Nothing major, and like I said, the chores rotate every day. The one thing we do insist on is that you remember what you're supposed to do that day and do it without whining. The chart is there to help remind you."

"What if I forget?" asked Sirius. He wasn't too keen on doing housework, having never had to do it before.

"If you forget once or twice, that's okay. Dora or I will remind you. But if it becomes a habit, then you'll get some time in the corner and not be allowed to play outside for the afternoon until you complete what you were supposed to do. Dora and I believe that chores teach a kid responsibility and how to take care of yourself when you grow up and live on your own." Remus told Sirius earnestly. "Understand?"

"Yes, Moony," Sirius sighed, wishing this discussion were over. He was starting to get bored because Remus was beginning to sound like every other authority figure he'd ever known, hung up on rules and regulations.

"I don't tolerate foul language, and so far have managed to not let Teddy and Jamie pick up on any bad words. If I catch you swearing, no matter the reason, I'll wash out your mouth with soap for a minute."

"Ah, now wait a minute!" Sirius squeaked. "I'm old enough to say a cuss word or two, Moony!"

"No, you're not. You're seven, and no seven-year-old living under my roof is going to have a mouth like a street bum. Even if you were an adult, you ought to know how to control your mouth. Don't test me," warned the werewolf sternly.

"Okay, I'll watch what I say," Sirius muttered. "What else?"

"Then there are what we call the Big Four, the most important rules in our house. First rule is a familiar one: Respect. We expect you to be respectful to us, to Teddy and Jamie, all adults, other children, and certainly yourself. Like I always say, if you can't say anything nice—don't say anything at all. Second rule is Obedience: when we tell you to do something, we expect you to do it; same goes for if we tell you not to do something. Third rule is Honesty: don't ever lie to us—about anything. Last and final rule is No Bullying and Malicious Pranking—of anyone, Sirius. And by that I mean, deliberately being cruel to someone simply because you don't like them, or playing a prank on someone that you know will humiliate or hurt them. Breaking any of those four rules will result in an immediate spanking, no ifs, ands, or buts."

Here Remus fixed the little boy with his sternest alpha wolf stare.

Sirius dropped his eyes after about three seconds.

"Am I clear, Sirius Orion?"

"Yes, sir. I hear you." Sirius mumbled. "This is all about Snape, right?"

"Yes and no. It's also about behaving at school. I don't know if you remember everything we did when we were in school, Sirius, but a lot of what we did was just plain wrong. Sneaking out of bed, wandering the grounds in the middle of the night, even releasing me from the shack . . .looking back on it I can't believe we weren't expelled for some of the things we pulled, especially on Severus."

"Oh, come on, Moony! We were kids, it's expected for us to break the rules! It's not like Sni—Snape got hurt anyway. James pulled him away from the door in time." Sirius waved off the other's concern.

"That's as may be, Padfoot, but we also should have suffered the consequences of our foolishness, and we almost never did. Especially over that night. Sirius, do you realize what could have happened if James hadn't pulled Severus away in time? What if I had scratched, or God forbid, bitten him?"

"He would have become a werewolf?" Sirius joked.

"Sirius, this isn't funny! If I had bitten him, I would have been executed!" snapped Remus.

"Dumbledore would never have let—"

"Dumbledore wouldn't have had a choice," Remus pointed out chillingly. "He might even have been sent to Azkaban for willfully endangering the lives of the rest of the students by having me attend school and not taking proper precautions. Your so-called prank might have caused a tragedy, not only for me, but Severus as well. He could have died that night, Sirius! And so could I."

"But he didn't. He lived to become a scummy Death Eater." Sirius reminded him petulantly.

"That's besides the point."

"He deserved it," Sirius pouted, sulking.

"No, he didn't. No one deserves that."

"You remember, Moony, he was always sneaking around, trying to get us in trouble. All I wanted was to teach the little sidewinder a lesson."

"Padfoot, did it ever occur to you that we didn't need Severus following us around to get us into trouble? Believe me, we did fine on our own! If we hadn't been breaking rules, there would have been nothing for Severus to report, now would there?" asked Remus insistently.

"I . . . I guess not." Sirius admitted reluctantly.

"What I'm trying to say is that a lot of those pranks we pulled, not just on Severus, but on other kids, weren't funny, they were humiliating. Making Jana Larson's dress fly up in front of the whole class during her Charms demonstration was cruel and calling her Jana, Jana, Fat Banana was mean."

"You never seemed to mind before, Moony."

"That's because I was afraid to say anything, I didn't want to get on James' or your bad side and risk losing your friendship," admitted the former Marauder, looking his old friend right in the eye. "But even then I knew we went too far a good deal of the time. You know as well as I do that half our detentions were a joke, not real punishments because the Headmaster didn't think we meant any real harm. But he was wrong. I can see that now, as an adult and a teacher. You say we had fun, and maybe we did, but it was the wrong kind of fun—at someone else's expense. Someone ought to have tanned our arses good for what we did, instead of looking the other way."

Sirius shook his head. "But Moony, we turned out okay."

"Did we? Sirius, I'm not so sure about that. James changed because of Lily, if not for her, I'm afraid he'd have ended up a bullying ass. You spent thirteen years in Azkaban for being impulsive and not thinking things through, Peter became a traitor and a servant of darkness, and I became complacent, content to watch while others around me chose sides. It wasn't until I met Dora that I realized what I had become, a spineless wimp who didn't know how to stand up for what was right. She made me see that doing nothing was worse than anything, that by watching I committed a greater crime than any Death Eater. And all of that, Sirius, goes back to our misspent youth. Dumbledore didn't do us any favors, buddy."

"Dumbledore was a lot better than my bloody parents," Sirius growled.

"Was he? Sometimes I wonder," Remus mused. "Can you understand where I'm coming from, Sirius? I don't want my sons running wild—at school or at home—the way we did. We could have died so many times at school and it was sheer dumb luck we didn't. I don't want that for my kids. I want my kids to grow up safe and protected, and understanding that rules were made to keep you safe, not to be broken whenever you felt like it. And just because you don't like a person doesn't give you the right to hang him upside down and strip him in front of half the school. Maybe someday, when you're older, you'll realize that."

Sirius bit his lip. He still didn't understand what the big deal was about pranking Snape all those years ago. Snape had turned out—just as Sirius had known he would—to be a slimy traitor, so what did it matter if he'd got his nose rubbed in the dirt a few times? But he didn't want to be discussing this topic for the rest of the morning and so all he said was, "Okay, Moony. I get it. Now can I go and play with Teddy and Jamie?"

"All right, scamp. But mind you behave, because if you don't . . . you know what will happen." Remus stood up, ruffling Sirius' hair, then opened the door of the study, releasing the youngster.

Sirius tore off down the hall, calling, "Hey, Teddy! Jamie! Wanna play Exploding Snap?"

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Severus and Alby helped Ginny with breakfast by buttering pieces of toast while Harry fried the bacon and Ginny made fluffy cheese and chive omelets. Harry had told Ginny what had happened this morning with Severus. "It's a good thing you have the wards up, so you knew when he had gone missing," she had said. "I know this is going to be difficult for him, adjusting to being a child again when he has an adult's memories, and I feel sorry for him, but I hope you set him straight about leaving the house without permission, Harry. I don't want Alby thinking he can do the same thing."

"I did. I don't think you have to worry about that, Ginny. Alby knows better than to disobey us like that, even if Severus didn't. But we talked and he seems calmer now and more ready to accept us as his new family. Severus understands now about leaving the house alone. I doubt if he'll try it again. He just needs time, Gin. Time to get to know us and trust us."

"Oh, Harry. I need time too. Time to adjust to the fact that a man who was once my teacher is now living in my home as my surrogate son. It just seems sort of . . . strange, you know?"

"Yeah. You don't mind that we took him in, do you?" he asked in consternation.

"No, of course not! It's just it'll take some getting used to." Ginny reassured him. "Maybe we can help him feel more at home by going on a little family picnic?"

"That's a great idea! We can go to Victory Park," Harry said excitedly. Victory Park was about a mile and a half away from the cottage, a large grassy verge with a playground, Alby loved going there and playing on the swings, slide, and teeter-totter. It was a wizarding park, dedicated after the Second Wizard War, and also had child-sized brooms and sparkling wands to rent. The brooms were charmed so they could only fly about five feet in the air and the wands only emitted colorful sparks. Still, the small children like Alby loved playing pretend with them.

"After breakfast, we'll start planning the lunch menu and I'll find our basket and the blanket," Ginny said happily.

"And while you're doing that, I'm going to visit Remus. I need to discuss the Pensieve idea with him, see if Sirius might want to do it also, and Sirius and I need to have a little talk about what happened at the Burrow."

"I'll have Alby and Severus help me with the picnic lunch. I'll pack extra just in case some of our friends show up." Ginny said. There was always a chance that they'd run into one of their friends with their family over at Victory Park especially the day after Victory Day.

"Sounds like a plan," Harry said, bending slightly to kiss her on the cheek.

Breakfast was filling and delicious, since both Ginny and Harry were excellent cooks. Severus, who usually did not have much of an appetite in the morning, found himself eating everything on his plate.

"Good, isn't it?" Alby asked, grinning. He had a bit of bacon on his chin.

"Yes." Severus nodded. "Wipe your mouth, you've got bacon on it."

Alby quickly scrubbed his face with a napkin, then said, "My mummy makes the bestest omelets."

"I agree," said Harry, finishing off his first one and then getting a second one from the plate.

"How would you boys like to go on a picnic this afternoon?' Ginny asked as she ate her own breakfast.

"Where, Mummy? Where? At Vic'try Park?" Alby asked, practically bouncing up and down.

"You guessed it, sweetheart," Ginny praised.

"Yay!" Alby cheered. "Sev'rus, I love goin' there, 'cause you can fly real brooms like my dad an' get wands that shoot sparks and . . . sometimes I can play with my cousins, if they're there, but it's okay of they're not since you're here now, Sev'rus." The little boy gazed at his new "brother" from eyes filled with hero worship. "An' you'll play with me, right?"

Severus soon discovered that he could refuse Albus Severus Potter nothing when he gazed at him from those eyes, so like his grandmother's and his father's. "I . . . all right. For a little while," Severus agreed, for he remembered what it was like to go to the park and have no one to play with until he'd met Lily.

Alby clapped his hands. "Mummy, when can we leave?"

Ginny laughed at her child's enthusiasm. "Well, first we have to pack some lunch and find the big picnic basket and the blanket. Would you and Severus like to help me?"

"Yes! I'm a big helper!" Alby cried eagerly.

"Very well. Umm . . . do you remember where you last put the basket?" Severus queried.

"I think . . . I put it in the third hall closet, next to my room," Ginny replied, beginning to clear away the breakfast dishes.

"Well, I'm off," Harry said abruptly, pulling on his jacket. "I'll be back in a bit. Hopefully you'll be ready to go by then." He decided to walk to the Lupins, since Remus' house was just up the street.

Harry found Remus reading in the den and the three boys playing a rousing game of Exploding Snap at the kitchen table. After greeting his godsons and Sirius, Harry drew Remus off to one side and asked the other wizard if Sirius had shown any signs of having nightmares or other disturbing memories.

"No, not that I know of. He seems to relish being a kid again, and it's almost as if he's blocked out any memories of Azkaban. So far, at least." Remus replied.

Harry glanced over at Sirius and the two Lupin brothers and said softly, "I wish it were that easy for Severus to live in the moment like Sirius. He's having more difficulty adjusting." Harry went on to tell about his idea to place certain memories of Severus' inside a Pensieve. "I just thought maybe it might help Sirius too, so I figured I'd run it by you. Ginny and I are going to take Alby and Severus out today for a picnic, I figured maybe it'd do Severus good to relax a bit with just us."

"That sounds like a good idea. I'll keep my three hellions home today, give us time to bond too," Remus said. "I had a little talk this morning with Padfoot about the rules, though I don't know if I got through to him as well as I'd of liked."

"About the quarrel at the Burrow?" clarified Harry.

"That and some of what happened in the past while we were in school," answered Remus. "Only thing is, Siri's attitude is so . . .cavalier. Not to mention stubborn. He still thinks he was right to do what he did all those years ago." The werewolf shook his head.

Harry sighed. "I think I might have a talk with him as well. It's easy to justify yourself when the person you bullied turned out to follow the wrong people. But that was then and this is now. And I want to make certain history doesn't repeat itself. So, if you don't mind . . .?

Remus gestured towards the kitchen. "Be my guest, Harry. Maybe you can get through to him."

"Sirius, buddy, can I talk to you for a minute?" Harry called over to the boys.

Sirius reluctantly left the card game and came over to Harry. "What's up, Harry?" He grinned at his godson, looking quite at home in the Lupin residence.

Harry looked rather pensive. "We need to have a little talk. Come over here," he led the small boy to the other end of the den, close to the fireplace, and sat down in the chair beside the bookshelf.

"What did you wanna talk about, Harry? How's about we go flying someday? I still remember how to fly and I've heard you still have the Firebolt I bought you, right?"

"Yes, I do and that would be fine, maybe we can go flying in about a week or two," Harry agreed, unable to resist those big brown eyes. "But that's not why I wanted to talk to you. I came by to see how you were settling in—"

"I'm good. Moony and I are okay now, and I really love hanging out with Jamie and Teddy, it's almost like old times." Sirius said, smirking.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Harry said darkly. "Sirius, you know what you said and did at the Burrow was wrong, don't you?"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Aw, not this again! Moony already reamed my arse out again over stupid Snape. Why are you two so concerned about that slimy snake anyhow? I don't even know why he was allowed to come back through the Veil anyway. He should have stayed dead, I don't think he deserves a second chance."

Harry's mouth tightened. "That's not up to you—or any of us—to decide. That's in God's hands, and you don't have the right to judge Severus for what he did in the past, any more than he does you."

"I just don't understand how you can forgive him. He was a Death Eater, for crying out loud. Your father wouldn't have." Sirius said stubbornly.

"I'm not my father, Sirius." Harry said quietly. "And maybe that's the whole problem between you, my dad, and Severus. None of you are willing to let go of the past, to acknowledge that all of you made mistakes and just move on."

"Snape was the one who made all the mistakes, not me!"

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Really? Then you wouldn't call what you did to him fifth and sixth year a mistake? Or all the other years he was in school?"

"He was always a slimy Slytherin, he never changed! Why are you defending him?" Sirius objected, his lower lip jutting out.

"Because even though he made some terrible mistakes, he also did his best to atone for them. He wasn't the evil git you've always painted him. He protected me when I needed it, and Sirius, nobody made him." Harry told the other firmly.

"If I hadn't died, I could have done it better than him!" Sirius said angrily.

"That's not the point. The point is he did it, and God knows I didn't make it easy for him either."

"Oh, how noble! You know, that's probably the first time a Slytherin's ever done something good," Sirius sneered, his mouth twisting into an ugly grimace.

"Untrue. There are good as well as bad Slytherins, just like there's good and bad Gryffindors too." Harry argued.

"Ha! My whole family was Slytherin and there wasn't a good one in the lot!"

"What about your cousin Andromeda?" Harry demanded. "I thought you liked her. And Narcissa wasn't so bad once she was able to escape Voldemort's thumb. Even your little brother turned out to help the Light in the end. Horace Slughorn's a good person too. And your dad was an Auror, he hunted down dark wizards."

"And he let my mother walk all over him," Sirius growled. "He was hardly ever home and when he was home he let her lead him about like a sheep."

"And that gives you the right to label all Slytherins as evil and torment Severus?" Harry demanded angrily.

"He deserved it, look at what he became!"

"That's where you're wrong. You judged him without even giving him a chance, the same way my cousin Dudley did me. Dudley thought I was a freak and unnatural, and that gave him the right to beat me up whenever he felt like it. And my aunt and uncle let him."

"They were stupid Muggles, somebody should have jinxed them good to teach them respect."

"Like somebody did to you?" Harry demanded, his eyes bright with anger.

"That's different."

"How so? To me, there's not much difference between you bullying Severus because he's Slytherin and Dudley bullying me because I'm a wizard. Bullying is bullying, and you can't understand what it's like until you've gone through it. I have. And I'll never forget. Whether or not Severus became a Death Eater is besides the fact. He wasn't a Death Eater when you pranked him, now was he?"

"No, but . . ." Sirius squirmed under Harry's stern gaze.

"No, so you have no excuse. You have even less of an excuse for what happened at the Burrow. Sirius, this is supposed to be a second chance to live your life over, and hopefully become a better person. Let go of the past and try and start over. Don't make the same mistakes."

"I don't like Snape and I never will."

"You don't have to. All I ask is that you leave him alone. He's not your enemy, he's my ward and that means he's under my protection. You mess with him, Sirius, and you mess with me. So don't start what you can't finish." Harry told him firmly.

Sirius threw up his hands. "Unbelievable! You'd take his side over me?"

"I'm not taking any sides . . . not unless you force me to. I love you both, Sirius, and I'm glad you both got a second chance. Now don't be an idiot and waste it. Will you do that, for me?" Harry asked, gentling his tone.

Sirius bit his lip. "Okay. I'll try." He meant it, but he was sure Snape wasn't going to turn out any differently than last time. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater. Harry would just have to learn the hard way not to trust Slytherins. They were all poison.

"C'mere, you!" Harry picked him up and tickled him until he howled, then set him down. "I'll see you later. I've got to get home, I promised Ginny I wouldn't be late." He waved goodbye to Remus, Jamie, and Teddy, then Apparated back to his house. Hopefully his words had had some effect on Sirius.

By the time Harry arrived back home, Ginny and the boys had gotten everything packed into the basket and were ready to go. Since they would be Apparating to the park, Ginny suggested the boys take a Stomach Soother beforehand. "I remember Sidelong Apparition used to make me throw up whenever my mum or dad tried it with me. That's why we usually Flooed somewhere, or took Dad's Ford Anglia."

"Yeah, Sidelong Apparition never agreed with me either," her husband admitted. He held a vial of smoky lavender liquid out to Alby. "Here, son. Drink this all for me."

"Will it make my tummy not feel yucky?" asked the littlest Potter.

"Yup. Go on now."

Alby bravely swallowed the potion.

Next to him, Ginny handed a vial to Severus, who tried to refuse it.

"I never got sick when I Apparated."

"Neither did I, but Sidelong Apparition is different." Ginny reminded. "How long has it been since you've done that, Severus?"

"Too long to remember," the five-year-old sighed.

"And you want to be able to enjoy the picnic with all the good food we made, right?" Ginny persuaded.

Still Severus hesitated, common sense warring with pride.

Until Alby said innocently, "Don' worry, Sev. It don' t taste yucky. You're not . . . a'scared of taking potions, are you?"

Severus flashed the younger boy a scowl. "No! I've taken more potions than you could imagine." He took the Stomach Soother and swallowed it in one gulp. Then he hugged Mimic hard.

Harry and Ginny hid grins. There was nothing quite like the pride of an older brother. Then they each grasped a child by the arm and Apparated away to Victory Park.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Once they arrived at the park, Severus found he was glad he had agreed to take the potion, for his stomach was a bit queasy for the first five minutes, then thanks to the Stomach Soother, it settled down. The park was large, with big oak, poplar, and ash trees. Sculpted hedges with pretty blooming pink and purple flowers surrounded benches and trails leading to a small lake where you could feed the ducks and herons that swam there. A bag of bread crumbs cost two Knuts. There was a large playground area and next to that were the booths where you could rent the brooms and fake wands.

"I wanna get a wand and a broom, Dad!" Alby cried.

"After we eat lunch," Harry told him. "I, for one, am quite hungry." He helped Ginny spread the blanket down and they anchored it to the ground with Sticking Charms. Then Ginny cast a spell to keep the ants and bugs away from their spot. "Mmm. Everything looks delicious." Harry said, peering inside the basket.

"Alby and Severus helped me make most of it," Ginny declared proudly.

There were several kinds of sandwiches, including cold chicken cutlets with butter on white toast, tuna salad (which Alby had mixed), and ham and cheese with tomato and mayo, which Severus had helped put together. Ginny had made potato salad with bacon, a three bean salad, and there was sweet apple cider and butterbeer for drinks. There were also pears, grapes, and a strawberry pie for a sweet.

Alby sat next to Severus on the blanket, pretending to feed bits and pieces of his sandwich to Bucky, his stuffed hippogriff. He chattered endlessly about what they could do at the park.

Severus at first was sort of annoyed, since he wasn't used to small children babbling, but Alby's enthusiasm was infectious and he found himself looking forward to teaching his namesake how to fly a broom and the correct wand movements for some charms. He finished his tuna sandwich and potato salad at almost the same time Alby did his chicken sandwich.

Then he watched, amused, at the way Alby wheedled Harry into getting them both brooms and wands, even though the adults weren't done eating yet. He'll probably be in Slytherin for sure! Thought the former Potions Master. Then again, perhaps it was too early to tell.

"All right, you little conniver!" laughed Harry, giving in. "Come on, let's go rent you and Severus a broom and a wand."

Alby happily accompanied him, making Ginny smile.

In no time at all they were back and Alby had cajoled Severus into going flying with him. Severus rolled his eyes at riding a kiddie broom, of all things, but then he realized his small body wouldn't have been able to handle a regular broom, even if he remembered how to fly one. He showed his small brother how to fly corkscrews and spirals, demonstrating the maneuvers over and over until Alby, who was quite quick on the uptake, mastered them.

"He's being very patient with Alby, dear," Ginny said, watching the two boys.

"I know. And that's pretty amazing, considering he was never that patient with us in class." Harry said, stretching out to lie with his head in Ginny's lap.

"I think he really likes Alby. And Alby adores him." Ginny remarked. "Maybe that's why. I don't think Severus ever had anyone admire him before or look up to him when he was growing up."

"You're right. And that's bound to make him feel good about himself," Harry agreed. He was glad that his little son had made the quiet dark-haired orphan welcome without a fuss. "I just hope they both continue to get along so nicely."

"Well, I'm sure they'll have their disagreements, just like any other siblings," Ginny said wisely. "But Alby doesn't stay angry for long and hopefully Severus won't either."

They watched the two dark-haired imps circling and playing tag across the grass, enjoying the sun and gentle breeze and the peacefulness of the afternoon.

Soon the two boys had tired of flying and landed their brooms. They then began to "practice" magic, with Severus showing Alby how to correctly hold a wand and how to pronounce "Wingardium Leviosa!" and "Lumos!" charms.

Severus himself was surprised at how much patience he had with Albus Severus Potter, but he put it down to the fact that Alby was eager to learn and listened to what he said, unlike many a Hogwarts student, who was more interested in socializing than brewing potions.

Though after twenty minutes, Alby grew bored and suggested a game of Hide and Seek.

"You can count and I'll hide," the four-year-old said. "How high can you count, Sev'rus?"

"A lot higher than twenty," came the quiet response.

"Wow! You're really smart. Almost as smart as Mum and Dad!"

Severus raised an eyebrow at that declaration. He knew more than both Potters combined about brewing potions, for one thing. He also was almost positive he possessed a higher IQ as well. But he didn't want to get into a debate about who was the smarter wizard with a four-year-old. Let him keep his innocent assumptions a bit longer. He too remembered when he had thought his father and mother the smartest and most beautiful people in the world . . . before Tobias had turned to the bottle and Eileen had allowed despair to rule her.

He covered his eyes with his hands and began counting.

Alby rushed off to hide.

While they were playing, Harry and Ginny were spotted by the Longbottoms—Neville, Luna, and their little girl, Frances Alice, or Frankie for short, as well as Draco, Astoria, and Cory. It appeared as though the Potters weren't the only ones who had decided today was a great afternoon for a picnic.
 


Chapter 10: Past Regrets
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"Hey, look, Luna! It's Ginny and Harry!" a familiar voice called from just across the lawn, where the swings were. It was Neville, apparently the Longbottoms had the same idea as the Potters, and the tall broad-shouldered Herbology professor made his way towards the Potters, grinning genially. He was accompanied by his tall blond ethereal-looking wife, Luna and hanging onto his other arm was a pixie-like little girl of about five. Frankie was a mixture of both her parents, she had long flyaway hair in a pretty golden-brown shade and big brown eyes. She was dressed in a blue denim skirt and ruffled top with embroidered ponies and pink roses. Her sneakers were white with horse head charms on them.

"And Alby!" Frankie shouted, skipping past her dad to get to the blanket. "Hiya, Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny." The little girl threw her arms about Harry and hugged him, then did the same to Ginny.

"How are you doing, Frankie? Long time no see, eh?" Ginny chuckled.

Frankie shook her head. "You just saw me last week, Aunt Ginny," she reminded the red-haired witch.

"That's right. I thought it was longer because you've grown almost a whole inch since last time," Ginny teased.

Frankie giggled, for she always wanted to be tall like her dad. "Where's Alby?"

"He's playing hide-and-seek with Severus over there," Ginny pointed to where the two boys were playing.

Frankie's eyes widened, and she asked nervously. "Is he a new kid? I've never seen him around before."

"Ah . . . well . . .he's our new . . .son." Ginny fumbled to try and explain how Severus came to be there. "Harry and I are his guardians because he's an orphan."

"Like 'cause he's got no mum and dad?" asked the girl. "Like Uncle Harry?"

"Yes, like that. So your uncle and I agreed to let Severus live with us and now he's like Alby's big brother. Why don't you go and say hello, dear?"

Frankie looked doubtful, she was always a little shy meeting new people. "Umm . . ."

But then Alby looked up and spotted her. Next to his cousin Rose and Scorpius, Frankie was one of his favorite playmates. "Frankie! Come and meet my big brudder!" He waved at her, smiling sweetly.

Severus looked up from where he was hiding his eyes, expecting to see another little boy. Instead he saw the most adorable little girl staring uncertainly back at him. His forehead wrinkled, as he tried to determine which of his former students could have produced such a sweet child.

Frankie took two steps toward him and held out her hand. "Hi. I'm Frances Longbottom, but everybody calls me Frankie."

Severus took her hand, amazed that clumsy Long bottom had produced such a petite child. "Hello. My name is Severus Snape. Pleased to meet you."

"Sev'rus, this is Frankie," Alby said, coming up and hugging the little girl. "Frankie's one of my best friends, 'sides Rosie an' Cory. She loves horses and flowers."

Frankie nodded. "I like to help my daddy and mummy plant flowers, but I like roses best. I want to get a pony someday, but my daddy says I have to wait till I'm six or seven. I'm five now. How old are you, Severus?"

"I'm . . ." Thirty-eight, he almost blurted, catching himself in time. " . . . five also."

"Yay!" she clapped happily. "Finally someone the same age as me. I was born April 6th. How about you?"

"January 9th," replied Severus absently. He was gazing over at Neville and Luna, who were sitting on the blanket talking to Harry and Ginny and giving him surreptitious glances every so often. It made him uncomfortable. He wondered just what explanation Harry and Ginny were giving the Longbottoms.

"That's my mum and dad," Frankie announced, waving her hand over at Neville and Luna.

Severus nodded, recalling a stocky boy who was continually blew up cauldrons in his classroom and a skinny blond girl who saw magical beings almost no one else did and usually had her head in the clouds. But oddly enough, she had been one of his best potions students. What irony that she had married Longbottom, who had been one of his worst brewers. He wondered if Frankie had inherited her mother's gift for brewing or was she more inclined towards Herbology?

Alby, growing bored, grabbed Frankie's hand and dragged her off to where he had put his toy broom. "Frankie, wanna fly with me? Sev'rus, can she borrow your broom?"

"Yes." Severus called back, rooted to the spot. He suddenly recalled all the times he had snapped at and sneered at Longbottom and wondered if the adult Longbottom remembered those times. If he did, would he want to get revenge upon his former teacher, now that Severus was defenseless? Snape had felt justified at the time treating Longbottom so harshly, he had been trying to push the kid into working harder and grow a backbone, but now he regretted his sharpness. Might he have been wrong? He crept closer to the four adults upon the blanket, who had their heads together, whispering. They did not see him standing a few feet away.

" . . . sure that's really Professor Snape?" Neville murmured, astonishment in his brown eyes. He had lost some weight since the war ended, and his face was thinner now and he resembled his father Frank a good deal. He was also a bit broader in the shoulder than he had been and taller as well.

"It's him, all right," Ginny answered. "He might look like a cute kid, but he still has the snarky attitude and sharp tongue. That's two things that haven't changed."

"How'd it happen, for Merlin's sake?" asked Luna.

Harry shrugged and told them how he had gone to visit his godfather's and Severus' graves and the spinning vortexes had appeared and out of them had tumbled the de-aged Sirius Black and Severus Snape.

"That's just . . . amazing!" Luna said. "I've never heard of the Veil turning inward like that. And so they're going to just . . . remain as children now?"

"Yes. Ginny and I agreed to take Severus and Remus has Sirius. I feel bad for him . . . almost. " Harry said. "Then again, maybe this is karma for Lupin allowing Sirius to get away with murder the first time."

"Could be," Luna murmured. Then she added, "If Sirius and Severus still have all their previous memories, why not just Age them back with a potion?"

Before Harry or Ginny could respond, Severus spoke. "That wouldn't work."

All of the adults stared at him.

"Why not, Severus?" Harry queried, one eyebrow raised.

Severus huffed and sighed. Seven years of potions and he still doesn't remember the basic laws! Merlin's bloody cauldron, but was I talking to myself all those years ago? "An Aging Potion is only temporary. It's effects will wear off in a few hours and cannot be made permanent. It's been tried before and the result has always ended in death for the imbiber. The cells grow at too rapid a rate and burn themselves out and die. Do you not remember the examples I gave you in class, Potter?" he demanded, sounding very much like the snarky professor he'd once been.

"Yup, same old Snape," Neville remarked, smirking.

Harry scowled at the little boy. "Sorry we're not all potions prodigies like you, Mr. Snape. Now mind your tone!"

Neville and Luna gaped at the stern tone coming out of Harry's mouth.

Severus flushed and muttered an apology. "But that's not the only reason why Black and I can't use magic to . . . become our former ages again. We were brought back here so we could . . . have a second chance to live our lives over, and hopefully not repeat the mistakes we made in our former lives. If we simply aged ourselves back to what we were, it would totally defeat the purpose of a rebirth, for we would be back the way we were before we died. Therefore, it's not allowed."

"How can you be sure?" asked Luna.

"I just know," was all the boy replied, sounding exasperated. "I can't explain it any better than that."

"That explanation sounds good enough for me," said Neville. "I was never any good at magical theory and potions anyway, no matter how much you pushed me, professor."

Severus gazed at Longbottom with a somewhat sour expression, for he now realized that he had underestimated Neville. Longbottom had proved far more reliable and resilient than he had given the boy credit for. "I . . . believe that I owe you an apology, Longbottom. I was rather harsh on you and I may have not needed to be so."

Neville's eyes went wide upon hearing what had just come out of the child's mouth. The world really had stopped spinning. "Uh . . . that's okay, Professor. I understand better now that you were trying to . . . make me work harder by being so strict. I could have seriously injured someone the way I kept blowing up cauldrons. In a way, you made me better able to handle myself when I had to deal with the really sadistic nasty teachers we had in seventh year."

"The Carrows," Severus said darkly. "There wasn't much I could do to stop them . . . not and still maintain my cover. It is something . . . I regret deeply. I wanted nothing more than to hex them into grease spots upon the dungeon floor, or to rip out their intestines and roast them over a fire. Instead I was forced to watch . . ." He shook his head abruptly. There was a terrible aching pain in his eyes, and he whispered, "You need to get me that Pensieve tomorrow, Harry." He closed his eyes, sending the awful memories back behind his Occlumency shields.

"I will," Harry said, and gently patted Severus on the shoulder.

The boy stiffened, but did not pull away.

Neville, too, looked pained. "You tried your best, Severus. That's all any of us could do. But now it's over and done with and we can move on. We survived and that's all that matters. That, and the fact that our kids will grow up in a world free of war."

Harry and Ginny nodded. "That's the important thing," said Ginny. "And this time around, so will you, Severus." She gave him a smile.

"That is one thing that I am grateful for . . . Ginny." He gave her a small smile in return.

Just then they heard Alby yelling, "Hey, Sev'us, c'mere and show Frankie how to cast the light spell. Please! Then we can play some more hide n'seek."

The adults concealed grins behind their hands when Severus heaved a huge sigh that seemed to come from the tips of his toes and muttered, "Little brothers!"

Then he turned and rejoined his namesake and Frankie, picking up his toy wand from the spot where he'd left it in the grass. He was rather glad that Alby had called him right then, for things had started to get a bit too emotional for his liking and this was as good an excuse as any not continue the conversation. He did feel relieved, however, that Neville didn't hold a grudge.

"Wow! Who taught you how to cast spells like that?" asked Frankie, looking at her new friend in awe.

"My mother," answered Severus quietly.

"Before she died, right? I heard Aunt Ginny say you were an orphan and that's why you lived with them. I'm sorry about your mummy. You must miss her an awful lot." Frankie said kindly.

"I do," answered Severus, and blinked away tears.

The little girl gazed at him knowingly, then said uncannily, "You can cry if you want, Severus. I'd cry forever n' ever if my mum died."

"Me too," Alby agreed.

Severus sniffled, then dashed his hand over his eyes. He didn't dare give in to his emotions, even though it was tempting. He had shed enough tears in the past two days than he ever had in his life and he was not going to be labeled a cry baby. "No. I've cried enough now. It won't bring her back."

"No, but maybe you'll feel better," Frankie suggested. "Mummy says it's okay to cry if you're sad, because tears help the sadness go away."

Severus shook his head stubbornly. "Not for me." There was a lifetime of sorrow buried within him and he knew if he surrendered to it, he would drown in a deluge of tears. "Now watch the way I move my wand for this next spell," he told them, abruptly changing the subject. He began to show them a Color Change charm.

As the kids watched their "elder" eagerly, the Potters were joined by yet another group of old friends, Draco, Astoria, and little Cory.

"Fancy meeting you here, Potter," Draco drawled, giving Harry a lazily insolent grin.

"It was Ginny's idea to have a picnic," Harry pointed out, ruffling Cory's hair.

"Great minds think alike," laughed Astoria, she was tall and slender, wearing a dark blue dress and her silky platinum hair was pulled back in a chignon. "Mind if we steal some of your food, Ginny? I didn't really have time to cook today, I was helping my sister pick out baby clothes, she's expecting in five months and wants to get the nursery ready." She helped herself to a sandwich, some potato salad, and a drink.

"That's wonderful! Tell Daphne I'm so happy for her. I know how much she and Dennis always wanted a baby." Luna cried, grinning from ear to ear. She had been good friends with Daphne Greengrass and Dennis Creevy, who was now Daphne's husband, during school.

"I remember those days," Ginny said reminiscently.

"It's not something you ever really forget," Luna said, wincing. "Men have it easy."

While the women talked about their trials and tribulations of being pregnant, Cory tugged on his father's sleeve. "Daddy, can I go and play with Alby and Frankie and Severus?"

"Yes, you may, Cory." Draco said gravely, then as he watched the little boy run off, he remarked ruefully, "God, but I sound more like my old man every day."

"Speaking of Lucius, I'm glad that he and Arthur actually managed to have a civil conversation last night," Harry said, smirking.

"You and me both. I thought for sure I was going to have to separate them if Dad didn't watch his mouth," Draco sniggered. "I'm glad, however, that they managed to put the past in perspective at last. It was past time to bury the hatchet."

"Somewhere besides their own backs," Harry agreed sagely. "At least now we won't need to worry about blood being spilled every time they're in the same room. We might not forget what happened, but it's time to forgive the mistakes of the past."

"Yes." Draco said quietly, his gaze suddenly shifting to the slight dark-haired boy now demonstrating another wand motion to his son, Alby, and Frankie. He had seen Severus last night at the Burrow, but had been too shocked upon seeing his mentor's return from the Veil and too much of a coward to speak to him right off, and then Severus had gotten into that awful brawl with that brat Sirius Black, and Draco hadn't felt like dredging up the past after that.

He watched the former professor for quite awhile, a wistful smile creeping over his face. He rubbed his chin and murmured to Harry, "I still can't believe he's back. I always felt terrible that I never got a chance to . . . say goodbye or tell him how much I . . . appreciated what he did for me. He saved my life with his Unbreakable Vow. I always meant to tell him . . . but somehow there was never the right moment . . ."

"Maybe you should tell him now," Harry suggested softly.

Draco hesitated. The past was painful for him, but he knew Harry was right. He'd been carrying his guilt over Severus' sacrifice like a millstone about his neck for far too long. It was time to lay old regrets to rest.

The kids, including Severus, looked up as Draco approached them.

"It's not time to go yet, is it, Daddy?" asked Cory worriedly.

"No, son. You can play with Alby and Frankie some more." Draco replied. "Severus, would you mind if I talked to you a bit in private?"

Severus eyed his former student warily. Today seemed to be a day for reliving past regrets, he mused, seeing the guilty expression in Draco's gray-blue eyes. "All right, Draco," he agreed calmly. He turned to Alby and Frankie. "I'll be back soon. Keep practicing."

"Okay, Sev'us," Alby said proudly, waving his wand a quarter turn to the right and saying "Lumos!"

He was rewarded with colored sparks shooting from his wand tip.

Frankie squealed and clapped. Cory clapped too. Then he turned back and ran over to his mother, asking to rent a wand and a broom too.

Draco smirked. "He's a smart one, he is. Almost as bright as Cory. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up in Ravenclaw or Slytherin." He headed over to a wooden bench beneath the shade of a large oak tree.

"He has his grandmother's eyes and brains," remarked Severus, climbing up on the bench to sit next to Draco. "What's wrong, Draco?" he began without preamble.

The new Potions Master sighed and did not answer for several minutes. "When I saw you for the first time last night . . . I thought maybe it was some kind of stupid prank, but then I saw Harry's face when he told us about what happened in the cemetery, and jokes aren't really Potter's style . . . so I had to believe it as the truth. Then I saw you with my father, and I realized it couldn't be anyone else, because Father would never lose control like that, especially in front of old Arthur, unless it involved you. He's said many times to me that he wished he had never sent you back to Voldemort that night . . . he feels responsible for your death . . . as do I."

Severus shook his head. "You shouldn't. I chose to go, Draco. Lucius couldn't have stopped me. I knew the risks, but someone had to distract the Dark Lord long enough for Harry to figure out how to defeat him. Better me than him. Or you. You had families, the rest of your lives ahead of you."

"And you had no one," Draco whispered sadly.

"I was the logical choice," Severus said, with a trace of bitterness. "As Dumbledore said long ago when I tried to arrest the curse that was killing him . . .my soul was already tainted, making the Unbreakable Vow for you and taking your place was an act of mercy . . .for you and for him."

"That doesn't make it right!" Draco protested. "I was so stupid . . . I should have listened to you back in fifth year, when you warned me about Father . . . and following him down the dark path. But I thought I knew it all, thought that I knew how to handle everything he could throw at me. I didn't realize the cost until it was too late . . . and the Mark was branded into me . . ." Draco lowered his head, rubbing unconsciously at the spot on his left wrist where the Mark had been. "I was such a fool . . . and you paid for it. Severus, you should have let me kill the old bastard. You never should have taken that burden upon yourself. It was my responsibility. I should have been the one with the black mark on my soul, I should have been the one everybody hated for killing the bloody greatest wizard who ever lived. You didn't deserve any of it." Sudden tears gathered in the gray-blue eyes.

"You were a foolish boy, influenced by your father and a clever-tongued megalomaniac," Severus soothed, laying a hand upon Draco's arm. "Like me, you were tempted into darkness. Do you think I didn't know how scared you were, how you were too scared to go on and yet too scared to turn back? You were a boy, Draco, trying to please your family, and I knew what awaited you at the end of the path. I could not let you kill Dumbledore, couldn't let you be corrupted as I had been by using an Unforgivable. This was my chance to save a soul . . . as I could not all those years ago with other young boys and girls. What I did, I did willingly. I have no regrets, Draco."

"How can you not? If it weren't for me, you'd never have had to become a murderer," Draco objected. "The old man would have had to find another to do his dirty work . . . or done it himself! If he knew he was bloody dying, why in hell didn't he just overdose on Dreamless Sleep or something and saved all of us the trouble of killing him?"

"Albus believed he knew what he was doing."

Draco snorted. "Yeah, well he didn't know everything, the old fart! He might have thought your soul tainted by falling into the Dark Lord's snare, but he never understood you. Your soul always remained your own, because you came back to the Light of your own free will, and redeemed yourself. And a redeemed soul is purer than one who has never looked into the teeth of darkness, because that soul has been tempered in fire and tested by adversity, and made a conscious choice between good and evil. A soul that always walked the straight and narrow is more vulnerable and sometimes when tested would give way because it did not know how to bend or to see shades of gray in the choices before it. Lucius told me that, after the war. Dumbledore was always going on about choices determining who you were, but when push came to shove he chose to sacrifice you instead of himself, the selfish bastard. He knew you'd never let me become an assassin. For all I know, he might have encouraged Mother to come to you and ask you to make the Unbreakable Vow."

"Draco, there's no point in reliving what is past. The war forced us all to make some hard choices."

"Yeah, well, nobody made harder choices than you, Severus. I'm just sorry I got you involved in my problems." Draco said, his eyes shimmering with tears.

"I would have gotten involved regardless, Dragon. You were like my child . . ." Severus whispered, very softly. Obsidian eyes met gray-blue ones.

"Then you forgive me?" Draco asked, his voice rough.

"Always. You made the same mistake I did, and I would be a hypocrite if I didn't," Severus said earnestly. "And my sacrifice was worth it, for look at what you have become . . . a Potions Master of renown, and a loving husband and father, living a life free of shame and darkness. That was all I had ever wished for."

Draco abruptly reached out and swept the small boy into a long hug. "I'm so damn glad you came back," he said, then he wept softly for several minutes, purging his soul of the guilt that had festered inside it for so long.

And Severus, who normally hated to be touched by an adult male, wrapped his arms about Draco's neck and held on tight. "Me too. We both deserve a second chance. This time, I'll get it right."

Neither of them noticed that a pair of emerald eyes was observing them from the picnic blanket. Harry looked over just in time to see Draco hug Severus . . . and Severus hug the blond man back. He felt a sudden surge of relief that Draco had resolved his differences with his former professor . . . followed hard by pangs of jealousy. Severus never allowed Harry to hug him that way! Much less return the hug! What made Draco so special? He wasn't Severus' guardian, Harry was. Harry struggled with his temper, reminding himself that in his former life Severus had been much closer to Draco, had probably known and loved the Slytherin scion from infancy . . . so it was only natural that he feel more comfortable with Malfoy. Eventually, Severus would come around and trust Harry as well. At least Harry hoped so . . .

A/N: How did you like this one? What did you think about Frankie? Draco and Severus' talk?
 


Chapter 11: A Cry in the Night
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11

A Cry in the Night

Both Severus and Alby had played so hard at the park that they were exhausted. After Ginny had made them a light supper of chicken noodle casserole and some fresh bread with butter, both boys were only too happy to go to bed, and neither of them even wanted dessert. Severus helped Alby into pajamas and then undressed himself. He brushed his teeth and used the toilet and then tumbled into sleep, he even missed the nightly bedtime story Ginny was reading to them. She had chosen one of Harry's favorites, The Children's King Arthur and His Knights, and was currently reading the Tale of Sir Gawain. Severus, whose favorite it was also, just couldn't keep his eyes open, and fell asleep as Ginny begun.

Not long after, Alby too was getting sleepy, and Ginny bookmarked her place and kissed her baby goodnight. "Pleasant dreams, my darling," she whispered as she tucked the covers around him.

She then went over to Severus and tucked his covers about him also and gently kissed his forehead. "Sleep well, Severus." Then she stood gazing at the small boy and smiling wistfully. She hoped that Severus would come to trust Harry and her, and learn that the past would never be held against him and they would always take care and love him like he was their own. Ginny's heart had been stolen away soon after Severus had arrived in their home, and all she wanted now was to just cuddle the five-year-old. But right now Severus wasn't ready for that, he was still shy and uncertain, and knowing what she did of his previous life, Ginny couldn't blame him.

So she contented herself with saying good night and then went downstairs to join Harry in listening to the Wizarding Wireless and eating a bowl of popcorn. They went to bed around eleven and slept deeply until they heard a bloodcurdling scream coming from the boys' room.

Harry sat bolt upright, all the hair standing out on the back of his neck. The next thing he heard was Alby crying, "Mummy! Daddy! I need you! I'm scared!"

Ginny was out of bed before Harry had time to stand up. "I'm coming, baby!"

Harry followed, wondering if his little boy had a bad dream.

But when he got into the room, he saw Alby sitting up, clutching Bucky, tears streaming down his face, and looking over at Severus.

Severus was thrashing about, all tangled in the covers, and it was he who had screamed, for another terrible cry emerged from his throat.

"Daddy, Sev' us screamin'. Make him stop!" Poor Alby was crying, seeing Severus and hearing him was frightening him terribly.

"I'll try, scamp," Harry said.

Ginny had already rushed over to Alby and was hugging and rocking him. "Hush, Alby. Did you have a bad dream?"

"No, Mummy. But Sev'us is. He screamed so loud he woke me right up!" Albys wrapped his arms around Ginny's neck and buried his face in her shoulder.

Harry approached Severus, his heart almost breaking for the boy. He had his own share of nightmares and could only imagine how horrible Severus' dreams must be to make him scream like that. He gently unwound the small boy from the sheets, then he sat down on the bed and gathered the still dreaming child into his lap. "Severus, wake up. You're all right now, son. Severus!" He shook the boy slightly and began rubbing his back. "Come on, buddy, wake up! I'm here, wake up!"

Severus groaned, and then all of a sudden he was awake. He stared at Harry without really seeing him, his dark eyes filled with terror and revulsion. "He . . . he killed them . . . he killed them all . . ." he gasped, choking on a sob. "All the little children . . . and all I could do was watch! I couldn't help them . . . couldn't save them . . . I let them die . . .!" he wailed.

"Shhh . . . it was a dream, Severus. " Harry soothed, knowing all the while that he lied. But he didn't want to scare Alby any more than he already was. He cradled Severus in his arms and carried him out of the room and into his own bedroom. Hopefully Ginny could get Albus back to sleep, but for now Harry would try and calm down Severus, who had been dreaming of his days as a Death Eater.

"It wasn't! And you know it!" came Severus's little voice, slightly muffled from being pressed against Harry's shirt. "It was real! It was real!" he began to cry softly.

Harry sat down with the little boy in the rocker, it was the place he always sat with Alby whenever the child came into their room and woke him crying over a bad dream, which wasn't very often. He slowly rocked back and forth, carding Severus' hair and murmuring, "You're okay, Severus. Nothing like that will ever happen again. I promise." He rubbed small circles on the former professor's back. "It's okay to cry. Go on."

Severus had been trying to cry quietly, for one thing he didn't like to cry, and he had been conditioned not to by his father. But for some reason with Harry he felt unafraid and his emotions were that of a five-year-old. No five-year-old who had seen what he had in his dreams would ever be able to endure it without crying. He put his head on Harry's shoulder and sobbed, the sobs coming faster and harder as he allowed himself to grieve over all the lost children.

For long moments Harry said nothing, just hugged his ward and rocked back and forth, the creak of the rocker a soothing counterpoint to the little boy's sobbing. Severus' cries tore at Harry, he remembered all too well crying like this after the war, over all the people he had lost, but especially the raven-haired child he now held in his arms. Then, Ginny had held him and comforted him. Now it was his turn.

Severus finally stopped crying, and for a moment he just lay against Harry's shoulder, trying to catch his breath. He couldn't remember crying this way in his former life . . . except when he had found Lily's body. His breath hitched and he felt Harry's hand rubbing his back. It felt so very good.

"Do you feel a little better?"

"Yes," was all Severus replied. It was true. He did feel slightly better.

"Good. Do you think you can take a Calming Draught and some Dreamless Sleep for me?" asked Harry softly.

Severus nodded. "But it won't be enough." He told Harry solemnly.

"Why?"

"Because they only mask the memories, they don't erase them," Severus said. He shivered. "I don't want to remember anymore, Harry. Not like that. I want to forget I ever watched innocent little children die." He shifted so he was sitting up and looking Harry in the eye. He had witnessed many terrible things in his time as a spy, but that particular memory was one of the worst. "The Dark Lord . . . he wanted to make an example to everyone of his ruthlessness. So he . . . found a wizarding preschool that contained mostly half-bloods and he slaughtered the teachers and then he . . . lined up all the children . . . and he killed them . . .all of them . . . with lightning, fire, and the Torture Curse. And all I could do . . . was bear witness . . . I couldn't save them . . .and now I hear them screaming in my sleep."

Fresh tears rolled down his cheeks.

"God! Oh God!" Harry cried, his eyes wide, and also filled with tears.

"I need a Pensieve, Harry. I want to get rid of these horrible memories. I don't need them anymore. Please get me one."

Harry had never heard Severus Snape plead for anything, or seen him so depressed and fearful. "I will. I'll firecall Minerva in a few minutes, and ask to borrow the one in her office." He wandlessly Summoned the potions he wished Severus to take, as well as a glass of juice. "Right now, I want you to take these, Severus. You're on the verge of an anxiety attack."

Severus obediently took the potions without whining. Then he held the juice cup with both small hands and quickly gulped it down to wash away the awful taste.

Harry vanished the empty vials and cup and stroked his hand down Severus' hair. "I'm going to put you in my bed for a bit, all right? Try and relax while I talk with Minerva."

Severus just nodded, and blew his nose with the handkerchief Harry gave him. He felt totally worn out from his emotional outburst and also tired, though that could be because of the Dreamless Sleep. Harry set him down in the middle of the bed and tucked a blanket around him.

Then he tossed a handful of Floo powder into his fireplace and firecalled his old teacher. He explained what had happened, and Minerva was very sympathetic and told him he could bring Severus by whenever he wished to rid himself of the terrible memories. Harry thanked her, then turned back to tell Severus the good news.

But Severus was fast asleep on his bed. Harry smiled and went and lay down next to him. Soon he had fallen asleep as well.

In the boys' room, Ginny and Alby had curled up together on Alby's bed and they too slept.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

A few hours previous:

Remus had decided to have a little fun with his boys today. He didn't want Sirius to think he was some stodgy old has been that didn't remember how to play with his children. The fact was, he played with Jamie and Teddy all the time, whenever he had free time. Which wasn't much during the school year, but now it was summer.

He had been pondering how to teach Sirius the difference between a practical joke, which was essentially funny and harmless, and the kind of malicious pranks he had played as a Marauder. Finally he decided to play a game with the boys called Prank Wars. It involved using simple friendly jinxes and other joke products, like whoopee cushions, fake flaming dog poo, hand buzzers, sticky slugs, burping powder and so on to prank the other team. The team got points for surprising their opposition or making them laugh. Points were lost if the joke hurt the other team or was in poor was a good way to blow off steam and teach his newest member how to joke around without hurting anyone or seriously humiliating them.

Remus and Sirius were on one team and Jamie and Teddy on the other. They played for two hours, and Sirius had tremendous fun with his brothers and his new "father". He had never realized that Muggle joke products could be so fun. But he also liked the wizarding versions and one of his favorite jinxes was the Tickle Hex.

Sirius was proud when he and Remus were declared the winners, after his Banshee Shriek charm nearly made his brothers wet themselves from shock.

"Did you have fun, scamp?" asked Remus after they headed inside for supper. Tonks was going to be late, she had to stay and write out reports at work.

Sirius nodded. "It was a wicked game, Remus. James would have loved it."

"I did love it," said Jamie, flashing his brother a puzzled look.

"I mean James Potter," Sirius clarified. "He loved to prank people too."

"Is he related to Uncle Harry?" asked Teddy.

"Yeah, he was Harry's dad," Sirius answered.

"Oh, that's cool," Teddy nodded, then asked Remus what they were having for supper.

Remus decided on bacon cheeseburgers and a salad, and ice cream for dessert. None of the boys protested his choice, and even the salad wasn't met with groans, for all of the boys enjoyed eating vegetables, except Sirius hated broccoli.

After supper, Remus told them to play something quiet, as he had to make up a new curriculum for next year's Transfiguration classes. He could have used an old one of Minerva's, but Remus preferred making up his own, as he had a different teaching style than she did.

Teddy suggested they play Gobstones, and they spent the rest of the evening playing a game similar to marbles, except when you lost, the stones would spit a disgusting liquid at you.

When the clock on the mantle struck nine, Remus came into the bedroom and told the boys to get into pajamas and get ready for bed. There were the usual protests at first, but they stopped when he told them if they didn't quit whining, they'd be cleaning the basement tomorrow and not going to Diagon Alley with him.

Jamie and Teddy fell asleep right away and they slept like the dead. But Sirius was too keyed up to sleep and he remained awake, recalling all the outrageous pranks he used to pull with James and Peter and Remus. He tried to figure out if they had been practical jokes or not, but he was starting to get tired. He felt his eyes close.

He dreamed he was running down the hill from the Shrieking Shack, chasing Moony, in his dog form. All of a sudden Moony vanished and he was surrounded by an icy cold familiar chill. Dementors. They were all around him, their black shrouds whipping about in the freezing wind they always conjured, their skeletal hands reaching for him.

He could feel himself freeze, as they drew near, and began sucking out all of his good memories, leaving behind only hopelessness and despair. He struggled to run, but his feet were frozen to the ground and all at once he was back in a cell in Azkaban and a Dementor was slowly sucking his magic away and he screamed and screamed . . .

Remus came racing into the bedroom when he heard Sirius yelling, "No-o-o! Dementors! Get away from me!"

He didn't know how in Merlin's name Teddy or Jamie could sleep through that, but they didn't even stir.

Remus, wearing only his pajama bottoms, came and picked up Sirius and hugged him. "Siri, it's all right. You were having a nightmare. But you're safe now." He Summoned a towel and used it to dry Sirius' hair, it was all sweaty. He patted the frightened boy on the back. "Easy. Easy. You're safe. Nothing can get you here."

Sirius was shaking and he clung to Remus and cried a bit.

"What did you dream about?" Remus asked.

"I . . .first I was chasing you and then the Dementors came and I . . . I was back . . . in Azkaban and one was hovering, read to suck out my soul. They were always there . . . watching, waiting . . .you can't imagine how horrible it was . . .I always felt like a Christmas ham . . . they never slept, they just hovered and waited and they were soulless and hungry . . ." Sirius cried. He had always done his best to never dwell on his time in prison, but sometimes, like tonight, the memories crept out and he had screaming horrific nightmares. He'd had them at Grimmauld Place and sometimes the only way he could fall back to sleep was with a shot of firewhiskey.

Remus continued to hug him and rub his back. "I know. I'm sorry, old friend. You have some awful memories inside of you, don't you?" He felt Sirius nod against his chest. "Maybe you should think about putting some of them into a Pensieve ? Harry suggested it last time he visited. He said Severus was probably going to do it. Why don't you do it too?"

Sirius scowled. He wanted to tell Moony that he didn't want to do anything that Snape did. But then he recalled how hair-raising the nightmare was and he really didn't want to be afraid to go to sleep again. "All right, Moony." He agreed, sniffling. He didn't really like the idea of anyone being able to view his memories. He was as brave or braver than Snape. He wondered what sort of memories Snape wanted to put in there. Some of the drunken depraved orgies he'd participated in as a Death Eater? Meetings where he had tortured people under the bidding of his master? Whatever it was Sirius was sure Snape wanted to get rid of them to hide the truth—that he had liked being a Death Eater. Then once Harry learned the truth, he would get rid of Snape, like Sirius had told him to in the beginning. Snape wasn't part of their family, he never had been, and Harry shouldn't waste his time trying to reform a Death Eater. But he mentioned none of this to Remus. "When can we do it? Tomorrow?"

Remus nodded. "If you like. I'll take you over to Hogwarts after I speak with Minerva." He peered down at his new son and smiled. "Can you fall asleep on your own or do you want some warm milk and honey?" Laced with a Sleeping Draught, he thought. Sirius had always hated taking potions.

"Milk , please."

"Wait here." Remus set Sirius back on the bed and went to make the drink.

Sirius wrapped his arms about his knees and waited, he was wide wake now . He looked at his sleeping brothers and thought they must be deaf or something to sleep through all the fuss he'd made. But in a way he was glad, he didn't want them teasing him over a nightmare.

Remus gave Sirius the warm milk laced with a Sleeping Draught and soon after taking it, Sirius fell asleep again. He carefully tucked the covers up and whispered, "Sleep tight, scamp."

Then he returned to his own bed and Dora, who was sleepily waiting up for him to tell her what had happened. Remus slid into bed and put his arm about her. "Sirius had a nightmare. Well, it was more of a memory about his time in Azkaban."

"The poor kid!" Dora said sympathetically.

"Yeah, I know. I'm going to set up an appointment with Minerva to use her Pensieve tomorrow morning. Then maybe he'll get some peace." Remus said, rolling over and kissing his wife.
 


Chapter 12: Penseive Problems
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12

Pensieve Problems

A/N: Some spanking in this chapter, you have been warned!

Despite the troubled night he'd had last night, Severus woke early, at around seven AM. Harry was still asleep, so he was quiet when he went to use the bathroom. He knew he hated it when noisy people woke him up out of a sound sleep. When he came out of the bathroom, however, he saw Harry sitting up in bed, his hair all tousled, yawning, "Sorry, did I wake you?" Severus felt compelled to apologize.

"Huh? No, I'm used to getting up at the crack of dawn. Dursley House Rules, know what I mean?" Harry replied easily. He could joke about it now, but it hadn't been very funny at the time.

Severus scowled, he hated the Dursleys. "Bastards!"

"Hey, watch the mouth. Before you eat soap for breakfast," Harry scolded. Then he added, "I can't disagree with you though. They were." He swung his feet over the bed and rose. "So, after breakfast, we'll Floo on over to Minerva's office and you can rid yourself of any memories you'd rather not have. I'll make sure she puts them somewhere safe."

Severus watched as Harry padded sleepily into the bathroom and shut the door. Seconds later he heard water running and the toilet flushing. He decided to go back into his room and get dressed. He didn't want to delay their departure to Minerva's office. As he crept into the bedroom he shared with Alby, he pondered on why, after that bloody awkward emotional display last night, he didn't feel as ashamed or uncomfortable as he used to after allowing his emotions to run rampant that way. Maybe it was because he was beginning to grow accustomed to the way his five-year-old self reacted. Or maybe it was because Harry never scolded him for acting like a wimp or pansyarse. Those had been his father's standard words whenever he'd caught Severus crying as a boy. Usually followed by a backhand across the face so now he had "something to cry about". But Harry had not acted like it were anything unnatural for him to wake up from a nightmare hysterical. Harry had done what he'd always wished his father would have—Harry had held and comforted him. It made him feel good. For the first time in a long time he had felt wanted. And he hadn't felt like that in a long, long time.

He quietly pulled on some black jeans and a soft blue shirt with some books in a stack and a cat sleeping on them, underneath were the words Don't Disturb, I Have Claws and I Know How to Use Them! He tied his trainers and walked quietly downstairs, for Ginny and Alby were still asleep. Harry came down a minute or two later, wearing jeans and socks, carrying his shirt over his shoulder. His well-muscled chest and shoulders stood out like sculpted marble. His dark hair was still wet from his shower, but his green eyes twinkled merrily behind his glasses.

"Hey, Severus. Are you hungry?" He tossed his shirt over the back of a kitchen chair.

Severus stared up at Harry. This was the first time he'd ever seen the young professor partially dressed. He hadn't thought Harry had that much muscle on his lean frame, but apparently he was wrong. "Aren't you going to put your shirt on?" he blurted, wondering why he'd asked such an inane thing. It was hardly his place to tell Potter how to dress in his own house!

Harry glanced at the small boy, amused. "Yeah, in a bit. My wife likes me like this sometimes." He told Severus. Actually Ginny thought he was sexy wearing a bathrobe, and had told him so on more than one occasion. "Besides, it's hot in here." He tossed his hair out of his eyes and began heating up a skillet. "How's waffles and bacon sound? Or would you like eggs and fried potatoes and bangers?"

Severus shrugged. He was not picky. "Whatever you like."

"I feel like waffles today," Harry said, then he began making the waffle batter. He had the bacon cooking soon after, monitored by magic, and the waffle iron heating. "But I'm starving right now. I think I'll have a donut."

He Summoned an entire box of chocolate frosted donuts from the pantry and began to munch on one. "Want one?" he offered the small boy a donut.

Severus considered. "Donuts aren't good for breakfast. They're full of sugar."

"So? Live a little, Severus. You're not an adult now, you have a kid's metabolism. You're five, enjoy it." He placed a donut into the small hand.

Severus eyed the donut. His mouth was watering already and he hadn't even taken a bite yet. He bit into the soft treat and felt the chocolaty richness melt on his tongue. He had forgotten just how good a chocolate donut tasted. Before he knew it, he had taken another bite. Then another.

"Good, huh?" Harry asked, licking the frosting off his fingers. Then he snagged another one and started eating that one too. "Want more?"

"Uh . . . maybe half. Otherwise I won't eat breakfast," Severus told him.

Harry chuckled, and broke another donut in half. "Here you go, Mr. Snape."

As Severus was nibbling . . . or trying to . . . on the chocolate donut, Ginny came downstairs wearing a pink bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, her hair flowing down her shoulders in a crimson tide. She smiled when she saw her husband and her new son. "You look good enough to eat, Harry."

"Thanks, Gin. Want a donut? The waffle iron should be heated soon." Harry grinned and kissed her.

She ran her hands appreciatively over his shoulders. "Harry, you know I can't eat donuts for breakfast. Not unless you want me to become the size of Hagrid."

"Gin, you are not fat."

"Because I don't eat donuts for breakfast." She said. "I wish I had your metabolism, Harry! It's so not fair! You can eat an entire package of those and not even gain a pound. Men! By the time your metabolism catches up to you, you'll be a bald, fat, old man."

Harry turned to her with a smirk. "You saying you won't love me when I'm old and bald and fat, Ginny?"

"Of course not!" She flicked a dish towel at him.

"Because it sure seemed like that's what you were hinting at," he teased. "That as soon as I was an ugly old fart, my arse would be out on the street and you'd be dating some hot young kid like that Marvin Mellencamp down the street."

"Harry!" she swatted him playfully on the behind. "Marvin Mellencamp is sixteen! I'm like ten years older than him."

"What's that matter? I think he likes older women. I caught him eyeing your bottom when you were weeding the flowers one day. I nearly went and punched him out, but I didn't want to be arrested for assaulting a minor." Harry said, gently patting his wife's shapely bottom. He pulled her against him and kissed her. "You know, I'm a terribly jealous husband."

Ginny laughed. "Sure you are, handsome. And you have absolutely no reason to be, Mr. Potter." She wrapped her arms about him and kissed him back. "Because I have eyes only for you."

Severus coughed pointedly. "My God, Potter, do you do this in front of Alby? And your waffle iron's smoking."

Harry stepped away from Ginny, a satisfied smirk on his face. He adjusted the waffle iron and then poured some batter on it and put the lid down. Then he forked the bacon onto some paper towels and put more in the skillet. "What's wrong, Severus? Haven't you ever seen two people kissing before?"

"Yes, but . . .you're . . . in public!"

Harry laughed. "I'm in my own kitchen and this is about as private as it gets. I don't believe in hiding the fact that I love my wife behind closed doors. I want Alby to grow up seeing that it's okay for a husband and wife to show affection. All we were doing was kissing."

"My mum and dad hugged and kissed each other all the time around us, Severus," Ginny added impishly. "It's nothing to be ashamed of." She slid from Harry's arms and began setting the table.

Severus blushed and went to sit down. He felt embarrassed viewing the obvious affection the two had for one another. Probably because he'd never seen that kind of affection between his own parents. Eileen and Tobias had never teased and laughed like that, much less kissed each other as if there was no tomorrow. It almost made him . . . jealous. No, not jealous, but . . . wistful. Because that was what he would have wanted to have with Lily, back in his old life. Would he ever be able to have that, he wondered, taking the other half of the chocolate donut. To hell with the calories.

"I smell waffles!" said a little voice, and Alby entered the kitchen, still in pajamas. "Morning, Sevvy." He slid into the seat next to his older brother.

"Sevvy?" Severus raised an eyebrow. He hadn't been called that since his mother passed away. But he didn't really mind, not from Alby. Little brothers were allowed to use nicknames no one else could.

Alby nodded firmly. "You is Sevvy and I'm Alby. We match then." The boy said. Then he spied the donuts. "Yummy!" He reached out and took one out of the box and then crammed it in his mouth. "Mmm."

"Don't eat it all at once!" Severus protested. "You'll choke!"

But amazingly, Alby chewed and swallowed the whole donut. "Milk, please, Dad!"

Harry turned and sent a cup of milk over for his son and for Severus. "Hey, buddy! How's it going?"

"Good. The donut was real good." Alby said, chocolate smeared all over his face. He picked up his milk and drank thirstily.

"Donuts are always good," Harry laughed, then he turned to take the waffle off the iron.

Severus grabbed a napkin and handed it to his small brother. "Wipe your mouth. You've got chocolate all over it."

Alby did, then he eyed Severus and giggled. "You do too, Sevvy! Right here." He touched Severus' left cheek.

Severus quirked his mouth in a lopsided smile. Then he took another napkin and wiped his mouth.

Soon two plates with waffles cut up and dripping with syrup as well as strips of bacon were floating over to the two boys.

"Yay! Waffles!" Alby cheered. "Daddy makes the bestest," he told his brother, before taking a forkful.

Severus had to agree after he'd tasted some. If any good had come out of Harry's childhood, it was his cooking ability. "He sure does." He crunched a piece of bacon. Even that was excellent, crispy and not dripping with grease.

The two adults joined them and everyone ate till they were stuffed. "I think I made too many waffles," Harry lamented.

"That's okay, hon. We can have waffles with ice cream for a sweet tonight," Ginny said.

"Yay! More waffles!" Alby cheered. He was sticky with syrup and Ginny washed his face with a damp cloth.

She smiled at her son and said, "Alby, why don't we get dressed and then you can help Mummy make the beds? Daddy and Sevvy are going to take a little trip to see Auntie Min this morning, they should be back before lunch."

Severus nearly glared at her for calling him Sevvy, then he sighed and decided that it was all right for Ginny to use it too, since mothers often had nicknames for their children.

Alby pouted a little. "How come I can't go?"

"Because you're too little," Severus told him. "She wants to talk to me about boring things. I won't be gone long and when I come back we can play a game."

Alby thought about this, then slowly nodded. "I'll think up the game while you're gone, Sevvy."

That potential disaster averted, Harry sent the dishes into the sink and began to wash them magically. "Are you ready, Severus?" he asked the small boy.

"Yes. But don't you think you ought to put a shirt on? Before you give Minerva a heart attack?" Severus asked slyly.

"Oh. Right!" Harry blushed and tugged on his shirt and then put on his trainers. Then he took Severus' hand and together they used the Floo Network.

Ginny giggled after they had gone. She would bet her last Galleon that Minerva would have appreciated the sight of Harry shirtless before she passed out.

Headmistress' Office:

When Harry and Severus Flooed into Minerva's office, they found Remus and Sirius there as well, Minerva had served tea and Remus was drinking some with her. Sirius was sitting next to him, in shorts and a red shirt, swinging his legs back and forth, looking bored out of his mind.

Severus stiffened when he caught sight of his archenemy. "What are you doing here, Black?" he hissed, glaring at the other boy.

Sirius glared back, baring his teeth slightly like the mutt he could transform into. "What's it to you, Snape?"

Harry placed a hand on Severus' shoulder. "Stop it, the pair of you," he ordered sternly. "The both of you are here for the same reason, am I right, Remus?"

"You are, Harry. Sirius was having nightmares about Azkaban, so we decided to take your advice and put some of his worst memories into the Pensieve."

"I figured as much," Harry nodded. "Severus was having bad dreams too."

"About what?" Sirius scoffed. "Kissing the Dark Lord's feet?"

Severus nearly went for him them, but Harry pulled him back. "Don't Severus. It's what he wants."

Harry turned to face his former godfather. "Sirius, that was out of line. Severus has just as many bad memories as you and he deserves respect, not being made fun of. Do it again and you'll deal with me."

"But Harry—" Sirius protested. Why was Harry always defending Snivellus? He was a former Death Eater, for crying out loud. All of his bad memories were probably torturing people and enjoying it.

"Never mind "but Harry", Sirius," Harry said, frowning. "I want you to stop baiting him. What he did was in another life and you need to stop bringing it up. Let's not forget that you did some pretty bad things too back then." He turned to Minerva. "Good morning, Minerva! Thanks for letting us use the Pensieve on such short notice."

"You're very welcome, Harry. Hello, Severus! You're looking chipper today. I like your shirt." Minerva greeted her former colleague warmly. She was surprised how adorable Severus looked, he was a beautiful child with his huge dark eyes, slender face, and dark hair.

"Thank you, ma'am," Severus said, politely. He tugged on Harry's sleeve. He wanted to get this over with, especially because Black was there. "Harry, can we do it now?"

"Yes. Minerva, where is it?"

"In my inner office, dear. The same cabinet it's always been in. Good luck dear."

Harry and Severus entered the inner office and took the Pensieve out of the cabinet.

Harry handed Severus his wand. "Do you need any help?"

Severus shook his head. "No. I know which ones I want to remove. I just . . . need something to stand on to reach the Pensieve." The cabinet was taller than he was.

Harry dragged a plaid covered footstool over so Severus could stand on it. Then he watched as Severus put the wand to his temple and withdrew a silvery strand. More followed . . . until the bowl was full of memories. They swirled about the bowl.

Severus looked down at them, an expression of disgust stealing over his features. But he was finally free of them. He glanced up at Harry, standing beside him. "Want to take a look?" he asked, half-sarcastically.

Harry winced. "No. I won't invade your privacy again. I'm sorry I ever did that. It was wrong. I could just kick my own ass for it. Want me to help you bottle them?"

Severus nodded and together they bottled and labeled the memories. Harry gathered them and put them on Minerva's desk. "Do you feel a little better now?" asked Harry kindly.

"Yes . . . I do," Severus said, a note of wonder in his voice.

"Good. I'm glad. Nobody should have to suffer forever for the mistakes of the past." Harry said sincerely. He helped Severus off the stool and gave him a brief hug.

When they emerged from Minerva's inner sanctum, she offered them some tea and cakes. Harry tried to refuse, but Minerva insisted.

Remus rose and said, "All right, Siri. Your turn." He led his son into the inner office.

Sirius marched right over to the Pensieve. Then he turned to Remus and said, "I can borrow your wand, right?"

"Sure," Remus handed him the wand. "Would you like me to step outside and give you some privacy?"

"That'd be great," said Sirius. He really didn't want anybody watching him. It felt too awkward. He put Remus' wand to his temple and withdrew the first memory. As he was placing it into the bowl, Remus took his leave.

Alone in the office, Sirius continued removing all his memories of Azkaban. All except the ones where he escaped the prison on the rock. Finally he was through and then he looked about for some empty vials to put them in. He found some under the cabinet on a shelf. As soon as he had finished putting them inside the vials and labeling them, rather sloppily, he turned to jump off the stool.

He landed in front of Minerva's desk and saw immediately the vials of Snape's memories sitting there. Snivellus' memories! I wonder what he has in there? Probably memories of all the Death Eater orgies he attended. If I could find out what he did, and tell Harry about it, maybe Harry would see that it's not worth his time to rehabilitate Snivellus. He should just get rid of the git.

Without stopping to think, Sirius picked up a vial labeled May 25th, 1979, Apocalypse of Children and carried it over to the Pensieve. He hesitated only a second before dumping it into the silver water. He had to know the truth and so did Harry. He plunged his head into the water . . .

. . . . when he pulled his head out, Sirius realized his face was wet with tears. He knew they were tears and not just water because they were warm and salty and kept sliding down his face. When he had gone into the Pensieve, he had not viewed the memories as an observer, as was usual, but as Severus himself. He had felt every horrible moment of the other wizard's anguish beneath the silver mask, as Snape was forced to watch as Voldemort executed gangland style a bunch of preschool wizarding children, babies who were two, three, and four years old, who had done nothing save get born into a half-blood or Muggle family.

Sirius had wanted to retch as Voldemort had cold-bloodedly killed a two-year-old by using the Cruciatus. Another had fallen by using a lightning bolt curse. Still another by the Cutting Curse. All innocents, all cut down before they even had a chance to live, on the whim of a madman. And through all the carnage and horror, Sirius bore witness, unable to do anything to halt it.

For the first time Sirius truly understood what it was like to be Severus Snape, spy. And it shook him to his core. He stood there, his face dripping with tears, unable to move. He had misjudged his classmate, believing that Snape had willingly stood there and watched his dark master torture and maim and hurt people. He couldn't have been more wrong. Yes, Snape had stood there, but not unfeeling, not enjoying the slaughter. He had stood there awash in rage, guilt, grief, and bitterness. Filled with impotence, knowing that if he made the slightest protest or attempt to stop the atrocity, he too would be cut down and there would be no one to bring information across the lines. And the Order badly needed that information to defeat the monster before him.

Sirius knew then that Snape truly was the bravest man he'd ever known. He'd proven it over and over, for that was not the only meeting where he'd watched murder being done on a grand scale. Sirius knew he would not have lasted a day doing what Snape had done.

Gazing into the silver liquid, Sirius wiped his eyes. He was about to take the memory and return it to its vial when the door opened and Harry came in.

"Hey, Siri, are you all finished? We were getting a little worried." He walked over to where the boy was standing. He noticed the boy seemed upset. "Want me to bottle this one?" he asked, noting te silvery strands still in the water.

"No! It's okay, I can do it!" Sirius said, speaking quickly.

But it was too late. Harry had spotted the bottle. "Let me help, I can do this faster." He took the vial and examined it. His face went cold and hard and his eyes gleamed with anger. "What have you done, Sirius Orion? You've stolen Severus' memories! How could you do such a thing? Those are private!"

Sirius stumbled back wards, alarmed at the anger in his godson's eyes. He'd never seen Harry so angry before . . . at least not at him. "I . . . I just wanted . . . to see if he liked being a Death Eater . . . because I figured anybody who took the Mark wanted it and . . . then you could see how evil he was."

Harry walked over and shook him. "So you invade another's privacy because you thought you could convince me he was evil? Will you never let that bloody vendetta between Slytherin and Gryffindor die? There's more to life than that, and more to Severus than you'll ever know. But how dare you do something so . . . immature . . .. so . . .immoral. . .?"

Sirius began too snivel, sensing he was in serious trouble, no pun intended. "I . . . I'm sorry, Harry! I just needed to know the truth!"

"I told you the truth, Sirius Black!" Harry snapped. "I guess you didn't believe me, or else you'd have never done something like this." Harry waved at the open vial of memories. He was so furious. It was lucky Severus hadn't trailed after him, the boy would have been devastated and probably had a breakdown. Harry carefully removed the memories from the Pensieve and placed it back in the vial.

Then he took his former godfather by the arm and marched him over to a corner. "Stay there for four minutes. And think long and hard about what you did, young man. Think about what you would feel like if you knew Severus had looked at your memories. "

Harry left Sirius sniffling with his nose to the wall, then paced backwards and forwards for the rest of the time Sirius was in the corner. He was trying to get control over his temper. He knew that Severus would feel so betrayed if he ever knew about this incident. Harry had no intention of telling him, because then the feud between the two would never end. And it needed to end.

Finally, Harry sat down in Minerva's chair and told Sirius to come over.

Sirius came, reluctantly, dragging his feet. "Harry . . . I'm really sorry."

"Sorry's all well and good, but it doesn't mean you don't have to face consequences," said his godson. "What you did was wrong, as wrong as if Severus entered your mind without permission. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes." Sirius' lower lip quivered.

"Good. Then you know that I'm going to punish you." Harry said, his face hard as stone. "Once upon a time, I did what you did. And someone should have done to me what I'm going to do to you."

Before Sirius knew what Harry was about, he found himself picked up and placed over Harry's knee. "No!" he yelped. "Harry, no!"

Harry ignored him, and cast a wandless bubble of silence about them. Then he set his jaw, and brought his hand down on the small bottom. As he did so, he counted, delivering ten firm spanks. He wasn't brutal, but he did make sure Sirius felt every one of those smacks. Sirius bawled and squirmed but Harry ignored all the howls until the punishment was done. His hand was stinging by the time he'd delivered smack number ten. Then and only then did he turn the child about and hug him, rubbing his back. A part of him felt guilty for being so hard on the boy, he disliked spanking his own children, but he knew Sirius had deserved it.

"There now, Padfoot. It's all over. I think you've learned your lesson." He said softly, letting the boy cry into his shoulder. "Next time, keep your hands to yourself." Sighing, Harry continued to hold and comfort the naughty child, and mused on what to tell Remus. He hoped the werewolf wouldn't be angry at him for disciplining the wayward scamp himself instead of letting Lupin deal with it. Then again, Remus never minded him disciplining his godson Teddy when he misbehaved. What was done, was done, Harry thought, and hoped that now the feud between Sirius and Severus would now be laid to rest.

