Severus was waiting for his son in the den, sitting on the couch before the fireplace reading a copy of the Daily Prophet. He heard Harry enter the cottage and Rellah ask him how his ride had gone, and heard Harry reply that it had gone brilliantly. Then he heard the boy's footsteps upon the wooden floorboards, sounding abnormally loud because he was wearing boots, and the Potions Master winced, his ultrasensitive ears aching from the sharp echo. He made a mental note to remind Harry to take off his boots before coming into the house.
Then he looked up as his son entered, carrying his hat in one hand, his hair sticking up like a scarecrow, a mannerism that had once annoyed Severus to no end when he was younger, but now he found oddly endearing. Harry looked weary, as he supposed anyone would flying three hours on the back of a pegasus, but there was a light in the green eyes and a smile upon the boy's face that Severus had not seen the like of since Harry had become an Animagus.
"By the look on your face, your ride went well?" Severus asked. "Are you sore at all?"
"Only a little," Harry shrugged, dismissing the now burning ache in his thighs and backside. "Dad, it was like . . .the most incredible thing ever. I've never . . .I can't even begin to tell you . . .it was just so amazing! Like when I became Whisper for the first time." His green eyes blazed with unchecked emotion. "And . . .when we finally landed, I didn't want to, but Boreal was tired, he looked at me and . . .we bonded."
Severus leaned forward intently. Surely Harry did not mean . . .? "Bonded how, Harry?"
"Uh . . .Boreal called it a heartbond, it's when a pegasus chooses a rider for life and links with him, mentally and emotionally too, I guess. It caught us both by surprise, all he did was look at me and it just . . .happened." Harry said, sounding faintly dazed.
As well he might have, for such a bond was rare, and not to be taken lightly. "Harry, sit down," Severus gestured to a seat on the couch next to him. The boy came over, wincing slightly as he sat gingerly on the leather couch. Severus did not miss it and thought, A little sore, my wand! He'll need my salve later, sure as a pegasus has wings. But that was not his main concern now. "Harry, do you know what it means to be bonded to Boreal for life?"
Slowly his son nodded. "Yeah, I think so. It means that he'll have no other rider except me and . . .that he's my friend and my partner . . .right?"
"Yes, it also means that when you die, so will he," Snape said gravely.
Harry swallowed. "You mean . . .if I die, he will too, even if . . .even if he's not hurt or sick or something?"
"Yes. Such is the price of the heartbond."
"But . . .that's not fair! What about me? If he dies, will I?"
"No. But most riders who are bonded never outlive their pegasus, they live for hundreds of years, Harry. As a wizard, you will have an extended lifespan, because of the magic in your blood, but only a few wizards live past three hundred or so."
Harry felt tears prickle his eyes and he blinked them away fiercely. "He knew, didn't he? Before he agreed, he knew what it meant if he bonded to me."
"Yes, he strikes me as a wise pegasus and he would know the amoralta's price, this is not the first time such a bond has occurred."
"He told me usually the pegasus chooses, but this time our heart chose for us, like Pegasus and Bellerophon. I thought it was wonderful, but if he's going to die because of it . . ."
Severus laid a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Harry, remember when I told you that we all die someday and there's nothing you can do about it? It's the same here. Boreal chose to bond you, he felt it was worth the price. Few things on earth get to choose the manner of their death, and from what I understand, the severing of the bond allows for a peaceful death, quick and painless. But you mustn't dwell on it, son. The bond is for friendship and love, and you aren't dying anytime soon." He patted Harry on the back. A little of the previous delight was beginning to creep back into the boy's gaze. "Unless I strangle you for the mess you left your room in this morning," he added with a soft growl.
Harry flushed. "Oh. I'll . . .clean it up after I change. Sorry. I was in kind of a rush this morning."
"Never mind the excuses. Just make sure it's clean by the end of today, or else you'll be grounded."
"Dad, it's two days before my birthday."
"So? That should be incentive enough for you to keep out of trouble, because I won't hesitate to punish you while your friends are here."
"Okay, okay. I'll be good."
"That'll take a miracle, brat," Severus teased. He fished the jar of salve out of his pocket. "I would recommend a long soak in a hot bath and some of this rubbed on before you sit down for lunch. If you need me to, I can apply it," he handed the jar to his son, whose face was now bright red.
"No! I . . .I can do it myself," Harry said quickly, wondering how the hell Severus had known he would need this stuff? Perhaps the rumors really were true and Snape could read minds, despite his insistence to the contrary. "Thanks, but I'll be fine."
