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Chapter 44: Aching Hearts
Two days later:
It was the last day of finals for the first year students, Severus thought as he took a brisk walk about the grounds after eating breakfast that morning. He knew Harry had Transfiguration and Charms in the morning, and his own Potions practicum in the afternoon. Then the exams were over for the year and what remained was tallying up all of the tests, quizzes, homework, and class participation marks for a final average. Severus was not looking forward to that task. It was so tedious, and some of the students made him want to throttle them for being so utterly idiotic, and thinking he would pass them if they made up answers on the fly or managed by the grace of Merlin to brew an acceptable end of term potion. He pondered that chore for a moment, recalling the way Lena had helped him earlier in the year. Perhaps she would be willing to do it again? At least for a few of the younger forms? It would save him a great deal of teeth grinding and migraines. Or was he taking advantage of the librarian's willingness to help? He didn't want to seem ungrateful.
Skullduggery flew down on his shoulder. "Nice day, isn't it, Sev?" the raven said conversationally.
"Yes, it has warmed up," the professor replied. He stroked Skull's chest idly while striding along. "Skull, would you be up to taking a message to Lena? Ask her, if it isn't too much trouble, if she would mind assisting me with my end of term tests? I need her to help me mark some homework and such."
Skull cocked his head. "It's a fine day for some romance, eh, Sevvy?"
"Skull, just do as I ask, and quit the theatrics," Severus ordered irritably.
The raven peered at him with his head upside down. "Now don't get touchy, Sev. It was just an observation."
"The wrong one."
"Not from where I'm looking at it. The best relationships start as friends. You ought to know that."
Severus grimaced. "The last "relationship" I had with my best friend ended in tragedy. So your theory's null and void."
"You were what—sixteen and so was she? Teenagers know nothing about romance, or what drives a person to do things they later regret. Lily loved you, Sev. In her own way."
"But not enough. I spent my life regretting, bird. I don't need another relationship to turn sour on me."
"Maybe this one won't. They're two different people. Maybe you could try again."
"No. It's better we're just friends. That my heart can handle. Speaking of friends, what's with you and Mistress Shriek? Seems to me she fancies you."
Skullduggery his his head under his wing for a moment. "Aww, Sev! You just had to bring that up, didn't you?"
"Fair's fair. You pried into my personal life," the Potions Master answered, his black eyes sparkling. "So . . . are you thinking of making a nest, or is this a fly by night kind of thing?"
Skull snorted. "Ravens don't do casual affairs, Severus Snape. When a female chooses—and it's always up to her, by the way—it's a done deal."
"You mean the male doesn't have a choice?"
"Oh, we do. We can refuse. But usually that doesn't happen. Ravens mate for life, which means we're damn careful about choosing a partner."
"And Shriek has chosen you? I noticed you were spending a lot of time together." Severus teased.
"Yes, well . . . she wanted to see Hogwarts and there's no better guide than me, you know," Skull preened. "She's quite beautiful, you know. And mystical. But . . . I don't know if I'm right for her. There must be plenty of ravens in America for her to choose from."
"Do you love her? That's what it comes down to."
Skull ducked his head again and mumbled something.
Severus poked him playfully. "What was that? Yes or no?"
Skull clicked his beak and snapped, "If you must know, O Nosy One, the answer is . . . yes, I think so. But if I do mate with her, where will we live, Sev? I can't travel to America and leave you behind and she's bound to Ghost."
"You travel to the Tower without me for weeks at a time."
"Yes, but that's on the same island, not an ocean away! What if you need me before then?"
"I would call for you. You know that. Skullduggery, if she makes you happy, then mate her. Don't throw away this chance over logisitics."
"Ha! Speaks the man who won't even ask the librarian out for coffee."
"That's different. I'm a human, not a bird. Relationships are more complex."
"Humph! What you are is scared. As well as a stubborn ass, believing all women are like Lily."
Severus stiffened. Sometimes the raven was so perceptive it hurt. "Don't speak like that about her!"
Skull flipped his tail insolently. "Sev, she threw you over for a prat and a misunderstanding. That makes her persona non grata in my book. She hurt you and made you think you deserved it. Why should I like her?"
"Because I did deserve it," Severus began hotly.
"No!" Skull squawked. "You were a humiliated boy, not a dark wizard! You made a mistake, but it wasn't unforgivable. Until she chose to make it so. She chose Potter over you. Big mistake."
"Maybe not. I did join the Death Eaters."
"Not all the way. Maybe not at all if I had been there. Or she had. Lucky for you Joe was. But still, what you did then and what happened before are two different things. She chose the wrong wizard."