A/N: Hope you all liked this chapter! Did you think Harry was fair?
 


Chapter 13: The Art of Persuasion
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13

The Art of Persuasion

Harry continued to hold Sirius until the boy had stopped crying. Then he asked the child, "Just what did you see in the Pensieve, Sirius? I need to know, because you're never going to mention it to anyone, especially not Severus. Clear?"

Sirius sniveled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "I won't tell anyone, Harry. It was . . . it was terrible." He described the massacre of the children by Voldemort and Snape being forced to watch it. "I . . . I never could have done that, Harry. Not ever! I would have broken and attacked those miserable buggers and then I would have died and so would they. Snape . . . Severus . . . is a braver man than I."

Harry nodded. "Yes, I know. Do you still believe he's evil? Or do you understand that he had a reason for acting as he did? He never wanted to be a double agent, but he did it in memory of my mother, so old Snake Face could die once and for all. He protected me all the while I was in school and I never knew it. I owe him more than you know. My fat cousin Dudley was a bully and he loved to beat on me, and that's why I get so mad when you tease him and do other mean things to him. It reminds me of Dudley and how I used to get my ass kicked. So just stop it, or else you'll be over my knee again until the message gets through your thick skull, got me?"

"Yes, Harry. I'll try to behave from now on. I always thought he was a slimy git out to get everybody, but I guess I was wrong, huh? Way wrong."

Harry hugged him. "Yes, but now that you know the truth, you can start trying to get along better. It would really make me and Remus happy. How's your bottom?"

"It hurts a little," Sirius shrugged. "But not too bad." He squirmed slightly and slipped off of Harry's lap to rub it. "Are you gonna tell Moony?"

"Tell me what?" asked the werewolf. He had wondered just what was keeping Harry and Sirius and had come to investigate. He noted immediately that Sirius looked guilty about something and Harry looked a little apprehensive. "Is this something about the memories in the Pensieve? Or something else?" He looked from one to the other.

"Well, Sirius? Should you tell him or should I?" asked Harry.

Sirius hung his head. He didn't know if he could say what he had done.

When he remained silent, Harry said, "I caught him with his head in the Pensieve and offered to help him bottle the memory he was viewing . . . only it wasn't his, it was Severus'."

Remus looked shocked. "You were viewing Severus' memories, Sirius Black? You know that's wrong! Pensieve memories are extremely private!" His face stern, he advanced upon the child.

Sirius gulped and cried, "I said I was sorry, Moony!" The werewolf picked him up and flipped him over. "No-o-o!" he wailed, as Remus brought his hand down on his bottom. "Harry already spanked me-e-e!" he yowled.

Remus froze. "You did?" he asked Harry, astonished. "But you hardly ever . . ."

"I know. But this time I felt the punishment needed to be carried out immediately, so he understood how serious it was, no pun intended." Harry said. "I gave him ten good ones, Remus. Sorry if I overstepped."

"You didn't. He's like Teddy and Jamie, and you're like his uncle now. If he needs discipline, I trust you to handle it, Harry," Lupin said simply. He turned Sirius back over and set him on his feet. "Consider that your punishment from me, scamp." Remus drew the now crying boy into a hug. "Sirius, Sirius. What am I going to do with you?"

"Hold me," the little boy sobbed, and Remus did.

Harry watched the two and sighed. "We can't ever let Severus know, Remus. It would kill him. Bad enough that I saw one of his worst memories, never mind Sirius."

"You're right," the werewolf agreed, rubbing circles on Sirius' back. "It can only hurt him, and he's been hurt enough. I won't mention it and neither will Sirius here. Right, youngling?"

"Uh huh. Promise." Sirius sniffled.

Remus pulled out a handkerchief and wiped Sirius' face and let him blow his nose. "Okay, scamp. We can go home now. Harry, I'll see you later on this week."

"Goodbye, Remus. Bye, Sirius." Harry said, and he hugged Sirius. "Be good."

Sirius, who had now regained his composure, despite his sore bum, stuck his tongue out at Harry. "Not!"

Then he followed Remus out the door and into the fireplace.

Harry exited the office and found Minerva drinking a third cup of tea and Severus asleep on the sofa next to her. "Looks like he's worn out."

"Yes, he is, poor bairn!" She smiled down at her former professor. "He's so innocent, Harry! I've never seen him look so peaceful."

"Maybe now that he's laid some of his nightmares to rest, he can finally act like a child, and I can give him a second chance to grow up loved and happy."

"If anyone can, Harry, it's you. You understand him best. Good luck to you!" she bid them goodbye.

Harry picked up the sleeping Severus and Flooed back to Godric's Hollow.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Severus woke to a pair of green eyes staring into his own. For one moment he thought it was Lily, but then he blinked and saw that it was Alby. Severus sat up and rubbed his eyes. "What time is it?"

The four-year-old shrugged. "Lunchtime, I guess. Least Mummy's making sandwiches. You slept a long time, Sevvy. Can we play a game now?"

"In a minute." Severus said, yawning. He still felt slightly tired, but his stomach was telling him it was hungry, so he sat up. He was on the couch in the den and the only other person here was Alby. "Where's everyone?"

"Mummy's in the kitchen and Daddy's outside, weeding the garden. He says he'll take us flying after lunch." Alby grinned. "I love to fly! It's so fun. Do you like to fly too, Sevvy?"

"Occasionally," answered the pint-sized prodigy.

"Mummy says we can all go flying," said Alby excitedly, bouncing up and down.

Severus just nodded, still trying to wake up. He went into the loo and splashed water on his face and used the toilet. By then Harry was inside, washing up at the sink, and Ginny was ready to serve lunch, which was bologna and crisps.

After they had eaten and helped clear the table, Ginny and Harry took the boys out into the backyard and Harry took Alby up on his Firebolt and Ginny took Severus on her Millenium Skyrocket.

Severus felt a little awkward being on a broom when he was so little, but Ginny was calm and collected, as if she rode with a small child in front of her all the time. "Don't worry, Sev. I've cast a Sticking Charm to the seat of your jeans so you won't fall off," the youngest Weasley reassured him. "I won't fly too fast, not unless you tell me." She held him securely against her chest.

They flew in slow loops and spirals across the sky, under a Notice Me Not Charm, since part of Godric's Hollow was Muggle.

"Faster, Daddy! Faster!" yelled Alby as Harry flew with him on the Firebolt.

"All right, you little speed demon!" Harry laughed. He took the Firebolt around in a faster maneuver, then shot up a few feet and dove down until the wind screamed in his ears. Alby shrieked loudly in joy. "Wheee! I love flying!"

"Me too!" Harry smiled, he loved the feel of the wind in his hair and on his face.

Severus thought about what he had just seen, then asked Ginny, "Can we do that?"

"Of course!" She copied Harry's mauever and now it was Severus' turn to laugh.

"How was that?" Ginny asked, causing the broom to hover.

"Great! More, please!"

Ginny happily obliged.

They even had an impromptu race between Severus and Alby. They tied, despite Harry having a better broom.

For the first time, Severus found he actually enjoyed flying, and he didn't care if he lost the race either. There was something so comfortable about flying this way, not for a competition or a game, but just for sheer joy of it that really touched him. He had not known much joy, especially spontaneous joy, in his former life, even as a child.

"Are you having fun, Sev?" Ginny asked, her blue eyes sparkling. She too loved flying for the fun of it, even though she played professional Quidditch.

He lifted his dark eyes to hers and there was a glow in them she had never seen before. It warmed her to her soul to see the somber child truly enjoying himself, as a child should. "Yes," he said, his tone bright with wonder. "This is the most fun I can remember, except when I'm making potions."

Alby and Harry were twirling about in the air like a top and Alby was giggling hysterically, his laughter sounding like the sweet chiming of bells.

"Want to see a trick, Sevvy?" Ginny queried, smirking. She flew high into the air, and wrapped her arms tight about the little boy, pinning him against her. "Do you trust me, Severus?"

Slowly he nodded, sensing she was going to do something special.

"All right. I'm going to do a maneuver I invented and shock the heck out of my husband and son. Ready?"

Severus nodded eagerly. He wouldn't mind giving Harry a heart attack, God knows the boy had done it enough to his former self while in school.

Then Ginny went into a dive.

The wind screamed in their ears and for an instant Severus feared he would be pulled from the broom despite the charm and Ginny's arms about him. He felt like a falcon diving down upon a mouse and he shrieked with sheer delight. In the next instant Ginny slingshot up and around Harry and Albus, twirling about over their heads.

"Ginny! Holy Merlin!" Harry gasped, his face white.

"Hiya, handsome!" His wife giggled like a girl, and Severus was smirking like a mischievous monkey.

"Did we scare you, Harry?" inquired the mini professor gleefully.

"You almost made my heart come out of my throat, Sev," Harry admitted. "I thought you were going to crash."

"Crash?" Ginny cried indignantly. "I have never crashed in my life, Harry Potter! The nerve!"

"Mummy flies better than you, Daddy!" Alby put in.

"Oh, yeah?" Harry snorted.

"Yeah. I wanna fly with Mummy now." Alby whined.

Harry looked astonished. "One trick and suddenly you think I'm chopped liver, huh? Okay, if that's how you want it, Albus Severus." He spun about and landed on the ground, where he Unstuck Alby and set him down.

Alby ran to Ginny and Severus and said, "It's my turn, Sevvy, to fly with Mummy!" He held up his arms to Ginny.

"Hold it, let me get Sev off," Ginny ordered, cancelling the charm and helping Severus down. "You can go fly with Harry now, Severus." She told him, picking up Alby.

Severus went over to Harry and said, "You'd better apologize to her later, Potter. A redhead's temper simmers until it boils over."

Harry cracked up at the fact that the five-year-old bachelor was giving him advice on how to handle women.

The small boy put his hands on his hips and scowled. "I'm serious!"

Harry finally quit laughing and wiped his eyes. "I know. It's just . . .you of all people telling me that . . ."

"So? I know from experience," Severus said, recalling all too well how Lily used to get riled with him . . . or James Potter.

Harry reached out and tousled his hair. "You're right. I should know better. I'll make it up to her later, when you two are asleep." He winked at his former professor.

"Ugh! Harry, please!" Severus made a disgusted face. "What is it you teenagers say? Too much information?"

Harry just chuckled again and scooped up the dark-haired imp and put him on his broom. After casting the safety charms, Harry took Severus up and they streaked like lightning gone rogue through the sky. Harry, as a former Seeker, knew moves that were just this side of insane, but he kept his flight toned down because of his small passenger.

Severus, however, loved flying with him as much as he had with Ginny, and begged him to go faster and do corkscrews and upside down loops and things Harry would have thought he'd be scared to try given the fact that he'd never seen Snape fly much.

"I never knew you liked flying, Severus!"

"I didn't either!" Sev screeched. "Until now! I never had much time to fly before, and flying was always your father's area, so I didn't want to do anything he did."

"Yeah, I can understand that." Harry said, making the Firebolt stand on end for a minute and then looping about the house. "I'm glad you like flying now, though. Because it's one of Ginny's and my favorite things to do. And Alby's too."

Severus smiled, a quiet smile. It looked like he was becoming one of the family, slowly but surely.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

A few days later, the Potters returned to Victory Park, and had another picnic lunch with the Longbottoms and the Lupins . . . all except Jamie, who was being punished by staying home and helping his Granny Andromeda around the house. Jamie had switched the salt and sugar in the sugar bowl, a rather amusing prank, except for the fact that Dora had a tea yesterday afternoon for her mum and a few friends . . . and all of them ended up spitting their tea all over the floor after putting several teaspoons of salt in it. Thus Jamie was now grounded for three days.

When Ginny heard that tale from Remus, she grimaced. "He reminds me of Fred and George. They once put manure in our aunt's meatloaf and while it seemed funny at the time, now I feel sorry for the old biddy. And Mum wanted to just die, because Aunt Muriel is older than dirt and so proper and she only visits once a year and she had heard so much about Mum's cooking! I think my brothers couldn't sit for a week after that little prank."

For a few minutes, all the adults shared Fred and George prank stories, as they had all been on the receiving end of them.

Meanwhile, the children ran about and played various games. Severus tended to avoid Sirius, but oddly the other boy didn't scream one of his usual insults at him or act like he was dirt. Severus thought that was strange, considering a few days before Black had been the same old git to him. But then he remembered Harry going into the office with Sirius and supposed Harry must have given Black the lecture of his life and maybe that was why he was keeping his mouth off Severus.

They played tag, Find the Magic Wand (the wand was just a stick with a silver ribbon tied to it), and Simon Says, which Severus remembered playing with Lily and taught the other children. After awhile, Teddy and Sirius went back to the Lupins to get a snack and so did Alby, leaving Frankie and Severus still playing.

"Simon says touch your ear!" Severus cried, touching his ear with his hand.

Frankie copied him, then yelled, "Oww! My ear hurts!"

Severus walked over to the small girl. "Did you get stung by a bee? Or bit by a mosquito?" He peered at Frankie's right ear.

"No. It just hurts when I touch it," sniffled Neville's daughter.

Severus noticed the girl's ear was red inside. "You should show your dad or mum. Your ear might have an ear infection."

Frankie nodded. "It really hurts and it hurts when I swallow too."

"Sounds like you're coming down with something," Severus told her. "You need to go home and let your parents give you potions and rest."

Frankie groaned. "Aww, toad turds! I hate taking potions! They always taste so nasty! And I hate being sick 'cause then I can't play with anybody." She pouted. But then she went back towards Neville and Luna, whining, "Daddy, I don't feel good. My ear and throat hurt."

Neville came and put a hand on his child's forehead. "Looks like you have a fever too, pumpkin. I'd better take you home before you get anyone else sick." He picked up Frankie. "I wish I could stay, but . . ."

"Go ahead, Nev," Ginny urged. "We all know what it's like to deal with a sick kid. Feel better, sweetie!" she called out to Frankie, just before Neville Apparated them both back home, leaving Luna to gather up the rest of their things and follow.

Severus felt bad for Frankie, he also hated being sick and at the same time he hoped he didn't catch whatever she had.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Two days later Severus woke up eager to start the day. Today he was going to help Harry gather some herbs in the garden to make some potions. Ginny had said they were running low on some healing elixirs—like Fever Reducers, Cough Elixir, and Sore Throat Solution. Severus loved working with anything to do with potions and practically jumped out of bed and into his clothes. Then he turned to leave when he heard a moan from Alby's side of the room.

Severus immediately turned back and saw that his little brother looked flushed and was pulling on his ear and crying. "Mummy! My ear hurts! An' I'm hot an' my t'roat hurts too!"

"Al, are you sick?" asked Severus gently.

Alby started to cry. "I want Mummy! Sevvy, go find her!"

Severus knew Ginny was in the kitchen cooking breakfast, and he ran down the stairs as fast as he could. "Ginny! Come quick, Alby's sick! I think he caught what Frankie had."

Ginny quickly turned off the stove, she had been frying some bangers and scrambling eggs. "Oh no! Sev, wash your hands. I don't want you coming down with this too." She washed her hands and then headed upstairs.

Severus then went to find Harry, he was in the herb garden. "Harry!" he called, running down the path.

"Hey, Sev!" Harry waved at the small boy as he carefully clipped some herbs with his shears. "Are you ready to pick some lavender for me?"

"Harry, Alby's sick!" Severus informed Harry.

"Sick? What's wrong?"

Severus told him how Alby had woken up complaining of his ear and throat hurting and that he probably had a fever too.

"Aww, Merlin! Well, we really do need to get these ingredients together now. Come on, Severus, let's get picking," Harry said, and he set to gathering.

Severus helped, picking all the herbs for the Fever Reducer without being told.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Upstairs, Ginny had changed Alby's pajamas and sheets, setting a Cooling Charm on them, for her little one had a fever and was very cranky. She rocked him back and forth, trying to ease his discomfort. "Baby, don't cry. Daddy and Sevvy are outside picking herbs to make a potion to make you better. Can you drink a little bit of water for me?"

"Nooo!" Alby whined. "Not thirsty!" He squirmed in her grip, for though he loved when mummy held him, he was also very hot and achy.

Ginny wet a cloth and wiped Alby's face and neck. "Allright, love. Does that feel better?"

Alby nodded, his green eyes clouded with fever. Ginny just hoped Harry could brew quickly and help her try and bring Alby's fever down. She could feel how hot he was, even with the cooling charms. "It's going to be okay, baby. Mummy's here."

"Where's Sevvy? Want Sevvy!" Alby cried.

"Sevvy's helping Daddy, honey. He'll be here soon," Ginny said, rocking her son.

An hour passed and Alby was growing more and more fretful as his sickness progressed. Ginny had managed to get him to drink some cool water and had stripped and bathed him with cold cloths before dressing him in new pajamas.

Finally, she heard Harry and Severus coming up the stairs. "Thank you, Merlin!" Ginny sighed. Alby had been bawling for Sevvy and Harry for half-an-hour.

"Daddy!" sobbed the youngest Potter, when he saw Harry come into the room.

"Here I am, little man." Harry said, going to sit on the bed where Alby was lying. "Sev told me you weren't feeling well."

"I'm sick! I feel yucky!" his son whimpered.

Harry looked at Ginny and asked, "Temperature?"

"Almost 38.8 degrees (101.8 F)," Ginny answered worriedly. "Think you can get him to take the potions?"

Alby was notorious for spitting out and refusing to take any potion. Harry eyed his son and said, "I'm going to try. Hopefully he'll cooperate." He shook the green Fever Reducer and said, "Alby, will you be a brave boy and swallow something for me? It'll make your yucky fever go away."

Alby looked up at his father and nodded. But when Harry started to bring the potion to his lips, he turned his head away and howled, "NO! NO YUCKY POTIONS!"

"But Alby, baby, it'll make you feel so much better," Ginny coaxed, her head beginning to pound. In everything else, her son was easygoing and tractable . . . except when it came to taking medicine. Then he turned into a mule.

"Don' wan' to!"

Harry tried to pick up his son and sit him on his lap, but Alby screamed and kicked the bed, refusing to let go . "No, Daddy! Go 'way! I no want potions!"

"Albus Severus, stop this!" Harry ordered sternly. "You need to take this potion." He finally pried Alby loose, only to have the stubborn child clamp his mouth shut and refuse to open it. "Open, right now!"

Alby shook his head mutely. Tears were in his eyes. He knew he was making his mummy and daddy mad by not taking his medicine, but he couldn't stand how gross the potions tasted!

"Harry, don't yell. You're scaring him," Ginny reprimanded.

"He knows better, Gin. Albus Severus, you open your mouth and take this potion right now, or else I'll call Healer Winters and she'll come give you a shot in your bottom." Harry threatened softly. He hated doing that, but his son could go on all night like this, and it was so frustrating.

Alby's eyes widened. He didn't want to get a shot in his bottom. They hurt! "No! No shots!" he bawled.

Harry quickly tipped the vial of medicine down his son's throat.

He was feeling quite pleased with himself until his son spit all the potion right back out again . . . all over him.

"Ahh . . . dammit, Albus!"

"Harry!" Ginny snapped. "Watch your language!"

"Look what . . . I can't believe . . ." Harry sputtered, gesturing to himself. He was spattered all over with green Fever Reducer. It was even dripping off his lenses.

Alby, knowing he had done something very bad, started to wail loudly. Now he was sick and probably in trouble. And from the look on his daddy's face, Alby figured he was doomed to get a shot in his bum.

Ginny waved her wand and cleaned up her husband. Then she went and took her son off Harry and tried to calm him down. "Honey, you're so sick, and daddy just wants to help you. The green medicine might taste yucky, but it'll help. Trust Mummy. If you take your medicine like a good boy, you'll get a treat. Like a chocolate frog."

"No shots! Nooo!" the little boy was sobbing into her shoulder.

"Good one, Harry!" she growled at him before whispering, "Daddy didn't mean that, sweet one. Nobody's going to give you a shot. Now just relax and stop crying."

"Not in twouble?" her son asked pitifully.

"No, lamb. You're not in trouble." Ginny said, holding him close. "Got any more brilliant ideas?" she asked her husband tartly.

"Sorry, but I thought it would work," Harry apologized. He looked at his son sadly. "Now what? I could make him swallow it, but then he'd hate me."

Severus had been watching the whole little drama silently. He couldn't believe that mild mannered Alby was such a terror when it came to taking medicine. But then he recalled some of his Slytherins had been just like that too. Maybe what had worked on them would work on Alby?

He walked over to Ginny and Alby and said, "Alby, you want to know how to take a potion so it doesn't taste nasty?"

Alby lifted his head and peered at his brother. "How, Sevvy?"

Severus took the empty vial and said, "Like this. You hold your nose and just swallow." He demonstrated. "See? Nothing to it. You're a big boy, right?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, that's how big boys take potions. Only babies scream and cry and need to get shots in their behinds."

"I'm big, Sevvy! I'm big like you!" Alby said.

"Prove it!"

Both Potters watched in shock as their recalcitrant four-year-old took a vial off the nightstand and held his nose and swallowed. He made a face, said, "Ick!" and then did it again. A vial of Fever Reducer, a vial of Sore Throat Solution and a vial of Pain Reliever later and Alby was finished. "Can I have some watta, Dad?" he asked sweetly.

Harry clapped his hands. "You sure can, Alby! See? Was that so hard?" He handed his son a cup of water.

"No. 'Cause I'm a big boy like Sevvy." Alby replied, then drank thirstily. Then he said plaintively, "But my ear still hurts."

Harry looked at Severus. "Do you have any more clever tricks up your sleeve, Healer Snape?"

Severus knew that the Ear Remedy was one that couldn't be swallowed, but had to be dripped into the ear canal. It didn't hurt, but sometimes tilting your head did, especially if your ear and neck were sore. He thought for a moment, then said, "Alby, why don't you lie down on your bed? You need another potion for your ear, but you don't have to swallow it."

"I don't? How come?"

"You just don't," Severus said, he didn't want to be bothered with explanations. "Your mum can put it in your ear with a medicine dropper."

"Will it hurt?"

"No, it'll feel a little weird though." He waited until Alby had climbed into bed and had the child lie on his side. Severus then climbed into bed with his brother. Then he put an arm about Alby's chest, partly to comfort the boy and also to hold him in place.

Alby looked at him, his green eyes frightened. "Sevvy . . ." he whimpered.

"Relax, Al. You'll be all right."

Ginny took the vial of Ear Remedy and gently dripped it into her son's ear.

Alby remained still and soon it was all over.

"There now, lamb. Now you can sleep."

"Mmmhmm." Alby yawned. He turned and looked up at Harry and Ginny. "I'm sleepy. Night, Mummy. Night, Daddy."

Harry and Ginny bent and hugged and kissed their son. "Sweet dreams, baby," Ginny whispered.

"Goodnight, Alby. I'm sorry I yelled at you," Harry said.

"It's okay, Daddy. I'm bad with potions," his son said and hugged him before sliding down to cuddle next to Severus. "Sevvy, can you stay with me?"

"For a little while," Severus agreed. He knew Alby would soon fall asleep.

Harry and Ginny mouthed thank you as they left the room.

Five minutes later, Alby was snoring and Severus rose and went downstairs to eat some lunch with the elder Potters.

Over their tuna salad sandwiches and chips, Harry said, "Severus, that was amazing! What you did with Alby, I mean. Neither of us can get him to take potions without a huge fuss, and a few times we really did have to call a Healer to give him shots instead. How did you ever come up with that?"

Severus smirked. "I served eighteen years as a professor and Head of Slytherin House, Harry. Over the years I've learned a few things about dealing with reluctant children, especially ones who hate taking potions. Teenagers are as bad as four-year-olds when it comes to that. I discovered that if you call their pride to account, they'll give in and do what you want them to. Either that or tell them they'll miss the next Hogsmeade visit or Quidditch match."

"I think maybe you missed your calling, Sev," Ginny said. "Maybe you should have become a pediatric Healer."

"I used to think about that," Severus recalled. "But my mum never could have afforded the fees to send me to medical school after Hogwarts. And by then the war was on and I had lost interest in saving lives after Lily died."

"But this time things will be different," Harry reminded him. "And I have plenty of money to send you anywhere you want for extra schooling. So if you still want to be a Healer, Severus, you can be."

"Thank you. But I'll think about a career later. I have lots of time."

Ginny chuckled. "All the time in the world, Sev."

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

By evening, Alby had woken and was coaxed to take yet another round of potions. He was cranky but took them while Severus watched. Then he fell back to sleep again. By the next morning, he was improved somewhat. By the third day he was feeling much better, his fever was gone, and he whined because Ginny made him stay in bed.

It was then that Severus felt a tickle in his throat. At first he ignored it, thinking his throat was dry, but by nightfall he too had an earache, a sore throat, and was achy and feverish.

Harry looked up from the magazine he'd been reading in the den and saw Severus standing in front of him, looking like death warmed over. "Sev, you look sick. Don't tell me you've got it too."

"Obviously," he said, and then he winced as his throat protested.

"Okay, you know the drill. Let's get you in bed and some potions down you," Harry said, and before Severus could protest, Harry picked him up and sped up the stairs.

Severus, who was normally fiercely independent, soon found he didn't mind Harry helping him undress, wiping him down with a cool wet rag and putting him into pajamas. While Harry got the potions, Severus sat on the edge of his bed and sipped some ice water. Ginny had fallen asleep early, which was why she wasn't here fussing over him. Alby was also sleeping and well on the road to recovery.

Harry returned with the potions and placed them on the nightstand. "All right, Sev. Bottoms up!"

Severus rolled his eyes and just took the potions, one by one, the way he had shown Alby.

"Good job, Severus!" Harry praised. "Now the Ear Remedy." He sat down on the bed next to Severus and patted his knee. "Put your head in my lap, and then I can start it."

Severus obeyed, "Both my ears hurt." He turned to his right first.

"Okay. Let's do them one at a time," Harry said, then he gently began to drip the potion into Severus' right ear with the medicine dropper.

Severus remained perfectly still until Harry asked him to turn to his left side. He rolled over and let Harry apply the potion to his other ear. The potion coated his sore ear canal and made him feel much better. It would need to be applied again tomorrow, two times a day.

"How's that? Better?"

"Yes. Thank you, Harry."

"You don't have to thank me for taking care of you," Harry told him softly. "That's part of my job." He helped tuck Severus into bed and then gave him a hug and told him, "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."

"I would hope you don't have bedbugs, Harry," Severus remarked impishly. "Otherwise, I'm moving out."

"With the way Ginny cleans?" Harry sniggered. "No bug or dust bunny will dare show itself around here. They live in fear of her mop and feather duster."

Sick as he was, that made Severus smile slightly. Then he clutched Harry's hand and asked, "Would you . . . umm . . . would you mind staying here till I fall asleep? I'm tired, but all my bones ache. I feel like I'm Dumbledore's age."

Harry's heart thrilled to hear Severus actually request his presence and thought that the boy was starting to trust him at last. "I'll be here, Sev," Harry promised, sitting down on the bed.

Severus slept on his tummy, so Harry could rub his back and card his hair. Normally, he didn't like being touched too much, especially by an adult man, but Harry was different. He was gentle and his hands did not bring pain, the y brought relief from it. So he snuggled into his pillow and allowed Harry to comfort him, and though he felt terrible, he fell asleep with a smile on his face, because he knew there was someone nearby who cared.

Harry continued carding Severus' silky black hair long after the small boy had fallen asleep. He felt so happy that the child was beginning to lose some of his adult reserve and act like a normal child, playing and laughing and letting Harry and Ginny take care of him. He began to hope that one day Severus might come to think of Harry as a father figure, and even call him Dad. But that was for later. Right now Harry was just glad Severus wanted him nearby.

When his own eyes began to close, Harry forced himself up and decided to go to bed as well. Though not before he placed a kiss on Severus' brow and whispered, "Pleasant dreams, my boy."

Hope you all liked! Would anyone like Severus to have a familiar in this story? Or even just a pet dog or cat or whatever?

 


Chapter 14: Tell Me a Story
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14

Tell Me A Story

Three days later:

Sirius woke that morning with a tickle in his throat. He felt a bit under the weather, but not enough to stay in bed. Today Dora was home with the boys, because Remus had to attend a conference with the Board of Governors to iron out the new requirements of the curriculum next year. Actually, all the staff of Hogwarts would be attending the conference. Remus looked forward to seeing Harry, Neville, Draco, Luna, Hermione, Susan, and everyone else. The conference would last the whole day and possibly evening as well.

He sprang out of bed and raced into the bathroom, eager to be the first up, so he could take a bath with all the hot water and play in the tub longer. Usually a bath made him feel better, but this morning, after soaking for a long time, maybe ten or fifteen minutes, Sirius felt more tired than anything. His throat felt scratchy and he tugged at his ear, which itched and felt irritated. But he decided to just ignore them and hope it would go away. He never got sick. Never. That he could remember, at least.

He quickly dressed and hotfooted it downstairs to see if breakfast was on the table.

He found Dora making scrambled eggs and ham for breakfast, along with fried potatoes and toast. The ham was leftover from last night's dinner, and Dora didn't believe in wasting good food, so she had used some of it for breakfast. The rest would be used for lunch, in pea soup with ham, or deviled ham sandwiches.

"Morning, Siri," Dora greeted him, smiling.

"Morning! Where's Moony?"

"He's at the Board conference at the Ministry, remember?" Dora reminded him, her hair was now a shade of lavender. She quickly flipped the eggs and ham. "Are Teddy and Jamie up yet?"

"They weren't last I saw," Sirius said. He went to the fridge and poured himself a cup of orange juice.

But then he heard the thud of small feet running and knew that his brothers were awake.

"Sounds like they smelled my cooking," Dora said wryly. She was actually a good cook, having learned from her mother, Andromeda, and also her dad, Ted. She carefully transferred the scrambled eggs and ham onto a platter and cast a Warming Charm over it to keep it hot. Then she flipped the potatoes over, making them nice and crispy and seasoning them. "Siri, will you set the table?"

Sirius pouted. He didn't feel like getting up and doing anything. He just wanted to sit and drink his juice. "But Dora, that's Jamie's job. I clear."

"Today we're going to change chores," Dora told him firmly. "So now you set and Jamie clears."

Sirius heaved a martyred sigh. He really found doing chores to be boring and wished the Lupins had a house elf. He'd never had to do chores in his former life. "All right," he grumbled. Then he went to the cabinet and took out four dishes, and then got the forks and cups.

Once the table was set, he slumped back in his chair and nursed his juice.

Dora had her back to him, finishing up the cooking, and so missed Sirius' odd behavior. Since moving into the Lupins, Sirius had been cheerful and easygoing, most times. Today, however, he was sulky and scowling.

Jamie and Teddy thundered down the stairs, and Sirius found his ear throbbed from the noise. His brothers burst into the kitchen.

"Hey, Mum, smells great!" Teddy yelled, hugging his mother about the waist, his hair changing to match hers.

"Whatcha cookin' good lookin'?" Jamie whooped, also coming to hug his mother. He stole some potatoes from the pan, earning him a smack on the hand. "Aww, Mum! I just wanted to taste."

"James, you keep your hands out of the frying pan," Dora scolded. "You could get burnt. Not to mention, I'm not sure if you've washed your hands this morning."

"I have. See?" Jamie held out his hands, palms up, for her inspection.

Dora looked carefully at her youngest's hands. "Good job! But . . . that still doesn't mean you get to stick your fingers in my potatoes. Go sit down, this'll be done in a minute."

Jamie sighed and went to sit down next to Teddy and across from Sirius. "Hey, how come the table's set?"

"'Cause Dora said we rotated the chores today," Sirius told him. "So now you clear."

"Aww, Merlin! I hate clearing!" groaned the youngest Lupin.

"Tough. Deal with it," Teddy said. He never let Jamie get away with whining, mainly because the younger boy could go on for hours about how unfair it was and he disliked it, ect . . .

Jamie stuck his tongue out at Teddy.

Teddy promptly extended his tongue to reach Jamie's cheek and slurp it, making sure to get Jamie all soggy.

"Yuck! Mum, Teddy licked me!" Jamie whined.

"Quit whining, you brat," Teddy snorted, elbowing Jamie in the ribs.

Jamie promptly elbowed his brother in return.

"Boys, stop it! Before you spend the day cleaning out the garage," their mother warned.

Both Lupins went still. Dora never made idle threats.

A dish of potatoes as well as the scrambled eggs and ham floated over to the table. Dora carried the plate of toast, already buttered and cut into triangles. She fixed each of the boys' plates, then her own.

Sirius chewed and swallowed carefully, for some reason his throat was a little sore. He ate more scrambled eggs and ham than he did potatoes, because they went down easier. So did the toast, especially when he added jam to it.

"Mum, can we go visit Aunt Ginny today? She was gonna teach us some Quidditch moves," Teddy said.

"I'm afraid not, Teddy. Alby and Severus came down with a bad ear and throat infection and are still recovering from it. They caught it from Frankie. So you can either fly in the backyard or do something else until I finish some reports I'm working on."

Sirius gulped. He prayed he wasn't coming down with whatever Alby and Snape had. They had infected him! Then he shook his head. No, he refused to get sick. Absolutely refused!

Teddy sighed. He'd been looking forward to a lesson with Ginny. "Wanna play Quaffle Keep Away?" he asked his little brothers.

"Sure!" Jamie said.

But Sirius disagreed. "No, that's boring. Why don't we play Aurors and Death Eaters?"

"I'm not being the bad guy!" Jamie cried.

"Yes, you are. We all take turns," Teddy stated.

Jamie pouted.

"Why don't you play what Sirius said for an hour or so and then go flying the next hour?" Dora suggested diplomatically.

"Sounds like a plan," Teddy agreed.

His brothers nodded in agreement.

Quarrel averted, for now, Dora finished her breakfast, then helped Teddy wash and dry the dishes while Jamie cleared the table and Sirius swept the floor.

Once their chores were done, Teddy, Sirius, and Jamie went to play outside. Jamie had a paper mask he used to cover his face and also an old hand-me-down robe from Remus. Teddy had a blue and red bathrobe he used for his Auror uniform and his "wand" was a long stick. Sirius surprised them both by shifting into his puppy form and acting like a police dog.

In his dog form as Padfoot, Sirius didn't feel the pain of his sore throat and ear quite so much. And he could scratch his ear too, which made it feel a little better. He helped Teddy "track down" Jamie, and once he'd found where his brother was hiding, which was behind the huge hydrangea bush, he would "hold" Jamie by the hem of his robe until Teddy came and dueled him.

Then they switched and Teddy was the Death Eater and Jamie the Auror. Sirius was the police dog, of course. When it came time for Sirius to be the Death Eater, he said, "What if I was a hellhound instead and you had to capture me?"

"Like with a net on a pole?" asked Teddy.

"Umm . . . yeah."

"We can use Dad's fishing net," Jamie said.

"You'd better not break it though," Teddy warned. "Else you'll be getting your bum warmed."

"I won't break it," Jamie snorted. "But Padfoot might."

"I will not!" Sirius shouted. He was feeling more and more sick, but didn't want to quit playing, and so he was irritable. "You're the one who drops things, James."

"Not on purpose, Sirius!" Jamie cried angrily.

"Butterfingers!" Sirius yelled.

"Stupid mutt!"

"Whiny brat!"

"Suck up!"

Sirius glared at his little brother. He was trying to come up with a good comeback when he remembered hearing some older kids teasing some younger ones at the park. So he taunted in a sing-song voice, "Baby, baby, stick your head in gravy, wrap it up in bubble gum, and send it to the navy!"

Jamie stamped his foot. "Shut up, Sirius! I'm not a baby!"

"Why don't you cry about it?"

"Sirius, enough!" Teddy said. "Quit teasing him."

Jamie was becoming so upset he was nearly in tears. He ran at Sirius, waving his fake wand and yelling, "I'm gonna hex you good, you prat!"

Sirius laughed and turned into the black puppy again, this time he ran right through Jamie's legs and tripped him.

The smaller boy fell on his bottom with a thud and started bawling.

Sirius barked and raced about his brother in circles.

Teddy, scowling, snapped, "I said stop it! Or else I'll tell Mum about your Animagus form."

Padfoot skidded to a stop, yipped, and changed back. "You wouldn't! You promised!" Sirius cried, hurt.

"Then quit making Jamie cry," Teddy ordered, helping Jamie to his feet. "You're okay, quit making a show of yourself," he said, gently dusting the seat of his brother's trousers off.

Jamie sniffled and glared at Sirius. "You're mean! I don't wanna play with you anymore." And he stalked off across the yard.

"Good! 'Cause I don't want to play with you either!" Sirius shouted. Then he went into the house and slammed the back door.

That brought Dora out from the study. "Boys, what have I told you about slamming doors?" she asked before noticing Sirius was alone. "Sirius? Why aren't you outside with your brothers?"

Sirius pouted. "I don't feel like playing stupid games any more. And Jamie's a little crybaby."

Dora cocked an eyebrow and changed her hair from lavender to a stormy blue. "Sirius, you know I don't like namecalling."

Sirius sighed. "Okay. But he started it." His cheeks were flushed.

Concerned, Dora came and laid a hand on his forehead. "You seem like you're feverish. Let me take your temperature." She did so magically. "You are. I think you'd better get into pajamas and go to bed, little cuz. Looks like you've come down with the same thing as Harry's kids and Neville's."

Sirius shook his head frantically. "No, Dora! I'm not sick. Really I'm not."

"Siri, you are. Now march yourself up to bed, or should I carry you?"

"Aww . . . but Dora!"

"March! Right now!" The Head of the MLE ordered, turning Sirius around and giving him a light swat to get moving.

Sirius obeyed. By the time he had reached his room, he was all achy and hot and his ear was hurting something awful. He didn't fight to hard when Dora put him in a nightshirt, casting a Cooling Charm on the boy's sheets. Then she pulled them back and tucked him in.

She quickly Summoned the necessary potions and gave them to him. Sirius fussed a bit, he'd never liked taking potions. Still, his adult head knew that he needed to keep taking them.

"Here, Siri. Because you didn't fight me too much, now you get to have a reward," Tonks said, and she Summoned a cherry icepop and gave it to him.

Sirius sucked at it happily. It not only tasted good, but it soothed his sore throat and even numbed his mouth a bit, which made his ear stop throbbing.

Dora knew that she was probably going to be nursing all three of her boys before a day had gone by. What one had, the others usually caught. It had been that way with dragon pox and spattergroit.

"When you're done, try and rest, Paddy," she told Sirius. Then she went down to check on her stock of potions. Hopefully she had enough here to treat all of her boys. If not she'd have to make more. She really hoped that by then Remus was home, because he had a remarkable way of keeping sick children entertained.

Ten minutes later, Sirius had finished his ice pop and was fretting about being stuck in bed. He tossed and turned and pounded his pillow to no avail. He still felt hot and achy and there was nothing to do. He got out of bed and padded down the hall to Dora's study.

Dora felt eyes on her and looked up, thinking it was Jamie or Teddy. "Sirius! What are you doing out of bed?"

"I can't sleep," he whined. "I'm hot and I'm bored."

The Head Auror bit back a groan. "Sirius, go back to bed. You're sick and need to stay there, otherwise you'll infect the whole house."

"But I'm not tired, Dora! I'm so bored I could die!" he cried aggravatingly.

Dora rose, and putting a firm hand to the small of the seven-year-old's back, escorted him back to bed again. Once he was tucked in, with yet another ice pop, this time a blue raspberry one, Dora began to tell him a funny story, using her Metamorphmagus abilities to do the character's faces. Sirius laughed so hard he nearly swallowed his ice pop whole.

"That was great! Tell me another one, please," the little boy begged, using his big brown eyes the way a dog would.

"All right, scamp. But only one more, because then I have to get back to my reports," Dora acquiesced. "What would you like to hear next?"

"Something with a lot of excitement."

So she told him about one time during the war, when she and Remus were hunting down a criminal called the Ebony Mask, who enjoyed sneaking into homes of wealthy wizards with little kids and snatching the children and leaving as his calling card a black fabric mask. Sirius listened, rapt, as she described how the evil man hid the children in a secret warehouse, and how Remus had used his werewolf senses to track them and they had battled a troll and a hellhound to get them out.

"What about the Ebony Mask? When did you catch him?"

"We didn't. We were closing in on him, about to make the arrest, when he threw himself off the top of a thirty story building. He had vowed never to surrender to us, and chose to die rather than be out in Azkaban."

"Can't say I really blame him," muttered the former prisoner. "How about another one?"

Dora shook her head. "No, Siri. Close your eyes and go to sleep."

"I'm not tired," he sulked.

"Now, little boy," she said in a tone that meant she was fast losing patience.

Huffing and sighing, he did as she told him. Within moments, he was fast asleep.

After placing a Monitoring Charm on him, she returned to her paperwork, which was evaluations of her Aurors . It was around that time that her sons came back into the house. Jamie was complaining about how Sirius had tripped and teased him.

"Honey, I know he can be difficult at times, and I'll speak to him about playing nicely, but right now he's sick in bed, so please try and play quietly and not wake him up."

"When did he get sick?" asked Jamie.

"I think he woke up with it, but didn't tell me because he wanted to play with you," said Tonks shrewdly.

"Oh." Jamie said, understanding perfectly. He never wanted to stay in bed either when he was sick.

"Maybe that's why he was being a git," Teddy mused. Then he pulled Jamie back downstairs. "C'mon, brat. Leave Mum alone, she's busy. We can get a snack and then we'll play cards."

Dora sighed in relief. She could always count on Teddy to keep Jamie occupied. In that, he was very like his dad.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Harry returned home around suppertime. "Mmm, something smells wonderful," he said, hugging and kissing Ginny as he came in the door.

"It's just my mum's roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes. And I made chicken soup for the boys." She said, hugging him back. "How was the conference?"

"All right. We got most of the changes approved by the Board, and my curriculum was deemed appropriate so it went well."

"Good. Alby's almost recovered and Sev is gradually getting better too. Dora called me and said Sirius has this infection now and she's just waiting for Teddy and Jamie to come down with it. She said she couldn't wait for Remus to come home because Sirius was driving her crazy."

"I can imagine," Harry chuckled sympathetically. "It's too bad they don't have a magical TV like we do." Arthur had tinkered around with a TV set in his spare time last year, and made it so it could get the WWN and also Muggle cartoons and some sitcoms. Since it was magical, there was no danger of it malfunctioning due to Harry and Ginny's auras, and Alby could enjoy watching it along with his parents.

Harry walked into the den, and found his two sick children watching Animal Planet. Alby grinned and ran over to him. "Daddy, guess what? I'm not sick any more!"

Harry picked him up and hugged him. "I'm so glad to hear that."

"But Sevvy still is, just a little," reported the four year old. "We've been watching a snake special. Did you know snakes have three eyelids? An' they can swallow a big frog whole an' a goat if they're bigger?"

"Yes, I remember learning that in natural science in school." Harry said, setting his small son down.

"Did you know your father can talk to snakes?" Severus asked Alby.

Alby's eyes went huge. "You can? What can you say to them?"

"Uh . . . whatever I want."

"Do they talk back to you?"

"Yes, if they have something to say. But I haven't talked to any in awhile. Not since we rebuilt the school," Harry admitted.

"I wanna hear you talk to one. How did you learn it? Can I do it?"

"Uh . . . I was born with it. And I don't know if you have the ability, Alby," Harry said gently. "Maybe when you two are all better, we can go out into the woods by the school and I can find a snake to talk to."

Alby was practically jumping up and down. "Hurry up and get better, Sevvy! I wanna hear Dad talk to snakes. And maybe be friends with one too."

Severus gave the little boy a half-smile. "I'm trying, Alby." His ear infection was almost gone, but for some reason the one in his throat still lingered.

Harry came over and asked how he was feeling. The dark-haired boy told him a little better. "You're taking all your potions, right?" he teased.

Severus snorted. "Of course! I'm not an infant, Harry. But the infection is stubborn and taking longer than it should to go away."

"Well, you can outstubborn any infection, Sev." Harry said, smirking, and gave the boy a gentle hug. "Let's go and eat. I'm starving."

Severus turned off the TV and they all went in the kitchen for supper.

When Severus would have cleared the table, Ginny told him he was excused on account of his being sick.

"But I'm not that sick," protested Severus. "I can carry a few plates."

Ginny shook her head. "You're sick enough to still take potions, therefore you don't do chores. Potter House Rules."

Severus huffed in exasperation. He wasn't on his deathbed! But he knew it was futile to argue with a redhead when she's made up her mind.

The evening was quiet time when Harry and Ginny read to Alby or played a board game or watched a movie. Tonight Alby wanted to have Storytime. "You ever play Storytime, Sevvy?" he asked, crawling up to sit next to his brother on the couch.

"Isn't that where you read a story?"

"Nope. It's when you tell one!" Alby said.

"You ever play telephone, Severus?" Harry asked, sitting down next to his son.

"Yes, a few times." That had been one of Lily's favorite games.

"Well, this is sort of like that, but you start out by telling a story and then the next person adds to it, and so on, until someone ends it. We usually go around two or three times before a story is finished."

"It's fun, because you never know where a story will go," Ginny said, sitting next to Harry. "I'll start. Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there was a noble lady who had hair so long and beautiful that every man wanted to marry her. But her guardian was a mean old man and he didn't want her leaving his house, because he charged a Sickle for anyone who wanted to catch a glimpse of her with her hair down."

"What was her name, Mummy?" asked Alby.

"Harry?" she gestured for Harry to continue.

"Thanks ever so much," Harry muttered crossly. "You know I'm bad with names. Uh . . . her name was . . . Barbara. And her nasty guardian, who had greasy string hair the color of a mouse, was called Grim. Barbara was in love with the son of a woods guide, whose name was Alan, and he was the best tracker, hunter, and Beast Tamer in the whole kingdom. Alan was also a wizard. And he had pledged himself to Barbara. They planned to sneak away from her guardian's house one night and get married. But Grim found out and he locked Barbara in a high tower and the only way to get to it was through a maze. And the maze was filled with . . . your turn, Alby."

"Yay! And the maze was filled with all kinds of monsters. Like umm . . . a troll, and a man-eating lion, and . . .umm . . . a giant . . .oh, and a basilisk and an ogre. And the maze had thorns all over that pricked and cut you when you tried to walk past. It was very scary. But Alan wasn't a'scared, he was brave like my dad. Alan had a pet python, who helped him fight all the bad monsters. And the python's name was . . . Sevvy, now it's your turn!"

Severus took over, pausing for a moment to think of a name for the snake. "The python's name was Kaa, like the python in the Jungle Book, by Kipling," he stated. "While Alan fought the ogre, Kaa hugged the troll till it collapsed and then he was hungry, so he ate it."

"Eew! Troll for dinner!" Alby wrinkled his nose.

"The snake liked it," Severus smirked. "Alan took his broom and flew through the maze, and sometimes he encountered plants liked Devil's Snare or the Venemous Tarantagulla. But he was clever and quick, and used his magic to slip past them. Kaa followed on the ground and sometimes he slithered up a tree, and when Alan came across the giant, he wrapped himself around the giant's neck and squeezed . . ." He paused dramatically and gestured to Ginny.

"Oh, hurry, Mummy! What happened next?" Alby cried, wriggling with eagerness.

Ginny smiled and continued. " . . .Alan used his superior flying skills to tie up the giant, and Kaa let go, because the giant was half-strangled any how. When he came to the basilisk, Kaa talked to it and convinced it to leave them alone and when the man-eating lion sprang on then, Alan used his Beast Tamer magic to calm it. Then he fed it a steak he conjured and it went on its way. Finally he came through the maze and to the tower."

Harry took up the tale then, telling how Alan challenged Grim to a duel. They fought all day until finally Alan turned Grim into a worm and a bird ate him. "But before he did that, Alan grabbed the keys to the tower off Grim's belt. Now all he had to do was rescue Lady Barbara. Okay, Alby. What happened next?"

"Uh . . . he was so happy he flew upside down and did spiralsand stuff around the tower. And Barbara saw it." He looked at Severus. "Then what happened?"

Severus raised an eyebrow. "That's it? You're not going to add anything else?"

"Nope. You tell what happened next."

"Barbara was looking out the window and she was quite annoyed at her silly suitor, showing off instead of coming to let her out of the tower like that. She shook out her hair and yelled, "Alan, you dunderhead, quit showing off and come get me out!" So he flew down and used the keys to unlock the tower door."

"What color hair did she have, Sevvy?" Alby wanted to know.

"She had red hair and green eyes," Severus replied. "When he saw her, he apologized for acting like an idiot, because he didn't want her to be angry with him. She forgave him and then she hugged him and he took her on his broom and flew far away from there."

"Did they live happily ever after?" asked his brother.

Severus frowned at him. "If you'll let me finish, you'll know the answer. Stop interrupting!" He ordered. "They were married and they built a small cottage on the edge of a big forest. Kaa lived in the woods next to it. But though they were happy, they still quarreled like most people, since there is no such thing as being totally happy all the time. In time they had children, a boy and two girls. One of the girls had hair like her mother's, and she was a dead shot with a bow. The middle girl was a Healer and knew how to brew any potion. The boy was another Beast Tamer, like his father, but when he wasn't talking to snakes and taming beasts, he worked as a barber, and styled his mum's hair and his sisters' in the latest fashions. His name was Jack, and sometimes he was Jack the Barber and other times Jack the Giant Killer. His sisters were Diana the Archer and Asclepia the Healer. The end."

Alby clapped. "Yay! That was a great ending, Sevvy! But why was Jack a barber?"

"Because he had to learn a trade to support himself. He can't just go around talking to animals all day," Severus explained.

"Oh." Alby thought about that. "You're right."

Harry and Ginny smiled at each other. It was nice to see the brothers bonding, and Harry was secretly amused at Severus' logical bent. He sincerely hoped that Severus would get his happy ending this time around.

Hope you all liked! Please review!

 


Chapter 15: A Troublesome Afternoon
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

15

A Troublesome Afternoon

Two days later:

As predicted, Jamie and Teddy also came down with the ear-throat infection. Teddy seemed to have it worse than the other two, requiring stronger potions and more rest. By then Remus was helping Dora brew and administer the potions to the youngsters. Jamie was the most difficult, he hated being sick and made to stay in bed, and he hated drinking potions. Remus contacted Harry, knowing that he had the same problem with Alby, and Harry shared Severus' secret with him. Remus was so happy that he got Jamie to take potions without a fight that he sent over two bars of Honeydukes Best Chocolate.

But by the second day of Jamie's illness, he was fussing something awful about staying in bed the whole day. Teddy was too sick to mind, and also too sick to really keep an eye on his two younger brothers. Sirius was nearly well, and he too resented the fact that Dora and Moony refused to let them go and do anything except come down for breakfast. They were not allowed outside yet, the weather had suddenly turned nippy, and Dora refused to let them stay in the yard when they were still getting rid of their infections. So they were stuck indoors, and Sirius and Jamie hated that.

They tried to keep themselves amused, but after endless games of Exploding Snap, Gobstones, chess, and checkers, both boys were ready to climb the walls. Sirius tried to teach Jamie poker, but the game didn't hold his interest, and Jamie sulked and pouted because what he really wanted was to go and do something outside.

"I don't see why we can't go out for a bit," he grumped to Sirius for the hundredth time. "It's not like it's snowing or anything. And I feel fine." He stuck out his lower lip. He had a small fever, but to Jamie that wasn't anything to keep him from playing.

"I know. I know," Sirius growled. "Me too. But you know what Dora and Moony would say if we asked."

"So why don't we stop asking?" Jamie declared.

Sirius eyed his younger brother thoughtfully. "What are you thinking of, Jamie?" It was at times like this that he recalled Jamie Lupin had the soul of James Potter within him. And James was and always had been a rebellious mischievous child. Much like Sirius himself.

"I'm saying we oughta bypass Mum and Dad and just go out for a few minutes. I can't stand it anymore, Siri. I feel like I'm trapped in a cage with nothing to do. I'm so bored I could just up and croak."

Sirius grinned. "Okay, so what can we do about it?"

"We could sneak out through the attic up on the roof." Jamie whispered behind his hand. "They'd never find us there. The only time Dad ever goes on the roof is to fix it."

Sirius' eyes gleamed. "Sounds good to me." He looked over at Teddy, who was sleeping. "Think we should wake up Teddy?"

"No. He's too sick to do anything but sleep and drink potions," Jamie scowled. "'Sides, he'd only tell me to quit being stupid and just wait till Mum and Dad say we can go outside. Well, I don't need him to tell me what to do! You in, Siri?"

"Sure I am. But first, let's make pillow people so they think we're all asleep."

Jamie and Sirius grabbed extra blankets and pillows and stuffed them into their beds and pulled the covers up tight, making it look like they were sleeping in bed. Dora wa so tired from tending her sons that she had forgotten to reset the Monitoring Charm over the two youngest, as they were nearly better. The two boys crept up to the attic, and out the raised trapdoor to the roof.

The air was cool here, not stuffy and hot like it was back in their bedroom. The wind blew softly through the trees and over the flat shingles. Sirius went and sat down on the roof, looking out over all the other houses and sighed happily. "This is great! I can sit here all day!" He breathed deeply of the fresh air.

"Me too," Jamie said, and joined him. As they sat there, Jamie examined the way the roof was pitched, it sort of reminded him of a hill. Only this was a hill in the clouds. "Hey, what if we sledded down this?"

"You barmy, kid? We'd break our necks," objected Sirius.

"No we wouldn't. Not if you put a bunch of pillows and mattresses on the bottom where we landed."

Sirius thought about it. It could work . . . as long as they had plenty of mattresses. "Where are we gonna get some mattresses?"

Jamie muttered, "There's a storage room here, and we can borrow the mattresses. Sometimes we go camping so we have plenty."

"Long as we keep it secret." They made their way down to the storage room, which was in the garage. There they found three plump mattresses.

But they were too heavy for either boy to move. Jamie groaned dramatically.

"Wait . . . lemme think," Sirius ordered. "I can still remember this spell . . ." he cast a wandless levitation charm.

The mattresses floated out of the room and just before the garage. The attic was beneath the garage. "There! Now all we need is the sled." Sirius said.

Jamie grinned, "Wow, Siri! You can do magic even better than Teddy." Hs eyes were full of hero worship.

Sirius basked in the adoration. In his past life, James had always been the leader and Sirius the follower. This time though Sirius rather liked being the older and smarter brother that Jamie looked up to. "Aww, it was nothin'. You go get the sled . . . and hurry, 'cause there's no telling when Dora or Remus will come in and check on us."

"The pillow people will fool 'em," Jamie said confidently. But he ran and got the sled.

It was then that Sirius realized there was another complication. "I sure wish we had an Invisibility Cloak," he sighed. "Then we could go up and down without worrying about being seen."

"You mean, like Uncle Harry does?"

"Yeah." Sirius thought for a moment more. "Hmm . . . maybe if I get some rope and tie it to the drain pipe, we can lower and raise the sled, so nobody will see it."

Jamie couldn't believe how smart his new brother was. "I never would have thought of that!"

"I'm older, I know more," Sirius told him, a bit arrogantly. He went back and found a long coil of rope in the storage room. Then he tied one end to the sled and shinnied up the drain pipe like a monkey. Once at the top, he tied the other end to the drain pipe. Then he climbed down and the two raced up to the attic, being extra quiet. Once out on the roof, Sirius hauled up the sled, untied it, and whispered, "We'll have to take turns. You can start and I'll give you a push, okay?"

Jamie nodded eagerly. He sat with his feet facing forward, and gripping tight to the rope in front. "I'm ready, Siri."

"Wait. Lay down, it might be easier for you to hold on." Sirius suggested.

"Okay!" Jamie sighed angrily and did as he was told.

Before he pushed off, Sirius made sure the mattresses were stacked one on top the other. "Here you go, Jamie!" He dragged the sled and boy back to the top of the peak and then shoved hard.

The sled skidded down the roof and shot off the edge. It hovered for a moment and then fell. It landed on the mattresses and bounced once.

Sirius glanced over the roof. "Jamie? You all right?"

His little brother popped his head up and called, "Never better! It's loads of fun, Siri! You gotta try it!"

"Hurry up and tie up the sled!" Sirius whispered.

He began hauling it up as Jamie crept back up into the attic. Once he'd untied the rope, and positioned himself on the sled, Jamie grabbed the back and gave it as hard a shove as he could. The sled flew over the peak, down the edge and then dropped onto the mattresses.

Sirius had to clamp his teeth to keep from shouting from sheer excitement. The drop wasn't that high, only about fifteen feet, less with the mattresses to break their fall.

The two boys were delighted with this new game. On the second run, Sirius found a ladder in the garage and put it up against the side, so they could climb up and down it instead of going through the attic. They sledded down the roof three, four, five, six times apiece. They were having so much fun they didn't think to keep a look out, figuring Dora and Remus would never come into the room to check on them if they looked like they were sleeping.

But they hadn't reckoned with Dora deciding to give them all potions at the same time. After dosing Teddy she went over to Sirius' bed and found it empty except for the pillows. "Oh, great galloping Merlin! Sirius, you little brat!"

When she checked Jamie's bed and found it empty as well, she swore and her hair turned a vibrant red in her angry distress. "Just wait till I get hold of you children!" she growled. "I'm going to Stick you to the bed, with a sore bum."

Remus came up upon hearing her scolding. "What's wrong, Dora? They giving you a hard time?"

"Yes, because they aren't here, Remus!" she gestured to the pillow-stuffed beds.

"They're probably outside," the werewolf said reasonably.

"No doubt," Dora snorted. She went to peer out the window to see if she could spot them, just as Sirius and Jamie shot off the roof, together on the sled. "Oh my God!" she screamed. "Remus! They're . . . sledding off the garage roof!"

"Say what?" Remus sputtered, also going to the window. He peered down and saw the sled atop a pile of . . . mattresses. "Why those little devils!"

"Remus, go and bring them here!" Dora shouted. "They could have broken their necks! What were they thinking?"

"About having fun, if I know Sirius," Remus chuckled softly.

"Remus John Lupin, this is not funny!" she snapped.

"I know it's not . . . it's just . . . well it reminds me of all the times James and Sirius did crazy things at school." Remus shook his head. He reminded himself that these weren't his best friends, but his son and ward and they were six and seven, not sixteen. "Stay here. I'll go and grab them." He marched out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

By the time he got down there, Sirius and Jamie had managed to sled down the roof a seventh time. The two imps were giggling delightedly as they landed on the mattresses.

"That was the best one yet!" Sirius cheered.

"Let's do it again!" Jamie said, until he caught sight of his father standing there, glaring at them. "Uh oh," he gasped. "Umm . . . hi, Dad! Sirius and I were . . . uh . . . playing a new game!"

"Yeah, Moony!" Sirius chimed in, trying to act nonchalant.

"A game? A game!" Remus thundered. "Sledding off the roof is insane! Are you both crazy? You could have broken your legs! Or your necks!" His eyes turned a feral yellow. "Both of you, get off that sled and upstairs immediately."

Jamie started sniveling, knowing they were both in big trouble. He obeyed as quickly as he could.

Sirius lingered, stopping to argue. "Moony, nobody got hurt. We were bored and wanted to have a little fun, that's all."

"No excuses, Sirius Orion Black. Get inside now!"

Sirius flinched and scurried inside.

Remus looked about at the mattresses, the sled, the rope and ladder. He put his face in his hands. "Dear sweet Merlin's arse! Why me? Why me?"

Page~*~*~*~Break

The Forbidden Forest

That same afternoon:

As he had promised, Harry took Alby and Severus to Hogwarts and into the Forbidden Forest to seek out a snake to speak to. Harry had brought along a sketch pad and some colored pencils to draw and document any snakes or new species they happened to come across. So it was both a fun nature walk and a kind of learning experience at the same time. The boys were wearing casual clothing, jeans, hiking boots, and long sleeved shirts. Severus had on a blue one and Alby a green one. Harry was dressed similarly, only his shirt was striped white and gold. He was also wearing his Invisibility Cloak, just in case they encountered a dangerous creature and he needed to hide his charges.

Harry preferred to not have to kill any creature, because most of them were merely defending their territory from what they perceived as a human threat. Especially not in front of his impressionable animal-loving son. So he decided that hiding was the best option, if necessary. So far they were following a game trail Hagrid had suggested, but hadn't seen any reptiles yet. They had seen several species of birds, a toad sunning itself, and a black squirrel. Severus had tried to draw the squirrel and Alby the toad.

Severus had also shown his small brother some common plants used in potions. Harry had forgotten that his former professor would still remember all the flora he'd studied as a Potions Master. Harry knew that Severus would ace his classes when he was old enough to attend school again. He wondered if the Hat would still Sort Severus into Slytherin. Or would it put him somewhere else this time around?

"Daddy! Lookit! I caught a ladybug!" Alby shrilled, cupping the small insect in his hand.

Harry peered at it. "That's a nice one, Alby. But be careful. She's very delicate. You should let her go now."

Alby looked sad. "Can't I keep her, Dad?"

"No, she needs to be free to take care of her children, son. She'll die if you try and keep her from her family."

"Oh. Would Mummy die if someone kept me and Sevvy from her?" asked the green-eyed child anxiously.

"Well . . . not die, but she'd be very upset," Harry said. They continued walking up the path.

Suddenly, Severus halted. "Shh! Look there!" He pointed.

There on a rock, sunning itself in the afternoon heat, was a big black adder.

Alby put a hand over his mouth and whispered, "Say something, Daddy!"

Harry approached cautiously. The common adder wasn't as venomous as its American cousins or as aggressive. Still, it was always good to be cautious, he did not want to frighten or rile the snake.

"Greetings, friend adder," Harry said in Parseltongue, the snake langage rolling easily off his tongue despite the fact that he hadn't used it in years. It seemed one never did forget.

The snake reared up half its length and coiled. Its yellow eyes with the slit pupil looked right at the tall human and hissed, "Sss . . . what brings you here, Ssspeaker?"

"I just wished to have a friendly chat with you, and show my offspring how I can converse with you, if you'd be so kind." Harry replied, lowering himself to squat on the ground and so seem less threatening to the snake. "Of what clan are you?"

Severus and Alby stood a few paces behind Harry, staring in awe at the way Harry was hissing back at the snake.

"I am of the Clan Perssidae, my mother called me Black Ssstreak," answered the adder. He yawned, displaying his fangs and pinkish throat.

"That's a fine name, and you are a credit to her," Harry said politely. "My name is Harry Potter."

He then turned and translated what the snake and he had said for his boys.

Black Streak hissed in pleasure. "Ahh! The Great Sspeaker! Well met!"

Harry blushed. He still didn't know why most snakes called him that, it was something they refused to explain. But it was an honorific, so maybe they were grateful for him saving the forest from Voldemort. "And these are my son, Albus, and my ward, Severus."

"You have fine ssnakelingss," Black Streak said.

"Thank you," Harry said. He turned to the boys. "Is there anything you'd like to ask Black Streak?"

Immediately Alby had a dozen questions. "Ask him what his favorite food is, Dad. And does he have a girl snake to keep him company? Ask him if he's seen any bigger snakes around and what they were?"

"How old is he?" Severus wanted to know. "Does he hibernate during the winter? And are there any other animals that are natural enemies besides hawks and cats?"

"Slow down!" Harry held up a hand. "Give me a chance to catch my breath. One at a time, please!"

They learned that the snake was about three years old, mature for a snake, and he did not have a mate yet. He loved to eat small voles and frogs. Yes, he did hibernate for most of the winter, especially in the deep cold, either in a bed of mud close by a pond or beneath a rock.

"There are ssome larger sserpentss here, one that iss gray as assh and another with three heads. But they do not come close to the edge often. Only a few birds and sometimes a wildcat sstalk me, most leave me be. My greatest enemy are you wizard kind, who try and catch me and kill me for my sskin or fangs."

"That's awful!" Alby said, he was tenderhearted to a fault. "I'd never hurt you, Black Streak. My dad would spank me good if I killed a snake."

Severus, who knew of course that snake skin and fangs were used in potions, said nothing. He knew that Harry would never condone killing an animal unless it had attacked someone or was needed for something.

Harry patted Alby on the shoulder. Then he turned back to the adder and asked if the snake would mind if they drew a picture of him. "I'm trying to keep a kind of naturalist notebook, and record all the animals I see on these walks with my boys." As he got out the sketchpad and pencils, beginning to sketch the area around the snake as well as the snake itself, Alby's attention wandered.

The youngest Potter did have an excellent attention span for his age, but watching a snake pose while his dad sketched it wasn't high on the list of things to do. He liked the adder, but wished he could see a magical snake too. Severus was watching Harry draw and Alby decided to see if there were any magical snakes just down the trail.

So he walked down it and thought he spied a glimpse of an ashwinder. Excitedly, he began to run.

Severus lifted his head just in time to see Alby disappear down the trail . Frowning, he hurried after his brother, wondering what had caught his eye so much that he had to wander off. Severus was afraid that Alby would get turned around and so ran hard to catch up. He forgot to tell Harry where he was going, so anxious was he to catch Alby.

When Harry looked up from his sketch, he found both boys were no longer there. Tucking the sketch back into the pad, he stood and called loudly, "Sev! Alby! Where are you?"

There was no answer. He called again. By now he was starting to get frantic. He couldn't believe the boys had vanished without a trace!

"Did you happen to see where the children went?" he asked the adder.

The snake hissed a negative. It had been basking and not paying attention.

He began walking down the trail, calling every few minutes. How far could they have gotten? They couldn't have walked too far ahead. He was starting to grow angry as well as worried. Both Alby and Severus knew not to wander off! Harry called and called to no avail. But there was one good thing. Ginny didn't know about this, or else she would kill him. He continued searching and calling, but the only thing he heard was the mournful whisper of the wind. The two youngsters seemed to have disappeared. Harry slipped his wand from its sheath. Surely a Four Points spell would do the trick.

A/N: For some reason this chapter practically wrote itself. Now what do you think will happen to both sets of boys? Are Sev and Alby in danger?
 


Chapter 16: Unwelcome Guests
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16

Unwelcome Guests

When Alby ran down the trail, he wasn't thinking about disobeying his father, or getting lost in the woods, or maybe hurt from wandering around without Harry. All he thought about then was trying to get a glimpse of the silvery snake he'd thought he'd seen. So he ran as quickly as his short little legs could carry him after it. But it seemed as though the snake had slipped away, and the further he went, straining his green eyes to catch a glimpse of it, the more tired and dejected he felt. Finally he slowed down, and only then did he realize that he had become separated from his dad and brother. The woods suddenly seemed darker and scarier than before and he backed up, clutching himself, and looking around with frightened eyes. "Daddy? Sevvy?" he called.

Where was he? He didn't recognize anything and the trees made him feel tiny and lost.

Suddenly he heard a noise and soon Severus came down the trail, panting a bit from running so hard. He slid to a stop and crossed his arms over his chest, frowning sharply. "Albus Severus, why in Merlin's name did you run off like that?" he demanded, sounding the way he had when lecturing a misbehaving student.

Alby's lower lip trembled. Tears stood in his eyes, for this was the first time his big brother had ever scolded him like that. "I . . . I wanted to see the snake, Sevvy," he explained, whimpering.

"What snake? The adder? It was right there, talking to your dad." Severus demanded angrily. He couldn't believe the child had been so . . . so reckless! Then again, he recalled, the boy was Harry's son, and there had been few students more reckless than Harry Potter. Looked as though it were a family trait.

Alby shook his head miserably. "No . . . I saw a . . . silvery snake go by . . . like an ashwinder . . . I wanted to call it so Daddy could talk to it."

Severus glanced about. "I don't see anything. You've gotten me and your father all frantic, do you know that? You ought to know better than that! You could have gotten lost or hurt or something!"

Alby sniffled, he now felt very upset because Sevvy was, and probably his dad as well. All of a sudden, he began to cry. "M'sorry, Sevvy! I didn't mean to! Don't be mad! Please? Please?"

Severus stared at those familiar green eyes, drenched with tears and remorse. He groaned to himself. Alby should be sorry, he had done a very foolish thing, and yet, Severus could not bear to see Alby upset, even though he was angry with the child. "Oh, for Merlin's sake! Quit all that bawling, will you? You're acting like I just paddled your backside."

Alby's eyes went wide and he put a hand over his bottom. "You won't will you, Sevvy? I'll be good!"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Do I look like your father? Do I? No. I'll leave that up to him."

Alby's tears began to flow faster as he realized he might very well be in deep trouble now. "I didn't mean to, Sevvy! I didn't! I don' wanna get spanked!"

Severus spread his arms out. "What do you expect me to do about it?"

Alby came and threw his arms about Severus. "Tell him not to. He listens to you."

"Ha! Not lately," Severus snorted, then he hugged his brother back. "Come on, stop blubbering. I'll try and explain to him what happened and then we'll just have to wait and see how angry he is. If he's made up his mind to spank you, I can't do much of anything, little brother. Except maybe hug you afterwards." Severus really hoped that Harry wouldn't spank Alby, especially because it hadn't been a deliberate act of disobedience on the little boy's part. If it had been a total defiance and disregard of the rules, then Severus wouldn't have felt sorry for the boy at all. But the fact remained that Severus was no longer an adult authority figure, but a child himself, and while he would fight tooth and nail to defend Alby against any danger that threatened his small brother, he was helpless in the face of parental discipline. Even as a professor, it would have been almost impossible for him to interfere, he'd tried to intercede between Draco and Lucius a few times, to no avail, but of course he didn't mention that to Alby.

Severus gently wiped Alby's face with his sleeve. "Let's go, little brother. It's not entirely safe in these woods, even in daylight. And Harry will be looking for us."

Alby nodded. He wanted to find his daddy, but hoped that Harry wouldn't be mad enough to put him across his knees. Alby had received only one spanking before this, for trying to use the Floo without permission, but he sure didn't want another one! He took Severus' hand, glad that his older brother was there. "Sevvy, why do you call my daddy Harry?"

Severus looked half-amused. "It's his name, isn't it?"

"Uh huh. But if you're my big brudder now, why don't you call him Daddy?"

Severus blinked. He hadn't expected this conversation to come up so swiftly. "Well, for one thing, he's not my father. I'm his ward, but not really his son . . . so I don't feel right calling him that. So he said I could call him Harry."

"Oh. But will you ever?"

"Will I ever what?"

"Call him Dad like me?"

"I . . . don't know, Alby." Severus said honestly. "I don't know." He started to walk back the way he had come when the drumming of hooves was heard.

Alby shrank against Severus' side, clinging to the older boy for dear life.

Severus, in turn, hugged his brother close and wished he had a wand and was old enough to control his magic. But though he retained the knowledge of how to wield it, summoning it was another thing. He knew that centaurs still lived in these woods, and while they'd been allies in his first life, he was unsure if they still were. There had been three different tribes of centaurs back then, two were friendly with wizards and helped them, but the other tribe was warlike and arrogant and thought wizards had no right to be in the Forbidden Forest and should be slaves to the centaurs. They were known as the Diomedian tribe, based on the legend of Diomedes, who was a cruel son of Ares who had four man-eating mares and set them loose to wreak havoc on his neighbor's kingdoms, until Hercules put a stop to it. The former professor hoped fervently that these centaurs were not Diomedians.

Severus' heart sank when the three centaurs thundered to a halt beside them, surrounding them. They were powerful warlike creatures, with manes braided with pieces of bone and petrified animal parts, like ears and paws, and they had painted themselves with warrior stripes and sigils. Their eyes were hard and unwelcoming.

"Ho! What have we here, Kyletes?" bellowed a tall gray stallion with white dapples on his haunches and flanks. "Seems to me some wizardling have strayed from their nursery!"

Kyletes, a long legged red stallion, stomped his hoof on the ground and snorted. "Indeed, friend Pyrrhus. Too bad for them. I've been meaning to get me a new water bearer since the last one died of a fever."

"How convenient!" whinnied the third, a younger centaur whose horse half was a brown with white patches. His hair was even a mix of white and brown. He bared his teeth in a false smile. "Well, what are you waiting for, Kyletes? Take them!"

"No!" Alby shrieked as the white and brown centaur leered down at him. "You leave me 'lone! Or my daddy will hex you good!"

"Listen to the little imp brag!" snorted Pyrrhus. " Auletes, do you believe the nerve of this one?"

"Some human brats are lacking in manners," growled Auletes. Then he scooped up Alby and put him on his back. "Stay put, little maggot! Or else your brains will be decorating the floor." He began to gallop hard, his piebald tail streaming behind him.

"Bring him back!" cried Severus. Then the big red stallion turned and grabbed him and put him on its back. Severus clung desperately with his hands and feet and prayed he wouldn't fall off.

There was no time to try and call upon his magic, all his concentration was with holding on. Then too, if he did manage to hex one, falling off at the speed they were travelling could result in a serious injury, if not death. He dared not risk it. All he could do was hope and pray that Harry could track them, because, he noticed that despite their passengers and size, the centaurs left no hoofprints upon the earth. It had to be a kind of magic—concealment magic—and probably the reason why no wizard had ever found the Diomedians' base camp.

Potter, I hope to God you remember my lessons in Defense . . . and my lessons in how to stalk an enemy.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Lupin residence

That same day:

Jamie sniffled and rubbed his sore bottom as he stood with his nose to the wall of his room. In his other hand was a handkerchief, which he used to mop the tears that kept running down his face. He couldn't believe how furious his mum and dad had been over that sledding game! True, he supposed he could have gotten hurt, but he hadn't. He might have gotten killed, but he hadn't. Both he and Sirius had been having a wonderful time before his father had shown up and gone all growly Alpha on them. Jamie winced and attempted to rub the sting away. He hadn't gotten spanked in awhile and had forgotten how hard his dad's hand was. Though he'd wager his whole collection of chocolate frog cards that his mum's hand had been worse.

He'd heard Siri yelling in the kitchen louder than he'd done in the den, and had wondered if she'd used a paddle on his poor brother. But no, his mum never seemed to need anything except her hand to make a kid regret doing something, and he'd asked Sirius that question as soon as they'd been put in opposite corners of their bedroom and left there. Jamie sighed and turned his head ever so slightly. He could just see Sirius out of the corner of his right eye.

"Psst! Siri, you all right?"

"What do you think?" came the soft response, followed by a sharp sniff. "My bum feels like it's been set afire, thanks to your mum."

"Oww!" Jamie winced in sympathy. "I don't get why they were so angry. It's not like we broke anything."

"We could've," Sirius reminded. He actually didn't feel like talking about it, but felt it was his duty to keep Jamie from harm, as his cousin Dora had stressed before she put him across her knee. That he knew better, since not only was he older, he also was partially an adult. She had made Sirius feel ashamed about not preventing Jamie from doing that silly stunt, no matter how much fun it had turned out to be. Sirius was sure that had caused Dora to spank him extra hard. He never would have thought his friendly easygoing cousin would have been able to dole out such a punishment, but his sore behind was proof of it.

"You two are so stupid," Teddy mumbled through a yawn as he sat up in bed. "Why on earth would you ever sled off the roof?"

"'Cause it was more fun than lying in bed all day being bored to death," Jamie answered.

Teddy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure. Was it worth getting your bum smacked too?"

"Umm . . ." Jamie pondered the wisdom of that statement. " . . .kind of."

"No," Sirius put in. "It was fun, but not enough to make me want to do it over and risk my bum becoming hamburger again. Plus, I think we really scared them, Jamie. Dora almost had a heart attack and Moony wasn't much better."

Teddy mimed clapping his hands. "Brilliant deduction there, Sherlock."

"Shut up, Teddy! I bet if you weren't sick, you'd have been doing it with us," Jamie challenged.

"Wrong. I'd have found something else to do that was better," Teddy said smugly. "And I wouldn't have gotten caught because I'd have watched the time."

Jamie nearly turned around and glared at his brother, but stopped at the last second. If he did that and his parents found out, he'd have to start his corner time over again. "Fine! Next time you come up with something better."

Sirius sighed as the two bickered. Sometimes Teddy and Jamie reminded him of him and Regulus, only with his brother, the rivalry had quickly turned to poison. Only now, looking back on it, did Sirius find he regretted much of the way he had treated the younger Black, blaming Reg for his mother's favoritism and always mocking him for his love of books and claiming he was going dark. Dora had told him that he had to set an example for Jamie, that the younger Lupin looked up to him, and when Sirius said or did something, Jamie took it to heart. It caused Sirius to wonder if his constant sneering and mockery of Regulus had driven his brother away from him and down the dark path. That in turn caused him to feel guilt and recall yet another student he had mocked and sneered at.

Severus Snape.

But Snape had been different, he argued. Snape had not been a relative, hadn't admired anything about Sirius. Snape had chosen the dark path for reasons of his own. It had nothing to do with Sirius. Or had it? He spent the rest of his ten minutes in the corner thinking about Regulus and Snape, wondering if he'd been nicer to his brother if Reg might have never strayed or if he had left Snape alone, if Snape might not have found different friends instead of the crowd of Death Eaters. Dora had, before walloping the daylights out of him, told him that his choices affected others, even if he wasn't aware of it. It was definitely food for thought.