Severus merely nodded. "As you wish." Really, the boy got embarrassed over the silliest things, he thought affectionately, as Harry rose and retreated hastily down the hall to the bathroom. It would not be the first time Severus had applied salve to his son's bottom, God knew. Unless he didn't want to admit that he hurt more than he had thought, as Severus had warned. Yes, pride would do it. Severus relaxed back in his chair, pondering this new development. The bond between pegasus and rider was close, such that where Harry went, so would Boreal. The Potions Master chuckled evilly, wondering how Albus would take the addition of a pegasus to his student body.
* * * * * *
The bath was so relaxing that Harry dozed off in it, and was only prodded awake by his father's hand on his shoulder. "Harry, wake up. I've told you before, you're not a merman, to fall asleep in the bathtub."
Harry opened his eyes, muttering an unintelligible something. "Huh? Dad, what . . .?" then he woke fully and sat up with a splash. "Oh Merlin! I must've been tireder than I thought. Can't believe I did that . . ." he scrambled up from the bath, which had gone cold now, and started to rub himself dry.
The hot water had done wonders in relieving the soreness in his muscles, but Severus insisted on rubbing the salve on Harry's bottom, which was chafed from the leather rubbing it for three hours, ignoring his son's protests. Harry was quick to dress afterwards, furious at himself for falling asleep like an idiot, and having to get rescued by his father. He was careful to choose loose pants, however, for he didn't want anything tight against his chafed skin. The quick-healing salve numbed the pain, but it was better to wear comfortable clothing.
Over lunch, Harry and Severus discussed Harry's birthday, and the coming of the rest of the Troublemakers Three, as Snape referred to the trio. It had been decided that Harry and Ron would share Harry's bedroom for the duration of their stay, and Severus would transform the coat closet into a temporary guest room for Hermione. He sought Eileen's expertise for that little chore, since he had no clue what a girl would like in a bedroom.
Rellah was also eager to help out, saying, "‘Tis high time this house had a girl in it again, even if she's but a wee guest for now."
Yeah, one that thinks Dad needs to get in touch with his inner child, Harry thought, smothering a giggle. "Dad, I was thinking, should I tell Ron and Hermione about my Animagus form yet?"
"I'm glad you thought to ask me that, Harry, because I think it should remain secret for now. Most young wizards don't achieve transformation until they're older than you, thirteen or fourteen, and I haven't registered you yet with the Ministry."
"Yes. The Ministry requires all new and old Animagus to register their other form with them, so they can make certain the wizard never abuses his power. I am registered as a snow leopard, Professor McGonagall as a cat, and so forth."
"Were my mother and father registered too?"
"No, because they didn't go through the proper channels with a mentor, which is illegal, but the Ministry never knew and so could not fine them."
"Dad, do they know your name as a snow leopard?"
"No, for that is private, between the Animagus and his mentor. The mentor usually names the new Animagus in his other shape."
"So Professor McGonagall named you Wraith?"
"Yes, as I named you Whisper and her mentor named her Tigress. Her form is a striped brown tabby with odd spectacle-like rings about her eyes," Severus explained at Harry's puzzled look. "For now, don't change into Whisper when your friends are about, it might cause undue shock and jealousy and that is the last thing you want. Once I've registered you, I'll submit the paperwork next week, then you can choose to reveal your Animagus form or not. However, once we are at school, there will be no shifting forms without my express permission, young man, am I understood?"
Harry winced at the stern glower his father directed at him and said, "Yes, sir. But what about Boreal? He'll be coming to school as well. What do I tell them about that?"
"You can choose to tell your friends about being bonded, that is entirely up to you. At school, we shall work something out, but that can be discussed later. For now, I would suggest you get started on your room, unless you want to be grounded on your birthday, Harry James Snape."
"Try me and see."
Harry finished his lunch and shook his head. "No thanks. I'm not dumb. You never threaten. Well, except when you threaten to beat me." He added with a saucy smirk.
"Get, mister! Before I summon a ruler."
"Yeah, right," his son drawled impudently, then he bolted away before Severus could make good on that threat for once.
* * * * * *
Rellah had cleaned the cottage so that it sparkled and Harry was sure that you could eat off the floor, it was polished to such a finish that you could see your face in it. He had woken on the morning of July 31st to the delicious smells of honey and banana pancakes and maple-glazed bacon and his favorite Dragon-Phoenix blend tea, Rellah had insisted on cooking him his favorite breakfast. Harry stretched leisurely, his mouth watering at the smells coming from the kitchen. It was such a change from the way things used to be at the Dursleys, when he had to get up at the crack of dawn to water the flowers and then make his lazy relatives breakfast, no matter what day it was.
Here, he was expected to get up at a decent hour, which meant eight o'clock or eight-thirty in Severus's parlance, and do small chores, and study or assist his father if he needed help in the lab, but that was all. And on his birthday, he had nothing to do except enjoy himself.