"You're saying that because you're my familiar."
"No, I'm saying it because it's true, Severus. Potter was never a raven's choice. You were. Because we pick only the best."
"I'm not perfect."
"Never said you were. We don't care about that. We care about hearts, souls, and magic. And when it comes to that, Snape, you only have to look in the mirror. Trust me on that." Skull's crest stood up on his head. "Give yourself a chance, won't you?"
"Speak for yourself."
"Shriek knows where I'm at. Stubborn ass!"
"Mouthy corvae. Go and court your other half."
"All right, I will. After I deliver your message to Lena," the raven returned. "I suggest you make a pot of coffee and have some cakes to thank her when it's over."
"If I wanted your advice, Skullduggery, I'd ask for it." Severus said bitingly.
"Only after the fact!" the raven hooted, then he soared from Snape's shoulder and flew back towards the castle.
"Damned know-it-all bird! I should have stuffed him long ago!" Severus muttered balefully as he continued his walk. He hated it when Skull was right, and the raven was right more often than he liked to admit.
The professor's strides took him past Hagrid's thatched hut, and he halted when he saw Ghost emerge from the interior.
"Hello, Ghost. Visiting Hagrid for something?"
"We were just discussing some magical wildlife. As a shaman it's part of my duty to oversee the wildlife around my home, make sure it's protected and all, and not harming any nearby human inhabitants. We were just swapping stories. I was telling him about the time Anne and I had to draw a chameleon bear out of a mall in Morning Star, South Dakota."
"A chameleon bear?"
"It's a bear that can change its pelt to look like its surroundings. They live long lives and usually are shy around people. But this one was curious, went into the mall one morning and next thing you know there was a panic. It took me and Anne hours to get the bear away and calm people down so they didn't try and hunt it down and kill it. Chameleon bear's a protected species among the magical community."
Ghost heaved a sigh, his eyes darkening. "I don't talk about her much anymore. She was my wife, when I was young and crazy. We served our apprenticeship together under the same master. I was nuts about her. She was my first and only love. Her full name was Anne Brightsun, and she was half-Asakawaki and white, like me, only she was descended from Quick Fox's lineage. Fox was Silverflash's cousin and best friend. Anne was mine. My friend, I mean, not my cousin, thank the spirits!" The shaman's eyes were far away.
"What was she like?" Severus asked, unable to rein in his curiosity.
"She was like a ray of light. I never knew someone so happy to just be alive. Back then, see, I was kind of . . . arrogant. I knew I was powerful, that magic had called me, and I was full of myself. I didn't have Shriek yet to kick my ass into line. I was a mouthy snot with too much magic and too little knowledge of how the world worked. But then, most eighteen year olds who led sheltered lives are." Ghost shrugged. "You wouldn't given me the time of day back then, Severus. But Anne could keep me from making too big of an ass of myself. Usually. She wasn't gorgeous, though I thought she was the most beautiful woman on earth. She was tall, with long black hair that she braided and tied with silver beads and feathers. She had hazel eyes and freckles on her nose. And I loved her more than I can say."
"Did you marry?"
"Yup. In the old way, we exchanged vows in front of a shaman. It was the best moment of my life, except when Shriek chose me. I thought we had forever. So did she. But . . . we only had two years before it happened. We went out among the other tribes of Indians, offering our services. They were always eager to have us help. I thought I could handle anything. After all, I was the most powerful shaman in Windfar, the Ghost Who Walked. But pride goeth before a fall, as they say."
"Not what you're thinking. It wasn't a creature of the Other World or an evil wizard who killed her. It was me."
"I got her pregnant. We were both over the moon. She wanted this baby more than anything and I . . . I was ready to become a father. Went and shot my mouth off to anybody who'd listen. But then . . . she got sick. There were complications . . . the placenta abrupted while I was away banishing a demon from a town in Wyoming. The Healers tried everything, but they couldn't save her. I got home to find her dying. I tried like hell to give her my strength, my magic, I bargained with the Creator to take me instead . . . but it was no use. She slipped off down the Gray Road while I held her hand, taking my son with her. He never saw the light of day. We buried them together and then I went a little mad. I couldn't take it, I blamed myself for losing her and the baby. I started drinking, messed myself up something awful. Shriek came then, and she saved me, showed me that I was still worth something. I became someone different, wiser I guess you'd say, and more willing to forgive mistakes. I had learned a hard lesson that day, but it was one I never forgot. That no matter how powerful, there are some things you cannot prevent, only accept. Like her death. I still miss her, Sev, and I always will. But I learned to go on. She would have wanted that."