Page~*~*~*~Break

When at last they thundered to a halt, Severus felt as if all the bones in his young body had been bounced apart and put back together crooked. He had no idea where in the forest he was. They were in a large glade with four wooden structures that resembled lean to's, open on one side, with piles of dried grass inside. There was a large pit where a fire burned, over it was a spit with something roasting, and a large iron pot on a tripod with something bubbling in it. A scrawny female centaur with stringy blond hair tended them, she barely looked up when the three stallions came into camp.

Until she spied the two captives, then her eyes lit up. "Slaves? Finally!" she crowed. She made as if to toss aside her spoon, when the red-haired centaur spoke. "Not for you, Megara! Tend to your cooking, filly! These slaves belong to me." He assumed an aggressive stance, with his tail held high and shoulders squared.

Megara made a face, but continued to stir the glutinous mass of porridge. The piebald centaur immediately began to whine. "But . . . but Kyletes, you said we would all share in the hunt. So why do you get them both?"

Kyletes aimed a kick at the piebald. "Because, dimwit, I'm the leader and a leader needs servants. You can wait." He turned and grasped Severus about the waist and swung him down to the ground.

Severus could hardly stand, but he forced himself to remain upright. He knew the stiffness would work itself out by walking.

The piebald centaur reluctantly deposited Alby beside him. The small boy was terrified and silently crying. He grabbed Severus' hand and whimpered, "Sevvy, everything hurts. My legs, my arms, my back, and my bottom! I . . . I want Daddy!"

"Shhh!" Severus hushed him sharply. He sensed that these centaurs would have no mercy on a child who cried, he knew their sort. "Don't cry, Alby. You have to be brave like your dad, understand? I know it hurts, but it'll stop once we walk around." He hastily wiped away the tears on the other's face.

Alby swallowed hard. He was scared and hurting, but he understood that Sevvy was right. These were bad creatures and they would laugh at him or worse if they saw he was acting like a baby. So he straightened up and gave the black and white centaur a glare. "I wanna go home! You take me home right now!"

Auletes snorted. "You are home, kid. This is your new home, as slaves to our illustrious leader Kyletes Ironhoof. Get used to it."

"No! If you don't let me go, my dad will blow you to bits!" the child said defiantly.

Severus groaned. He hadn't meant for Albus to turn all heroic and challenge them. Potters! But before he could make any move to hush the boy, the red centaur laughed.

"Who's your daddy, small one? Some two bit conjurer? A lackwit that can barely use a wand?"

"My dad's Harry Potter!" Alby shrilled.

A curtain of silence descended over the glade. Then Megara squealed. "Ooo, Kyletes, you've done it now! You've stolen away Harry Potter's kids! What a numbskull!"

"Shut up!" Kyletes roared. "I'm not afraid of Harry Potter or any wizard for that matter." He turned about and snapped, "You two, go and patrol the perimeter." The two centaurs groaned, but did as ordered. He swung back around. "As for you little maggots, I don't care whose sons you are, now you belong to me. And that means you do as I say, or else!" He reached over and picked up a supple length of willow from the side of the lean to. "Or else I have Mr. Swish to teach you a lesson. Just ask Megara about how he makes you dance." He waved a hand at the female centaur.

Severus darted a quick glance at her and saw, to his horror, that her flanks and haunches were striped with half-healed welts. He hissed into Alby's ear, "Don't back talk him and just do what he says. He'll spank you with that stick and you don't want that, trust me." He suppressed a shudder. He had put the worst memories of Tobias and his belt and fists into the Pensieve, but he still recalled some of those times and he'd rather die than let Alby experience that pain.

"Sevvy, I'm scared," Alby whimpered. "I wanna go home. I miss Mummy!"

"Aww, well ain't that too bad!" sneered Kyletes. "Let's get one thing straight, boy. You're my property now and whenever I need anything, it's your job to fetch it or make it. What's your mum call you?"

"Alby," answered Harry's son, trying his best to look the tall horse-man in the eye. "An' this is my big brudder, Sevvy."

Kyletes snorted. "Stupid names! Okay, here's what you're gonna do. Take those buckets over there and go down to the stream and fill them with water. Then fill my trough," he pointed to a large trough in front of the biggest lean to. "When you're done with that, clean out the grass in the lean to and spread down fresh." He pointed to the pile of stacked dry grass at the edge of the clearing. Beside it rested a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. "Once you've done that, come to me and maybe I'll feed you. If you've done a good job. If not . . ." he moved like lightning, swinging Mr. Swish down fast.

Severus moved, sheltering Alby with his body. The switch crackled and landed on his back. He bit his lip hard. It wasn't quite as bad as Tobias' belt, but it still stung like crazy. He remained silent.

Kyletes looked disappointed. Then he shrugged and said, "Move! If that's not finished by the time this porridge is ready, I'll whip both of you."

Severus moved, pulling Alby along towards the wooden pails standing next to Kyletes' trough. To his dismay, the buckets were nearly as big as Alby.

"Sevvy, are you all right?" Alby asked worriedly.

"I'll live," Severus answered. He was trying not to think about the welt across his shoulders.

"How we gonna carry them? They're too big." Alby said.

"I know. But I'll think of something," Severus said. Now more than ever he needed his magic. "Let's do it together." He grasped the rope handle on one side. It was going to take forever to fill these buckets.

They managed to bring back the first bucket, it was half full, and dump it into the trough. It barely filled the bottom with water. Then they went back and did it again . . . and again . . .until an hour and a half had passed and both boys were exhausted. They had almost filled the trough to the top when Megara looked over and sneered at them.

"Having fun, little creepers? Is that bucket getting heavy?" Smirking, she trotted over to them, then deliberately stuck out a leg to trip Alby, who was struggling with his half of the bucket. "Ooopsie!"

Alby fell flat on the ground, and his half of the bucket went over, splashing water everywhere.

Megara began to laugh loudly, bringing Kyletes to see what was so funny.

He scowled when he saw his slave in the dirt and water all over. "Lazy little whelp! Get up!"

Alby tried, but he was scraped and sore and his feet kept slipping on the muddy ground.

"I said, GET UP!" bellowed the irate centaur and suddenly the switch was in his hand.

"No!" Severus cried, running over to shield his brother from the centaur. "It was my fault. I tripped and knocked him down."

"Clumsy as well as stupid!" snarled Kyletes, then he picked up Severus by the back of the collar and held him in the air. "This is what happens to clumsy slaves on my watch!"

Mr. Swish whistled through the air and landed on Severus' vulnerable backside.

Severus flinched but bit back the cry of pain that should have followed. He would never give this bully the satisfaction of crying in front of him.

"No! Leave Sevvy 'lone!" Alby was wailing and beating his small fists against the centaur's front legs. "Don't hurt my brudder! Please!"

Kyletes paid him no more attention than he would have a gnat. He gave the older Potter boy another ten licks, striping him from backside to thighs before tossing him down in the dirt. Kyletes was furious that he hadn't made the elder boy cry at all, though he supposed the younger one made enough of a fuss for ten boys.

He casually knocked Alby down and then stepped over them, snarling, "Get back to work!" Then he turned to Megara and growled, "Unless you want a turn, you better get working too!"

Megara turned away, though not before she flashed the stronger centaur a look of hatred.

Alby crawled over to Severus and hugged him. "Sevvy! Sevvy! I'm sorry!"

Severus lifted his head and whispered, "Albus, stop crying! Before he gets sick of hearing it and beats you too."

Alby sniffled. "Does it hurt real bad?"

Severus nodded wearily. He'd had worse, but not in a very long time. He knew he had to get up, but for a few moments allowed himself the luxury of remaining still. Finally he got gingerly to his feet and began to walk slowly back to the stream, where he removed his jeans and underpants and sat in the cool water while Alby refilled the bucket. The water felt soothing and he remained there for several minutes, until the bucket was full and he had to dress and help Alby.

Once the trough was full, they had clean out the old grass from the lean to. That also took forever, but was a little easier. Once they were done, Severus was a mass of pain and told Alby to see if Kyletes had anything to eat. The centaur grudgingly dished up two small bowls of porridge flavored with honey and raisins.

Alby ate his sitting on the ground and Severus standing up beside him. Alby really really hoped that his daddy was searching for them, and wished he'd hurry up before something bad happened to him or Sevvy . . . beyond what had already happened, that is.

Page~*~*~*~*Break

Harry followed the pull of the tracking spell, walking as quickly as he could along the trail. It was strange, but he had to recast it several times, and it was then that he feared something had taken the boys away, because the tracking spell was leading him deeper into the forest, far beyond the point where the two children could have traveled on their own. Swearing softly under his breath, Harry quickly cast a Swift Foot charm upon himself, enabling him to run with the speed of a unicorn. The spell not only gave him speed, but endurance and lung capacity as well.

He began to run through the forest, following the irresistible tugging of the tracking spell. When he had run an estimated four or five miles into the trees he paused for a breather. Then he continued, until he suddenly ran into an invisible wall. "What in hell?" he muttered.

His tracking spell fizzled and he realized this was a warded area. Which meant the boys had to be somewhere within here. He drew his wand and muttered, "Finite Incantatum!" putting all of his considerable will behind the spell.

The wards shook and then melted away, allowing Harry to see inside them. He saw the glade, the lean to's, and the two centaurs about the fire. Then he saw Alby and Severus. Alby looked as though he'd been crying and Severus looked . . . grim and stone faced. Harry's first instinct was to rush in with his wand blazing and demand his children back. But some sixth sense warned that would not be a smart thing and so he decided to be sneaky and use his cloak to observe the best way to get the boys out before making the Diomedians, for he recognized the paint and hair style as those that tribe wore, in addition to the fact that they had taken the boys away rather than delivered them back to him, pay for their bold cruelty.

He slipped the hood over his head and crept nearer the glade, managing to make his way around it without a sound, for a unicorn steps lightly. Once he was close to the boys, he made a soft hissing sound, getting Severus' attention.

Severus looked around, his eyes searching swiftly for the sound.

Harry quickly lowered the hood of the cloak a fraction, just enough so Severus could see his face. He put a finger to his lips and winked.

Severus merely nodded, but his eyes brightened. So Harry had come and found them. Severus felt a warm glow spread through him. Soon they would be rescued. Now it was only a matter of waiting for the right time.
 


Chapter 17: Harry's Wrath
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17

Harry's Wrath

Harry knew he had to wait till nightfall to have any hope of getting the boys out of there without risking their lives. It was a good thing he had learned how to be patient during his years as a professor. He scraped out a sort of depression in the ground near the camp, where he could see and hear all that went on within the camp. He settled in it, sitting quietly with his cloak shrouding him. It had taken him almost a whole day to find the boys, he knew Ginny would be frantic if they didn't come home for supper, but right now he had to wait until sunset. Darkness would make the centaurs more vulnerable and he would need the edge, even with his cloak.

Fury burned the back of his throat when he heard the centaurs ordering about Severus and Alby like house elves.

"Fetch me my jar of honey, boy, before I give you more of Mr. Swish there!" barked Kyletes.

Harry's eyes narrowed and he felt his throat go tight from restraining himself as he saw the centaur wave the willow switch at Severus. What had the centaur meant, more of it? Surely the damned creature hadn't . . . whipped Severus? Harry thought, sickened. Severus didn't act like he was afraid of the centaur, he went to the large lean to and opened a pack and pulled out the jar of honey and a spreader, but Harry noted he moved far less quickly than usual and seemed to be favoring his left leg slightly. Harry felt ill, and guilt swamped him, because he had promised Severus no one would ever mistreat him the way Tobias had done in his old life. But now it had happened, all because Harry hadn't found them fast enough, and he felt the acid taste of failure sting the back of his throat, colored with a searing rage that the bastard had dared to lay a hand upon one of his own. That one he had a special punishment in mind, Harry thought grimly. Hard on the heels of that thought came regret. Severus, I'm so sorry. I came too late and you paid the price for it. But I'll make it up to you somehow.

He watched as Kyletes took the jar and the spreader from Severus, aiming a half-hearted cuff at the boy's head, which Severus ducked neatly. The centaur began spreading honey thickly on slices of wheat bread and eating them messily, without offering any to either the female centaur or to the boys, who were drooling hungrily. Harry felt his heart ache at the sight, it reminded him sharply of his childhood at Privet Drive, when Dudley would eat cake or ice cream right in front of him, and he would never be allowed to have so much as a taste. The unfairness made him as angry now as it had then.

Nobody should starve a child!

He felt a strong urge to reveal himself and curse Kyletes to bits. But again he held himself back. There could be more centaurs lurking about and he would lose the advantage of surprise if he revealed his hand so soon.

Soon Kyletes was bellowing at Megara to bring him the leather sack that rested on a hook inside the lean to. Megara snorted angrily, swishing her tail, but obeyed and fetched the leather sack, which had a narrow neck and a circular stopper. Harry was almost certain it contained alcohol.

Kyletes poured a measure of some sort of whitish liquid into a metal cup and drank it down. "Ahh! Nectar of the gods is kumiss! Nothing else like it."

He gulped down another cup. Kumiss was made from mare's milk, Harry knew that from his studies. It was very potent and Harry hoped the greedy centaur would drink enough to pass out. Just then there came the thunder of hooves and two other centaurs raced into the camp.

"Kyletes, who said you could start the party without us?" a piebald stallion whinnied.

"Yeah, where have you been keeping the skin of kumiss?" asked the second one.

"Quit yer bellyachin' and report. Any sign of the wizard?" growled their leader.

"No, nothing."

"It's dead as a tomb out there," said Auletes. "That's why we came in by the fire. We're hungry and thirsty." He turned and bellowed over his shoulder. "Ho, Megara, you wench! Fix me something to eat!"

Harry waited for the female centaur to tell the obnoxious male to get his own dinner, but she wearily nodded and dished out some kind of grain and meat stew in a large bowl and brought it to him, along with another cup, which Kyletes filled with kumiss from the goat skin he carried. The other centaur was served in a similar fashion, only after they were all slurping and belching did Megara silently take some stew for herself and give the boys some too, along with chunks of bread smeared with honey, and cups of water.

"Eat, and be quick about it." She ordered gruffly, her eyes darting about warily. "Then best you get into the lean to and get some sleep. Himself won't be wantin' ya anymore tonight."

She turned away at another snarled command to fetch a second skin of kumiss. "Bloody sots!" she grumbled.

The boys ate hungrily, though Alby whined to Severus, "This tastes funny, Sevvy. I don't really like it."

"Just eat it, Al. Beggars can't be choosers," Severus sighed, eating his own portion.

"I'm not a beggar," objected his brother.

"It's all we're going to get, so quit being picky," Severus elaborated.

Alby huffed. "Okay, I'm eating," he grumbled. "But Mummy and Daddy cook better." He blew on the stew and swallowed some. Then he took a bite of the bread. "But the bread's good. I like honey."

"Wonderful. Now hush!" Severus ordered rather irritably. "We don't want them to notice us." He knew better than to draw attention to himself when there were drunken men about, even centaurs. He was also beginning to stiffen and his bottom and thighs were throbbing like seven hells. It was drawing on to dusk, and he hoped Harry would make his move soon. He didn't want to spend the night with these drunken fools.

He cast a glance surreptitiously behind him, but couldn't see anything. Which was how it should be. He gently drew Alby towards the smaller lean to, closest to the thick screen of brush surrounding the glade. The little boy had finished most of his portion and drank his water.

"Sevvy, I'm still thirsty."

"Here, finish mine," Severus sighed, and handed Alby his half full cup of water. He had finished all of his stew, it wasn't half-bad, and he'd grown up going hungry half the time, so he didn't believe in wasting food. He gave the rest of his bread to Alby as well.

Alby happily devoured it, getting all sticky in the process. "Uh oh. I need to wash my hands."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Anything else you need to do?"

"Uh huh. I need to go potty." Alby whimpered. "Sevvy, where's the bathroom?"

Severus should have expected that. "There isn't any, Alby. We're with centaurs, and they go like horses do, anywhere they are."

"They do? But I'm not a horse!" Alby squirmed. "I gotta go bad."

"Shhh. Come on, over here in back of the lean to." Severus led Alby to a spot somewhat behind the lean to, where a tall tree was. "All right, go ahead."

Alby looked dubious. "Right here?"

"Yes."

The little boy fumbled with his jeans. "Sevvy . . . my zipper's stuck."

"Oh, for the love of . . ." Severus groaned, then moved to help his brother. "There! Pee on the tree."

He turned his back to give the small boy privacy.

A few moments later, Alby called, "Sevvy, I'm all done. Can you help me zip up?"

Severus did, then he dipped a corner of his shirt in the horse trough and wiped Alby's hands and face. "Okay, now let's go and lie down in the lean to. We've got maybe an hour and a half till the sun sets."

"But Sevvy . . . I don't wanna sleep here! I wanna sleep in my bed. With Bucky. I never sleep without Bucky!" Alby started to cry.

Alarmed, Severus grabbed the little boy and clasped him to his chest, pressing Alby's face into his shirt front. The centaurs were three sheets to the wind, or so it sounded, but Severus had known his father to be the same way and still manage to get up and backhand his son into a wall. "Albus Severus, stop it right now!" he ordered sternly. "I know you want to go home, and so do I, but we can't, and you have to make the best of it for now. Understand? You keep on wailing like a big baby and Kyletes will come over and use Mr. Swish on you and then you'll really have something to cry about! And there won't be a damn thing I can do about it."

Severus didn't like scaring the child this way, but he was terrified one of the centaurs would notice and grow irritated with the four-year-old for crying. His father never could abide it when boys cried, a fact which he had impressed upon Severus by the time he was five. Severus had a feeling that these centaurs were of the same mold as Tobias and despised tears as a sign of weakness. Severus knew Harry was somewhere close by, and he just needed to keep Alby in one piece until Harry made his move.

Keeping the little boy's face pressed into his shirt, Severus guided Alby into the lean to he'd chosen and lay down on the grass, which made a pretty comfortable bed. He pulled Alby down with him.

The four-year-old was still sniffling and then he began to cough. He pushed away from Severus and sat up, his face a mess of tears and said softly, "Don't call me a baby! I'm a big boy!"

"Good. Then start acting like it," Severus said in a more mild tone. "Don't let them see you cry, otherwise they'll hurt you. They think boys who cry are wimpy little brats." He found a rag hanging on a hook in the lean to and handed it to his brother. "Wipe your eyes and blow your nose."

Alby obeyed, then he snuggled down in the grass. "Sevvy, do you think my daddy's looking for us?"

"Yes. And he'll find us too." Severus whispered. "Just be patient." He turned on his side, it was far too painful to sleep on his back, one arm across Alby. "Go to sleep."

Soon his ears were filled with Alby's soft breathing and Severus felt himself begin to drift off too. It had been an exhausting day and he was tired.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

By the time the sun set, the three stallions were roaring drunk, even a centaur's unique metabolism was not immune to the potent kick of fermented mare's milk. By then they were throwing daggers at the trees and betting who could hit a knothole at five paces. None of them could, they were so crosseyed from kumiss. Megara rolled her eyes and settled down beside the fire, she had no lean to and didn't dare try and sleep in one of the stallions', they might think she was offering herself to them. Megara hated all of them and would have sooner mated with a pig. Besides, the fire offered warmth and safety, if one of the stallions tried to paw her, she could throw hot coals at them.

She looked over at Kyletes' lean to, where the two slave boys were curled up. She could almost feel sorry for them. But then she turned away. Pity was wasted on them, they belonged to Kyletes now and he was a harsh master. There was nothing she could do about it, even if she had dared to let herself feel compassion for them. She had learned the hard way that she could afford to care about no one save herself. Poor brats were in for a hard life, but then, that was what happened to stupid little boys who strayed from the castle and the protection of their wizard father. Then again, maybe they would get lucky and their famous father would rescue them. Megara snorted. Right, and the moon would come down from the sky and dance a jig. She shrugged and tucked her head down on her forelegs. An instant later she was asleep, despite the drunken revels going on.

Harry waited until the female centaur was asleep, and one of the two stallions was snoring as well. Only the piebald and the chestnut were still awake and they were so drunk they barely remembered their own names. Still he waited, until the moon was high, and then he crept from his hiding spot and went to where the boys were sleeping. He threw back his hood and woke Severus first.

Severus woke instantly, and when he saw Harry, he gave the tall wizard a smile of relief.

"Shh! Don't say anything," Harry cautioned. Then he gently shook Alby awake.

Alby woke after a few moments and Harry clamped a hand over his mouth before the little boy could scream his name. "Alby, listen to me. You have to be very quiet. Understand?"

Alby nodded, and threw his arms about Harry's neck. Harry removed his hand and patted his little son's back. "Daddy, you found us!" Alby whispered into his ear. "Can we go home now?"

"Yes. But first you need to go hide with Sevvy." Harry explained. "Severus, take the cloak and walk down to the right of the camp. Don't worry, I'll find you. But I need you to get away from here before I teach these bastards a lesson." He removed his cloak and swirled it around Severus and Alby. The cloak magically shrank to fit them.

"Daddy, are you gonna beat them with Mr. Swish? Like Kyletes did to Sevvy?" asked Alby. "He was real mean to us!"

Harry's eyes blazed. "Something like that, son. Now you go with Sevvy. Hurry!"

Severus clutched Alby's hand and drew the hood of the cloak over his head, Instantly he disappeared and when he tugged Alby beneath the cloak, so did his brother. He carefully led Alby out of the glade and to the right, as Harry had instructed.

Severus almost wished he could have stayed and seen Harry enact his revenge upon Kyletes, but he knew Alby didn't need to see his dad go ballistic, the poor child had seen enough violence that day. So he kept silent and walked onward, making sure Alby stayed close.

Alby stumbled along sleepily, clinging to his big brother's arm. He was so glad his daddy had come at last! And he hadn't seemed mad at all. Except with the centaurs. Alby couldn't wait to go home and sleep in his warm bed and be hugged and kissed by his mummy. He yawned. Suddenly he felt a familiar urge and he poked Severus.

"Sevvy . . . I gotta pee."

Severus groaned. "Merlin, Alby! Only you would have to go in the middle of a rescue mission! Can't you hold it?"

"No . . . I always have to pee when I wake up at night," his brother told him. "Sorry."

"Never mind," Severus said exasperatedly, and dragged Alby over to a convenient tree. This was why he'd never had kids the first time around.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Harry pointed his wand and coals from the fire suddenly whirled up and around into the air before shooting themselves at the three drunken stallions. The fiery projectiles stung their chests and haunches, making them scream and spring to their hooves.

"Ow! What in nine hells?"

"My tail's on fire!" one shrieked and galloped off to douse it in the stream.

"Who did that?" neighed Kyletes blearily.

"I did," Harry said, his eyes burning as hot as the coals he'd just thrown at them. He stalked forward, wand at the ready.

"Who the hell are you?" demanded Kyletes.

"My name is Harry Potter. Maybe you recognize me? Even if you don't, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that you kidnapped my boys and hurt them. Nobody hurts my kids and gets away with it."

"You think you can take us, wizard?" sneered Auletes, full of false courage.

Harry gave him a mirthless smile. "I don't think so, centaur. I know so."

He gestured with a hand in a flinging motion. The earth suddenly rose up in a wave, like an ocean of mud and slammed into the two stallions, knocking them off their feet and half-burying them in sludge.

They screamed and tried to get away, but the mud was heavy and they could only pull themselves halfway from it.

Megara awoke at the sound of their distress, but made no move to help them. She simply remained where she was, she would not risk drawing the wrath of Harry Potter down on her head. Besides, those fools deserved whatever they got. Kyletes especially.

"How does it feel, centaur, to be helpless and frightened?" Harry asked, his tone low and deadly. "Do you like it?"

"No, great wizard!" blubbered Auletes as he strained to pull free of the clinging mud. "Please, show mercy!"

"Why? Did you show mercy to my children?" Harry demanded coldly. "Don't bother lying. I watched how you treated them tonight. You treated them like dogs and worse. You beat one of them. You're nothing but disgusting bullies who deserve a taste of your own medicine. And I'm about to give you some."

"If you're going to kill us, at least let us die standing up," argued Kyletes.

Harry sneered. "No. I'm not going to kill you, that would be too easy. Instead I'm going to do this."

He waved his wand in a complex pattern and hissed something in Latin.

Suddenly Kyletes and Auletes began to shift and change, their bodies shrinking and becoming small and hairless. Within moments they were no longer centaurs, but small boys, one with red hair in braids and the other with dark hair, around five or six. They were stark naked.

"Ahh! What have you done to us, wizard?" cried Kyletes in horror. "We're . . . humans!"

"That's right. Human boys . . . just like those you steal away and make slaves."

"Change us back! We can't live like this!" bawled Auletes.

"Yes, you can. You just won't like it much." Harry declared. He turned and called over to Megara, who was now staring at the newly transformed stallions with a cold interest. "You there, what's your name?"

"Megara," she replied, rising.

"I noticed that these two seemed to think you were at their beck and call. Is that how Diomedians treat all their women?"

"Not always. Just the arrogant ones like Kyletes and his friend here. They think they're the Great Mare's gift to centaurs. And I'm just an orphan with no family to give me rank."

"I see. How would you like some new servants?"

Megara's eyes gleamed. "I would love it."

Kyletes shouted, "No! You can't do this! I am Kyletes, son of the Chief Stallion! I refuse to be a slave to her!"

"Me neither!" said Auletes, crossing his arms over his chest.

Megara's eyes narrowed. "It doesn't matter whose sons you are. Now you're nothing but whiny human brats, and I am a centaur filly."

"They're all yours," Harry said. "Treat them exactly how they treated you . . . and my boys."

"With pleasure!" Megara laughed softly. Then she picked up the willow switch from the ground. "Get moving and fix up my lean to. I want the grass so thick inside I feel like I'm sleeping on air. Well, what are you waiting for? Maybe you need a taste of this?" She cracked the switch hard across their bare behinds.

They yelled and began running to do what she said.

"What about Pyrrhus?" she asked Harry.

"The gray fellow? Did he harm you or the children?"

"No. He just watched mostly."

"Then he can get off with a singed tail and looking like a coward."

"Why don't you ask Megara about how she tripped your precious child?" Kyletes shrilled.

Harry gave the filly a sharp glance. Megara looked away. "Is that true? You tripped my son?"

"Yes. I . . .I shouldn't have . . . but I was taught humans are beneath us . . . it was cruel of me . . ."

Harry scowled. Then he pointed his wand and a giant pair of shears appeared and cut off most of Megara's flowing tail. He had learned from his former teacher Firenze that cutting off a centaur's tail was very shameful. "Maybe that will remind you to not be cruel to small boys." Harry said.

"How long will they be human?" Megara asked, blushing.

"Until I or another wizard as strong as I am breaks the spell, or they learn their lesson about bullying helpless children," Harry replied. "I have to be going now. Tell your chief that this is what happens when anyone touches the sons of Harry Potter."

Then he turned on his heel and left the glade, using his tracking spell to find where Severus and Alby had hidden.

Once he had located them, he took back the Invisibility Cloak and picked them both up. "I want to get far away from here before I talk to you both and heal you," he explained. "And that means I need to move fast."

"Daddy, did the bad centaurs get in trouble?" Alby asked, clinging to his father.

"Yes, they sure did. They won't be hurting anyone ever again," Harry told him, satisfaction edging his tone. He re-cast the Swift Foot spell and began to run, this time using the tracking spell to guide him to Hagrid's hut and out of the forest.

The gamekeeper was not at home, he was away visiting his relatives in giant country as his half-brother Grawp was getting married, so Harry used the hut to clean up both boys as best he could. Alby was easy, Harry simply cast a Freshen Up charm over him, and gave him a big mug of hot cocoa.

"There! Feel better?"

Alby nodded, then he asked softly, "Daddy, am I in trouble for running away and chasing the snake? Are you gonna spank me?"

Harry knelt and ran his fingers through his youngest's hair. "While it was wrong of you to wander off without telling me where you were going, and normally you would get a few swats for it, I think the centaurs kidnapping you and your brother is enough of a punishment. I don't think you'll ever forget it or do it again, will you?"

"No," Alby shook his head rapidly. His arms came about Harry and he snuggled with him.

Harry held the little boy for a few moments, figuring that when he got back home, he would give Alby Dreamless Sleep tonight. The poor thing looked exhausted. "All right, son. Now I need you to sit here and drink your cocoa while I go and help your brother."

Alby slipped back onto his chair and said seriously, "That bad centaur hurt Sevvy, Daddy. He was gonna hit me with Mr. Swish only Sevvy wouldn't let him."

"I know. Sevvy's a good big brother, Alby." Harry ruffled his son's hair and rose. Then he went to find Severus, who had insisted on washing up himself in Hagrid's back bedroom. Harry had found a small container of wound healing paste and took it with him. He tapped gently on the door. "Sev? May I come in?"

He heard a muffled sound and took it for assent, opening the door and walking into the bedroom, which was lit by a single glowing magic lantern. The five-year-old was standing in just his underwear in front of a large basin of water, trying to scrub away the grime. "Hey. Need some help?" Harry asked softly, closing the door behind him. He turned the lamp up so he could see better.

Severus turned to look at him. "I feel all dirty," he said. "I need a bath, Harry."

"Yeah, I imagine a bath would feel real good on those welts, huh?" Harry stated, coming to sit down beside the child on the floor.

Severus stiffened, a rosy flush covering his face. "Alby told you."

"He did, but I have eyes and ears, Severus. I knew before he said anything what they'd done to you. And I'm sorry I couldn't get to you in time to protect you," Harry said sincerely, guilt slamming him in the chest again. "I promised this would never happen again and now look at you."

Severus stared at the other wizard, speechless. He could see the guilt written all over Harry's face and it astonished him. "But . . . you can't blame yourself for this, Harry."

"No? I should have been keeping a better eye on you two."

Severus shook his head. "It's not your fault Alby ran off. I should have told you where I was going. Who knew those centaurs would come along and kidnap us? It was just bad timing and circumstance. You don't have anything to feel guilty for. You rescued us."

Harry sighed. "There is that. But you protected Alby when I couldn't. Just like you did for me when I was a teenager."

Severus looked embarrassed. "You Potters always need looking after."

"And you've always been there for us," Harry said. "Thanks for being such a good big brother to Alby."

"You don't need to thank me for that!" Severus said, sounding slightly insulted. "I would never stand there and watch someone smaller than me get hurt like that. Not anymore," he declared fiercely. "I'm not a spy anymore. And that's what big brothers are for—to protect their younger siblings. You ought to know that, Harry."

Harry chuckled slightly at the faint scolding tone. "I know, Sevvy. Alby's lucky to have you for his brother." Then he reached out and swept the boy into a hug, pulling him onto his lap. "And I'm proud to have you as a member of my family, Severus Snape."

Those simple words touched something deep inside the lonely little boy. He could tell Harry truly meant them and was not just saying them. Family. Severus could not remember the last time he had felt as if he truly belonged to a family, not since his mother had passed the Veil. Since returning, he had felt like an outsider, despite all of the Potters' efforts to make him feel welcome. But no longer. Now he felt a warm glow surge through him, and he knew then that he had finally found acceptance, and a family at last. It both frightened and comforted him. Because now he had something to lose, but also something to love.

Words could not express the depth of his feelings, so Severus did not bother speaking them. Instead he hugged Harry as hard as he could, burying his face in the other's shoulder. Tears came to his eyes, tears of joy and relief, and unlike all the other times, he did not fight them, but allowed them to fall, drenching Harry's shirt.

Harry was overwhelmed as well with emotion, and he simply held Severus and rocked him, rubbing his back and murmuring, "It's all right, Sev. I'm here for you, always. You'll never be alone again. You're like my son, and I love you like I do Albus."

Severus sobbed softly and shook his head. That didn't seem possible. "How can you?" he mumbled into Harry's ear.

Harry smiled and stroked the boy's raven hair rhythmically. "Because family is more than just blood, and love doesn't care about any of that, it simply is. That's how I can love you and Alby both, Sev. Because love is forever and always, without beginning or end."

"Who taught you that?" Severus sniffled.

"You did," Harry answered.

"Me?" Severus lifted his head and stared into Harry's emerald eyes.

"Because that's how you loved my mother."

"Oh," was all Severus could manage to say.

Harry coughed, then said, "Now how about you let me fix you up? If I bring you home like this, Ginny will hand me my head. Not that she won't anyhow for being late for supper."

"So why don't you send her a Patronus?" Severus asked reasonably.

"Hmm . . . yeah, I could do that," Harry agreed. He summoned the white stag and sent it off with a wave of his wand. "All right, let's see what that bastard did to you." He gently banished the underwear and then snarled several curse words as he saw the vivid stripes crisscrossing the small bottom and thighs. "I should have beaten the lousy scum myself instead of just making him become a human with Megara as his mistress."

"I've had a lot worse," Severus commented, letting Harry coax him into lying on his lap.

"I don't care!" Harry objected. "I knew he'd . . . beaten you, but I never thought . . . bloody hell, Severus! Some of these were bleeding!" Harry gently began to wash the welts with the soft wet cloth.

Severus sucked in a breath, for he was still very tender. "That's what . . . usually happens when . . . you get hit with . . . a willow switch . . ." He wriggled a little. "A belt's worse . . . trust me."

Harry nearly cried upon hearing that matter-of-fact tone. "Sorry if I'm hurting you. I'm trying not to."

"I know," Severus replied through clenched teeth. Despite himself, a few tears escaped, but Harry was very gentle, gentler than most Healers.

Finally, Harry was finished cleaning the welts and then he spread the wound healing paste on, smiling sadly at the child's gasp of relief. "There! How's that feel?"

"Much better," Severus replied. "I'll be healed in a day or two with that." He could feel the magical salve working, it tingled and soothed the raw skin, numbing and healing on contact. He climbed off Harry's lap.

"You can have a long soak in the tub when we get back home," Harry promised, and conjured new underwear and freshened up Severus' clothing before helping the boy dress.

They went out into the main room of the hut and found Alby asleep with his head on the table.

"He's worn out," Harry said,smiling.

"So am I," said Severus, smothering a yawn.

"Me too," Harry agreed, then he gathered up Alby and asked Severus, "Want me to carry you?"

Severus considered. He normally disliked being picked up and hauled about like a sack of potatoes. He had legs and could walk perfectly fine. But tonight . . . tonight he was out on his feet. He held out his arms. "Yes, please."

Harry lifted him gently and held him close.

Then they all went home to Godric's Hollow.

When Harry opened the front door he found Ginny on the other side, looking haggard and frazzled. "Hi, honey, I'm home."

"Harry James Potter, where in Merlin's name have you been?"

Next: Ginny is not very happy with Harry . . .
 


Chapter 18: Argument
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18

Argument

Harry winced at the sharp tone. So did Alby, who had woken as soon as he heard Ginny's voice, and Severus. "Ginny, I'm sorry, but I'll explain everything that happened after we have dinner. It's a long story, and the boys are tired, hungry, and in need of baths." He walked forward and set the boys down in front of his very annoyed, he couldn't say she was at the angry stage, at least not yet, wife.

"Mummy!" Alby squealed and threw himself at her.

"Hello, Alby! Miss me?"

"Uh huh," Alby nodded and practically jumped into his mother's arms. He clung to Ginny like a barnacle. His mummy smelled so good, like fresh bread and chocolate and roses and Alby couldn't get enough of her. He was so glad he was home and not stuck any more in that horrid centaur camp. "I'm hungry, Mummy."

"Did your father forget to pack a lunch again?" Ginny sighed and shot a reproving look at Harry.

"Umm . . . no . . . we kinda got lost . . ." Alby began.

"Got lost?" Ginny repeated, shooting a glare at her husband.

"Gin, I promise I'll tell you everything," Harry interrupted. "Just let's eat dinner first." He was starving, because all of the spellcasting he'd done took a lot of energy. And he didn't want to have this conversation on an empty stomach, he was sure Ginny would be furious once she learned what had happened, and arguing with her made his stomach upset enough as it was.

"All right," Ginny agreed, though her eyes still gleamed with anger. "We'll eat, but only because I hate wasting good food, and the boys are hungry. But mark my words, Harry James, we will be discussing this afterwards. Why didn't you at least tell me you were going to be late? I was nearly out of my head with worry!"

"I'm sorry, but there were . . . extenuating circumstances." Harry said. "Why didn't you send your Patronus to me?"

"I was busy, that's why," Ginny snapped. She settled Alby in his seat, then waved her wand and a large bowl of chicken and dumplings floated to the kitchen table, which was already set for four. A cutting board with a loaf of crispy hot bread accompanied the chicken dish, and there was a pitcher of lemonade in front of the two adults places.

Harry sniffed appreciatively. "It smells wonderful, Gin."

Ginny's eyes narrowed. "Don't try to flatter me, Harry."

"I'm not. It's the truth," Harry protested. Clearly she wasn't about to forgive him for his lapse of judgment. He sat down and began to serve everyone the chicken and dumplings and bread with butter.

Ginny poured the lemonade, eying her husband suspiciously. She sensed that whatever Harry's reason for being late was not something she would enjoy hearing. Still, despite her vast aggravation with him, she was happy to have her men at home and in one piece. When Harry hadn't sent an owl or a Patronus at dusk, she had panicked, fearing he was badly injured or one of the children was. That was one thing she was going to be sure to address in their talk later on.

All of the family ate heartily of the delicious chicken and dumplings, which was a recipe Ginny had learned from Molly, and the wonderful homemade bread, still warm from the oven, and hot enough to melt the butter spread upon it. Severus especially loved the bread, it was just the right texture and there was nothing like the aroma of fresh bread with butter to whet the appetite. "May I have some more bread, please?" he asked Ginny.

She smiled at him. "You like my bread, Sevvy?"

"It's delicious, Ginny," he said, taking another slice from the plate she held out to him. "The house elves at Hogwarts used to make bread, but it never tasted as good as yours."

"This was my granny Weasley's recipe," Ginny told him. "Not even Mum can improve on it."

"Is it made with magic?" was Severus' next question, after he'd taken a bite and swallowed.

"Only the baking part. The rest is done by hand, like Muggles. Granny always told my dad that there were some things you could use magic for and other things that needed to be done with old fashioned elbow grease. Mixing the dough and kneading it are two of those things."

Severus nodded, thinking perhaps that was the difference between the Hogwarts elves' bread and Ginny's.

"My mummy cooks the bestest," Alby declared proudly. "And so does my dad," he added, not wanting Harry to feel left out. He happily took another bite of his chicken. Now this was what real supper should taste like!

Harry used his piece of bread to mop up the rest of the chicken gravy on his plate, he loved it when Ginny made chicken and dumplings, it was the classic comfort food. Once they were all through, Harry took the dishes into the kitchen and washed, dried, and put them away. Normally he let the boys help him with that chore, but this night he did them alone, trying to soothe his wife's still simmering temper.

Together, Ginny and Harry took the boys up for their baths. When Ginny would have assisted Severus with his bath, Harry placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "Wait. I need to tell you something first."

He told her about taking the boys with him into the forest, showing them how he talked to an adder, and then how Alby and Severus had run off and gotten captured by the centaurs and what Kyletes had done to Severus.

Ginny nearly had a stroke. "That . . . that fiend whipped my child?" she snarled, her blue eyes flashing. It was clear she wanted to call Kyletes something else, but refrained from doing so. "Dearest God, Harry! Where in hell were you while this was happening?"

"I was searching for them," Harry replied evenly.

"Not soon enough!" she growled, then she turned to Severus and said softly, "Mind if I have a look?"

Severus sighed. He was tired of being fussed over, but knew that Ginny was as stubborn as her mother, and would pester him until she had examined him herself. "Fine. But they're not as bad as you're thinking." He removed his jeans and underwear. Thanks to the wound healing paste, they barely stung now.

Ginny gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. "Merlin! Sev, you poor thing! Oh, but I wish I had that beast in front of me! I'd like to cut off his fingers and beat him to a pulp. What did you do to him, Harry?"

Harry told her.

"That was good, but I'd have striped the bloody beast raw too! How dare he do such a thing to a child?"

Severus peered up at her. "Ginny, it's not so bad. My father did worse to me."

"Oh, Severus!" Ginny said, looking at him, her eyes filled with tears. "That's not the point. No child should ever . . . no matter what they've done . . . be hurt like this. It's abominable!" She wiped a hand across her eyes. "My mum and dad spanked me if I needed it, but they never left marks, and they always hugged me afterwards. That Kyletes and your father belong in prison for doing what they did to you. I'm so mad I feel like going back into the forest and smacking around that arrogant little shit and I wish I could resurrect Tobias Snape and tie him to a pole and whip him the way he did you!"

Ginny was so angry that she caused a wind to spring up and rattle the window, and the bathwater rose and sloshed over the side.

"Ginny, calm down," Harry said. "You're making a flood."

"Calm down! Calm down?" she repeated. "How can I do that after seeing this?" she gestured at Severus. "Doesn't it bother you, Harry?"

"Of course it does!" Harry snapped, hurt. "I was the one who healed him after bringing him out of that camp. I'm madder than hell that it happened, but losing control like that won't help anything."

"Sorry, Mr. Potter, if I can't be all cool and collected, like you!" Ginny said. "Sev, go and get in the tub."

Severus turned and looked at her before climbing into the tub. "Okay, but don't be mad at Harry. He tried his best to help me."

Ginny snorted. "Not hard enough, if you ended up like that."

"That's unfair!" Harry objected.

"Sevvy let Kyletes hurt him 'cause of me, Mummy," Alby spoke up. "He was gonna hit me with Mr. Swish only Sevvy wouldn't let him."

"Oh, God. My poor baby," Ginny groaned, hugging Alby. "Are you hurt anywhere?"

Alby shook his head. "No, Mummy. But I'm really tired and I wanna go to sleep with Bucky. I don't wanna have a bath now."

Ginny eyed her littlest critically. "Well . . . you don't look all that dirty, so I guess we can skip it for tonight. Right, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "I cast some Freshen Up charms on him. Why don't you tuck him in and I'll finish up with Severus?"

Ginny agreed, more for Alby's sake than anything else. Once they boys were in bed she was going to give her husband a piece of her mind! She couldn't believe how irresponsible Harry had been! Not to mention inconsiderate, making her worry like that!

She picked up Alby and carried him into his room. "Come on, luv. Let's get you into pajamas and then Mummy will tell you a story while you hold Bucky."

Alby was quite willing to be held by Ginny and snuggle with her while she told him the story of Babbity Rabbity. He clutched his stuffed hippogriff and let Ginny's soft voice soothe him into a light doze. He was half-asleep when she tucked him in with his favorite security toy.

By then Severus was done with his bath and dressed for bed also. The bath had soothed the welts and Harry had put more salve on before giving Severus his pajamas. Yawning, he crawled into his bed, and graciously let both Ginny and Harry hug and wish him goodnight.

He had just begun to drift off to sleep when the sound of voices raised in an argument woke him up. Even though it had been a lifetime since he had lived at Spinner's End and listened to his parents' vicious quarreling day and night , he still had not forgotten how angry voices made him feel sick to his stomach with apprehension. Even knowing this was an entirely different situation didn't make the queasy feeling in his stomach and the nervous tension go away. Instead he huddled on his bed, curled up with his arms about his knees, and tried to imagine himself somewhere else. It worked about as well as it ever had, which was to say, not at all.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Downstairs, Ginny was yelling at Harry, calling him an irresponsible idiot for not watching his son and letting him wander away like that.

Harry, who still felt guilty about the incident, might have been inclined to let her, except for the fact that she also called him an inconsiderate and insensitive bugger. Then his temper reared its head and suddenly he was shouting right back at her.

"Dammit, Gin, I am not inconsiderate! I started tracking the kids the minute I saw they were missing, and it wasn't any more than five minutes before I noticed! They would have been fine if I had found them before the centaurs. They hadn't gone very far down the trail."

"You should have owled me or sent a Patronus, Harry. So I knew what was happening!" Ginny snapped. "But no, you had to play bigshot hero again and save the day!"

Harry scowled. "That's not how it was. All I was doing was trying to get my kids back, not play any kind of game. I'm sorry if I neglected to stop and inform you about what was going on, but my first priority was getting my boys back . Yes, I was aware you were worried, but I figured rescuing the boys outweighed telling you what was going on."

"You ever think that maybe I could have helped, Harry? That I could have helped you search for them, fight the centaurs, do something besides stay at home twiddling my thumbs? Of course you didn't! You're the great wizard Harry Potter. You can do it all!"

"Just stop, Ginevra!" Harry ordered. "I didn't want you to get hurt. I already had enough to deal with. So sorry for caring!"

"You are bloody impossible!" she shrieked.

"Ha! Look who's talking!" Harry shot back.

The argument escalated from there.

Sharp angry words that cut like knives drifted up the stairs and into the children's bedroom. They lashed with bitter energy at Severus' sensitive ear drums, making him wince and shiver. He could recall the sound of cups shattering, plates smashing, every kind of swear word used, the sound of a hand striking flesh, or the thud of Tobias hitting the floor after passing out.

The only difference between this quarrel and that one was there was no alcohol involved and no violence, but the hurtful words were the same, shredding and ripping the inner psyche to pieces.

" . . .all your fault, Harry! Why the hell were you drawing the bloody snake instead of watching them?"

Harry muttered something that Severus couldn't hear.

Suddenly there came a soft whimper from Alby's bed and Severus glanced over to see his brother was awake too, and crying softly as the rising voice ebbed and flowed around them. "Mummy's mad at Daddy," he cried quietly. "Now she hates him an' it's my fault!" He cried and stared over at Severus, his green eyes filled with misery.

"No, it's not, Al," Severus said, getting up and going to his brother. He wrapped his arms about Alby and held him close. "Don't say that."

"It's true! If I hadn't run after the snake . . .!" His small body shook with sobs.

"Shhh . . .sometimes things just happen, Alby. And your mum doesn't hate your dad."

"Then why is she screaming like that?"

"Because she's upset. Sometimes grown-ups fight like this. But they'll stop soon," Severus whispered. I hope. He badly wanted to go downstairs and yell at both Potters for making poor Alby so upset. Stop it, the pair of you! You're traumatizing your son, but he knew better than to stick his nose in somebody else's quarrel. Last time he'd tried to interfere with Tobias and Eileen, he'd ended up with a broken nose when Tobias slammed his fist into his face. And while a part of him knew that neither Potter would lift a hand in anger to him, the other part, the part that had enabled him to survive his broken home, counseled remaining still and quiet and staying right where he was.

"I don' want Mummy and Daddy to fight!" Alby wailed, clinging to Severus and wetting his pajama top.

"Shh . . .it's going to be all right." Severus tried to sound reassuring, though he felt anything but. He hugged and rocked his brother, humming an old song.

" . . . here I am going insane wondering if you're alive or dead and you are out there playing Sir Galahad! Bloody hell, Harry!"

"I said I was sorry! What more do you want from me?"

"For you to admit that I'm right sometimes! And that I can handle myself in a fight the same as you can!" Ginny flared.

" . . . what the hell does that have to do with anything?"

" . . . has everything to do with your attitude, Potter . . ."

"My attitude . . .! I'm busting my ass trying to protect you! And the boys!"

"You just don't get it, do you?"

"Get what? That you want to play Valkyrie and give me more to worry about than I already have? Explain how that would be good for this family!"

"I am NOT some shrinking damsel in distress, Harry James! I don't need you to rescue me anymore!"

"Fine! Don't expect me to come running next time some asshole teammate of yours starts groping you. You take care of yourself!"

"I will, you bloody pain-in-the-ass! You don't have to worry your fat head about me."

"Oh, I won't, believe me!" Harry sneered.

More harsh words were exchanged until finally the argument ended with a door being slammed and Ginny yelling at Harry to sleep on the couch before she smacked him upside the head.

By then Alby had cried himself to sleep in Severus' arms.

Severus sighed and laid the little boy back down and tucked the covers around him. He hoped Alby would sleep through the night. Then he went back to his own bed, only to discover he couldn't sleep. The angry remnants of the quarrel echoed in his ears and made it impossible to settle down. After minutes of tossing, turning, and flipping his pillow over, Severus decided to get up and fetch a glass of milk with honey. Perhaps he could persuade Harry to warm it for him.

He padded downstairs, which was dark save for a light in the den, where he supposed Harry was sleeping on the sofa.

Severus whispered a soft "Lumos" to turn on the light in the kitchen and made his way to the Muggle refrigerator, which the Potters had in place of a house elf. He found the container of milk and then climbed on a chair to get a glass out of the cabinet and the honey from the pantry. While he was reaching for the honey, he heard a weary voice say, "Severus? What are you doing up?"

The little boy turned about at the sound of Harry's voice. "I couldn't sleep. You and Ginny arguing woke me up. Alby too. So I came down here to get some warm milk with honey."

"Alby's awake?" Harry repeated, his mind was fuzzy from being half-asleep.

"Not anymore. He fell back to sleep. But he was really upset. He thinks it's his fault you and Ginny were fighting. He was crying till he fell asleep," Severus informed the older wizard with a bit of reproof in his tone. He jumped off the chair with the honey jar in his hand.

Harry sighed. "Blast it! I was hoping both of you would sleep through it."

Severus snorted. "A deaf person could have heard the both of you screaming. I'm a light sleeper, always have been."

Harry rubbed his eyes. "I should have put a Silencing ward over the bedroom. Then you could have slept soundly instead of hearing that row. I'll have to talk with Alby tomorrow, explain that it's not his fault. He's like me, he feels guilty when things go wrong. I'm sorry we woke you."

Severus nodded. Then he walked over to where he had set the glass and milk and started to pour the milk.

Harry's hand closed over his and helped him steady the container, which was heavy for a five-year-old. He filled the glass almost to the top. "How much honey do you want, Sev?"

"Umm . . . my mother always put in two teaspoonfuls." Severus remembered.

Harry carefully stirred in two teaspoonfuls of golden honey. Then he cupped the glass in his hands and muttered a Warming Charm. "All set. Maybe I should try some. I can't sleep either." He fixed himself a glass, then levitated both glasses into the den and set them on the table.

Severus put away the milk and honey and tossed the spoon in the sink. He followed Harry into the den after Noxing the light in the kitchen. "You're going to sleep here?" he asked, looking at the small pillow and rather thin blue blanket Harry had on the sofa.

Harry gave him a rueful grin. "Well, she's kicked me out of my bedroom and I can't do anything else, short of breaking the door down, to get back in. Sometimes discretion's the better part of valor. She needs time to cool off. And so do I."

Severus took a seat on the sofa, his feet just touching the rug. He took a sip of his warmed milk and honey. It tasted just like he remembered. He looked worriedly at Harry. "Do you think . . . she'll ever forgive you?"

Harry sat next to him. "Eventually. Ginny has a quick temper, but she doesn't hold a grudge. Some of what she said to me was wrong, but some of it was also right. I do tend to be overprotective. I try not to be, but it's hard. I've lost so many people . . . I'm afraid of losing any more, especially my family."

"I can understand that," Severus said, taking another swallow of his milk.

Harry drank, then said, "I thought Ginny did too, but I guess I was wrong. Hey, this is pretty good."

Severus gave a little smile. "That was my mum's cure for sleeplessness besides potions when I was little."

Harry smirked. "Sev, you're still little."

"You know what I mean, Harry." Severus rolled his eyes. "So, will you apologize to her in the morning?"

"If she'll do the same with me," Harry answered. "Why are you so worried, Severus? This isn't the first row Ginny and I have had. Just the first one in a long time that we had witnesses for. We'll work things out." He reached out and ruffled Severus' hair. The boy still looked pensive.

"It's just . . . that time Lily and I quarreled . . ." Severus began, struggling to express his concern. "I tried to apologize and she wouldn't forgive me . . ."

Harry took another gulp of milk before answering. "Sev, that was totally different circumstances. You were both what . . . fifteen? I remember quarreling like bloody blazes with Ron and Hermione when I was fifteen and swearing I'd never talk to them again. I was a real jerk. You know what teenagers are like, Sev."

"Uh huh. Walking bombs of angst and drama." The former professor said wryly.

"Every time I fought with Ron when I was fifteen, I acted like the world had ended. And I tended to blow everything out of proportion. I think that's what happened with mum. She let her emotions run away with her. Did you ever go back again? After she sent you away?"

"No. What was the point?"

"Well, maybe if you had, things might have worked out differently." Harry said. "Sometimes it takes two or three times for Ginny to get over her temper and agree to talk things over."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "You're sure?"

"Yes. Severus, we had an argument. Yeah, it was loud and all, but it's not going to break up our marriage or anything."

"You called each other some terrible names."

"Yeah, we both have nasty tempers." Harry admitted. "But a long time ago, we both agreed not to hold whatever one of us said in anger against the other. By tomorrow, Gin will have calmed down and we can discuss everything rationally."

"Honest?"

"Honest." Harry reassured him. "Sometimes we fight, but we always make up afterwards. I'd never let my temper, or Ginny's, come between us." He finished his glass of milk and set the glass on the table. "Hmm . . . now I feel sleepy." He yawned and lay down on the couch, pulling the blanket over his pajamas. "You want to sleep down here with me, Sev, or go back upstairs?"

Severus had finished off his milk too while they talked, and he felt his eyelids begin to droop. "I'm . . . kind of tired . . . I don't feel like going upstairs, Harry." He curled up against Harry's side. He was very comfy and cozy nestled against the green-eyed wizard and didn't want to climb all the way upstairs and into his cold bed.

Harry tugged the blanket over the little boy and put an arm around him to keep Severus from accidentally falling off the couch. "Figured that. . . Night, Sev." He pulled off his spectacles and set them next to the empty milk glasses.

"Night, Harry," Severus murmured, then his eyes shut and he was asleep.

Soon the only sound in the room were Harry's soft snores and Severus' light breathing.

The clock struck three in the morning and a figure in a blue robe and slippers came down the stairs and shook Harry awake. It was Ginny. "Baby, please wake up and come to bed. I'm sorry I lost my temper and said all those horrible things. I don't want you sleeping here, Harry, you'll get an awful crick in your neck. Honey, please wake up . . . oh! Sev's here too!" she exclaimed upon noticing the child's head resting upon Harry's chest, a sweet smile lingering on his face.

Harry stirred and opened his eyes. "Hey, Gin. What time is it?" he asked blearily, putting on his glasses.

"Just three AM. I . . . I couldn't sleep all night. I just lay there and thought about how horrible I'd been . . ." Ginny sniffled.

"I wasn't much better. The only reason why I slept was because Sev convinced me to drink warm milk with honey. Said his mother always gave it to him." He gently shifted Severus and sat up. "This couch is giving me a crick in my neck. Mind if I sleep in our bed, where I belong?"

"No, sweetheart. That's why I came down, to get you. I'm sorry I lost my temper . . ."

"So am I." Harry stood up, the sleeping Severus cradled in his arms. "But we can talk more later. I'm still somewhere in dreamland, hon. Let me put Sevvy back in his bed and then we can go back to sleep too."

Ginny yawned. "Okay . . ." She put her arms about her husband and kissed him.

Harry smiled, then he Apparated into the boys' room and placed Severus back in his bed, after first casting a Warming Charm over the sheets, so Severus wouldn't wake when Harry put him down. Severus never stirred when Harry settled him in bed and tucked the covers around him.

Harry left as quickly as he'd come, moving down the hallway and into his room, where his nice comfortable queen sized four poster waited, along with his wife. As he slid in beside Ginny, he thought about how lucky he was to have the family he did, and a wife who loved him beyond reason, enough to forgive words spoken in anger and to never let a silly quarrel ruin the love they had together. His arms wrapped around her and pulled her close, and he murmured, "I love you, Gin."

"Love you too, my Galahad," Ginny replied, then she snuggled into his neck, and soon they were asleep in each other's arms, their quarrel mended.
 


Chapter 19: Of Puppies and Potions
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19

Of Puppies and Potions

The next morning, after they had all eaten French toast stuffed with bananas and sweetened cream cheese for breakfast, which was one of Harry's favorites, Harry and Ginny took Alby aside and reassured the tyke that in no way, shape, or form was he to blame for the quarrel last night. Alby was sitting on Harry's lap, with Ginny across from him, and he gazed earnestly at his mother before saying, "Then you're not mad at Daddy no more, Mummy?"

"No, sweetie, I'm not mad at Daddy anymore," Ginny corrected.

"An' you don't hate him for not tellin' you where we was?" Alby persisted, his green eyes filled with worry.

"Alby, I would never hate your father!" Ginny exclaimed. "Baby, where would you get such an idea?"

"Well . . . you was screaming real loud, Mum . . ."

"Albus Severus, I know I probably scared you to death with how loud I was shouting, and for that I'm very sorry. I was very upset when you didn't come home on time and that's why your daddy and I were yelling. But that's over now and I forgave him and he forgave me."

"You did?"

"Yes, Alby. I love your daddy with all my heart, I love him best in the whole world, and I will never stop loving him, not even when I yell at him and lose my temper."

"And I love your mum the same way," Harry added. "You know how sometimes you get angry at Jamie and Teddy and yell at them? Well, sometimes your mum and I get angry too and yell, but that doesn't mean we don't love each other. Just like when you get in trouble, and we punish you, it doesn't mean we don't love you. Understand?"

Slowly Alby nodded. "Uh huh. But I'm glad you're not mad anymore." Then he gave Harry a hug and slipped off his lap to climb on Ginny and hug her too.

Ginny cuddled her baby and vowed that next time she had an argument with Harry, she was taking it outside and making sure the boys' room was surrounded by a Silence ward.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

That weekend:

All of the Lupin boys were excited, because this weekend they would be sleeping over their grandmother Andromeda's house. Dora had a long patrol weekend, which meant she would be supervising and leading patrols round the clock from Friday night through Sunday night. So she and Remus had decided the boys needed a chance to visit and bond with Andromeda. Remus would be there as well, but he admitted he would be using part of that Saturday to relax for a bit. Andromeda was looking forward to the visit very much, she hadn't seen all of her grandsons since the Victory Day dinner at the Burrow. She had told Remus she had planned lots of fun activities for the boys and he should just take it easy.

Dora made sure the boys were all packed with clothes, pajamas, toothbrushes and other essentials. Then the boys and Remus Flooed over to the Tonks residence. The aroma of a fresh baked apple pie filled the entire house as the family stepped from the fireplace.

"Yummy!" Jamie shrilled. "Granny made pie! Granny made pie!"

"I can't wait to eat some!" Sirius hooted, his mouth watering despite the fact that he'd eaten breakfast.

"Me too! Before you two hogs eat it all," Teddy added, licking his lips. His hair was now the golden color of the inside of an apple pie.

Jamie stuck his tongue out at Teddy. "Says who? Last time, you're the pig who ate too much and gave yourself a tummy ache! Mum had to give you potions."

"Shut up, James!" Teddy ordered, glowering.

"Whyn't ya make me, Theodore!" Jamie taunted, using Teddy's hated full first name.

Before Teddy could retaliate, Andromeda called, "Is that my boys I hear?" She appeared in the entrance to the kitchen, wearing a flour and cinnamon stained apron and smelling deliciously of apples, her hair piled atop her head.

"Granny! Granny!" Jamie, Teddy, and Sirius shouted, and ran to her to hug her.

Laughing, Andromeda reached out to embrace them. "Take it easy, you rascals! You nearly knocked me down!"

After the grandchildren's enthusiastic greeting, Remus came and gently hugged his mother-in-law. "Hello, Mum. It sure smells delicious in here."

"I've been baking treats since early this morning," Andromeda admitted, her eyes twinkling. "I know how much all of you boys love your sweets."

"What did you make?" Remus asked curiously.

"Well, let's see . . . there's an apple pie, some strawberry and blueberry tarts, a banana cream pie, and some chocolate dipped shortbread."

"All for us?" Jamie's eyes were as big as saucers.

"Yes, so long as you behave," Andromeda said sternly. "If you argue with your brothers or disobey me or your dad, you go to bed with no dessert."

All three boys promised they would listen to her and not fight . . . or at least they wouldn't fight where she could see it.

"Can we have some pie now, Granny?" begged Sirius.

"Remus? What do you think? Shall we take pity on them or make them wait till noontime?"

The werewolf slid his gaze towards the kitchen and then back to his three imps, who were imploring him with soulful puppydog eyes. He groaned. "All right . . . you win. You can have one small piece, and then listen to what Granny has planned for you this weekend."

The boys all cheered and Andromeda moved aside to let them stampede into the kitchen. In minutes they had scrubbed their hands at the sink and sat down at the table with napkins, forks, and plates in front of them.

Remus eyed them in astonishment. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with my real sons?"

"Dad, we are your sons," Teddy protested. "We're just . . . err . . .on our best behavior."

"And that's a miracle," his father teased.

Andromeda began to slice the pie, it was still warm from the oven, and oozing with cinnamon and apples.

Remus began to make tea for him and Andromeda and poured each of his boys a glass of milk.

As soon as the boys were settled and eating their pie, Remus poured the tea and began to tell Andromeda about how the boys has all gotten sick with a bad ear and throat infection and also how Jamie and Sirius had been caught sledding off the roof!

Andromeda just shook her head. "You two have your hands full, Remus. Sirius was always a scamp, and it seems he hasn't changed a bit."

"Dora and I are working on it, though," said Remus. "Sirius is stubborn and not used to being given boundaries, but he can be taught."

"Of course he can. It's just going to take lots of time and patience." Andromeda said knowingly.

Remus agreed while savoring his own large slice of pie. He was definitely going to enjoy this weekend!

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Two hours later, Remus was snoozing on the couch and Andromeda and the boys were working on a mosaic project in her craft room. Andromeda liked making things by hand, and her current project was painting a flower pot, but she decided the boys probably wouldn't be interested in doing that, so she had gotten some tiny ceramic tiles instead and some heavy poster board and taught them how to put tiles together to make a mosaic picture.

Teddy made a mosaic of a shell, and Sirius a mosaic of a lion, like the Gryffindor sigil. Jamie struggled with his mosaic of a puppy.

Andromeda went about and looked at her grandsons' artwork. "Oh, Teddy, that's lovely! I love the bright colors you used. And Sirius, you certainly remember the Gryffindor crest. Brilliant job! Now how about you, Jamie?"

Jamie felt a sudden flare of jealousy. His brothers were already finished, but he hadn't even gotten halfway done. "Mine sucks, Granny."

"James! I don't like that word coming out of your mouth," his grandmother reproved.

Jamie pouted. "But it does! Teddy's is way better and so's Siri's."

"What are you trying to make, dear? Maybe I can help?"

Jamie shook his head. "It's supposed to be a puppy. But it doesn't look like anything." Before Andromeda could suggest something more, Jamie sulked and swiped his hand across the mosaic, scattering his tiles. "I'm bored!" he whined. "I wanna take a walk."

Andromeda frowned, but all she said was, "All right, you may go down the street, but only as far as the cul-de-sac."

Jamie leaped to his feet and practically flew out the door.

Teddy snorted. "What a little brat! He's been in a mood for days now."

Andromeda's lips twitched. "All little boys get in a mood sometimes, Teddy. Why, I remember when your mother was a teenager, she had plenty of moods, some days I couldn't say two words to her without getting into a row . . ."

While Andromeda told Teddy and Sirius stories of Dora's childhood as they worked on their mosaics, Jamie pounded down the street, trying to work off some of his jealousy. It wasn't fair how Teddy always did things better than him, and now so did Sirius. He knew it was because they were older than him, but it still wasn't fair! He strode grumpily down the street, wishing he hadn't stormed off in a temper, but he refused to go back, because he knew his brothers would tease him about acting like a baby. He really hated being the youngest sometimes!

As he passed a house with a red brick front, Andromeda lived in a mostly Muggle neighborhood, with lots of children, Jamie paused. A boy around his age wearing blue shorts and a T-shirt with the picture of a dog catching a Frisbee was throwing a ball for a border collie puppy to catch.

The black and white dog was springing into the air and seizing the ball in his mouth, doing awesome twists and leaps in midair. Then he would trot happily back to his master, tail wagging. "Good dog, Mac! You're such a smart puppy!" the boy knelt and petted the collie, who wriggled and dropped the ball to lick his face.

Jamie watched as the boy stood and was about to throw the ball again when the dog noticed the silent audience and came over to the youngest Lupin, tail wagging. Jamie knelt and stroked the collie's ears. "Hey, boy. You're pretty fast, aren't you?"

"Hi! I'm Mike and this is my puppy, Mac. I think I've seen you around before." The boy said.

"I'm Jamie. I'm staying here for the weekend visiting my grandma. Her name's Andromeda Tonks."

"The pie lady?" Mike exclaimed. "She bakes pies for the bake sales at school. They're great!"

"I know. She just made an apple pie and I ate some," Jamie declared proudly. "What kind of dog is he?"

"He's a border collie," Mike answered. "And he's real smart. He can do all sorts of tricks. Want to see?"

"Sure."

Mike proceeded to put the young dog through his whole repertoire of tricks. He had Mac balance the ball on his nose, sit up and beg, pray, play dead, shake hands, roll over, sing, find the ball, and jump over Mike when he knelt down.

"Isn't he the smartest dog you ever saw?" Mike asked. "I taught him a trick a week. Next week I'm going to teach him to jump through a hoop like a circus dog." The boy beamed proudly at his pet.

Jamie suddenly felt the sharp sting of jealousy. Even this Muggle boy had something cool he could be proud of. He eyed the collie and then blurted, "I bet my dog could do more tricks than yours."

"What kind of dog is he? Most dogs aren't as smart as my collie," boasted Mike.

"He's a black mutt but he's the smartest dog ever!" Jamie challenged.

"Really? Where is he? Let's see what he can do," said Mike. "We can have a contest, like."

"He's at home," Jamie said. "Let me go and get him." He turned about and practically ran back to the Tonks house. It was only after he had reached the front porch that he realized he should never have told Mike about Padfoot. He groaned, for he had been really stupid, and now he didn't even know if Sirius would agree to help him out. He turned the knob and called, "Oi, Sirius! C'mere, for a sec!"

Sirius, who had finished with his lion and needed to let it dry, pushed back his chair and came out to see what Jamie wanted. "What's up, Jamie? You find something cool to do outside?"

"Uh . . . sort of . . ." Jamie fidgeted, then decided to just ask straight out. "I met this other kid down the street . . . he has a real smart collie name Mac . . .and I thought maybe . . ." He explained how he had made a sort of wager with Mike and what it was. "So will you do it, Siri? Please? I know I shouldn't have said anything but I just . . .I just wanted to be good at something."

Sirius sighed. "Okay. But if anybody finds out . . ."

"They won't." Jamie assured him, knowing he was talking about their father and grandmother. He gently snapped a leash on Padfoot's collar and led him away down the street.

Padfoot and Mac circled each other, sniffed each other, and then Mac wagged his tail and licked Padfoot under the chin. Jamie knew that meant Padfoot was the boss.

Mike eyed the big black puppy, Padfoot was larger than his dog, a bit uneasily. "Okay. Here's how it's gonna work. First you do a trick and then I will. The dog who does the most wins."

"All right."Jamie agreed, managing to keep from smirking. "Padfoot, dance!"

Padfoot rose on his hindlegs and began to hop about in a circle, as if he were dancing.

When he stopped after a minute or two, Jamie fed him a piece of ham. They'd snuck the ham from Andromeda's fridge.

"That's pretty good." Mike acknowledged, then had Mac play dead.

Jamie had Padfoot bark the tune to God Save the Queen.

Mac rolled over.

Jamie had Padfoot catch a Frisbee five times, each time jumping a little higher.

Mac sat up and begged.

"Padfoot, let's play funeral," Jamie ordered. "Pray for our dearly departed brother's soul and cry for him."

Padfoot sat up and prayed with his nose on his two front paws and made realistic whimpering and sobbing sounds as well.

And so it went. Mac performed well, but couldn't do all the tricks Jamie had Padfoot do, most of which he made up on the spot. He had Padfoot waltz with a stick in his mouth, count, and spell his name.

Finally, Mike had to concede defeat, and the other boy's woeful expression made Jamie feel a bit satisfied, even when a part of him felt like he'd cheated. "You win. He really is an amazing dog." The boy went and petted Padfoot on the head.

Padfoot promptly slurped his hand and Mike fed him a dog biscuit.

"Told you so." Jamie smirked, then before he could say anything else, he heard Andromeda calling. "Gotta go, my granny's calling me."

Padfoot's ears pricked up and he whined at Jamie to come on.

"Sure. Uh . . . maybe you could show me how to teach Mac some of those tricks tomorrow?" Mike asked hopefully. He petted his dog's ears. Mac wagged his tail, not realizing he'd lost any contest at all.

"Uh . . . yeah, I guess so. Bye!" Jamie turned and ran back down the street, and Padfoot raced beside him.

When they were out of sight of the other boy, Sirius transformed back into human form and said, "A dog trick contest? That was too easy!"

"It was his idea," Jamie said defensively, feeling almost guilty for tricking the Muggle boy.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I wonder what he'd have thought if I showed him the best trick of all . . . changing into a kid? Bet he would have passed out."

"Yeah, and then Dad would skin you," Jamie said, sniggering. "C'mon, puppy dog! Race you home!" He sprinted the two yards back to Andromeda's.

Sirius bolted after his sly little brother, thinking that the youngest Lupin reminded him more and more of James Potter every day.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

By the time they got back, the boys were panting and sweaty. Andromeda sniffed as they waved at her before going into the house. "Boys, better take a shower before sitting down at my table. I don't think anyone wants to sit next to a hot and sweaty boy that smells like dog. What were you doing, anyway?"

"We were playing with some kid and his dog down the street," Sirius said. "He was showing us how smart his puppy was." He sniffed himself and thought he didn't smell that bad. Women! He didn't see what was wrong with a bit of honest sweat.

But since Andromeda's word was law, he went to do as she said. Luckily she had two bathrooms with showers, so neither of them needed to wait.

Once they were clean, they scampered down to the kitchen, where Andromeda had set out sandwiches and tomato soup. Sirius' eyes lit up. "All right! Grilled cheese with bacon and tomato soup. You're the best, Gran!" He gave her a one-armed hug.

Andromeda ruffled his hair affectionately. "And you're a scamp, Siri. Sit and eat before it gets cold."

Sirius didn't need to be told twice. He slid into a seat and took a sandwich from the plate and began eating it eagerly.

After lunch, Jamie elected to take a lie down, and Sirius and Teddy went outside to ride their brooms in the backyard. The yard was layered with Notice Me Not and Unseen charms, and as long as they stayed within the boundaries, they could fly.

"So where'd you and Jamie go?" Teddy asked after completing a lazy spiral.

"Just down the street. He wanted me to see this kid and his trick dog," Sirius said.

"Trick dog, huh? Too bad you couldn't shift and talk to the other dog. Now that would have been a real trick," Teddy said. "Could you understand the other dog, Siri?"

"Uh . . . a little," Sirius said. "But when I'm a kid, it's harder for me to answer back. Dogs use their bodies a lot to talk, specially their tails, and since kids don't have tails, it's harder to speak dog. I don't have the ears either. But the border collie was very happy to meet me. Most dogs are."

"Aren't they always?"

"Sometimes. Dogs can be in bad moods and grouchy too, like people."

"Oh. Guess that make sense."Teddy said, then he threw an acorn at his brother and screamed, "Tag! You're it!" before zooming away.

Sirius chased him, wondering what Teddy would think of the prank he and Jamie had pulled. Lately the eldest Lupin child had become much less inclined to play pranks, reminding Sirius of the way Moony used to be.

After supper that night, all of them played Monopoly, and Jamie sulked because when all the money had been tallied, Sirius won by 7 pounds. "It's just a game," Teddy said reasonably. "Why are you getting so worked up over it?"

"Because," was all his brother would say, pouting.

"Hey, I lost too and you don't see me acting like the world ended," Teddy remarked.

"That's 'cause you usually win," his brother growled.

"Next time maybe you'll win, Jamie," Andromeda said.

"I wanna win all the time," Jamie told her.

"Nobody wins all the time, sport," Remus said. It was at times like this he could see some of James Potter in his youngest. James had always been ultra competitive when it came to games and sports and detested losing to anyone.

"How about a piece of my pie with ice cream?" Andromeda said. "That ought to perk you up." She went to get the pie and ice cream.

Jamie sighed and figured that his grandmother's pie was the one good thing about this night, except for the fact that he and Padfoot had showed that Muggle boy and his dog who was better.

After the boys had gone to bed up in the loft, Remus took Andromeda aside and said, "This competitive streak of Jamie's has me worried. I know it's normal for children to go through a stage like that, but he seems not to grasp the concept that it's not winning that matters, but how you get to the top."

Andromeda chuckled softly and patted his arm. "Remus, he's only six. Most boys his age hate to lose. There's plenty of time for him to learn what's important in life. That ambitious streak might not prove too bad in the long run. Might actually be useful, if he chooses a career, like business, where you need that skill to get to the top. Or even in law, or medicine."

"But I don't want his ambition to consume him, like it did Voldemort."

Andromeda raised an eyebrow. "Why would it? Remus, Voldemort was a sociopath. He cared for no one and nothing save himself. But Jamie's not like that. He loves his family, especially his older brothers. You just have to channel that drive to succeed in the right way, and who knows? He could be the next famous researcher or Minister of Magic or Josef Wronski. Ambition in and of itself is not an evil trait, Remus. Without it, you go nowhere. For decades, the wizarding world has suppressed those with ambition, labeling us evil and self-serving and power-hungry. Look at Slytherin House. Many of our top medical personnel and lawyers and business people have come from there, but are never recognized for their brilliance, for fear we might get too big of a head and become the next Dark Lord. It's an awful burden to instill upon a young mind. It's why we're so backwards when it comes to certain things, like communication and child abuse and bondage of house elves. There's room for improvement at all levels of society, but people are afraid of change and afraid of those who think outside the box. We need bright ambitious minds like Jamie's, need them badly. They're the ones who are going to move us forward. So long as they are guided by a set of principles."

Remus' eyes widened. "What are you saying, Andromeda? That Jamie might end up in Slytherin?"

"Yes. And what's wrong with that?" she asked, rather sharply. "Do you forget, that I was a Slytherin? Do you forget that the former Head of Slytherin and Headmaster of Hogwarts saved the world at great personal risk to himself, along with Harry Potter? Surely, you, of all people, do not still cling to that ridiculous prejudice that all things dark come out of the House of Serpents?"

"I . . . no, of course not . . . it's just . . ." Remus shook his head. How could he explain to his mother-in-law that his son was the reincarnation of James Potter? And he could not ever imagine James Potter as anything but a Gryffindor. "Forgive me. I know what we all owe Severus Snape. He, as much as Harry, is deserving of the title hero. Without him, Harry would never have survived to defeat Voldemort. I know there are shades of gray in everything, how could I not, being what I am? I guess I just . . . automatically assumed that my sons would be Gryffindors or even Hufflepuffs."

Andromeda's expression softened. "Forgive me my prickly temper, son. I've always been a little sensitive when it comes to my House. And who knows? Maybe Jamie will change and be Sorted into Gryffindor . . . or maybe not. Would you still be proud to have a son in Slytherin?"

"Yes," Remus said honestly. "And I would hope he would be as good as you are, Andromeda, and use his ambition to make the world a better place."

"With you and Dora or examples, I believe he will be," Andromeda said reassuringly.

Remus smiled. Then he allowed himself a private smirk over imagining Jamie as a Slytherin. Wouldn't that be a shock and a half, considering whose soul resided within him? Then again, that was the whole purpose of reincarnation, wasn't it; to gain a new perspective and learn from your mistakes of the previous life? Remus knew that James Potter had always been very one-sided in his views, very rigid and unbending. He had viewed the world in black and white, us and them. Maybe this time around he would learn about the other side of the coin and see the shades of gray that made up a life. Only time would tell.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

The Burrow

That same weekend:

Ginny and Harry decided that weekend was a good one to visit the Weasleys, they had not been back to see Molly and Arthur since that disastrous Victory Day dinner, and Harry did not want either of his sons to associate the Burrow with that mishap. He wanted Severus especially to regard the Burrow as a good place, a place where he could have fun and enjoy himself with Molly and Arthur. He knew from viewing Snape's memories that the wizard had no hard feelings towards the elder Weasleys, that Arthur and Molly had treated Severus decently as an Order member and respected him in his role as an agent. They had been one of the few members to do so. They had also been one of the first to trust Harry when he had told them the truth about Severus' reasons for killing Dumbledore, and had forgiven their former ally everything. Ginny had seen how Molly had looked at the resurrected Potions Master that Victory Day, and she knew her mother's instinctive urge to protect and love any helpless child had gone into overdrive when she had seen small Severus. And so had Arthur's. Both of them would love their newest 'grandchild' without reservation.

The only stumbling block might be Severus himself, with his natural reserve towards trusting anyone.

But so far the visit was going well. Severus did not seem uncomfortable around Molly, he even allowed her to hug and kiss his cheek without doing more than sighing and rolling his eyes. "Oh, I'm so glad you've come, Severus! Rosie's here too, she's staying the weekend, Ron and Hermione had to go out of town. Maybe you can help her use her new potions kit after lunch? She's been dying to try it out."