So he rose and padded down the hall, washed his face, and then continued on down to the kitchen. "Morning, Gran," he greeted Eileen, who smiled at him and waved.
"Morning, Harry. Happy birthday!"
"You tell your father I said you're the boss today, okay? That means he's not allowed to lecture you or anything, since it's your birthday."
Harry grinned. "Sure, Gran." Merlin, but this day just keeps getting better and better!
"Now go and eat, you're too skinny."
"See you, Gran." He waved to her before entering the kitchen, inhaling the heavenly aroma of bacon and pancakes. Rellah was flipping them onto a plate and drizzling them with honey and nuts and Severus was frying bacon.
"Hey, Dad. Gran says to tell you that I'm the boss today, so you can't yell at me or anything, since it's my birthday," Harry informed his father, sitting down and accepting the cup of tea Rellah floated over to him. "Thanks, Rellah."
"You're welcome, young master. Happy Birthday!" The woodkin beamed, then she kissed him lightly on the cheek and placed a crown of laurel on his head. "Laurel for celebrations."
Severus turned around. "Oh, she did, did she? I'm not surprised. That was the way we always celebrated my birthday, when my father wasn't around, that is."
"That means you can't ground me," Harry reminded slyly.
"Were you planning on getting into trouble on your birthday?" Severus shot back.
Harry shook his head rapidly, the laurel wreath almost falling off. "No, but still . . ."
Severus finished cooking the bacon and levitated it over to the table with a casual wave. "Listen, Mr. Snape. The way this works is you can't get punished on your birthday, but you're fair game the day after, so if you do something to get yourself grounded today, you'll be punished the day after, no questions asked. Keep that in mind when you and Weasley and Granger are together."
Severus came over and hugged him. "Happy birthday, Harry. Now eat your breakfast before it gets cold."
"Yes, sir," Harry mumbled through a mouthful of bacon.
Snape opened his mouth to reprimand his son for his atrocious manners, then shut it again. Bloody damn rules! Thanks, Mum!
Harry caught Severus's disgruntled expression and hid a grin. Then he began to devour his pancakes.
* * * * * * *
Hermione and Ron were due to arrive at two o'clock, having been owled by Severus as to the location of the cottage. Severus had ignited a fire in the fireplace, just enough for the two to Floo with, Hermione would be Flooing from the Burrow, it was easier than trying to explain to her Muggle parents why she was jumping in and out of fireplaces and almost setting herself on fire.
Harry was sitting on the couch, tapping his knee nervously and shooting quick glances at the mantle clock, which had just struck two. Eileen was in her frame above the mantle, so she could greet the guests when they arrived, and Rellah was standing to one side, waiting demurely as well.
"I hope your friends enjoy my cooking, Master Harry."
"I'm sure they will, Rellah. You're an amazing cook." Harry reassured her. "Just don't, um, tell them they're eating rabbit at first, okay?"
"Uh, because they might not want to try it otherwise. See, where I come from, people don't usually eat that stuff, so . . ."
"Ah. It's a surprise. Very well, Master Harry. I shall wait until they have sampled it first." The woodkin smirked.
Harry nodded, hoping that his friends acted polite when she revealed what their main dish was, and didn't freak out. He wasn't really worried about Hermione, she'd eaten escargot and frog legs in France, after all, so what was rabbit? But he wasn't too sure about Ron.
Severus was also seated in his recliner, wearing casual gray trousers and a lime green shirt, not his usual set of black professor's robes. He also had a neutral expression on his face, he was not particularly thrilled at having his peaceful hideaway invaded by two twelve-year-olds, but he would allow it for the sake of his son, who had never had a real birthday.
Suddenly, the fire flared a bright green and from out of the flames stepped Hermione, a pink duffle slung over her shoulder. She was wearing a pretty green pant suit and her hair had been tied back in a twist. She stepped from the fireplace, sneezed, and then smiled.
"Hi, Harry! Happy Birthday!"
"Thanks, Hermione," Harry said, rising to take her bag.
She hugged him briefly and he flushed. "Uh, Hermione, this is Rellah, she's a woodkin and our housekeeper for Malachite Cottage."
Rellah stepped forward to shake hands with Hermione. "I am pleased to meet you, milady Hermione."
Hermione giggled at the archaic address. "Uh, you can just call me Hermione. Pleased to meet you, Rellah." She examined the woodkin with interest, and Harry could tell she was going to start asking a bazillion questions.
So he turned her around and pointed to the portrait above the mantle. "Hermione, that's my grandmother, Eileen Prince Snape. Gran, this is Hermione, one of my best freinds."