"She sounds like a remarkable woman. I am sorry for your loss."
"Yeah. She was better than I deserved. But that was over fifteen years ago, and she'd come and kick my ass if she knew I was still mourning her memory. She'd tell me to get on with my damn life and find another woman to love. Only I can't. None of them are her. Shriek scolds me, says I'm too picky. And maybe I am."
"If you are, so am I," Severus admitted with a small smile.
Ghost raised an eyebrow. "So . . . are you like me in that respect, Severus? If you don't mind telling me, that is?"
Severus cleared his throat. "I . . . loved someone once. And lost her, like you."
"It's hard," Ghost nodded knowingly. Then he smirked quietly. "But if I were looking for someone, I'd pay attention to that pretty librarian you have here. She's not only cute, she's smart and strong in magic."
Severus stiffened. "You mean Lena? Lena Rosario?"
"Yes, that's who I'm talking about. Why? Is she promised to someone?"
"No, not that I'm aware of," Severus replied, his face forming a mask. He had no right to be dictatorial where Lena was concerned, he wasn't dating her and had no say over her. But Ghost's sudden interest bothered him, though he couldn't say precisely why.
Ghost eyed him sharply. "You're not interested are you, Severus?"
"Me?" Severus sputtered, starting to redden. "No, we're friends. Just friends." He repeated, but the annoyed feeling was still there in his gut.
"Well," Ghost chuckled. "I don't have time for romance now, but maybe someday, when I'm ready to settle down, I'll see Miss Rosario again." Unless you've snapped her up first, Snape. Which is a distinct possibility given how hot under the collar you are about a simple inquiry. Just friends, my eye! You like her as more than a friend or my name isn't Ghost Walker. "I feel like taking a walk down by the forest. Care to join me?"
"I'd like that," Severus agreed, and they started off down the trail together.
Harry escaped to the library to read a book of raven myths and legends before his potions practicum that day. He knew reading was the best way to settle his mind before a test and he also knew that if he thought too long and too hard about the upcoming final he would be a mess of nerves. He was almost positive he had done well on his Charms and Transfiguration finals and he wasn't too concerned over potions, not after Severus' rigorous tutoring. He knew he could brew any draft on the syllabus, and the Potions Master would choose one that was tough, but not one that was unknown to the students. He was strict, but not unfair.
As he entered the library, he saw Madam Pince dusting a shelf and Lena shelving. He waved to Irma as he went to the section where the books on the Society of Ravens were and selected the volume he wished to read. As he went to sit down, Lena intercepted him.
"Hello, Harry. No finals today?"
"Hi, Lena. No, I already had two. I have my practical in potions this afternoon," Harry told her.
"Oh. Are you nervous? I've heard Professor Snape's finals are legendary."
"Not really. He's drilled me on them before and I know he'll give us one that's hard, but that we've learned to brew at least once."
"That makes sense," Lena nodded.
"Hello, bran-boy! Hello, Lena!" Skull cawed as he swooped down to land on Lena's arm. "I have a message for you from Sev. Would you care to hear it?"
"A message from Severus for me?" Lena clarified. She could feel her face heat slightly. "Go on."
"He sent me to ask you if you're busy later on. If not, then would you mind helping him grade his end of term tests and assignments? You did so once before, if I recall."
"Yes, that's right." Lena put a finger to her lips, thinking. "I believe I'm free after six tonight. I'd be happy to help. Would you please tell Severus so, Skull?"
"Will do, madam. And thanks from me as well, you've no idea what a grouch he can be when he's stuck grading all those papers by himself!"
Lena laughed. "I think I can imagine. And if he's grouchy with me, I'll tell him to go take a walk and clear his head. But leave me a big cup of coffee first."
"Sounds good to me, lady Rook! Be seeing you. Goodbye, all!" Then Skull flew away, leaving Lena with a slight smile on her face.
Upon seeing it, Harry grew bold, and asked softly, "Lena? Do you . . . like Professor Snape?"
"Huh?" she turned to look at him, astonishment covering her features. She brushed tendrils of blond hair from her eyes. "I . . . well . . . I . . . he's a good friend of mine," she stammered, not knowing what to say. It was true. The witch had very few friends in her life, mostly because her mercurial talent of reading surface thoughts made making friends and keeping them difficult. Except with Severus it was different. He was an Occlumens, his mind was closed to hers unless she tried to forcibly enter it.
"So you like him," Harry stated.