"All right," Severus agreed. He knew that a child's potions kit would prove no challenge at all for him to navigate, after all wasn't he still the youngest Potions Master in the United Kingdom?

"That's a good idea, Mum," Ginny said, kissing her mother on the cheek. "Keeping them busy keeps them out of trouble."

"I know, dear." Molly laughed. "Too bad it didn't work with the twins half the time."

After greeting his grandparents, Alby ran through the house, yelling, "Rosie, I'm here!"

He found his favorite cousin sitting on the floor of the guest room, peering intently at a colorful box with a cauldron and several steaming potions on it. "Hi, Alby! Mummy bought me a Young Brewers Potions Kit yesterday 'cause I got five gold stars at school for Best Student Witch. Only I can't read all the directions."

Alby looked at the box but the only word he knew was 'potions'. "I wish I could help, Rosie, but I can't read. But my big brudder Sevvy can! He can help you make potions."

"Where is he?" Rose asked, climbing to her feet.

"In the kitchen with Grammy."

The two cousins found Severus wearing an apron and wielding a biscuit cutter with his small hands, helping Molly make gingerbread men. "Cool! Can we help?" begged Alby.

"Certainly, Al." Molly quickly handed out two more aprons, shrunk to fit little ones, and gave them each a biscuit cutter and some dough from her mixing bowl.

"Hello, Rose," Severus greeted Hermione's daughter politely.

"Hi, Severus!" Rose smiled back, she liked Alby's new brother. He was quiet and clever and didn't run about and make loud obnoxious noises like half her other boy cousins. "Alby says you can help me with my Young Brewers kit."

"I will, soon as I finish these," he indicated the row of gingerbread men he was carefully sprinkling colored sugar on and dabbing with white icing.

Rose peered at them. "Wow! Those look almost as good as Grammy's. Do you bake with Aunt Ginny?"

Severus flushed. "No. But it's not hard to sprinkle sugar," he said, embarrassed at her regard.

"Maybe I should enlist you as my helper at home, Severus," Ginny commented. It would be a good way for her to bond with the youngster.

"Like me, Mummy?" Alby asked, not wanting to be left out.

"Yes, just like you," Ginny smiled. "You can both be my helpers, since cooking is hard work." She could remember helping Molly at their age, along with Ron, though Ron had always gotten bored halfway through and wandered off to play with his brothers.

Alby concentrated hard on trying to keep his sugar sprinkles on the gingerbread man, and his efforts were good for a four year old.

Molly rolled out more dough, and allowed her grandkids to cut different shapes—like stars, moons, and pointed hats.

All three children enjoyed decorating their biscuits while the adults watched.

Harry sneakily pinched some dough off the scrap pile Molly had and popped it in his mouth.

Rose, whose sharp eyes missed little, gasped. "Uncle Harry! You ate some!"

Harry grinned, his green eyes sparkling. "And it was good too! You should try some, Rosie."

"But . . . Mummy says raw dough's no good for you. It'll give you a tummy ache."

"Only if you eat a lot of it. A taste won't hurt you," her uncle laughed. "Try some."

Rose looked skeptical. "Is he right, Grammy?"

"A little dough never hurt anyone, Rose," Molly said. "Although your daddy made himself sick once as a little boy by eating half my sugar biscuit dough around Christmas."

"I remember that," Ginny grinned. "He stuffed himself like a pig and then he threw up all over George, because George was tickling him."

"Gross!" Rose made a face.

"Did he hafta take potions, Grammy?" asked Alby.

"Yes, I did give him one for indigestion." Molly recalled.

Alby made a face. "Ugh! Potions are yucky. I spit mine out all over Daddy when I was sick last week."

"Oh, dear!" Molly said, trying not to laugh. "Poor you, Harry!"

"Tell me about it," Harry sighed.

"But then Sevvy taught me how to take them like a big boy an' I took them all by myself!" Alby declared proudly.

"That's wonderful, Alby," Molly praised him. "Your Uncle Charlie was always the worst at taking medicine. Your grandpa used to practically hold him down and pinch his nose shut to get him to swallow any of them. He acted like we were poisoning him they way he fussed."

"Why do potions taste nasty?" Rose inquired, finshing her third gingerbread girl and then doing a star.

"They don't, not all of them," Severus spoke up, dusting his hands off on his apron. "Only the healing ones taste bitter an' nasty."

"How come?" she asked, puzzled.

"Because a lot of healing herbs are bitter and come from plants' leaves or stems. Take willow bark for example," Severus said, standing up straight and going into lecture mode. "That comes from the willow tree and is used in Fever Reducers. Willow bark contains salicylic acid, which is what aspirin is made from, it's a natural remedy for bringing down fevers, but it's very bitter. When you steep it, you draw out all the salicylic acid. A Fever Reducer also contains sage and ice berries, and they're tart like limes."

"How do you know all that?" asked Rose, awestruck.

"I read and studied about ingredients in school," Severus replied without thinking.

"Really? What school do you go to?"

Severus bit his lip, only then realizing what he'd said. Then he recovered and answered, "I don't have school right now, it's summer."

Rose giggled. "That's right. I forgot! But how come you can't put sugar or honey in the potion to make it taste better?"

Severus sighed, he had often been asked that question as a professor. "Because when you add a component, like sugar, to a solution, it can react with some of the ingredients and ruin the potency or neutralize some of the necessary reactions, and then your potion won't be effective. Potion making is a subtle and delicate art, one thing added wrong can destroy hours of work."

While his brother was lecturing, Alby had pinched off a handful of dough and was slowly eating it. He held out a piece to Severus. "Here, Sevvy. Have some."

Severus took it and ate it, savoring the spicy flavor of the dough. "Thanks," he said. He had always enjoyed eating gingerbread, and on the rare occasion Eileen had made some, also eating the dough left over.

"You'd better brush your teeth," Rose stated bossily to the two boys, before nibbling on some dough too.

"Don't forget to brush yours, little know-it-all," Severus teased.

"I never do. Mummy always checks," Rose declared with a tiny eye roll. "Dad says she's like a drill sergeant about teeth, and needs to take a Calming Draught, but Mummy always says someday he's going to regret not taking care of his teeth when they fall out and he can only eat porridge."

For some reason this caused everyone to start laughing. Rose was confused. What was so funny? She didn't want her dad's teeth to rot away and not be able to eat any cool food any more, like chips or sweets. That would be horrible.

"Poor Ron," Harry said, chuckling. "I'll bet all he gets to eat for snacks is carrot and celery sticks. No more chocolate."

"Daddy keeps a bag from Honeydukes in his drawer in his study. I saw it," Rose reported. "Mummy doesn't know though and I promised not to tell her. It's our secret."

"Out of the mouths of babes!" Arthur said, laughing. The look on his granddaughter's face was pure Weasley.

"When will the gingerbread be done, Grammy?" Alby wanted to know. Right now that was more important than any secret bag of sweets his uncle had in a drawer or brushing his teeth.

"In about ten minutes, luv," Molly said, sliding the first batch into the oven.

"But you can't have any till after you eat lunch," Ginny reminded him.

"Aww, Mum!" Alby pouted, reminding her of Harry.

"Why don't you come with me out to the shed?" Arthur offered, trying to distract his grandson. "I've a new Muggle apparatus called a microwave out there I'm trying to tinker with."

"Neat, Grandpa!" Alby liked to help Arthur with his experiments. He was one of his only grandsons that did.

"A microwave?" Harry said. "Maybe I'd better come along, Dad." Knowing Arthur, he didn't want to risk the wizard blowing himself or his son up by mistake. He quickly followed Arthur and Alby out the door.

"When's lunch?" Rose asked Molly.

"As soon as I clean up this mess," Molly replied. She waved her wand and the bowl and rolling pin flew into the sink and began to wash themselves.

Rose jumped down off the stool she'd been standing on and said, "I'm gonna set up the potions kit, so it's all ready for us when we start brewing." She ran in the guest room to open the box and take out the cauldron, stirrers, and other paraphernalia.

Severus untied his apron and handed it to Molly to put in the laundry. Then he got down from the stepstool he'd been using and asked for a drink.

Ginny gave him a glass of pumpkin juice then asked Molly if she needed help preparing lunch.

"What were you thinking of making, Mum?"

"Oh, just some chicken sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, bacon, and mayo. Maybe some chips too or fried string beans."

"Mmm! Sounds delicious," Ginny smacked her lips appreciatively. "I can start frying the chicken if you want. Or do the chips."

"Whatever you like, Gin. I'll start breading the string beans. I picked them fresh from the garden this morning," Molly said, summoning an egg, breadcrumbs, and a bowl to her along with the string beans.

Severus watched as Molly began to prepare the string beans, he'd always had a keen interest in cooking.

Ginny took out a cast iron skillet and filled it with oil and then heated it with magic. The chicken breasts had already been breaded and were ready to fry, and so were the chips. She put the chips into the skillet first, flash frying them with magic. The bacon had been cooked earlier this morning when Molly made breakfast, so Ginny just had to cut up the tomatoes and shred the lettuce with magic. She also used a charm to toast the buns for the sandwiches and slather mayo on half of them.

Soon she had fried up the chicken, and Molly had the string beans frying in another pan. In a matter of minutes the sandwiches and sides were ready. Molly had even whipped up some kind of roasted pepper dip to go with the string beans.

Ginny flicked her wand and set the table. Then she turned to Severus and said, "Sev, would you mind calling Rosie , Alby, Harry, and Grandpa in to eat lunch?"

Severus departed, going to call Rose first, as she was the closest.

The little girl immediately headed into the kitchen. "Yay! Lunchtime!"

Meanwhile, Molly took the first batch of gingerbread from the oven and put it to cool, then put in the one the children had worked on.

Severus headed out to the shed, which was in the back of the house, near the corn field. He knew that was where Arthur experimented with confiscated Muggle objects, trying to figure out how they worked and if they could be altered using spells. His flying Ford Anglia was one of his better experiments, as was the magical TV set. Severus remembered hearing about microwaves on his trips into Manchester and London, but didn't have the faintest idea how to use one. He wondered if Harry did. Maybe the Dursleys had owned one?

He cautiously opened the door to the shed and found Harry and Alby clustered about a counter, watching Arthur wave a wand at a black metal box with a door on it. "Harry, Ginny said to tell you that lunch is ready," Severus called from the doorway.

Harry turned. "Tell her we'll be right there, Sev."

Suddenly the microwave began spitting sparks all over violently.

Alby screamed as several white sparks hit him on the face and arm. "Oww! Daddy, it burns!"

Harry spun about and grabbed up his son. "Where are you hurt, Al?"

More sparks were cascading out of the machine, and Arthur was waving his wand and chanting frantically.

Harry began to back away, still holding Alby, as more sparks flew, striking him on the arms and chest and Alby, who had his face buried in Harry's shoulder, on the bottom. Alby shrieked. "My bum! Owwie!"

"Arthur, get out!" Harry yelled. "I think it's going to blow!" He grabbed his father-in-law by the shoulder and propelled him towards the door with a hard shove, then he followed, hunching his shoulders protectively about his small son, who was wailing hysterically.

Severus had watched in horror, and had begun backing away towards the house when the explosion occurred.

The shed became a fireball and the resulting concussive wave threw Arthur, Harry, and Alby across the grass and knocked Severus down.

Before Severus could regain his feet, Arthur rolled over and cast an Extinguishing Charm on the shed. His face was half black with soot. He climbed to his feet and ran over to where Harry and Alby lay in the grass. Alby was bawling loudly in pain and terror. "Daddy! Daddy! Fire!"

"Hang on, Al!" Arthur called as he gently turned Harry so Alby could crawl out from under him. "Come on, come here to Grandpa," he coaxed.

Alby's face was covered with dirt and scratched but he seemed unharmed except for the burns from the sparks. He grabbed Arthur about the neck and hung on tight, crying.

Severus had got to his feet, shaken and frightened. He raced over to Arthur and Alby. "Grandpa, are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine, Severus. But I'm afraid poor Harry isn't."

Harry lay motionless in the grass, a cut on his cheek trickling blood, the back of his shirt burned away. He had caught the worst of the blast, and his back was a mess of burns from his shoulders to his waist. Some of his hair had also been singed.

Severus stared in horror, feeling his gorge rise. He turned away and threw up in the grass.

"Oh, Merlin! Harry, I'm so sorry!" Arthur was saying, his voice hoarse with guilt and grief. Alby was still crying also, only this time it was for his father.

Shakily, Severus straightened and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He knew Harry was badly injured and needed a Healer fast. He turned and ran for the house, screaming, "Ginny, come quick! Harry's hurt bad, he needs to be taken to St. Mungos!"

Ginny went white upon hearing Severus' awful words, then she ran out the door to where her husband lay.

A/N: How did you like Remus' conversation with Andromeda? Severus and the Weasleys? Yikes, an evil cliffy! What wil happen to Harry?

 


Chapter 20: Potions Prodigy
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20

Potions Prodigy

Ginny knelt in the grass where Harry lay, biting her lip hard. The mere sight of her husband so still, his back looking like someone had tossed him into a cauldron of boiling oil, made her want to start screaming, or vomiting, or breaking down in tears. She gently cradled Harry's head in her lap and whispered, her voice hoarse with fear, "Harry, oh God, Harry! You're going to be all right, you hear me? I'm going to get you help and everything's going to be okay. I love you, Harry. Now you just hang on till I get you to St. Mungos." She bent and kissed his head. "Don't let go, Harry. Hang on. Don't let go."

She looked up, her vision blurring with tears in spite of herself and saw her father. "Dad, don't just stand there. Help me!"

Arthur snapped out of his guilt and shock and quickly conjured a stretcher and levitated Harry on it. "Ginny, I'm so sorry. The microwave blew up, I don't know why and Harry shoved me out the door and was carrying Alby when it . . . exploded."

"Dad, how it happened isn't important now," Ginny said, doing an admirable job of keeping her voice steady. "It was an accident, I'm not blaming you. Right now we need to get Harry treated. Please bring Alby inside to Mum. He's okay, right?"

"Yes. He's just shaken and bruised and has minor spark burns. Nothing to require a trip to the hospital for." Arthur said.

"Mummy!" Alby sobbed. "Daddy's not moving!"

Ginny went and hugged her child. "Shhh, love. Daddy's sleeping because he's hurt. But we're going to take Daddy to the hospital and the Healers will make him all better. Now, I need you to be a brave boy and go with Grandpa and let Grammy fix you up, okay? Mummy needs to go with Daddy to the hospital." She quickly stepped away from her distraught son, before she lost all her composure and began sobbing like an insane woman. Keep it together, Gin. Just keep focused on helping Harry and not how much you want to start crying and never stop, she thought firmly.

Arthur headed into the house with Alby.

Only then did Severus approach Ginny and tug on her sleeve. "Ginny, I want to come with you. Harry needs me."

Ginny looked down at the pint-sized Potions Master and shook her head. "No, Sevvy. You need to stay here with my parents and Alby. Harry needs a Healer, probably more than one."

But Severus shook his head stubbornly. "Ginny, I'm a Potions Master, which is like a Healer. He's badly burned. He'll need a special burn salve."

"Which a Healer can give him. Don't argue, Severus. I'm not in the mood." She ordered wearily, placing a hand on the stretcher, getting ready to Apparate.

Frantic, knowing somehow that he should not leave Harry alone, Severus threw himself at her legs and clung. "Ginny, listen to me, please! No one knows more about treating burns than me. I can't count how many times in my former life I've been scalded with steam, hot liquids, or seared by putting my hand on a hot cauldron. If I didn't know how to mend burns, I'd look like Frankenstein by now."

"Like who?"

Severus shook his head irritably. "Muggle reference, it's not important. Just listen to me for a minute. I might be a child now, but I still have my memories of being a top Potions Master. I remember every draft I've ever brewed and then some. And before I was Headmaster, I was working on a new burn salve, one that was even stronger than conventional ones, it was one that healed at triple the rate and also encouraged the growth of new tissue and reduced scarring. No one knows the formula except me, I never shared it with anyone else. That's why I need to come with you."

"Severus, are you sure?"

"Positive." He looked up at her and in his eyes was a burning desire to help save Harry. "I want to help him as much as you do. He saved my life. Take me with you." It was at times like these when he hated the fact that he was no more than a helpless child, unable to act without adult permission or supervision. He could help Harry recover from this horrible accident, he knew he could. Now he had to hope that Ginny believed him.

Ginny hesitated for several moments, trying to decide what was best for Harry and also Severus. While a part of her longed to treat Severus like the five-year-old he was, another part of her also wanted her husband to have the best care possible, and if that care happened to come from the hands of a potions prodigy, so be it. In the end the latter line of thinking won out.

"All right, Sev. Hold on tight to me. I'm sorry I don't have a Stomach Soother with me to give you."

"That's all right, Ginny. I already threw up," Severus informed her gravely, before putting his arms about her waist and holding on.

Ginny sent out her Patronus before she Apparated, first to Molly and Arthur (who was no doubt getting his head bitten off by Molly) letting them know Severus was with her, and then to Draco, Remus, and Neville, making them aware of what had happened. Her silver lioness quickly sprang out of her wand and raced inside the Burrow. Then she concentrated and Apparated with Harry and Severus to St. Mungos.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

In about five minutes, emergency personnel had swarmed about Ginny, Severus, and Harry. The next thing Ginny knew, they had carted Harry off to the Spell Damage Ward on the fourth floor, since that's how Ginny had described Harry's accident, because she didn't want to get her father in trouble for experimenting with Muggle objects and she didn't know how to explain a 'microwave' exploding any way. She had told the Healers that her husband had been demonstrating a new variation on a Blasting Curse to her father when it went wrong.

Now she sat beside Harry's bed, the Healer assistants had banished his clothing and he was now in a long hospital gown that was open at the back. He was still unconscious, they had spelled into him a potion for pain and another for shock, but would wait for further instructions from the Healer before doing anything else to their patient.

Severus was sitting in her lap, sensing that Ginny needed someone to hold right then, since she could not hold her husband. He leaned his head back on her shoulder and dozed, despite his worry, he was tired and needed sleep. He slept for about twenty minutes before waking up to find a Healer examining Harry.

"I'm afraid, Mrs. Potter, that Harry has significant muscle and tissue damage. He has second and third degree burns on his upper back and shoulders and even our best burn salve won't be able to prevent scarring and he will be about three weeks healing. It's a shame he wasn't more careful. We can keep him sedated, so he won't be in much pain, for a week at least, while we work on him. He's lucky to be alive."

Ginny looked devastated. "Healer Jordan, do you have to keep him sedated for the whole week? Isn't that dangerous?"

The Healer shrugged. "Not really. The Dreamless Sleep can be used for two weeks without side effects."

Severus abruptly shook his head. "That depends on the dosage. A full vial given every twenty-four hours is only safe for a patient for a week. After that you risk him becoming addicted to it."

Healer Jordan's eyes nearly flew out of his head. "And just how on earth would you know that, boy?"

"I know because I've brewed the potion and studied the side effects," Severus replied, not liking the condescending tone.

Healer Jordan laughed. "You have a son with quite the imagination, Mrs. Potter! He's brewed and studied the potion indeed! Good one, boy! Nice of you to try and make us laugh. As if a five-year-old could brew Dreamless Sleep!"

Severus flushed, he disliked this pompous ass intensely. "I can too brew Dreamless Sleep!"

"How very amusing, boy, now stop pretending, the game's over," the Healer smirked.

"I'm not pretending! I know!" Severus snapped.

"I think your son needs a time out, Mrs. Potter," growled the Healer. "He's starting to get cranky."

Ginny stiffened. "He has a right to be, considering his father's lying badly injured in that bed. Now, why don't you call your assistants to start treating my husband, instead of standing here arguing with a five-year-old?" Suddenly, Ginny didn't like this pompous Healer either, even if his disbelief of Severus' skills was understandable.

Jordan stiffened and then called for some of his assistants.

While the assistants were tending to Harry, Ginny took Severus out of the room and down the hall a ways. "Oh, Severus! You shouldn't have kept arguing with him."

"Why not? He's an utter idiot! Any first year Healer apprentice knows that Dreamless Sleep is not a safe substance unless monitored strictly." Severus said indignantly. "Besides, his treatment is inferior, compared to the new salve I was working on. If we brewed mine, there would be less recovery time, no need for constant sedation, and no scarring."

"Do you remember the formula?"

"Yes. But it would be nice if I had my notes too. What happened to all of my things after I died?" asked Severus.

"Well, Harry took most of them, and he also took over your vault. He donated most of the money in it to potions research. He cleaned out your office and quarters and kept all of your potions journals and potions books and notes. He refused to throw anything out. He even kept your good robes and gave the rest to Gladrags. It's all inside the Potter vault." Ginny informed him.

"Can we go and get them?" Severus asked, a bit diffidently. "It's not like I can't brew from memory, but my notes will make it quicker and more accurate."

"I'll take you to Gringotts," Ginny said.

Severus smiled. It made him feel good knowing that Harry had cared enough to preserve his possessions and hadn't thrown away his things as if they were rubbish. He didn't even mind that Harry had spent his money, donations for a good cause were as good a reason as any to use it.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Three hours later, the salve was steeping, Ginny having assisted Severus in the brewing of it, though he prepared most of the ingredients and measured them out while she added them to the cauldron at the correct time and stirred. They brewed it in the Potter lab, that being the closest one besides the hospital's, which they would have had to ask permission to use. In addition to that, Severus also brewed a stronger Pain Reliever that did not have the side-effect of making one sleepy. That way Harry did not have to be sedated.

As they waited for the two potions to steep, Severus sat on a low stool, biting his lip and praying that the salve would work. He had never really doubted it would, but he knew that with an untested solution there was always the possibility that it could fail. Except he could not afford to let it fail. Not this time. It has to work. It just has to. Harry needs it too badly for us to have to go through endless stages of alteration. He couldn't bear to watch Harry suffer, and he knew the pain of multiple burns was equal to the Cruciatus.

It had always been so, now that he thought about it. Whenever Harry had been injured or hexed as his student, a part of him died inside, for it meant he had not been watching Lily's son as he should have, and it pained him to see a child suffer. He could never show that, of course, but it hadn't stopped him from feeling it.

He felt it now, the same old guilt and helplessness, and he clenched his hands into white-knuckled fists and studied the bubbling potion intently. If all had gone right, the salve would heal the burns at an accelerated rate, and not only heal, but numb the nerve endings.

Ginny turned to look at him, her emotions felt raw, and if someone had reached inside her and scoured away her heart. "Sevvy, what are you thinking of?" she asked, coming and putting her arms about him.

He sighed and said quietly, "I'm thinking of how much we need this salve to work."

"Do you think it won't?"

"Nothing's ever certain," he whispered. "There're always variables in new solutions. I think it will work, but . . . I won't know until we test it." Severus admitted.

"It must work!" Ginny said fiercely. "It must! You're the best in your field."

"I know, but . . ." he trailed off, not wanting to say what he feared, that even the best failed.

Ginny pulled him into her embrace, weeping softly into his hair. "Sev, please! Have faith in yourself! I couldn't bear it if . . . he was suffering . . ."

"Me neither," he admitted, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. He couldn't bear to lose Harry now, not now when he had finally started to trust, to allow his broken heart to care again, to admit, if only to himself, that Harry was slowly replacing Tobias, and that Harry had, ever since he returned from the Veil, treated him like a son. Severus had convinced himself that after the nightmare of his childhood, he needed no one to be a father to him—not Dumbledore or Slughorn. When he had been UnVeiled, he was still convinced that he was better off alone, rather than under the thumb of Harry Potter. It was only after the rescue from the centaur and Harry's careful healing and the discussion at midnight after the quarrel that Severus felt Harry truly meant what he said, and Severus could open his heart and trust Harry not to betray him. That it was safe for him to love the Defense professor the way he would have loved Tobias. That he had found, at last, a man worthy of being a father to him.

He had just begun to take the first steps along the road when the accident occurred. Would things ever be the same? Severus didn't know, and that frightened him terribly. He needed Harry. He . . . loved Harry, and if the salve failed, he would never forgive himself. He sniffled and clung to Ginny, and together they wept for the courageous young wizard, who never hesitated to put others before himself, while the potions softly simmered in the background.

Page~*~*~*~Break

While they had been brewing, Ginny had contacted Remus and asked him to come watch over Harry until she returned. Remus happily obliged, leaving Teddy and Jamie with their grandmother and taking Sirius along, because the little boy had begged him to.

Now the two Marauders sat in the sterile room watching Harry breathe, the only sound in the room besides themselves. Sirius had insisted upon seeing how bad Harry's injuries were, and once he had glimpsed the terrible burns, had gone pale as the sheet Harry was lying on, and began to cry.

"Moony . . . his back . . . looks like . . . a charred steak . . . how can he ever . . . get better?" the little boy had wailed, burying his face in the mattress.

Remus just shook his head and gently pulled up the sheet and then took Sirius on his lap. "The Healers will do everything they can to make him better, Siri." He soothed, rocking the child against his chest. But inwardly he longed to howl as well, for he had seen burn victims like Harry before, and if they recovered, they were scarred for life.

"But what if they can't? What if . . . what if . . . he dies?" Sirius sobbed, nearly choking on the awful words.

"Shhh. . . right now he's in stable condition, Padfoot," Remus told him, holding him close. "He's badly hurt, but you know Harry, Sirius. He's a strong young man, he's survived the Killing Curse. Twice. He won't let some burns defeat him. Right?"

Sirius heard what Remus was saying, and he almost smiled. He cried for a few more moments, then lifted his head and said, "Right. He'll make it. He's been through too much not to." He swiped his hand across his eyes. "It's just . . . seeing him like that . . . it scares me . . ."

"It scares me too, scamp," Remus admitted. "But we need to keep hoping for the best, and nobody said he's dying yet." He pulled out a handkerchief and scrubbed the little boy's face with it.

"How long do you think it'll take for Ginny and Snape to brew the potion?"

"I don't know, Siri. It all depends."

"Well, I hope Snape knows what he's doing. That he's really as good as everyone thinks he is," Sirius said, scowling.

"Sirius, I'm sure that Severus is doing all he can to help Harry. He loves Harry too, you know."

"Humph! Not as much as me!" the seven-year-old declared. "Harry's my godson."

"And he's Severus' guardian now," Remus reminded his ward.

"So?" Sirius stuck out his lower lip, pouting. He curled up into the werewolf's shoulder.

"So . . . you both love Harry and there's no need for you to be jealous and quarrel over who loves him more. That's the last thing Harry would want. Got me?" Remus asked, a little sharply, and he gave Sirius a warning tap on the bottom.

"Okay, Moony," came the muffled response.

Remus smiled a little and cuddled with the curly-haired imp.

Sirius nestled more snuggly into Lupin's arms and tried not to think about the ugly raw patches of skin he'd seen on Harry's back. It was like Moony said, he couldn't lose hope. He had to believe that Harry would get well, and that Snape could really brew a miracle cure. Sirius wished there were something he could do for Harry, besides sit there and watch him sleep, but he wasn't Healer or potions maker. He sighed and thought about playing with Harry once he was well, and going flying with him, all the things he'd never gotten to do with Harry the first time around.

But this time would be different. He would try and be more tolerant of Severus, and make Harry . . . and Remus . . . happy with him. It was funny, but he cared more about what Remus thought of him than he ever had his own father. Probably because he respected Remus, whereas he had never respected Orion. Orion he had viewed as a man who was led around by the nose by his termagant wife. Walburga Black had worn the pants at Grimmauld Place, and Sirius had always hated the fact that Orion never stood up for himself or his boys. He'd always caved to Walburga's wishes. Sirius had liked Orion better than his mother, but that wasn't saying much.

Now, Remus and Dora, they were whole different cauldronful of newts. They worked as a team, and Dora didn't boss Remus around like a puppet. He both liked and respected them as people and as his guardians. He didn't always care for all their rules, or for the times he got punished by them, but he was slowly coming to learn that when he got in trouble it wasn't only himself that suffered, but Remus and Dora too. He found that he didn't like it when they were upset, angry, and disappointed in him. Like over the sledding incident. He also discovered that he enjoyed spending time with Remus and Dora, reading and playing games, and being hugged when he was sad, all the things he'd never done with his real parents.

Sirius turned his head so he could see Harry and thought, please get well, Harry. Put that Potter stubbornness to work and wake up. If anyone can recover from those burns, you can. And as soon as you're better, we're going flying and playing Quidditch.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

When Ginny and Severus returned, they found Sirius and Remus keeping a silent vigil at Harry's bedside.

As they entered, they heard Sirius ask, "Will he wake up soon?"

"No, because they've given him Dreamless Sleep. They want to keep him sleeping so he won't be in so much pain, Siri."

Sirius looked up as Ginny and Severus came into the room. He gazed hopefully at them. "Did you make the potion?"

"Actually, we made two potions," Ginny told him, giving him a hug.

"Two?" Sirius repeated.

"One burn salve and one Extra Strength Pain Reliever that won't put you to sleep." Severus clarified.

"Will they work?" asked Sirius hopefully.

"Yes." Severus said, forcing himself to sound confident when inside he was a mass of nervous anxiety.

"Now we just have to tell the Healer and we can apply the salve." Ginny said.

"We should apply it and then tell the idiot," Severus argued. What if the Healer refused to let them try it? Then all of their hard work would have been for nothing and Harry would recover at a snail's pace.

"No. Because then he might try and say his salve worked better." Ginny told him. She hurried off to find Healer Jordan.

The Healer looked skeptical. "You say you brewed this in accordance with a recipe invented by the late Potions Master Severus Snape?"

"Yes, and I don't think I need to tell you that the man was brilliant, a genius with potions," Ginny stated. "My husband was one of his most trusted students and inherited all of Professor Snape's research and notes. This burn salve is probably ten times as effective as the current one you now use."

The Healer snorted. "It's untested, and normally we do not use untested salves or potions on our patients. Not even if they were invented by the premier Potions Master in all of Europe."

"If I gave you permission, we could test it on my husband. You can't find a better test subject than him and I trust Snape's skill." Ginny said firmly.

"Very well. I'll need you to sign a form saying you release us from all liability should this . . . salve not work as expected. If it doesn't, you will then agree that my course of treatment is to be followed?" Jordan queried, a bit testily.

"Yes, of course. Thank you for allowing me to try," Ginny said.

"It's your husband, Mrs. Potter," Jordan stated with a slight condescending air, that made Ginny want to smack him. "If you want to experiment with his life . . ."

Irritated, Ginny snapped, "What are you implying, sir? That I would risk my husband's life? Here is the recipe for the salve. Tell me if there is anything the least bit life threatening in it." She thrust the paper with the potion recipe at him.

Jordan perused the recipe, and his eyebrows went up. "Now why would . . . ah, I see it now . . . most remarkable . . ." He cleared his throat. "Mrs. Potter, if this salve works, it could be a brilliant medical breakthrough for those suffering from potion accidents and fires. If it works."

"Then there's no danger of my risking my husband's life using it?"

"No. All of the ingredients are curatives." Jordan said. "Let's see how it works."

They hurried to Harry's bedside, and the Healer whisked away the sheet covering him and peered at the angry, blistered, red and blackened flesh. The Healer pulled on a glove and began to gently apply the salve to the burnt skin. While they watched, the raw flesh began to slowly heal.

Healer Jordan looked ecstatic. "Look, it's working! You can practically see the flesh mending! In a week, he could be healed completely with this. It's . . . amazing!"

He quickly smeared the salve over the rest of Harry's back.

"Would . . . you mind if I made a copy of the formula? Was it difficult to brew?"

"It's not an easy potion, but a competent brewer could do it in under three hours," Ginny replied, not bothering to think about how she had help from the inventor of the salve.

"I see . . . well, I shall be back in a few hours to see how he's progressing. I must show this to my colleagues," the Healer said. "I apologize for doubting you." Then he tapped his wand against the original formula and made a copy of it. He hurried off with the formula clutched in his hand, looking a bit dazed.

Ginny gently pulled the sheet back over Harry and said, "I'm going to Floo my parents and see how Alby's doing. All we can do now is wait." Looking very relieved, she hurried over to Severus and hugged him, picking him off his feet. "Thank Merlin you're a potions prodigy , Sev!"

"Thank Harry, for saving all my potion journals and notebooks," Severus said, hugging her back.

She set him down. "I know he's not out of the woods yet, but it's a start. I'll be right back." She practically Apparated from the room.

Sirius looked over at Severus and said, "You know, I never realized it before, but your skill with potions is pretty amazing, Severus."

Severus arched an eyebrow. "A compliment, Sirius? Now that is pretty amazing."

Sirius shrugged. "Every once in awhile, you deserve one."

"Thanks ever so much," drawled Severus. He turned to climb onto a chair on the opposite side of the bed. He felt a warm glow of satisfaction flow through him, knowing that he had helped Harry on the road to recovery. And been acknowledged by both a Healer and Sirius, however reluctant, of his true skill and importance in the magical community. He had been published before in several potions journals, and won a few awards early in his career, but in the last years before his death, he had not dared to patent any of his latest inventions, as they were healing potions for several curses that Voldemort's followers were fond of using. He didn't care so much about the recognition as he did that all of his hard work had not been wasted, but would be used to help as needed and improve the art of potion making.

Severus sat down, then abruptly decided he didn't want to sit in this rather lumpy chair with his feet dangling because he couldn't reach the floor. He slid down and climbed up on the bed next to Harry instead. Harry's eyes were closed and he appeared to be dreaming. Severus took Harry's hand and placed it in his lap and gently stroked the back of his hand.

"You're going to get better now," he crooned to the comatose wizard. "My salve will heal you. And then you can brew potions with me again and tell stories."

Not to be outdone, Sirius climbed up on the opposite side and took Harry's other hand. "Yeah, and then you can play Quidditch with me and beat me in Wizard Chess."

Severus scowled at Sirius over Harry's shoulder. How dare Black interrupt his time with Harry? "But first he's going to fly with me."

"You, fly? I thought all you ever wanted to do was brew smelly potions," Sirius shot back. "Since when do you like flying?"

"Since Harry showed me," Severus answered.

Sirius didn't like the sound of that at all. Since when was Snape the dungeon bat a flyer? Flying had always been Sirius' past time.

"Boys, enough!" Ginny cut in. "You can both go flying with Harry when he's better."

They subsided, mulish scowls on their faces.

Ginny bent and smoothed the hair down over Harry's forehead. She kissed him lightly on the scar and whispered, "We're all waiting for you, Harry. Wake up soon."

Sirius could see the love in Ginny's eyes and it made him feel ashamed for quarreling with Severus.

Severus blushed when he caught the naked adoration on Ginny's face. A blind man could see how much she loved her husband. It was the sort of love he hoped he would know with Lily once she returned from the Veil. He squeezed Harry's hand gently.

Ginny reached over and ruffled his hair before settling back in the chair Severus had vacated. Remus was softly snoring in the opposite chair.

"How's Alby?" Severus asked, only then did he recall that Alby had gotten hurt too when the microwave exploded.

"He's fine, Sev. My mum patched him up and he's asleep."

"And how's your father? Is he alive?"

Ginny snickered. "As far as I know, Mum hasn't hexed him to pieces yet. This isn't the first time something's exploded out there in the shed, just the first time Harry's ever been over to be involved in it. Last time, Dad managed to put out the fire and no one was hurt. Poor Dad! He never means any harm with his experiments, and the fact that Harry and Alby got hurt just makes it worse."

Half-an-hour went by and Harry still slept. By then both Sirius and Severus were dozing, curled like puppies against Harry's side. Only Ginny remained awake, though her eyes were starting to close when she saw Harry beginning to stir.

Harry opened his eyes and blinked hazily. Before he could speak or reach for his glasses, he saw Ginny,

"Harry, how do you feel?" she asked gently. "Are you in pain?" She came and laid her hand upon his cheek.

He shook his head. "No. Where's Arthur and Alby?"

"They're fine, safe at the Burrow. You're in St. Mungos, love."

Harry lifted his head slightly. His whole back felt numb. "How badly am I hurt?"

Ginny told him what had happened and what Healer Jordan had said about his recovery time being halved because of Severus' invention.

"That's good. I hate hospitals," Harry said, then he tried to lift his hand to clasp Ginny's, only to find both his hands being held by two small boys. He looked down and saw Severus clinging to one hand, then when he turned his head to the other side, saw Sirius holding his other hand. He chuckled. "What's this? A new way of keeping me in bed?"

"They both insisted on being next to you," Ginny informed him. She bent and kissed him again, a real kiss this time, on the lips. "A kiss to make it better," she whispered.

Harry gave her a sweet smile. "I feel ten times better already."

Ginny began laughing and crying at the same time. "I love you so much!"

Before Harry could reply, Sirius and Severus woke up. He found himself mobbed by two little boys hugging him about the neck and crying, "I love you, Harry!" amid tears and smiles.

"Love you too," Harry managed to reply, his throat hoarse. He did his best to hug both children, but it was awkward when he was lying on his stomach. Still, neither boy seemed to mind, and Harry didn't either. He wasn't too concerned over his recovery. He knew that with Severus' potions, lots of rest, and hugs and kisses, he would be fine . . .eventually.

 


Chapter 21: Draco's Invitation
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21

Draco's Invitation

Over the next few days, the Potter and Weasley families were regular visitors to Room 407. Ginny hated to go home and leave her husband, but she couldn't very well expect her parents to watch Alby and Severus all day and night, nor make the boys sleep at the hospital. Harry himself told her to go home when dark fell and get a good night's sleep in her own bed.

"But I can't sleep in our bed," she groaned. "Because you're not in it, Harry."

"So have the boys sleep with you," he told her. "Gin, I'm sleeping at night, they give me a Sleeping Draught, there's no sense in sitting here in that uncomfortable chair, getting a crick in your neck to watch me sleep."

"I'm afraid if I leave you . . . something might happen." Ginny said , her eyes filled with fear.

Harry reached over and clasped her hand. Because of Severus' burn salve, he was numb and could move easy. "Hey, nothing is going to happen to me. I'm not dying, Ginny. Unless it's dying of boredom from being stuck in here."

So far he'd had a steady parade of visitors, including Arthur and Molly, Ron, Hermione, and Rosie, Tonks with Jamie and Teddy, Bill, Fleur and Victoire, Neville, Luna, and Frankie and so on. Ron brought him a book to read and Hermione a fruit and nut basket. Most of his other friends brought flowers and candy. Arthur brought him a few issues of Enchanters Weekly and apologized so many times that Harry finally snapped, "For heaven's sake, if I hadn't been there, it would have been you or Alby that would have gotten burned and it's better it was me! I'm not blaming you, Dad. It was an accident, now please don't bring it up again."

All of the gifts were piled on a large circular table with chairs surrounding it, Severus and Alby usually climbed on and off them to bring Harry his treats when he asked them, as the Healers didn't want him using magic. The wall on the side of the room was filled with drawings and watercolor paintings done by the children. There were several from Alby, most of them had "Get Well Soon" and "I Love you Daddy" written on them, a few from Severus, one of which had a simmering cauldron and a broomstick on it and Severus had written "Once you're well, we can do this again, so hurry up", and the other was a portrait of Harry, Ginny, Alby, and himself and underneath that one he'd written "We miss you! Come home soon!", Sirius had painted a Quidditch player, Teddy had drawn a big stuffed bear with a large heart and wrote "Hugs, Uncle Harry! Love, Teddy!", Jamie had drawn a Snitch, Rosie had written "I LUV UNCLE HARRY" in huge letters and then written beneath it "I baked you chocolate snaps!" (she had), Frankie had drawn a picture of birds and animals.

The only one whose contribution was missing was Cory, he had been sick with a cold and Draco hadn't wanted to visit until he was better.

Before Harry could argue further the merits of his wife going home to get a good night's rest, an intern arrived with his breakfast tray. She rolled it in and removed the cover. The room was filled with the heavenly smells of a hot cinnamon roll dripping with icing, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. "Here you go, Mr. Potter!" said the intern cheerily. "The cinnamon roll was baked fresh this morning, had me drooling all the way here." She looked around and said, "I'm surprised your boys aren't hanging on you, begging for some."

Harry sat up carefully, for though numbed, the skin on his back was still healing, and looked about. "She's right. Where are they?" Usually Alby and Severus shared his breakfast, eating some of his bacon, toast, and eggs.

Ginny was mystified. "I don't know. They . . . they aren't in here." She stood up and peered under the table, recalling that Alby had been pestering his older brother to play Hide-and-Seek with him.

"Maybe Sev took Alby to the bathroom," Harry reasoned, not wanting Ginny to panic.

"Harry, there's a bathroom right here," his wife reminded him, indicating the fully functioning bathroom in his room.

Harry sighed and took a bite of his cinnamon roll. He wasn't too worried, after all Alby was with Severus, who watched out for him like a hawk. "Gin, they're probably down the hall, looking at the big fish tank again, the one with the mini shark in it, you know Alby loves watching them."

Before Ginny could take a look, the door to the room opened again . In walked a mediwitch with their two boys in tow, she was holding one by each ear and she said, "I believe these two bairns belong to you, Mrs. Potter. Found this one hiding in ma clean sheets and towels," she gave Alby a little shake.

"Albus!" Ginny cried, shocked. "What on earth were you doing there?"

"I was playing Hide-n-Seek. It was warm and comfy in there on the cart," Alby replied, trying to look innocent. "An' Sevvy never woulda found me! But she made me come out."

The mediwitch snorted. "An' yer other laddie was examining my potions an' touching them." She indicated Severus, who glared at her.

"I wasn't doing anything with them, just reading the labels," he objected indignantly.

"Severus!" Ginny exclaimed. "I'm surprised at you."

"Readin' the labels, he says!" the mediwitch chuckled. "Imagine a little fellow like him!"

Severus twisted free of her and picked up the book Harry had been reading off the nightstand. He opened it and began to read aloud, " . . . Seeker Josef Wronski had the best maneuver anyone had ever seen. It became known as the Wronski Feint and was the move that made him legendary in the eyes of all Quiddtich players and fans across the world . . ." He set the book down and looked over at the mediwitch, who was staring at him with her mouth open. "There! Now do you believe I can read?"

"Ma goodness!" she exclaimed. "I never would ha believed it, unless I saw it with ma own eyes!"

"Sev is very bright for his age," Harry put in, smiling at the youngster. "He's been reading since he was three, reads everything. He can even brew potions."

"Really! How amazing!" the mediwitch said. "How about the little one?"

"I'm teaching him to read too," Severus answered.

"I can write my name an' my brudder's name," Alby put in. "Only his is hard . . . it's gots lots of S's." He climbed up on the bed beside his father. "Daddy, can I have some of that?" he pointed to Harry's bacon.

Harry obligingly gave him some.

Ginny frowned. "What you ought to have, young man, is a time out for hiding in this nice woman's laundry cart! And you too, Severus, for not keeping an eye on him."

"I knew where he was," Severus said defensively.

"You did?" Alby pouted. He had thought it was such a brilliant hiding spot.

His brother rolled his eyes. "It's not like there was any other place you could hide by the fish tank." Really, did Ginny think he would ever let Alby get lost? Hurt, he turned his back on her, and glared at all the pictures on the wall.

"Gin, give them a break," Harry cut in. "They're bored to death here, you can't expect them to just stay here all day with nothing to do."

Ginny sighed. "What was I supposed to do, Harry? Mum had a meeting of the Witches' Spell n' Bake Society and Dad's at work, so they had to come with me."

Harry knew Ginny was frustrated, they all were. He wished he could heal faster, so then they wouldn't be in this predicament. "C'mere, Sev," he called to the sulking child.

Severus turned around, his lower lip sticking out adorably. "Why?"

"I saved some of my breakfast for you," Harry coaxed, knowing that Severus enjoyed eating with him.

"I'm not hungry."

"Not even for a cinnamon roll?" Harry asked, smirking. He knew Severus had developed a fondness for cinnamon rolls ever since tasting the first one served with Harry's breakfast two days ago.

Severus sniffed, his mouth had started watering the moment he'd walked into the room. He supposed he could make an exception. "Okay." He came and sat on Harry's other side, and Harry gave him half the roll, some eggs, and bacon, on one side of the plate. He also gave Severus his glass of apple juice, since Alby had the milk.

"Ye should ha asked them t'bring ye an extra tray, Mr. Potter," said the mediwitch.

"We like to share with Daddy," Alby piped up.

"Maybe you could bring me another cinnamon roll?" Harry suggested.

"Aye, I'll do that!" said the mediwitch and then she called for a house elf to fetch another cinnamon roll.

The elf soon returned with the warm roll and gave it to Harry with a bow.

Alby clapped his hands. "Yay! More cinnamon rolls!"

"You let your daddy eat half of that," Ginny objected. "It's his breakfast, after all. You need to eat some more eggs and toast."

Alby pouted, like Harry he loved sweets, but he picked up his fork and began to eat the small amount of scrambled eggs he'd been given.

The mediwitch waited, leaning on her cart, which was filled with clean laundry, some potions and salves and other supplies, for the family to finish eating before she said, "The house elves'll come clear that away in a minute." She pushed the cart inside the room and began prepping a syringe. "Mr. Potter, 'tis time for your pain reliever. Lads, I need ye to move, so I can give yer dad his shot."

Alby whimpered and buried his face in Harry's lap, crying, "No! I don' want you to hurt my daddy!"

"Alby, it's all right, buddy." Harry said, stroking his small son's hair. "The shot doesn't hurt all that much."

"Does too! Healer Winters gives me shots in my bottom an' they always hurt!" the child insisted.

"That's b'cause Healers don't know how t'give shots the right way, laddie," said the mediwitch. "But I do. Watch n' see, ye won't hear a sound outta yer dad." She winked at Harry.

Severus watched as the mediwitch rolled up Harry's sleeve and swabbed the area with an alcohol wipe. "How come you're giving him the potion that way?" he asked, knowing it was the same one he'd invented.

"According to the Healer, it gets where it needs t' go faster this way," the mediwitch answered. "An' ye don't want yer dad to be in pain, now do ye?"

"No," Severus replied, then watched intently as the mediwitch deftly inserted the needle into Harry's bicep and pushed the plunger down.

Harry didn't flinch or make any kind of sound at all.

"There! It's all done, lad!" the mediwitch called to Alby, who had been hiding his eyes the entire time.

Alby lifted his head. "It is?" He looked up at Harry. "Did it hurt, Dad?"

"No," Harry said, it was true. He had felt a pinch and that was all.

Alby gave a sigh of relief. Then he said, "I still don't like shots," and snuggled next to Harry.

The adults laughed and the mediwitch ruffled his hair. "I dinna blame ye, lad. I don't like 'em maself. But yer dad's a brave fellow."

"He's the bravest!" Alby declared loyally. "He's a hero."

"Aye, I know. Yer dad saved us all," the mediwitch said. "It's my pleasure t'be helpin' ye, Mr. Potter. Ma name's Flora McKnight."

"Pleased to meet you, Flora," Harry said, shaking her hand.

Severus looked at the mediwitch and asked, "How do you know how to give shots that don't hurt?"

"Well, laddie, 'tis all a matter of where you place the needle," Flora answered. "There's some places on a body that aren't as . . . sensitive as others, an' I've larnt that here—in the upper arm—is less sensitive on an adult, so that's why I give it there."

"You should tell Healer Winters that," Alby put in. "She doesn't get that my bum is real sensitive."

Everyone burst out laughing at that comment. Alby looked at them, puzzled. "What's so funny? It's true."

"You are, little brother," Severus replied, snickering.

Flora bid them goodbye and pushed the cart out of the room just as Draco and Cory entered.

"Hello, Harry. You're looking pretty good for somebody that nearly got blown away," Draco greeted. Then he turned and said hello to Ginny, Alby, and Severus.

Cory wriggled his way out of Draco's arms and threw himself at Harry, yelling, "Unca Harry! How are you? Daddy said you was caught in a 'splosion." He caught Harry about the knees and peered up into his face.

"Hey, Cory!" Harry greeted him. "Your dad was right, I did get hurt. I got a bad burn on my back, but I'm healing." He picked up the little boy, who resembled Draco, and hugged him.

"Aww! I hope you get better soon, Unca Harry," Cory said sincerely. He reached into a pocket of his trousers and pulled out a crumpled piece of parchment. "Look! I drawed this just for you."

"You mean you drew it just for him," Draco corrected.

Harry unfolded the parchment. On it was a picture of what Harry assumed was himself, he knew by the glasses and the scar and next to him was a smaller figure with blond hair. Both figures had broomsticks. "That's great, Cory!" Harry praised. "Is that you?"

"Yup. You and me, and you're gonna teach me how to fly. 'Cause you promised, after you yelled at me, that time in school. You r'member?"

"I do. And we'll all have a flying lesson—you, me, Sev, Alby, and Sirius—once I'm better," Harry promised. He sent the picture up onto the wall with the others.

Draco looked askance. "You serious? What are you assembling here, the next Junior Quidditch League?"

"Not really. This is just for fun, and that way I can teach them the safety procedures before they actually join a team." Harry said.

Draco started laughing. "Oh, Merlin, Potter! You're going to teach them safety procedures? How many times did you fall off your broom?"

"That has nothing to do with it. There were extenuating circumstances," Harry protested.

"Uh huh." Draco snorted. He held out a large shopping bag. "Here. I figured you must be going crazy with nothing to do all day, so I brought you all my back issues of Snitches and Seekers and Potioneer's Journal."

Harry took the bag and smiled. "Thanks, Draco. Now how did you know?"

"That's easy. It's how I would be if I was stuck in a bed for a week." The blond wizard laughed.

Alby suddenly stood up and walked over to Draco. "Uncle Draco, I'm bored. There's nothin' to do here, 'cept watch some lady give my dad shots."

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Really? Did your dad cry?" he teased.

Alby's eyes flashed. "No! My dad's the bravest. Did you ever cry when you got a shot?"

Draco shook his head. "No. At least not that I can remember."

"I can remember," Severus spoke up from where he was sitting next to Harry, a sly grin on his face. "You were ten and Lucius was too busy to take you for your dragon pox booster so I had to, since all children were required to get one before school. When the Healer came at you with the syringe, you nearly fell off the table. I had to pin you down before you'd be still and you howled like a—"

"Shut up, Severus!" Draco interrupted, flushing hotly. "Who asked you?"

Cory looked from his father to Severus, his eyes wide. "Daddy, you were a'scared of needles like me?"

"I was not!" Draco snapped.

"Oh, yes, you were," Severus insisted smugly.

Alby patted Draco's arm comfortingly. "It's okay, Uncle Draco. I'm scared of shots too. We can't all be brave like my daddy. Right, Cory?"

"Yeah."

Draco shot a look at Severus and one at Harry. "Thanks a lot, Cory."

Cory looked at him. "You're welcome. You don't have to come with me next time, Daddy."

"What do you mean?"

"To the Healer. I'll just ask Mummy."

"And why can't I come, Scorpius?"

"Because then we'll both be a'scared together and I need someone to hold me," his son pointed out.

Ginny, Harry, and Severus all cracked up.

"Severus, I'm going to strangle you," Draco growled, going red. "Just for that, maybe I shouldn't take you home with me tonight."

Severus gave Draco an innocent look. "Why are you getting mad at me, Draco? You never said I couldn't tell that story once you were out of school."

"It's too bad you hardly ever forget anything, Severus," Draco grumbled.

"Draco, what do you mean take them home?" asked Ginny.

"Umm . . . well, I figured that you could use a break, Ginny. And they could too, by staying over Malfoy Manor tonight. It's been a long time since Alby came over and Severus too. Tori and my mother are out at some spa for Girls Night, so it's just me and Father at home. Cory gets bored when he has no one to play with and then he gets into trouble. So I figured let's kill three birds with one spell and I'll take your two home with me. What do you think?"

Ginny hesitated. Then finally, she nodded. "All right. I do need a little break." She glared at Harry. "Now don't you say a word about me staying here, Harry James."

Harry held up his hands in mock-surrender. "I didn't say anything."

"Potter, you are so whipped," Draco sniggered. "Bravest man, my ass."

Ginny cranked her head around. "You were saying, Draco?"

Draco coughed and said, "Nothing. Nothing at all."

Cory began bouncing on Harry's knee. "Alby and Sevvy are comin' to my house! To my house!" he sang happily. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Ginny smiled at him. "You're so cute, Cory!"

Cory giggled as Harry tickled him. "Ahh, Unca Harry's the Tickle Monster!" He squealed and tried to get away, but Harry held him fast. "Don't tickle me! Tickle Sevvy!" He pointed to Severus, who had been trying to slip off the bed unnoticed.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Harry cried, and caught the little boy before he could make a run for it. He dragged Severus into his lap and began to tickle him.

"No-o-o! Harry, stop! Please!" Severus giggled uncontrollably as Harry's fingers danced up his ribcage and poked him underneath the arm, making the ebony-haired imp squeal with laughter. He couldn't get away, he was laughing too hard. Little did anyone know, but Severus was very ticklish, and Harry only had to poke him to make him burst out laughing.

Harry smirked. "Why, Severus . . . I never knew you were . . . ticklish!" He tickled the back of Severus' knee and the boy collapsed over his lap, giggling hysterically.

Draco's eyes lit up. "Ah ha! Payback!" He rose and ran over to Harry.

Severus saw him coming and tried to crawl backwards, but was still convulsed with laughter.

"Got you, Mr. Slyboots!" Draco crowed and began to tickle Severus unmercifully.

Seevrus wriggled and squirmed, gasping with laughter. "Stop, Draco! Stop!" he howled. "Before I . . . wet myself!"

Draco eyes gleamed as he considered taking more revenge, but then Cory yelled, "Tickle me, Daddy! My turn!" And Draco turned and started tickling Cory.

Feeling left out, Alby ran and jumped into Harry's lap . . . or tried to. He landed half on Severus, who yelled, "Ow! Get off, Al!" and Severus pushed the little boy off.

Alby fell against Harry, and the sudden shift in weight caused Harry to fall backwards onto the bed . . . and his back.

Harry gave a harsh gasp . . . for numbed or not, he felt the pressure.

"Harry!" Ginny cried. "Get off him, you silly idiots!" she snarled, and then she grabbed Draco, who was still tickling Cory, by his ear and pulled him backwards.

Draco yelped but didn't fight the enraged woman when he saw what had happened. "Cory! Get off Uncle Harry!"

Cory did, and then stood staring in alarm.

Alby followed suit after Severus tugged his shoulder. "Sevvy! What happened?" he sniffled.

Severus felt tears burn his eyes. "It was my fault, I pushed you into him. I'm sorry, Harry." Huge tears fell down his cheeks as he realized that he might have caused poor Harry serious harm.

"I'm fine," Harry said, trying to sit up. "Stop flipping out. I'm fine."

Ginny rushed over to him and helped him up. "Harry, are you sure? Let me see." She went around the bed to try and see his back, which was bandaged lightly. "Oh, bloody hell! I can't see anything!"

"Gin, calm down. It didn't hurt . . . well, not really. I'm all right." He reached out and pulled Severus to stand near him. "Sev, stop crying. You didn't hurt me." He gently wiped the tears from the five-year-old's eyes.

Severus felt his bottom lip quiver. "Are you . . . sure?"

"Positive. You have no need to blame yourself, since I started all of it." Harry told him firmly.

"Men! You never grow up!" Ginny snapped irritably. Then she put her arms about Harry and gently hugged him.

Over her shoulder, Harry silently mouthed to Draco, "See, she really does need a break."

Draco nodded. "Sorry, Ginny. It was partly my fault."

Ginny sighed and reluctantly drew away. "Never mind, Draco. As long as Harry's okay . . ." She looked at Severus, who still was upset. "Sevvy, it was an accident. Don't feel bad." She gave him a squeeze and smoothed his hair back. "You go and have a good time at Malfoy Manor with Draco and Cory."

"All right," Severus said softly.

"Both of you behave," Harry added.

"Yes, Daddy. I'll be good," Alby said solemnly.

"You'd better be." Harry said. "Draco, I expect a full report . . . and if they aren't . . . " He eyed Alby and Severus sternly. "You'll both be in serious trouble when you get home, understood?"

"Yes, sir," Severus answered.

"Relax, Harry. Even if they wreck the place, we can put it back together again." Draco said easily.

"Draco, let me go home and pack up some of their things," Ginny said.

"Mummy, don't forget Bucky!" Alby said.

"Or Mimic," Severus added. He liked sleeping with the raven at night, especially in a strange place.

"I know," Ginny said, smiling. Then she Apparated back to her home to pack up the overnight bags.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Draco?" Harry asked once she was gone.

"Yes. Why? Your kids are reasonably well behaved, not like Lupin's brats. I'd hex myself if I had them to look after," Draco muttered. "Sirius and Jamie are like imps from hell."

Harry snickered. "They can be. I just hope you're up to handling three kids at one time."

"Godsake, Harry, it's not like I've no experience with kids. Besides, Father's there too. We can handle it, trust me."

"I'll pray for you," Harry said, smirking.

Draco aimed a cuff at his head.

Just then, Ginny reappeared holding the boys' overnight bags and security toys. She looked at both men, who wore half-guilty stupid expressions on their faces. "What's going on?" she asked suspiciously.

"Nothing," Harry and Draco chorused.

"Cory, what happened?"

Both Draco and Harry glared warningly at the youngest Malfoy.

"Ummm . . ." Cory bit his lip. Then he said, "Daddy and Uncle Harry were being stupid."

"Figures," Ginny rolled her eyes.

"He's your son all right, Malfoy," Harry said.

Draco sighed helplessly. "Sometimes . . . I really wish I had a girl."

He took the bags from Ginny and handed Alby and Severus their plushies. He shrunk the bags and put them in his jacket pockets before saying, "All right, boys. Are you all ready to go to Malfoy Manor?"

A chorus of yes's echoed through the room.

"Good. Then say goodbye and then this train's leaving." Draco told them.

Severus and Alby hugged and kissed Ginny and Harry goodbye and so did Cory.

Draco held out his arms for Cory and Alby. The two small boys jumped into his arms and then Cory asked, "Where's the train, Dad? I don't see any."

"It's an expression, Cory." Draco said. He held out his hand for Severus to hold. "Everyone set? On three. One . . . two . . . three . . ."

They all DisApparated.

"Merlin help him," Harry said, then he turned and kissed Ginny. "I'd feel sorry for him, but . . . it was his idea."

A/N: What do you think should happen with Draco and the boys at Malfoy Manor? Ideas please! Should the boys get into mischief? If so, what?

 

 


Chapter 22: Embracing the Child Within
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22

Embracing the Child Within

Malfoy Manor

Wiltshire:

Draco Apparated the three boys just outside the manor grounds, since Narcissa's peacocks roamed the grounds at will and one could, accidentally, Apparate into one and the result would be disgusting, at the very least. Malfoy Manor was a grand house in the old Elizabethan style, with towers at either end and mullioned windows on the upper stories. Decorative columns flanked the front entrance, engraved with carvings of serpents and dragons.

Draco led the way through the wrought iron gate and up the driveway, which was flanked by an enormous yew hedge on both sides. The drive ran straight up to the house, but gaps in the hedge contained pathways that led to the gardens and lawns. Severus had been here in his former life, and he still remembered it, but he soon discovered his memories did not quite match the sheer scope of the place when seen from the height of a five-year-old. The manor had been impressive when seen through the eyes of an adult, seen from his child's perspective, it was like entering a fairytale village complete with a castle.

Alby's eyes were wide with wonder and he kept pointing at various things. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to a short path of cobblestones that led to a thick hedge with purple flowers. It had been a long time since he had come and visited Malfoy Manor, over a year, and he'd forgotten what it looked like.

"That's Grandma's garden," Cory said. "It's got lots and lots of flowers and a fountain with a unicorn statue in it. And some benches and you can sit on them, but you can't run around or pick the flowers. It's sort of boring. Grandma brings her old lady friends there and sometimes Mummy goes there too."

Draco had to fight to keep from snickering at Cory's description of Narcissa's "old lady" friends. He could just imagine the expression on her face if she had heard what her grandson had said. Still, the four year old couldn't be expected to be enthused about a place where he was to "sit still and behave".

They continued walking up the drive, Cory prattled excitedly to Alby and Severus about his swing set and his playroom. Suddenly an albino peacock raced by, followed by several more. The big birds were Narcissa's pride and joy, dazzling white feathers with bright silvery "eyes" in their tails and they had brilliant violet, sapphire, or ruby eyes. Draco paused so Alby could see them, and warned, "Don't try and pet the peacocks, Alby. They don't like little kids, matter of fact they don't like anybody except my mother and they'll bite if you get too close. Especially that one," Draco pointed to a large male with a gorgeous tail spread and ruby eyes. He pranced about, eyeing his peahens possessively. He turned and gave Draco a haughty look. "That's Lucifer and he's the devil incarnate. The bloody bird bit me when I was little and I still have the scar on my calf. Only reason Mother keeps him around is because he's a good breeder. I would have stuffed him with chestnuts and cranberries and ate him by now."

Lucifer turned and hissed at Draco, his head snaking out, ruby eyes burning with malice.

Cory whimpered and hid his face in his father's shoulder. "Lucifee mean!"

Draco kicked out at the feathered menace. "Get, you featherbrained devil! You even try and bite me and you'll be tonight's dinner, got me?"

Lucifer screamed at him, then turned and strutted away, nipping at the peahens to get them moving across the lawn. When he had gone a far enough distance, the peacock turned and gazed arrogantly at the wizard and the three children.

Draco snorted. "Yeah, devil bird, keep looking at me. I always said you weren't worth the time and Mother should have plucked your tail feathers out and made you into a hat. You would have been a damn sight more useful."

Draco led the way into the house. The entrance hall to Malfoy Manor was made of fine tile and marble pillars. There was a large staircase of fine golden oak polished to a high gloss, it had a runner of emerald green and a lovely twisting banister. Directly across from the entrance way was a large drawing room, where Lucius and Narcissa entertained guests. Off to the right was a small door that led to the basement; it was kept locked because of the potions lab in it. Several other doors to the left led to other rooms—a conservatory, a large kitchen, two guest rooms, Draco's study, Lucius' office, and Cory's playroom.

"Father, we're home!" Draco called.

"An' we brought Alby and Sevvy to play with me, Grandpa!" Cory added.

Lucius emerged shortly afterwards from his office. He was wearing, for him, casual trousers in a dove gray color with a green collared shirt and soft Italian loafers. His long platinum blond hair was pulled back in a neat tail. A smile brightened his normally serious face when he saw his grandson and his two playmates. "Draco, why didn't you tell me you were bringing guests home? I would have had Jinxy prepare lunch."

Cory launched himself at his grandfather. "Grandpa! Guess what? I'm havin' a sleepover!"

"Oh, really?" Lucius caught his small grandson and picked him up. "And who said you could do that?"

"Daddy," Cory informed him. "Sevvy an' Alby can all share my bed, it's big enough!"

Lucius chuckled. "They could, but . . . we can always conjure a few extra beds. How was your Uncle Harry?"

"He was good. He really liked my drawing."

"I'm not surprised," Lucius said, putting him down. He knelt and said to Alby gently, "I'm sorry to hear that your father was hurt, Alby. I hope he's getting better. Welcome to Malfoy Manor."

Alby shook Lucius' hand. He had only met the Malfoy patriarch a few times. "Thank you, sir. Daddy's getting better, 'cause of Sevvy's special potion he made. Mummy says he can come home in a week."

"That's good to hear. Cory, why don't you show Alby your playroom?" Lucius suggested.

Cory eagerly seized Alby by the hand and walked towards his playroom, which was next to Draco's office.

Lucius turned to Severus and said, "Hello, Severus. So it seems you still have all your old skill, eh, old friend?"

"Of course I do, Lucius," Severus said. "I have most of my memories from my former life, and I would never give up my knowledge of potions. But this burn salve was new, I'd been working on it for awhile before I died . . ." Severus went on to explain what he had done.

Lucius seemed delighted that his former friend still recalled all of his potions skills and knowledge. "I hope that Harry sees your new potions get patented, so someone unscrupulous doesn't try and steal them."

"I think he will, but I can remind him," Severus said. He knew Lucius was making sense. Many new spells and potions had been stolen from their inventors before by unscrupulous colleagues and even family members. Severus wasn't going to let that happen to him. "So, what are you doing these days, Lucius?"

Lucius smiled. "I haven't retired yet, if that's what you're getting at. I still work for the Ministry, I'm Kingsley's advisor on pureblood affairs and also policies involving ancestral magic and bindings. I don't have the level of clearance I once had, but such comes with the territory. Some still have not forgiven me for what I did during the war."

"Sometimes, Lucius, it's hard for people to trust," Severus said gravely.

"Yes, well, there is a price for everything." Lucius nodded.

"I'm going to put your things upstairs, Severus," Draco broke into the conversation. "Would you like me to take Mimic upstairs?" He indicated the raven which Severus was holding.

Severus shook his head. For some reason, he wished to keep Mimic close.

"All right," Draco said, than he Apparated upstairs.

Lucius coughed and said, "Well, I won't bore you with all the ins and outs of my job. This is, after all, your second childhood, so to speak. Why don't you rejoin my grandson and young Albus? I need to finish some correspondence I was working on."

Severus frowned. He didn't understand why Lucius would dismiss him like that. "I don't mind talking with you," he began.

"I know, but . . . Draco brought you here to have fun, not to waste time discussing my career. Go and enjoy yourself, Severus. Forget what you used to be and just let yourself experience things like the child you are now."

"But . . . Lucius, I'm not just a child . . . I'm still Severus Snape!" Severus protested. "I still have most of my memories. I can still talk to you like I used to. I haven't forgotten what we shared together, old friend."

Lucius sighed softly. "Maybe you should, Severus. Those times are past, and I have no wish to relive them, even in my own memories. You should make the most of this second chance you've been given. How many of us are ever given what you have?"

"Lucius, I never asked for this."

"I know. But you were given it for a reason. You should embrace it. I would give almost anything to have a second chance. Go and play, Severus. I shall see you in awhile." And with that, Lucius turned and strode off, back to his office.

Severus stood staring after him, thinking irritably that Lucius didn't understand at all how being a child again limited your options. He didn't like being vulnerable or defenseless. He didn't like always following other people's rules. He wanted to be able to use his magic again. But at the same time he had to admit that being Harry's ward had its advantages. He liked this newfound closeness with Harry, it was something he had not been able to cultivate in his former life as the greasy dungeon bat and spy. He liked the feeling of belonging and family that came with living with Harry and Ginny. He liked how Harry defended him from those who would mock and harm him, like Sirius and the centaurs. He also liked the fact that once Lily returned from the Veil, they could have another chance to live their lives over, and this time he wouldn't make the same mistakes.

He supposed he would just have to take the good with the bad and make the best of it. But a part of him resented Lucius for treating him like a silly little boy. He might be five, but he was still capable of understanding and reasoning. He wasn't even sure what Lucius meant by enjoying his second childhood.

He hugged Mimic to him and walked slowly down the hall, following the sound of the boys' voices. He paused before the half open door of the playroom and bit his lip. Why is it that Black doesn't have the same problem I do? Why is it so easy for him to regress back to his childhood? Why can't I seem to let go? The cynical part of him sneered, You know why. Black has never really grown up, so how hard can it be for him to revert? But even as he thought that, he knew that was too simplistic of an answer. Perhaps it was because Severus had never really had a childhood. His experiences at the hands of Tobias had destroyed his innocence, had stolen the joy and wonder that should have been his. Sirius, for all of his complaints against his family, had still been allowed to be a child. Severus had not.

Perhaps he should have just removed all his memories and placed them into the Pensieve? But no, he knew when he had returned that the memories were important. He had been left with them for a reason, removing all of them would be wrong. He knew that instinctively. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat history's mistakes over again. He could remove some of the worst memories, but at the same time he could not remove all of the memories of Tobias, since some of those were linked to Eileen. Eileen Prince Snape, for all of her faults, had loved him deeply, and she did not deserve to be forgotten. She had been a good woman, and had tried her best to be a good mother to him. It had not been her fault Tobias had been such a bastard, though Severus knew that some would judge her because she had not left the man. Severus, who knew the pain, degradation, and hopelessness she had dealt with, knew how hard it was to find a way out of that prison of despair. The school had provided him with a sort of refuge, a chance to see a way out. Eileen had sacrificed her own happiness for him. Severus knew that as surely as he knew how to stir a potion.

Severus closed his eyes and tried to recall Eileen's face. His memory was slightly hazy, but he could recall a thin woman with his raven hair, a thin face, and large dark eyes. She was not beautiful, not in the conventional sense, but she was striking and in her eyes was a keen intelligence. There you are, Mum, he said to himself. Is Lucius right? Should I try and embrace this second childhood? I don't know what to do.

As if from far away, he heard her voice. Severus, do what seems right to you. Do what makes you feel safe and happy.

Her son smiled. That was as good advice as any. Thanks, Mum. Tucking Mimic under an arm, he pushed open the playroom door.

"Sevvy!" Alby exclaimed upon seeing his brother. "Where were you? Look at this! Cory an' I are building a castle!" He waved at the selection of toy building blocks scattered about them.

The playroom was quite large and contained shelves, a child-sized table and chairs, a bookcase, and several chests of toys. A rocking horse was in one corner, and there was also a child-sized broom. There were two large windows that let in the sun and overlooked the fish pond and the playground.

Severus came and sat down beside his little brother. "Here. Let me show you," he said, taking a block and putting it on top of another at a slightly different angle.

Draco came into the playroom, and stood by the door, watching the three boys playing silently. While at first it had seemed extremely odd to see his former mentor and teacher as a child, Draco had come to the realization that Severus needed this, even deserved this. Draco knew that Severus' former life had been one of unending sacrifice, loss, and hardship, more than any man should have been expected to endure. This second chance at a normal happy life was a blessing in disguise.

"Ahem! Sorry to interrupt, but I just need to go over a few things with you," he waited until the boys were paying attention and looking at him before continuing. "First off, there are a few rules I have, and one of them is that Lucius' office and my study are off limits to you. Second is that if you're going outside, don't go anywhere near the peacocks or the koi pond. The peacocks will bite and the koi pond you could fall into. But feel free to enjoy yourselves on the playground or in the garden. If you'd like to swim, there's a pool, just let me know and I'll come with you. If you're hungry, just tell me, Lucius, or our house elf Jinxy, and we'll prepare lunch. Dinner's usually at seven and bedtime is somewhere around eight-thirty. Other than that, have fun!"

He didn't bother to tell them about the basement, as it was locked, or that the pool was warded so no child could go in without an adult.

"What's a koi pond, Uncle Draco?" asked Alby.

"It's my fish pond, Alby. It has large Japanese goldfish in it called koi," Draco explained. "I'll take you over there after supper, you can feed the fish some bread crumbs. I don't want you near there because the pond is pretty deep, about three feet and if you fall in there you might get hurt or hurt the fish. But there's another, shallower pond near the playground that you can wade in if you're hot and that one has toads and frogs in it."

"Cool! Can we catch some?" asked Alby eagerly.

"If you're quick enough," Draco laughed. He conjured several long nets and a bucket. "Here. You can put them in there, if you get any."

Both Alby and Cory looked enraptured at the thought of hunting for frogs and toads. Severus knew how to hunt for them, as frog and toad skin were components in some potions. But right then, the five-year-old potions prodigy was thinking about something else he could do. He walked over to a corner of the playroom and whispered to his stuffed raven, "Mimic, talk to me."

"I love you, Sevvy," the raven cooed in Harry's voice. Harry had magicked the raven to say certain phrases to the boy when he was feeling sad or lonely, but the raven could also repeat phrases as well. Severus smirked. While he had forgiven Lucius for the past, he still felt he was owed a little payback . . . in the form of a type of haunting.

"Mimic, repeat after me . . ." he began, speaking slowly and clearly, but not in his own voice. One of his little known talents as an agent was his ability to change his voice and sound like a variety of people.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Lucius' office:

Lucius returned from a quick trip to the bathroom and resumed his seat at his desk. He picked up his latest correspondence from Tharion Talonbaum, an old friend who had once been a Death Eater. Like many of his old acquaintances, Tharion wanted either a loan or a job, neither of which Lucius was willing or able to give him.

He scowled down at the parchment and muttered, "Merlin's hairy ass, Tharion, must you importune me like a beggar?"

"What do you expect, Lucius, from those who kissed the hem of Voldemort's robes?"

Lucius whipped his head around fast. "Albus?" he called, his eyes wide. But there was no one there. No ghostly old man behind him. "Dumbledore, show yourself!" he demanded, waving his wand about. "Revelaro Magus!"

But the spell fizzled and died.

Lucius sighed and shook his head. He must be losing it. "The stress must be getting to me. Because I could swear . . ."

He picked up his quill and began to write.

"Poor Lucius! No rest for the wicked, eh?"

Lucius almost fell out of his chair. "This isn't funny, old man!" he half-shouted, slamming his hand down and making his inkwell almost spill. "Stop playing games, dammit!"

"But I enjoy playing games, Lucius. All of life is a game, and we but players upon the board."

Lucius gritted his teeth. "I am not a piece upon a chessboard. Quit bothering me and go back to where you came from, ghost!"

"Lucius, Lucius. Don't tell me that like your former master, you fear death too? Death is the last great adventure."

"I don't fear death, you bloody nuisance!" Lucius snarled. "All I want is for you to leave me be! Go and haunt someone else and leave me in peace!"

"Very well. No need to shout."

Lucius heaved a sigh of relief when he could no longer hear Dumbledore's voice. "Crazy old coot! Why would he come back just to annoy me? Then again, there was never any understanding his reasoning." He began to write a reply to Tharion, his pen scratching across the parchment, when he heard a terrible hissing voice, one that he hoped he would never hear again.

"Lu-u-ci-uss, my faithful son . . ."

Lucius almost fell over backwards, his face pale as a sheet. "Bloody damn hell! You can't have returned!" he bellowed. "Harry killed you for all of time!"

The next thing Lucius heard was a soft maniacal laughter.

Lucius, by now panicked, launched a bolt of wizard fire at the wall behind him where the voice was.

It blew a small hole in the wall, but that did not stop the terrible voice of the Dark Lord from hissing, "Lucius . . . Lucius . . . do I have your allegiance?"

Lucius started sweating, then howled, "Never again, you crazed bastard!"

"Father?" Draco burst into the office, his wand drawn. "What's wrong? Are we under attack?" He glanced rapidly around the room, seeing nothing to alarm him.

Lucius gasped, struggling to get himself under control. "I . . . I . . . thought . . .well, first I thought I heard Dumbledore . . . I was sitting at my desk trying to write a letter when he started speaking to me, the old fart! I told him to go away, and then . . . then he came . . ."

"What do you mean, Father?" Draco frowned. "There's no one here but you and me."

"The Dark Lord came and asked me if I was still loyal to him . . . I swear it was he, I would know that voice anywhere!"

"Father, are you saying that Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore came to you . . . like a visitation from their spirits?" Draco repeated, staring at his father.

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," Lucius snapped. "And don't ask if I'm crazy, because I'm not. I heard them, plain as day!"

"And did you see them as well?" asked Draco.

"No. But I'd know their voices," he told his son.

Draco moved to put a comforting hand on Lucius' shoulder and it was then he noticed the stuffed raven lying on the floor; it had fallen off of the shelf it had been hidden behind. Draco bent and picked up Mimic. "Father, I doubt if you are being haunted."

"Think what you will, boy, but I know what I heard."

"Oh, I don't doubt you heard the voices," Draco began, trying to smother a laugh.

"Draco, this is no laughing matter," Lucius scowled. "If Riddle has somehow managed to return from hell . . ."

"He's dead, Father. No worries." Draco sniggered. "You've been had, father of mine. By a talking stuffed raven." Draco showed Lucius Mimic, then doubled over laughing.

Lucius stared at the raven, poked it a couple of times. It looked familiar. Lucius tried to recall why, and then it came to him. He had first seen this toy clutched in the hands of . . . "Severus Snape! Get in here!"

Two minutes later, Severus found himself standing before a rather irate Lucius, who looked a bit frazzled. "Yes, Lucius, what is it?" he asked innocently, looking up at the blond patriarch with wide dark eyes.

"Don't you play innocent with me, Severus!" Lucius blustered. He took the raven from Draco. "Is this yours?"

"Yes. Why are you playing with my raven, Lucius?" inquired Severus slyly. "Aren't you a bit old to be playing with toys? Or are you trying to relive your childhood too?"

"Why . . . you . . . little . . . cheeky . . ." Lucius sputtered. "How . . . how dare you prank me like that?"

Severus arched an eyebrow. "Lucius, you were the one who told me to embrace my inner child. I'm simply doing what you told me."

Draco nearly collapsed on the floor, he was laughing so hard.

Lucius glared at the small boy. "Damn you for a conniving little rascal!" he swore, flushing. "I ought to give you a few good ones with my cane!" He then turned and glared at his son. "And you too, Draco! It's not funny!"