"Very pleased to meet you, Hermione," Eileen greeted the young witch.
"And you too, Mrs. Snape."
"Just Eileen will do, dear."
Then they turned to greet the master of the house.
"Hello, professor," Hermione said, smiling a bit nervously, her eyes widening at the sight of the intimidating teacher looking normal and relaxed for once.
"Hello, Miss Granger. Welcome to Malachite Cottage."
"Thank you for inviting me, sir," said Hermione respectfully. Then she turned and rummaged in her bag for a moment.
"Uh, Hermione, where's Ron?"
"He's, um, packing. Forgot a few things, so Mrs. Weasley said I should go on ahead." Hermione replied. Then she straightened, a roll of parchment in her hand. "Professor Snape, here's the uh, essay you wanted." For some strange reason she was blushing.
Severus took the essay and nodded, then said, "I trust there will be no need to repeat this assignment, young lady?"
"No, sir." Hermione whispered, glancing down at her sneakers.
Harry frowned, trying to figure out why Hermione would be handing in an assignment already. Even for her, that was weird.
"Good. Harry, show Miss Granger where she can put her things."
"Oh. Right. This way, Hermione." Harry led her down the hall to the newly made guest room, which Eileen and Rellah had decorated in a cheery primrose print and soft lacy green curtains with pink trim and a pink and green braided rug plus a matching bed comforter.
"Hope it's okay."
Hermione entered and smiled. "It's great! Wow!" She put her duffle on the bed.
"Uh, Hermione what was all that back there with Dad and your assignment? Did you like, do extra credit for him or something?"
Hermione shook her head, looking slightly ashamed. "No . . .not exactly. It was a detention assignment."
"Huh? But how'd you get detention if we're not in school?"
"It was before we left school. After the, uh, incident with the Sorcerer's Stone. Professor Snape was . . .he was really angry with us for risking our lives and he told Dumbledore that he should inform our parents about what we'd done, and Dumbledore was going to, but I begged him not to, because my parents would have refused to let me come back to Hogwarts if they ever knew I'd almost died confronting You-Know-Who. I told Dumbledore that he could do anything else to me as a punishment and he said he would turn me over to Professor Snape, since the professor seemed to wish to handle it."
"What did Dad do?"
"Well, first he took me to his office and he yelled at me for a whole half-an-hour, told me I was foolish and reckless and could have died and then what would that have meant to my parents, to have their only child dead? He was . . .was very angry and he was also right and I felt so bad that I cried. Then he told me I had an essay to write for him over the summer, researching all those apprentices who had died untimely deaths and choosing three of them to write a comparison between me and them, and how my parents' lives would be different if I was no longer there and I had died as a result of trying to get the Stone. He said that no magical object was ever worth my life and I should stop following in your footsteps. Then he . . ." she blushed even hotter. " . . .he said this once he was going to pretend he was my father and he swatted me one and after he hugged me and called me a heroic imbecile."
Harry's mouth hung open. "He . . .did?"
Hermione nodded. "And I was so ashamed and upset that I just cried all over him. And he didn't laugh or anything, Harry. He just held me and said God save me from foolish girls and gave me a handkerchief. Then he told me to go back to my dorm, get some sleep, and go see you in the morning. And you know what, Harry? He really did remind me of my dad, and I realized that he cares more for his students than anybody knows."
Got that right, I learned that a long time ago. Harry whistled. "I never knew that. He never told me anything. Does Ron know?"
"No, and please don't tell him. He'll just tease me and make fun about how Professor Snape thinks he's everybody's dad now or something. And I really don't want to discuss it with him, it's over now and done with."
"Okay, Hermione. I'll keep my mouth shut." Harry said, still marveling that Severus would show that amount of concern over another student who wasn't his adopted son. "C'mon, we'd better get back to the den, Ron ought to be here any minute."
They had just walked into the den when the flames turned emerald again and Ron came through with a whoosh, carrying several balloons, a pie and his duffle bag as well. "Hullo, Harry! Happy birthday! Mum insisted on baking you a chocolate cream pie and bringing you some balloons."
Rellah moved forward to take the pie and the balloons from the redhead before the pie ended up on the floor. Harry greeted his best mate, then introduced Ron to Rellah and Eileen. Ron said hello politely to everyone, including his potions professor, and then Severus suggested Harry take his friends outside and show them the grounds.
"Great idea, Dad. We'll be back in time for dinner." Harry said, then practically dragged Hermione and Ron out the back door.
Harry turned to say something to Ron and saw the redhead gawking. "What is it?"
"Nothing. It's just . . . well, I never thought I'd hear you call Snape . . .Dad. It sounds, I dunno, weird."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Well, get used to it, Ron, ‘cause he is my father now. C'mon. There's someone very special I want you to meet."
