Harry sat as quietly as possible while Tonks worked at her desk. A balding man with bright red hair came in and gave Harry a very amused expression.
“Arthur,” Tonks said, and gazed up at him in concern. “Oh good, you aren’t going to yell at me.”
Arthur stood with his arms crossed, leaning on the door frame. “Not unless it’s permanent. How are you, Harry?”
Faced with this most recent unknown person who apparently knew him, Harry replied easily, “All right, sir.”
Harry shook his head. A paper airplane veered around Arthur and looped fast around Harry, who grabbed it out of the air without thinking and handed it to Tonks.
“Good catch,” Tonks said and the two adults shared a look.
“Is he going home?” Arthur asked Tonks.
“In about thirty minutes.”
Since the new man looked the kindliest yet, Harry asked him, “Am I really eighteen?”
“Oh yes,” he replied. “I have a photograph down in my office . . . if you want to come have a look?”
Harry jumped up and followed the man’s faded blue robes—or perhaps they had once been black—down to the end and around the corner. At a small room with just a desk and one file cabinet, the man stopped and took out an album. He flipped through it to nearly the end and held it out for Harry. Harry stared at a moving photograph of four teenagers, two with the same bright red hair as Arthur, one a girl with flowing brown hair, and one that must be him, since he had glasses and the same scar.
Arthur was saying, “That’s my son and daughter, friends of yours, and another girl named Hermione.” The girl, Hermione, was holding the two boys hard around the neck, nearly pulling them forward, but they were all laughing happily. It was some kind of unreal fantasy brought to photographic life.
Arthur waited until Harry took his thumb and forefinger off the album before flipping to another photograph, an older one where Harry could recognize himself much more starkly. In this one a very, very large bearded man in rough clothing was bending close to get into the photograph. Arthur again found a new page. In this one, someone who looked like Harry was standing with a auburn-haired woman and they were arm and arm.
“Is that me?” Harry asked.
“That’s your mum and dad,” Arthur explained. “But you are the image of James, all right.”
Harry stopped breathing; he had never seen a photograph of his parents, much less a moving one. They looked happy but it was muted by something, worry perhaps. Feeling dizzy, Harry took a deep breath. This man, Arthur, seemed unbelievably sensitive to Harry’s distress. He gently put the album away in a drawer, which necessitated putting back some additional things that jumped out of it when it was opened, such as a kerchief and gloves.
“I have to get to a meeting, so I’ll take you back to Tonks.”
Back at the cubicle office, where Arthur urged Harry inside, Tonks said, “Sure you don’t want to take him home?”
Arthur laughed and gave this a moment’s consideration. “Trouble is Molly’d never let him out of her grasp again.”
In the ensuing pause Harry said to Tonks, “He had a photograph of my mum and dad.”
“Tonks didn’t tell you what really happened to them?” Arthur asked and then despite offering this easily, seemed reluctant to explain further.
Harry who had always sensed something deeply mysterious about this issue and had met with only vitriol when he brought it up at home, sharply asked, “What happened to them?”
Arthur said, “My, I see that quick temper of yours is not a recent acquisition. Your parents were killed by a dark wizard named Voldemort, who tried to kill you too, but only gave you that scar.” He touched Harry’s forehead with a forefinger, and Harry instinctively covered it.
Well, Harry thought, if that were true, his aunt and uncle certainly wouldn’t have told anyone. He wasn’t sure he believed it, but he didn’t say anything, just met the red-haired man’s gentle eyes. Arthur said, “I wish it weren’t true, Harry.” He clapped his hands then and rubbed them together. “I expect we’ll be seeing you next week, back to your old self.”
“Such an optimist,” Tonks teased.
With confidence Arthur explained, “You said the cane was in the middle of the room. If the spell were too strong, it wouldn’t have been left lying out.”
“Unless it were a trap,” Tonks offered.
“Strangest one I’ve heard of,” Arthur countered and gave a little wave before disappearing around the door frame.
“He’s nice,” Harry said.
“He is,” Tonks agreed. “Almost too nice. I’m going back down to the Department of Mysteries, see if they’ve learned anything about that thing. Sit down,” she ordered, and Harry obeyed.
Moments later, yet another person arrived and immediately took Tonk’s chair. “Hello,” this man said. He seemed less trustworthy to Harry for some reason. “You don’t remember me, I see, I’m Aaron. We’re in training together here.”
He held out his hand, which Harry shook. “Training?”
“Yeah,” Aaron said, propping his feet up on the desk. “Auror training.”
“What’s an Auror?” Harry asked.
Aaron leaned back to relax, hands behind his head. “A dark wizard hunter, of course.”
“You’re having me on,” Harry criticized.
Aaron lost his laid-back posture when he started to laugh. And when he stopped, he continued to snort occasionally. “Harry, you are the foremost dark wizard hunter.”
Yet another figure darkened the doorway to the offices with his cloaked self. “So, it’s true. Potter . . .” he muttered disdainfully and shook his head.
Aaron leaned toward Harry and whispered, “This is your boss.”
Harry, who had no notion of having a boss beyond his relatives, greeted this one with: “Sir.”
This man shook his head again in an air of dismissive tragedy. “Tonks sending him home?” he asked Aaron.
“Yup. Snape is meeting her there shortly. I’m just playing nanny until then,” Aaron explained casually.
“Ah,” the mustached man said airily, “Snape doesn’t eat children anymore, does he?”
Harry looked quickly to Aaron to see the reply to this. Aaron was chuckling. “Not in a few years . . . unless he’s gotten better at hiding it.”
Feeling that he didn’t like this Aaron bloke much, Harry asked, “You know my new dad?”
“Oh, yeah, pretty well in fact. I went to the school where he teaches; had him for seven years as a head-of-house.”
“Is he mean?” Harry asked, really needing to know. The man in the doorway snorted.