"Well . . . yes . . ." Lena admitted shyly. She admired Severus greatly for his control and his power and though she was often annoyed by his high handed attitude when it came to potions, she had to admit he was the best in his field. She also liked him as a person, snarky though he might be at times. He was an honest friend and she owed him a lot. But she was unsure if he liked her back.
Aunt Irma had told her once he was in love with Lily Evans, back when they were students, before she married James Potter. Lena had seen a photo of Lily in the school Slug Club in Dumbledore's office once. Lily Evans had been stunning. Unlike average Lena, who was skinny and too smart. The few suitors she'd had had been intimidated by her brains and had been more interested in getting her between the sheets than researching obscure magic with her. They'd also been put off by her mind magics, and she knew then she could never marry someone who did not love her for all that she was.
Not that Severus loved her. She was sure he considered them just friends, even if she hoped someday he might look at her as something . . . more. Then she shook her head. What silly girlish dreams she had! She was far past sixteen, too old to have fantasies about the dark-cloaked professor. She was content to be his friend . . . but a part of her did wonder what had happened between him and Lily. If she had Severus Snape's heart, she thought, she would have never let it go. Why had Lily chosen James over Severus? She was sure Irma did not know, or else she would have told Lena by now. It was another piece of the mystery that was Severus Snape. She wondered if she would ever know the answer.
The library witch turned to the son of the former Miss Evans and said, "Well, I'll see you later on tonight, Harry. Enjoy your book, it's a good one."
"Have you read it?"
"Oh, yes. I've read all the books in this section," the librarian said, then she swept off to reshelve some more arrivals, her midnight blue skirts swishing about her ankles.
Harry eyed her thoughtfully before opening his book and beginning to read. His mind was recalling something a certain white raven had said to him earlier.
"For your final you are to brew a Forgetfulness potion," Professor Snape told his class of first year Slytherins and Gryffindors. "You have two hours. Watch the clock. Solutions are due on my desk before the bell rings. All ingredients are in the back cabinet. Begin."
Since they were all working alone for this draft, Harry hurried to the back cabinet for his ingredients as soon as he could. He had looked over all the difficult potions in his syllabus before coming to class, after he'd finished most of the book about raven mythology. So he knew most of the ingredients he needed, and he'd taken a look at his book to recall the rest.
As he gathered his ingredients, he smiled at Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Neville. He wasn't too concerned about Draco and Hermione, they were good potion makers, but he was a little worried about Neville, whom he hoped wouldn't let his anxiety get the better of him, and Ron, who tended to rush under pressure. He brought all the various beakers and jars back to his station and started the fire under his cauldron. He supposed he'd better concentrate on his brewing now and worry about his friends later. It wouldn't do for the son of the Potions Master to fail his practicum.
Severus walked about the room, not saying anything for once, but making sure there were no accidents or sudden fires to put out. So far most of the students were doing all right, especially Draco, Hermione, and Harry. Harry was even a little ahead of the others, which made Severus proud. Apparently, some of his tutoring had sunk in. Longbottom was also doing well, at least he wasn't melting his cauldron yet. And even Weasley hadn't broken anything or dropped something.
He returned to his desk to grade some papers while the clock ticked.
Skull was snoring on the end of it and he nudged the raven gently before picking up his quill. The bird shook himself and went on sleeping. Severus wondered how a simple flight with Shriek had tired out his familiar. Unless they had been doing other things besides flying . . .
Severus rubbed his eyes and ordered his mind to quit wallowing in the gutter and start grading. He was grateful Lena had accepted his offer and would be sure to have a pot of coffee and some pastries for her to munch on tonight. Some nights, the coffee and sweets were all that kept him upright.
Finally, Harry had finished brewing and had just bottled his sample. After cleaning up his station, he brought the finished product up to Snape's desk. "Here you are, sir." He held out the bottle for Snape's inspection.
Severus looked up, nodded, a pleased look coming into his eyes, then said, "Place it there, Mr. Potter. You are the first one done, and now you may go. You shall see the results of your marks next week."
Harry nodded and said, very softly, "See you at supper, Dad." He set the bottle on the desk and then he left. Boy, was he glad that was over! He only hoped he had done as well on his other exams.
Later that evening, he played chess with Ron in the Gryffindor common room. Ron won, of course, and then it was time to go down and meet with Ghost for his evening lesson. As he walked past Severus' quarters and office to get to Ghost's suite, he heard an unfamiliar sound—laughter. Peering inside the office, he saw Lena seated at a small table with a stack of papers on top, holding a red quill, and saluting Severus with a mug of steaming hot coffee. She seemed highly amused about something. Severus had a cup as well and was smirking.