He led them through the garden and the gate to the stable.
Hermione's eyes widened. "Harry, don't tell me you've got a horse here?"
"No, not a horse," Harry said, smiling. He looked up into the sky, put his fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly. "Boreal!"
He didn't have to do any of that, since he could summon the pegasus through the bond, but he felt like it.
Some two minutes later a silver shape appeared in the sky and then the pegasus landed in front of them with a gust of wind.
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, her mouth hanging open.
"That's no horse, that's a pegasus!" Ron gasped. "Harry, when did you get a pegasus?"
"I didn't buy him, I found him. Right here in this meadow, dying from a wyvern attack. I saved him ‘cause the wyvern returned and tried to eat him, well Dad and Rellah helped too . . ." Harry told them all about the rogue wyvern and how Severus had saved Boreal and about the first ride on Boreal's back and the bond that had formed.
"Merlin's bloody hat, but you've all the luck, mate!" Ron said, envy shading his tone.
But Harry, who felt nothing but joy when he was near Boreal, missed the jealousy in his friend's tone completely. "Luck, Ron?" he laughed softly. "It was hardly lucky that Boreal and Dad nearly got killed by the wyvern. And the bond wasn't luck, it was more like destiny. It wasn't something we chose, it just happened."
"Stuff always seems to just happen around you, Harry. The most exciting thing that happened to me all summer was Mum reaming my arse over the giant chess set," Ron said grumpily.
Harry looked at his friend askance. "Ron, sometimes I wish that's all I had to worry about."
"Harry, could I touch him?" Hermione asked diffidently, her eyes bright with longing. She had a hand half-extended to stroke the Silver Arrow's coat.
"Go ahead, Mione. Boreal won't bite." Harry said, running his own hand down the pegasus' sleek neck.
Boreal whuffed at the girl and Hermione tentatively reached out and stroked his nose. "So soft! Oh, Harry, he's so beautiful!" Boreal thrust his nose into her palm and she laughed at how much his breath tickled.
"What's it like to ride him?" Ron asked.
"It's better than riding my Nimbus." Harry told him. "Did you two bring brooms? We could go flying, if you want?"
"Umm . . .yeah, I've got mine." Ron said, still gazing longingly at Boreal.
"Me too," said Hermione.
"Get them and then I'll show you how fast a Silver Arrow flies," Harry urged. Then he summoned Boreal's tack and put it on and his hat from his bedroom. He didn't bother with the jacket or the leather breeches because he wasn't planning on flying very long. Though he did cast a Cushioning Charm over the saddle before he climbed on the gate and mounted Boreal.
The Silver Arrow slung his head around and eyed Harry's trainers disapprovingly. You need boots to fly with me, boy. Those aren't good enough.
"Why? We're not flying for long." Harry objected.
Boots otherwise I won't take you up with me, the pegasus ordered.
No buts, Harry. Safety first. Boots will grip better and keep your feet warm.
Sensing he wasn't about to get anywhere arguing with the stubborn stallion, Harry summoned his boots and yanked them on, just as Hermione and Ron returned with their brooms.
"All set, Harry?"asked Ron, hovering on his Clean Sweep.
Harry had remounted Boreal and nodded. The pegasus launched himself into the air and was quickly followed by the other two.
They flew in circles about the meadow until Ron challenged the other two to a race, pointing to a far tall oak tree in the center of the woods as the finish line.
"Ready, set , GO!"
At first the two wizards on broomsticks were ahead of Boreal, but not for long. The Silver Arrow was possessed of blinding speed when he wanted to use it, and he soon shot past Hermione and then Ron as if they were standing still, carrying Harry to an easy two length victory. Harry grinned and patted Boreal on the neck. "Way to go, Boreal! I knew you could do it!"
The pegasus arched his neck proudly. Did I not tell you I am faster than any broomstick?
"Yeah, but well, I guess I had to experience it," his rider laughed.
They hovered and swooped waiting for the others to catch up with them, then Hermione said, "Harry, he really is like the wind! That was . . .so magnificent!" She stared at Boreal with utter hero-worship. "I wish I could ride a pegasus."
"Same here," Ron agreed, coming up and also looking at the stallion with awe. "How about it, mate? Could we ride him?"
"Uh . . ." Harry hesitated. "That would be up to Boreal, Ron. The pegasus chooses the rider."
Ron blinked, flabbergasted. "But . . .that's . . .y'mean he can understand us? I thought he was just a magical creature."
Harry shook his head. "No, Ron, he's much more than that. A Silver Arrow can speak mind-to-mind with a person who's a sensitive, like me. Or my dad. And if you want to ride him, you'll need to ask him yourself."