Aaron thoughtfully echoed, “Is . . . he . . . mean? When I was in school that wouldn’t have covered it. Heartless, might have covered it. Cruel. Vicious. Heartless, no I used that already. But of course,” Aaron said, waving his hand with aplomb, “He liked us. We were in his house. Students like you, who were in Gryffindor . . . Snape hated the students from Gryffindor.”
Harry didn’t know whom to believe. The man in the doorway looked far too amused and Aaron gave no sign that he was lying.
Seeing Harry’s expression, Aaron said, “I think Snape likes you now though.”
“I would say,” the man in the doorway uttered snidely, “You are the only thing keeping him out of prison.”
Harry disliked that man more all of a sudden. To Aaron Harry asked, “Is that true?”
Aaron looked befuddled in an almost comic manner. He straightened his spine and replied, “I don’t know.” He glanced at the man in the doorway. “Maybe. It’s not impossible. I like Professor Snape though. If you’re on his good side, he’s a very good ally. Just don’t get on his bad side . . . he knows an awful lot of dark magic.”
“Dark magic?” Harry asked in alarm, but Tonks had returned so he didn’t get a response.
“See ya later, Harry,” Aaron said chummily as if he had not just withered Harry’s future to something, if possible, glummer than the prospect of the Dursley’s.
Tonks said to the man in the doorway, “I’ll be back, hopefully in fifteen. If not, I’m being flayed.”
“Get Mr. Weasley to drop him off,” Aaron suggested.
“He’s in a meeting and I’d have to fear Severus hunting me down if I don’t just face him now.” She sounded honestly worried about that, which only reinforced everything Aaron had said. Tonks took a cloak down off a coat rack and hooked it around Harry’s neck and then pulled the hood over his head and as far forward as it would go. “Keep that there,” she ordered, making Harry drop the hand he had brought up to adjust it so he could see something other than a small tunnel and the floor. His hand was taken up and with a heavy heart Harry let himself be led away.
The lift ride was a clanging and banging affair and then they were in a large open area, where Harry lifted his head and looked around as much as possible between Tonks’ repeated yankings of his hood forward. They passed a fountain and then faced a fiery hearth, one of a long row of them. Tonks crouched before him and said, “I’m going to take you with me, just in case.” She steered him close to the heat of the flames and tossed something onto the logs that burned pure green. With her arms she swept Harry forward and shouted something about a shrew and then they were spinning in near darkness.
Harry took a tight hold of the woman’s robes and closed his eyes as rushing air assaulted his ears. He opened them after half a minute and watched as brick, and stone, and cement rushed by interspersed with flaming and glowing hearths. They were spinning dizzily, and Harry worried he might lose his glasses, but he didn’t want to let go of his escort even with one hand.
They landed with a slap on a cement slab. Tonks led the way out, ducking under the mantel. Harry looked around the darkly paneled room. There was a window on the right and on the far wall a high shelf held strange bottles. A figure all in black swept into the room from the door to the left and glared at the two of them.
“Severus,” Tonks breathed.
Dismay crossed the angular features of the man and his unkempt hair tossed about as he shook his head. “Your note didn’t exaggerate at all,” he said to Tonks.
“‘Fraid not,” she admitted.
The man circled the table like a predator to better see Harry. With his long black cloak and prominent hooked nose Harry thought he looked more than a bit like a giant raven. The man’s eyes narrowed and Harry had the oddest notion that the man somehow knew he had come up with that unflattering imagery. Tonks gave a reluctant Harry a push toward the large table that dominated the room.
“I know I promised to keep an eye on him, but I can’t stop him doing really stupid things.”
The man pinched the bridge of his nose as though he had a headache. “And the object responsible?”
“Department of Mysteries has it,” Tonks explained. Harry inched his way over to the other side of the table where he felt safer. On the sideboard behind him, post was scattered, some of it was even addressed to him, which was a first in his life. He fingered it with a swelling heart. A photograph of himself with two of the people from the other photograph was there as well. It helped a lot to see it there.
Conversation stopped and Harry turned. A small creature with ears that ended in long drooped points had come in bearing a tray with biscuits and a glass of milk. It set this down, curtsied in its tea towel and departed. Harry forgot the elf quickly but the plate of chocolate biscuits, in a room that also didn’t contain Dudley, held his full attention.
The conversation about spell reversal and curse negation continued as Harry inched forward and took the first chair at the table. Slowly, stomach complaining, he took the milk and sipped that. No one said anything or looked his way. Harry took a biscuit and intended to nibble it, but instead gorged it down. He reached for another, thinking that he might get to like this place. His hand was halted by a sharp voice.
“If you are that hungry, we should have an early dinner, rather than excessive biscuits.”
Harry removed his hand from the vicinity of the platter and returned to his milk. Rather than satiate his hunger, the biscuit had defined the hollow of his stomach all the more clearly. He had only gotten toast for breakfast and because he had been hiding from Dudley and his friends, he had missed lunch. The scent of the biscuits, about twelve of them, Harry guessed, was torment.
Tonks approached and gave him a one-armed hug, “I’ll stop by tomorrow when there’s news. Behave yourself.” With another flash of green fire, she was sucked, spinning, up the chimney. Harry blinked at that, certain he had never heard of that working outside of the realm of Christmas.
The man stood considering Harry. Harry considered him back. The only sound was the tick of a clock in the next room. Snape said, “I’ll go see that Winky is preparing dinner.”
Harry almost took a biscuit in his absence but expected that he wouldn’t get away with it, that perhaps some magical trick would give him away and he feared what kind of magical punishment would be forthcoming. He finished his milk and sat trying to fathom what the objects on the mantel were for. None of them resembled torture devices, he was relieved to note. Other than the windmill, which turned in the brown painting on the far wall, nothing in the room was terribly, horribly out of the ordinary.