Draco looked up, tears running down his cheeks. He knew a bluff when he heard one. Lucius had never used his cane on a child, not even when Draco had been at his worst, and he wouldn't start now. "On the contrary, Father, it's hilarious." He wiped his eyes. "Think about it. You, the Minister's advisor, reduced to a screaming maniac by a five-year-old and his stuffed raven. Oh, if that isn't a Slytherin revenge, I don't know what is!"

Lucius was still indignant. "How could you, Severus? I nearly had a heart attack thinking he had returned."

Severus gazed at his old friend, and his gaze suddenly hardened. "I forgave, but I don't forget. Payback's a bitch."

"Damn you, Severus!" Lucius said, then he gave his former friend a rueful grin. "I suppose I should have expected that. Once a Slytherin, always a Slytherin."

Severus nodded. "Quite."

"But I'm keeping this until your bedtime," Lucius said with a smirk.

"But . . . that's my raven!" Severus whined, suddenly feeling lost without the stuffed toy.

"You'll get him back . . . later at night. That's what you get for being a sly little serpent," Lucius told him firmly. "Now run along and play, little imp."

Severus pouted and glared at the tall wizard, his arms crossed. But what used to terrify students had no effect whatsoever on Lucius.

The elder wizard simply waved him off.

His lower lip jutting out, Severus turned and stomped off. Maybe that prank hadn't been such a good idea, he thought. Then again, the expression on Lucius' face had been priceless.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

It all started with an innocent game of hide-and-seek. Severus wanted to find the perfect hiding place, and quickly slipped inside Draco's study through the partially open door, forgetting for an instant that the room was off limits. As he started to crawl behind Draco's desk chair, he heard something chuckle darkly.

Now it was his turn to jump nearly out of his skin.

Whirling around, he came face to face with a dragon skull perched atop a shelf.

The skull tittered. "Did I scare you? I didn't know that Master Draco had another youngling."

"A little. And I'm not Draco's son, just a friend of his."

"Oh," the skull seemed disappointed. "Someday, I want to really scare someone. It's what a dragon is supposed to do, you know, and I never could quite manage it while I was alive. And not while I'm dead either." It sighed. "My name is Draconis Imperius. And you are?"

"Severus Snape," Severus told it. This was clearly an enchanted skull. "You must have been alive a long time ago."

"Oh, yes. Centuries ago, Sinjin Malfoy killed me and then he animated part of my spirit to live in this skull. He was in awe of dragons and thought this was the best way to gain our knowledge." Draconis told him. "But he never made sure I spoke the truth, and eventually he was killed trying to harvest scales from a Hebridian Black. But I remained and have seen countless Malfoys come and go. Oh, the stories I could tell!"

Severus cocked an eyebrow. He had been to Malfoy Manor several times and had never encountered this particular object. He wondered where it had been hiding. "Such as?"

The skull grinned toothily. "Oh, let's just say I know a lot of juicy secrets. Like how Mafalda Malfoy used to leave her window open on certain nights when the moon was dark and wave a lantern and her lover, Antonius Potter, used to climb up the trellis and into her bedroom. She was very unhappy, being married to that brute Torrence Malfoy, and her only pleasure was meeting with Antonius, who had always loved her, but they were forbidden to marry due to their families . . .It was like Romeo and Juliette, only without the suicide. Malfalda cuckolded her husband till the day he missed his thrust on a boar hunt and it gored him to death . . . and then there was Cygnus Malfoy, he was born with a lisp and thought an idiot, but he actually survived an assassination attempt that killed all the more gifted males in the family . . .Derek Malfoy was a treasure hunter, of course nobody in the family would admit it, treasure hunting being a vulgar past time . . . it's said he found an ancient spellbook that contained secrets of magic now lost to this world, potions recipes and charms to heal and protect, to guide a soul on the final journey, or to keep it from leaving . . ."

"Is it true?"

Draconis snorted. "Yes. But he hid it away and no one living knows where."

"Do you?"

"I might. One night, when he'd had too much to drink, he might have spoken aloud a location . . ."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Oh, right."

"You don't believe me?" Draconis sounded insulted.

"If you knew the location of the book, why haven't you told anyone before this?"

"Because no one ever bothered to ask me. No one speaks to me anymore, except to tell me to shut up! Everyone forgets about old Imperius, who cares about the dragon skull moldering away in some dusty cabinet? The only reason I'm in here is because Draco thought his son might like to see me."

"Have you ever talked to him?"

"Yes. He likes me. But then his father said I was telling him too many scary stories and he hasn't let him come in here since." Draconis sniffed.

"All right. Where's the book?"

"It's fifteen paces to the right of the house, and sixty paces northward, till you reach a pond . . . ."

Severus listened intently to the directions. He was unsure if he believed the skull, but it couldn't hurt to check out the directions. After all, he had nothing better to do.

He bid Draconis goodbye and thanked him before heading out to find Alby and Cory.

Cory jumped when Severus tapped him on the shoulder. "Sevvy! Why aren't you hiding?"

"Because I've found a better game to play. Where's Alby? We're going on a treasure hunt."

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Cory found some small shovels in the garden shed and they took them and followed Severus. When Severus thought he had found the spot where the dragon skull said the treasure should be, he drew an X and began to dig. Cory and Alby helped him, and in twenty minutes they had a fairly large hole dug.

"I'm tired of diggin', Sevvy," Alby groaned, tossing his trowel off to the side of the ever growing mound of dirt. "I wanna play in the pond."

"Me too," Cory agreed. "I'm hot."

Severus was hot and sweaty too, and since they didn't seem to be making much progress, decided they all needed a break and he took off his shoes and socks and waded into the pond. "Ahh . . . it's cold!" he yelped, but after the initial icy feeling, the water felt great on his feet and ankles. He rolled up his jeans and waded into the pond up to his knees, the water was no deeper than that.

Soon all three boys were splashing each other and getting wet.

Then Alby spotted a newt sitting on a small stick, and grabbed his net and tried to catch it. They had brought the nets and bucket with them just in case, and now the youngest Potter was determined to catch a few specimens.

Soon Cory joined the hunt, and Severus as well. Between the three of them, they caught several different colors and kinds of newts and frogs. They nearly filled the bucket, and got thoroughly wet and muddy in the process.

"Wow!" Cory exclaimed. "Look at all the newts and frogs we caught. We must have like a bazillion!"

"Yeah, and look how neat they are!" Alby said. "Do you think Uncle Draco will let us keep 'em?"

"Not all of them," Severus said. "Even if some of them are good for potions, like those green and blue ones there."

"Let's show them to him!" Alby shrilled. "Then we can come back and dig for some more treasure." He began to lug the bucket out of the pond and back to the house.

"Me too!" Cory said, not wanting to be left out. He took the handle on the opposite end and began to help Alby carry the bucket.

Severus followed, grabbing his shoes and socks.

But as the little boys tried to carry the bucket, some of their catch started to jump out.

"Oh, no! They're getting out!" Alby cried.

A few small frogs and newts escaped and began to run back towards the water.

"Keep going!" Severus urged. He then tried to capture the lucky escapees.

The jumping and scurrying amphibians also brought something else to investigate.

Lucifer and his flock.

The peacock started chasing the newts and frogs and so did the rest of his wives.

Severus swatted at a particularly persistent peahen, as he bent to grab a yellow newt. "Get away!"

The peahen squawked and backed off.

But that brought Lucifer over to do battle, and he wanted only to bite the child for his audacity in chasing away his hen.

Severus turned upon hearing the threatening scream, and saw the albino peacock coming at him with its red eyes gleaming. No fool, Severus started running, the newt still in his palm.

Lucifer gave chase, hissing and screaming.

When Cory looked back to see what was going on and saw Lucifer chasing Severus, he screamed. "Lucifee! Run, Al! Run!"

The two small boys began to run as fast as they could towards the house, the bucket bumping against their legs, letting more of their frogs and lizards escape.

But Lucifer was twice as quick, and soon the fierce bird had nearly caught up. Its head darted out and it nipped Alby hard.

Alby shrieked and wailed. "Owww! He bit me! Sevvy! He bit me!"

"You stupid bird! I'm going to pluck you and put you in a stew!" Severus cried angrily. He still had a net under his arm and he poked hard at the peacock. "Take that you rotten bird!"

Lucifer squawked and backed away, then he suddenly spun and lunged at Severus. His beak found Severus' thigh and bit down hard. Severus yelled and hit the bird with the net.

Lucifer let go and Severus kept running.

The three reached the house and threw open the door, the peacock hot on their heels.

"Daddy! Daddy! Help!" Cory screeched. "Lucifee's after us!" He was so scared of the peacock that he was practically dragging Alby into the house.

As a result, Alby tripped over the threshold and spilled the bucket of newts and frogs all over.

Soon there were newts and frogs hopping and scurrying everywhere, climbing up the pillars of the entry and across the Aubusson carpet, up the stairs and down the hall.

The enraged Lucifer followed Severus right into the house, still trying to attack the children. He tried to fly after them, hissing and screaming, and his wings and tail knocked over several vases and statues Narcissa had upon two small tables along the entry. They crashed to the ground and broke.

The resulting cacophony brought Lucius and Draco from their offices.

Draco immediately saw the crazed peacock trying to bite the children and pointed his wand at it. "Immobulus!" he cried.

Lucifer was caught fast, frozen as he attempted to bite Cory on the behind.

Draco then stared, his jaw dropping open at the myriad of newts and frogs everywhere and muddy footprints tracked all over the tile and the carpet, and the three boys looking like something the cat dragged in, filthy and soaking wet, and crying. "Great Merlin!" He turned to look at his father, expecting Lucius to blow his stack.

Lucius was standing in the middle of the foyer, and a few crazy newts had managed to climb up his trouser legs. The patriarch of the Malfoy clan had newts clinging to his shirt and a frog had hopped onto his head. Another newt was stuck to his collar and still another climbed his knee. He gazed about at the wreckage of his foyer and said nothing for a few long moments.

Draco braced himself for a tirade and so did the boys, once they realized the peacock had been frozen and wasn't a threat.

"Uh . . . hi, Grandpa!" Cory said, giving his elder a guilty grin. "Lucifee was chasin' us! I think he wanted to eat us!"

Lucius looked down at his grandson and did a very un-Malfoy like thing.

He burst out laughing.

Draco gaped at him. That was the very last thing he had expected from his conservative father. "Father? Are you . . . all right?"

When he could talk again, Lucius nodded. "Yes." He waved his hand and all the newts and so forth climbing him were transported to the floor. "Although, we'd better get this house cleaned up before your mother comes back and hexes us to the moon. She'll never trust us home alone again."

"Can I kill the bloody peacock?" asked Draco menacingly. "It bit Alby and Severus."

"I wish I could say yes, but that bird is your mother's pride and joy. I'd never hear the end of it if something happened to her precious peacock," Lucius scowled. "Just get it the hell back outside."

Draco levitated the frozen peacock out the door and a safe distance away. Then he removed the spell and Lucifer staggered off, looking dazed.

Together, the two men managed to corral all the newts and frogs with a Summoning spell, and clean up the foyer, which had footprints and water all over it. Narcissa would have been horrified.

Once the house was sparkling clean, Draco looked at his three troublemakers and said, "All right, whose bright idea was it to do this?"

"Draco, before you find that out, we should give them a bath. They're filthy," Lucius interrupted.

Draco had to agree. All three were muddy, wet, and both Severus and Alby sported large red bite marks.

He picked up his son and Alby and Apparated upstairs. Lucius picked up Severus and did the same.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

"All right, now whose bright idea was this?" Draco repeated.

All three boys had been scrubbed and ointment put on the marks left by the peacock and dressed in clean clothing. They were seated on the long brown sofa in the drawing room and Draco stood before them, frowning. Lucius stood behind him, content to let his son handle the discipline this time.

All three boys hung their heads and looked rather ashamed.

Finally Cory said, "We was playing treasure hunt an' frog catching, Daddy."

"Yes, I can see that, Scorpius, but what I want to know is whose idea was it to bring all those newts and frogs in here? Your mother and grandmother would have a heart attack if they found the house full of those creatures. Not to mention the wreck you made of the carpet with your muddy footprints. What on earth were you thinking?"

"It was mine, Uncle Draco," Alby said. "I wanted to show you how many we caught an' all the different ones." Tears pooled in his eyes. "I'm sorry I dropped them. But I tripped. An' that mean old bird bit me."

"Yes, I know and I want to wring that bird's neck," Draco said. "How did Lucifer come to be chasing you?"

"He saw the frogs and wanted some," Severus answered softly. "And after he bit Alby . . . I hit him with my net."

"Can't say I blame you. Where did you find all of these . . . newts?"

"We were by the pond, an' we played in the water and the mud. We were digging for buried treasure, a skull told Severus it was hidden by there." Cory put in.

"I see. And you got filthy. Your mothers would have my head, letting you get like this," Draco said, and his eyes narrowed. "Hold it. You said a skull told Severus about buried treasure? There's only one skull I know of in this house and that's inside my office. It's called Draconis Imperius. Sound familiar, Severus?"

"Yes. I . . . I went in there to hide, we were playing hide and seek," Severus began, sounding defensive.

"And what part of don't go into my office didn't you understand, Mr. Snape?"

"It was only for a moment. I didn't hurt anything," Severus protested, his eyes burning with unshed tears. Even to his own ears that sounded lame.

"That's not the point. The point is you disobeyed me. I keep my office closed for a reason. Imperius is a gossipy bag of bones and what's more, sometimes he lies. That's why I keep Cory away from him." Draco said sternly.

"Then there's really no spell book hidden over by the pond?" asked Severus, dismayed.

"I don't know, but I highly doubt it. Even if there was, how far do you think you'd get digging a hole with a garden trowel?"

"Not very far." Severus felt his lower lip start to quiver. He sniffled.

"I'm surprised at you, Severus." Draco continued. "Thought you knew better than to test me like this. I'm very disappointed in you. In all of you."

Severus looked down at his shoes and whispered, "I'm sorry, Draco." Guilt stung the back of his throat and suddenly the detested tears were quietly flowing down his cheeks, despite his earlier conditioning to not cry.

"You should be. You're the oldest, you need to set the example."

More tears followed.

Suddenly Alby began to cry. "Sorry, Uncle Draco. We didn't mean to make a big mess."

"Sorry, Daddy." Cory was now crying too. It was like a domino effect.

"Uncle Draco, are you going to tell my dad?" whimpered Alby. He didn't want his daddy to yell at them too.

Draco paused, recalling Harry's admonition. "No. Here, in my house, I make the rules and I give the punishment," the blond wizard decided. "I can handle this myself, I don't need to go running to Harry."

Alby and Severus heaved sighs of relief. Then Alby asked, "Are we in big trouble?"

Draco knew what that meant. "No, I'm not going to spank you. I really ought to send you three to bed without supper, but I won't do that either. However, you will all go to bed early, and get a five minute time out so you can think about what you did wrong. Alby and Cory, you both know better than to bring newts and frogs into the house, or muddy feet. Or dig up the backyard. Severus, since you were the most at fault, you'll go to bed the earliest. At seven thirty. I'll tell Jinxy to make supper at six thirty."

"Does this mean you won't take us to feed the fish?" Alby asked.

"No. I'll still let you feed them," Draco said. "But afterwards, I want you all to play quietly in the playroom until supper. Right now, we can eat lunch. Come into the dining room. You must be starving."

The three followed him into the dining room, where Jinxy had made grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the children and a chicken pit pie for Lucius and Draco.

Alby and Cory fell on the food as if they were refugees, devouring it.

Severus, on the other hand, only picked at his food.

Draco noticed and asked quietly, "Don't you like grilled cheese, Severus? If you don't just say so and you can have something else, like my chicken pie."

The little boy shook his head. "I'm not very hungry." He pushed his plate away.

"All right. But at least drink your juice." Draco said. He knew better than to push food upon a child. His mother always said children would eat when they were hungry and forcing them to eat would only cause problems.

Severus obediently sipped his juice.

Finally, lunch was over, and Draco brought them all back to the playroom. Severus didn't feel like doing much of anything, so he sat on the window seat and looked at some books while Alby and Cory played together. Lulled by the quiet atmosphere, Severus fell asleep. Soon after, so did the other two boys.

By supper, Cory and Alby were their usual chatty selves, asking a million questions. Severus was still quiet, though he ate most of his roasted chicken, potatoes, and glazed carrots. Dessert was apple pie, which he enjoyed, so he actually finished that.

At seven-thirty, Draco led Severus upstairs, had him get ready for bed, and then told him to pick a corner of Cory's room and stand there. "Five minutes. No moving." Draco popped up a large clock as a timer.

Severus couldn't remember ever getting a time out in his former life, only the back of his father's hand. He soon discovered why little children hated it. Not only did it seem endless, it was boring, and thinking about how stupid he'd been only made him feel more ashamed. He forced himself to stand still.

When the clock finally rang, Draco returned to the room, Mimic under his arm. "All right, Severus. You can come out now. All's forgiven."

Severus turned around and came over. Draco hugged him, then picked him up and carried him to Cory's huge bed. "Here you go, Sev." He handed Mimic back to the little boy. "Would you like me to read you a story before you go to sleep? I always do that with Cory."

Severus hugged Mimic to him hard, and the toy whispered, "I love you, Sev," Usually he drew comfort from that, but tonight it made him homesick.

After all the stress of the day, getting in trouble, and now being made to sleep alone in a strange place, even if it weren't for the whole night, caused Severus to burst into tears. He felt overwhelmed and his five-year-old self didn't know how to handle it, except by crying. He buried his face in the stuffed raven and sobbed as if his heart were breaking.

"Severus, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" Draco asked, alarmed. He reached out and cuddled the little boy on his lap. "Hey, Sev. You're not in trouble anymore," he said, trying to figure out why the child was suddenly bawling his head off. "Are you sick?"

A head shake.

"You want your brother?"

Another head shake.

"Then what's wrong?"

Severus himself hadn't known what was wrong at first, only that he was miserable and crying seemed the best way to express that misery. But as Draco held him and rocked him, he realized he was waiting for a familiar voice and hands. "I wanna go home!" he sniveled. "I . . . I miss H-Harry and G-Ginny!"

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Severus realized they were true. He missed the room he shared with Alby at Godric's Hollow, with all of his toys and kits in it, he missed Ginny's soft voice reading to him, her hand smoothing his hair,and Harry's arms about him, holding him close. He missed snuggling against Harry, listening to his heartbeat and smelling Harry's unique smell of Aqua Velva and chocolate chip biscuits. He just plain missed Harry, who hadn't been home to tuck him in at night since the accident. He felt safe with the Potters, safe and wanted. And even though he loved Draco, somehow it wasn't the same.

Draco was floored by the small boy's admission. He had never expected Severus Snape, of all people, to get homesick. Severus had always struck him as being self-sufficient, not needing anyone. Even at five, he was mature for his age. It had been easy for Draco to forget sometimes that his professor was no more, that his Severus lived now only in memories. Only now did he finally see that this Severus, despite his prodigious memories, was truly a child, a child who longed for the comforts of home and family.

Draco rocked the little boy back and forth, whispering, "Sev, please don't cry. You'll see Harry and Ginny tomorrow. I promise, I'll bring you right back after breakfast." He felt his heart go out to the child, and yet at the same time there was a small kernel of jealousy within him. Who would have thought Severus would grow so attached to a bunch of Gryffindors? Especially Harry Potter? I'm your godson! Draco longed to cry, before he stopped and thought about how dumb that sounded. He knew Severus still loved him, had always loved him. Why should he care if Severus loved Harry too? Severus should love his guardian, after all, he had to live with Potter.

Even so, Draco couldn't help being a tiny bit jealous that Severus was crying over Harry, that he didn't seem to feel comfortable with Draco. An instant later, he chided himself for being petty and selfish. It was a good thing that Severus missed Ginny and Harry. They were like his parents now, and what little boy didn't miss his parents the first time he spent a night from home? He recalled Harry telling him the first time Cory had stayed over Godric's Hollow, his son had cried this same way for him and Astoria. It was normal. Severus was, at long last, acting his age.

Draco continued rubbing and patting Severus's back and murmuring to the child, letting him cry himself out. Finally the tears slowed to a trickle and then stopped. Draco turned to look at the dark head resting on his shoulder and saw that Severus had cried himself to sleep. "Oh, well. Guess I should have expected that," he said ruefully. He shifted the boy in his arms, tucking him into bed. As he moved to set Mimic beside the former professor, the raven said, "I love you, Sev."

Draco chuckled. "Yeah, and he loves you too, Harry. More than he knows." He rose and stood staring down at the sleeping child with tenderness and love. Then he bent and kissed the boy on the forehead. "We both love you, Sev. Pleasant dreams."

As he made his way down the stairs, he wondered if Alby would also have a bout of homesickness. Until he remembered that Alby had stayed here before, and was used to the manor, and liked sleeping with Cory in his big bed. Alby also now had his brother and Bucky as well.

Lucius looked up when Draco entered the dining room again. "I sent Cory and Alby to play for a bit until you're ready to call them for bed. You look . . . a little frazzled. Did he give you a hard time?"

"No. But he . . . started crying for Harry and Ginny. Said he missed them and wanted to go home. I didn't realize he'd grown so attached to them."

"That's as it should be," Lucius said quietly. "A child should miss his parents. When I was a prefect, I comforted many a first year who was homesick their first time away from home. But you know something, Draco? I never comforted Severus, he didn't need it. Because he never had a loving home or a father. But now he does, son. And I say, it's about time."

Draco simply nodded and wondered what Harry and Ginny would say when he told them. He had a feeling they would be just as surprised as he had been.
 


Chapter 23: Welcome Home Harry
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23

Welcome Home, Harry

Severus woke early the next morning, his bladder was full to bursting, and he rushed out of Cory's room to use the loo. Once he was finished, he walked softly back inside the bedroom, but he wasn't sleepy. Usually once he was awake he couldn't go back to sleep, unless he was totally exhausted. He climbed up and sat on the edge of the bed, hugging Mimic. The raven always made him feel happy, and somehow closer to Harry and Ginny, who had bought him the toy.

He stared around Cory's bedroom, which was decorated with a pattern of dragons flying, sleeping, playing, and fighting. The dragons were all different species and colors and looked extremely lifelike. When he'd asked Draco who did the wallpaper, Draco had told him Astoria had painted the dragons herself. She was a very talented artist, and some of her work hung in the Ministry art gallery.

The floor was carpeted in a thick blue plush, and there was a bookshelf filled with volumes of children's literature next to the bed. There was a child's desk beside the window and on it were several sketch pads, crayons, pastels, and paints.

Severus stole a glance at the desk, then abruptly decided that since he couldn't sleep, he might as well draw. He padded across the floor and sat down at the desk. He opened up a sketch pad, picked up a pencil and began to draw. He was a fair artist, though better at drawing plant and animal specimens for potions than people.

He started to draw.

First he sketched the talking dragon skull, Draconis Imperius. He was still curious to find out if there really was a spellbook buried in the backyard, but didn't feel like trying to dig for it by himself. Maybe some other time, when he had Lily to help him and was bigger, they could figure out the mystery of the hidden treasure.

Then he drew the Potter family. He sketched Alby first, he was easier, making him smiling and standing next to Ginny. He took more time with the two adults, mixing several shades of orange and red to get the exact color of her hair and having her wear a lavender shirt with black pants. She was also smiling. Then he drew Harry, but not Harry as he was now, injured and stuck in bed, but Harry flying on his Firebolt, his hair blowing in the wind, waving, his cloak fluttering behind him. He worked a long time on Harry, trying to capture the bright expression in his green eyes and the laugh lines about his mouth. He sketched Harry's glasses in last.

Then his pencil hovered over a spot in front of Harry, where he was trying to decide if he should put himself in the picture.

"Where are you, Sevvy?" asked a small voice beside his elbow.

Severus turned to see Alby, who was yawning and rubbing his eyes. "How come you're up?"

Alby shrugged. "You weren't by me and I got cold." He clutched Bucky in one arm.

"Oh. I had to go use the loo and then I couldn't sleep so I was drawing."

Alby nodded. "You need to draw you, Sevvy," he pointed to the spot in front of Harry. "You could go next to Daddy. Or here," his finger moved to point to a space on the ground, "by Mummy."

"Do I really need to be in it? I think it looks fine the way it is." Severus said critically.

"No, it doesn't," his brother argued stubbornly. "It's no good if you're not in it. You're my big brudder and you belong with me, Mummy, and Daddy."

For some reason hearing Alby say that made Severus feel all warm and cozy inside. It was the first time a little child had expressed a need for him that way and it made him stop feeling homesick. His fingers flew over the paper and he drew himself sitting in front of Harry on the broom. As he drew his face, he automatically started to put a frown on his small face, but then he erased it and put a small smile instead. Because now he was happy.

"How's that?" he asked his brother.

"Better. Where'd you learn to draw like that?"

"I don't know. I just can." Severus replied, coloring in his hair.

"Are you gonna give that to Daddy?"

Severus hadn't thought about that. "Uh . . . I guess so." He finished coloring his self-portrait and then signed his name in an artist's scrawl.

"Whatcha gonna draw next?"

Severus thought for a moment. Then he began to draw again, a girl's face this time, with heartbreaking emerald eyes and brilliant hair the color of the embers of a dying fire. He drew her wearing a light green top and a gold chain with a heart on it inscribed with the word "Always".

"Who's that? Is it Mummy?" Alby queried.

"No. This is someone else," Severus answered. "She was . . . very special."

"What's her name?"

"Lily," Severus said very softly.

"She's pretty."

"Yes, she was." Severus tore out the two pictures he'd just drawn and placed them on the nightstand next to Mimic.

"Sevvy, do you miss Mummy and Daddy?"

Severus nodded. It still felt odd that he missed Harry and Ginny so much, but he couldn't deny that it was so. The only other person he'd ever missed that way was his mother. He hopped back onto the bed.

"Me too," Alby sighed, and came to lean against Severus.

Severus instinctively put an arm about him, letting Alby put his head on his shoulder. "We'll see them soon. Draco promised he'd take us back to the hospital after breakfast."

"Will Daddy be in the hosp'tal forever?"

"No, of course not. He'll be home as soon as the Healers say he's better," Severus reassured Alby.

"But Sevvy, it's taking forever! I'm sick of waiting!" Alby whined, kicking a foot against the side of the bed.

"I know how you feel," Severus said gently. "But sometimes healing takes a long time. We just have to be patient."

Alby scowled. "Patience sucks!"

"Hey! Watch your mouth, Albus Severus!" the command came out of Severus' mouth without conscious thought, for just so had he reprimanded his students when he was a teacher.

Alby sniffled at the sudden sharp tone. "Sorry, Sevvy. I forgot. Don't be mad. Or tell Daddy. He'll make me eat soap."

"I won't. Just don't do it again, okay?" Severus relented at a tearful look from Alby's bright green eyes. Snape, since when are you such a pushover? The cynical part of himself asked. It's not my place to discipline him, he retorted. I'm his brother, not his father. And for once, the cynical side of himself had nothing to say.

"'Kay." Alby heaved a sigh that seemed to come from all the way down by his toes and yawned. "M'kinda tired now."

"Go back to sleep then."

"Can't."

"Why not?"

"I need you to lay by me."

"Aww, Albus!" groaned Severus. "What for?"

"You make me feel safe."

Severus turned and stared at the smaller boy. "I do?"

"Uh huh. I'm not a'scared when you're sleeping next to me. 'Cause you're brave like Daddy. You scare away all the bad dreams."

"I do?" Severus was shocked. He never in a million years would have considered himself any kind of . . . of hero, but Albus clearly regarded him as such. He felt very humbled. "All right. Lie down," he told the little boy. There was no way he could refuse Alby after that statement.

Alby crawled back until he was almost touching Cory.

Severus then scooted over until he was next to his brother, he lay on his side, and let Alby snuggle up to his back. He felt his brother's arm go around him and heard Alby sigh happily.

"Now I can sleep," said the four-year-old. He shut his eyes and pressed his face into his big brother's shoulder. Within moments he was asleep.

Severus could feel Alby's soft breath on the back of his neck, and at first he was almost annoyed by it. But after a few moments he grew used to it and before he knew it he had dozed off. The next time he woke up the sun was out and Jinxy was calling that it was time the young masters were awake.

Severus was out of bed like a shot, before Alby could sit up. "I call the bathroom first!"

As he was heading out of the room, he heard Alby whimper, "No, Sevvy! I gotta go real bad!"

Severus froze and looked back at the dark-haired child. "You always have to go real bad, Al."

Alby squirmed. "Please, Sevvy. I don't wanna wet the bed."

"Come on then," Severus huffed.

Alby scrambled out of the bed and charged down the hall to the bathroom.

Severus sighed and leaned against the wall, waiting. Little brothers were such pains!

He waited five minutes than tapped on the door. "Alby, hurry! I have to go too!"

He heard a muffled sniffle then Alby's voice calling, "Sevvy . . .?"

"What is it now?" Severus asked exasperatedly. "Don't tell me you need help with your pajamas."

"No . . . but . . ." Alby whined. "I . . .I . . . need another pair of underwear."

"You what?" Severus pushed open the door.

Alby was standing in front of the toilet and tears were running down his cheeks. "I had an accident!" he whispered, ashamed. "I didn't mean to!" He started crying harder.

For a moment, Severus didn't know what to do or say. They hadn't exactly covered that topic in the Hogwarts Handbook for Professors. He bit his lip.

Alby was so ashamed. He hadn't had any accidents in a long time . . . months and months! Now here he was at Cory's house and he was supposed to be a big boy away from home and this happened. At home he wouldn't have minded so much, he would have gone and gotten a new pair of pants or called Harry to get them. But here he didn't know where an extra pair was and he didn't want Uncle Draco to think he was a baby that still wet his pants. He stared at the floor and bawled. "I'm sorry . . . it just came out."

Severus finally regained his voice and said, "Al, stop crying, for Merlin's sake. It's no big deal. I'll bet Cory has accidents too sometimes."

"I don't wanna be like Cory!" Alby said indignantly. "I wanna be a big boy, like you."

"Fine, then quit acting like the world just ended," Severus rolled his eyes. "Stay here, I'll try and find some underpants. Merlin's foot!" He went out of the bathroom and shut the door. Then he glanced around. He didn't know if Draco were awake yet, and didn't really want to wake him up and tell him what had happened. Alby was already mortified and Severus didn't want to be the one to spill the beans. "Now what?" he asked himself.

"Does the young master need help?" Jinxy asked, popping up beside him.

Severus jumped. "Oh! Jinxy, can you . . . err . . . find me a pair of . . . underpants? Not for me, for my little brother," he asserted quickly, lest the elf get the wrong idea. "He had a bit of an accident."

"Not a problem, young master. Jinxy will be right back." She popped off, and returned in the blink of an eye, holding a folded pair of boy's underpants.

"Thanks, Jinxy." Severus said in relief. Then he went back in the bathroom. "Here," he tossed the underpants to Alby. "Put them on and go get dressed."

Alby beamed at him. "Thanks, Sevvy! You're the bestest."

"Sure, whatever. Hurry up and get out." Severus ordered, trying not to squirm, for he still had to go.

Once Alby had pulled on his new underwear, Severus shoved him out the door. As he raced over to the toilet, he muttered, "Sometimes being a big brother sucks!"

Page~*~*~*~*Break

Jinxy made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Draco noticed that Alby seemed quiet this morning, but figured it was because he was still tired. He looked at Severus, but the child seemed calm and collected after last night's bout of homesickness. Cory was his usual bouncy self, chattering away a mile a minute inbetween bites of pancake. "Cory, don't talk with your mouth full," Draco repeated for what seemed like the hundredth time.

"Uncle Draco, can I have chocolate milk?" asked Alby. "Mummy always gives me chocolate milk to drink at home."

"Jinxy, get Master Alby some chocolate milk," Draco called.

"At once, Master Draco." Jinxy said.

"Please," Alby said.

"What?" Draco looked over at Harry's son.

"I said please. You shoulda said "please" to Jinxy," Alby reminded.

Draco looked flabbergasted. "Uh . . . well . . ."

"Daddy always tells me if I want something I have to ask nicely," Alby informed him. "An' I have to say "please and thank you". They're the magic words."

"Since when?" asked Draco.

"Since my daddy said," answered Alby.

Jinxy popped back in with the chocolate milk, handing it to Alby.

"Thank you, Jinxy." Alby said.

The elf looked startled. "You has no need to thank Jinxy, young master. 'Tis a pleasure to serve."

"Yes, I do. Daddy says so."

The elf bowed. "You are welcome, Master Alby." Then she blinked away.

"Well, I'll be a jabberwock's uncle," Draco exclaimed. "Out of the mouths of babes."

Severus hid a grin behind his hand. See, you learn something new every day, Draco.

Page~*~*~*~Break

When Draco and the boys arrived at St. Mungos, they had to wait outside Room 407 because the assistants were changing Harry's bandage. When Alby asked why they couldn't see his daddy, Draco explained that they were fixing his dad's back and needed privacy. Ginny came out too and Alby ran and hugged her tightly.

"Mummy! I had fun at Cory's but I missed you lots!" her baby said.

"I missed you too, baby!" Ginny cooed, hugging her youngest.

"Mummy! I'm not a baby!" Alby immediately protested. "I'm four!"

Ginny laughed. "You're my big little boy, Albus Severus." She kissed him on the cheek. "And you'll always be my baby."

"Now you sound like my mother! Poor kid!" Draco sniggered.

"Be quiet, you!" Ginny ordered, poking him in the arm. She set Alby down and turned to look at Severus. "Sev, how are you?"

"I'm good," he said, and then he came over and hugged her too. "I missed you too."

Ginny's arms came around him and she hugged him back, her eyes glistening with tears. "Oh, Sev! I'm so glad." It was true. For some moments last night, Ginny had lain awake fearing that Severus would like it better with Draco at Malfoy Manor and refuse to come home. Harry would have been heartbroken. "I missed you so much."

"Really?"

"Really and truly." Ginny assured him. Then she let him go, knowing that little boys his age didn't like to be fussed over too much.

Draco pulled Ginny aside and said, very softly, "You'll never believe this, but Severus got homesick last night. He started crying when I put him to bed with Mimic and wouldn't stop. When I asked what was wrong, he said he wanted you and Harry. He cried himself to sleep in my arms, he missed you that much."

Ginny looked like she was about to cry. "I never would have thought . . . he always seems so . . . independent . . . so much like a mini adult . . .Oh, wait till Harry hears that! It'll make his day. He so wants Severus to feel like part of the family and now . . . I think he does."

The intern stuck her head out the door at that moment. "Mrs. Potter, you can come back in now. Your husband's back is healing so rapidly, Healer Jordan thinks he might be able to come home sooner than he predicted."

Ginny smiled delightedly. "That's fantastic! When does he think Harry will be released?"

"A day sooner than the end of the week, if he keeps mending like this," answered the intern. "I must say, I've never seen burns like this heal so rapidly even with magic. It's remarkable! It's too bad Severus Snape weren't around to see how well his salve worked. It's one of the best medical inventions of the century!"

"I'm sure he'd be very proud," Ginny said, then she winked at Severus, who was blushing. She pushed open the door and went into Harry's room. "Harry, look who's here."

Harry was sitting up in a recliner, wearing a crimson robe over his hospital gown and slippers. Before he could say anything, Severus suddenly pushed past Ginny and practically jumped into Harry's lap. At the last second he recalled that Harry was still injured and skidded to a halt, then threw his arms about Harry's middle.

An astonished Harry could think of nothing to say except, "Miss me, Sev?"

"Yes. I missed you a lot," was all Severus answered. He buried his nose into Harry's middle, reveling in the familiar scents of Aqua Velva shave cream and chocolate chips and cinnamon. Harry always smelled good, sometimes good enough to eat, given his penchant for sweets.

Harry reached down and lifted Severus onto his lap, cuddling his ward against him. "I missed you too, Sevvy. All the way to the moon and back." He noticed that Severus smelled like pancakes, syrup, and mint.

Severus then recalled the picture he'd drawn and he rummaged in his pocket. "I drew this for you, Harry," he said, holding it out for Harry to see.

Harry examined the drawing closely and said, "That's a wicked picture, Sev. You're quite an artist."

"Not as good as Astoria," Severus said.

"You're good enough for me. I can't even draw stick figures," Harry chuckled. He put the picture on the wall with the others from concerned children. "Did you have a good time?"

"Yes, but I'm glad to be home."

Harry felt a warm glow spread through him at Severus' words. For the first time since coming through the Veil, Severus had admitted that he considered the Godric's Hollow house his home. Harry wanted to broadcast his happiness to the world. Severus had finally accepted he belonged with the Potters.

Alby came running into the room, yelling, "Daddy! Daddy! Are you all better yet?" He swarmed over Harry.

"Hey, take it easy!" Harry said gently. "I'm not going anywhere, Alby." He picked up Alby and put him on his opposite knee.

Severus suddenly slipped down, letting Alby have some time with Harry.

"What did you do over there?" asked Harry curiously.

Alby began to tell his father all about playing in the playroom and digging for buried treasure and hunting for frogs and newts, then getting chased by Lucifer.

"Sounds like you had quite the adventure, buddy," Harry laughed. "Maybe we'll have to have Cory over next time."

"Yeah!" Alby shouted. "Cory! Daddy says you can come over my house some time."

"Cool! Hi, Uncle Harry!" Cory cried, then he too ran across the room to see Harry.

"Hello, Cory. Looks like you had fun with your cousins." Harry said, rumpling his hair.

"Loads of fun. Can they come back again?" Cory asked, then he got down and went over to look at the drawings.

"We'll see," Harry smirked. He turned to look at Draco. "I take it they behaved?"

"What do you think, Potter?" snorted Draco.

Harry laughed. "Well, at least you survived."

"You're a riot, Potter." Draco coughed. Then he leaned in close and told Harry what had happened last night.

There were no words Harry could use to describe how great Draco's news was. He had been so afraid that Severus would reject him in favor of Draco, his former student and godson. Now it appeared that not only did he not want Draco, but that he had missed Harry too! Harry felt so happy that he just wanted to hug Severus and never let go.

Draco, sensing that Harry wished to be alone with his family, gathered up Cory and said, "We've got to be going. I have a few errands to do before Tori and Mother comes home. Cory, say goodbye."

After the two Malfoys had gone, Alby said, "Mum, I'm bored in here. There's nothing to do."

Ginny could understand that and so she suggested, "Let's take a walk around, Al. We can look at the fish and go to the gift shop."

Alby brightened. "Can we get some candy for Daddy? And some for us too?"

"I think your dad has enough candy," Ginny said, looking at all the gift baskets on the table. "But maybe we could get him something else."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Why don't we go and see?"

Alby took her hand and followed her out the door, skipping a little.

Once the door had shut behind them, Severus went back and leaned against Harry's knee. He stifled a yawn.

"Tired, Sevvy?" Harry asked, running his hand through the silky dark locks.

"Mmmhmm," Severus yawned again. "I woke up too early."

"Ah. Couldn't sleep?" Harry asked knowingly. He drew Severus onto his lap so the boy could snuggle against him.

Severus nestled into Harry's chest and murmured, "Not . . . at first." It was the closest he would come to admitting he had cried like a little baby.

"I was like that too my first night away at Hogwarts," Harry said.

Severus stared up at him. "You missed Privet Drive?" he exclaimed. Why on earth Harry would have missed that hellhole he couldn't fathom.

"Hell, no. I was just so excited that I couldn't fall asleep," Harry clarified. "I kept thinking about how different everything was and finally I fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning."

"Oh." Now that made more sense. "I fell asleep with Alby, but then Jinxy woke us up at eight and I had to help Alby, he . . ." Severus hesitated, not sure whether to reveal what had happened with Alby to Harry. Then he decided it was all right if Harry knew, Harry had probably been through it before. " . . . had an accident and I had to ask Jinxy to get me some new underpants."

"You did?" Harry's eyebrow went up. "Draco didn't mention that."

"He didn't know. Alby was crying, he was embarrassed, so I figured I wouldn't tell Draco about it. But it's all right if you know, since you're his dad."

Harry felt his lips twitch. "Yeah, I've been there and done that. One time he was sleeping in my bed, inbetween me and Ginny and he wet while he was asleep. That wasn't a pleasant surprise to wake up to." He grimaced. "But he's getting better. You're a good big brother, Severus."

"I try," the five-year-old said, sounding rather put out. He nestled further into Harry's arms. "I can't wait till you can go home."

"Me too. I'm sick of staring at these four walls half the time," Harry said feelingly. "Thank goodness your burn salve worked so well."

"Did you think it wouldn't?"

"No. You're the one who's a genius with potions. I'm going to petition the Medical Board to patent that salve under your name. As well as any other potions you have that need to be recognized."

Severus smiled. It was nice to be appreciated for all of his hours of hard work. "That's good." Then he yawned again and closed his eyes. "You make a good pillow, Harry."

He could feel Harry's soft laugh and then the older wizard said, "Thanks. I think."

Severus smirked and allowed himself to slip away into dreamland, He was exhausted emotionally, but now he could rest, for he was where he belonged at last.

Harry smiled down at the sleeping little boy and thought about how far Severus had come from the day he'd returned from the Veil. "I'm glad you're here with me," he whispered, then he decided to take a nap as well. Sleep was the best healer.

When Ginny and Alby returned some fifteen minutes later, bringing a jigsaw puzzle and a jar of nuts with them, they found Harry and Severus fast asleep.

"Aww, why are they sleeping, Mummy?" Alby groaned, looking disappointed. "It's morning time!"

"I know, sweetie, but your daddy needs rest to heal and I think Sevvy didn't sleep too well either," Ginny consoled him. "We can start the puzzle ourselves."

Alby smiled. "Yay! I can sort out the straight ends." He said, waiting for her to open the box. The puzzle was one with a potions lab with students brewing and lots of ingredients in colorful bottles. Alby had picked it out.

As Ginny helped her youngest sort through the pieces, she kept stealing glances at Harry and Severus and couldn't resist pulling her camera out of her purse and snapping a picture. There! The first picture for their new family album. She hoped there would be many more.

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Harry was discharged from the hospital on Friday. Healer Jordan had instructed him to apply the burn salve for another week, just to make certain there was no scarring. Harry had a long discussion with Healer Jordan and got the ball rolling to authorize Severus' burn salve and patent it in his name. After signing a few forms, he also had the Healer, who was Head of Wound Research, agree to patent a few more of Severus' formulas, once Harry made sure the recipes were complete and removed them from his vault. The Healer was quite eager to get his hands on any new formula Snape had created, but Harry would let Severus examine them first before sending any over to the hospital.

When they finally arrived at Godric's Hollow, Harry discovered there was an impromptu party given by his in-laws to welcome him home. It was just the Weasleys, and Molly had made some of his favorite foods, enough so Ginny wouldn't have to cook over the weekend and the couple could have some peace and quiet after the ordeal they had been through. Harry generously handed out candy to everyone from his gift baskets, and gave some flowers to Molly, Hermione, and Fleur.

After both boys had been given baths and put to bed for the night, Ginny and Harry relaxed in the den, curled up together on the comfy leather sofa. "Welcome home, love," she said, hugging him. "I'm glad to have you back where you belong. " She planted a kiss on his mouth.

"And I can't tell you how glad I am to be back," Harry murmured, returning the kiss with interest. "You know, you didn't have to throw me a party."

"It wasn't my idea. It was Mum's," Ginny replied, curling up in Harry's lap. She sighed and rested her head against Harry's shoulder. "I can't believe it's the beginning of June already."

"Time flies, Gin." Harry said, picking up a cup of tea and drinking it. "I've been thinking . . . we haven't gone on a family vacation since Alby was two. Remember last year, we were going to go to Bordeaux and then you got sick with a virus."

"Yes, and then I gave it to you and Alby," Ginny said. "Maybe we should plan a vacation this year."

"I'd like to go somewhere local this year." Harry mused.

"How about we go to the seashore in Devon?" Ginny suggested. "It's nice and homey and I think Alby and Sevvy would like it. We could rent a house on the beach and there's that wildlife sanctuary nearby to visit and Smuggler's Cove. Alby would love learning about the smuggling trade and visiting the sanctuary."

"Alby and his animals," Harry chuckled. "When he's old enough, maybe we should get a cat or dog for him."

"Yes, but not just yet. I have enough to handle with my new five-year-old, I don't need a pet added in," Ginny said.

"Next year, maybe," Harry said agreeably. He began to play with her hair, running his hands through it and curling it around his fingers. He buried his face in it and sniffed appreciatively. "Mmm . . . smells like apples."

"Harry!" she giggled and then swatted the back of his head playfully. "Stop that! You haven't answered my question. What do you think about going to Devon?"

"I think . . . it's a great idea and we should find a house as soon as possible. We could go down next week, or the week after, before all the tourists from London and Surrey invade the place and it gets all hot and crowded." Harry answered, nibbling seductively on her ear. "But right now all I want to think about is you, sweetheart."

Ginny gasped with pleasure. "Harry James, you are such a . . . a . . ."

"A wonderful husband?" he supplied, smirking. "One that can't wait to drag you off to bed and show you just how much I missed you."

She turned her head and grinned back at him. "You poor deprived thing!" she purred, her hair crackling about her head like a halo.

"Uh huh. I'm starved for attention, honey," he said, giving her a pleading look from beneath his lashes.

"I think I can fix that," she chuckled wickedly, and slipped from his lap. She grabbed his hand and tugged him to his feet. "Come on, Mr. Deprived, Hot, and Sexy. Now that the kids are asleep and there's no nosy interns or mediwitchs around we can have our own kind of welcome home party."

Harry swiftly followed her up the stairs and into their bedroom, locking the door behind them. He couldn't wait to get this party started.

A/N: So who liked the cuddle moment between Harry and Sev? And the scenes with Severus and Alby?

Thanks to everyone for supporting me during this difficult time. My mom suggested the parts in this chapter with the drawing and brotherly bonding.

Next: More fun with the Potters at the seashore! Should they also meet up with the Lupins while they are there?

 


Chapter 24: Pre-Vacation Problems
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24

Pre-Vacation Problems

A few days after Harry's homecoming, he took Alby, Severus, and Sirius flying in his backyard. He would have taken Teddy and Jamie also, but they had Junior Quidditch practice. Sirius would have loved to go to practice with them, but the coach said it was too late in the season to introduce a new player, so he would have to wait till next year. To console the unhappy little boy, Harry offered to give him private lessons along with Severus and Alby.

At first Sirius was sulky and uncooperative. "I don't wanna take lessons with little kids. Alby's a toddler and Snape's . . . well, he's Snape. They don't even have their own brooms yet!" he said scornfully.

Harry's expression, formerly genial, hardened in disapproval. "That's the wrong attitude to have, Sirius. Just because you can't be on the Junior Quidditch League like your brothers is no reason to be a sulky uncooperative brat."

"But Harry, it's not fair! I could be on the Junior Quidditch team . . . I fly better than Jamie," Sirius groused.

"That's as may be, but it's not up to you. Sometimes, Sirius, you can't always get what you want," Harry said. "Now, here are your options. You can either fly with me and my two sons and learn some maneuvers from me, or you can sit here and sulk and be miserable and not fly at all. What's it going to be?"

Sirius pouted for a few minutes more, thinking it over. Faced with no flying or flying, he supposed he'd choose the latter. He just didn't like his flying companions all that much, with the exception of Harry. He thought he was way beyond their skill and didn't want them to hold him back. "Can't you just . . . teach me by myself and then teach Alby and Snape, since I fly better?"

"Look, Sirius. I don't have time to have separate classes just because you don't like the idea of sharing a class with less experienced students. You have to get used to the fact that not everyone will be at the same level as you in a class, not in school and not on a Quidditch team either. And you just have to deal with it. You have class with Sev and Alby or not at all. Well?"

"Okay!" Sirius agreed reluctantly.

Harry frowned at the child's insolent tone. "And Sirius . . . you had better mind your manners when you're flying with Alby and Severus. You aren't to make fun of them because they aren't as good a flyer or pull any stunts on them, or else you'll be grounded—and I'm not talking about just from a broom either, I'll put you on restriction inside the house for the afternoon, where you can write lines for me."

Sirius gulped at that threat. Being forced to sit inside on a bright sunny afternoon and write lines was worse than even a spanking by his lights. He'd always detested busy work, especially when it prevented him from going outside and having fun. "I'll behave, Harry."

Severus was dubious when he came outside and saw Sirius standing there with his training broom. He recalled the way Black used to fly at school in his former life, and the other wizard had been very good, but also arrogant, like his pal Potter. The two thought they ruled the air, and often taunted other flyers and sneered at those who couldn't fly well. They also pulled maneuvers which were risky and dangerous. He doubted if much had changed.

"Why are you here, Sirius?" asked Severus, scowling.

"Harry asked me to come over, 'cause the coach for Junior Quidditch won't let me practice with the team." Sirius answered sullenly. "Harry said I could fly with you and Alby."

"You'd better not pull any tricks with Alby, Black. Or else you'll deal with me."

"What are you, his bodyguard, Snape?" Sirius sniggered.

"I'm his brother," Severus said softly. "And I meant what I said."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Oohh, I'm scared! I'm bigger than you, Snape. Still think you can take me?"

"I don't think, I know," Severus replied, glaring hard at the other boy.

Sirius snorted. "Don't get your robes in a knot, Snape. I would never hurt Alby. He's Harry's son."

"An' Sevvy is too," Alby piped up from behind them. He didn't really care for Teddy and Jamie's new brother ever since Sirius got into a fight with Sevvy at Victory Day dinner. "Sevvy's my big brudder, Sirius. My daddy says so."

"Sure, sure, whatever, kid." Sirius said nonchalantly, with the typical air of an older child to a much younger one. Inwardly though, he cringed at the fact that Snape was so much a part of the Potter family now. When had that happened?

Harry returned from retrieving his Firebolt from the locked broom cupboard. He sensed the tension in the air and decided to divert it by starting the lesson.

"All right, Sirius, I want you to hover about ten feet above the ground." Harry instructed. "Alby, you can be first to fly with me, then it's your turn, Sev." Harry picked up Alby and settled him in front, securely Stuck to the broom. "Ready, Alby?"

"Ready, Dad!" Alby squealed as Harry rose swiftly into the air.

Severus smiled a bit as he watched Harry and Alby flying. Alby was so enthusiastic about almost everything, that Severus couldn't help but be also. Severus really enjoyed having Alby as his younger brother, he was sweet and funny, and though sometimes he could be annoying, the way he looked up to Severus made the older boy feel great. He had never been admired by anyone before, unless he counted Lily when they were younger, and it was quite a heady feeling. It was also a position that made him nervous, because now he had to set a good example for Alby to follow.

Harry called instructions to Sirius as they flew, and Severus observed that at least Black had brains enough to listen to his former godson and not act like a know-it-all flying prat. For once.

After doing some dives, loops, and spirals, Harry flew down with Alby and took him off the broom. Alby protested a little, but Harry said, "Albus, it's Sevvy's turn now. You have to be patient. I'll come back and take you up again later. For now, sit on the grass and watch us. See if you can spot any mistakes."

"All right, Daddy. But hurry!" Alby said, and obeyed his father. He doubted if he'd see any mistakes from his dad. His daddy was the best flyer ever, except for maybe his mummy.

Severus liked flying with Harry, who could do the most devilish tricks and yet never risked his small passenger one iota. Though he did remember how to fly from his former life, he also recalled not being too keen on a broom. He preferred more intellectual pursuits, such a brewing, harvesting, and inventing. That was how he discovered the spell to fly without a broom. He still remembered the spell, but his magical core was too small to cast it yet. But when he was older . . . he would knock the pants off of Sirius with it. Black and Potter had always bragged about how brilliant they were with transformations, becoming Animagi in their fifth year. But neither of them had mastered true flight. Severus had stumbled upon the key to it by accident. He gave a small smile of satisfaction. Someday . . . he thought.

"Are you having fun, Sev?" asked Harry as he made the Firebolt slingshot around the cemetery.

"Yes," Severus called back, for he was, even though the wind was blowing his hair in his eyes.

"Good." Harry reversed direction and flew back towards Sirius.

"Harry!" Sirius was waving as Harry approached. "Look at this! Watch me!"

Sirius still recalled all of the maneuvers he and James used to practice down at the pitch at school. He decided to try the Thunderbolt now. He pointed the handle of his broom up and kicked it to its fastest speed, which wasn't all that fast because it was a training broom. Still, the broom shot upwards and then Sirius whipped about in a fast circle while doing a handstand on his broom. The centrifugal force generated by the wind enabled him to do that easily, and then he lay along the broomstick and made it dive.

"Sirius Orion Black!" Harry yelled, his heart in his throat. "Are you bloody crazy?"

He had known Sirius was a daredevil in his past youth, but Harry wasn't prepared for the child Sirius to try a maneuver that was so reckless. Harry was unsure what sort of Safety Charms the broom had, and Sirius' maneuver almost made his hair turn white.

"What an idiot," Severus muttered.

"You can say that again!" Harry growled. "Just wait till I get my hands on him. Hold on. I'm going to follow him down." Harry tightened his grip on the Firebolt and then he dove.

Severus felt the wind scream in his ears, but he was not afraid. Instead he laughed, both because it was fun diving this way and because that dunderhead Black thought Harry would be impressed by his grandstanding. Severus couldn't figure out why Sirius didn't realize by now that Harry was not James Potter, and show off stunts like this never went over well with him.

Sirius was yelling with delight as he dove towards the ground. "I did it! I did it!" he was shouting. He was so pumped up by his own success that he forgot to pull up as fast as he should have.

By the time he did so, there almost wasn't enough time left and when he managed to yank the broom skyward again, his tail clipped the ground and the jarring suddenness caused Sirius to flip off his broom.

He flew about three feet through the air and landed hard on the ground.

For a few moments, Sirius remained motionless, the breath knocked out of him.

"Sirius! Oh, bloody hell!" Harry swore, landing his broom and UnSticking Severus before hopping off and running like mad to the reckless child.

Alby was watching in wide-eyed horror. "Sevvy, Siri fell off his broom! Is he gonna be okay? Or will he hafta go to the hosp'tal?"

Severus came to stand next to Alby. "I don't know, Al. But he sure was dumb to try a stunt like that. And he needs to go to a hospital, all right. The kind with the men in white coats and bars on the windows."

"What kind of hospital is that?" Alby asked, puzzled.

"A mental institution," answered his brother.

Harry knelt beside Sirius, asking quietly, "Sirius, can you talk? Can you tell me if you hurt anywhere?"

Sirius attempted to draw a breath, and whimpered a bit. "H-Harry? I . . . I feel like I can't breathe right."

Harry gently felt along the child's ribcage. "Nothing's broken or swollen. You probably are having trouble because you knocked the heck out of yourself. Are you hurt anywhere else?"

Sirius nodded, sniffling. "My . . . my bum hurts awful bad, Harry."

"I'm not surprised, considering how hard you landed," Harry said. He cast a simple diagnostic, the kind that most parents learned as a kind of first aid. The spell revealed that Sirius had assorted bruises up and down his back and buttocks and he had bruised his tailbone. "Let's stand you up."

Harry gently helped the child to stand, then turned him around and felt him over, thanking Merlin that Sirius hadn't broken anything or paralyzed himself.

"Ye-oww!" Sirius yelped as Harry's fingers probed his lower back and bottom. "Harry, stop! It hurts!"

"Sorry, I just wanted to make sure you hadn't fractured it. Sometimes these basic diagnostics can miss something like that," Harry said softly.

Sirius started to cry, his bum felt like it had been stomped on by a dragon.

"Shhh . . . you'll live, imp. You just won't like sitting down for a week or so," Harry said, gently hugging the boy. "And you're lucky that's all you hurt. What possessed you to do a fool thing like that? You could have been paralyzed or . . . killed pulling a stunt like that, Sirius! If it weren't for the fact that you're already sore, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a really different reason, young man!"

Sirius started bawling harder. "I . . . just wanted you to see what a good flyer I was, Harry! M'sorry! Don't be mad!"

Harry sighed. "Sirius, you're a trouble magnet. You don't have to show off to me to prove how good you are on a broom. I already knew it. Doing a stunt like that was extremely—"

"Stupid!" Alby and Severus shouted at the same time.

Sirius blushed and felt utterly pathetic.

"Boys, be quiet, the pair of you!" Harry scolded. "You know how I feel about name calling. Do it again and you'll be eating soap for lunch."

Both Severus and Alby muttered apologies.

Harry gently lifted Sirius in his arms. "Come on, the lesson's over for today. I need to get Sirius into a warm bath with Muscle Relaxing salts and rub a numbing and healing salve on him too."

Severus and Alby trailed Harry.

Once Harry was inside, he turned and gestured to the den before telling Severus and Alby to wait in the den and watch TV, he was going to run a bath for Sirius.

But Severus wasn't minded to listen to Harry, he wanted to see how badly Sirius had gotten hurt. So he waited for Harry to start running the water before he followed them down the hallway.

Alby looked up in alarm when he saw Severus leave. "Sevvy . . . you is gonna get in trouble."

"Shh!" Severus put a finger to his lips. "You stay here, Al. I'll be right back." He tiptoed down the hallway.

In the bathroom, Harry was putting some soothing magical crystals into the water while Sirius undressed. "Siri, you scared me half to death. . . " Harry was saying.

"I didn't mean to . . . I've done that move hundreds of times," Sirius sniveled, removing his clothing.

"When?"

"When I was bigger," the boy replied. He winced as he stepped free of his jeans and underpants. "And I never fell off, not once!" Tears glistened on his cheeks.

Severus put a hand over his mouth to conceal a gasp. Sirius had red and purple bruises down his lower back and bottom, it looked as if someone had beaten him. Severus could almost feel sorry for him.

Harry shook his head. "Siri, you're not sixteen anymore. You're seven and you should never try anything like that without knowing Cushioning Charms." He beckoned the little boy over. "C'mere. Let's get you in the tub. I've put a Cushioning Charm on the bottom of it so you can sit and soak."

Sirius whimpered as Harry helped him into the water. "Oooh! It's hot!"

"Not really. You just have to get used to it, buddy." Harry said, gently assisting him to sit.

Sirius looked up at Harry and asked guiltily, "Harry, are you really mad at me? I thought you'd think it was cool. Your dad invented that move, you know."

Harry knelt beside the tub and said, "No, I didn't know that. Though maybe I should've, since from what a lot of people tell me, he was pretty reckless and careless with his safety. Siri, I'm mad that you almost died, and I hope you've learned your lesson. I almost had a heart attack when I saw you lying there."

"You did?" Sirius asked. "I thought . . . maybe you didn't care about me anymore . . . now that you have Snape."

"Sirius, that's not true," Harry told him. "I still love you, like I love Teddy and Jamie. Just because Severus lives with me and is like a son to me doesn't mean I stopped loving you. My heart has room in it to love more than four people, you know."

Sirius teared up at that statement. "But . . . sometimes you yell at me, Harry."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I don't love you," Harry said, stroking Sirius' hair. "Remus yells at you too and punishes you, does it mean he doesn't love you? No, because if we didn't care about you, we'd not bother correcting you when you did something wrong. I want you to learn from your mistakes and become a better person, Siri." He took a bottle of shampoo and began soaping Sirius' hair.

"Dumbledore never yelled at me and he liked me," Sirius pouted.

"Dumbledore wasn't always right," Harry said. "And I love you far more than he did, Sirius Black. I love you enough to make sure you act like a child should, knowing right from wrong."

He's right. The old man let you and the Marauders run wild. He sure as hell didn't do you any favors, Black, Severus thought bitterly. Dumbledore was a sore subject with him. He both loved and hated the man for his actions. Much of what Dumbledore had done was for good, but his methods were flawed and sometimes he had hurt innocent children by not acting to prevent bullying, as he had done with Severus and the Marauders.

"Oh. I guess, when you put it that way . . ." Sirius said. "I guess I'm just not used to sharing you, Harry."

Get used to it, Black! thought Severus firmly. Because I'm not going anywhere.

"I know. But you have to learn. Think about it this way. The more people you love, the more your love grows. Love has no beginning or end, it's forever and always." Harry said, then he rinsed Sirius' hair off.

Harry started to straighten and Severus quickly ducked out of sight. Severus moved back down the hall to the den, his curiosity satisfied. Hearing about Sirius' insecurity and jealousy regarding Harry made Severus feel strange. He'd never thought of Black as being insecure, Black had been someone Harry had looked up to and came to for advice. Harry had loved Sirius before the war. Then again, maybe Sirius felt jealous because Harry had never stood up for Severus until now.

Severus returned to the den and Alby asked, "Is Siri hurt bad?"

"He's got a bruised bottom, but he'll live. He's taking a hot bath now."

"Is Daddy real mad at him?"

"Yeah, because what he did was really dumb," Severus said. "He's lucky I wasn't in charge of him. I'd have healed him and then spanked his bum for risking his neck."

Alby giggled. "So would Mummy, Sevvy."

"I don't doubt it," Severus said. Ginny had the Weasley temper, and was often sterner than Harry, or so Severus thought. He sat down beside Alby on the couch. "I wonder when she'll be back from the store?"

Alby shrugged. "When she gets dinner, I guess."

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

By the time Ginny returned from the supermarket, Harry had brought Sirius home and told Dora what had happened and how he had treated the bruised tailbone. She had promised to follow up the treatment herself, saying she knew exactly how to deal with such a thing, since she had been notorious for tripping and falling as a young woman. "I had bruises in places no lady should have," she had chuckled. "Don't worry, I'll take care of the little rascal, Harry." She led Sirius away, alternately hugging and scolding him.

Harry Apparated back home just as Ginny was coming through the door, her arms full of groceries.

"Here, let me help you, Gin," he said, coming forward to take some bags from her. "Looks like you bought out the store."

"Well, I figured we should start stocking up on a few things for the vacation," she replied. "I don't think the beach house comes with food for a family, or house elves either."

"Oh. That makes sense." Then he added mischievously, "I hope you bought donuts."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Harry James, of course I bought donuts. I'm not crazy to expect you to go on vacation and deprive you of your sugar high. Do you think I want you to be miserable? Or Alby or Sevvy? I not only bought donuts, I bought pumpkin pasties, apple pasties, and Oreos."

"Oreos? You bought Oreos?" he exclaimed, and began rummaging through the bags till he found the package. Harry loved Oreos, but Dudley refused to share any with him growing up and Petunia counted them so he couldn't ever sneak one without getting in trouble. "Gin, you're the best!" he declared as he tore open the blue and white package and ate some.

"Harry!" she scolded, smacking his hand as if he were Alby's age. "You'll spoil your dinner!"

"I will not," he replied, happily munching. "I'm an adult, I'm allowed to have dessert before dinner," he smirked. Then he popped another Oreo in his mouth. "You really ought to try one of these, Ginny." He waved one in front of her face.

"No! If you won't set an example, then I have to. Besides, do you want me to gain weight?"

"Come on, try it. One won't kill you."

She could smell the aroma of chocolate and cream and was salivating. "You're impossible, Harry!"

"Take a bite," he teased. "Just a little one."

Giving in, she snatched the Oreo and bit into it. A look of sheer bliss came over her face. "Oh . . . oh . . . mmm . . . this is . . .heavenly . . . Harry, if you eat the whole package, I'm going to kill you . . ."

He laughed. "If I eat them all, I'll go out and buy more."

"Go out now, Harry. While I'm making dinner," Ginny ordered. She took the package back from him. Then she took another one and ate it.

"Hey, thought you didn't believe in dessert before dinner, Mrs. Potter."

"This isn't dessert, Harry. It's the appetizer. Now get!" She ordered, swatting his bottom playfully.

Laughing , he headed for the door. "How many should I get?"

"Umm . . . enough for all of us."

"All right . . . I'd better get a dozen, some for vacation and some for home," he called, grinning.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

That night, Ginny made shepherd's pie and crusty bread, one of her family's favorites. She liked to use ground beef instead of lamb, since her family preferred it, and included carrots and green beans in her casserole as well as the delicious mashed potato topping. Alby normally didn't like green beans, but even he ate them in shepherd's pie without a fuss. Severus and Harry ate practically everything, though Severus disliked lima beans, brussel sprouts, and any organ meats. Ginny didn't care for any of those foods either, so she told Severus he'd never have to worry about finding them on her table.

Once everyone had begun eating, Ginny announced that they were going on vacation. "Your father and I decided we needed to get away for awhile and the best way to do that would be to go on a family vacation. It's been over a year since we've done it, so you wouldn't remember, Alby, since you were two. This year, we've decided to rent a house on the beach in Devon. You can swim, collect shells, sunbathe and just plain have fun."

"That sounds cool, Mummy!" Alby said, grinning. "I never been to the beach b'fore. Have you, Sevvy?"

Severus shook his head. "No. My parents couldn't afford to go on vacation anywhere."

"Great! So this will be a new experience for all of us." Ginny said.

"When are we going?" Severus asked.

"In about a week. Which means we'll need to shop for beach clothes, shoes, and trunks for you boys," Ginny said happily.

Predictably, the boys didn't look all that thrilled.

"Aw, Mum!" Alby groaned. "Clothes shopping's boring! Why can't we just swim in our underwear?"

Ginny's eyes nearly fell out of her head. "Albus Severus! What a thing to say!"

Harry started laughing, unable to help himself, and even Severus hid a grin.

"What'd I say? Teddy tol' me that when he was at his Granny's, they jumped in her lake with their undies on," Alby pointed out.

"Wonderful!" she groaned. Then she elbowed Harry. "Stop laughing, Harry! It's not that funny!" She scowled at her husband and then turned to her son and said, "Alby, swimming in a private lake is different from swimming on a public beach. People don't just . . . swim in their underwear. They swim in trunks. Now, if you come with me tomorrow and don't make a scene, we'll go to the sweet shop after and you can pick out some sweets for the vacation. How's that sound?"

"Okay, Mummy! But I want to pick out cool clothes, not baby clothes," her son stated.

"You can pick out some and I'll pick out some," Ginny compromised. She elbowed Harry again, hard. "Harry, stop it!"

Her husband gave her a sheepish grin. "Sorry. He just comes out with the funniest things sometimes."

"You're impossible!" Ginny snorted. "Who wants dessert? It's chocolate trifle with peanut butter cream and Oreos on top."

Everyone wanted some, though Alby wanted thirds and Ginny told him no, he'd make himself sick.

"No, I won't, Mum!" the child sulked.

"You will and I'm not dealing with a tummy ache, young man. Now stop sulking before you go to bed early." Ginny told him firmly.

Alby pouted, but didn't ask again.

Though later that night, when everyone else was asleep, a certain little boy woke up in the middle of the night to use the potty and snuck down to the kitchen and found the rest of the trifle in the fridge and ate most of it. Alby was careful to rinse out the spoon and put it away and to put the trifle back where he'd found it on the shelf of the fridge.

His little act of rebellion would have remained a secret if he hadn't gotten indigestion an hour later.

Severus woke to a soft groaning sound. He immediately sat up and looked over at Alby's bed. "Something wrong, Al?" he muttered sleepily.

The little boy was curled on his side, hugging Bucky for dear life. "Sevvy . . . I don't feel good. My . . . my tummy hurts."

Severus sat up and whispered, "You want me to get your mum or dad?"

Alby sniffled. "N-No-o."

Severus thought that was weird, until he saw the tell tale smudges of chocolate smeared on his brother's face. "Alby . . . did you sneak down to the kitchen and eat some more dessert?" he demanded.

"Uh huh. All of a sudden I was hungry," his brother whined.

Severus scowled. "See, this is what happens when you stuff yourself like a pig."

Alby felt tears come to his eyes. He knew Sevvy and his mummy were right, but he hadn't been able to help himself, it just tasted so good. "My tummy hurts bad, Sevvy!"

Severus thought for a moment. His normal reaction to something like this would have been to dispense a Stomach Soother. But he knew Harry kept the potions locked up and he couldn't do an Unlocking Charm yet. But he knew there were other ways to relieve an upset stomach besides potions.

"You have to stand up and walk around, Alby," Severus told him. "It's not good for you to lay there curled up like that. It keeps the gas trapped in your stomach and intestines. Get up and start walking around the room."

"I don't wanna walk, Sevvy! I'm tired!"

"You want to get better or you want to suffer?" asked his brother implacably. He wasn't going to put up with any nonsense.

"I wanna get better."

"Then start walking."

Severus went downstairs to see if he could find any mint or chamomile, knowing those two herbs were good for digestion. But he could only find mint and so he plucked a few leaves and gave them to Alby to chew.

"Yuck! I don't wanna eat leaves."

Severus scowled at his little brother. "Fine. Don't eat them and have your stomach hurt."

Alby took the mint and ate it.

After about fifteen minutes the little boy felt his stomach calm and he expelled gas from both ends.

"I feel better now, Sevvy. Can I stop walking?"

"Yes." Severus sighed in relief. "Just go to bed with Bucky, Al."

"Can I sleep with you?"

Severus shook his head. "No way. I'll never get to sleep with you burping and farting. You do that in your own bed." With that he turned and buried his head beneath his pillow, Mimic clutched close.

Because of that late night incident, Severus slept till nine the next morning. Alby slept till eight thirty, but ended up with a case of the runs, resulting in Harry dosing him with some Coke syrup and saying maybe trifle was too rich for his son's system. "Next time, scamp, you're not going to have seconds, only a little bit," he told the crying child.

"But Daddy . . . I like trifle!" wailed Alby.

"You like being sick too?" inquired his father.

"No-o!"

"Well, there you go then," Harry informed him. After he'd helped the little boy clean himself, Harry carried Alby into the den and sat with him on the recliner. He rocked the cranky child until Alby fell asleep.

When Ginny came down he told her that Alby was a little sick. "I think that trifle was too rich for his stomach, he's had the runs since he woke up."

"I thought he ate too much last night. Poor baby! Does he have a fever?" Ginny asked, smoothing her son's forehead.

"No. Just an upset stomach. I gave him Coke syrup."

"Well, I don't want to take him shopping when he's not feeling well, so I guess it'll just be me and Sevvy. Unless you want to take Sevvy shopping and I'll stay home?"

"No thanks! You shop, I'll babysit," Harry demurred quickly.

And that was how Severus came to have a nice day out with Ginny alone. He helped her pick out clothing for Alby and swimming trunks with little sharks and seaweed on a blue background.

"Those are so cute, Sev!" Ginny exclaimed. "Alby will love them. Maybe it'll cheer him up from being sick."

Severus, who knew the real reason his brother was sick, merely nodded. "I'm hungry, Ginny. Can we stop shopping and get lunch?"

"Oh, what time is it?" she asked, then looked at her watch. "Goodness, I didn't realize it was twelve thirty. Yes, we can go over to one of these small cafes for lunch and then finish with the sweet shop."

Once she had paid for everything, she shrank her purchases and took Severus' hand and led him to a small table with a green and pink umbrella. Menus popped up when they sat down. Ginny had a crispy chicken salad with poppyseed dressing and a lemon water and Severus grilled cheese with bacon and chips and a strawberry limeade.

Lunch was excellent and since he had eaten all of it, Ginny let him pick out an extra sweet from the sweet shop when they went there. He picked an extra chocolate frog. After getting several kinds of sweets for Harry and Alby to bring with them, as well as a bag of fizzing whizbees for Ginny, the two went home, tired but satisfied with how their shopping trip had gone. "I had fun, how about you, Sev?" Ginny asked as they prepared to Floo.

Severus smiled. "Me too. Sometimes my mum and I would go shopping together, if she wasn't tired," he said, those had been some of the only times he recalled that they had been happy, when they were away from Tobias. But the trips had never lasted long. He drank the Stomach Soother Ginny gave him, then jumped through the green flames after calling, "Godric's Hollow, Potter house!"

Unfortunately, trouble had been brewing at home.

The first thing Severus noticed when he arrived back at the cottage was the sound of Alby crying loudly. His trouble radar went on alert then as he stepped out of the fireplace. He didn't see either Harry or Alby anywhere in the den.

Then he peeked up the stairs and heard a door close. Next thing he saw was Harry coming down the stairs, looking very upset and angry. Uh oh. Somebody's in trouble, he thought and he backed away, heading back into the den and pressing himself against the couch. Even though he wasn't in trouble, and Harry wasn't angry with him, it was an instinctive reaction born of living with a vicious alcoholic.

Ginny stepped out of the Floo and called, "Harry, we're home!"

"Thank Merlin!"

She looked at her husband, knowing instantly something was wrong. "Harry, you look mad enough to breathe fire. What happened?"

Harry's mouth tightened. "You mean . . . what didn't happen." He shook his head in disgust.

Ginny drew him into the kitchen so they could talk privately.

Harry sat down and began. "After you left, Al slept for another hour and when he woke up I tried to get him to eat some toast and drink a little tea. But he was cranky and only ate a little before crumbling his toast all over. I let it go, because I figured he was sick and I didn't want to scold him. I made him drink some chamomile tea in place of a Stomach Soother and read him a story and had him watch TV. Then I wanted lunch and asked him if he did, and he said yes. So I made him some chicken soup with stars and more tea. But he insisted on having chocolate pudding with it and I told him no . . . he'd been sick from that and if he ate his soup, he could have a sweet when you got home. He threw an absolute fit, Gin . . . howling and kicking his chair and when I told him to stop he shouted that I was mean and he . . . threw his soup at me!"

Ginny's eyes went wide. "Merlin, Harry! Sounds like he was a total spoiled brat. What did you do then?"

"What could I do? I cleaned myself off, picked him up, and put him in time out in his room. Then I left to cool down. When I came back, I gave him a good talking to and then I turned him over my knee. I hated spanking him, especially after he'd been sick all morning, but I couldn't let that go." Harry said miserably.

Ginny came and hugged him. "Harry, you did the right thing. It was deserved, I would have done the same, and so would my mum or dad. You know my mum's rule, "if you act like a spoiled brat, you get punished like one," she quoted. "Was that why he was crying when I came in?"

"Yes. I'd just finished paddling his bum. I was about to give him a hug when he told me to leave him alone. So I left." Harry now looked more upset than angry. "He's never done that before, Gin. He's always let me hold him after he's been punished."

"Love, I think he's going through a stage. He never really acted out when he was two or three, so maybe it's finally catching up to him now. Maybe he's being a brat because he's cranky and upset about me leaving and taking Sevvy. I'm sure he'll let you hug him later, when he's calmed down."

"I guess so," Harry said, brooding about his youngest's attitude.

"You look tired, Harry. Why don't you go and lay down on the couch, take a nap while I unpack and go talk to Alby?" she urged. She felt bad for Harry, she knew he hated using corporal punishment on his son, and now Alby was being a pill besides, making Harry feel guilty.

Harry headed into the den. "Hey, where's Sevvy?"

"I don't know. Unless . . . he went upstairs." Ginny said, glancing about and not seeing Severus.

"He's probably commiserating with Alby about what a troll I am," Harry muttered.

But Ginny shook her head. "Somehow, I doubt that. Don't forget, Harry, this is Professor Snape, and when did he ever tolerate spoiled brats?"

"Never, but . . ."

Ginny put a finger to her lips and crept up the stairs and down the hall to where the boys' room was. Harry followed. The door was partially open and they could hear the two boys talking.

" . . .an' then Daddy was mean an' wouldn't let me eat pudding, only yucky chicken soup," Alby was saying, sniffling. He continued his tale of woe, trying to milk sympathy from his big brother for all he was worth. He ended with, " Daddy's mean an' nasty, Sevvy! He spanked me and now my bum hurts!"

Then he looked at Severus with huge puppy dog eyes and waited for the expected sympathy.

Only Severus wasn't having any of it. "Let me get this straight. You behaved like a royal brat and threw soup at Harry and you didn't think you were going to get in trouble? Al, what planet are you on?"

"I . . . I didn't think he was gonna spank me!" Alby whined, tears falling down his face.

Severus raised his eyebrows. "I'll repeat what I just said. You threw a bowl of soup at him and you're whining that he spanked you? Albus Severus, if you did that to me, I'd have spanked you. So would your mum or your grammy or . . . or anyone in your family. What do you expect when you behave like that? A pat on the head?"

Alby hung his head. "He didn't have to spank so hard."

Severus frowned. "How many did he give you? Four swats, right?"

"Uh huh."

"Over clothes, with his hand, right?"

Again his brother nodded.

"Alby, you know what my dad would have given me if I'd ever done that? He'd have given me a spanking with a belt on my bare bottom. Now that really hurts."

Alby looked at Severus, his eyes round with shock. "Your daddy did that to you?"

Severus grimaced. "Yes. And I never threw a bowl of soup at him either."

"He sounds like a mean man."

"He was, believe me. But your dad isn't, not by a long shot. So don't ever say he is, got me? Your dad is kind and he doesn't hurt kids like mine did."

"Is that why you live with us now, Sevvy? 'Cause your mean daddy died?"

"Yes. And we're not going to talk about my rotten father again, okay?"

"Uh huh. I'm glad you live here."

"So am I. Now, don't you think you need to say sorry to Harry for acting like a spoiled brat?"

Alby started to cry, ashamed. "But Sevvy . . . Daddy's mad an' . . . he tol' me to stay up here . . .I can't go downstairs or else I'll get in trouble!"