"Okay." Ron looked at Boreal questioningly. "Can I have a ride too, sir? It doesn't have to be for very long."
Boreal considered. He found the young wizard's comments about him being ‘just an animal' typical of a pureblood wizard, but since he was ignorant, Boreal forgave him them. He nodded his head once in answer, since the redhead didn't possess sufficient mind-skills to hear his thoughts.
Ron looked at Harry. "Was that a yes?"
"It was," Harry said. "C'mon, race you back to the cottage."
They raced back the same way and Boreal won again. Then Harry dismounted, gave Ron his hat and boots, and boosted him into the saddle.
Boreal flew a short distance with him, not quite at the same speed he had flown with Harry and Ron's eyes were as big as saucers when they touched the ground. "Merlin! That was wicked!" he patted the big winged horse fondly. "Thanks, Boreal." He looked down at the ground. "Uh, Harry? How do I get down?"
"Throw your left leg over his back and slide down," Harry chuckled at Ron's nervous look. "It's easy."
Once Ron was on the ground, Hermione asked Boreal for a ride as well, and he graciously agreed, though Harry got the feeling he was starting to feel like a children's fair pony. Harry apologized silently and decided to let the pegasus rest and regain his dignity after Hermione's ride, and take his friends to the Silmareen to show them the canoe and the rapids.
"Have you ever gone all the way through them?" Ron wanted to know.
"Uh . . .don't ask my dad that question, Ron."
"Because he'll tell you all about the first time I took the canoe out by myself, back when I first got here, and nearly drowned." Harry said ruefully.
Hermione gasped. "Harry! You nearly drowned?"
Harry flushed slightly, looking back on it, what he had done was kind of stupid. "Yeah, I thought I could handle the canoe myself, after watching Dad do it, but it's harder than it looks and that day the river was swollen with three days worth of rain and the current caught me and pulled me into the rapids before I knew what was going on. Next thing I knew the canoe had flipped over, you can't swim in the White Rage, but I tried, till I bashed face first into a rock and knocked myself out. Thank God Dad came and rescued me."
"How'd he know you were in trouble?" Ron asked.
Harry shrugged. "I dunno. But somehow he always does. Maybe it's some kind of spell or whatever. He never said and I never asked. But he always knows when I'm sick or hurt and he finds me and takes care of me. It's been that way my whole life. Only he was really mad afterwards and grounded me for a week, once I'd gotten over being sick with bronchitis, that is."
"Guess you couldn't blame him," Hermione sniffed.
Ron was eying the canoe thoughtfully. "Could we take the canoe out ourselves, Harry?"
Harry considered. "Yeah. But it's getting too dark to do it today, but we can come here early tomorrow and have a go."
Hermione looked uneasy. "Is it safe? I don't think I want to try drowning."
"Aw, come on Hermione! Get your nose out of your books and live a little, why don't you?" Ron challenged.
"It's safe, Hermione," Harry reassured her, she was glaring at Ron. "Dad made sure the canoe won't capsize and he put some gillyweed inside it for us to eat so if you do fall in you can swim and breathe like a fish. And . . .I know how to paddle the canoe now."
Hermione looked skeptical. "You sure, Harry?"
"Positive." He tilted his head, hearing a bell ringing in the distance. "We'd better head back, I think I hear Rellah ringing the bell for dinner."
The three friends walked swiftly back up the path and through the meadow, following Harry, who moved through the woods with an uncanny grace he had never had before. Apparently he had learned a lot more over the summer than he had let on, Hermione mused. And he seemed happier here, at home. But then again, this was a beautiful place, so who wouldn't be at home in it? She loved it already and she had only been here a few hours.
* * * * * *
Harry sat next to Severus and Hermione at dinner, with Ron next to Hermione. The balloons Ron had brought were tied onto Harry's chair. Dinner was superb, both Ron and Hermione declared Rellah was a master chef. "You cook even better than my mum, and that's saying something!" Ron praised, going back for seconds of the braised rabbit, the biscuits and even the rice and greens. "If the dinner's this good, I can't wait for the dessert."
Rellah beamed, praising her culinary efforts was music to her ears. "You are very kind, Master Ron. I do my best, though I can't hold a shoot to my own mother's cooking."
"You keep saying that, Rellah, but I don't believe it," Harry chuckled.
"Ah, someday I shall take you to meet my mother, she lives in the Oak Holt, Master Harry, and let you sample a true mistress's cooking," promised the woodkin.
Everyone ate until they were stuffed and then Rellah banished the plates and gave all of them cups of steaming mint tea to aid the digestion.
They sipped the tea in silence, and once the tea was done, Rellah clapped her hands and the cake appeared on the table.