The man returned and took up a seat across from Harry. “Not much sense in yelling at you, is there?” he asked smartly.
Harry cleared his throat, “Everyone else said that today too.”
Snape shook his head, which caused his stringy hair to obscure more of his face.
Harry needed to find some footing here. He had been left with this man by a mix of people who marginally seemed to care what happened to him and some who found dark, mocking amusement in the prospect. “Tonks said that you adopted me?” Even as he voiced it, it sounded absurd and he wished he hadn’t spoken.
“Yes,” came the wry reply.
Harry swallowed hard, not sure what answer he had been hoping for.
“Do you wish to examine the paperwork?” came the snide follow up.
“I guess,” Harry said.
The man stood without warning after examining Harry’s gaze extensively with that disturbingly close attention. With a swish of his robes he was gone but he returned presently and held out a rolled up parchment.
Harry awkwardly unrolled it. It was long with miles of small print and lines that had been filled in with his name and Snape’s name. At the very bottom were some signatures. The first few lines were reassuring, going on in the manner of: henceforth shall be responsible for all welfare, health, and long-term educational/vocational requirements of adoptee. Harry let the parchment roll itself up again like an uncoiled spring and handed it back. Snape set it aside with his long, fine-boned hand.
Harry had only ever daydreamed of his parents suddenly coming for him to take him from the Dursley’s, not adoption, but if he had imagined adoption, this would not have entered his imagining. He shifted in his chair under that black scrutiny and felt something in his pocket bump the chair. Remembering his wand with a spark of happiness, Harry pulled it out. “I learned a spell,” he said.
“Really?” Snape crossed his arms doubtfully. “Let’s see.”
Harry, after three tries because he was nervous, got the silver pepper grinder to hover over the table. It drifted there on its own axis before suddenly falling with a loud bang! and a scattering of loose peppercorns. “Sorry,” Harry immediately said, hurrying to set the thing upright.
“No matter; it is a rather heavy object for a beginner.” Snape said. “One of your worst enemies sent that for Christmas.”
Harry picked it up and looked it over. “It didn’t break,” he pointed out before rethinking the assertion about enemies sending Christmas gifts.
“I don’t think it can be broken.” The man now had a wand in his hand as well. “Shall I show you another?” With a quick flick and another strange utterance that sounded like Elphaskrasi, the peppermill suddenly had pink polka dots.
“You’re a wizard too?” Harry asked, stunned by how many there seemed to be all of a sudden.
“Of course,” Snape sneered lightly. “You would prefer to be adopted by a Muggle?”
“What’s a Muggle?”
This question made the man rethink a moment. More calmly, he said, “It is a non-magical person.”
At that moment plates and platters of food materialized on the table, clad in a sheen of sparkles. Harry sat back in surprise, not believing it could be real until the odor of roast chicken hit his stomach, making it twist painfully. He clasped his hands between his knees to wait his turn.
“Go ahead,” Snape said.
Harry never got to serve himself first. Ever. He hesitantly reached for the serving spoon in the potatoes and once he started, rushed to give himself a chicken wing as well so he wasn’t holding up the meal.
Harry had never eaten better food. The potatoes tasted like cream and the chicken fell off the bone. Harry quickly nibbled his piece clean to the tiny wingbones where the feathers attached. He then began eying the platter, which was still heaped with the rest of a chicken and there was no Dudley or Uncle Vernon to be satiated. One wing was all Harry ever was given though when his aunt cooked chicken. He slowly ate his potatoes and wondered if he could have more chicken.
“Do you want another piece?” came the sharp question, and for a moment, Harry dealt with the notion that he had annoyed his new dad by NOT helping himself to seconds.
“Er . . .” Harry glanced down at the wing bone sitting forlornly on his plate. There really wasn’t so much as a molecule of meat left on it so he couldn’t claim he wasn’t finished with it. “Can I?” he asked.
“Of course. I cannot possibly eat all that,” the man said, still sharp as a whip.
Harry had somehow angered his new parent without trying. More to the point, by doing exactly as he knew he was supposed to. Confused, Harry said, “No, I’m all right.” Which was true; he was more full than he usually was after dinner.
This did not work to negate the anger, however. Snape turned his head, angled and sideways, like a raptor might and said, “You are as thin as that tiny bone you have gnawed raw that now sits before you.”
Harry didn’t know what to say to that. The tone was clearly a challenge demanding a response, but Harry was only growing more confused by these mixed signals.
Snape huffed ominously, the way Vernon did before everything got the worst it could. But instead of turning red and becoming verbally violent, the man’s entire attitude transformed and he mutely shook his head. With awkward patience Snape softly said, “Harry, take as much as you like to eat.” He threw his napkin down on the table and sat back. “I am quite finished, in fact.” He watched Harry gingerly take a thigh off the plate. As Harry gratefully ate it down, amazed at how much meat such small bones could hold, the man stood and took a bottle of dark liquid off the shelf and poured himself a serving. He failed to put the bottle back away, and instead made a point of keeping it close in reach.
After a second piece of chicken Harry was very full, as full as he had ever been in his life. His stomach hurt, which he didn’t know was possible and made him think Dudley’s must hurt after every meal and sometimes after his snacks.
Snape said, “We’ll have to find something to occupy you. I have grading to do for tomorrow that I did not wish to foist off on my replacement, who is sometimes too forgiving of half-correct responses.”
“Do you have a television?”
“No,” came the dry reply.
“No television?” Harry asked in disbelief; he thought everyone did.
Snape waved at the oil lamps on the walls and table. “There isn’t electricity. Nor do I wish to have a television. There is a library, perhaps we can find something there for you to read.”
He took his drink and led the way across a two-story hall and into the far room, which was lined floor to ceiling, all around, with books. Snape said, “These are yours over here, although most of them you will probably not find interesting at this stage in your magical career.”