They look like they're having a good time, Harry mused as he went by. He was glad, he rarely heard his father laugh nowadays, he thought the pressure of grading must be getting to him. But maybe Lena's company helped that, and in any case it was nice to see Severus smiling a little. He slipped past the office and on into Ghost's quarters.
After Ghost had accompanied him into the astral to demonstrate yet another way to hide and become familiar with the unseen realm, Harry said, "You and my father are a lot alike. Well, you have more of an . . . accepting personality than he does, but . . . you both demand a lot of yourselves and . . . err . . . are alone . . ."
"Meaning we aren't married?" Ghost asked, grinned. "I was once."
"You got a divorce?" Harry guessed.
"No. She died."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"No reason you should. But just so you know, I'm not quite the solitary Shriek says I am. I'm just not ready for a close relationship yet."
"Is . . . my dad, do you think?"
"Well, Harry, that depends on him. He's like me a little, his days as a spy kept him from forming a relationship with anyone. I think it was too dangerous for him. But now that he's stopped, and has you . . . well, things are different."
"Do you think he . . . needs someone? A lady, I mean? Shriek says he does, that all of us do."
"Shriek's a damn busybody. But then, she is a raven, and a female to boot. She won't be happy unless I settle down someday with a wife and a dozen brats."
"She says you're out of balance."
"She would. Right now, I'm content as I am. I'm not ready for someone new. It annoys her something fierce. She likes things tidy."
"Oh. What about my dad?"
"Severus will marry when he's ready. There are some things you don't force, Harry. It takes time for a broken heart to mend. There's no timetable for grief. Sometimes Shriek forgets that in her efforts to see me, or one of my friends, happy. Does it bother you he's alone?"
"No . . . except . . . I don't want him to be alone because of me. He deserves a chance to be happy. And I wouldn't mind a mother . . . someday."
"I think if Sev wants a relationship with a woman, he'll have one. But maybe you should talk this over with him."
"No! He'd skewer me!"
Ghost chuckled. "He might, at that. Try not to play matchmaker, Harry. It'll only get you in trouble." He ruffled the boy's hair. "All right. Let's go over this again, then we'll call it a night. You must be tired from your exams."
By the time they finished, Harry was yawning. Ghost dismissed him and he went to go to his room in Snape's quarters. As he passed the office, he noted it was now empty and Severus had locked it. The sound of laughter echoed in Harry's ears as he turned the knob and entered Snape's suite.
He found the professor sitting in front of the fire with a cup of tea, as was his wont. "Hello. Did you get all your grading done?" he greeted his parent.
"Most of it, thanks to Lena's prompt assistance," Severus answered. "Would you like a cup of tea, or would you prefer to go straight to bed? You look tired, Harry."
"I am, a little." He dropped his bag beside the couch and then went into his room to get changed. Afterwards, he came out and had a cup of Black Bohea and asked Severus if he'd failed anyone.
"Not this bunch, but there will undoubtedly be someone. You should have no fear of that."
"Really? Then I'm a good potion maker?"
"You have improved over the course of the year," Severus allowed. "And your marks should reflect that. Now stop fishing, boy, for I shan't tell you your grades ahead of time."
"But I didn't fail, right? So I won't be grounded over the summer." Harry pressed.
"No, not unless you do something utterly stupid or foolhardy. So remember that. Oh, and I'll be paying a visit to your relatives soon."
Harry grimaced. "What for?"
"To inform them of your adoption and gather the rest of your things."
"I . . . don't have much."
"Nevertheless, I owe Petunia a visit," Severus' mouth tightened.
Harry grinned. "She's gonna love that."
Severus rolled his eyes. "It will be the highlight of her summer holiday, no doubt. But I have things to discuss with her, and like it or not, she'll be hearing from me next week."
Harry smirked. He couldn't wait for that meeting. He knew Severus would probably tear into the Dursleys with his usual flare, and it was about time his relatives got their commuppence. Then he added, "Did you and Lena have a good time tonight?"
Severus gave him a suspicious look. "That's none of your business, Mr. Potter."
"You did, didn't you? You just don't want to admit it."
"You grow more impudent by the day. Watch it," the professor warned lightly.
Harry said nothing, for Severus' response said it all. He drank the rest of his tea and dozed a little before Severus reminded him to go to bed. It was sure to be an interesting summer, now that he was officially Snape's son.
A/N: If anyone else has ideas about Dursley revenge from Snape, now's the time to let me know! Thanks for reading!