It was a two-tiered wonder, half chocolate with banana-nut filling and the other half white cake with chocolate-strawberry filling, glazed with a soft white glaze, and topped by twelve candles, a small Golden Snitch, a cauldron, and a miniature pegasus.
Severus lit the candles with a wave of his wand, Rellah dimmed the lights, and then all of them, including Eileen in the hallway, sang "Happy Birthday".
Harry felt slightly overwhelmed, he had never had this much attention upon him before, until he came to Hogwarts and discovered he was famous. He had always been the watcher from afar, the child in the shadows, when Dudley's birthday had been celebrated. He found that it was quite different when he was the one celebrating with his friends and family.
Severus put an arm about the slender shoulders and whispered, "Blow out your candles, son, and then make a wish."
Harry stared up at him, confused. A wish? But I already have everything I've ever wanted. What was there left to wish for? But he would follow tradition anyway.
He leaned over, blowing out all the candles in one breath and wishing for everyone he cared about to be safe in the upcoming year. It was all he could think of.
Then Rellah cut the cake and served it and also Mrs. Weasley's chocolate cream pie, which was first rate.
"Here, Master Sev, a piece of chocolate cake," Rellah made as if to hand a piece to Severus, who held up his hand.
"No, thank you, no cake for me, Rellah."
"Nonsense, Severus!" Eileen scolded from the hallway. "You must eat some cake, it's Harry's birthday. Besides, you know you love Rellah's chocolate cake. You ate a half a one when you were their age."
Ron and Hermione exchanged glances of utter disbelief and Harry snickered into his napkin.
"Mother, please," Severus groaned, gritting his teeth. "They do not need to know all the details of my childhood."
"Why not, Dad?" Harry teased. "It's funny."
"Harry," Snape warned silkily.
"Master Sev, just eat some cake, please," Rellah implored and he gave in.
His students goggled at the way the woodkin and Eileen were able to manipulate the Potions Master, but they subsided when he sent them a pointed glare. Some things had changed while Snape was out of the classroom, but not everything.
All of them agreed the cake was wonderful and Harry and Ron went back for seconds and thirds, in Harry's case. He had never been allowed to have seconds or thirds of anything at the Dursleys and he decided to indulge himself since it was his birthday-the first birthday he'd ever really celebrated.
"And now it's time for presents," sang Hermione happily.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Girls! Mention gifts and they're like in seventh heaven."
She summoned a small parcel wrapped in blue and green birthday paper from her duffel. "I've been practicing," she informed her friends when they stared at her in surprise, for she had not known how to cast a Summoning Charm when they'd left school. "Here you go, Harry. I did some shopping in France in their version of Diagon Alley called Le Magicke and I thought you might like this."
Harry carefully unwrapped the small parcel. It was a black box and inside it was a small mirror on a gold chain. On the back of the mirror, which was about the size of Harry's wristwatch, was a reddish glowing eye and the inscription Reflect back danger. "This is great, Hermione, but what is it?"
"It's called a Basilisk Eye Charm, and it's designed to protect the wearer against the harmful gazes of basilisks, cockatrices, Medusas and beholders," Hermione explained. "If you ever face one of those monsters, all you have to do is pull out the charm and the mirror will grow until it reflects the gaze of the basilisk or whatever back upon itself, petrifying it or turning it to stone. I thought, since you always seem to . . .err . . .be in dangerous situations, that it might come in handy one day."
"I quite agree, Miss Granger," Severus put in, smirking slightly. "With Harry, trouble seems to find him, and it is always the dangerous sort."
"Thanks, Dad," muttered his son, then he hung the Basilisk Eye about his neck.
Ron departed the room and then returned a minute later carrying a rather large box wrapped in cheery red and gold shiny paper. "This is from me and my brothers too, Harry."
Harry tore off the paper and discovered an illustrated biography of Seekers through the ages and a box of candy from Honeydukes, premium chocolate, and another smaller box with some Screaming Banshee crackers and Slithering Serpents.
"The book's from me, the chocolate's from Percy, and the Zonkos stuff is from the twins," Ron recited, grinning.
"Thanks, Ron. And tell Percy and Fred and George thanks too."
Severus frowned down on the joke products. "If I see one hint of that in my classroom, or hear of you involved in any kind of prank with firecrackers at school, Mr. Snape, those will be confiscated and you will have detention with me for a semester."
Harry gulped. "Yes, sir. I'll only use them outside of school."
"You'd better, because the last thing I need is a son with a reputation as prankster." Severus scolded gently. "However, I trust you to keep your word." He removed a flat box from the counter behind him. It was tied with a red bow. "This is from your grandmother, Harry. She wished you to have something to commemorate your adoption."