“Magical career?” Harry echoed.
Snape waved him off and said, “Should you need anything. I’ll be in the drawing room.”
Harry sat on the rug before the shelf and pulled down each of the books and flipped through them. He finally found a book with lots of dragon pictures and very amusing stories of bad encounters with dragons. This book he sat back with and quickly forgot where he was, although he skipped over a lot of words he didn’t know.
Harry’s head nodded for the third time. He put the book away and went out to the main hall. On the left were stairs leading down a half a flight. Harry went that way and found the kitchen. The creature that had brought the biscuits earlier gave him a curtsey. “Master.”
“Do you know where the toilet is?” Harry asked.
The elf nodded, making its ears flap. “Next door down this corridor, Master.”
As he washed up, Harry stared at himself in a mirror that had lost half of its silvering. The tile in the bath was sparkling clean but around the edges of things most of them were cracked and the grout chipped away. His Aunt Petunia would have run screaming from this place. Harry relished the realization that that gave him some protection from her. He yawned, exhausted and wondering where he could sleep. He checked the rest of this lower corridor. The large cupboard across from the toilet had only kitchen supplies in it, not anything that resembled a bed.
Growing more weary by the second, Harry roamed around the main hall following the light from the far room. Inside the drawing room, Snape worked at a tall stack of parchments. He didn’t notice Harry in the doorway.
“Please, sir,” Harry began, really not wishing to risk interrupting, but seeing no choice. The dark, very dark, eyes came up and fell on him with that intensity Harry was not used to. “Where do I sleep?”
The intensity vanished as Snape stood. “In your room.” An eye blink later, he passed Harry with a gliding stride. “Come.”
Harry followed up the steps to the first floor balcony. At the last door Snape stopped and gestured for Harry to enter. Harry went into the dark room a few tentative steps before the lamps came up bright on their own. Snape, wand out, passed Harry and went to the wardrobe.
“You’ll have to wear an oversized pair of pyjamas I believe.” He took out a pyjama top and handed that to Harry, who couldn’t believe how soft it was.
Harry looked around at the four poster bed with its detailed carving on the posts, the trunks stacked in the corner, the animal cages. “This is my room?”
Harry wandered the perimeter and stopped at the cages. One was empty but the other contained something furry and violet curled up in a pile of rags. Harry touched the wire bars, trying to get a better look. The creature lifted its head and blinked at him sleepily. Harry reached for the cage door but was restrained by a hand.
“To bed instead. Her sleepiness gives away yours.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said, but he had to finish exploring the room first. The man waited by the door, watching, so Harry didn’t try to open either of the huge trunks. Instead, he went over to the bed and looked in the drawer of the night stand and then on the shelf. He spied a photo album very much like the one the nice red-haired man had shown him. Pulling this out brought Snape back over and Harry started to put it back away.
“Go ahead,” Snape said. “I thought perhaps you would like to know who was in the photographs.”
The first page was obvious. “That’s my parents,” Harry announced. “Mr. Weasley had a photo of them too, but I thought my dad was me.”
“You do look just like him.”
Harry stopped and looked up sharply. “You knew my mum and dad?” When Snape replied affirmative, an undefined tension relaxed inside Harry. “You were friends with them?” he asked, trying to figure out why, if his parents had friends still alive, he was still left at the Dursley’s who clearly were not friends of his parents.
“Not exactly,” Snape admitted wryly. “Your father and I did not get along well.”
“Oh,” Harry responded, thinking that may explain it, which also made him feel oddly better. “Were they magical?” Harry suddenly thought to ask. “Or . . . what’d you call it . . . Muggles?”
“They were very magical,” Snape confirmed.
“No one ever told me,” Harry lamented in a mutter, flipping now to pages showing his older self with the same friends as the other photographs. “I have these two friends,” Harry announced happily.
Snape made a snorting sound that made Harry look up sharply on the verge of hurt. “You have more friends than you can possibly count,” Snape explained.
Harry glanced back down at the album and a photograph showing himself sitting around a thick wooden table in a library, he looked displeased at having the picture taken and kept shading his face from the flash bulb. The table was full of other students, all dressed in the same uniform. “I don’t have any friends; Dudley beats up anyone who talks to me.”
“Your cousin would not survive three seconds with you anymore,” Snape assured him. “And that is assuming you were feeling generous toward him.” He moved to the door. “Do not have the lamp lit too much longer.”
Left alone, Harry finished slowly flipping through the pages before he changed into the pyjama top, of which he needed to fold up the sleeves three times over, unable to imagine fitting in it, but apparently it was his. He settled into the huge soft bed and his eyes wanted to close, but he held them open to look around the big room filled with all kinds of things . . . all his. With care, Harry turned down the lamp and willingly let his eyes close this time.
Around midnight, Snape slipped in to check on his young charge. Mussed hair peaked out from under the duvet above where Harry’s small self barely formed a tall wrinkle at the top of the bed, barely reaching the middle. For one breathless moment, Snape imagined Dumbledore attempting to guide this small life through prophesized events that even in hindsight loomed overwhelmingly. He wondered how the old wizard had managed it and thought that perhaps, he had underestimated Dumbledore’s power, or at least his wisdom; he had certainly underestimated his resistance to stress. The very notion filled Snape with cold dread.
The cold knot tightened Snape’s insides painfully. If Harry were not transformed back, he himself would be in precisely the same position, for which he was sorely lacking in both power and wisdom. He could not accept that daunting future; it refused to take hold in his mind. His Harry, powerful both magically and physically, would return to fulfill the prophecy. He must.
- 888 -
Ginny awoke with a jerk and grappled for her watch and her wand. Shrouded by the thick drapes, she used a Lumos Charm to read the time: ten after four. She tossed the watch back down beside her pillow so as to not have to set it down loudly on the wooden night stand and potentially wake her roommates.