"All right! Calm down!" Severus said, exasperated. He patted Alby on the shoulder.

Alby threw his arms about him then and cried into his shirt. "M' sorry, Sevvy!"

"Al, why are you telling me you're sorry? Do I look like your dad?"

"No, but . . . I don't want you not to love me," Alby sniveled.

"Huh? Why wouldn't I love you?"

"'Cause I'm a spoiled brat."

Severus sighed. He wished the little boy didn't take things so literally! "Al, I'll always love you, even if you are a spoiled brat. You're my brother."

"Really?"

"Really. Here, blow your nose and dry your eyes, you look like a walking snotrag," Severus told him, handing his brother a crumpled napkin from his pocket.

Alby did.

"Now, you stay here and I'll get your dad," Severus told him.

Outside the door, Harry and Ginny exchanged glances. "Well, I'll be! You were right, Gin." Harry whispered.

"Told you so," his wife said smugly. "Let's go back downstairs, so he doesn't know we were listening in."

They Apparated back into the den just as Severus opened the door and started down the hall.

"Alby and I had a talk," he told Harry and Ginny seriously. "He has something he wants to tell you, Harry."

Two minutes later, Harry was sitting on Alby's bed, holding his remorseful son on his lap.

Alby was sobbing into Harry's shirt. "Sorry, Daddy! M'sorry I was bad!"

Harry cuddled him and said softly, "All right, son. I forgive you. Just don't do it again."

Alby cried for a few more moments, then sniffled, " 'Kay, Dad. I hate when you spank me."

"I don't like it either, but you deserved it," Harry said, rubbing his back. "You going to behave now?"

"Yessir," Alby said. "Are you gonna tell Mummy?"

"She already knows, scamp."

"Is she mad too?" his son asked worriedly.

"She's disappointed, but she'll forgive you too." Harry reassured him. "Would you like to eat something, Al? I think your tummy's hungry."

Just then the boy's stomach growled loudly. "It is!" Alby cried.

"Thought so. Come on, let's get some food in that empty belly. And if you eat, maybe Mummy has a surprise for you after." Harry said, rising and carrying his son downstairs.

"Even though I was bad?"

"Alby, you were bad for me, not her. Anyhow, it's over and done with."

His son put his head on his father's shoulder, now quite willing to let his father hug and hold him.

Ginny heard them come downstairs and was quick to greet her son, who told her in a soft shamed voice what he had done while she was out. She scolded him mildly and then hugged him and fixed him a half a bread and butter sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. This time, Alby ate without a tantrum.

Afterwards, Ginny showed Alby the clothes they'd picked for him. He really loved the swimming trunks. Then he opened his chocolate frog, taking a bite before it hopped away. "Let's see the card, Sevvy!" He handed the wrapped card to his brother. "Who is it?"

Severus unwrapped the foil and then he just stared at it, his mouth half open.

"Who is it? Who is it?" Alby demanded, jumping up and down.

"It's . . ." he almost said "me". For there, peering up at him, was his old self, black robes, scowl, and all. Underneath the portrait were his name, and the titles Potions Master, Defense Master, and Headmaster of Hogwarts. He held the card in fingers that trembled slightly and said, "Professor Snape."

Alby beamed. "Cool! That was my mummy and daddy's old teacher. I'm named after him an' so are you. My daddy always says he was the bravest man he ever knew."

"He did?" Severus was shocked.

"Yup." Alby took the card. "I never had him before. He's hard to find." He peered at the card. "He looks kinda scary, but my dad said he was a good man, that he saved lots of people." Alby gently tucked the card in his pocket, then ate the rest of the chocolate frog. "I can't wait to go to the beach house, can you?"

Severus shook his head, still marveling at the fact that he was on a chocolate frog card and was considered a famous wizard . . . the bravest man Harry Potter ever knew. Who would have thought?

The week went by quickly for the Potter family, and before Severus knew it, they were going to Floo to the beach house in Devon, where he was sure more surprises and discoveries awaited. It would be his first ever vacation, and he hoped all would go well.

A/N: Hope you all liked this part. I was going to have this be part of the vacation chapter, but then decided to split them so it wouldn't be so long. Did you like Harry's conversation with Sirius? Alby? How about Sev's conversation with Alby? Were you surprised at the chocolate frog card?

Also for those of you wondering when Lily will show up-she can only come back on Halloween, the date of her death. The summer is for Sev and Sirius to get adjusted to their new families and each other and THEN Lily will arrive and have some adjusting of her own to do with her new family as well as Severus and Sirius. So please be patient, Lily will arrive in a few more chapters.

 


Chapter 25: A Very Potter Vacation
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25

A Very Potter Vacation

Day 1: Arrival

Ginny made sure all the food, and the boys' trunks were all packed, Severus had his drawing case and Mimic, and Alby had Bucky and his satchel of books. Harry had Ginny's and his trunks and a bag of kitchen utensils, spices, cauldrons and a case of potions and ingredients just in case someone got hurt or sick over the vacation. Each of the boys Flooed with a parent. Alby with Harry, and Ginny with Severus.

This was a witch's house they were renting for the week. It belonged to a Mrs. Edyth Brentwood, and it was called Driftwood House. It was on Smuggler's Alley, in Hope Cove, and had a colorful history of being home to more than one family of privateers and free traders, as the locals called the smugglers. Hope Cove was like Godric's Hollow, it had a Muggle side and a wizard side, and both people lived peacefully, though the Muggles were quite unaware of their wizard neighbors.

Once they had all stepped from the fireplace into a den that had rustic furnishings and a braided colorful rag rug on the floor in front of the hearth as well as portraits of the sea and sunset that moved on the big wall opposite the fireplace, Alby raced over to a large window on one side of the den that overlooked the lawn and in the distance you could see the ocean, with the waves crashing against the shore.

"The ocean! I can see the ocean!" Alby shrilled, bouncing up and down on his toes. Then he turned and made a beeline for the front door.

"Hold it, little boy!" Ginny called sternly.

Alby froze, when his mummy used that tone, she meant business.

Ginny came up to him and knelt down in front of him. "Albus Severus, I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm about to say. You are not to go anywhere outside of this house without asking me or daddy first. You are not to go anywhere past the lawn without me or daddy, especially not the ocean." She looked up at Harry. "Harry, you'd better set the Boundary Charms now."

"I was just going to do that," her husband replied. He knew better than to count on his son or even Severus obeying the rules all the time, thus the charms to keep them safe and on the property. He walked outside.

Ginny looked down at Alby again. "Am I understood, little boy?"

"Yes, Mummy," Alby said solemnly. "I'll be good. I don't want another spanking."

"You behave and you won't have to worry about one," his mother reassured him. "Now, why don't you and Sevvy go upstairs and find a room to sleep in?"

Alby nodded, then he asked, "Do I have to get my own room, Mummy? I . . . might be a'scared alone with just Bucky."

Ginny looked over at Severus. "Sev, do you mind if you share with Alby like at home? If you want your own space, Harry and I can always put a small bed in our room."

To his surprise, Severus heard himself say, "It's all right, Ginny. Alby can sleep with me. I don't really mind, I'm used to it." It was true. After so many weeks of sleeping with the little boy, Severus knew it would feel strange not having the kid in the room with him, even if Alby did wake him sometimes in the middle of the night. "Come on, Al. Let's see what rooms they have here."

"Sevvy, didja know that pirates lived here a long time ago?" Alby asked as they ran upstairs.

"Not pirates, smugglers," Severus corrected.

"What's a smuggler?"

"It's a person that sneaks items into a country illegally, so they don't have to pay customs taxes on them," Severus told his brother.

"Like what kinds of things?"

"Well, a long time ago, the British government had high taxes on stuff like wine and rum, so a lot of smugglers would sneak cases of liquor in and sell them to whoever met their price. At one time, firewhiskey was banned in the wizarding world here, so the smugglers brought that in, as well as some rare animals, like runespoor eggs and dragon eggs, and also some potion ingredients too, like nightmare hair and dragon's teeth. It could also have been amulets or jewelry. Sometimes it was expensive cloth, like silk or velvet. Whatever would fetch a good price on the black market."

"What's a black market?"

"It's a place where smugglers sold their illegal items and other people bought them. Mostly they were thieves and scoundrels or slippery merchants looking to make a quick Galleon."

"Oh. How do you know so much, Sevvy?"

"I read a lot."

"I wanna read too. So I can know everything like you."

Severus chuckled. "Al, I don't know everything. No one does."

"Well, you know more of everything than anybody I know," Albus said, hero-worship shining in his eyes. He pushed open a door and they entered a bedroom that had clearly been designed for a boy.

It was painted lovingly with an ocean scene right on the walls, magicked so that you could both see and hear the waves of the sea, and spot dolphins jumping, palm trees waving, and even seagulls wailing. There was even ships that sailed by every few minutes.

"This is awesome!" Alby cheered.

There were two bunk beds, and each of them was made up with a nautical theme, of a ship sailing at sunset. In addition to the beds there were chairs, a desk, and two chests of drawers, as well as a closet with a few games in it. There was a large window with billowing white curtains that looked sort of like a ship's sails.

"I like this room, Sevvy," Alby announced. "Don't you?"

"Yes, I do. Would you like to stay in here, or look at another room?"

"Here's good," Alby said, placing Bucky on the bottom bunk. "You can sleep up top, Sevvy. I'm a'scared to sleep up there by myself. What if I fell off?"

"Al, there's a wooden bar there to keep you from doing that," Severus pointed out. "But that's all right. I like sleeping on the top." Severus climbed the ladder and put Mimic on his bed.

"Sevvy, do you think Mummy will let us see the ocean soon?" asked Alby wistfully.

"Let's go ask her," his brother replied. He knew that Ginny would be busy unpacking everything in the kitchen and probably upstairs as well, but maybe Harry could be persuaded to take them down to the seashore.

Alby ran for the stairs, which were a spiral with a long twisty banister made of oak sanded to a smooth golden sheen. The banister was wide enough to sit on, and before Severus could stop him, Alby had climbed onto it and sat down, his rear resting comfortably upon the circular portion at the top.

"Al, what are you doing?" Severus hissed.

"I'm gonna slide down the banister. Teddy and Jamie do it all the time at their house. It's great fun!"

"If Teddy and Jamie decided to jump off the roof, would you?" Severus demanded.

Alby gave him a puzzled look. "'Course not! That would be dumb! You could break your arm. But sliding's cool, Sevvy!" With that, he pushed off, and began to slide swiftly down the staircase.

Severus watched as the mischievous imp slid all the way down and then hopped off and raced upstairs again. He didn't like to admit it, but it did look like fun.

"C'mon, Sevvy! You try! It doesn't hurt your bum, the wood's smooth so you can't get splinners stuck in it." Alby urged, grinning.

"You can't get what?"

"Splinners. The pointy little twigs from wood." Alby repeated. "One time Teddy got some in his bum from trying to slide down the stairs at school. Uncle Remus had to take 'em out with some metal thingies called twizzers. Teddy sure hollered a lot 'cause it hurt. Me an' Jamie watched it."

"You mean splinters," corrected Severus, finally understanding what his small brother was talking about. "And Remus took them out with a pair of tweezers. Poor Teddy! He must have been so embarrassed."

"What's that mean, Sevvy? Embarrassed?"

"It means you feel all ashamed and uncomfortable," Severus answered. "Did he know you were watching?"

"No. We were peeking out the door of Jamie's room, we wanted to know what was goin' on with Teddy. First Jamie thought his daddy was spanking Teddy, 'cause Teddy was over his knee and he was crying, but then we saw the . . .tweezers and heard Uncle Remus tell Teddy to stop moving and he'd have them all out quick. I'm glad I never had that happen to me."

Severus could only imagine what that must have been like, and it would have been ten times worse if poor Teddy had realized his little brother and Alby had seen it.

Alby hopped onto the banister again. "Sevvy, c'mon! You aren't . . . scared are you?"

Severus knew a challenge when he heard one, and he would be damned if his little brother thought him a coward. "No! What's there to be scared of?" he demanded, and he jumped up before Alby on the banister and shoved off.

He spiraled round and round down the entire length of the stairs, picking up speed as he did so, until he reached the end and jumped down. He landed with a small thump, and then moved out of the way before Alby could crash into him.

"See? Isn't it fun?" asked his brother, his green eyes sparkling.

Severus smiled back. "Yes. Let's do it again!" This time he led the way up the stairs for another round.

They slid down the banister several times, until Severus was starting to feel a bit dizzy and had lost count of how many times he'd run up and down the stairs. "Ready . . . set . . . go!" he called to Alby before starting what must have been his tenth . . . or was it twelfth . . . run.

He slid swiftly down, this time sliding on the side instead of straddling it like Alby liked to. But as he reached the bottom, a familiar figure stepped into the entryway.

Ginny gaped upon seeing Severus, normally an obedient child, sliding hell for leather down the banister.

Severus saw her at the same instant, but was unable to halt his slide and so landed nearly at her feet. "Uh . . . hi, Ginny!"

"Severus!" she exclaimed, but before she could say anything more, Alby came sliding down and almost knocked down Severus. "Albus! Great Merlin's ghost! What are you doing?"

"Having fun, Mummy," her son answered, grinning his irresistible grin that reminded her so much of Harry.

Fearing they were now in trouble, Severus swiftly apologized. "We're sorry, Ginny. It's just . . . we thought . . . are we in trouble?" He bit his lip nervously. Even though he was almost certain the Potters would not punish him like Tobias used to, Severus was still nervous. He hated getting yelled at and felt ashamed that Ginny had caught him behaving like a . . . little kid, even if he was one. He also didn't want to get in trouble the first day of his vacation.

Ginny, who had been prepared to scold, suddenly started laughing instead. All her anger vanished when she realized that Severus had actually been acting like a child . . . even if the action had been a little bit impulsive. "No, Sevvy. Although . . . you should be careful sliding down the banister. Once my brother Charlie did that at home and he went so fast he flew off and landed on the floor and chipped a tooth. And Fred and George . . . or maybe it was Ron, slid down once and tried to stop and they . . . err . . . banged their private parts on the end of the banister . . . Mum had to put cold packs on them and they just lay on the couch the rest of the day, groaning . . . so do watch yourselves, boys." Then she reached out and hugged them.

Severus melted into her embrace, finding her cautionary tale chilling. It almost made him never want to slide down the banister ever again. Alby didn't quite get everything she'd said, but decided he was bored with sliding and asked, "Mummy, can we go outside an' see the ocean?"

"I can't take you right this minute, Al, I'm busy putting everything away," his mother said. "Why don't you go outside and find your dad? He could take you."

"Okay!" Alby said, then he pulled away from his mother and ran for the front door. He opened it and jumped out onto the porch and looked around. When he spotted Harry, down by the dirt track leading to the seashore, putting up the last of the Boundary Wards, he ran pell mell towards Harry. "Daddy! Sevvy and I wanna see the ocean! Can you bring us? Please?"

Severus followed, at a more sedate pace, screaming like a banshee and running was for little kids.

Harry turned just in time to catch his small son in his arms. "Whoa, scamp! Why are you running as if your bum's on fire? Not in trouble with your mum, are you?"

"No, Daddy! I just wanna see the ocean." Alby said eagerly.

Harry supposed he couldn't blame the boy. "All right, but first we need to go inside and get into our swimming trunks and water wings and put on some sunscreen."

Severus came to a halt and nodded. "Or else we'll all burn like lobsters."

They all headed back to the house to change and put on sunscreen.

Alby was so excited he could hardly stand still for Harry to rub the sunscreen on, but wriggled and jiggled like a little eel. "It tickles, Daddy!" he giggled as Harry rubbed the magical cream down his back, bum, and thighs.

"Albus Severus, quit squirming," ordered his father, a tad exasperatedly. "You'd think I was rubbing you with sandpaper the way you're acting. Why couldn't you be more like Severus? He stayed still as a statue when I put the sunscreen on him."

Which was true. But then, Severus had more control over himself thanks to his memories, though at certain points, he too had wanted to wriggle, especially when Harry had rubbed the cream on the backs of his knees, ribs, and feet.

"Can't help it, Dad!" Alby shrieked, he burst out laughing. He was lying on his tummy on Harry's bed.

His son's laughter was infectious, and Harry found himself chuckling as he rubbed the last of the sunscreen on. "Okay, Mr. Eel, you're done." Harry gently pulled up Alby's trunks and gave the giggling child a mild tap on the bottom. "Up you get!"

Alby turned and jumped onto Harry, clinging like a small spider monkey. "Now can we go, Dad? Now?"

"Yes, Mr. Impatience, we sure can." He had applied sunscreen to himself with his wand. Normally he would have asked Ginny, but since she was busy, he decided to do it himself.

Alby chattered nonstop as they made their way down to the beach.

"Do you think we'll see a shark, Dad? How 'bout a pirate ship? Or a big fish? Are there crabs on this beach, Sevvy?"

Severus smirked. "I think so. Big ones that'll bite off your toes if you don't watch where you're going and step on them."

"Ahh! I don't wanna crab to eat my toes!" his brother yelped, drawing his feet up and wrapping his legs about Harry's middle.

"Then take a breath and quit talking, Al," Severus said slyly. Sometimes Alby's endless chatter gave him a headache.

"Sev, was that nice?" Harry scolded mildly.

"It got him to be quiet," Severus pointed out, not at all remorseful.

Alby hushed . . . for about ten seconds. Then he saw some gulls and wanted to know if he could feed them.

"Maybe later, Alby. We didn't bring food with us this time," Harry said. They passed through the Boundary Charms, Harry felt a slow tingle run down his spine and saw Severus shiver and knew he had felt the chill of the active spell also. Alby even flinched a little. But the wards permitted the children to pass because Harry was with them, carrying Alby and holding Severus' hand.

Finally they were on the sand and Harry set his son down and cast a water wings charm over him, so he could swim without drowning. The charm made lighter than air glowing fins come out of Alby's arms and the child whooped loudly.

"Sev, would you like them too? Or can you swim?" Harry asked the older child.

"I can swim, but . . . the tide might be too strong for me," Severus admitted.

Harry gave him water wings too.

Then he put a waterproofing charm on his glasses and another to fix them to his head so they wouldn't fall off.

There wasn't anyone around at this hour of the morning, and the surf was cool and refreshing. At first it almost felt cold, but after a few minutes, they all grew used to the water. Harry swam alongside Alby, showing the four-year-old how to paddle and kick. Alby seemed to take to the water like a fish, he didn't even mind when some of the salt water got in his mouth.

Severus was swimming a little ahead of his brother, enjoying the warm water, it was almost like a bath. The sea was still shallow here, enough so that if he needed to, he could stand or tread water, similar to the shallow end of a swimming pool. The sun dazzle on the water made him squint, but it felt good.

Until Alby screamed, "SHARK! Daddy-SHARK!"

And Severus felt something grab his ankle.

He immediately panicked and started trying to thrash around and free himself—the worst thing you could do in a shark attack. "Ahhh!" he yelled, trying to swim away . . . then he realized there was no pain, no blood in the water, and when he looked backwards, all he saw was his little brother, clutching his ankle and grinning like the devil himself.

"Fooled ya!" Alby chanted in a singsong voice. "Gotcha, Sevvy! Did I scare ya?"

Severus glared at him. "You little brat! Just wait, Albus Severus! I'm going to get you back good!" He pulled his ankle free just as a wave came and swamped him, making him get water up his nose. He started coughing hard.

Then Harry's arm was around him, holding him up and patting his back. "You all right, Sev? Easy, cough it out. Good boy!"

Severus hawked and spat the nasty seawater out of his mouth. "Yuck!" Now his nose and eyes burned from the salt water. "Harry, did you see what that brat did?" he grumbled.

"Yes, but he meant it as a joke, Sev. Don't pay him back too hard, okay?"

Severus growled, "I almost choked to death!"

"You all right?"

"My throat and eyes are burning." Severus muttered.

"All right, let's go back to the beach and relax." Harry said. He snagged Alby by his trunks and said, "Let's go and build a sandcastle, scamp.

"Yay! A sandcastle!" cheered the little boy. He began to paddle faster. "Sevvy, wasn't that funny? Did you really think I was a shark?"

"For about three seconds," Severus snorted. He was already planning on how to get his brother back.

They came out of the ocean, and Harry wiped Severus' face with a washcloth that had been dampened with some water from a water bottle and he gave the boy the bottle to drink from also. "How's that, better?"

Severus nodded grudgingly. He hated swallowing sea water, now his stomach felt gross. He eyed Alby, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

"Daddy, where can we build it?" asked Alby.

"Up here, halfway between the waterline and the dry sand, so the water doesn't wash it away." Harry said. He began to dig in the sand and started molding the wet sand into a wall.

"I wanna help!" his son cried, and knelt next to his father, copying him.

"I'll look for some shells," Severus called, and turned around, pretending to hunt for some small shells and rocks. He picked a few up, but that wasn't what he was really after.

After a few moments, when he was sure the other two were focused on the sandcastle, he came back, his pockets full of shells and his hands holding something else. Alby was kneeling in the damp sand, his little bottom sticking out.

Perfect, Severus thought. He crept up behind the younger boy and tossed a handful of shells down in front of him. "Here's the shells, Al . . . and a surprise!" Smirking, he grabbed the top of his brother's swimming trunks and stuffed a handful of wet gritty sand down them. Then he scampered away, snickering.

Alby jumped up and tried to run after him, yelling, "Daddy, Sevvy shoved sand down my pants!"

"Now we're even, brat!" yelled Severus.

Harry shook his head. "Don't come crying to me, you started it, Al." He went back to building the sandcastle.

Alby jumped up and down, trying to dislodge the sand. But it was having no effect, so he yanked his shorts down, exposing his bottom and began brushing frantically at his backside.

Harry looked up and cried, "Albus Severus, what are you doing?"

"I'm gettin' the sand off, Daddy! My bum's all scratchy," his son answered.

"Go wash yourself off in the water," Harry sighed. "And then pull up your shorts, for Godsake! You don't just bare yourself in front of people like that!"

"What people? There's nobody here but us," Alby said, running to the water and dunking his bottom into the foamy surf to rinse the sand off. He was totally unconcerned about exposing himself, as only an innocent child could be. Then he pulled up his shorts and charged after his brother. "I'm gonna get you, Sevvy!" He aimed a chunk of wet sand at the older boy, but it missed.

"You and what army, imp?" Severus taunted, running backwards on the sand.

The two chased each other through the surf, screaming ridiculous threats at each other, and hitting each other with clods of sand, then jumping into the water to wash the sand off.

Harry paused once or twice to look up and make sure the two were playing and not throttling each other, but they were both grinning and giggling, so he went back to putting towers on his sandcastle. He had just put some shells along the roof of the first tower when he heard Alby yell in response from a taunt from Severus, "Uh . . . I'm gonna summon a shark to eat your balls off, Sevvy!"

Harry nearly choked to death from not laughing. He knew the four year old probably didn't even know what he said, he was just repeating what he'd heard some adult say, but he also knew that Ginny would kill him if she ever heard that particular phrase come out of her baby's mouth. So he stood up and said, "Albus Severus, you watch your mouth, young man! Come here."

Alby came, sniffling a little. "What'd I say?"

"Telling your brother a shark is going to eat his balls off is not something you say in public," Harry scolded. "Your mum would wash out your mouth for that."

"No, Daddy! No soap!" his son bawled. He covered his mouth with his hands.

"Because you didn't know any better, I won't wash out your mouth. Now have a seat over here, you're in time out for two minutes. " Harry said, pointing to a spot nearby.

Alby slumped onto the sand, still crying a little. "No fair, Dad! Uncle Ron said it first!"

Harry frowned. "Looks like I'll be having a talk with your uncle sometime soon about minding his mouth," he muttered. Then he said, "That doesn't mean you repeat it, young man. Clear?"

Alby looked down at his feet, half-buried in the sand and whispered, "Yes, Dad. Stupid Uncle Ron!"

Severus came back up the beach and approached the sandcastle. Seeing Alby sulking and feeling bad for the little tyke, he said, "Harry, it's partly my fault. I shouldn't have been playing the insult game with him. He didn't know any better."

"I know, Sev, but now he does. You live and learn." Harry said. "Want to help me with the other side?" He indicated the mound of sand on the right hand side, which still hadn't been worked on.

"Sure!" Severus sat down and began to try and make the sand match the other side of the castle.

Alby pouted until Harry told him he could come and help too, then he scurried over and sat down in Harry's lap. "Show me how to do it, Daddy."

So Harry did, and soon the three wizards had a large castle built, with shells on the roof and seaweed for the "garden" and a bridge of rocks and shells and a sea moat.

"Now there's a castle!" Harry exclaimed.

"It looks wicked, Daddy! I wish we could show Mummy."

"Me too, but I forgot the camera back at the house. Oh, well. We can always go and bring her here to see it. Or build another one."

"Daddy, I'm hungry."

"You know, so am I. Your mum's probably finished unpacking by now, why don't we see if she has a snack or some lunch ready?" Harry suggested.

So they all trooped back to the beach house. On the porch was a bucket of water to rinse their feet off in and towels to dry themselves. Harry made sure both kids were dry before letting them into the house.

Ginny had a platter of chicken strips, cucumber salad, and crisps on the table waiting for them. "How was the beach?"

"It was great, Mummy! We swam and I tricked Sevvy and made him think a shark bit his leg an' then he shoved sand down my pants," Alby reported. Ginny rolled her eyes, the two sounded more like her brothers every day. "Then we helped Daddy build a wicked sandcastle. Can you come see it?"

"Eat first, then I'll come and see it." Ginny promised, sitting down next to him. She placed three chicken strips on her child's plate and a small amount of cucumbers and crisps as well.

Severus found that swimming and running along the beach worked up his appetite and he devoured his five strips, salad, and crips. Ginny had Oreos for a sweet and they munched them while walking back down the trail.

This time Ginny brought the camera and took a picture of the sandcastle while Severus wrote Harry, Alby, & Sev 2006 in the sand next to it.

So far this was turning out to be a good start to the vacation.

Day 2:

The exercise in the salty sea air appeared to have worn the two boys out, for they went to bed earlier than their usual 8:30 bedtime. They slept heavily, not waking until nearly nine thirty the next morning. After breakfast, which was blueberry pancakes, bacon, and pumpkin juice, Harry went into town to see about buying tickets to the wildlife preserve.

Ginny decided to keep the boys busy by going down to the beach with a bucket and some small mesh bags she had conjured to collect seashells.

"What can you do with the seashells, Mummy?" asked Alby.

"Well, you can do lots of things. You can collect different ones and put them in a jar to look at or you can make things with them."

"Like what?"

"Like necklaces or picture frames or keepsake boxes," she replied. She had her pink bathing suit on underneath a white lacy half top and jean shorts with pink flipflops. She had tied her hair up so it didn't blow in her eyes.

The boys were wearing T-shirts, sandals, and their swimming trunks, just in case they got hot and wanted to cool off in the water. All of them were wearing sunscreen, thanks to Severus, who remembered just in time to remind Ginny to put it on.

They skipped along the shoreline, only a few other tourists were out around ten thirty, sunbathing on blankets or sitting on chairs reading the newspaper or a novel. There were a few kids swimming, mostly older ones, or playing volleyball further down the beach.

Soon Ginny spotted a purple scallop shell half-buried in the sand and picked it up. "Here's a beautiful one! See if you can find any more like this, boys. Let's have a little contest. Whoever finds the biggest shell gets to pick out dinner tonight. Whoever finds the most shells gets to choose dessert. Whoever finds the most shells the fastest gets to pick out two stories to read tonight or tomorrow night or pick out breakfast."

"Are you playing too, Mummy?"

"No, the contest is for you two, but I'll still be collecting shells. When your bags are full, bring them to me and we'll put the shells in my bucket." She indicated the purple bucket in her hand, where she'd placed the purple shell. She looked at her watch. "You have half-an-hour to find shells. Ready, set, go!"

Alby and Severus tore off down the beach, their eyes peeled for shells. A lot of shells were near the waterline, though some managed to get thrown higher up on the sand dunes. Severus had to fight against the sudden instinct to help his small brother find shells. He made himself go off in the opposite direction from Alby, and soon he found a nice looking clamshell. He put it in his bag, and the hunt was on.

Alby skipped in and out of the water, picking up tiny shells and curled shells. Then he saw a spotted shell . . . and it was moving! He ran over to examine it and saw legs walking and gasped. "You're alive! Wicked! I gotta show Sevvy!" He gently picked up the shell and its inhabitant and placed it in the mesh bag. Then he picked up another clam shell and placed it beside the other six shells he'd found. Finally he straightened and looked about for Severus.

"Sevvy! Se-e-evv-e-e!" he shouted.

"Over here!" Severus waved further up the beach past where they had built the sandcastle the day before.

Alby started running towards him when suddenly some older kids blocked his way. " 'Scuse me." The child skidded to a stop. "I need to find my brudder."

There were three boys in front of him, all around the age of eleven. "Hey, kid. What you got in that bag?"

"Just some shells," Alby said, peering up at them from beneath his bangs.

One of the boys reached out and plucked the bag from him. "Huh. Looks like you got an ole hermit crab too. Where'd you find that 'un?"

"He was over there, walking," Alby pointed to the spot where the hermit crab had been. "Can I have my bag back?"

"In a minute." The older boy answered, examining the shells. He glanced back behind him and saw Ginny. "That foxy lady your mama?"

"Yes. Her name's Ginny. Can I have my bag back?"

The tallest boy turned and whistled appreciatively. "I sure wish my mama looked like that! Don't you, Sam?"

"Sam wishes he had a mama, period. Stead of his bossy older sister," snorted a boy with blond hair. "But she sure is fine." He stared at Ginny, his eyes wide.

"Aw, hush up, Jordan!" Sam ordered, flushing. "Here, kid." He gave Alby the bag back. "Your mama's a babe, y'know that?"

Alby took the bag back and clutched it to him. "Mummy's not a baby. She's a lady."

The three boys hooted and laughed.

"She sure is! A foxy lady!" they chorused.

"Go on, kid. Go show your hot mama the hermit crab," Sam told him, giving Alby a friendly slap on the back. "You got a dad, or are your parents divorced?"

"I got a dad. He's in town buying tickets." Alby answered. "His name's Harry."

"What's your name, kid?"

"Albus Potter, only you can call me Al."

Sam's mouth hung open. "Bloody hell! Y'mean . . . your dad's Harry Potter?"

"Uh huh."

"You shoulda known that, Sam. The kid here's the spit of his old man, 'cept for the glasses."

"Merlin, but old Potter sure can pick 'em!" sighed the tall boy, still gazing at Ginny.

"Hey, Al, think your dad will sign something for me? I have a newspaper article here," Sam dug into his back pocket and came up with a crumpled Daily Prophet with Harry's picture on it.

"Can you, like, introduce us?" asked the other two boys.

"Y'mean, you wanna meet my dad?" Alby asked, puzzled.

"Yeah! We sure do!"

"Okay. He's gonna come here soon as he's done. You wanna say hi to my mum?"

Immediately all three boys blushed and nodded.

They followed Alby as the little boy ran up to Ginny, waving his bag and grinning. "Mummy! Lookit! I found a hermit crab an' these are some big kids that want to meet Daddy."

"Oh, Alby, how neat!" Ginny exclaimed, examining the hermit crab. "We'll need to put him in a glass tank at home." Then she looked up and saw the three teenagers. "Hello, boys. I'm Ginny Potter."

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am. I'm Rob," said the tallest boy.

"Mrs. Potter, it's an honor. I'm Sam."

"My name's Jordan," said the blond boy.

They all shook hands with Ginny.

Severus looked down the beach to see Ginny and Alby surrounded by three boys. He wondered who they were, but wasn't curious enough to abandon his shell search. So far he had twelve medium shells, one of them a very large black oyster shell which was unopened. He knew oysters sometimes contained pearls, though it was a slim chance this one did. He found a pretty golden spiral shell, like a unicorn's horn, and added it to his collection. He had acquired a pretty abalone piece that sparkled blue, pink, and purple in the sunlight. He had many smaller shells, ones that looked like conch shells and others that resembled tiny clam shells. He had even picked up some small rocks that were rainbowed with striated bands of color.

Then he found a wicked looking rock, one that he thought was obsidian or something, smoothed by the waves, with an odd star-like design etched into it. The rock was almost as big as his palm, and the star shaped design was a teal color. Until, on closer examination, he saw that it wasn't just a design, but a fossil imprint. This, he thought, was going to be the focal point for the shell box he wanted to make. He tucked it into his bag and then started back over to where Ginny and Alby were talking to the three strange boys.

Just then Harry came walking down towards them, and the three boys looked as if they were going to fall down on their knees in the sand.

All hail the Messiah of the wizarding world! Severus thought with an amused snort. No matter how much Harry disliked the fact that he was famous, he couldn't seem to avoid running into hero-worshipping fans everywhere he went. Now one of the youngsters had pulled out a quill and was giving Harry what looked like a newspaper to sign. The other two were holding small postcards and Harry was scribbling on them.

Then they were thanking the savior of the wizarding world and walking back up the beach.

"Sevvy!" Alby cried upon seeing his brother. "Those big boys wanted Daddy's name on a piece of paper. An' lookit what I found! It's a hermit crab!"

The child proudly displayed his hermit crab.

"That's nice, Al. But you need a place to put him." Severus said. He looked up at Ginny. "Look at the wicked rock I found. It has a fossil in it." He showed her the black rock and she smiled.

"That is such a cool rock!"

"I'm going to use it for the lid of the box I want to make," Severus told her. He showed her and Harry the rest of the shells he'd collected.

"You've got an oyster here, Sev." Harry exclaimed, fingering the black shell. "Want me to open it? Maybe you'll get lucky and a pearl will be inside."

"Open it!" Alby cried.

Harry tapped the oyster with his wand and it opened.

Everyone peered inside.

"Yuck! It's all slimy!" Alby wrinkled his nose.

"Want to eat it, Al?" asked Severus. "Oysters are supposed to be good for you."

"Eeew!" his brother made a disgusted face.

Harry felt around inside the shell. "Hmm . . . there's something hard in here." He cupped some water in his hand and threw it on the oyster. When the silt and sticky stuff had been washed away, there sat . . . a pearl.

"A pearl!" Severus cried, amazed.

It was quite a large pearl, and it glistened with spray. It was a creamy pink color and big enough to be made into a ring.

"That's some pearl, Sev. What are you going to do with it?" asked Ginny.

"Can it be made into a ring?"

"Yes, once we take it to a jeweler," Ginny said. "Who's the ring for?"

"Lily," replied Severus. "For when we . . . err . . . start going steady." He started blushing, knowing full well that was years in the future. The box would be hers as well, though that he would give her sooner, maybe as a Christmas gift.

"Aww, Sevvy! How cute!" Ginny chuckled. "Let me keep the pearl for now, okay? I'll make sure nothing happens to it until you're ready to get it set." She picked up the pearl and put it in a small pouch for safekeeping.

"Looks like you all had fun." Harry remarked. "I got tickets for Wednesday for the sanctuary."

"Great! Now, let's see who had the most shells and the biggest shell and who gathered shells the quickest," Ginny said.

She examined both their mesh bags. "Looks like Sevvy got the most shells, so tonight you pick dessert. And Alby, your conch shell is bigger than Sevvy's oyster, so you get to pick dinner tonight . As far as who had the fastest time, I'd say that's tied, so you can both choose a story tonight."

Both boys looked very pleased with themselves, and then Severus wanted to know where he could get a box so he could start his project. Ginny said she would see what was in the house, or else go into town and buy one.

For dinner that night they had Alby's favorite, hamburgers, chips, and green bean casserole. Severus chose hot fudge sundaes for dessert, and they both picked out a story to read before bed. Alby chose Puss In Boots and Severus Kaa's Hunting from Kipling's The Jungle Books.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Day 3:

That afternoon, Ginny decided to treat herself to a pedicure and a manicure in Hope Cove. She had been with Alby and Severus all morning, working on their shell projects. She had found a pine wood box with a hinged lid for Severus to glue his shells to, and she helped him fix the rock to the lid with magic so it would never fall off. She told him when he was done putting on the shells, she would use a Strengthening Charm to fix the shells to the box so they wouldn't ever come off either. Alby, after he'd placed the hermit crab in a small terrarium Harry had made for it, he'd named the creature Squiggle, wanted to make a picture frame with his shells, while Ginny worked on a photo album.

Harry took them down to the beach again to swim and draw shapes in the sand for the surf to wash away, but after an hour the sun grew too hot and he took the back to Driftwood House for lunch. After lunch, he decided to relax on the porch with a book for an hour. About forty-five minutes into his novel, he heard Alby and Severus arguing. This was so unusual, that he halted his reading to listen to it.

"I don't wanna make no stupid potion, Sevvy!" Alby was yelling.

"Potions aren't stupid!" Severus snapped.

"Are too!"

"Are not! We could make a potion that tasted like strawberry limeade! Or even butterbeer."

"No! You go make potions with Daddy if you want. I wanna do something funner," Alby said stubbornly.

"Like what? Watch Squiggle sit and stare at the wall? Count the rocks in the garden?" Severus sneered, out of patience.

"No! I'm gonna . . . slide down the banister!" Alby declared.

"Oh, like you haven't done that ten hundred times!"

Harry cocked his head, trying to decide if he should go inside and break up their little quarrel. He heard the sound of Alby's feet climbing the stairs. Then he heard his youngest shout, "Three, two, one, here I come!"

The next sound he heard was a loud THUD!

Shit, that did not sound good! Harry thought as he sprang to his feet. He could hear Alby wailing through the door.

When he entered the foyer, he saw to his astonishment that both children were on the floor, and not only was Alby crying, so was Severus, because Alby had flown off the banister and landed on him, knocking him down. Only Severus was crying softly.

"Hey, what happened over here?" Harry asked, going and picking Alby up off of Severus. "Sev, are you hurt?"

"I . . . I hit my head," Severus whimpered, tears standing in his eyes. "Alby didn't wait for me to move before he slid down."

"Can you sit up? Are you dizzy?" Harry asked softly. He shifted the still crying Alby to his shoulder and then helped Severus to sit up. "Al, stop screeching. I can barely hear myself think. Are you hurt anywhere?"

Alby gulped and sniffled. "My knee hurts, Dad," his son said. Then he started to wail again. "I sat on Sevvy! I didn't mean to! Sevvy, m'sorry!"

"Albus, for the love of Merlin, stop crying!" Harry snapped, for Alby was yelling right in his ear. "Anyone would think you were dying, the way you're carrying on."

"But I . . . don't want Sevvy to go to the hosp'tal!" Alby sobbed.

"Alby, who ever said I was going to the hospital?" Severus asked, rubbing the back of his head. "I just bumped my head."

"Y'mean, you're not bad hurt?" his brother asked tearfully.

Before Severus could answer that, Harry drew his wand and performed a quick diagnostic on his ward. "You've got a small bump on your head, Sev, and some bruises, but you'll live." He waved his wand over the dark-haired waif and the bruises and bump were healed. "There! Next time, Alby, don't slide down the banister without looking first. As a matter of fact, I think you should stay off the banister before you seriously injure yourself or someone else next time." Then Harry examined his son's knee, it was scraped, and he mended it with another healing charm. "Now, why were you two fighting?"

"I was bored, Daddy, an' Sevvy said let's make a potion an' I didn't want to," Alby told his father.

"There's nothing to do," Severus sighed loudly and got up.

"Do you want to go flying?"

"No. We've done that already," answered his ward.

"I wish we could go to the wild animal sanc'try," Alby said.

"That's tomorrow, buddy. I couldn't get tickets any earlier. Let me think," Harry said, trying to come up with something to keep the two children occupied until Ginny came home. He recalled reading in a book titled 101 Things to Do on a Rainy Day, something about making a kite. "How about we make a kite to fly on the beach?"

"A kite? Do you know how to make one?" Severus asked.

"I have a book here that shows you how," replied Harry. "We can make it out of any sort of cloth or paper and put whatever we want on it. What do you think?"

"Let's do it!" Alby clapped his hands.

So they followed the instructions in Harry's book and created a kite from some transfigured sticks, an old drape they found in a closet, some scraps from one of Harry's old shirts, bits of colored foil, an old hair ribbon of Ginny's became the bows for the tail, and some heavy duty string. The kite had a dragon on one side and a silver snake on the other coming out of a cauldron. It was held together with magic and some glue here and there.

It was the coolest kite ever, at least according to Alby.

Then they took it down to the beach to fly it.

When Ginny arrived home, she found the house strangely silent. "Hello? Harry? Boys? Is anyone home?"

She walked through the den and looked out the window. She saw three figures on the sand, running, and behind them flew a magnificent kite.

"Harry, where did you get that kite?"

Harry turned upon hearing Ginny's voice. "Hello, Gin! You look wonderful!"

Ginny smiled and showed her husband her newly painted toes. "Do you like the color? It's called Coral Sunset."

"Love it." Harry started to jog backwards as the kite began to flutter.

"Mummy, look at our kite!"

"I see it, where did you find it?" Ginny asked, hugging Alby.

"We didn't find it, Ginny. We made it," Severus informed her, his eyes sparkling.

"You made it? That's simply . . . amazing, Sev!" she grinned. "How do you fly it?"

"I'll show you," Harry offered. "That way I can take a break. They've had me out here flying for over an hour!" Her husband panted.

"Poor baby," she teased. "I'll give you a massage tonight, love." Ginny purred.

"I'm going to hold you to that, Ginevra," Harry smirked, then he showed Ginny how to fly the kite.

Later:

Harry lay with his head in Ginny's lap on the porch swing and watched the sun sink into the sea. The sky had turned a gorgeous palate of colors—rose, orange, gold, violet, and a beautiful crimson. Harry gazed at it and smiled. He had a magnificent view, his wife to keep him company and snuggle with, two highly intelligent and mischievous children, and time to relax. Life was good, and this vacation even better.

"Aren't you glad we came here?" he asked Ginny.

"I am. It's been a lovely vacation so far. The weather's been great and I love the sand and the sun. Even the children have been pretty well behaved."

"And best of all, now we have some time alone," purred her husband.

"That too," Ginny murmured, and took a chocolate drop from the bag beside her and fed it to Harry. She adored her husband, and thanked Merlin everyday for making Harry love her and return to her after that fateful afternoon in the forest.

Harry sat up and drew her to him, his eyes now focused on his wife, and not the last rays of the setting sun, as they celebrated their private time in the age old way of lovers since the beginning of time.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Day 4:

The weather, which had been so cooperative all week, suddenly turned stormy that morning, and their trip to the wildlife sanctuary had to be postponed. Both Severus and Alby were upset, because the rain trapped them all inside, and they were grouchy. They moped about the house, not inclined to do anything but sulk.

Ginny was in a bad mood too, the sudden stormy weather had triggered a migraine and she was in pain, nauseous, and not inclined to have patience with two sulky children. She had taken a Headache Potion and gone upstairs to lie down, but no sooner had she done so, then she was interrupted by her son, whining, "Mum, I'm bored. Can you play a game with me?"

"Albus, I'm not feeling too well right now, go and ask your father or Sevvy." Ginny groaned. Her head felt like a hammer was splitting it open.

"Daddy told me not to bother him, he was reading. An' Sevvy was drawing an' called me a pest and said to go play by myself."

"Why don't you go play with Bucky?" Ginny suggested tiredly. "I need to rest."

"But Mummy . . ." her son whined aggravatingly.

"Alby, what are you doing in here?" Severus suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Your mum's sick, now leave her alone."

"Why? I just wanna talk to her."

"Al, come on. Let her rest." Severus went to grab his brother by the arm.

"No!" Alby snapped, stamping his foot. "I wanna stay here."

Ginny felt spikes shoot through her head at the loud voice her son was using. Groaning, she sat up and growled, "Albus Severus, you listen to your brother and go play. Now, young man!"

When her son gave her a mulish look, she reached out and swatted his bottom.

Alby burst into tears and Severus pulled him from the room, shutting the door.

Ginny felt her stomach do a flip and she just made it to the bathroom in time to throw up.

In the hallway, Alby was sniffling and rubbing his bum.

"You should have come with me before," Severus sighed, handing Alby a handkerchief. "Then you wouldn't have gotten smacked."

"Mummy's mean! She spanked me over nothin'!"

"Ginny's sick, and you were aggravating her by not listening," Severus pointed out. "Now stop being so dramatic."

"I'm bored, Sevvy. What can we do?" Alby asked, giving him a pitiful look.

Severus sighed. If it were up to him, he'd either read or take a nap. But Alby seemed loaded with an excess of energy today, and not inclined to do quiet things like he usually was. "Uh . . . I know! We'll play Hogwarts. I'll be the professor and you be the student. But first you need to get on board the Hogwarts Express."

"Neat!" Alby started making train noises.

"Shh! Your mum's sick, remember?" Severus hushed him. "So we have to play quietly."

Alby hushed, then he grabbed Severus about the waist and whispered, "Okay, Sevvy. Now I'm on the train, but where's the sweets? Daddy always said there was a trolley with sweets on it."

"We'll go to the pantry and get some," Severus said, and the "train" moved slowly down the stairs and into the kitchen.

He pulled open the door of the pantry and a light came on.

The two boys scanned the shelves. Severus took a bag of Cheez Crunchies and some peanut butter. But Alby wanted Oreos.

"Sevvy, the Oreos are all the way on top. How we gonna get them?"

"We get the stepstool," Severus answered and walked back into the kitchen where the small wooden stool was.

Meanwhile, Alby saw a bag of peppermint toads on a shelf just above his head, and started to climb up to get them. He didn't need to wait for Severus to get those. Just as he was reaching for the bag, the wall moved!

Alby bit back a yelp of fright as the entire pantry wall suddenly moved aside, revealing a cold and dark tunnel.

"Wow!"

Severus, who was dragging the stepstool behind him, gasped when he saw his brother clinging to a shelf and the gaping black maw of a tunnel opening up into the pantry. "Merlin's bum! How did that happen?"

"I dunno. I was climbin' to get the peppermint toads an' it just moved," Alby said. "It's a secret way!"

Severus stepped up to the tunnel. It was cold and smelled musty. He cautiously put a foot into the dark space and suddenly a warm glow lit up the tunnel. Now he could see how the tunnel went down and down a long ways, the floor was dirt and the walls were shored up with wooden beams. "This must have been how they smuggled goods back and forth from the ships and hid them," Severus said, remembering the house's history. "Or maybe even people."

Alby hopped down from the shelf and walked over to stand by Severus. "Cool! What do you think's down there, Sevvy?"

"Probably nothing but empty boxes and stuff."

"Let's go see! Maybe there's some treasure down there." Alby suddenly ran a little ways down the tunnel.

"Albus Severus, get back here! You don't even know where this tunnel leads. Now come out of there!"

"Sevvy, it's like a mystery! Let's go 'sploring," Alby said, his green eyes shining eagerly.

Severus strode into the tunnel, his hands on his hips. "Al, remember the Forbidden Forest?"

"Yeah, but there's no centaurs here. It's just a tunnel."

"Al, this tunnel's old. We shouldn't be in it unless we know it's safe. Now let's go find Harry and he can come with us and see what's down there." Severus argued.

"Fine!" his brother rolled his eyes. He started to come back up to Severus.

Suddenly there was a strange groaning sound.

Severus whirled, only to see the wall of the pantry moving again. It was closing!

"Al, hurry!" he screamed.

Too late.

The wall slid closed with a snap, trapping them inside.

Frantic, Severus threw himself against the wall, the back end of which was covered in slabs of thick packed sod, and beat on it with his fists. "Open up! Open! Harry! Ginny! Help! Help! We're stuck!"

Alby also began screaming and pounding on the wall. "Mummy! Daddy! We're trapped! Help!"

But no one heard them screaming. The walls were thick and solid, having stood for centuries, and muffled the shrill cries of the children much as they had muffled the sound of crates scraping along the floor as the free traders hid them in the secret room from the revenue men. The tunnel echoed to their frightened yells, but in the upper part of the house all was silent.

A/N: So what did you think of the vacation so far? naturally, some disaster had to occur!

 


Chapter 26: Great Need, Great Power
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26

Great Need, Great Power

The two children screamed themselves hoarse in a few minutes' time. About the time he lost much of his voice, Severus realized that no one in the upper level of the house could hear them. He coughed, his throat was dry from all the shouting. "Al . . . Alby, stop!" he said, grabbing the little boy by the shoulders and spinning him around so Alby was looking into his eyes. "It's no good, they can't hear us. The walls down here are too thick, our voices won't penetrate them."

"But . . . what do we do now? I want Daddy!" Alby cried, his green eyes frightened.

Severus held up a cautionary finger. "Don't cry, Al. You have to brave, like you were with the centaurs. If we can't go back, there's only one thing we can do."

"What, Sevvy?" his brother asked, struggling valiantly not to cry.

"We go forward. You wanted to go and explore the tunnel, remember? Well, you got your wish."

"I changed my mind," Alby whimpered.

"Too late for that. Come on, let's go," Severus said, forcing himself to sound more excited than he was.

This time it was Alby who hesitated. "But what if Daddy or Mummy comes to find us?"

"They'll come down the tunnel, it's the only way out of here," Severus reasoned. "And maybe there's another way out of here."

Severus felt nearly certain there was another way out of the tunnel, since the smugglers had built it to be able to come and go with their various items. He just hoped that wherever the tunnel came out of was still passable, and not blocked by something, like a rockslide or dirt.

"You think?" Alby asked hopefully. He clutched Severus' hand.

"Yes." Severus said firmly. He had to be convincing, so Alby wouldn't panic. "I'm just glad that there's a permanent Lumos charm on this tunnel, I'd hate to be down here in the dark."

Alby shivered. "I hate the dark, Sevvy."

They continued down the tunnel, their footsteps echoing as they walked. It was damp and smelled moldy, but neither child paid much attention to that.

"Sevvy, do you think that there's treasure down there?"

"I don't know. Somehow I doubt it. Smugglers wouldn't leave behind expensive items, they'd want to sell or trade them quickly, before someone saw and reported them. Plus, this tunnel and whatever else is down here has been here for centuries. If anything's left, unless they put a preserving charm on it, it's probably all rotting and trash by now."

They continued walking. It felt as if they'd been walking a long time, but Severus knew they hadn't been down there all that long, maybe fifteen minutes. Suddenly the tunnel broadened a bit and the light spell brightened.

"I see more light, Sevvy." Alby said, looking eager. He tugged at Severus' hand.

"Stay by me," the older boy ordered. "We don't know what's down there."

"You think there's monsters?" his brother asked fearfully.

"Of course not. But I don't want you to get lost. Stay close," Severus hastened to reassure him.

After about two minutes, they came upon a large wooden door barred with iron. It had a large rusty padlock on it, and was partially open.

Alby gasped. "A secret room!"

"Probably where they kept all the items they were smuggling," Severus surmised. He walked forward, slipping into the open entrance first. To his relief, the Lumos spell activated here too, illuminating the room with a warm golden glow.

The two children crept into the room like thieves, seeing that it was a huge natural cavern, big enough to hide several ships' worth of cargo. The spell illuminated most of the space save for the highest points at the top of the cavern, and in the furthest shadowy corners. Nothing moved in the cavern, which was mostly empty, save for a cluster of broken crates to the left and four intact ones on the right, some of which looked old and worn. The top of one of those had been shoved aside, as if someone had tried to take something out, and Severus caught the glint of glass.

The other thing that was very evident was the roar and hiss of the ocean. It echoed loudly in the cavern, though Severus saw no water anywhere.

Alby pressed close to Severus now, not inclined to go and explore. "Sevvy, I hear the ocean."

"Yeah, there must be another tunnel somewhere."

Together they walked across the large cavern, following the gurgling rush of the sea.

Soon they spotted another hole in the opposite wall, and as they entered that tunnel, they could hear the ocean's roar even more clearly. They walked down a path that was a mix of dirt and sandy rocky soil. This tunnel twisted a bit more, but Severus kept walking towards the sound of the ocean.

Finally the tunnel widened into a slightly larger opening and the two children saw daylight, as well as a slice of sandy beach. "Look, Sevvy! It's the beach!" Alby squealed, pulling free of his brother's hold and running towards the strip of sand.

"Alby! Stop!" Severus shouted to no avail. He could see the water frothing and foaming against the sand.

But Alby was deaf to Severus' command, continuing to run towards the beach.

Severus sprinted after him, but was unable to grab the boy before he reached the mouth of the tunnel.

There was a small spit of land that reached into the ocean, it was a small inlet surrounded by a curving cliff wall, and the waves broke up against it with terrific force. Alby stumbled before he could venture out on to the strip of land, a good thing, as the ocean current was not gentle here, and fell. His arm scraped against a sharp rock, cutting it.

At first there was no pain, and he climbed to his feet, but then he felt a sudden throbbing in his arm and looked at it—it was bleeding and covered with sand and tiny particles of crushed rock. He began to howl. "Sevvy! I hurt my arm . . . I want Mummy and Daddy!"

Severus reached the little boy seconds after the fall and grabbed him. "Hey, let me see."

But Alby was hysterical and continued to clutch his arm to his chest, screaming for his absent parents.

Severus hugged the child to him. "Al, calm down. Let me see how bad it is."

"No-o-o! I w-want Daddy . . .!" Alby sobbed, tears coursing down his face.

"Shhh . . . he's not here right now, scamp. Now please let me see. I don't think you're hurt all that bad, you're just scared and cranky. Come on, Al." Severus coaxed, tugging gently on his brother's arm.

"But . . . I'm b-bleeding!" Alby cried, his little chest heaving with sobs.

"I know, that usually happens when you fall down and scrape your arm." Severus said matter-of-factly, finally pulling Alby's arm out so he could examine it. It was not as bad as he had feared, the cut wasn't deep, but it was a large scrape and covered in sand. "It's not so bad, Alby. You won't die. We just need to wash it out."

Alby looked up at him. "It hurts."

Severus nodded. "Sure it does." He led Alby closer to the water, hating what he had to do next. And this will hurt even worse, but I have to clean this out. "C'mere and stick your arm in the ocean, Al, so the water can wash off the sand."

Alby didn't fight Severus' command this time. He thrust his arm into the frothy waves. Then he started to scream as the salt water stung the abrasion. "Owwie! Owwie!" He went to pull his arm out of the water.

Severus grabbed his arm and forced the crying child to keep the arm in the water a few moments longer. He winced as Alby shrieked in his ear. "I'm really sorry, Al. I know this hurts like a bitch, but you have to clean the dirt out."

Alby struggled, howling like a banshee. "It burns, Sevvy! Oww! Oww!"

"I know. I know. I'm sorry." Severus crooned, lifting Alby's arm from the water. The scrape was clean. "Shhh . . .you'll be okay."

Alby was still screaming, and Severus held him. Alby buried his face in Severus' shirt, sobbing. His arm felt like it was on fire. "It h-hurts . . . I w-want M-mummy!"

Severus felt terrible, even though he knew cleaning out the wound was the right thing to do. "Me too, but she's not here . . . I know it hurts, let me blow on it." He gently blew on the scrape, trying to ease the burning. "I'm sorry, Al, but I had to do that."

"W-why? Now it hurts worse!" Alby sniffled. "You're mean, Sevvy!"

"If I didn't, the dirt in there would have made you get an infection and then you might have gotten blood poisoning and your arm would have turned all black and you might have had to get an operation and lots of shots," Severus told him.

Alby's eyes widened. "I don't wanna get an op'ration an' shots! I hate shots!"

"I know, that's why I had to clean your scrape with the salt water. It stings, but that's better than getting lots of shots and your arm cut off, right?"

Slowly, Alby nodded. The pain was slowly fading. "Uh huh." Then he glared at his brother. "You're still mean." But despite that declaration he still held onto his brother.

Severus chuckled. "Yeah, I'm terrible. Hold still, let me wrap it." He ripped a strip from the bottom of his T-shirt and wrapped it about Alby's arm in a makeshift bandage. After he had tied it up he asked, "How's that feel?"

"Better."

"Still think I'm mean?"

Alby shook his head. "How come you can't use magic to fix boo boos?"

"I wish I could," Severus sighed. "But I'm too little to do much with my magic and I don't have a wand. Or any potions." That was the worst drawback of being a child again, the loss of much of his magical power. Oh, he could still feel his magical core, feel all the untapped potential, but he couldn't access it. Or not very well.

He stared out over the ocean, the water was starting to rise, and Severus knew it wouldn't be safe to stay here much longer. There was no way off the spit of land save by sea, and there was no boat to sail away on, and the cliffs were too sheer to climb. "Al, let's go back to the secret room. We can't stay here. The tide's coming in."

"But I wanna go home."

"Well, we can't get to the house this way, the sea's too rough, we'll drown." Severus pointed out logically. "We have to go back. Come on." He pulled Alby around and began walking back into the tunnel.

Alby followed, he was still upset, but he didn't want to be anywhere near the burning water again. "Can we see what's in the secret room?"

"Yes. Maybe they have something in there to drink."

"I'm thirsty, Sevvy."

"So am I."

They found their way back to the secret room, and began to look inside the crates that were still intact. To their surprise, the crate with the glass Seveus had seen before contained a whole case of butterbeer! After Severus had rubbed off the dust, he twisted off a top and drank some. "Mmm! It's still good! Must have a charm on it." He handed the bottle to Alby. "Here, Al. Drink it."

Alby took the bottle in his small hands and began to gulp it down. He was so thirsty he didn't even care that it was warm.

Severus opened another bottle and drank that one down. Then he took several more bottles out and put them in the center of the room, along with the food they had taken from the pantry. "Let's have lunch." It wasn't much, but better than nothing.

Together they ate the Cheez Crunchies, peppermint toads, and peanut butter. The peanut butter they had to eat with their fingers, but it wasn't too bad, since they could lick them clean. They drank some more butterbeer, then Alby said, "What's in the rest of the boxes?"

"Let's find out," Severus said, trying to keep Alby occupied. It was over an hour now since they'd gone missing, and Severus feared no one even knew they were gone yet. Ginny was probably asleep, and Harry too.

They gently shoved the crate of butterbeer off to the side and opened the three other crates. Two of them contained bottles of firewhiskey, but the other crate had a soft fuzzy lavender blanket and a small rosewood box and a leather diary. The items had been carefully packed with cedar shavings and seemed undamaged. "Preserving charm," Severus murmured. He took the journal and opened it.

Alby grabbed the blanket and hugged it to him. "Sevvy, it smells good! And it's warm."

Severus nodded, perusing the diary. It was a little parchment book, and the handwriting was a girl's, all loops and curliques. "Miranda Brentwood's Book of Secrets, July 20th, 1889." He read aloud. "Today I am twelve, and my mother gave me this diary so I might record my thoughts and feelings and any other private musings I might have. She knows how hard it is coming from a family of free traders and sorcerers, and now I have a place to put all the secrets I have learned. I am studying to be a witch, but there are some things I cannot learn at Hogwarts, but must learn from my granny and mama, spells of shaping and water working, that have been in our family for time out of mind . . ."

"That's a good story, Sevvy. Read some more."

"In a bit. Let's see what's in this box." He opened the rosewood carved box and found a lovely beaded necklace made of sea glass and purple, blue, and lavender agates. A large sea shell polished to a high gloss and edged in gold was suspended from the beaded chain. "Wow! That's a nice necklace. I wonder why she left it behind?"

"Is it magic, Sevvy?"

"I don't know. Let's sit down and see if she wrote anything about it in the diary." Severus walked over to where they had the remains of their lunch and sat down. He began to flip through the diary. Alby curled next to him, sharing the lavender blanket.

"July 31st, 1889:

My aunt Tabitha has arrived, and she has given me a special gift, one of magical heirlooms of our family, a necklace of sea agates and a magical shell that contains several powerful spells of disguise. The shell necklace has helped members of our family before when they have had to hide themselves from the revenue men or those in collusion with them, like the Gorwins. The Gorwins are traitors and I hate them, for they work against their own people because the revenue men give them a cut of whatever they take from any free trader they capture. My father always says you can trust a shark quicker than a Gorwin any day. A Gorwin would sell his own mother if the price was right. Aunt Tabitha has promised to give me lessons on using the necklace while she is here. I look forward to them, at least someone isn't treating me like a stupid little child.

There was more in the book, drawings of various plants and herbs, recipes for potions she had learned from her aunts, cousins, and mother, even charms specific to her family. Miranda had kept the diary a whole year, writing in it faithfully until the last entries, when they became scarcer.

The final entry was dated August 7th, 1890.

I must hurry and finish this before I have to go into hiding. The Gorwins have betrayed all of us living here, and led the revenue men right to our door, as well as the Office of Magical Confiscation for Forbidden Objects. They've already arrested my Aunt Tabitha on suspicion of harboring a dangerous magical object. Father says the charges are fake, they just want to get away with harassing a member of our family. I believe him, but am still nervous. Mother says I need to stop writing now and come with her, she has already taken the necklace from me to hide it, because if the Aurors, who are in the pay of the Gorwins, find it on me they will take it. Even though it's not an evil object, she says they've been after it forever, and so she must hide it away. I will give her this journal and also my favorite lavender Blanket of Warmth, because I don't want those scummy excise men trying to take them either. My journal contains far too many family spells and secret to risk it falling into our enemies' hands. I hope that one day we can return here and I can finish writing in this. But for now, I must go. Goodbye, little book . . .

There was a scrawled signature at the bottom of the page and then no more entries.

Severus shut the book. "I guess she never got the chance to come back. Or maybe she forgot about it." He mused. He would have liked to read more about the potion recipes and spells, but his eyes were growing tired.

Alby leaned against him and whimpered, "Sevvy, I miss Mummy and Daddy. Why haven't they found us?"

Severus didn't know, and he felt anxious and a little hurt. Didn't they realize their kids were missing? "They will, Al."

"When?"

"Soon," he told the child, wishing he believed it.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Harry woke from his impromptu nap. He hadn't intended to take one, but he' d been so warm and cozy upon the sofa that he'd fallen asleep in the middle of chapter 24 of his novel. He removed the book from his face and sat up. The sun was sinking slowly in the west and he figured he'd been asleep for perhaps two or three hours. It had quit raining, thank Merlin.

He immediately noticed the silence and got up to see where the children and Ginny were. He recalled Ginny saying she had a headache and wanted to sleep it off. He hoped the boys had also taken a nap. Stretching, he tossed his book on the sofa and went upstairs.

Coming to Ginny and his room first, he tapped gently at the door. "Gin, you still feeling sick?" he asked as he entered.

He saw his wife asleep in bed, snoring gently. He saw an empty vial of Stomach Soother beside another empty vial of Sleeping Draught. He shook his head. Ginny rarely resorted to potions, if she was doing so now it meant she was really sick. He left her sleeping, she would wake on her own and hopefully feel better.

Next he headed into the boys' room, expecting to find them sleeping also, because he couldn't hear them playing. But their room was empty. A small tendril of fear skittered down his spine. "Alby? Sev?" he called.

No answer.

All right, now don't panic, Potter. They have to be somewhere here, they can't go off the property, he reassured himself. This was a fairly large cottage, with other rooms the kids could explore. One by one, he opened all the doors in the rooms upstairs and searched. Still no sign of the boys.

Beginning to get frantic now, he Apparated downstairs and checked outside. Because of the Boundary Wards, he knew they couldn't have left the grounds, but they weren't anywhere in the garden or the backyard. He began calling loudly, hoping they weren't playing some game like Hide and Seek, last time Alby had played that with him, the little boy had hidden inside a closet and fallen asleep in there, and not heard Harry calling.

He went back inside and began to search the downstairs. When he again found no sign of them, save to note that the pantry door was ajar, and some snacks missing, he cast a Locator Charm. "Point me Albus Potter and Severus Snape," he intoned.

To his relief, the spell did not indicate the children were outside. But it was behaving oddly. It insisted that they were somewhere in the kitchen, and obviously they were nowhere in sight. "What in hell?" he muttered. "If I didn't know better, I'd say they were using my Invisibility Cloak to hide, but I didn't bring it, it's locked up in my closet." He recast the spell with the same result.

"Alby, Sevvy, come here!" he called sharply. "If you're playing a game, stop it."

No little boys came out of hiding or replied to him.

Starting to get frightened, he went back through all the rooms on the ground floor—kitchen, bathroom, den, dining room, sun room. In each room he called and looked around. Each room was met with the same result.

He cast a spell to reveal any kind of dark magic in use, but it came up negative. So nothing evil had gotten into the house to harm the children. Utterly baffled, he Apparated into his bedroom and was about to wake up Ginny, feeling as if he were going insane, when his wife opened her eyes.

"Harry? Were you calling?" she murmured, sitting up.

"I was, I can't find Alby and Sevvy anywhere," he admitted.

"What do you mean, you can't find them? I told them to go play before I . . . I got sick from my migraine. It was a bad one, I had to dose myself with potions." Ginny frowned. Her headache was gone. "What time is it? Has the rain stopped?"

"It's somewhere around five o'clock, you've been asleep for a few hours. I was reading in the front room, I heard them in the kitchen before I dozed off. But when I woke up and went to look for them, they're nowhere to be found." Harry admitted.

"Merlin, Harry! They can't just be nowhere! They have to be here," Ginny cried, her eyes wide and anxious. She slid her feet into her slippers and wrapped her bedrobe about herself, she had changed into pajamas after throwing up.

"Gin, trust me. I cast a Locator Charm several times and it keeps telling me they're somewhere in the kitchen, but I swear they're not! It's like they've vanished!"

"Maybe you're not casting it right," she muttered, heading downstairs.

"What do you mean? I know how to cast that spell!" Harry argued.

Ginny headed into the kitchen, finding it empty. She cast the Locator Charm, and got the same result as Harry. "Albus Severus, where are you? You come out and answer me right now!" she called sternly.

When there was no response, she called for Severus. "Severus Snape, you better show yourself right now. Before you get put in time out and go to bed early." When she still got no response, she frowned. "I don't get it."

"See? I told you they aren't here," her husband said.

Ginny shook her wand and scowled. "This makes no sense. Neither of them have control over their magic, so they can't use it to hide from us. But the bloody spell keeps pointing me to the wall there!" she pointed to the wall next to the pantry on the right hand side.

"You don't think they could be in the wall?"

"In the wall? Harry, don't be stupid!"

"I'm not! What if there's some kind of . . . secret passage or something?" he said. "Like at school?"

Ginny raised her eyebrows. "Well . . . this was once a smuggler's house . . ." she marched over to the wall and banged on it. Then she put her ear to it, listening for echoes. "Nothing!" she cried. "Damn it, Harry, where are they?"

Page~*~*~*~Break

Severus had dozed a little, snuggled into the lavender Blanket of Warmth next to Alby, but he woke when he felt something wet touch his leg. He stared at the sudden wet stain slowly creeping across the floor. At first he thought Alby had wet himself in his sleep, and he jumped up, making a face. But then he saw that the stain was all across the half of the floor facing the tunnel leading to the sea, which was slowly filling with water.

Horrified, Severus recalled that high tide was probably occurring and with all the rain they'd had that day, it had made the sea level rise faster than normal. What if the room flooded? He shook Alby awake. "Al, get up! We have to get out of here. "

Alby groaned. "No . . . I'm sleepy . . ."

"Get up!" Severus yelled. "I don't care if you're tired, get the hell up before you drown!"

That made Alby wake up. Blinking, he climbed to his feet. "Why are my shoes wet, Sevvy?"

"Because the ocean is flooding in here," Severus said, grabbing the rosewood box with the necklace in it and tucking it under his arm. "Come on, we have to go back up the tunnel." He grabbed Alby by the arm.

"Ouch!" his brother yelled.

"Sorry, I forgot about your scrape," Severus apologized. "Come on!"

Nursing his sore arm, Alby followed Severus back through the door. "How do we shut the door, Sevvy?"

"We can't. I'm not strong enough to close it," his brother admitted. "We just . . . have to hope the water doesn't come up this far." He backed away up the tunnel.

Alby began to whimper. "Where's Mummy and Daddy?"

"I don't know!" Severus snapped, losing his temper. "If I did, would I still be trapped here? They're in the house and they can't find us."

Alby's lower lip began to tremble. He hated it when Severus yelled at him. "They have to find us! You said so!"

"Well, I was wrong!" Severus growled. He glared at the smaller boy. "Don't you dare start bawling, Albus! Crying about it isn't going to help us. Got me?" His nerves were shot and he couldn't take seeing his little brother crying and not be able to do anything about it. Oh, how he hated being so helpless!

Alby sniffled, wiping frantically at his eyes. He didn't want Sevvy mad at him, but he was scared and he wanted his dad and mum so bad! He couldn't understand why they hadn't found him yet. They always had before. Two tears slid down his face before he could stop them. He squeezed his eyes shut. But more followed. "Sorry, Sevvy. I'm trying . . ."

Severus sighed, he regretted his outburst. He couldn't expect a four year old to act like an adult. "Forget it. I was stupid, go ahead and cry."

Surprisingly, Alby shook his head. "No. I'm brave." He crept next to Severus and hugged him.

"Like your dad," Severus whispered. He shut his eyes, thinking hard. The problem was that neither Harry nor Ginny knew about the tunnel and the secret room. Therefore they would never think to look behind the pantry wall. Severus had a feeling that the tunnel was probably warded from certain kinds of locator spells, otherwise the wizards who were the Brentwood's enemies would have found it long ago. So maybe Harry or Ginny couldn't use that kind of magic to find them. They had to be led to the tunnel.

A memory surfaced. During the war, when Harry and his friends had been hunted by the Ministry and had needed the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy the Horcruxes, Severus had gone and hidden the sword in the Black Lake. But Harry hadn't known where to look for it, and so Severus had sent out the silver doe, his Patronus, to show him the way. He had done that several times before Potter and his friends had finally caught on.

You can't cast a Patronus anymore, Snape, he reminded himself. That's advanced magic and you can't even light a candle. But then he recalled himself, newly back from the Veil, using his magic to shatter a vase and make its shards fly through the air in a deadly hail. His magic was the same then as it was now. He just had to access it. He knew the key to casting any spell was knowledge, power, and will. He had the first two. Now all he needed was the will to summon what he already possessed.

He had no wand, but he had cast wandless magic before, he was actually quite skilled at it. All it required was focus. With great need comes great power. And their need was dire.

He began to breathe slowly and intently, focusing his mind using meditation techniques. Here was where the iron discipline over mind and magic he had cultivated in his former life would help him the most. He focused his will and summoned up the rich bright core of his magic. He could feel the magic pulse through him, filling him with its glory. He concentrated hard, recalling his single happy memory of his beloved Lily together with him, and then he pointed a finger and cried, "Expecto Patronum!"

A fine white mist shot from his finger and coalesced into the shining silver doe.

"Sevvy, a deer!" Alby squealed.

Severus opened his eyes, a triumphant smile upon his face. "Go, find Harry and Ginny," he spoke to the doe. "Tell them we're in the tunnel behind the pantry wall. Push the second shelf down and it will open." He knew the Patronus would speak his words exactly as he had spoken them.

The silver doe bounded away, diving into the wall behind them and vanishing.

"Where'd it go?" Alby asked.

"To get help," Severus answered. He could feel the magic slowly draining out of him. He slumped to the ground. He was so tired . . . he barely had the strength to hold up his head. But he knew he had to maintain his connection to the doe. He felt his head spin, but forced himself to keep concentrating. He hadn't factored one thing into his equation-his child's body wasn't able to handle the power he'd summoned and it was rapidly being drained of energy.

"Sevvy? Why are you sitting on the floor?"

"Tired, Al . . ."

"You can't go to sleep, Sevvy!" his brother cried. He shook Severus' shoulder.

Severus could feel his eyes shutting despite his attempts to keep awake. It felt as if a huge rock was sitting on his chest. Colored lights began to flash in his vision. Stay awake . . . got to keep awake . . . he kept repeating that thought over and over, using it as a mantra to battle back the terrible exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm him.

Suddenly, the doe Patronus bounded back through the wall.

It landed beside Severus and disappeared into silver sparkles, its task accomplished.

The wall behind them slid open and Severus heard Harry and Ginny's voices. He gave a weary smile and then let himself slip into the realm of dreams.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Ginny had never been so glad to see her sons in her life. She ran to Alby and picked him up and hugged him so hard he almost couldn't breathe. "Oh, baby! You're all right! Thank Merlin!" she was so relieved, she was crying.

Alby saw the tears on her cheeks and he started sniffling. "Don't cry, Mummy. Sevvy and I got stuck in the wall and I missed you lots. I hurt my arm too." He showed her the bandaged arm.

"Poor baby! Mummy will make it better," Ginny crooned, carrying Alby back into the warmth of the kitchen, along with the lavender blanket.

Harry knelt next to Severus. "Sev, buddy, you all right?" He had been amazed when the Patronus had come through the wall. No child should have been able to conjure one, yet Severus had. He knelt and scooped the little boy into his arms. Severus appeared to be in a deep sleep. Harry also picked up a small leather book and the rosewood box.

As he moved back through the entrance to the tunnel, the pantry door swung closed.

He carried Severus into the kitchen, where he found Ginny healing a cut on Alby's arm as he sat on the table. "How is he?"

"Alby's fine, except for a scraped arm, which I just fixed," Ginny answered. She hugged her son again before putting the little boy down. "All better, love! Now you can go potty." As Alby raced off to the loo, she looked at Harry and asked, "How about Sevvy?"

"He's sleeping like the dead. That Patronus must have took a lot out of him," Harry answered. "I found these near him. They must have been down in the tunnel." He set the diary and the box on the table. "I'm going to put Sevvy to bed."

"Good idea. We can see if Alby wants dinner and then ask him about what happened."

Harry Apparated upstairs and put pajamas on the sleeping Severus before tucking him into bed. Harry set a Monitoring Charm over him in case the five-year-old woke and needed him. Then he went downstairs.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

The three Potters ate a simple dinner of scrambled eggs, ham, and hash browns, since that was what Ginny was craving. Once they had eaten, and Ginny left a plate warming in case Severus woke up and was hungry, both parents talked to their son. Alby told them what had happened, but after he had done so, he was tired and Ginny rocked him until he fell asleep.

She carried Alby upstairs and put him in the bottom bunk. He was sound asleep, the adventure had worn him out. She kissed him on the forehead and then straightened, going to give Severus a kiss as well. But as soon as her lips brushed his skin, she drew back. "Harry, he's burning up!"

"What?"

"Sevvy, he's burning up with a fever." Ginny repeated, drawing her wand. She cast a general diagnostic and gasped. "Bloody hell! Harry, his fever's so damn high!"

"How did that happen? He was fine when I put him to bed." Harry said, coming into the room and taking the boy out of bed. "God! Gin, run a cold bath. I'll see if I can get a potion down him." Harry summoned his potions kit and withdrew a vial of Fever Reducer from it and sat down in the chair by the desk, enlarging it with a word.

Then he tried to wake the nearly comatose child. "Sevvy, wake up. Come on, you have to take this, you're sick."

Severus groaned. He was burning and achy, but he was so tired he couldn't open his eyes. "Go . . . way . . ." he moaned.

"Sev, open up and swallow," Harry ordered.

Severus whimpered, but he obeyed.

Harry spooned the potion into his mouth, and waited until the child swallowed. "Good job!"

Severus sputtered at the taste, but Harry coaxed him to open his mouth again and swallow the rest of the vial. "Ick!"

"I know, tastes gross. But you need it, you have a fever."

At that moment, Severus began to shiver, chills wracking his small body. Alarmed, Harry carried him into the bathroom, where Ginny had run a cold bath and chilled it with conjured ice cubes. It was the fastest way Harry knew to bring down a fever in a small child besides potions. He removed Severus' pajamas and placed him in the water.

At first Severus didn't react, then all of a sudden he started whimpering and struggling. "C-cold! Too C-cold!"

"I know, but you need the cold water to take the fever away," Harry said, holding the boy in the water.

Severus fought. "Let me go!" he was barely aware of anything save the burning fever and the freezing cold.

Harry hushed him. "Easy, Sev." He looked at Ginny. "This is no ordinary fever."

"It's because he's exhausted his magical core," she stated. "He's got magical drain."

"Right. Should we try and take him to St. Mungos?"

"We can't, Harry. You can't Floo or Apparate people with significant magical drain, remember?" Ginny reminded him. "They draw upon a person's magic to work and it could kill him."

"And it's too far to fly to," Harry said. "See if you can contact Poppy Pomfrey."

"Okay. Be right back." Ginny said, and she left to Floo the mediwitch.

Harry kept Severus in the water for another fifteen minutes, and during that time the child stopped fighting him and just lay listlessly. That scared Harry even more than when Severus was fighting him. "Sev, you're going to be all right. You hear me? Nod if you can."

A tiny nod was the only response. Harry conjured a large fluffy towel and took the small boy from the water and wrapped him in it. The little body still burned with fever, but it was not as high, according to the diagnostic Harry cast. Still, he knew that the fever wouldn't go away until Severus' magical core was mended.

Ginny returned with Poppy in tow. She had had to explain to the mediwitch about Severus returning from the Veil before Poppy was convinced she wasn't delirious. But once the witch was convinced of Ginny's veracity, she came over immediately.