Harry opened it. Inside was a framed picture of Harry and Severus and a slightly misty figure behind them of Eileen. On the frame were the words, My New Grandson, Harry James Snape, Summer 1991 Love Gran. As he watched, the photo Harry smiled and the photo Severus put an arm about his son and smiled as well and the misty Eileen clasped them all in a phantom embrace.
Harry stared at the photo, also a first, and found himself blinking back tears.
"Harry, do you like my gift?" Eileen asked.
It was a moment before he managed to reply. "Yeah, Gran. It's . . .awesome! Thanks!"
"I figured you might like a little memento to take with you to school and look at sometimes," Eileen said.
"It's great. Thanks a bunch, Gran." He gently touched the misty figure with a fingertip and the photo Eileen smiled at him. He carefully placed the picture back into its wrapping, he would hang it in his room until it was time to pack for the new term. Then he would take it with him, though he knew he couldn't display it openly, still it would be a reminder that he still had a family. He surreptitiously wiped his eyes before receiving another much heavier package in silver and green wrapping.
"This one is from me, son."
Harry carefully unwrapped his last gift, and found a round stone basin with strange runes and designs upon the rim. Inside it was a swirling silver liquid. Harry looked up at Severus, puzzled. "This is magical, right?"
"Yes. It is a seeing bowl called a Pensieve. In it you can view memories, your own or someone else's. It is often used to let another experience a memory he or she would've never had the chance to live in real life. In this one are many of my memories of your mother Lily, when we were children. Your gran suggested to me that I share some stories of your mother with you, and this, I felt was the best way to do that. I will show you how to use the Pensieve when you're ready, and after you have viewed all the memories, I shall take them back, for I do not wish to forget Lily." Severus said, and there was a hoarse note in his voice as he said that last. "I wanted to give you something that was . . .different. I hope you enjoy seeing the memories here."
He gazed down at his son, uncertainty in his eyes, and suddenly Harry hugged him and whispered, in a voice choked with emotion, "It's the best gift, Dad. Thanks so much." He sniffed hard and Severus pretended not to see the sudden tears glistening in the emerald eyes.
Next to him, Hermione was sniffling and dabbing her eyes with a paper napkin.
"I . . .I don't know when I'll want to see them," Harry admitted, for though he longed to learn about his mother, he wasn't quite ready for the emotional impact the memories would have on him right then.
"Take you time and decide, there's no rush," Severus said, hugging his son. "You can keep the Pensieve in your room and let me know when you're ready."
"All right," Harry agreed softly, tracing the outer rim of the bowl. He knew quite well that it was a precious gift his father had given him, for they were Severus's own memories, and ones that probably no one else had ever seen save his mother. He knew how much the Potions Master valued his privacy, especially when it came to his past. He would cherish them and treat them with the respect they deserved. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome, fledgling," Severus murmured, and Hermione could swear he blinked back a tear or two of his own.
The three were so focused on each other that none of them noticed the sudden envious look Ron cast Harry, who it seemed had everything for the asking-money, a nice home, fame, a pegasus, and now a family who doted upon him.
The youngest Weasley son had always been a little envious of his friend, ever since he'd met him on the Hogwarts Express and realized he was the Boy-Who-Lived, rich and famous, and given special privileges by the staff of Hogwarts, especially the Headmaster. Only Snape had never fallen under Harry's spell, or so Ron had thought, and though he had hated the professor for his unfair treatment of Harry, a part of him had secretly rejoiced as well, that one adult did not worship the ground Harry walked upon. Until now, that is, when Snape had adopted Harry and treated him like a coveted son.
Seeing them together, openly affectionate, caused the little worm of envy in Ron's breast to swell and grow, gnawing slowly at the friendship he felt for Harry, turning it rotten and sour.
The redhead turned away abruptly, cutting himself an enormous slice of cake and eating it. It's not fair! Why is it that Harry leads a charmed life and I have to scrimp and struggle for everything? He thought resentfully. When the bloody hell will it be MY turn?
Unaware of the bitterness raging within Ron, Harry turned to look at his friend, smiling happily. He saw Ron eating another slice of cake and thought it was good to see the other enjoying himself, for he knew Ron sometimes felt a bit left out at home, as the youngest of six boys. His eyes met Hermione's, and he smiled at her, thinking this was the best birthday he had ever had. And he still had three days to spend with his friends as well.
Chapter End Notes:
So what did you think of Harry's party? Did you like the gifts?
Next: Ron's jealousy gets the better of him and he accuses Harry of having a charmed life, resulting in a nasty quarrel.
Next: Ron's jealousy gets the better of him and he accuses Harry of having a charmed life, resulting in a nasty quarrel.
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