As she buried her face in her pillow again, Professor Trelawney floated up before her mind’s eyes, speaking in that awful voice. Ginny groaned and willed her away until she realized that she was remembering the very beginning of the Prophecy, the part she thought she hadn’t heard but apparently had just forgotten.
With a huff she rolled over and assumed it could wait two hours until what a reasonable person would consider morning.
She didn’t fall back to sleep, however, despite steeping herself in reliving the recent dueling win, usually a sure-fire way of lifting her mood. At six in the morning, she dressed in silence and went out of the dormitory. She considered informing Professor Snape, but then remembered that he had been absent from dinner and maybe had gone home for the weekend. Ginny wished she could go home for the weekend, especially to Harry’s house.
As she expected, Headmistress McGonagall was awake. She sat with her glasses on her nose, reading from a yellowed tome propped up on her desk. “Ms. Weasley, this must be a record,” she said.
“I remembered the beginning of the prophecy,” Ginny explained.
McGonagall clasped her hands over the vellum pages before her and appeared extra attentive as she lowered her head to look over her spectacles. “It is good that you did, sometimes these little details matter.”
Ginny shrugged. “I think we’re better off without the beginning part this time,” she stated tiredly.
After a long pause McGonagall prompted, “What is it, Ms. Weasley.”
Ginny took a deep breath, “‘Few will escape the blood and chaos of the darkness, bound, sought and released.’”
McGonagall’s eyes closed momentarily. “Well, that is a jolly thought for this morning.”
Ginny put her hands in her pockets to quell the nerves making them fidget. “Maybe the Ministry should be told,” she suggested quietly.
McGonagall nodded. “Very selectively though. I’ll discuss it with Severus . . . and Harry,” she added in an awkward manner. She then appeared mysteriously befuddled for just an instant.
“Do you want me to go inform him, ma’am? I notice that you don’t both like to be absent.” She asked this in what she thought was an admirably professional tone.
McGonagall shook her head. “No, I will take care of it.” She almost appeared to reconsider, then waved Ginny off.
- 888 -
Morning came for Harry. He awoke thinking that he had had a very nice dream about having his own room and a good dinner, but when he opened his eyes to the sunlight, he realized it had not been a dream. He quickly dressed in his own baggy trousers and a clean t-shirt from the wardrobe that reached below his knees, and went downstairs.
The man from the night before, the strange dark-eyed one who had adoption papers saying he was now Harry’s father, was at the dining room table drinking coffee and reading a strange newspaper. A white owl sat on the back of the chair opposite. It bobbed its head at Harry’s approach.
“Would you like breakfast?” Snape asked.
Harry stopped just inside the doorway. “Shall I go make it?” he asked.
The sharp edge came back then, “Heavens no. Take a seat . . . the elf will bring it.”
Harry wished he could avoid annoying this man, but it was impossible. He moved warily over to his chair. The owl tilted its head endearingly and clacked its beak.
“That is your owl,” Snape informed him. “Her name is Hedwig.”
“Where was she last night?” Harry asked, carefully pulling out the chair so as to not upset the bird’s perch.
“Hunting, picking up your post from your friends at Hogwarts.”
Breakfast arrived before Harry could get fully acquainted with this pet. The plate that appeared before him had two rashers of bacon and two pieces of toast and two eggs. Harry looked over at the identical plate before Snape. He sensed now that making a point about the food was a mistake, so he dove into eating without asking if this was all for him.
Another owl arrived at the end of breakfast, carrying a letter. Snape read it and bunched it up. “Still no progress on reversing the charm upon you. And they do believe it is a charm, rather than a curse.”
“What will happen then? Will I go back to the Dursley’s?” Harry asked.
“You will go back to being your eighteen-year-old self,” Snape replied.
“Oh,” Harry said, thinking that didn’t sound so bad. In the photographs he had looked big enough to fend off anyone.
“What to do with you today, though,” Snape muttered. “What do nine-year-old wizards like to do?”
Harry had no appropriate suggestions and hoped the question was merely thinking aloud.
“The weather is a bit warmer today. I think I know what we can do.” He stood and Harry followed quickly, curious to see.
The man went to the front entryway and took two brooms out of a cupboard there. “Not your usual one, but perhaps that is just as well.” He handed a broom to Harry, who studied it in confusion. It wasn’t an ordinary broom though, it had a logo on the end of the handle and it was highly polished. Snape also gave him a cloak and a pair of gloves, although they were both far too large.
“Come,” Snape said and led the way through the house and out the back to an overgrown garden. “You were reputed to be a natural at this at eleven, so I expect you already are at nine and a half. Do like this. Set the broom on the ground, hold your hand out over it, and say ‘up!’”
Harry did as he was told and nearly let go after catching the broom as it jumped up into his grasp and hovered there, alive and willing.
“Up for a little flight?” Snape asked with what could have been snide, but Harry thought instead that it meant they shared an inside joke.
“Sure,” Harry replied eagerly.
Snape dropped his broom and said “Up!” before it could hit the ground, a slick looking move. “Oh, and one more thing.” He took out his wand and tapped Harry on top of his head. Cold liquid ran over Harry’s head and neck, making him rub at it to no avail. “Get on like this, lift the handle slightly to increase your height. Very good,” he praised Harry, who had lifted to a steady hover seven feet from the ground, a bright smile ruling his face, making it ache. Snape mounted as well and sped off toward the low clouds, and Harry instinctively leaned forward to make his broom follow.
Everything about flying on a broomstick felt inherently obvious and instinctive. He zipped side to side, testing the steering before catching up to the man.
“Having fun?” Snape asked.
“This is wonderful,” Harry shouted, feeling his stomach flip at the view of the spring green ground far below. But he was free, at home, freshly liberated; everything before this had been imprisonment in an alien country.