"Poppy, I've managed to bring down the fever," Harry began upon seeing her.

"Good, but he needs a good dose of Magic Replenisher, Harry. His magical core is dangerously low, if he's having this severe of a reaction." Poppy said, waving her wand over the child in Harry's arms. "As I thought. Harry, put him here, on the counter, on his stomach. I can't give him the potion orally, it'll take too long for his system to absorb it. He needs it immediately. So I'll have to inject it."

Harry did as she said, watching as Poppy prepped herself with disinfectant spells and filled a syringe with the Magic Replenisher, which was golden color. He stroked Severus' hair.

Poppy slid the needle into Severus' left buttock.

Severus yelled. "Owww!"

"Sorry, child. I know it hurts, but it has to be done," Poppy apologized. A red welt appeared on the little bottom.

Severus began to cry.

"Poppy, what the hell?" Harry cried, staring at the welt.

"That happens sometimes. He's sensitive to the potion," the mediwitch replied. She reached into her satchel and withdrew a jar of quick healing salve mixed with murtlap essence. She rubbed some of the translucent blue salve upon the welt and it began to heal.

As soon as the cooling gel was put on, Severus relaxed, and stopped crying. He lifted his head and whispered, "Harry . . . I don't feel well . . . my bottom hurts . . ."

"That's because Poppy had to give you a shot," Harry told him. "Lie still and it should go away. You have a bad case of magical drain." He patted the little boy on the head.

Severus craned his neck about until he was looking at Poppy. He scowled and growled, "Merlin, but don't you know how to give shots yet, Pomfrey?"

Poppy's eyes widened to hear that familiar tone coming from the small boy. "Severus, it really is you! For a moment I thought . . ."

"Of course it's me! Who else would it be?"

Poppy raised an eyebrow. "Same old Severus, I see. For your information, you have a sensitivity to the Magic Replenisher, that's why the injection hurt you. If I remember correctly, taking that particular potion always made you break out in hives."

Severus coughed. "That's why I always took an Allergy Reliever before it."

"Oh. I should have known that," Poppy said, a little chagrined. "Well, you need complete bed rest for a day at least, and another dose of Magic Replenisher again in four hours. I'll make sure there's an Allergry Relieving Draft with it. But you can take them orally this time."

"Good." Severus grunted. "Where are my pajamas?" He felt terribly embarrassed and vulnerable, lying naked on the counter with everyone staring at his bare bottom.

Harry quickly spelled a pair of pajamas and underpants on him. He cast a Drying Charm on Severus' hair as well. "Come on, Sevvy. Let's put you to bed." He picked up Severus carefully. Then he walked out of the bathroom.

"Harry, this isn't my room," Severus said when Harry put him down in a large bed. "Why am I in your bed?"

"Because you're sick and I want you nearby. So instead of me killing my neck and back sleeping in a chair all night in your room, I decided to put you in my room. The bed's big enough for you, me, and Ginny."

"What about Alby? He doesn't like to sleep alone."

"Right now he's out like a light. He probably won't wake up till tomorrow morning," Harry said calmly. "But if he does, he can come in here too." Harry tucked Severus into the middle of the big bed and Accio'd Mimic. "Here, Sev. Hug Mimic."

Severus rolled over on his tummy and hugged the stuffed raven. He wished suddenly that the bird was real. He wanted to tell Harry about the diary and the necklace, but he was too tired. His magical core had started to repair itself, but he was far from recovered. He closed his eyes and slept.

Ginny came in and placed the potions for Severus on the nightstand, as well as the jar of salve. "I figured you'd put him in here," she smiled at her husband. He had always done that when Alby was very ill also. She bent and kissed Severus on the forehead. "Good night, sweet Prince." There were tears in her eyes.

She went and hugged Harry, sniffling. "I . . . I thought we were going to lose him for a minute, Harry. I really did! He was like a furnace. After all he's been through . . . I still can't believe he cast a Patronus. That should have been impossible."

"Impossible isn't in Severus Snape's vocabulary," Poppy said, coming to stand beside them. "He's been doing the impossible since I first knew him."

Harry patted Ginny on the back. "Gin, don't cry. He's going to be fine."

Ginny sniffled, struggling to get her runaway emotions under control. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm never weepy like this. Must be stress or something."

"It's more than that," Poppy remarked, lowering her wand. "You're pregnant, Ginny."

The couple turned and gaped at her.

"She's what?" Harry sputtered.

"Pregnant," Poppy repeated. "Congratulations, Mr. Potter. You're going to be a father again."

A/N: Well, how did you like that one? My mom thought of using Sev's Patronus to call for help. I thought it was a brilliant idea. And yes, Ginny is pregnant with her second child. You'll have to wait and see what she has though! I will tell you, however, that it is NOT Lily. Lily comes back through the Veil like Severus and Sirius, as a child with some of her adult memories. Thank you all for reading!

 


Chapter 27: Two Talented Brothers
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27

Two Talented Brothers

Harry looked severely shocked. "Are you sure, Poppy?"

Poppy glared at him. "Harry James, I've been a mediwitch longer than you've been alive. Do you think I can't tell when a woman is expecting? Have some sense, boy!"

Harry blushed, now he felt like the world's biggest idiot. "No . . . it's not that I think you're wrong, just that . . . well . . . we weren't exactly planning on having another baby . . ."

Poppy frowned. "Are you telling me you were taking a contraceptive potion and it failed?"

"Umm . . . no, but . . ." Harry felt the tips of his ears burn.

"Harry, dear, shut your mouth before your foot goes any deeper into it," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "We haven't exactly been celibate, you know." She colored faintly. "Actually, I'm glad I'm pregnant now. Four is a good age for Alby to become a big brother. Sevvy too. Poppy, can you tell how far along I am? I figure maybe a month and a week? I've never been particularly regular with my monthlies, sometimes I skip . . ."

Poppy waved her wand again and cast an obstetric diagnostic. "About a month, Ginny, give or take a day or two. Which means—"

"The baby will be born in January," Ginny finished. "All of my babies have been winter ones. Alby and Severus share a birthday, and they're both Capricorns. I wonder if this baby will be too?"

"Nothing wrong with that, dear. It's said that a winter child has hidden talents. Look at Severus. Never knew such a one with such talents, except for Harry."

"What about Dumbledore?" asked Harry.

Poppy looked at him. "Harry, I'm going to let you in on an old secret. Albus wasn't the all-powerful wizard you think he was. He played up that image, so Voldemort would focus on him, and not you, but his secret strength lay in his cunning brain and not his magic. Oh, he was a strong wizard, don't get me wrong, he was especially good with Transfiguration, and he did have a quickly regenerating magical core, which is why people often thought he was stronger than he actually was. But his true skills lay in being a general, and one who cultivated individuals with greater gifts than he himself possessed."

"Like Severus."

Poppy nodded. "And you also, Harry. Albus was brilliant in that way. But that 'greatest wizard of all time' business? All nonsense. It was a smokescreen. He told me often enough that you were stronger than he ever could be, and he was simply the one born to herald your coming. And Severus was your protector and your warrior, and therefore stronger than any save you."

"But . . . I saw him do incredible things . . ." Harry protested.

"Yes, I'm not denying he was one of the strongest talents of the age, but you eclipsed him and so did Severus. Think about it. You became Death's Master, the Hallows surrendered their might to you, and only you. Albus held the Elder Wand in trust for many years, but he was never its master. Just like he never could have been a double agent like Severus, and become the Master of Light and Dark magic. I'm not saying Albus wasn't a great man, but he wasn't Merlin come again either, the way some believed."

"Neither am I," Harry said modestly. "And if you told Severus that, he'd say the same. I know he's not proud of some of the things he had to do in the past."

Poppy's expression softened. "Even so, no one else could have done what he did, Harry. You can't change the truth. He sacrificed so much for us, and I'm glad he was given this chance. No one deserves it more. Love him, Harry. He needs that more than anything, even if he'll never admit it."

"I know, Poppy. And I already do." Harry said simply.

Ginny came and took his hand in hers. "We both do. We want him to be happy and safe, like he never was in his old life."

"That's good to hear. I'll leave him in your capable hands then," Poppy said, smiling. "Oh, and when your holiday's over, Ginny, you might want to arrange an appointment with Healer Winters."

"I will, Poppy," Ginny said. "Thanks for everything."

"Oh, pish tosh, girl. It was my pleasure." Poppy waved off their thanks. "You tell Severus that if he doesn't behave and take his medicine and stay in bed where he belongs, I'll come back and give him another shot in his bum."

Both Ginny and Harry laughed at that, and waved as Poppy Flooed back to her home in Cardiff.

Harry took Ginny's hand and they sat down on the couch together in the front room. "What do you think about what she said about Dumbledore? Do you think she's right?"

Slowly, Ginny nodded. "She'd have no reason to lie, Harry. She's been around, she knew those two like no one else. My mum used to say that no one knows you as well as your Healer. And once . . . once Dumbledore told me that nothing and no one is what he seems. At first I thought he was talking about the Slytherins or Professor Snape, but what if he also meant himself?"

"He could have. He was a sly old fox," Harry conceded. "I wonder if his portrait would admit to it?"

"Next time you're in the Headmistress's office, why don't you ask him?" Ginny suggested.

"I think I will. Just to set my mind straight," Harry said. Then he put a hand over his wife's still flat belly and said, "I'm sorry I acted like an ass before. I really wasn't expecting this, stupid as it sounds. But I am so very happy it did."

"Me too. But I feel like such a twit, not knowing what was wrong with me. I mean, it's not like I haven't been through it before. But it's been so long that I forgot how it feels." She closed her hand over Harry's and gave him a serene smile. "I can't wait to tell Alby and Severus about this."

"Maybe we should wait until Sevvy's recovered to tell them," Harry suggested, looking into Ginny's eyes lovingly. "I hope Alby doesn't get jealous. He's been the baby of the family for four years."

"All right. We'll wait awhile. And I don't think you have to worry much on that score. Look how he took to Severus."

"True, but Sevvy's the older brother. This new one will be younger. A totally different cauldron of newts."

"But then it'll be Alby's turn to be the 'big brudder'," Ginny pointed out. "I think he'll actually like the idea once he gets used to it. And if he does get a little jealous, well, that's nothing new. Mum said Percy was jealous of Fred and George at first and she had to reassure him all the time that he was still her little boy and she loved him."

"Did it work?"

"Eventually. She also made him help with the twins, giving him little tasks to make him feel grown-up and needed. I don't see why I can't do that with Alby. Or Sevvy too if I need to. He might be insecure too, because he's not a Potter by blood."

"I never thought about it like that. I guess we were lucky they hit it off as well as they did. I was shocked that Severus didn't protest sharing a room with Alby. He was always so alone before, I thought for sure he would object, but he didn't."

"Maybe that's why he didn't, Harry. Because he was alone for all those years. I think he feels good being around kids his own age, and people who want him and love him just the way he is. His other life was so lonely. I couldn't imagine living like he did for years on end. I would have broken to pieces."

Harry nodded. "Poppy was right. But that won't happen again. This time he'll have everything he could ever need or want. And you know something else? He's a terrific older brother."

"He is. And now we have to add on another room," Ginny said dreamily.

"That's not a problem. How do you want to decorate it?"

"Umm . . . I'll have to think about it. What do you want this one to be, Harry? Another son? Or a daughter?"

"Well, I have two sons already, so I'm kind of hoping we have a little girl. I'd like to spoil a little princess rotten for a change. Kind of like your dad did you."

"Oh, please, Harry! Not that bad!"

"Then you don't want a girl to do girly things with, like go shopping and play tea party and dress up?"

Ginny's expression turned wistful. "Yes . . . I sort of do. Not that I wouldn't love another boy, but . . . I remember how Mum and I used to spend Sundays baking together, or she would let me try on all her hats, she had some pretty funny ones! And her shoes too! And we always had fun picking out dinner and trying to make something all the boys would eat without whining."

"Well, maybe this time you'll get your wish." Harry said, and then he pulled her to him and kissed her heatedly. "Here's to the newest Potter. May she be as beautiful and feisty as her mum."

"And as magical and compassionate as her daddy. And smart too." Ginny murmured, kissing him back.

"Naturally. With Sevvy and Alby as her older brothers, she'll probably be reading before she's walking and casting spells before she ever gets a wand." Harry predicted.

"Merlin help us all, Harry!" Ginny squeaked. "While you're wishing for a prodigy, do us a favor and wish that she's an obedient child too."

"I would, but I'm afraid that's not possible. Not with you and me for parents." Harry laughed. "She'll be mischief incarnate."

Ginny shook her head, afraid that her husband was right. "Well, there's one in every family. Two in mine."

"Your poor mother!" Harry said sympathetically. "Well, if she survived, so will we."

"Always." Ginny yawned. "I'm tired, sweetheart. Let's go to bed." She tugged Harry to his feet and together they went upstairs.

Moving the sleeping Severus into the middle of the bed, both Potters crawled on either side of him. Harry made sure to set a Tempus Charm so he would wake in four hours to give Severus his second dose of Magic Replenisher, then he fell asleep, and so did Ginny.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

It was early the next morning when Severus opened his eyes. For a moment he didn't remember where he was. But then it came back to him—summoning his Patronus to call for help, the high fever and chills and exhaustion from magical drain that had followed, Harry putting him in the ice water bath, Poppy giving him that bloody shot , and then Harry tucking him into the big bed with Mimic. Severus recalled Harry waking him earlier to give him two drafts of potions, one of them an Allergy Reliever, and the second dose of Magic Replenisher. He felt slightly better than he had yesterday . . . but he still felt exhausted and slightly sick to his stomach.

He glanced left and right, saw that Harry and Ginny were still sleeping, and felt strangely comforted by their presence. It was so very odd, feeling that way. He hadn't slept with another person in the same room for over twenty years . . . unless you counted this year, when he now shared a room with Alby. He couldn't ever recall crawling into bed with his parents, though he supposed he must have at some time. Eileen had told him once that his father hadn't been a nasty drunk when Severus was very small. That once he'd loved his son like a normal father . . . until the fateful day when Severus' magic emerged. Only Severus couldn't remember any of that. All he remembered was Tobias' cruelty. How bitterly ironic, he thought sadly, that the memories of darkness were always more vivid than those that were happy. He supposed it was because the bad memories left scars, while the good memories did not.

And really, Snape, how many good memories did you have? whispered his conscience. Not many, not many at all. He had put over 100 horrible memories into the Pensieve and still he had not removed them all. But this time he would work on creating good memories to outweigh the bad ones, he reminded himself. This time he had a chance for true happiness.

He sat up, wriggling around Harry, he needed to use the loo. Just as his feet touched the carpet, and he was about to stand, Harry woke up.

"Sev? What's wrong?" he asked, also sitting up. His hair looked like a haystack.

Severus looked up at him, brushing some hair out of his eyes. "Need the bathroom."

"Oh. Sure you do." Before Severus could say anything further, Harry had picked him up.

Severus wriggled. "I can walk."

"I know, but you're probably real tired still, so it's better if I carry you. That way you don't risk falling or an accident."

Severus flushed hotly. "I'd never . . .! I'm not some stupid puppy!"

Harry, realizing he'd insulted the younger wizard, said, "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. But sometimes when you're sick . . ." They entered the bathroom and Harry set Severus down in front of the toilet. Almost automatically, his hands went to take down the child's pajamas, as he did for Alby. But he forgot Severus wasn't Alby.

"Leave me alone! I'm not a baby, I can do it myself!" Severus snapped, his eyes filling with tears of humiliation.

"Sorry, I always help Alby when he's sick. . ." Harry began, realizing he'd put his foot in it again.

"Just get out!"

Harry retreated from the bathroom. He was not at his best this early in the morning, as was obvious by the blunders he kept making. He waited a minute or two before calling, "Sev, may I come in?"

"Why? You think I need help peeing?"

Harry winced at the sarcastic tone. "No. I'm sorry I embarrassed you. I should have known better. I just thought maybe you might need some of that . . . err . . . cream on your bum."

"No. I'm fine." Severus said stiffly.

Harry heard the water running and after a moment, Severus came out. "I'm really not at my best at six in the morning, as I guess you can tell," he said, somewhat sheepishly.

Severus snorted and arched an eyebrow. "Obviously." Then he sighed and admitted, "I'm not my best when I'm sick either. I hate it."

"Me too," Harry agreed. "Do you think you can walk back to bed? Or should I carry you?"

Severus considered. The truth was, his legs felt like rubber and he was wobbly. "Umm . . . let me try walking first. If . . . If I need you, I'll say so."

"All right." Harry agreed, knowing how touchy Severus' pride was.

He watched as Severus took three shaky steps across the carpet before stopping, biting his lip, stubbornly taking another step, then saying softly, "Harry . . . I can't . . ."

Harry came and lifted the little boy up. "You're still weak from the magical drain, Sev." He gently placed the child on the bed. "There you go. A day of rest and you'll be your old self again."

Severus avoided the other's eyes for a moment. "I really hate being sick."

"I know the feeling." Harry sat on the side of the bed. "When I was in the hospital, the Healers insisted I stay in bed for the first two days, they wouldn't even let me up to use the bathroom. They said I might pull or tear the newly healing skin on my back, and made me use a bedpan." He made a face. "That's why I'm so grateful for your burn salve, because it got me out of there quickly. You should be proud of yourself for inventing that. And for what you did yesterday with your Patronus. Casting one at your age is supposed to be impossible."

Severus shook his head. "If you have the will and the need, you can do almost anything. If I hadn't done that, Alby and I might have drowned. I didn't have a choice."

"Well, actually, you did. You could have given up. But you didn't. You saved Alby and that's a gift beyond price. I don't even have the words to tell you what that means to me."

"You don't need to. I already know," Severus said softly. "He's family, and family means everything." He coughed suddenly. "Would you mind getting me some water, Harry? My throat is dry."

"Sure, Sev." Harry Accio'd a glass of ice water and handed it to him.

"Thanks. You know, I'm not the only one who's done the impossible. You have too, Master of Death."

"Yeah, but I wasn't five when I destroyed Voldemort for good. The first time doesn't count, because my mum did all the work. It was her magic that saved me that night."

"All right then, we've both done the impossible. It's who and what we are," Severus huffed. "Harry, if I have to stay in bed all day, can you please bring me something to read? Did you find a leather journal, by the way?"

"Yes. Whose is it?"

"It was a witch named Miranda Brentwood, I think she was an ancestor of the lady who owns this house. I also found a necklace with the diary that belonged to her. She wrote that they hid the necklace and the diary away to prevent them from falling into the hands of an enemy wizarding family. There was a lot more in there, but I never got a chance to finish it. I want to, if you'd bring me it."

"All right. But first you have to promise me you won't try and get up by yourself and you'll take all your potions. Poppy's orders. Or else she said to tell you she'll come back and give you another shot in your bum."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Humph! Bloody Healers! Fine . . . I promise."

"Good. Because here's another Fever Reducer for you," Harry reached over and uncapped the vial of green potion and handed it to Severus.

Severus wrinkled his nose, but took the potion without a fuss, holding his nose and gulping it down. Then he handed the vial back to Harry. "Anymore?"

"No, but unless you want to eat soap, you'd better mind your mouth," Harry warned.

"What?"

"You called Poppy a bloody Healer," Harry prompted.

"So? I've called her that before."

"When you were an adult. But now you're five and I don't let my kids talk like that."

"But I . . ." Severus sputtered.

"No excuses. This was your only warning. Next time I'll summon a bar of soap."

Severus glared at him. "You said far worse in my hearing at school, Harry. And I never washed out your mouth."

"Why didn't you?" Harry asked curiously.

"Dumbledore wouldn't let me," Severus grumbled.

Harry snickered. "You should have ignored him."

"Oh, right, and gotten sacked for mistreating his Golden Gryffindor."

"Dumbledore wouldn't have really done that."

"No? He considered you the savior of the wizarding world, Harry. As well as a favored grandchild. He gave me specific instructions to protect you and not discipline you. He didn't think you needed it, considering you had Voldemort hanging over you. I disagreed, but you can see how much my opinion was worth."

Harry looked shocked. "But that's . . . that's stupid! I never asked for him to give me special treatment."

Severus shrugged. "You wouldn't have needed to."

"He never should have done that. It was unfair. I know I'd never have thought that when I was thirteen, but now I do. All kids need discipline and rules, I learned that when I became a parent."

"That's why you're a good father," his former teacher said.

"Thank you, Severus." Harry reached out and ruffled his hair. "Then I take it you trust me to be fair to you with my discipline?"

"Yes."

"Good. Now watch your mouth."

The only thing Severus could say to that was, "Yes, sir."

"Let me go and get that journal. Would you like the blanket also?"

"It's spelled with a Warmth Charm," Severus told him. "And I'm not cold anymore."

Harry soon returned with the small leather diary and gave it to Severus. While the boy read, Harry curled up and dozed, since it was only six thirty, after all.

Severus began to read the potions recipes Miranda had written down. Some were standard healing drafts that any good potion apprentice learned, but others were specific to the area she had grown up in. There was a potion that cured stings from jellyfish and sea nettles, another that would summon schools of fish if sprinkled on the water. There was another that enabled one to breathe water for six hours, and another draft that transformed one into a seal for half a day.

He found the potions fascinating, as he had never had time to experiment with drafts pertaining to the sea and its creatures. But the Brentwoods were free traders and fishermen, and their livelihood was bound to the sea. He also enjoyed reading about Miranda's exploits, she had a lively way of describing events, even ones where she was in trouble for some misdeed.

But all of a sudden his eyes were closing, and he fell asleep with the diary over his face.

When he woke, Ginny was gone, though he could tell where she was by the smell of eggs and ham frying. His stomach rumbled hungrily. He sat up and reached for the glass of water, which was on the table next to Harry. It was difficult to grasp, the glass was beaded with water droplets, and he had to use both small hands to lift it.

He began to bring it over and sit down to drink it when it slipped suddenly.

To his horror, the cold water cascaded all over the sleeping Harry.

Harry woke up yelling as the water spilled all over his face and down his neck and back. "What the bloody hell!"

He was so shocked from being soaked with freezing water that he threw his arm back in a sleepy attempt to knock away whatever had spilled on him. His hand struck the glass in Severus' hand and also Severus, knocking the small boy sprawling.

Severus was about to apologize for spilling the water when he was knocked flat, and the shock of the smack on his face made him feel both frightened and betrayed. He started breathing in shallow gasps, his eyes wide and frightened. He put a hand to his cheek and whimpered, "It . . . was an accident . . . I didn't mean to . . . " Tears oozed their way down his reddened cheek and over his fingers. "You promised you'd never hit me, Potter. Not like him. But . . . you lied! You're all the same!" He curled up in a ball , and started sobbing, for he was too weak to get out of bed and too scared of angering Harry to call Ginny.

Harry was still muzzy from sleep, but he heard Severus crying and sat up. He didn't know what was going on, except that he was soaked and cold and Severus was crying. He grabbed his wand (he slept with it under his pillow) and quickly dried himself and his bed off. Then he turned to find Severus curled up on the other side of the bed, shaking with sobs. "Sevvy? What's wrong?" He placed a hand on the little boy's shoulder.

Severus cringed. "D-Don't touch me, Potter! J-just go away!"

Harry couldn't figure out what was the matter. He had fallen asleep while Severus was reading and the next thing he knew he was drenched with water. And why was Severus back to calling him by his last name? "Sevvy? Hey, are you sick?"

"Yes! I'm sick of . . . you people . . . breaking your promises . . ." Severus managed to get out between sobs.

"What? What are you talking about? I never broke my word to you." Harry cried, hurt.

"No? Then what do you call this?" Severus demanded, sitting up to glare tearfully at his guardian. There was a large red mark on his cheek. "Y-You hit me over an . . . accident . . . I . . . I was going to say sorry . . . for . . . spilling the water . . ."

Now Harry saw the empty glass on the bed, and to his horror he recalled throwing his arm out and feeling it strike something . . . he had thought it was a pillow . . . "Oh my God! Sev . . . dear Merlin, I swear I didn't hit you on purpose . . . I would never . . . I was half-asleep and I just threw my arm out, I didn't even know you were there . . .swear to God I didn't . . ." He stared at the red mark on his ward's face and felt ill. "Sevvy, I'm so sorry!"

"Harry, why were you shouting?" Ginny asked, coming into the room. Then she saw Severus' face, and her husband looking wretchedly guilty, and snarled, "What the hell did you do, Potter? You hit him?"

"Gin, it was an accident . . ." Harry began.

But before he could explain, Ginny came and picked up Severus, hugging him to her. "How dare you? I'll give you an accident, you bloody bounder!" Without pausing to think, she slapped Harry across the face.

The crack echoed in the room, but Harry made no move to defend himself. He just sat there, stunned.

"Stop it!" Severus shouted. More tears fell down his face. "Ginny, don't! You don't understand."

"Damn right I don't. What the hell happened to you, Harry? Why would you do such a horrible thing?" Ginny demanded, looking down at Severus, who was clinging to her and snuffling softly.

"I didn't mean it, Ginny. I was sleeping and I got woken up by icy water spilling and I just . . ." he told her what had happened. "I would never hit Severus like that deliberately, Gin. Don't you know me any better than that by now?"

"Oh, Harry! I'm so sorry. I've been so . . . emotionally crazy . . . I'm like one of those Muggle rides . . . a rollercoaster, I think it's called . . .one minute I'm wildly happy, the next I'm crying, or seeing red . . . when I saw his face like that and you looked . . . you looked so guilty . . . I just reacted . . . please forgive me . . . I'm so damn sorry . . ." Now she was crying as well. "Here, let me fix it . . ." she took her wand and uttered a healing charm.

"It's okay, I know you didn't mean it," Harry said. He silently thanked Merlin that Alby hadn't been here to see his parents lashing out like two crazy people at each other. "You were defending Sevvy from what you thought was a threat." He reached out to hug both Ginny and Severus tightly. "Sevvy, would you mind if I . . . held you a little?" Harry asked, his voice filled with remorse. "I just want to . . . to heal your face . . . I promise I won't . . . hurt you . . ."

"It'll be okay, Sevvy," Ginny murmured as she gently placed him in Harry's lap.

Severus looked up at her, his eyes filled with tears and said, "I was trying to tell you not to be mad at him . . . it was an accident." He blinked hard and turned to look at Harry. He saw that Harry's green eyes were filled with tears as well. Suddenly he threw his arms around Harry and cried, "I'm sorry, Harry! I shouldn't have spilled the water . . . it's my fault!"

"Shhh . . . I was stupid . . . you can't help it if you spilled the water on me . . . let me see, Sev . . ." Harry gently removed Severus' skinny arms from around his neck and turned his face up. Then he placed his hand over the hurt cheek and muttered a charm and it was healed. "All right now?"

Severus nodded and hugged Harry again. "I was stupid too . . . I should've known you wouldn't just . . . smack me around. But I just . . . it reminded me of my . . . my father . . ."

"Yeah, I know . . ." He was so relieved that Seveus forgave him, and he had not destroyed their fragile trust with one misplaced smack, that he had to blink back tears. Harry rubbed his ward's back and murmured, "It's been one hell of a morning. Gin, is there anything for breakfast?"

"Of course. I was just going to bring you two a tray." She departed, leaving the two of them alone.

Harry watched her go, then said, "Merlin, I'm lucky she loves me, or else I'd be dead on the floor right now. Heaven help anyone who really wants to hurt her kids. Hell hath no fury like a mother avenging her children."

"Scary, isn't it?" Severus remarked.

"Terrifying."

Page ~*~*~*~*~Break

Alby wandered in after Severus had finished his breakfast, holding a piece of parchment in his hand. "Hey, Sevvy! I'm sorry you're sick. Mummy tol' me it's 'cause you used your magic to call for help when we was stuck in the tunnel."

"Yeah, that's why I'm stuck in bed all day." Severus patted the bed.

Alby climbed up next to him. "I made you a pick-ture, Sevvy." He handed Severus the parchment.

Severus looked at the picture, trying to decipher it. "It looks very . . . interesting, Al. What's it of?"

"It's you an' me visiting the wildlife sanc'try. Daddy said that we can go tomorrow if you're all better, so I drew us goin' there."

"That's great, Alby. Thanks," Severus said. "I'd like to go there."

"Me too! Me too!" Alby cried, bouncing up and down on the bed.

Severus had to smile at the little boy's enthusiasm.

He reached for Miranda's diary, intending on reading some more of it, when Alby spied it.

"Sevvy, is that the story we was reading in the secret room?"

"Yes, this is Miranda's journal." Severus answered.

"Can you read me some more?"

Before Severus could say yes or no, they heard Ginny calling, "Albus Severus, what did I tell you about putting away your crayons and paper? This room is a disgrace! Come here, right now."

"Uh oh," Alby groaned. "I forgot to put away my crayons . . . and my toys . . . and my sparkle paints . . ."

"Better hurry up and go over there, before you get in trouble," Severus advised.

Alby scurried out of the room. "Comin', Mummmy!"

Twenty minutes later, Alby returned, this time he had something wrapped in tissue in his small hands. "Here, Sevvy! I brung you a present, so you get well faster." He carefully set the present down on the bed next to his brother and climbed up on the bed. "Open it!"

Severus set down the diary, and took the present and unwrapped it. He gasped. "This is . . . wicked, Al! Did you make this yourself?"

"Mummy helped me some," his brother said. "She put the glue charm on it and took the pick-ture. Do you like it?"

"It's one of the best presents I've ever gotten." Severus told his brother sincerely. He gently stroked a finger over the picture frame, which had been created by gluing many tiny and small seashells together. Inside the frame was a photo of Harry, Ginny, Alby, and himself. It was one of the first pictures Ginny had taken, when they were all standing in front of the sandcastle. Everyone was smiling and waving. It made Severus smile. It was the first real photo he'd ever had of himself since his rebirth. He smiled at it. He felt a surge of warmth flow through him as he studied the photo. He looked like he belonged with them, and they were a real family at last.

"I'm going to put it here," Severus said, putting the framed picture on the night stand next to him. "You want to hear more of Miranda's diary?"

"Yeah! Read it to me, Sevvy! Please?" Alby curled up next to his big brother. "I gots my listening ears on."

"October 15th, 1889:

Today I quarreled with my stuck-up cousin Amanda. She's my Aunt Valerie's daughter, and a more spoilt brat you cannot find. We were brewing a potion and she wouldn't listen to me when I told her not to add the bristle boar quills when the fire was on, and the whole solution was ruined. I was so mad I called her a silly numbskull. Then she went and pulled my hair! So I kicked her one in the shin. Served her right, the little goose! But then she goes wailing like a big crybaby to her mama. Now I'm the one stuck in my room all day till supper! It's so unfair. I wish Dad were home, he always listens to my side before he gives out punishments. But Aunt Valerie never does, she thinks Amanda's an angel that can do no wrong. Ha! More like the devil! The way she carried on over her shin, you'd of thought I whacked her with a cauldron stirrer. She pulled out a great hunk of my hair and you don't see me weeping and wailing like a baby in leading strings.

Oh, Dad, I wish I was a boy sometimes, then I could go with you on your ship and collect all kinds of things and see the world . . ."

Alby listened, rapt, to Severus' narrative, until he drifted off to sleep, his head on Severus' shoulder.

Severus looked down and saw his brother asleep, then yawned and joined him, carefully placing the journal beneath his pillow.

And that was how Ginny and Harry found them an hour later. They couldn't help but smile at the closeness between the two boys, who came from radically different backgrounds, but who were as close as if they truly were blood brothers.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

The next day:

That morning, Severus felt one hundred percent better. His fever was gone and so was the terrible weakness. Harry called Poppy and she came and did a reading on his magical core, pronouncing him back to normal. She gave him a hug to celebrate, making him blush.

"Yay! Sevvy's all better, now we can go see the animals! The animals!" He sang at the top of his lungs.

Harry winced. "Alby, try and sing a bit quieter, won't you? I think they heard you in Scotland." A singer his son was not.

"But I like to sing, Daddy," his son said.

"Yeah, and I like to be able to hear myself think," his father retorted, tweaking his son's nose. "Got me?"

"Uh huh. I need to be quiet so you can think, and you take a long time, because you're a man, and men take forever to figure things out."

"We what? Where did you hear that one?" Harry cried indignantly.

"Aunt Mione said it. And Mummy agreed with her," Alby answered innocently.

"Figures!" Harry snorted.

They Apparated to the wildlife refuge, which was a large preserve containing all sorts of local wildlife, ordinary as well as magical. There were several trails, and along them were benches, and some of the benches also had tables next to them so people could stop and eat. Bags of animal feed were sold in the gift shop and there was a center where you could go and see pictures of the animals there and learn about them. Most of the trails had magical boundaries on them so the animals couldn't roam around and startle people. But a few, like the deer park, were wide open, and visitors could walk in and feed the deer treats. Some of them were tame and would eat out of your hand.

While they walked down the trails, looking for animals in the trees and brush, Ginny began to discuss something she had seen in the local paper. "Harry, tomorrow's our last day here, and I saw in Cove Courier that they're going to have a bonfire on the beach tomorrow night. They'll be roasting marshmallows and little sausages and toasting grilled cheese. They'll have pumpkin juice and fizzy lemonade and making something called S'mores for a sweet. It sounds like fun. Maybe we should go to it. What do you think?"

"Sounds good. How about you, boys? Would you like to go to the bonfire?" Harry asked his sons.

"Will there be other kids there?" asked Alby.

"Uh, yes, I imagine there would be." Harry said.

"Can we go swimming?" asked Severus, he had missed swimming while being stuck in bed all day.

"Yes, of course we can," Ginny answered. "I didn't have enough swim time this holiday. I think it'll do me good." Swimming always relaxed her, and with this pregnancy she felt wound tighter than a time turner.

They had reached the deer park. They walked into the middle of the grassy verge, holding their bags of crunchy animal feed at the ready. Alby was so excited he couldn't stand still. "Where are they, Mummy?" he shrilled.

"Shh, Albus!" Ginny hushed him. "Deer don't like loud noises. You have to be quiet, like a little mouse."

"Okay," Alby whispered. He kept his eyes focused on the grass and the trees.

Harry stood, relaxed and calm, next to Ginny, and Severus was next to him, waiting patiently.

There was a flicker of movement in the trees beyond. Then a group of silver deer began to creep from the forest verge. There were four does, two with small fawns at their side, and a large buck with seven point antlers. They carefully made their way over to where Harry and his family waited.

"Sevvy!" Alby whispered loudly. "That deer looks like the one that came in the tunnel to help us." He pointed to a dainty looking doe, somewhat smaller than the others.

Severus looked at her, and thought his brother was right. The pretty doe did sort of resemble his Patronus.

The does and fawns continued to approach, but the buck remained wary, watching from a few feet away.

Alby frowned, "Why isn't that one coming, Mummy? The one with the horns?"

"That's a buck, Alby, a daddy deer," Ginny explained. "And his job is to watch and make sure his family's safe."

"Oh. But don't he want some treats?" her son queried, still staring at the buck as if mesmerized.

Ginny and Harry poured treats in their hands and held them out for the deer family, showing the boys how to feed the deer. As the does and fawns began to nibble the feed, Severus cautiously walked towards the pretty doe with some feed held out.

"I won't hurt you. Come and get it," he called softly.

The pretty doe ambled over, sniffed his hand, then licked the feed from it delicately.

Severus grinned. "Here, girl. Want some more, beautiful one?"

The slender doe ate all the feed from his hand. Severus wished he had more to give her.

Then all at once she lifted her head and looked him directly in the eyes. He saw to his amazement that instead of the liquid brown eyes he'd expected, this doe had green eyes like leaves. He felt his head swim, and then a familiar voice spoke into his mind.

"Soon, Sev, I'll be with you."

"Lily?" he gasped.

But the doe shook her head and her eyes returned to normal. She reared up before him, then spun and raced off.

Severus stared after her in longing. "Hurry, Lily," he murmured.

Harry had turned and seen the doe rear up and was startled. As he asked Severus about the deer, Ginny was busy feeding the rest of the herd. The three were having such a good time that no one noticed when Alby sneaked away to see the buck standing halfway across the field.

Ginny looked up as the does began to leave and said, "Harry, where's Alby?"

Harry turned around. "What do you mean, where's Alby? Isn't he . . .?"

"No. I thought he was feeding the fawn."

Harry's mouth tightened. "Ginny, if he's run off to explore again, I swear I'm going to paddle his behind . . ." he trailed off as he saw an astonishing sight.

There stood his small son, standing beside the great buck, holding his hand out and the big animal was gently lipping the feed off Alby's hand as if he were the family pet.

"Well, I'll be!" Harry whistled. "How on earth did he do that? That deer's wild as they come, and I've never seen a buck eat out of someone's hand, they're too wary."

The next thing they saw astonished them even more.

Alby began to stroke the buck, putting his little hand up to pat the buck's velvety nose, and even scratch the base of the antlers when the buck lowered his head. The deer was practically kneeling so the boy could touch the top of his head.

"Come on, Storm, let's say hi to my mum and dad!" they heard Alby say to the buck.

Severus wanted to chuckle at the way his brother talked to the deer, as if it could understand him. His jaw hung open when the stately buck began to pace beside Alby, following the child like a dog. "Harry . . ." He tugged on Harry's sleeve. "Do you see what I see? Or am I dreaming?"

"If you are, then so am I," Harry said.

"Harry . . . that deer is following him . . . as if . . . as if he understands every word Alby spoke to him," Ginny hissed, awestruck. "These aren't magical deer, are they?"

"No, I don't think so."

His son approached, talking to the buck a mile a minute. Every so often the stag would pause and bob his head, as if agreeing with the child.

Alby ran up to them, his green eyes alight with joy. "Mum, Dad, Sevvy! This is Storm, he's my new friend. He's the leader of the Shooting Star herd. He says he's almost ten years old and his wives are Rishka and Briar, and he has two daughters, Ashkin and Misty, and the babies are Vallon and Sunny."

To their shock, the deer bowed to them, then he tossed his great antlers and stood proudly before them.

"He says he's pleased to meet you," Alby piped up.

"Al, what do you mean he says?" asked Severus. "You're pretending, right? Like we do at home, with Bucky and Mimic. You're talking for him, right?"

His brother shook his head. "No, Sevvy. I'm not making it up. I can hear him in my head. I heard him call to me before, that's why I went by him."

"What do you mean, he called to you? What did he say?" Severus queried.

"He said, come closer, little Speaker. Come and speak with me, who has the gift of beast tongues. So I did, and he told me his name and the names of his wives and kids." Alby related seriously. "Can't you hear him, Sevvy?"

"No, Al. I'm not . . . that is I don't have the gift of beast tongues."

Alby looked shocked, that there was something his brother didn't know or couldn't do. "Mum, Dad, can you hear Storm talking?"

Both elder Potters shook their heads.

Alby's mouth hung open now. "Storm, how come they can't hear you and I can?"

The stag pawed the ground and snorted, bobbing his head.

"Really? Only me? Wow! I'm like . . . like Alan and Jack in the story we made up. Remember, Sevvy? Remember? Jack could talk to animals too!"

"Harry, our baby has one of the old magics," Ginny said to her husband, smiling proudly. "He's a Beast Master."

"He's a Beast Master?" Harry repeated. "Just what is that, Ginny?"

"It means that he can speak the language of all beasts and birds, and someday he can also command them. Some Beast Masters can also transform into animal shape, similar to an Animagus, but more naturally. Beast Masters are also skilled in Herbology and the earth magics. There hasn't been a Beast Master in our family since . . . since my great great grandfather's day. And even then he was a distant cousin on my mum's side." She was grinning broadly and tears of joy were flowing down her face.

Storm snorted again, sounding regretful.

"Do you have to go?" Alby was saying to the buck sadly.

The great deer bent his head and whuffed into Alby's face. Then he licked the little boy's face.

Alby giggled. "Okay, Storm! You go back and be with your family. I hope you have fun playing with your fawns. And tell your does hi from me!"

He waved as the great stag flicked his tail and then bounded away across the meadow. "Bye, Storm!"

The little boy turned around and asked, "Mummy, did you see me talking to the deer?"

"Yes, sweetie, I did," Ginny said, wiping her eyes.

"Why are you crying, Mummy? Are you sad?" Alby asked, coming over to give her a hug. His green eyes were anxious.

"No, Alby. I'm proud . . . so proud. I have two very talented sons." Ginny said, then she turned and buried her face in her hands.

Severus stared at the weeping witch and wondered why Harry wasn't concerned. "Harry, what's wrong with Ginny?"

"Nothing. She . . . ah . . . gets like that when she's expecting." Harry said, going to hug his wife. "Hey, love, can you turn off the faucet? You're scaring the boys a little."

"I'm sorry . . ." Ginny sniffed. "I'm so happy I could float . . . and I'm crying my eyes out too. I can't seem to help it. I think I need a Calming Draught." She dabbed her face with a cloth in her pocket.

Severus stared at the redhaired witch. Had he understood Harry right? "Ginny, you're . . . going to have a baby?"

"Yes, Sevvy," she said, turning to look at him, smiling. "Poppy confirmed it. Soon you're going to have a new little brother or sister."

Severus looked a little bit uneasy. But then he smiled. "Congratulations! I wonder what it will be?"

"Where, Mummy? Where's the baby?" Alby asked, looking around as if expecting the baby to just appear out of thin air.

"In here," Ginny guided her youngest' s hand to lie atop her still flat tummy.

Alby's eyes widened. "How did the baby get in there, Mum?"

Ginny blushed and turned to Harry. "Harry, tell your son how the baby got inside me."

"Ginny!" Harry sputtered. "I can't tell him that!"

"Why, Dad? Don't you know?" his son asked.

"Yeah, Harry? Don't you know?" Severus asked, snickering.

"Be quiet, Sevvy! Before I make you tell him where babies come from." Harry threatened. "Alby, how the baby got inside your mummy is . . . well . . . it's . . . complicated . . . err . . ."

"Dad, do I hafta get a book and look it up?" asked his son, puzzled.

"No . . . no, of course not . . .!" Harry stammered. He was blushing furiously now. He whirled and glared at his wife and son. "Stop it!"

They were holding their sides, laughing their asses off.

"It's kind of like magic, Al . . ."

"It is? Did you wave your wand and cast a spell on her?" Alby inquired innocently.

"Umm . . ."

Severus fell on the ground, howling with mirth. There were times when he absolutely adored his little brother.

A/N: Hope you liked this chapter. I tried to have a mix of serious, dramatic, and funny. I hope I balamced everything out well. Did you like Alby's talent?

Next: The bonfire . . . and some surprise guests!

Thanks everyone for reading and following this story.

 


Chapter 28: Of Bonfires and Bullies
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28

Of Bonfires and Bullies

After Harry's rather disastrous attempt to explain where babies come from, Alby turned to Ginny and asked, "Mum, when will the baby come out?"

"Well, the baby needs to grow inside me for nine months. The baby's been in me for about amonth now, so it will be born in January."

"January's my birthday!" Alby clapped his hands. "I was born on January 9th. Like you, Sevvy! Will the baby be born on my birthday too?"

Ginny smiled. "It could. Or it could be born later in the month. We'll have to wait and see."

"Oh." He cocked his head at his mother, then asked, "How's it fit inside your tummy?"

"The baby's tiny right now, Alby. Smaller than your hand." Ginny explained.

Alby stared at his hand. "It's that little?"

"But it'll grow a lot in eight months," Harry said. "Until it'll be about this big when it's born." He held his hands apart to the size of a newborn baby.

Alby looked skeptical. "Are you sure, Dad?"

"Yes. That's how big you were when you were born." Harry chuckled.

"What do you want the baby to be—boy or girl?" asked Severus.

"I wanna a girl baby," Alby stated. "I don't want a little brother that breaks all my toys. Teddy said Jamie always did that."

Harry snickered. "Well, son, your mum and I were hoping for a girl too."

"I wouldn't mind a sister," Severus agreed. "Since I've already got a little brother."

"How do we make sure we get a girl?" Alby wanted to know.

"Al, we can't make the baby come out a girl." Severus told him. "That's up to God."

"Oh." Alby's forehead wrinkled and then he said, "Then I guess I gotta talk to God and tell him to please make this baby a girl. 'Cause if it's a boy, He can take it back and give it to somebody else."

Ginny, Harry, and Severus all burst out laughing.

Alby looked from one to the other, bewildered. "What's so funny?"

"Oh, Alby!" Ginny picked him up and hugged him.

Her son hugged her back, then squirmed to be put down. "Come on, Mum! I wanna go and see some other animals. Maybe I can talk to them too." He grasped Ginny's hand and tugged her away from the deer park.

Still snickering, Harry and Severus followed.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

It was the last day of the holiday, and both Alby and Severus slept until ten o'clock. Severus was still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes when he came down to breakfast that morning. He sat there for a moment, trying to wake up, while Ginny set a small plate in front of him with some French toast and bacon. "Sev, would you like some strawberries or blueberries on top?"

"Only a little, thanks," he replied. Those two fruits combined tended to give him diarrhea if he ate too much of them. He slowly began to eat.

Alby, in contrast, asked for bananas with his French toast, then proceeded to pile the banana slices on his plate and push his French toast around, slopping syrup all over the table.

Ginny frowned. "Albus, stop playing and start eating."

"I'm not hungry," Alby replied. He kept glancing out the window, which was partially open and you could hear the birds singing. "I wanna go say good morning to the birds."

"After you eat," his mother said firmly.

Alby crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. "Mu-u-m! I'm not hungry!"

Ginny was about to snap at him , when Harry touched her arm lightly. "Gin, don't force him. He'll eat when he's hungry. He's excited right now about his new talent."

"Harry, I don't want him thinking he can just—"

"Relax, hon. Let him go and say hello, then we'll see if he's hungry afterwards. I don't want our last morning here to end with a fight."

Ginny reluctantly nodded. "All right. Alby, you're excused. But when you're finished saying hi to those birds, I want you to come back and see if you can eat four bites of your breakfast."

Alby eagerly pushed his chair back. "Okay, Mummy," he said, then he dashed over to the half-open window and called, "Good morning, Mr. Seagull! My name's Alby, what's yours?"

Soon a seagull had landed in the yard, close to the window and it began screeching to the little Beast Master.

Severus winced at the raucous noise. Then he said, "How come when Al talks to the animals, we hear it in English? Shouldn't we hear it in bird language or whatever, like Parseltongue?"

"That's the nature of a Beast Master, Sevvy," Ginny answered. "To our ears, he's speaking English, but to the ears of the beasts and birds, he's speaking in their tongue. Parseltongue is different because snakes are reptiles."

They watched, while eating breakfast, Alby speaking to the seagull. The little boy talked to the seagull for about five minutes, then the seagull flew away. Alby waved at it, then turned around and announced, "I'm hungry now, Mum. Can I have more cinnamon on my French toast?" He came and sat back down at his place.

"You may," Ginny said, and sprinkled more cinnamon over his portion.

Then her son ate, and inbetween bites babbled happily about the seagull named Windward and how he ate fish for breakfast and had a mate name Skyfar who was teaching their little ones to fly.

After breakfast, Severus decided to read more of Miranda's journal, and chose the part where she was having lessons with her Aunt Tabitha about using the necklace of disguise.

July 23rd, 1889:

Today Aunt Tabitha taught me how to use the power of the necklace. First she told me about the history of the necklace. The shell of the necklace had been a gift from one of the Selkie folk, those magical beings who could turn themselves from seal to human. It was told that an ancestor had caught the Selkie man in his net, and instead of killing him, set him free. The Selkie, in gratitude gave him a magical shell, that could hide our ancestor from any who sought him harm, and enable him to appear like any person or creature he wished, for a span of up to two hours a day.

To use it, Aunt Tabitha said, all I had to do was grasp the shell in my hand, and think about either becoming invisible or blending into the background, or appearing like a certain person. It didn't sound hard, but like anything else, it requires the utmost concentration and will. It took me several tries before I could fade into a tree and look like part of the bark.

Aunt Tabitha says that during times of great trouble, the necklace has saved many members of our family from corrupt officials and lords. She says that many pureblood families would kill to get their hands on it, and that's why we must always be careful never to tell anyone where we put the necklace. I would never be so stupid.

Severus placed the journal on his bed and climbed down the ladder. He had put the rosewood box inside his trunk, and now he went and removed it. He slipped the necklace over his head and grasped the shell in his hand. Then he closed his eyes and imagined himself blending into the wall. He felt a tingling feeling spread through him and when he opened his eyes and looked in the mirror hung over the dresser, he couldn't see himself in it.

Grinning, he wished himself visible and tried changing his appearance. That was harder, but after a few tries, he managed to make himself look something like Cory, and then he changed into Harry, and even Ron. Each time he used the necklace, he felt a quiver run through him. When he was satisfied he had mastered the necklace's power, he tucked it beneath his shirt.

Alby came in a few moments later and asked if he wanted to make a puzzle, and Severus agreed, spending the next half hour putting together a puzzle called The Potions Lesson. Once they had done that, both boys felt sleepy, and took a nap without being told.

After lunch, Ginny and Harry went down to the beach and while Ginny and Severus swam in the warmed water, Alby and Harry built another sandcastle.

Severus swam happily with the water wings, and Ginny rented a kickboard and floated in the breakers.

Harry had just finished digging a moat around their mostly completed sandcastle, and Alby went to get water in his little pail to fill it, when a crowd of about six women, from twenty to forty suddenly appeared on the beach in their bathing suits. They were whispering and giggling among themselves, and as soon as they spotted Harry, squealed ecstatically.

"Ooh, look! It's Harry Potter!"

"Wow! He's soo adorable! Even better than his pictures!"

"I hear he's a professor now!"

"Oh my Merlin! I'd love for him to teach me!" squealed a small blond haired woman. "I can't take my eyes off him!"

"Me neither! Isn't he dreamy? I could just . . . eat him with a spoon!"

There came gasps and sighs of longing then.

Cautiously, the little blond approached. "Umm . . . Mr. Potter? I was wondering . . . would you mind signing this photograph?"

Harry looked up . . . and found himself staring down her suit, her chest was level with his eyes when he was sitting and he had good view of her assets. "Uh . . err . . ." Blushing, he stood up. "Who are you?"

"My name's Helena, and I've been a secret admirer of yours ever since you hoodwinked old Dark and Scaly." She handed him a quill and he signed the photograph.

Suddenly, as if that were a signal, the rest of the women pressed forward, and soon Harry was surrounded by squealing, giggling, panting women.

"Harry, can you sign this biography?" one asked, her eyes perusing him as if she could see right through his shorts and shirt. She thrust a copy of a book called Harry Potter: the Man Behind the Myth, which was one of the first biographies he'd agreed to have written.

"Sure." He took her quill and signed the inside front cover, after asking her name, it was Samantha.

As he turned around, he felt a hand cup his backside and a high pitched giggle. Blushing hotly, he turned and said, "Hey! I'm a married man, so none of that, ladies!"

"Oh, who cares?" pouted a pretty brunette. "Plenty of married men have flings. And you have a mighty fine bum, much better than my last lover."

"And look at those lips! Mmm!" said another, pressing closer to him.

"You said it, Mimi! Makes me want to get a piece of him."

A piece of me? thought Harry, alarmed. He tried to back up, but the women had pushed him against the sandcastle.

A tall woman built like a model, with flowing reddish hair and blue eyes thrust herself against him. "Harry, you stud!" she whispered breathlessly. "Would you mind signing your name on my left boob? I have a permanent inking quill right here!"

"You want me to sign where?" Harry choked. "I can't do that!"

"Sure you can, sugar. I don't mind," she purred, her hand going to her blouse.

"All right, that's enough! I don't sign body parts, only paper," he told her firmly. "And quit flirting with me, my wife won't appreciate it." He could just imagine the expression on Ginny's face if she'd heard what this woman had said!

"Aww, he's shy! And your wife ought to be used to it by now. You're the wizarding world's greatest sex symbol. Don't you know?

"S-sex symbol?" Harry stuttered. Merlin, but Ginny was going to kill him! Now he'd dealt with fans before, but none of them were as persistent as this group of women, who were looking at him as if they wanted to tear his clothes off.

Ginny and Severus were coming out of the ocean when they saw the women surrounding Harry.

"Oh, Merlin! Not again!" Ginny groaned. "Why can't they just leave him alone?"

"Because he's a hero," Severus said.

He saw one of the women reach out and place her palm on his face. Another grabbed his sleeve, and proceeded to rip a piece off.

"Great Merlin!" Severus cried. "They're like . . . like animals!"

"Bloody sirens!" Ginny snorted, striding up the beach. "Harry, darling, we really have to run. Or else we'll be late for your appointment."

"Hi, Gin!" Harry called, waving at her.

Several of his admirers looked annoyed.

"What appointment?" asked one, pouting.

Before Harry could answer, Ginny did. "His appointment with his therapist. After the fight with Voldemort, he's never been the same."

That statement was followed by groans and cries of, "What do you mean? Is he sick?"

Ginny reached through the circle of women and grabbed Harry's arm, pulling him free. "Sevvy, Alby! Time to go home!"

Both boys came when called, but Severus was scowling, he had wanted more time in the water.

"Don't sulk, Sevvy," Ginny consoled the grumpy child. "We'll come back later and swim, when those man-eaters aren't around."

"Humph!" was all Severus replied.

"Thanks for the rescue, Ginny. For a minute there I thought they were going to rip me in half," Harry said ruefully. "Like a bone between two dogs."

"Not on my watch," was all his wife said.

"Mummy, why was all those girls by Daddy?" Alby asked.

"They wanted his autograph," Severus answered.

Because the bonfire served food, Ginny didn't cook anything that night. The bonfire began at seven and ended at midnight. The two elder Potters made sure they took naps along with the children so they would be well rested for the activities later on that night. There would be games of Frisbee toss and roasting marshmallows and story time.

Alby was so excited he couldn't sleep, and kept pestering Severus, who wanted to, with questions and waking him up.

Finally, even Severus' patience wore out and he snapped at the child, "Merlin's beard, Al! Will you shut up and go to sleep? You'll find out all the answers to your questions tonight, now zip it!"

Then he turned and buried his face in the pillow.

Alby sniffled, he was sensitive and Severus' yelling at him had hurt his feelings. He curled up with Bucky and cried into the hippogriff's side.

Of course, that made it impossible for Severus to sleep and he sat up and growled, "Now what's the matter?"

"Nothin'," Alby mumbled tearfully.

"Then why are you crying over nothing?"

"You yelled at me, Sevvy!" Alby whined.

Severus heaved a huge sigh. "Because you keep waking me up and you're being really annoying."

"Don' be mad, Sevvy. I'll try not to."

"Try real hard." Severus told him, then because he felt guilty losing his temper, he added, "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"'Kay, Sevvy."

This time when Severus closed his eyes, all was quiet.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

The bonfire was crackling merrily when the Potters arrived. As promised, Ginny made sure she and Severus, joined by Alby, went for a swim before joining several other familes on the beach. Harry was sitting on a blanket, claiming a spot for them.

After awhile, Ginny grew tired and made Severus promise to stay close to shore before moving on up the beach to join Harry.

Alby engaged him in a splashing match, and by the time the water had been shaken out of faces and ears, Severus was aware of someone watching.

He looked up right into the smirking face of Ted Lupin.

"Teddy!" exclaimed Alby. "How'd you get here?"

"Dad Apparated me," the eldest Lupin smirked.

"What are you doing here?" asked Severus.

"Uncle Harry wrote Dad about the cool bonfire and next thing I knew he was asking if anyone wanted to join him. So of course I said yes, and Sirius and Jamie too, and here we are. He wanted to surprise Uncle Harry. So, how was your vacation so far? Didja stay out of trouble?"

"It was great!" Alby said. "'Cept for getting stuck in the secret tunnel and getting a tummyache from eating too much trifle."

"Ah. Been there and done that," Teddy said. "Only I ate too much banana nut fudge."

"My tummy really hurt till Sevvy gave me leaves to eat."

"Leaves?" Teddy looked puzzled.

"Mint leaves," Severus clarified.

"Oh. Where'd you learn that?"

"My mother," replied Severus.

"My mum made me eat prunes and drink the juice after eating all that fudge," Teddy admitted.

"How come?" asked Alby curiously.

"Because he was constipated," Severus answered.

"Sevvy, what's that mean?"

"It's when you can't poop," Teddy told him, grimacing.

"Oh. I got like that once last year when I ate too many nuts. I kept spitting out the potion Mummy gave me, so Daddy put medicine in my bum and it was yucky. I ain't ever making him do that again." Alby made a face.

"Next time just drink the potion, Alby," Severus advised. "And don't eat too many nuts."

"I will." Alby glanced back over to the bonfire. "I wonder when dinner is? I'm hungry."

"Me too." Teddy said. Then he asked about the secret tunnel and Severus explained about Driftwood House being the refuge of free traders and the smuggled goods. "That sounds so wicked! Except for getting stuck and almost drowning. If we go back to the house, can you show me it?"

"Ginny made me promise not to go down there again, but I can show you where it is," Severus said. An instant later he regretted those hasty words, because showing Teddy meant showing Sirius and Jamie too, and Severus wouldn't put it past those two to go down into the tunnel and find mischief.

Teddy sniffed the air. "Mmm . . . I smell something good."

"I think it's sausages," Severus said. "They're roasting them over the fire."

Just then they heard Remus calling, "Teddy, go and get your brothers, it's dinnertime!"

"Okay, Dad!" Teddy called back.

"Dinnertime!" Alby yelled, then he ran out of the water and towards the blanket where his parents were sitting, along with Remus.

"Where are they?" asked Severus.

"Somewhere down there," Teddy waved his hand to the right. "Little brothers!" Teddy groused to Severus as they walked along the beach, searching for Sirius and Jamie. "Sometimes they're a pain in the bum. Only Alby's not as bad as Siri and Jamie."

"Mostly," Severus said. "But sometimes he wakes me up in the middle of the night or won't let me fall asleep and that really annoys me."

"I know what you mean. Once Jamie and Sirius were talking so much and making stupid jokes that I couldn't take it and I threw my pillow at them."

"And that didn't start a fight?"

"Yeah, it did. We all were beating each other with pillows, but of course, the little idiots got loud and woke up my dad. He wasn't very happy. He made us all stand in the corner for five minutes, and after that he gave us two smacks and sent us to bed. I really wanted to strangle them that time."

"Sometimes it sucks being the older brother."

"You can say that again."

They were now halfway down the beach, where some of the older kids were playing with a volleyball and some Frisbees. Most of them weren't paying attention to the two smaller children, they were too focused on their game.

A little beyond the volleyball game, there was a knot of about four children, boys of about twelve or so, and something about them made the hairs on the back of Severus' neck prickle. Having been the victim of bullies for nearly all of his schooldays, he could tell when kids were up to no good.

Just then, a panting and dirty Jamie ran up to them. He had bruises on his elbows and a scratch down one shin. "Teddy! You have to help Sirius! Those big boys came over and stole our flying disc and when Sirius told them to give it back, they laughed and knocked him down. He tried to punch them and stuff, but they're too big to fight and now they're saying they're gonna throw Siri in the ocean!"

Teddy paled. "Jamie, run and get Dad or Uncle Harry."

Jamie turned and ran down the beach.

Teddy and Severus approached the knot of boys, who were standing around gloating and sneering at Sirius, in the middle of the circle. Sirius was lying on the ground, sandy and bruised, with blood trickling from a cut lip. It was plain he was scared and had been crying.

Teddy's fists clenched and he growled. His hair turned from brown to a shocking red color.

Severus grabbed his arm. "What are you doing? You can't just try and attack them. They'll pound you into the ground."

"I have to do something!" Teddy cried. "I can't just let them hurt my brother."

"Wait a minute. Let me think," Severus said, staring at the battered Sirius.

There had been many a time when Severus had wished Sirius had a taste of his own medicine. Had wished for the other boy to feel the pain and humiliation he had put Severus through. Even now, he still felt a grim measure of satisfaction, but that feeling was soon eclipsed by something else . . . empathy. Severus could remember all too well being tormented by the Marauders, who usually never fought fair, and always jumped him three on one. He knew how it felt to be at another's mercy and be helpless to do anything to change it.

One of the bullies laughed and held out a blue Frisbee to Sirius, then pulled it back when he reached for it. "You want this, crybaby? Come and get it. Or are you too afraid, you itty bitty mama's boy?"

"Give that back! It's mine!"

"I found it lying on the sand. Finders keepers, losers weepers," sneered the blond boy.

"No! It's mine!" Sirius yelled, stamping his foot on the ground. He ran at the older boy, trying to grab the blue disc, crying and hitting the bigger boy. "Give it back!"

"Why don't you cry about it?" mocked another boy. He shoved Sirius and knocked him sprawling. The others hooted and laughed.

Severus felt his gut clench. He didn't know what to do, keep watching Sirius get pounded or try and do something about it. What can you do, anyway? You're only five, they'd pulverize you, Snape. It'd be different if you were your old self again. Then you could put the fear of God into those bullies.

His hand closed upon the necklace of disguise he still had beneath his shirt. He recalled Miranda's words about using the necklace. He clasped it tightly and concentrated. An instant later he felt the familiar tingle of an active spell flow over him and knew it had worked.

He stalked forward and growled in his silky sharp voice that always promised detention for a wrong doer, "Just what in Merlin's name is going on here, gentlemen? Can't find any other way to amuse yourself except by picking on someone smaller than you?"

The boys turned abruptly and paled when they saw who was standing behind them.

"We were only having a bit of sport, we was."

"Yeah, sir, the kid wanted to play with us."

"No, I didn't!" Sirius screamed, tears flowing freely down his face. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. He didn't know what to say or how to react.

For the tall intimidating presence of a grown Severus Snape stood behind them, scowl, greasy hair, sarcastic tongue and all.

"I'd say, by the looks of things, that you are lying. No child calls being humiliated a game. Leave the boy alone, you nasty little brats. Before I make you regret your mothers ever brought you into this world," the stranger said menacingly. And such was the look in his eyes and the sheer presence he projected, that all the boys cringed and backed away from the tall wizard in the billowing black cloak. "Go!" he snarled, and the boys scattered.

Sirius climbed slowly to his feet. "S-Severus? Is that . . . really you?"

"Of course, Black." Severus snorted.

"How did you . . . get your old body back?"

"I didn't, you dunderhead. This is a disguise."

"A disguise? You're pretending to be yourself?"

"Shut up, Sirius! The least you could do was say thank you, or did you get all the manners knocked out of your head?"

"Errr . . .thanks, Sn—er . . . Severus." Sirius stammered. "But why would you help me?"

"Because no one should have to go through that . . . not even you." Severus said sincerely.

Sirius was dumbfounded. That had been the last thing he expected Severus to say. He expected sarcasm and mockery from his former victim, not being rescued by him. When he had been getting hit and kicked and teased by those older boys, for the first time he learned what it was like to be at the mercy of those stronger and crueler than you, and he found that he totally loathed the fear, despair, pain, and humiliation he was feeling. Was this how Snape had felt all those years ago?

In that moment, Sirius had a revelation. All those years ago, when he had been a Marauder, he had convinced himself that Severus Snape was a greasy no-good kid destined to go dark and that he deserved whatever malicious prank or hex the Marauders decided to throw at him. From pink soap bubbles to stripping him of his dignity in front of half the school, nothing was too much for the rotten Slytherin. Or so he had justified himself.

Until now, when the so-called evil one had come and rescued him . . . without any prompting whatsoever. And for the first time ever, Sirius felt shame and disgust at the way he had pranked and tormented Severus.

He started to sniffle. "I . . . I never knew . . . how it felt to be picked on . . .It was really scary . . ."

"What, you didn't find it funny?" Severus asked, a hint of the old sarcasm back in his tone. He had released the disguise spell by then and was back to appearing like the five-year-old he now was.

Sirius shook his head. "No . . . and I . . . I'm sorry for what I did before . . .I really am . . ."

Severus blinked, and gazed into his former rival's eyes. In them he saw, for the first time ever, honest remorse and regret, without a trace of condescension or smugness. "Good. Better late then never."

Sirius scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand. Then he slowly extended a hand. "Truce, Severus?"

Severus hesitated, then slowly took the outstretched hand. "Truce, Sirius. Now don't forget it."

"I won't. And . . . if I do, you have my permission to kick my ass good and hard until I remember."

Severus smiled slightly. "Don't think I won't." He gently withdrew his hand. "Come on, mutt. Let's get back to where Lupin and Harry are, before they have a conniption."

"I hear you, dungeon bat," Sirius replied, only this time the nickname was more playful than derogatory.

Teddy came up to them, his eyes shining. "Severus, how'd you do that? Make those kids just back off?"

"Illusion charm," Severus said modestly.

"Wicked!" Teddy said. He looked at his brother. "Siri, you all right?"

"Yeah. I'll live."

Quietly the three boys walked side by side, meeting up with a worried and angry Remus and Harry halfway back to the blanket. When Remus asked Sirius what had happened, he answered, "Some big bullies were pounding on me, and Severus saved me from them."

"He did?" Remus looked totally shocked. "That was . . . mighty nice of you, Severus."

"No. It wasn't nice," the smaller boy shook his head. "It was right." Then he held up his arms for Harry to carry him. "Harry, I'm a little tired and hungry. Are there any sausages and S'mores left?"

"Sure there are, Sev." Harry said, smiling. He lifted the little boy into his arms and began to walk back towards the bonfire. He understood what Severus had meant. "I'm proud of you, Sev. I know how hard that must have been."

Severus nodded. He hadn't realized just how hard until he'd done it. "Yes, but . . . I'm tired of holding a grudge. The past is written on sand, let it be washed away. We won't ever be best friends, but we won't be at each other's throats all the time either."

"That's all any of us can ask," Harry said sincerely.

He arrived at the bonfire, and picked up a skewer of sausage and a skewer with a S'more on it and used his magic to roast them to perfection, holding them in the flames with a softly spoken charm. Once they were done, Severus happily bit into one, savoring the crispy and juicy texture of the sausage, and the creamy rich delicious taste of the S'more. He finished off his portion then asked Harry for more. Harry toasted more, and then carried the skewers and Severus back to the blanket, where Severus ate them sitting in Harry's lap. He sucked melted marshmallow off his fingers while leaning against Harry's chest, listening to Alby and Jamie talking and the soft hush and hiss of the waves. It was the perfect end to an almost perfect vacation.

 


Chapter 29: Endless Love
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29

Endless Love

Sirius was quiet after returning from the beach. He sat down next to Dora and began eating the crispy roasted sausages and toasted cheese sandwiches. His mind was full of the events of the evening, the attack of the bullies and Severus coming to his rescue. A part of him still had not processed the fact that his former rival had saved him, thus proving his theory that all Slytherins were dark null and void. As he mused on the fact that Snape was no longer the slimy greasy dungeon bat, he took a large bite of toasted cheese, which was hot, and swallowed quickly.

To his surprise, he heard Alby and Jamie discussing the fact that Alby was a Beast Master. Sirius recalled that Beast Masters were rare, the talent showing up once in every six generations or more. Sirius felt both admiration and envy. Admiration because Alby was so young to have a talent like that, and envy because once he had hoped he was a Beast Master.

Beside him, Dora was congratulating Ginny on her second pregnancy. "Ooh, I'm so excited for you! What do you want this one to be, Ginny?"

"Uh, healthy for starters. And we're hoping for a girl." Ginny answered, beaming.

Sirius was so startled to hear that the Potters' were expecting that he swallowed a big bite of sausage. The sausage didn't go down right and lodged in his throat. He began to choke, gasping for air.

Dora turned when she heard gagging noises, and screamed when she saw her son. "Oh, Merlin! Oh my God, I think he's choking. Remus, help me!"

Remus looked over to see what all the fuss was about. Sirius' skin had started to turn blue, and Remus ran over and tried smacking the boy on the back, but it was no use.

Sirius was still gagging and choking.

Harry stood up, setting Severus down, and then he raced over to Sirius, thanking God he'd not forgotten his emergency first aid lessons. He stood the gasping Sirius up, then performed the Heimlich maneuver on the child. He did it twice before the piece of sausage popped out; Sirius took in a great lungful of air, and then he threw up.

Harry grimaced slightly, but held Sirius' head as he puked up his dinner. He was about to ask Ginny if she had a Stomach Soother when the little boy started crying for his mother. At first, Harry couldn't figure out why Sirius would be calling for his mother, as he knew Sirius hated her, but when Dora pushed him away, her eyes filled with tears, Harry understood. He released Sirius and Dora took over, holding and comforting her son, and also giving him a pinkish potion.

"I . . . I couldn't breathe, Mum," Sirius gasped and sobbed. He had an arm wrapped about his tummy. "And now my . . . my tummy hurts." Sniffling, he glared a bit at Harry. "You made me throw up, Harry."

Before Harry could say anything in his defense, Severus spoke up. He felt bad for Sirius, but not enough to let him badmouth Harry. "He also saved your life. If he hadn't done the Heimlich, you would have died."

"Severus's right, sweetie," Dora agreed. "I know you feel sick, but at least . . . at least you're alive to feel this way. Great Merlin, Siri, but I thought I was going to lose you." She nearly burst into tears again, but managed to compose herself. Siri was already upset, having her crying wouldn't do him any good. She hugged Sirius tightly instead. "Siri, I love you so much."

Sirius hugged her back and whispered, "Love you too, Mum." He didn't know exactly why he had suddenly started calling Dora "Mum", except that he had been terrified and wanted his mother, even though she was long gone and had never really cared for him. Dora had stepped in and filled the void naturally.

Harry backed away, allowing Remus to come and inspect his son and hug his wife and child. He left the two relieved and grateful parents to fuss over Sirius and went to sit back down. To his astonishment, Severus immediately sat in his lap, and snuggled with him.

Next to him, Alby came and snuggled with Ginny. Ginny looked at her husband and asked, "Harry, how did you know how to do that?"

"It's something I learned when I went to Muggle primary school. A safety procedure. I never thought I'd use it." Harry admitted, ruffling Severus' hair. "I didn't know it would make him sick."

Ginny squeezed his arm. "Better sick than dead."

Harry silently nodded, he knew Ginny was right, though he doubted if Sirius thought so. "Maybe we ought to go back to Driftwood House. Sirius should really rest. They can do that at the house."

Ginny waited until their friends had calmed down and then suggested they return to the cottage.

Dora agreed and she held Sirius while they walked back to the cottage.

Remus followed with Jamie and Teddy, both of whom were upset and kept asking their father if Sirius needed to go to St. Mungos. "No, he'll be fine after some rest. Uncle Harry got the piece of sausage he was choking on out," the werewolf reassured his sons. "Now, when we get back to Uncle Harry's, I want you both to put on pajamas. You don't have to go to bed yet, but I want you prepared."

Jamie and Teddy murmured affirmatives.

Ginny carried Alby and Harry carried Severus up the path to the cottage. He planned on doing the same as Remus, preparing them for bed before they actually had to go there. Once they had reached the cottage, Remus began to get his older boys ready for bed, while Dora sat with Sirius, who was almost asleep after his near death experience.

Harry turned and said to Severus, "Sev, would you mind going upstairs and starting to run the water in the tub? You can pick out your own pajamas and would you mind grabbing a pair of Alby's too?"

"No, that's easy," Severus reassured him, and headed upstairs.

"That's my big boy," Harry said proudly. He followed a few minutes later with Alby, who was sticky with marshmallow all over him.

Once they'd had their bath and gotten in pajamas, Harry told them to go and play for an hour or so with the Lupin brothers before bed, as it was only eight o'clock. Severus carefully put the necklace of disguise back into its box and placed it in his trunk. Teddy and Jamie were grilling Alby about the secret passage, and Alby explained they had found it by accident.

"I was tryin' to get the Oreos on the top shelf an' it moved and there was the secret way," Alby told them. "But we're not allowed to go there again. My daddy said it was off limits."

Jamie shrugged. "We just wanna see it. That's all. I've never seen a secret way before."

"Me neither." Teddy admitted. "I wonder if there's more treasure down there?"

"There isn't," Severus said. "Unless you like firewhiskey and butterbeer. And it's not worth getting in trouble to go back down there."

"I still wanna see it," Jamie insisted stubbornly.

Severus snorted. "Fine. It's your funeral if an adult catches you."

"They're all too busy fussing over Siri, they won't notice," Jamie said arrogantly.

Alby yawned, he was growing sleepy. He crawled into the bottom bunk and called, "Sevvy, can you read to me?"

"Yeah, in a minute," his brother answered, then he picked up the book they'd been reading and continued, reading three whole pages before Alby fell asleep.

"You always read to him?" Teddy asked.

"Sometimes. But usually Ginny will, or Harry if he's here."

"How come you don't read to us, Teddy?" asked Jamie.

"Never thought about it before," his sibling replied. "But maybe next time I will."

"You coming to see the secret passage, Severus?" Jamie queried.

"No. I've seen all there is to see," Severus answered. "You two can go. And don't blame me if you get in trouble."

The Lupin boys quickly went downstairs.

Severus climbed into the top bunk and hugged Mimic, muttering, "Dunderheads!"

They snuck down into the kitchen and crept to the pantry. They could hear the adults talking in the den, where Sirius was sleeping. Dora was thanking Harry again for saving her little boy's life, and asking him to show her and Remus how to do the Heimlich maneuver.

Teddy opened the pantry door and the light went on. For a moment or two, the children were distracted by the array of sweets and snacks arranged on the shelves.

"Look, Teddy! It's a whole box of chocolate frosted donuts! Let's have some," Jamie whispered, licking his lips.

"Later," his brother hissed. "We gotta find the secret passage. Now, where did Alby say it was?" He began feeling along the shelves.

"What are you looking for, boys?" came a familiar voice.

Teddy straightened up so fast he bumped his head. "Uh . . . hi, Aunt Ginny!"

"We were . . . umm . . . looking for donuts," Jamie said, giving her his best innocent look.

"The donuts, James Sirius, are right here," Ginny said, picking them up and showing them to him. She knew perfectly well he wasn't there for sweets.

"Oh! We must have missed them, right, Teddy?"

"Uh, yeah," Teddy agreed, looking sheepish. He wasn't fooling anyone, however.

"You wouldn't have also been looking for the secret tunnel down to the ocean as well, now would you?" Ginny queried sharply. "Because I know neither of you would be so foolish as to upset your parents by trying to go into a dangerous place right after that scare they just had with your brother. You two are smarter than that, I'd think. You certainly wouldn't want your mum to borrow my wooden spoon and tan your backsides with it for risking your necks, right?"

"No, Aunt Ginny," Teddy said quickly. He'd only gotten paddled with a spoon once, after nearly burning down the house playing with matches and it was not something he wanted to repeat . . . ever.

"No, ma'am." Jamie echoed him. He regretted that Ginny had just happened to find them poking about in the pantry, but at the same time he was rather glad too, for he disliked small spaces and he really was hungry for a donut.

"Good, because I would hate to see you get in trouble after the way you all behaved so well at the bonfire," she said. "Come and sit down and have a donut."

The boys, sensing their opportunity to explore the tunnel disappearing, went to the table and sat down. Though their expedition had been a failure, at least they got some sweets out of it. They licked their lips as Ginny handed them a plate with a donut on it and cups of milk icy-cold from the fridge.

Ginny began making tea for Harry, Remus, and Dora, happy that a potential disaster had been averted. The last thing the Lupins needed was for something to go wrong with their other boys, and Ginny thanked Merlin that being the sister of Fred and George had given her a sixth sense about boys plotting mischief. Smirking slightly, she poured herself a large glass of milk and ate a half a donut. Lately she'd been craving sweets but limited herself to one or two only. She supposed that the baby had a sweet tooth like its father.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

The Potters left Driftwood House in the afternoon of the next day. Harry had contacted Edyth Brentwood and had told her about his boys discovering the tunnel and what they had found there. She was very excited about the finding of the necklace and her ancestor's journal. She Flooed over and her eyes lit up when she saw the rosewood box and the leather journal.

"This is simply an amazing discovery!" she said, beaming. "My family always wondered where the necklace of disguise was. We knew it had been hidden for safekeeping, but Miranda never wrote anything down as to where it might be. She never returned here, you see, because the excise men took this house over and used it for a time as headquarters. The family remained in hiding for several years and eventually bought a new home in Gravesend. This house was later bought by some Ministry official as a vacation home and it's only within the last twenty years that we managed to buy it back and put it in our family's hands again. For a time we all searched for the necklace and her diary, but had no luck in finding it. Might I say thank you and you'll forever have my gratitude for discovering this," she beamed at Alby and Severus.

Severus gazed at the journal wistfully. He had been reading it diligently, but still hadn't had a chance to memorize some of the potion recipes. "I wish I could finish reading the journal."

"Then you found my ancestor's story interesting?" asked Edyth, pleased.

"Yes," Severus said honestly.

Edyth tapped her wand against the journal and uttered a spell. Within moments, a perfect copy appeared next to the original. "There you go, lad! Your own copy. 'Tis a small enough thing considering you found one of the great treasures of my family." She clasped the rosewood box to her. "Mr. Potter, if you would ever like to return here for another holiday, you and your family may stay as long as you like, free of charge."

"Free?" Harry repeated. "Oh, but we couldn't, Miss Brentwood . . ."

"Edyth, and you can and you shall," she told him firmly. "If it weren't for your youngsters discovering that secret passage, we might never have recovered the necklace or the journal. Some of us had given up hope and assumed that it had been lost forever, or stolen by our rivals, the Gowers. Now, thanks to your boys, it's back where it belongs."

"Thank you, Edyth," said Ginny. "We had a wonderful time here and would be very happy to come back next year."

"I look forward to it," the older witch said, smiling.

Severus clutched the replica of the journal to him. He had enjoyed using the necklace for a brief time, but he recognized the dangers in having the necklace and using it on a regular basis. It was a powerful item and it could be tempting to use it for selfish reasons, like stealing things. So he was sort of glad when he saw Edyth leave and take the necklace with her. He much preferred the journal, as it contained many useful and unusual spells and potions, which to him were more valuable than a dozen necklaces.

Page~*~*~*~Break

Upon arriving home, Ginny sent Alby and Severus out to play in the yard while she unpacked and called Dora to ask how Sirius was doing. Dora told her that Sirius was his old self again, running about and getting into mischief. "Not half an hour after I let him get out of bed, he found trouble," she lamented to her friend. "He tried to use the blender to make a shake or something and whatever he did made it explode. I had vanilla ice cream and bananas all over my kitchen—on the ceiling, the walls . . . it's a good thing I'm a witch and can clean up messes fairly easily."

"Dora, you cleaned the whole thing yourself?" Ginny asked. "Why didn't you—"

"—make Sirius do it?" she finished. "I did make him clean up some, but the mess was too much for a seven year old to clean, so I helped. That boy! I never know what he's going to do next."

Ginny was grateful she didn't have Sirius to deal with. Growing up with Fred and George had been bad enough. She told Dora she would have to come over soon for tea or lunch, whichever she preferred, then broke the firecall and returned to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Harry came in and wrapped her in a bear hug. "Hey, beautiful. I need to run over to Hogwarts, I left a text there that I need to finish my third year curriculum for next term. I'll be back soon."

Ginny turned around, looking up into his eyes. She adored his gorgeous green eyes, she had ever since she had first seen him that morning at breakfast, they had captivated her with their honesty and purity. "Don't be too long. Dinner should be ready in about an hour and I want you to be able to eat it hot, okay?"

"Not a problem," Harry reassured her, kissing her lightly. Then he stepped free of her embrace and Apparated away to the gates of the school.

Ginny chopped and mixed ingredients for a chicken, broccoli, and cheese casserole, as well as some quick rise mini loaves. She had just finished putting them and the casserole in the oven, when she felt a bit dizzy and went to sit down. It was then she realized she had hardly eaten a thing all day and Summoned some bread and peanut butter with jam to make a small sandwich.

As she was eating her sandwich and drinking a glass of milk, Severus came in, looking sweaty and a bit dirty. "Hello, Sev. What are you up to?"

"We're playing a game where Alby and I are shipwrecked on a desert island, like in Robinson Crusoe. Only we need some water and crackers," he explained.

"Water and crackers?"

Severus nodded. "You know, 'cause that's what a lot of sailors ate back then. And Alby and I are kind of hungry."

"Well, there's crackers in the pantry and you know where the water is," she said. "Just don't eat too much, you need to save room for dinner."

"What are we having?"

"Broccoli, chicken, and cheese casserole."

"Sounds delicious," Severus said. "You're a really good cook, Ginny."

"Thanks, Sevvy. I tried to learn as much as I could from my mum."

"She's an excellent cook also." Severus said, reaching into the fridge to grab some bottles of water.

"So is Harry," Ginny said. Her timer beeped and she rose to check on the mini loaves. As she leaned over to see if the bread was done, a wave of dizziness assailed her and she felt the room spin for an instant.

Severus had just grabbed a box of salted crackers from the pantry and was turning about to go outside when he saw Ginny start to sway. "Ginny!" he cried in horror as the witch started to fall. He thought for a terrible moment that she was going to fall into the oven, but something in her woke and she fell backwards onto her bottom instead, though her hand struck the oven rack as she did so.

"Ginny, are you okay?" Severus dropped everything on the floor and ran over to her.

"I . . . oh, Merlin, Sev, I got lightheaded again," Ginny murmured. "Maybe I should have made Harry wait."

"Put your head between your knees," Severus said, recalling that was a standard procedure for lightheadedness. "Where'd Harry go?"

"He went back to Hogwarts to get a book he needed in his office," Ginny answered, putting her head down as Severus had suggested. The dizziness seemed to be passing. "Sevvy, can you shut the oven? Get the potholders first."

Severus did as he was told, then he said, "Can you get up? I'd help you, but . . ." He gestured helplessly at himself. "Should I call Remus or Dora?"

"No, that's okay. It's passing, I'll be fine in a minute." Ginny said softly. "Sometimes I hate being pregnant."

"I'm glad I'm not a girl," Severus said feelingly.

Ginny laughed, then she put her hand on the floor and tried to stand. "Ow!" she yelped. "I burnt my hand." She turned her hand over to look, and there was a large blister on the side and part of the palm.

Severus saw and winced. "You need some of my burn salve. I'll get it," he turned and ran out of the kitchen to the potions cabinet in the den.

Only when he got there, it was locked. Severus was angry and frightened. He hated being helpless, and he hated more when someone he knew and liked was injured. He closed his eyes and concentrated. "Alohamora!" he yelled.

He felt the swift surge of his magic, but couldn't get total control of it.

The cabinet burst open and the jar with the burn salve fell out . . . as well as two or three other jars, from the violent way the cabinet had been opened.

Some of the vials broke and their contents flowed all over the floor in a gooey sticky mess, along with the glass that had shattered. Luckily the jar with the burn salve was sturdy and did not break. Severus picked it up then stood there, staring at the mess in dismay. "Bloody hell!" he swore.

"Severus Snape!" Ginny cried, she had managed to get to her feet and was leaning on the doorway to the den. "You know better than to swear like that."

"I'm sorry," he apologized, hanging his head. "I didn't mean it. I didn't mean to make a mess. I just . . . tried to get the burn salve out and it was locked, so I tried to cast an Unlocking Charm and I . . . I . . . my magic was too strong and when the cabinet opened . . . the potions fell out and broke . . . I'm really sorry!" He started sniffling, for he knew breaking vials was serious, he had put students in detention for a week for doing that as a professor, and made them brew the potions they'd wasted over. His lower lip trembled.

Ginny sighed. "Oh, Sev. You should have waited for me." She knew she should be angry over the mess, but somehow when faced with the little boy's repentant gaze, her anger melted.

"I . . . wanted to help. You were hurt and I don't like it when someone I care about is in pain," Severus said, biting his lip hard. He walked over and held out the burn salve. "Here."

Ginny took the salve and gently rubbed it on her hand. She felt immediate relief and said, "Ahh! That feels much better." She drew her wand and cleaned up the spilled potions and glass, then shut and locked the cabinet.

Severus looked up at her, trepidation lining his brow. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

"Only for swearing. Not for the potions, that was an accident, you can't control your magic," Ginny said. She would have liked to not punish the child at all, but knew the rules they had set down for bad language had to be followed, and Harry had already warned Severus about his mouth. "Come with me."

Severus followed her unhappily into the bathroom. He knew he deserved the mouthwashing he was about to get, but it didn't make it any easier to open his mouth and have Ginny take a washcloth with a tiny amount of soap and rub it on his tongue.

"Thirty seconds, Sev," she informed him.

He wanted to gag at the horrible taste, but managed to bear it while she counted.

"Rinse," she said, and gave him a large glass of water and held him over the sink.

He gagged, coughed, and spit for five minutes, trying to rid himself of the awful taste. "Ick!" He started to cry a little, for he was afraid he'd never get rid of the taste in time for dinner. "I can still taste some!" he wailed.

"Shh . . . here's some mouthwash, Sevvy," Ginny gave him some mouthwash to rinse with.

Severus used it, and to his relief, the taste went away.

Ginny set him on the counter and used a different washrag to clean his face. "You'll watch your mouth from now on, won't you?"

"Yes, ma'am," he said contritely. He had forgotten how bad soap tasted. "How's your hand?"

"It feels much better, Sevvy," she said, then she hugged him. "Try not to make me do that again."

Severus hugged her back. "I will," he promised.

She carried him back into the kitchen and sat down. "You can go out to play, Sev. I'm not going to move until Harry comes back."

Severus looked uncertain, but then recalled that Alby was waiting for him and slipped down from Ginny's lap and picked up the water and cracker on the floor. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

"Yes, I'll be fine. I think it was 'cause I bent over that I got dizzy. But I feel fine now. Go, Sev. Poor Al must be wondering what happened to you."

Severus went, though not without a few glances over his shoulder.

When he reached Alby, he gave him the water and crackers and then sat down beneath the fort they'd made out of lawn chairs and a tablecloth. He no longer felt like playing shipwrecked, he was too worried about Ginny. "Here, Al. You play, I don't feel like it."

"What took you so long? I've been waiting here forever!"

"Your mum burnt her hand and I had to get her some salve, only the cabinet was locked, but I opened it with my magic . . ." Severus said, telling the younger boy everything, including his punishment.

Alby's eyes went wide when he heard about that. "You got in trouble?"

"Yes, why are you looking at me like that?" asked Severus irritably. "I'm not perfect, you know."

"You almost never get in trouble, Sevvy." Alby said. Then he got up and hugged his brother. "Daddy washed out my mouth too. The soap tastes nasty, doesn't it?"

"Disgusting," Severus grimaced, and the two shared a look of commiseration.

After a few more minutes, Alby said, "Let's go inside, Sevvy. We can play like we're coming home and be near Mummy."

Severus smiled at his intuitive brother and picked up the water bottles. "All right, Al. Get the crackers."

So they trooped inside, where they found Harry back and setting the table, the casserole cooling on the counter and the bread sliced and buttered in a basket. Harry turned and saw them and smiled. "Hello. Looks like you two shipwrecked sailors found your way home . . . just in time for dinner. Go wash up and then go sit down. It's almost ready."

Severus and Alby raced into the bathroom. When Severus saw the bar of soap he made a face. "Ugh! Soap!"

"Yuck!" Alby said.

It was probably the fastest handwashing ever, for the two boys were eager to eat the delicious dinner and leave the bad taste of soap behind them.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

From then on, Harry rarely left Ginny alone in the house, and he made sure that when he did, Molly, Hermione, or Luna was there to make sure there were no more accidents like the last one. Ginny didn't really like it, but she couldn't deny that sometimes she needed someone to bend down and reach for a bowl or pot. And she did like the comfort of her friends.

So Severus and Alby saw a lot of Frankie, which was fine, for both of them liked the vivacious little girl, as well as Rose, who enjoyed making biscuits with Molly and also brewing kid potions with Severus. Both little girls also liked playing house, and regularly dragooned the boys into being the dad or the big brother to their baby dolls, much to Severus' disgust.

Severus was thankful that none of the Lupin boys were over to see his loss of dignity. But he couldn't stand to see Rosie upset or Frankie either. "As long as you don't expect me to kiss you, I'll play," he told the girls. "I don't care what your mother does when your dad comes home."

That made the girls giggle, and Frankie, who could be a tease, kiss him on the cheek.

Scowling, he wiped off the kiss and growled, "Stop it! Or else I'm going inside."

Of course, that only made Frankie more determined to kiss him and she chased him around the yard, laughing.

She was fast and also quick, and she caught him as he was going around a bush and pecked his cheek again. "Gotcha, Sevvy!"

"Brat!" He wiped his face. Then he turned and tickled her, making her squeal. "Ha! You wanna kiss me, then I get to tickle you."

"No! No, Sevvy!" she shrieked. "I'll be good! Promise!"

"Too late. Now quit whining like a baby and take it like a big girl, Longbottom," he ordered, tickling her so much she fell on the ground.

Rose started laughing too, then she began to chant, "Frankie and Sevvy sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love, then comes marriage . . ."

"Eeew! I don't wanna marry him, Rose!" cried Frankie.

"And I don't love her," Severus growled.

"Who do you love then?" Rose asked impudently.

"Nobody . . . yet," answered Severus. He turned away, blushing faintly. He couldn't wait for Lily to return, but at the same time he was concerned. What if she returned and didn't love him back? He knew she had said things would be different, but he still worried. He had waited and hoped and dreamed of the moment she would come back to him, forgive him for his temper, and they could be together. Only it had never happened. And if she had most of her memories as an adult, like he did, what if she rejected him for becoming a Death Eater? She had died before he could reveal his role as a spy and how much he loved her.

"Let's play something else," he told the girls.

"Like what?"

"Like art show," he said, and then he ran to get the art supplies.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

That night, Severus was pensive and he picked at his food. He pushed his peas and meatloaf around on his plate and hoped no one would notice.

But of course, they did.

"Sevvy, why aren't you eating?" Ginny asked.

"I'm not really hungry," he mumbled.

"You're not sick, are you?" asked Harry. He gently felt the child's forehead with the back of his hand. "Hmm . . . you're not running a fever. Does your tummy hurt?"

Severus shook his head. "No. I'm just not hungry." He pushed his plate away. "May I be excused?"

"All right, but drink your milk first," Harry said. He eyed the youngster in concern. "Is there something else that's bothering you?"

Severus nodded. "I . . . need to talk to you later, Harry. In private."

"All right. Come into my study in about fifteen minutes." Harry said affably.

Severus pushed his chair back and left the kitchen. He went into his room and lay on his bed, hugging Mimic. He was trying to make a hard decision and it was giving him a headache.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Harry was asking Ginny if anything had happened today with the children. "Sev seemed upset about something."

"As far as I know, Rose and Frankie get along fine with Sev," Ginny said. She looked at Alby. "Alby, did Sevvy quarrel with the girls today?"

"Umm . . . kinda. Frankie kept trying to kiss him and then Rosie said he loved her, but he said he doesn't and he got kinda mad . . .and that's all. Girls are weird."

Harry chuckled. "I used to think so too when I was little. But when you get older . . . you change your mind."

"Do you think . . . he might be embarrassed over that?" Ginny wondered. She knew at that age, little boys embarrassed easily.

"I'll talk to him," said Harry. He suspected the problem ran a bit deeper than that.

Severus waited exactly fifteen minutes before making his way down to Harry's study. He found Harry sitting down at his desk in his comfy leather chair.

"What's on your mind, Sev?" he asked, gesturing for the boy to have a seat in the plump wing chair opposite.

Severus sat down, then couldn't think of a way to begin and just sat there, gnawing his lip and staring at the tops of his trainers.

Harry could see he was struggling and decided to help him along a bit. "Would it have anything to do with the girls teasing you?"

Severus' eyes flashed and he snapped, "No! They're just silly girls, who don't even know what love is yet." Then he sighed. "And neither do I, really. I know what it means to love someone, but not whether someone loves me back. I've been thinking . . . if Lily comes back with all her memories, like I did, who's to say that she'll love me once she remembers that I was . . . a Death Eater once?"

"Sev, I have all your memories . . . and I still love you," Harry said softly, gazing into the dark eyes. "Ginny does too. When Mum came to you through me, she knew everything you'd done . . . and she forgave you and accepted you for it. She's returning for you, Sev. Because she loves you and wants you to be happy."

"And what about her happiness? I want her to love me back, not just . . . settle for me."

"She does love you, Sev."

"Enough to share her life with me?"

"Yes. She's coming back through the Veil to get a second chance, just like you, because there are things in her past that she wishes she'd done differently. One of those things was you."

Severus was silent for several minutes, pondering what Harry had said. This was such an odd conversation, he mused, talking to the son of his best friend and also his hated rival about how much he loved his mother. And yet, he trusted Harry to understand . . . and even to sympathize with him.

"I guess I'll just have to trust in her. She claims it's destined this time that we're together. That should make me happy, but . . . somehow it makes me feel like . . . I'm trapping her. I don't want that. I want her to love me for me . . . for it to be her choice . . . I don't want to put pressure on her to grow up so we can be together, I want her to have a normal childhood with whoever is her guardian."

"That's a good thing, Sev. So why are you so anxious?"

"Because the way I feel about her isn't like some silly teenage crush, Harry. It's the love of a man for a woman and we're both children still." Severus sighed. "I think I need to use the Pensieve again, Harry. I need to put all those memories of how I loved her in there."

Harry was startled. "Why would you do that?"

"Because I want this to be natural. I want her to fall in love naturally with me, that way I'll know it's real this time. I also want the same for me. I've loved her forever, and if it's meant to be, as she said, then it will happen, whether or not I have my memories of loving her the last time around. I'm not a pervert, I don't want to be . . . lusting after a little girl, Harry. I don't want to forget her, I just want her to be my friend and hopefully love me the way I did her. Do you think that's the right thing to do?"

"Sev, you need to do what's right for you. If that's what you think is best, then we'll visit Minerva tomorrow. But you need to remember something too. Love is endless, and what you loved then you'll love always. That goes for her too. Maybe last time she wasn't ready to love you despite everything, and now she is. Love's funny that way."

"And it doesn't bother you that . . . she might love me more than your father?"

"Sev, that love story's been written. I'm here because of it. But that was then and this is now. This is your time, your chance, and I don't begrudge you a moment of it. I'm glad you love her the way you do. She deserves it and so do you. Besides, I've always been a sucker for happy endings." Harry smiled encouragingly at the youngster sitting before him, with the too wise eyes and the conflicting emotions. "Does that help any?"

"Yes. It does," Severus said. "Let's visit Minerva tomorrow."

"All right. Sounds like a plan. You want to go back and eat dinner now?"

Severus nodded. He was hungry now, now that the nervous anxiety that had possessed him was fading. "Suddenly, I'm starving."

"Figured. Let's eat then. Ginny saved your plate just in case." Harry said, rising.

Severus slid down from the chair and walked over to Harry, gently grasping his large hand in his small one. "Harry? I have one more question to ask you."

"Go ahead."

"Does it . . . bother you that I don't . . . call you Dad like Alby does?"

"No. That's your choice. I know I'm not your father, only your guardian. And once I was your student, so I know that can be . . . awkward to say the least. I don't mind you calling me Harry."

Severus nodded, relieved that Harry understood. "It's not that I don't . . . respect you, you've treated me better than my own father ever did. You took me in and gave me a home when nobody else would have. You gave me a family again. I . . . I love you like I never did Tobias. It's just that . . ."

"I know, Sev. And it's okay. Whatever you call me, I'll always be a father to you, and you'll always be my son. Names aren't important. What's in here is," he tapped his heart.

Severus smiled up at him. "That's right." Then he held out his arms and Harry lifted him up and Severus threw his small arms about his neck and hugged him hard. He knew he was luckier than he deserved, because Harry was very much like his mother, a fact that Severus had never realized until now. Lily would be proud of you, he thought as Harry carried him back to the kitchen and the supper that awaited him.

A/N: I hope you liked this one!
 


Chapter 30: Confessions
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30

Confessions

The next morning, Harry Flooed with Severus back to Hogwarts to use Minerva's Pensieve again. While Severus was using it, Minerva set out tea and cakes and told Harry to help himself, she would be back soon, she had to oversee some new construction going on in the Astronomy Tower. "Just make yourself at home, dear," she said cheerily before departing.

Harry would have liked to relax, but first he had a few questions he needed to ask Dumbledore's portrait. He approached the former Headmaster, who was dozing with his head on his hand, his snoring making his beard fly about. "Albus? Would you mind waking up? I need to talk with you."

Dumbledore woke with a start. "Huh? Oh, it's you, Harry!" He said, his eyes twinkling genially. "What can I do for you, my boy?"

Harry had to smile at the familiar address. He was an adult now, a father with kids, and yet to Dumbledore he was still "my boy". Harry cast a simple Privacy Ward about himself and the portrait, as he didn't want any of the other portraits to hear what he was going to discuss with his old Headmaster. Everyone who was on staff at Hogwarts knew that there was no better inveterate gossip around Hogwarts than the portraits, and he didn't want them spreading this secret around the school.

"Albus, recently I took Ginny, Alby, and Sev on a vacation to Devon," Harry began.

"How splendid! I hope you had a good time."

"Yes, we did, but that wasn't what we need to talk about. You see, Sevvy and Alby found a secret tunnel in the house we were staying at. A long time ago it belonged to family of smugglers, or free traders, as they call themselves. The tunnel led to a secret room and Alby and Sev got trapped down there. They couldn't get out, and the sea was rising and we couldn't hear them since the walls were too thick, growing desperate, Severus managed to conjure a Patronus."

"A Patronus! At his current age? Harry, that's simply amazing!"

"I know. Unfortunately he also drained his magical core and almost died."

Dumbledore gasped. "Is he all right now? Harry, please tell me he's not . . . not . . . "

"He's fine , Albus. Poppy came and helped me and she gave Severus a shot of Magic Replenisher. She also had a few interesting things to say about you . . ." Harry related the conversation Poppy had had with him and Ginny. "So, is what she said true, Albus? Was all of your "greatest wizard in the world" a big hoax?"

Albus cleared his throat. "Yes and no. You see, I created the great and powerful wizard persona long ago, to keep Voldemort occupied with me so he wouldn't search for you, Harry. I had to do something to distract him while he hunted for you, so I exaggerated my abilities. Voldemort had always been somewhat in awe of me as a child, I was his mentor once upon a time, and so it wasn't all that hard to create an alter ego that he believed was much more powerful than himself. Now, that's not to say that I lied about my magic, for I was a very strong wizard, and possible stronger than Voldemort. But the strongest? Harry, I've said it before-you are stronger than I could ever be. You mastered the Hallows, and by doing so became Master of Death. Not even I accomplished that."

"You held custodianship of the Elder wand though."

"True, and yet, Harry, I was never its true master. It obeyed me . . . sometimes. Yet I sensed always that it was waiting for its rightful owner to claim it. And that one was you, Harry. You alone can walk into death's kingdom and return . . . such is the power of the Master of Death."

"I know. Did you also know that I still have access to the power of the Hallows?"

"You have kept the triad together still?" Dumbledore sounded surprised. "I would have thought you'd destroyed them."

Harry shook his head. "No. Albus, I have to keep them together. I'm linked to them until I choose to pass them on to someone else. My magic has changed because of them, Albus. It's grown stronger, deeper. And the Hallows has made me . . . for lack of a better word . . . nearly immortal."

"What do you mean, Harry?"

"I mean that because I'm Master of Death, I cannot die unless I choose to. I can be killed and hurt, but I can't die forever. I'll always return, since death's kingdom cannot hold me." Harry explained. "Such is the gift of the Hallows."

"How extraordinary!" exclaimed Dumbledore. "I never knew the Hallows was so remarkable."

"Neither did I, until I used them to come back." Harry admitted.

"I am glad it's you who mastered them, Harry. In the hands of anyone else, even myself, it would have been abused. Only you have sufficient purity of spirit to use the Hallows properly. That's one reason that I say you are a stronger wizard than I. You also have a great deal of raw power, more even than I had."

"And Severus? What about him? Do you agree with what Poppy says?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Severus was the strongest wizard of his generation, I cannot deny that. He did what no other wizard his age could have . . . he became my eyes and ears in the darkness. He also became your protector, and you could not have asked for a better one, Harry. He knew how to recognize dark curses better than anyone else I knew, because he studied the enemy close up. It was something that only he could have done, and lived to tell the tale. Poppy was right, he was truly Master of Light and Dark magic." Dumbledore chuckled. "Poppy is a wise woman, you'd do best to listen to her, my boy. She always did know me best." The portrait's expression turned wistful. "Had it been a different time, and I a different sort of man . . . we might have been happy together . . . very happy."

Harry's jaw nearly dropped. "You and . . . Madam Pomfrey?"

Dumbledore chuckled again. "Once upon a time, Harry, back when I was younger and less blinded by my own plans to defeat Voldemort, I loved her. She came here to be a mediwitch at my request, she could have easily stayed at St. Mungos as a pediatric Healer. But I needed someone reliable to heal my students, someone I could trust, and I was lonely. Poppy knew me like no one else ever did. As she did Severus."

Harry whistled. "It's too bad, sir, that you never . . . got the chance to marry her."

"Yes. That's one of my biggest regrets." Dumbledore sighed. "Speaking of Severus, where is he?"

"Putting some more memories into the Pensieve," Harry replied.

"Ah. Poor Severus! It's partially my fault he has so many terrible ones. I was not kind to Severus all those years ago." The old wizard's face was pinched with sorrow and regret. "I wish to speak with him, Harry. There are many things left unsaid between us. Do you think . . . he would be willing to talk to me?"

"I . . . don't know. I'll have to ask him," Harry said.

"Please do," Dumbledore urged. "Perhaps then some more old ghosts can be laid to rest."

"All right." Harry banished the Privacy Ward, then went to go and check on Severus. He had been inside Minerva's inner office for about fifteen minutes.

He tapped on the door and then walked in.

Severus was just coming out of the stone basin, several bottles of memories glistening on the side of the bowl. "Harry?"

"Are you just about done, Sev?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Because someone wants to speak with you."

"Who? Minerva?"

"No, she's out right now. It's Dumbledore's portrait. He asked me if you wouldn't mind talking with him."

Severus bristled. "Oh, he does, huh? What's he want with me now?"

"I think . . . I think he wants to apologize or something."

"About time!" Severus snorted.

"Will you go?"

Severus hesitated. Then he decided it was time he had a heart-to-heart chat with the man he both loved and hated. "All right."

"I'll cast a Privacy Ward about you so no one will hear, not even me," Harry told him.

"Thank you, Harry," Severus hopped down from the small stool.

Together they headed back into the outer office.

Severus stood before Dumbledore's portrait, and Harry cast the ward. Only then did Severus speak. "Headmaster, you wished to speak with me?"

"Hello, Severus!" Albus said, giving his former spy a regretful smile. "I . . . I'm glad you chose to meet with me. I've wanted to speak with you ever since your . . . rebirth, but you never came back to school."

"I was busy," Severus said bluntly.

"Do you . . . like living with Harry and his family?"

"Yes . . . and they're mine too now. But you didn't call me here to discuss whether or not I'm happy with the Potters. Why did you want to see me?" Suspicion lined the boy's face, making him look older than five.

"You deserve another chance to be happy, Severus. Your previous life was . . . not a very good one."

Severus chuckled harshly. "That's the understatement of the decade, Albus! My life, to put it in vernacular, sucked royally. I was abused, humiliated, wretched, feared, and hated. I lived a life of solitude and sorrow, of danger and risk . . . and most of that, old man, was your doing." His onyx eyes flashed accusation and bitterness. "No family and no friends save you and Poppy. Not even Minerva or Filius trusted me there at the end. They thought I'd turned traitor. Minerva attacked me, tried to curse me with an Unforgivable!"

"Oh, Severus! I am so very sorry. I should have left evidence that you were working for me. In my arrogance I assumed you would find a way to convince them of your innocence."

"You were a fool, Albus!"

"Yes, many times over," admitted the Headmaster contritely. "More than you know."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that . . . I twisted the truth to get you to work with me . . . to be my eyes and ears in dark places."

"Twisted the truth how?"

"That night, when you came to me begging me to help Lily, to help you walk away from the darkness, I told you if it weren't for me, you'd be in Azkaban right now. I . . . lied. I could not put you away in Azkaban, even if I had wanted. Because Poppy came and testified before a Board of Inquiry that you were not a dark wizard, that you had been coerced down the dark path by Lucius and his cronies, that part of the reason you turned from the light was due to relentless persecution by the Marauders, which I did nothing to stop, and from the love of your life rejecting you. The other part was due to my manipulation."

"And the Board believed her?"

"They had no reason not to. She was and is a respected member of the community. She testified that you were not a troublemaker, and that you bore no prejudice or malice towards Muggleborns and their families. She was given Veritaserum and asked many questions. But she never wavered. The night you finally came to me, you had been exonerated by the board. You could have walked away from my offer without a single glance. That's why I chose to hide it. Because I needed you to be my spy."

"And I needed you to help rescue Lily." Severus recalled that night. Then his mouth firmed. "I came back for her, Albus. And because I was sick and tired of death and torture and uncertainty. I'm not angry so much for that, as for some other things. Things which you chose to ignore. Like the Marauders' constant bullying."

"I know. I should have never let it go on, and the only excuse I have is that back then I tended to see most forms of mischief as mere pranks."

"Pranks!" spat Severus. "These were more than pranks, Albus. They were determined to break me, only I wouldn't! Let's talk about the time Remus shifted into a werewolf. Where were you while they almost threw me into its shack? You laughed when I accused Black of attempted murder. You let them walk off without so much as a slap on the wrist and I had to deal with the fallout. My classmates thought I was crazy and a liar. And Lily thought I was going dark. And there you sat, eating lemon drops."

"Severus, I truly am sorry. I can't tell you how much I regret not interfering. Or doing something to punish them." Albus said regretfully. "It was a terrible mistake. Poppy tore me into pieces for it, but by then it was too late. You had left and so had they, and it would have been no good punishing them next term. Poppy was very put out with me."

"I can't imagine why," Severus said sarcastically. "After all of that, I still became your spy, and what thanks did I get from you? Nothing, except a request to kill you with an Unforgivable. Do you have any idea how hard that was for me?" The former spy demanded, his eyes shining with sudden tears. Tears that streaked his face and dripped onto the floor. "You were my mentor, Albus! The closest thing I had to a father . . . and you forced my hand! You guilt-tripped me into becoming your executioner! Do it for me, you said, it'll be a mercy killing for an old man, and spare me pain. Do it for Draco, so his soul remains pure. What about my soul, Albus? What about me? You didn't answer that question before when I asked it . . . but by God you'll answer it now! Why were you so willing to risk my soul? Was it because you already considered me tainted, a lost cause? Your Slytherin lackey had outlived his usefulness, right? Therefore who gave a damn if I cast an Unforgivable? You put my soul in jeopardy, and you didn't even care!"

More tears streaked his face.

Albus stared down at the weeping boy and felt his heart crack.

"Severus, I'm so sorry I hurt you."

Severus lifted his eyes and glared at the portrait. "I don't want to hear I'm sorry, Albus! I want to know why. Why not just overdose on Dreamless Sleep, or something else? You knew before I ever made the Unbreakable Vow that you were dying. Long before. Yet you chose me to be your executioner, and don't tell me it was because of the Unbreakable Vow. Why, damn you? Why?"

"Because . . . you were the only one who could do what had to be done. And . . . I assumed that you had killed before . . . and you could make it swift. I didn't know that you had never cast an Unforgivable before that night."

"Because you never bothered to ask. You just assumed . . . like every other bloody Gryffindor . . . that I was okay with being a murderer. Well, I wasn't, Albus. And then you were dead, and I was a fugitive, and I never had the chance to ask you why, you bloody git!" Severus hissed, his shoulders shaking with sobs.

"Severus, I know there is nothing I can do, nothing I can say, that can take away the pain and suffering I caused. But please, know that I truly regret everything I did to you. I'm sorry I hurt you, sorry I misjudged you. Sorry I put your soul in jeopardy. Know also that I loved you like the son I never had."

"Oh, so now I'm your son?" he sneered suddenly. "Before the golden Marauders were like your sons. Your favorite sons. I was the son you never acknowledged. The one you shoved into the shadows."

"You're right, child. I made too many mistakes with you. But I hope . . . that someday - -"

"I'm not your child, Albus." Severus growled, his small hands fisting at his sides. "If I'm anyone's son, it's Harry's. And Ginny's. They care about me, not what I can do for them."

Dumbledore suddenly began to cry too. "Severus, whether or not you believe it, I cared for you too. And I hope that someday you will forgive me for all I've done."

"I'll consider it," was all Severus could reply then.

"That's all I ask. I am very glad that you have this second chance, Severus. I know that this time around will be a different experience for you, and I wish you every happiness. No one else could have done what you did, been what you were, and I am proud to stand beside you, Severus, for you are a better man than I ever was. And I owe you more than you will ever know." The portrait sniffled, blew his nose with a hanky, then wiped his eyes.

Severus sniffled too, and wiped his eyes with a tissue. Hearing that Dumbledore was proud of him filled him with an odd sort of satisfaction. He had waited half his life to hear those words. "Do you know . . . that I would have followed you into death if it hadn't been for Draco and Harry? I stayed for them, to protect them, but if they had been gone . . . I would have let the guilt and bitterness consume me. Then I was truly your son. But now . . . " He trailed off, wishing that he could both hug the portrait and punch it in the mouth.

His emotions were so mixed and hurting that they gave him a headache. A part of him was glad that he had made the portrait hurt as he had been hurt, but another part regretted his anger, for as he had said to Ginny, he didn't like to see someone he cared for in pain. And once he had cared for Albus Dumbledore very much. "Maybe someday . . . I can forgive you. Right now though . . . it can wait. I understand why you did what you did, but I can't forgive you. Not yet."

"I understand, Severus. This isn't something you can forgive all at once. Take all the time you need."

"I shall," was all Severus replied. He felt good about getting those issues and emotions off his chest, and at the same time worn and hurting. "Goodbye, Albus."

"Goodbye, Severus." The portrait waved as Severus turned around and walked over to Harry.

"All finished?" Harry asked gently. Though he hadn't heard what was said, he had seen how upset both Dumbledore and Severus had gotten and he had been tempted to run over and hug Severus. While he had been waiting, he had eaten some sugar cakes and drank some tea. He had put some cakes in his pocket for Ginny, Alby, and Severus.

"Yes. Take me home, Harry." Severus said, his eyes overflowing with tears. He held up his arms.

Harry picked him up and held him. "All right, Sevvy."

But instead of Flooing back to Godric's Hollow, Harry Flooed to his quarters in Hogwarts. He didn't want Ginny or Alby to have a conniption because Severus was upset, and he sensed that Severus needed privacy even if he didn't ask for it.

So Harry went to his quarters, and called a house elf to make a fire and bring some tea laced with a Calming Draught. Then he sat down in his recliner, which was a soft coffee brown shade, and held and rocked Severus, who was quietly crying on his shoulder. He said nothing, simply rocked back and forth, rubbing the youngster's back, until Severus had cried himself out. Then he helped the little boy drink the tea and soon he grew quiet and fell asleep on Harry's lap.

Harry sat there, running his fingers through the ebony locks, and he prayed that Severus had gotten some closure. A part of him knew that the talk with Dumbledore had been necessary for healing, but another part wanted to smash the Headmaster over a chair for getting his child so upset. He longed to go back and ask Albus exactly what had been said, but he knew better. That had been a private conversation between two old allies and he would not pry.

He cradled Severus close and began to sing a lullaby, hoping to stave off any nightmares Severus might have. When he was sure Severus was fast asleep, he would go home to Godric's Hollow. But for now, it was just the two of them, and that was exactly how Harry wanted it.

A/N: A short chapter, but I think it's packed with emotion. Please let me know if you thought the conversations with Dumbledore were done well. What did you think about Harry's revelation?

Next chapter: the return of Lily! I'll try to update soon!
 


Chapter 31: The Veil Reopens
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31

The Veil Reopens

September 1st, 2006

Hogwarts School:

It was around seven o'clock in the morning, and all the professors and the Headmistress were busy getting their classrooms and the Great Hall ready in preparation for the arrival of the students on the Hogwarts Express. Filch was busy scrubbing the flagstones in the courtyard till they shone, and his cat, Mrs. Norris, was prowling the hallway beside the infirmary, searching for stray mice. Alby, Severus, Cory, Frankie, and the Lupin boys were walking together towards the Hospital Wing, as Poppy had volunteered to watch them and get breakfast for them, since their grandparents were unavailable. Molly and Arthur were away in York, as were Lucius and Narcissa in France, on vacation. Andromeda was sick with a bad sinus infection, and couldn't watch her three rambunctious grandsons.

Frankie skipped happily beside Alby and Severus, her brown hair tied in two pigtails. "Where's Rosie?"

Alby concealed a yawn before he answered. "She's home with Uncle Ron, he's back from travelling to Italy, and he wants to spend time with her. He's been gone for almost the whole summer, covering Puddlemore United."

Ron Weasley had once played professional Quidditch, like Ginny, only he had been a Keeper. He had retired once Rose was born, and became a sports commentator with the WWN, figuring it would keep him home more. But recently, he'd been given remote assignments, and this last one had required him to be out of the country for almost all of July and August.

Before Frankie could ask another question, or Alby wake up fully (he still disliked mornings, but he was slowly overcoming his aversion since discovering he was a Beast Master, and most birds and small creatures were awake at dawn), there came a pained yowl up ahead.

It was Mrs. Norris.

"C'mere, you rotten cat!" Sirius shouted, he had grabbed the unlucky feline by the tail. "You mangy snitch, I'm surprised you're still here. Thought somebody would have gotten fed up with you and turned you into a muff or a pair of catskin boots before now!"

"Siri, what are you doing?" cried Teddy. "That's Filch's cat."

"I know. And I don't want her skulking around here, the scraggle puss!" He dragged the struggling cat from the shadows. He hated the cat because she had gotten him and James in trouble more times than he could count, and in his former schooldays had made a practice to chase the cat up trees or into the forest when he was Padfoot. He wished he could become Padfoot now, but he knew transforming in front of the other kids was a bad idea.

Mrs. Norris spat and hissed, and whirled about, trying to scratch Sirius.

Alby's eyes narrowed as he heard the angry yowls. Release me, you wretched evil brat!

His green eyes, so like his father's suddenly blazed with wrath, and the usually mild mannered boy clenched his fists and ran at Sirius. "You leave that cat alone, Siri!" he growled. "She ain't done nothin' to you, now let her go!"

"She's done plenty to me, Albus, now but out!" Sirius snarled, then he yelled as Mrs. Norris' claws found their mark in his hand. "Oww!" He jerked the cat's tail harder.

Alby heard the cat growling, Take that, evil brat! It made him furious. "I said, let her go!" He kicked Sirius hard in the behind and pounded him on the back.

Sirius yelped and released the cat, his fist lifted to deal out retribution on the smaller boy. "You're dead meat, Potter!"

Mrs. Norris scampered away, and Alby glared at Sirius, too angry still to fear the older boy's fists.

"Touch my brother, Black, and I'll make you regret ever coming back a second time," came a soft silky voice. A hand closed over Sirius' wrist like a steel trap, and he came face to face with a very angry very determined Severus. "Got me?"

Sirius tried to pull his hand free, but Severus was stronger than he looked. "What's the big idea, Snape? The kid started it, let him fight his own battles."

"Not against you. Or anyone bigger than he is," Severus said through gritted teeth. "Now back the hell off!"

Sirius twisted free of Severus' hold. "He ought to mind his own business! Who does he think he is, the Protector of the Animals?" Sirius sneered. "I have a score to settle with that bloody cat, the evil beast!" He rubbed at his hand, which bore four parallel scratches on it.

"The cat's not evil, you are!" Alby flared. "Sevvy, lemme punch him in the nose!"

Severus put a hand out to block Alby. "Al, calm down. Mrs. Norris is fine, she knows how to handle herself."

Alby wore a mulish scowl. "You shouldn't have done that, Siri. It was mean. Next time I'm gonna belt ya in the mouth."

Sirius sneered. "Oh right. You and what army, pipsqueak?"

"Yeah, shrimp," Jamie chimed in, until Teddy elbowed him in the ribs.

"Quiet, Jamie! Sirius, why did you hurt Mrs. Norris? She's a familiar, my dad always says we're supposed to respect them," Teddy lectured.

"Respect that mangy thing?" Sirius snorted. "Ha! I wish she'd get eaten by Fang. Or run over by the Hogwarts Express. She spies on all the students and gets them in trouble."

"Only if they're misbehaving," Severus put in. Unknown to anyone, when he had served his term as Headmaster, the cat had helped him, alerting him to students who had been subject to the Carrows' tender mercies and allowing him to give Argus healing potions and salves to cure them.

"Yeah," Frankie put in, staring disapprovingly at Sirius.

Sirius, suddenly the focus of ten pairs of angry eyes, Jamie refused to look at him, felt his courage wither, and he turned and stomped away. "You're all idiots! That cat's evil, just like Filch. They both need to be kicked out of the castle."

"I think he needs to be kicked out of the castle," Frankie muttered.

Alby nodded, now that he could talk to animals, he felt a strong obligation to protect them. He walked quietly up the corridor a ways and called softly in felinese, "Pretty kitty, I'm sorry I couldn't help you more. Are you hurt?"

"Alby? Who's he talking to?" Frankie asked.

"Mrs. Norris." Severus replied. "He's a Beast Master, remember?"

"Wish I could talk to animals," Cory said wistfully.

There came a soft mew from up above, and they all looked up to see a bewhiskered striped face peering down at them from a crevice in the wall. Fear not, little Beast Master. The ill bred mongrel hurt my pride more than my tail. But I thank you for your gallant defense of me. You are your sire's son, Albus Severus Potter.

"You're welcome, Mrs. Norris," Alby said softly.

To their surprise, the cat jumped down and came over and rubbed herself against Alby, purring loudly. Just remember, young kit, to pick your battles. Don't bite off more than you can chew.

"I will," the neophyte Beast Master whispered, then he gently ran his hand down the cat's back, stroking her fur.

Mrs. Norris arched her back into his hand, a privilege she permitted very few people.

"Aww! May I pet the kitty, Alby?" asked Frankie.

Alby asked Mrs. Norris if she wouldn't mind, and the cat replied that they could pet her, but not too hard.

Soon, Frankie, Teddy, Cory, and Jamie were gently stroking her, and when Severus came to scratch her ears, she mewed up at him. Your scent is familiar, little one. I know I've smelled you before.

Alby looked puzzled. "Sevvy, she says . . . she remembers you. Have you been here before?"

Severus nodded. "A long time ago." He continued petting the cat. He wouldn't have thought the cat would remember him, but apparently he had underestimated the feline's memory for scents.

The cat purred and nuzzled his cheek. You always protected the small ones . . . Severus. That at least has not changed. Her eyes gleaming, she meowed farewell, then trotted off down the hallway, her tail held high.

"Sevvy, I don't get it," Alby said. "She said you always protected the small ones and you haven't changed. What did she mean?"

"Don't worry about it, Al. You know I hate bullies."

"Sometimes I don't know what in hell gets into Sirius," Teddy sighed. "Come on, we'd better hustle to the Hospital Wing, before Madam Pomfrey gets ticked that we're late."

When they entered the infirmary, they found that Poppy had set a large round table with bowls, plates, and small cups. A large crock of oatmeal sat in the center of the table, surrounded by a pitcher of cream, a crock of brown sugar, and a bowlful of sliced bananas. There was a pitcher of pumpkin juice and another of chocolate milk. Sirius was sitting at the table, slouched and scowling.

"Ah, there you are! I was almost going to send out a search party," Poppy said, smiling at them.

"Alby was talking to Mrs. Norris," Frankie informed her. "He was making sure she was all right after Sirius pulled her tail."

"Merlin! Sirius Black, you ought to know better than that!" the mediwitch scolded. "You were naughty to hurt poor Mrs. Norris." She waved a finger at the sulky child, thinking that some things never changed.

"She's just a dumb old cat."

"That's as may be, young man, but you keep your hands to yourself, else you'll deal with me." Poppy said firmly.

"She scratched me," Sirius whined.

"I'm not surprised." Poppy said. "All of you, come and sit down and have some breakfast. Sirius, let me see your hand." She came and examined the small hand. "You were lucky, Mrs. Norris could have scratched you much worse." She summoned her medical satchel and pulled out two jars of salve and took Sirius on her lap. "Hold still, child. I can fix this quick as blinking."

Severus looked at the potions and recognized them as an antibacterial one and another that healed scrapes and cuts. Sirius sure wasn't going to like that purple potion, it stung like bloody hell.

Poppy shook some of the antibacterial potion onto a cloth and swabbed the scratches.

Sirius howled. "Oww! It stings!" He tried to jump off Poppy's lap, but the mediwitch was used to dealing with recalcitrant children and held him firmly.

"None of that, young man!"

"It hurts! You're doing it on purpose!" sobbed the former Marauder.

"Nonsense! These scratches have to be cleaned out, or else you'll get an infection," Poppy said. "I'm sorry it burns, but that means it's cleaning the bacteria from the wound."

Sirius continued to struggle, working his way to a full scale tantrum.

Except Poppy wouldn't put up with that, and she said sternly, "Merlin help you, child! But you're behaving worse than a three-year-old! All this fuss over a few scratches."

Sirius froze. He didn't like to be compared to a three-year-old.

"Crybaby," Frankie taunted, smirking.

"Shut up, Frances!" Sirius cried.

"Enough!" Poppy cried, frowning severely. "Frankie, eat your breakfast. Sirius, sit still, and this will be over in a minute. Remember, you've only yourself to blame for this predicament. Maybe next time you'll leave Mrs. Norris alone. Pulling a cat's tail is a sure fire way to get yourself scratched."

The mediwitch finished cleaning the scratches and then put healing salve on the scratches and wrapped them with a light bandage. "There! All done!" She pulled a selection of lollypops from her pocket. "Here, Sirius. Since you managed not to bite me, you may have a sweet."

Sirius flushed, certain Poppy was making fun of him, but he took a strawberry lolly.

"Eat your breakfast," Poppy urged.

Sirius felt quite put out and decided then and there he wasn't going to cooperate. "I don't like oatmeal."

Jamie stared at him. "But Siri, we had oatmeal yesterday and you ate it."

Sirius shot him a withering look. "Well . . . I don't want it today!" he snapped.

Poppy raised an eyebrow. "Seems like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I think you're determined to be . . . difficult, Mr. Black."

Sirius crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't like oatmeal!"

"My dad says that when you're at someone's house as a guest, you should eat what they're serving and like it," Cory stated.

"Who asked you?" Sirius grumped.

"Very well then, what would you like for breakfast?" Poppy asked. She was in no mood to deal with a tantrum over food.

"I want . . . waffles with ice cream!"

"Waffles you may have, but no ice cream before twelve o'clock. Hogwarts rules. You can have waffles with sausage, bacon, ham, or fresh fruit. Take your pick."

Sirius huffed and looked put upon.

Until Poppy said, "If you don't pick something in five seconds, Sirius, I shall pick for you. And if you dawdle and aren't finished before school, you'll go to Miss Patil's class hungry."

"Okay . . . I'll have waffles and bacon."

Poppy clapped her hands and a plate of waffles and bacon appeared in front of him. "Eat, young man."

Sirius began eating.

Alby, who normally liked everything, whined, "How come he gets waffles? I want waffles, Sevvy."

"Hush, Albus!" Severus ordered, giving his little brother a poke. "You eat your oatmeal and quit being a picky brat. You know better than to act like that."

Alby sighed, and went back to eating his oatmeal. He did like it, but he just liked waffles more.

Soon it was time for Teddy, Sirius, and Jamie to go off to Miss Patil's primary school class. Alby, Frankie, Cory, and Severus were too young to attend, since you had to be six to attend. Poppy told the three younger children to remain in the Hospital Wing and to not touch anything until she came back from escorting the Lupins to class.

Once she had returned, Poppy said, "Since you were well behaved, you get to draw with my special crayons. They sparkle in the sun."

The four children cheered when she gave them big sheets of parchment and the sparkly crayons. They immediately set to drawing.

Severus decided to draw Mrs. Norris, but when he had finished, he walked over to Poppy and asked, "Are there any potions I can help you with?"

Poppy looked startled, but then she recalled who she was speaking to, and shook her head. "No, Severus. I've brewed all my drafts for this term, and I could have used your help a few weeks ago. But . . . perhaps you could roll bandages for me? It's boring but it'll pass the time."

"Can I help?" asked Frankie, coming over.

"I want to help too!" shrilled Cory.

Alby was still coloring, so he ignored what the others were doing.

"All right, you can all help," Poppy agreed. "I'll show you how to roll a bandage. Watch closely."

Once the children had seen her demonstrate, they were eager to copy her technique. Soon Poppy had several more bandages rolled, thanks to her little helpers.

Severus wouldn't have minded rolling a few more bandages, but soon the Sorting ceremony was finished, and some of the parents came to pick up their kids. Neville arrived first and hugged and kissed his daughter, before taking her down to the greenhouse, as he had no class that morning. Since Draco, Luna, Harry, and Susan were House heads, they were busy introducing their new students to the school, and couldn't come down to fetch Cory, Severus, and Alby. Ginny was also busy, teaching her first flying class of the term. Because of that, Remus had volunteered to take Alby and Severus for the rest of the morning, as he didn't have class till the afternoon.

Soon Astoria arrived to pick up Cory, since as the Astronomy professor, she didn't have class until late that night. She was a stunning tall woman with long flowing blond hair twisted into complicated loops wearing star shaped sparkling combs in her hair. She wore a deep midnight blue robe and suede half boots stamped with constellations in silver thread. She had an elegant face with high cheekbones and eyes the midnight blue hue of the night sky. She looked dignified and almost unapproachable, until she saw her son, and then she dropped to her knees and held out her arms. "Cory, come and give Mummy a kiss! Did you behave for Miss Poppy?"

Cory dropped the length of bandage he'd been rolling and raced over to her, throwing himself into her embrace. "Mummy! Mummy! I petted Mrs. Norris and colored a picture and I helped Miss Poppy roll up bandages and I missed you!" he said, practically in one breath.

Astoria hugged him to her, smiling delightedly, her smile lit up her face. "Goodness, you've been busy, haven't you?" She looked up at Poppy. "Poppy. I need to ask you for a favor."

"Certainly, Tori."

Astoria kissed her son and then set him down. "Go and play a little with Alby and Severus, Cory. Mummy needs to ask Miss Poppy about some medicine."

"I don't want no medicine, Mum!" Cory said, alarmed. He quickly ran over to where Severus and Alby were.

Astoria drew Poppy off to one side, and they conversed in low voices for a time. Poppy drew her wand and cast something, then nodded and smiled. Astoria looked radiantly happy, then she hugged the older woman. Still beaming, she called Cory over and whispered something in his ear.

Cory then turned to his friends and yelled, "Alby, Sevvy! I'm gonna be a big brother like you! Mummy says she's gonna have a baby like Aunt Ginny."

"Really? Cool!" said Alby.

"That's great, Cory," Severus congratulated him. "Maybe we'll all end up with sisters."

Cory grinned. "I wouldn't mind a sister."

Astoria laughed. "You'll see in about eight months. Come on, Cory, let's go tell your daddy the good news." She picked Cory up and they exited the infirmary.

Severus and Alby waited for Remus, but ten minutes went by and there was no sign of him.

"That's odd. Remus usually is on time," remarked Poppy.

"Maybe he forgot about us," Severus speculated. "I mean, it's not like we're his kids."

"Why, Severus!" Poppy exclaimed, shocked. "Remus is very responsible, he would never just forget you."

Severus stared up at her and said, "He wasn't very responsible when he was a prefect at school. When he ran with the Marauders."

Poppy put a hand on his shoulder. "Sev, that was a long time ago. Remus has changed since that time, he's grown up and mended his ways. You can trust him, Severus."

Severus looked uncertain. Out of the Marauders, Remus had been the least confrontational, and the smartest, as well as the nicest. Severus had not hated or feared him until the werewolf incident. Still, if Poppy was willing to vouch for him . . . as she had defended Severus long ago. . . .he supposed he could give Remus the benefit of the doubt. "If you say so, Poppy."

"Have a seat on the bed, dear. Maybe you'd like to take a small nap while you wait?"

So Severus and Alby relaxed on the bed and five minutes went by, Remus appeared soon after, looking rather apologetic, towing a rather sulky Jamie with him. "Sorry I'm late, guys. But I had to make a detour and pick up Jamie, seems he's been misbehaving in class today."

Jamie hung his head. "But Dad . . . Sirius tol' me to . . ."

Remus spun around. "I don't want to hear it, James. This is the second or third time I've had to come and remove you from her class for being naughty and disruptive, and I've about had it." The werewolf's eyes were a feral gold. "But we can discuss that back in my quarters. Alby, Sevvy, you all ready to go?"

"Yes, Uncle Remus," Alby said, hopping off the bed. He walked over to stand by Jamie. "You in trouble, Jamie?" he whispered.

The youngest Lupin sighed. "Yeah, what do you think?"

"How much?"

"Don't know yet."

Severus was a bit more hesitant. When he saw Remus' eyes shift, it made him suddenly wary and frightened. Last time he had seen Lupin's eyes that color, he had been transformed into a ravening beast, intent upon ripping Harry, Ron, and Hermione's throats out . . . and his own, because he had placed himself in front of them. He slowly slid off the bed and walked quickly past Remus and stood next to Alby, suppressing an atavistic shiver as he did so. He was suddenly grateful that he wasn't Lupin's ward. He still had nightmares of huge fangs gnashing and burning fiery golden eyes, from that glimpse he had caught of the werewolf in the Shrieking Shack. He swallowed softly.

Remus led the way back to his quarters, which weren't far from the Hospital Wing. The children were quiet, Jamie because he didn't want to make his father even more angry with him, Alby because he was tired, and Severus' silence was that of prey crouching beneath a bush and hoping the predator would not notice him shuddering. Remus was quite angry with his son, and so didn't really notice Severus' reaction.

Once they had reached the Lupins suite, Remus told Alby and Severus to have a seat on the couch, which was a large plushy tan suede affair, and make themselves comfortable. "Meantime, I need to have a talk with Jamie. Come with me," he said to his son, and opened the door to his bedroom. When Jamie hesitated, he propelled the boy into the room with a firm hand to the boy's bottom.

The bedroom door shut with a click.

Alby looked at Severus, then said, "Guess he's in real trouble. I'm gonna take a nap." He stretched out on the sofa and in moments was asleep.

Severus envied his small brother that ability. He remained bolt upright on the couch, and so heard the whole scolding Remus gave his son.

" . . . doesn't matter what Sirius told you to do, James, you know what's acceptable behavior and what isn't by now. You need to learn to think for yourself, and not just follow another's lead blindly, even if he happens to be your older brother," Remus lectured. He knew full well how persuasive Sirius could be, but he didn't want Jamie following in his footsteps, the way he had done as a student. "I'm going to have a talk with Sirius about thinking before he acts also. But right now my concern is you, James Sirius. When Sirius told you to stick the prickly patch on Miss Patil's chair, what should you have done?"

"Umm . . . told Siri no."

"Why?"

"B'cause . . . it was a mean kinda trick," Jamie sniffled.

"And what's my rule about mean pranks, young man?"

"We don't do them to other people," Jamie said, his voice low and shamed.

"Right. Next question. If you knew all of that . . . why did you listen to Sirius?"

"I . . . don't know . . ."

"Don't you? There must be a reason, Jamie." Remus prodded.

"I . . . I . . . didn't want Siri and Teddy to think I was a . . . scaredy-cat. And Sirius said . . . he said I was the best at sneaking up behind her and getting away."

"I see. So you did it because you wanted to impress your brothers, correct?"

"Uh huh. Dad . . . they always say I'm too little and I can't do things . . . I just wanted to show them they're wrong . . . I'm sorry I hurt Miss Patil . . ."

"You're going to apologize to her as well, young man." Remus cleared his throat. "Now, you know what punishment you earn when you play nasty pranks on someone, don't you?"

Jamie began to cry. "Nooo! I don't wanna spanking!"

"Sorry, but those are the consequences," Remus said firmly.

The next thing Severus heard from the bedroom was the sound of smacking and the loud wailing of a small boy. He winced and put his hands over his ears. Even though the punishment was deserved, Severus did not like listening to it, and he huddled into the couch.

A few minutes later, Remus came out of the bedroom, leaving Jamie inside to cry himself out. Jamie preferred to be alone after being punished, though later he would come and snuggle with his father, once he had forgiven Remus for punishing him.

The werewolf shook his head. "Kids!" he muttered to himself. "Sometimes I just want to . . ." he trailed off when he smelled the terror coming off of Severus. "Severus? What's the matter?" He looked at the small boy and saw to his consternation that Severus was huddled in a ball at one end of the couch, looking at Remus as if he were the devil incarnate. "Severus?"

"Leave me alone! Don't touch me!" the boy's voice went shrill in panic as Remus reached out a hand to him. "Go away . . .!"

Suddenly he was back in the tunnel of the Whomping Willow, he was sixteen, and trapped while the werewolf howled and lunged for his throat, fangs glistening with saliva, eyes bloody gold as the lycanthrope sought his tender flesh . . .

Severus screamed, and threw up a hand to protect his throat.

Remus couldn't understand what had triggered Severus' flashback, but he had been through enough of them from the war to know that was what occurring. He carefully stepped back from the child and then went and Flooed Poppy. He asked her to bring a Draught of Peace and to help him calm Severus down.

Soon the mediwitch had come through the fireplace.

By then Alby had begun to stir, but after a gentle wave of Poppy's wand, the little boy fell back to sleep. She crossed to where Severus was cringing into the couch and sat down next to him. "Severus, you're all right," she began, in a firm yet soothing tone. "What you're seeing isn't here, it happened long ago. I need you to stop remembering it and come back here, to me. Severus, can you hear me? Answer me if you can."

For long moments, Severus remained silent. Then he whispered, "Yes, I hear you."

"Good. Now stop screaming and open your eyes. You're safe at Hogwarts, you're not being attacked by a werewolf. You're safe." She reached out an arm and gently pulled him to her. "Nothing will hurt you, little one. Nothing . . . I won't let it, Sev . . ." She hugged the fearful boy to her, running her fingers through his hair, reassuring him with the ease of long practice. Many children had been traumatized during the war, and she had helped as many as she could, those who were brave enough . . . or desperate enough . . . to seek her out . . . "You're safe with me, Severus . . ." she continued to croon, using her hands and voice to create a cocoon of safety about the youngster and so encourage him to come out of the flashback.

Finally, the flashback receded, and Severus found himself with his face pressed into a familiar gray robe, and when he lifted his head, he saw Poppy's familiar face. "Poppy? What . . . what happened?"

"You had a flashback, Sev," she told him, gently smoothing his hair.

"I did?"

"Yes, about . . . the time you almost got bitten by Remus . . ."

"When Potter and Black plotted to kill me?"

Poppy nodded. "But you're safe now, Severus. Remus is no longer a danger to anyone. Look," she gently turned Severus about so he could see Remus.

Remus was sitting on the floor, his arms in his lap, looking totally non-threatening. His eyes were his normal brown shade.

Severus blinked, then asked bluntly, "Have you taken the Wolfsbane?"

Remus chuckled. "Yes, sir. A week before the full moon every month. Draco brews it for me."

"Good. You . . . you almost killed me . . . back when we were in school . . ." Severus said, his tone faintly accusing.

"I know, and for that I am terribly sorry, Severus. I . . . you might not believe this, but I was not in on the bloody prank to throw you into the tunnel. That was all Sirius and James' doing. Peter too. I had gone into the shack to transform, like always, and I had no idea what they were planning. Had I known . . . I would have stopped them. They were stupid bloody jackasses, to do such a thing! Later . . . when I found out . . . I was so ashamed . . . I couldn't speak to you . . . and I was afraid you would go to the Aurors and tell them about me, you would have been within your rights to seek revenge on me, because I was a dangerous beast . . . and I had almost killed you. I . . . should have apologized long ago for that, but . . . sometimes I'm a coward. I didn't think you would forgive me, so I never said anything. Big mistake. And later, when we taught together, I was so busy trying to save Sirius' ass that I brushed your fears aside. That was wrong. We should have had this conversation long ago."

"I . . . wouldn't have talked about it then. I wasn't ready," Severus replied.

"Still . . . one of my biggest regrets after you'd passed the Veil was that I never apologized for nearly killing you that night. Well, better late than never, as they say. What brought this flashback on?"

"You did . . . your eyes turned gold when you . . . took Jamie in the room to punish him . . . and when you came out they were still like that . . . and I just remembered . . . that night." Severus replied.

"Oh . . . I should have known. Sometimes that happens, but I would never hurt you, Severus. I swear it on my wand. I'll try and control myself better. Okay?"

Slowly, Severus nodded. He could see the genuine remorse and regret in Lupin's eyes. The specter of the ravenous werewolf was fading. "Yes."

"Are you still scared?"

"No. Not anymore."

"Good. I'm sorry I scared you, Severus. Would you still like to stay here or would you rather go with Poppy?"

"I'll stay with Alby," he answered. Now that he wasn't suffering from the suffocating fear, he felt rather stupid. He couldn't believe he had flipped out over something so ridiculous as eye color. "I'm fine now, Poppy," he assured her, but didn't move off her lap.

Poppy smiled and held him a little longer. She hoped now that Remus had this little conversation with Severus that it had cleared the air between them, and Severus could let go of the nightmare that haunted him. "Why don't you take a few sips of this Draught of Peace? Just in case."

"Poppy, I'm not having a nervous breakdown," he protested.

"Humor me, Severus."

He acquiesced. He would do almost anything for Poppy, for she was one of his staunchest supporters, and always had been. The Draught of Peace slid down his throat, flavored like silky chocolate, and once he had taken it he felt much better—calmer, relaxed, and peaceful.

"How do you feel now?"

"Better," he acknowledged. He looked at Remus. For years he had been haunted by the specter of the werewolf, but now he saw the werewolf clearly, not as a monster intent upon destroying him, but a wizard forced to live with an irreversible curse. Like a patient with a chronic illness, Remus could not help what he was, he could only try to deal with it as best he could. He did not, like some, revel in the transformation from human to were, he dreaded the loss of his mind, his human emotions. "I know now that you couldn't help . . . what almost happened all those years ago, Remus. So I can . . . forgive you."

"Thank you, Severus," Remus heaved a huge sigh. Hearing those words pulled a great weight off his chest. "Please excuse me, I need to check on Jamie." He rose and went back into the bedroom. Soon he returned with a repentant six-year-old. "After you apologize to Miss Patil, you can go back to school, if your teacher still wants you there," Remus was saying.

"Aww, Dad! I don't want to go back to school. M' sleepy and my bum's still sore."

Remus concealed a smile at his son's bald honesty. "Never mind, scamp. We'll see what Miss Patil says and I need to have a talk with your brother too . . . after lunch." He looked up at Poppy. "Do me a favor, Poppy, and please watch Severus and Alby until I come back? I'm sorry to take you away from the Hospital Wing."

"Go on with you, Remus! I'm not complaining . . . I have nothing to do but boring old paperwork." The mediwitch said, waving him off.

Remus and Jamie departed. Poppy turned to Severus, who was slightly sleepy, and asked, "Severus, would you like me to tell you a story?"

"Yes, please," he said, and yawned.

Poppy smiled tenderly down at him and began to tell him a funny story about a wizard who always thought he was sick with a deadly disease, and the Healer who had to treat all of his various crazy ailments.

Page~*~*~*~Break

When Remus returned, he had Sirius and Jamie with him, both of them were on restriction, and made to sit at the table and do homework and they were also not allowed to fly this afternoon with Ginny, but had to watch only, and Remus read Sirius the riot act and gave him a swat for encouraging his little brother to mischief.

Severus and Alby were sleeping, but woke in time for lunch, which Remus had asked the elves to bring to his quarters. All of the children behaved themselves, for once, and when Ginny arrived to pick up Alby and Severus, she stared in astonishment.

"Remus, what did you do to them? They're so quiet and well . . . behaving like . . . like angels."

Remus started laughing. "Don't I wish!"

Page~*~*~*~Break

Harry had just finished helping a confused first year Hufflepuff find her common room and was on his way back to his quarters when he banged into Draco. "Oh, sorry, Draco. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

Normally such an admission would prompt the Potions Master to come back with a, "need new glasses, Potter?" But today Draco just shrugged and said, "Not a problem, Harry."

Harry frowned. "You seem awful . . . happy, Malfoy. You win that dream vacation to the Caribbean on the WWN? Or did you take fifty points from one of my Gryffindors for blowing up your classroom?"

"Even better. Astoria's expecting again. Finally!" Now Draco was grinning from ear to ear. He and his wife had been trying for what seemed like forever to have a second child without any success . . . until now.

Harry slapped the Slytherin on the back. "Congratulations, old man! What did I tell you? You were trying too hard. You had to relax and let nature take its course."

Draco snorted. "Shut up, Potter!" he mock-growled. "Not all women are like Ginny, able to have a kid by snapping her fingers." Then he laughed. "Oh, Merlin! Just think about it, Harry. We could have girls together, and maybe they'll grow up best friends and when they're in school we can compare notes about how crazy they drive us and how best to mangle their boyfriends."

Harry started laughing. "Uh, Draco, aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself? Our kids aren't even born yet. And what if they're boys?"

"They won't be. I have a feeling," Draco said with utter certainty.

"Don't tell me. You had a talk with God too, like Alby."

"I sure did. I prayed every night for Tori to get pregnant with a baby girl, and now it's happened." Draco whooped.

Harry gave him a look. "How many potion fumes have you inhaled?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" his friend asked, smirking wickedly. He pulled a long brown object from his robes. "Cigar?"

Harry wrinkled his nose. "Ugh! Malfoy, you know I don't smoke. Disgusting habit!"

"It's chocolate, you idiot!" Draco sniggered, and shoved the end of the cigar in Harry's mouth. "See?"

Harry sucked on it, it was perfectly good chocolate from Honeydukes. It bore a pink ribbon around it with It's A Girl printed on it. "And how many of these did you have?"

"Who the hell's counting?" asked the soon-to-be father of two. "Let's go down to the Hog's Head and get a drink. I'll pay."

"Draco, you know we're not supposed to drink when we're teaching."

"I know, but we're done with classes for today. And I want to celebrate. C'mon, Harry, don't be such a wet blanket." Draco's eyes were sparkling.

"All right. But three's the limit. Agreed?"

"Yes, Dad," Draco mocked, cuffing Harry on the shoulder.

Harry couldn't help smiling, Draco's joy was infectious. He couldn't remember when the young Potions Master had been this happy, except when his son was born.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

In order to keep Severus' and Sirius' true identities a secret, something which both families agreed was necessary both for their peace of mind and for the children's, given their miraculous resurrection, and also the fact that both children might still have enemies lurking (not all the Death Eaters were in Azkaban), Hermione, along with Astoria and Luna, had come up with a charm that would keep people from wondering where the two extra children had come from, it worked by misdirecting someone's thoughts whenever they started to wonder just who Severus and Sirius were, replacing that line of thinking with "oh, I remember now! They've always been part of the Potter or Lupin family." It was very subtle and very effective, though the charm did have to be renewed every three months. Of course it also helped that the boys were almost always referred to on a first name basis, and their siblings had no trouble saying they were brothers.

Not that the professors' children had much time to interact with students, given that the students had class and homework, and so did the Lupin boys. On odd days, Severus and Alby went to stay with Andromeda, and on even ones with Molly, and so did Rosie. Frankie also joined the three, on odd days she spent time with her Gran Augusta, who even at the advanced age of one hundred was still going strong. Cory, too spent time with Narcissa and Lucius, and also the Weasleys. It was Frankie who dubbed them the Ferocious Five, because they were all ferociously determined to read before attending school, and Severus was teaching them, and were also ferocious in defense of helpless animals, each other, and their families.

Cory kept everyone in touch with how Astoria's pregnancy was going. The first thing he did was to tell the small group as they were baking scones in Molly's kitchen about the reaction of his grandparents to the news. "So . . . Daddy says he's got an 'nouncement to make and then they tell Grandpa and Granny about the baby. Granny starts crying, why I don't know, and Grandpa claps and says excellent, Draco or somethin' like that and he opens a bottle of wine and next thing I know, Grandpa's dancin' on the table! Shakin' his bum and all! It was so funny, I fell out of my chair laughing!"

"Oh, come on, Cory! You're putting us on," Severus protested. "Lucius wasn't really dancing on the table."

"He was so! It was really funny,' cause I didn't know Grandpa knew how."

Severus erupted in a fit of helpless giggles, the mere thought of the scion and patriarch of Malfoy Manor dancing atop a table was simply too funny for words.

"Oh . . . oh . . . my Merlin!" Molly gasped, she was nearly prostrate with laughter over her rolling pin. "Cory . . . oh, I wish I'd been there with a camera . . .!"

"My mummy took a picture." Cory smirked mischievously.

"Where is it?" both Molly and Severus asked at the same time.

Cory shrugged. "I don't know."

"Find out," Severus urged. "One picture of him doing that is worth 10, 000 Galleons." He'd never seen Lucius drunk before and that alone would have been worth a thousand Galleons . . . but drunk and doing a tabletop shimmy . . . was priceless. Not to mention the perfect blackmail photo.

So Cory went home that night and asked Astoria where the picture was of his grandfather dancing on the table. Astoria smirked and asked why, and Cory explained that Sevvy, the rest of his cousins, and Mrs. Molly wanted to see it. Astoria made a reprint and gave it to Cory to show them. All of them nearly wet themselves laughing. When the Lupin boys came back from school and saw the photo, they fell on the floor howling.

By the time they stopped laughing, their sides hurt, and Teddy had come up with a scheme, as usual, to make some extra money. "We could sell the photo. People would pay lots of money to see Uncle Lucius dance."

But Molly nixed that idea. "No, Ted. The photo remains in the family. We don't want to embarrass Uncle Lucius."

"Aww, but Grammy!" groaned Rosie.

"No, Rose," Molly repeated and that was that.

On the weekends, all the children stayed at the school with their parents. It was then they did fun family activities, like picnics on the lawn and playing abbreviated Quidditch games, feeding the giant squid (one of Alby's favorites), gathering herbs and potion ingredients, and playing board games.

As September drew to a close, Ginny's belly began to grow and even Astoria showed a tiny bump. The two excited witches went shopping for baby clothes and began to discuss possible names for their new addition.

October blew in frosty and cold, prompting rounds of colds, Pepperup potion, and hot chocolate and apple cider before bedtime. Around the second weekend of the month, Severus developed a bad sinus infection, this usually happened every year, and was cross and grumpy as a result. He didn't want to be sick for Lily's return, or Halloween, yet the infection lingered.

That night he was curled up in Harry's lap in front of the fire, coughing and sneezing.

"Sevvy, time for your medicine," Harry announced, Summoning a few potions to him. There was a cherry-colored Decongestion Draft and a Sinus Solution, which came in the form of nose drops.

Severus grimaced and turned his head away. "I'm not taking it. It's not helping," he grumbled. He was sick of taking medicine, and sick of this horrible cold, which made everything taste like cardboard. He coughed again.

"Come on. You'll never get better if you don't take it," Harry coaxed.

Again Severus shook his head.

Harry sighed and looked over at Ginny, who was asleep on the sofa. Lately she'd been suffering bouts of extreme tiredness and he tried to let her rest as much as possible. Alby was snuggled next to her, dozing, he hadn't been feeling all that good either. Normally, Severus was good about taking potions, but tonight he was being a stubborn brat.

Harry tried another tack. "Sev, you want to be well so you can go trick-or-treating, right? And come to the cemetery when Lily returns?" A nod. "Well, then you'd better take these potions, or else you'll be home in bed while we go there."

"No! You're not leaving me behind."

"I will if you're sick," warned Harry.

"I won't stay there. I'll follow you to the cemetery anyway," Severus declared mulishly.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "And as soon as I find you, I'll bring you straight back to the house, give you a spanking, and Stick you to the bed. Is that what you want?"

"No," Severus said sulkily.

"Didn't think so. Now turn around and take your medicine. Why are you giving me a hard time?"

"Because I feel awful, that's why."

"Severus, that doesn't make sense. The potions will help you. Now quit being stubborn. You're acting worse than Alby."

Groaning, Severus turned over. "Harry, you're mean," he groused. "And Slytherin clever."

Harry chuckled and handed the recalcitrant child the Decongestion Draft. "Drink up, Sevvy."

Severus drank, making a face. The draft wasn't nasty tasting, but it was thick and sickly sweet. He finished the vial and handed it to Harry.

"Good job!" Harry said, then he gave the boy a handkerchief. "Blow your nose and then tip your head back."

Severus obeyed, though blowing his nose didn't help that much. "I'm all stuffed up," he whined, he hated that feeling.

Harry uncorked the vial of Sinus Solution and gently tipped Severus' head back. He filled the dropper with the potion and gently put the solution in his ward's nose. "Breathe in."

Severus sniffed and the potion was drawn up his nostril. He coughed. "Ugh! I hate nose drops."

"Once more," Harry gently inserted the dropper in the opposite nostril.

Severus squirmed. He hated the drops, they burned and made his nose itch. As soon as he was big enough to brew by himself, he was going to alter the formula.

"There! Now was that so bad?" Harry asked, helping Severus sit up.

Before Severus could reply, there came a pounding on the door.

Harry looked up at the archway and saw the name Draco Malfoy appear. "Come in, Draco," he called, and the door swung open.

Draco burst into the room. "Harry, come quick! Tori . . . she fell . . . slipped on the stairs coming down from the tower . . . knocked herself out . . . brought her to Poppy . . ." There was a dazed look in his eyes, as if he couldn't believe this had happened.

"Dear Merlin! And the baby?" Harry asked.

"I . . . don't know . . ."

"Go back upstairs, I'll be along in a minute. Just let me wake Ginny."

"I can stay by myself," Severus objected as Harry set him down, but Harry was already shaking Ginny awake and telling her what had happened.

"Bloody hell!" she cried. "Poor Tori!" She sat up, cupping her own stomach protectively. "Harry, go with Draco. He needs the support. Just send back your Patronus and keep me informed. Draco, that's terrible, but hopefully she'll be all right."

Draco just nodded. He turned to leave, followed by Harry.

Severus went and climbed onto the couch next to Ginny. He curled up into her and whispered, "I hope nothing happens to the baby or Astoria."

Ginny hugged him. "Me too, Sevvy. That would be too horrible to even think of."

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Draco paced back and forth in the infirmary while Harry sat in a chair and waited with him. Poppy had called another Healer to assist her, and they had been working on Astoria for over three hours. She had a bad concussion and assorted bruises, a cracked collarbone, and a sprained knee. No one mentioned the baby, so Draco continued to hope that the fall had not caused his wife to go into labor.

Draco clutched a tumbler of firewhiskey in his hand and snarled, "What the hell's going on in there? Why is it taking so long?"

"Draco, relax. They're doing the best they can," Harry soothed.

Draco whirled on him. "Don't you tell me to relax, Potter! My wife could be dying or . . . or something!" He drained the glass in one gulp. Then he turned and paced back to Harry. His eyes were haunted and fearful. "Harry, what if . . . God forbid . . . what if she . . . I couldn't bear it if I lost her . . ." He sat down in the chair next to Harry, his head in his hands. "She's my life . . . I need her with me . . . She can't die! She just can't."

Harry patted Draco's shoulder comfortingly. "Don't think about that, Draco. Just think about her getting well. That's all." He truly felt for the other man, he would have been a nervous wreck if it had been Ginny injured.

"I'm trying," Draco mumbled. He felt frozen, and the silence stretched endlessly in the Hospital Wing, as if the world held its breath.

The only sound that could be heard was Draco's and Harry's breathing.

After an eternity, Poppy emerged from behind the curtain pulled about Astoria's bed, still swathed in surgical garb, all save for her hands.

"Poppy! How is she?" Draco leaped to his feet and if he'd been zapped, his eyes pleading.

"Astoria's stable, Draco. We managed to bring down the swelling on her brain and mend most of the damage. She should recover in a week or so."

Draco started to smile. "Oh, God! Thank you, Merlin!"

"However . . . she lost the baby. We tried everything we could, but . . . after a fall like that, at this stage of the pregnancy . . . she began to hemorrhage and she spontaneously aborted . . .I'm so sorry, Draco. There was nothing we could do . . ." Poppy shook her head sadly, tears glimmering in her eyes.

"The baby's . . . gone?"

"Yes, it was too small to live outside the womb."

"Did you know . . . what it was?"

"No. It was too tiny."

Draco just nodded. "I want to see Tori."

"All right. Just give Healer Hadley a few minutes to finish up." Poppy said.

Soon a tall Healer with brown hair came out from behind the curtain. He came up to Draco and murmured condolences, then stepped back so the Potions professor could go to see his wife.

Draco fell to his knees beside the bed. Astoria lay sleeping, her face pale against the sheet. He grasped her hand and pressed it to his face. "Tori . . . oh, Tori . . . I'm so glad you're alive . . . " Tears were running down his cheeks. "But the baby . . . our baby's . . . an angel now . . ." His voice broke and he sobbed into the mattress.

Harry, stunned by the tragic news, just sat and watched Draco grieve for a few moments before gathering his courage and coming over to his friend. He laid a hand gently on the other's shoulder. "Draco, I . . . I don't even know what to say . . . except I'm so very sorry . . ."

Draco lifted his head and gave Harry a pain-filled glare. He stood, his body rigid with anger. "How could you know, Potter? Your wife's still pregnant."

Harry flinched. "You're right, I can't. But that doesn't mean I'm not sorry for your loss."

An instant later, Draco's anger evaporated and his face crumpled into grief. "Oh, Merlin! I didn't mean that, Harry. I'm so sorry, I don't even know what I'm saying. I just . . . it's so hard to believe . . . just when we thought