Snape slowed and stopped. The cold breeze blew fiercely in their faces, so he turned his back into it and Harry did the same, knocked off balance by the maneuver, but recovering with a quick hand of help. “Where shall we go?” Snape asked.
“Can we get ice cream?” Harry asked.
“You wish to have ice cream?” Snape asked, sounding snide again.
Harry swallowed nervously, afraid that he had crossed the line, certain that he would never know where the lines were with this man.
“If you wish.” Snape conceded and turned slowly on his broom. “What town looks likely to you to hold an ice cream shop?” he asked.
Harry looked keenly around them. A larger town sat at the horizon in a small valley along a canal. He pointed his oversized glove that way. Snape gestured that he should lead, and Harry eagerly did so.
Before they were halfway there—farther than it seemed at the outset—Harry’s hands were growing cold inside his fur gloves. A wisp of very low cloud passed by, moistening his cloak even more than it already was. Below them a road snaked through greening fields dotted with sheep. It wasn’t real, Harry’s sensible mind suddenly asserted. He was dreaming. By sitting back Harry slowed without trying. He was on a shiny black broomstick, flying over the countryside. It wasn’t real.
The man flew close beside him. “All right, Harry?”
Harry couldn’t believe the man was real either. Any second now he was going to wake from this dream or he was going to fall. Harry gripped the highly polished wood before him as tightly as his half-numb hands could manage through the ungainly oversized gloves. He was dangerously high in the air and brooms couldn’t really fly. But despite his screaming instincts, he wasn’t falling; the broom didn’t need his faith to continue hovering, even five hundred feet above the earth.
“Harry?” Snape prompted more sharply. Harry reached out for the man, and got gathered up as soon as the world careened wildly. “One hand always on the broomstick—difficult to steer without that,” Snape corrected, forcefully planted Harry’s right hand on his broom. The world leveled out, but Snape’s arm was still fast around him. “I think this is perhaps too much too soon.”
Harry was breathing normally now and he anchored himself by watching the cars snaking along the road below them. Flying on a broomstick was feeling real again, as real as the warmth of an adoptive father wrapped around him. The broom hadn’t failed him, even though he had failed it. Experimentally, he leaned a little left and they both turned.
“Let’s get you home, Harry.”
“No,” Harry countered. “I want ice cream.”
“You do? You are dead certain that you are about to fall and you want ice cream?” Snape asked facetiously, but he gradually released Harry to fly on his own. Harry took it as a test and did the best he could, even though his arms felt quaky as well as cold.
“It will be warmer on the ground. Come.” Snape led the way this time, cloak billowing, checking back frequently to see that Harry followed. Harry for one was angry at himself for faltering at his first taste of real freedom. He wouldn’t do that again, no matter how certain he was of falling.
They landed behind a shed on a small football pitch. Snape tapped each of them on the head, set their brooms up against the wall and tapped them as well, and then led Harry away. It was considerably warmer on the ground; halfway to the nearby road, Harry had to toss his heavy cloak off of his shoulders. Down a small slope and across the road stood a chinese restaurant and beside it an ice cream shop. Three boys of about fourteen were already enjoying treats on the pavement before it.
Harry followed past them, pausing to roll his worn right cuff up, which he was walking on, as usual. Snape waited by the window for him. The boys were whispering, but Harry was used to comments about oversized clothes and ignored them. When he reached him, Snape said, “Perhaps we should get you some clothes that fit.”
Harry, to whom it had been made abundantly clear that new clothes were not appropriate somehow, said, “These are all right. Can I have double chocolate?”
While Harry’s treat was being prepared, Snape reached into his pocket and pulled out large shiny gold coins. He put these quickly away and tried a different pocket, which contained ordinary, dull, pound coins. “What’s the other?” Harry asked.
“I’ll explain later,” Snape dismissed the question, paid, and handed Harry his treat along with a stack of serviettes.
They sat at the small plastic table beside the window. The other boys had moved on and the two of them were alone. Snape considered the small version of his adopted son with a practiced eye as the boy vigorously ate his treat. So involved in eating, he was, that he remained unaware of Snape’s attention. The brief sunlight swept through accompanied by a cool wind and Harry pulled his bulky cloak tighter with his free hand. A wave of protective instinct washed through Snape, sitting there at a Muggle table in an entirely Muggle village.
This Harry he could protect, unlike his own independent Harry with his own duties and his own grown-up predilection for trouble. Voldemort was gone; could this new trouble possibly be worse, Snape wondered. And if he tried to protect his older Harry with the kind of forthright confidence he felt certain he could bring to bear upon this Harry, would that work? Or would his Harry thrash immediately against the necessary limits placed upon him?
If Snape kept Harry this size, he could protect him much easier—a tempting, if not irrational, notion. But the prophecy would either be void or had better have a lengthy timeline to fulfillment for Harry to get prepared. Snape found himself unable to assume Harry’s decrease in age could be part of the expectations of the prophecy. He would get his own Harry back and this would just be an opportunity to better understand the son he had taken in.
Harry paused in his voracious eating and sighed as though it were hard work, this eating.
“Thanks for the ice cream,” Harry said. It was delicious . . . and all his. The only other time Harry got any was when Dudley overturned his bowl, upset that it only had four scoops instead of five. Harry had turned it back over and eaten it anyway because no one told him not to. “You’re not having anything?” he asked, seeing Snape empty handed. “Do you want some of this?”
“I am quite all right. Thank you.”
Harry finished his treat as slowly as he could while watching the boys kick a football around on the pitch. He wished he were as big as they were. “Am I as tall as them now?” he asked.
Snape, required a second to take the question in, apparently his thoughts were elsewhere. He glanced over his shoulder at the impromptu match going on and said, “You are very near as tall as I am.”
“I can’t be,” Harry argued, but then had to lick a large drip that threatened his already sticky hand. “You’re really tall.”
“You truly are. You have grown enormously from where you are now.”
“Then I could beat anyone up,” he asserted.
“You don’t require height for that; your wand is quite sufficient. Finish your ice cream, it is melting.”
Harry guessed this was a signal that the topic should be dropped and thought perhaps with a little practice that he could find the lines around this man.
They returned to the broomsticks, Snape, instead of handing Harry his, used a charm to lock them together and hovered them as one. “Fly with me this time; the tryptophan is making you sleepy already.”
“The what?” Harry asked, but he had to admit that he was feeling a little groggy on top of full to bursting.
Snape lifted him onto the broom before him and tapped him on the head. “A compound prevalent in milk and chocolate that makes you tired and a bit happy.” He stashed his wand away and steered them directly upward into the wind. The boys on the pitch grew smaller and smaller until they were no more than insects.
“I am pretty happy,” Harry said, leaning into the cloak-shrouded strength behind him. Despite being a little sad that he wasn’t flying himself, Harry didn’t complain; this riding along in warmth was fine too. Snape’s arm held him fast and he had no concern this time about falling, even when they skirted the grey clouds. A gust of wind struck them and they turned with it and the arm around Harry tightened and didn’t let up until they were hovering down into the back garden of the house.
Snape didn’t release Harry immediately when they landed; in fact, he held him tight enough to restrict his breathing before he finally set him on his feet, and Harry, for the first time that he could remember, felt what it was like to be cherished. The man gave no outward sign of this as he broke the brooms apart and led the way inside, but Harry was certain of it. He was also certain, despite their short time together, that this man did not give up such emotion easily, and that only made it strike Harry harder.
Harry took his gloves and cloak off and handed them up to be put away in the front hall cupboard. Snape then instructed him to follow to the drawing room where a measuring tape was dug out and used upon him with cold efficiency. Snape then picked up a quill and jotted down the numbers. “I’ll owl a shop for some basic clothes for you so you do not have to look as though you shrunk and your clothes did not.” He said this in a mocking tone, but Harry felt its sharp edge slide off him without harm.
The pink-haired lady from the Ministry came during the afternoon with apologies. Harry listened from the doorway to the drawing room as she and his new father spoke about technical magical things. Tonks was reassuring Snape. “We’ve figured out that Merton must have been using the cane to chop wood and do other chores. He’s up there in years and the cane was sitting right before the full wood bin, all cut with an ax that was right out back, which would have been a lot of work for someone his age. He must have owned the cane long enough to know what it did and how to reverse the charm. For all we know it’s been in the family for generations. He could have written himself a note with a To-Do list, read it, did the chores, and changed back. Probably used it for all kinds of tasks that would be easier for someone younger. So if he went back and forth easily . . .”
Snape sat back in his desk chair and steepled his fingers. “That implies that his magic is not very good, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess it does,” she admitted. “Pathetic to be having so much trouble with him, in that case.”
Snape said, “He is presumably getting help from someone more powerful.”
“We’ve figured that out, but we don’t even know who inside the Ministry is helping him, let alone outside.” She considered Harry as he hung in the doorway. “We’ll get this straightened out, Harry,” she assured him.
“I don’t think he is in any hurry,” Snape commented.
Harry, wishing for a television for the hundredth time, carried a stack of books with lots of pictures up to his room to read until it was time to sleep. It was quiet here without Dudley and his uncle yelling and stomping up and down the stairs over his head. The elf snuck in, startling Harry, but it mostly ignored him and went to the hearth to lay on a fire. Harry liked having a fire in his room. Even Dudley with his two bedrooms didn’t have a hearth in either one. He would probably just try to burn his toys in it if he did.
Harry cracked open a book entitled Encyclopedia Albion Wizard Annual 1980. It had a lot of pictures and Harry could turn the pages slowly and pretend they were little televisions. Ten pages with around eight photographs each were devoted just to something called the Quidditch World Cup and Harry, since he had spent the morning on a broomstick, found this intensely intriguing, considering that he knew nothing about the sport. He enjoyed being alone for real rather than alone with lots of loud people around, pointedly ignoring him.
When a rushing sound like the hearth flaring sounded, Harry jumped up and bounded to the stairs, almost tripping on his much too big dressing gown as he tried to put it on. At the bottom of the stairs Snape was pointing at him with a fierce look instructing him to stay put and presumably out of sight.
A man’s voice could be heard. “Minerva sent me . . . wants to talk to you.” The two of them stepped into the hall and Snape glanced up but didn’t give Harry, who had inched back forward, any further instructions.
The other man, who had a generous head of greying brown hair, a pointed chin and slightly pointed nose, looked up and said, “Well, look at that. Harry, how are you?” he asked with kindness.
Harry tentatively stepped down until he was at eye level with the two of them. Snape said, “I must go for a few minutes. Remus here will look after you.”
“Who are you?” Harry asked the man.
“Remus J. Lupin,” he said, holding out his hand. “An old friend of your father’s.”
Snape stopped in the doorway to the dining room long enough to say. “He’s a much better candidate to tell you stories about your parents.”
They settled into the drawing room after the Floo flare sounded, and Winky brought tea in almost immediately. “Ah, thank you,” Lupin said to her. Harry accepted a cup as well and blew over it.
“Did you know my mum too?” Harry asked.
“Yes, Harry, I did. The finest person I’ve ever met,” he said with feeling.
“My aunt gets mad when I ask about her,” Harry lamented. Lupin gave him a wry smile. Harry went on, “But I have a new dad now, and he’s pretty nice.”
Lupin nearly spilled his tea. He shook his head and didn’t respond, even when Harry prompted, “What’s wrong?”
Lupin grinned crookedly and finally said, “Nothing is wrong, Harry. Most people don’t use the word ‘nice’ with regard to Severus, is all.”
“Well, he isn’t sickly nice like my aunts are with Dudley, all kissy facing and hugging . . . ick.”
Lupin sipped his tea. “Well, you are in the right place, Harry.”
Snape returned a short while later, and immediately escorted Harry up to bed. Harry wasn’t ready for bed so he circled the room as he did the night before. The violet, bat-like creature stirred from grooming itself as Harry reached up to release the latch on the cage door. Before he could untwist the wire holding the latch secure, the creature hissed at him, revealing rows of needle-like teeth.
Snape was there beside him in an instant. “Do not open it. That is strange . . . she doesn’t seem to know you.” That deep scrutiny turned on Harry for a long moment before Snape moved to cover the cage with a towel. “To sleep with you then,” he said abruptly, and Harry thought he was talking to the animal, but his gaze came back around to Harry.
Snape stalked to the door, turning back with a sharp look to be certain Harry obeyed. His brow was furrowed and he seemed mildly disturbed by something, but Harry assumed it must have been something from his meeting the way Vernon got angry at work, rather than anything Harry himself had done. Harry, still delaying, said, “Remus was nice. He told me about my dad playing Quidditch and my mum being really good at schoolworks.”
Snape’s his eyes seemed to be focused a bit farther away than where Harry was standing. He stated coldly, “Remus is a werewolf. Fortunately you met him on an evening when the moon isn’t full.” While Harry stood with eyes wide, Snape shook himself and said sternly, “I am quite certain I told you to get into bed.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said, and hurried up to the wardrobe to find his oversized pyjama top.
Despite what Harry would have ranked as one of the best days he could remember, that night didn’t pass as blissfully as the previous one. He snapped awake with a nightmare, one he had sometimes, with lots of green flashing light, but this time instead of the reassuring close walls of his cupboard, he found himself in a large room that in the disturbed moments after waking, felt far too vast, as though he might float away and be lost.
Harry told himself that it was just a dream, stilled his breath, and listened for any sound of footsteps. The last thing in the world he wanted was to hear the dreadful approach of an adult woken by his nightmare, followed by pounding on the door rebuking him even though it wasn’t Harry’s fault he sometimes had bad dreams.
Harry fluffed his pillow, hugged it, and closed his eyes. His dreams returned almost immediately. He heard a horrible vicious, almost triumphant, laughter and a man shouting in a panic before getting cut off suddenly with a queer gurgle. Harry swallowed hard and tried to understand what he had been in his nightmare. Usually when he heard voices with the green light it was a woman.
Across the room his brightly colored pet moved frantically in its cage and Harry flinched as footfalls clearly approached outside his door. The door creaked open and Harry closed his eyes, pretending to sleep.
“Harry?” Snape prompted. He didn’t sound angry. “Are you having a nightmare?” Harry couldn’t bear to reply and admit it. “I asked you a question,” came then, far less yielding.
“Yep,” Harry admitted quietly. When his new father approached the bed, Harry said, “Sorry I woke you.”
“You should not be. I wish to know when your sleep is disturbed.” He sat on the bed; Harry felt it tilt in a dip at the edge. “Did you have nightmares last night as well that I did not know about?”
“What is in your nightmare?” Snape asked. When Harry didn’t reply, Snape asked, “Are there shadows?”
Harry rubbed his eyes and then his forehead. “Shadows? No.”
“If there ever are shadows in your dreams, come to me immediately. Do you understand?” Snape’s tone had taken on an ultra hard edge.
Snape rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder, startling him. It was removed quickly. “If you need me, you may come down to my room, although I expect you will not do so. I unfortunately left the monitor I could have used for you at Hogwarts. Perhaps I will fetch it tomorrow.”
“Am I going to still be here tomorrow night?” Harry asked.
“The Department of Mysteries, who is charged with determining how to reverse this charm upon you, is not the most competently led part of the Ministry of Magic, and that is saying rather a lot. You wish to return to normal already?”
The question was asked with such neutrality that Harry felt there must be something more to it. No one asked a question without caring so little about the answer, or seeming to. Harry replied, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
“You are biding your time,” Snape pointed out gently. “You need not have any cares.”
Harry scratched his head and gazed into the fire burning warm across the room. “This is better than the Dursley’s though. Loads better.”
Snape stood. “I should hope that even I could improve upon that. If you have nightmares again I can bring you a potion to make them go away.”
Harry shrugged. “They just happen sometimes.”
Snape examined him closely, but not for as long as usual, before saying goodnight again and departing, leaving the door widely ajar, presumably to better hear if Harry’s sleep was disturbed. Harry rested his head back on his pillow and wondered why he had spent so much time at the Dursley’s if there were places like this to be living instead.
Next: Chapter 20
Unlike the rest of the house, this room was dusty and it tickled Harry nose. Inside, spare household things were stored, such as a few ugly paintings, a door, battered trunks and more books. The room felt icy, making Harry rub his arms vigorously to get rid of the chill. On shelves to the left sat some interesting things: a skull with a candle stub on top of it, string, chalk sticks, more half burned candles. In the right hand battered bookcase, books were stashed more randomly than in the library downstairs. Harry pulled one out and just barely read the title before Dark Mastery: A Gyde squirmed out of his grip and fell to the floor and lay still.
Wow, I continue to be unable to predict reader reaction. I'm officially giving up trying. (That sounds familiar...) This is all too much fun; it ought to be illegal or something.
I have to respond here to a careful reader who posted anonymously: Harry is not the Avatar. Vineet was speaking in generalities, although he may, and probably does, have someone in mind. That stated, understand that in my stories what absolute story truth is and what the characters believe don't have to match up. It's more interesting if they don't, I think, with each character having their own worldview and assumptions, none of which are in sync with any other character's, nor in sync with any absolute truth artificial or real. btw, if one of the characters ends up with my worldview, that is my definition of Mary Sue.