Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Harry Potter, that all belongs to the lovely J.K Rowling.
Severus was looking out of the Burrow’s kitchen window. Watching the children carefully as they played. Aurora was skipping about after James who was flying slowly on his small broomstick. Albus was by the old oak tree, lying on a patch of bare earth. Perhaps looking at some insect or other that happened to be crawling over the ground.
He watched as James flipped off of his broomstick gracefully and landed with a wide smile on his feet. Aurora came up behind him and clapped eagerly.
It unnerved Severus to watch the young James Potter. For it was he, and not Harry that held the true resemblance to the old James Potter. The James Potter that had been cruel and sadistic in his school years. The James Potter who had never failed to amuse a large crowd by making sure Severus looked like a fool.
The young Potter had the same dark hair that stuck up at the back and refused to be groomed flat. He too had that inherited mannerism to brush his fingers through it to scruff it up even more and give the impression that he had just dismounted off of his broom after a rather treacherous Quiddich match that he had won, of course.
He had Ginny’s eyes, a bright brown and not unlike the Old James Potter, although it was true that his were darker. He was tall for his five years, already loosing the toddler baby fat around his face that would be square jawed and defined as he became an adult.
The only plausible difference at the moment was that this James had been gifted with 20/20 vision, and therefore was not marred by the nuisance of spectacles.
Yes, Severus eyed him carefully. For young Potter and his daughter seemed to like each other, they seemed to like each other very much.
‘Severus, do you want a drink?’ he heard a voice behind him.
‘Hmmm?’ he replied.
He watched as James helped Aurora onto the back of the broomstick, he held her steady and Severus began to panic.
‘Err, it looks like it might rain out there’ he invented quickly ‘Don’t you think we should get the children inside?’ he didn’t take his eyes off Aurora, she swayed on the broomstick that James was holding.
‘I wouldn’t worry, they will soon come running inside when they get wet’ Hermione answered distantly.
He saw James’s lips start a countdown.
One, two, three.
He let go of the broom and Aurora went zooming off around the garden. Severus stiffened considerably by the window, and he pressed his hands tightly against the wooden work top. She swayed and zipped in all directions, her squeal of delight stopped abruptly as the broom turned and she headed straight towards James at an alarming speed.
Her eyes widened in horror as she realized she couldn’t stop.
Severus sucked in an anxious breath as his heartbeat began to thrash within his chest. James Potter ducked his head down a little lower and stood his ground as the broomstick flew towards him.
He held his hands out, and just as the broom was about to knock him down he shifted to the side, wrapped his arms around Aurora and plucked her off. The both of them fell to the grass as the broom deflected off of the garden wall with a thump.
Severus stared down at them lying on the lawn, still, silent. Until a loud shout of laughter rippled the air and he saw the both of them holding their stomachs in hysterics. Severus let out a breath, and slumped against the work top.
A pair of hands around his waist made him jump. He turned, and Hermione was right beside him.
‘What are you looking at?’ she asked curiously, he turned inside her arms and smiled tightly.
‘Nothing’ she raised an eyebrow, then shook it off, handing him a bottle of ale.
He looked over the table; it was being laid for dinner. Harry was talking with Arthur Weasley in the corner, his eyebrow creased slightly. Ginny walked in through the door way holding Silas who was looking wide eyed around the kitchen in exquisite interest.
Luna Lovegood was reading a copy of The Quibbler upside down on one of the chairs, it appeared it was a special issue on the conspiracies around the Ministry of Magic written by one Malory Merryweather and Molly Weasley was bustling past everyone, fussing with pots and pans and cutlery.
Severus mused to himself for a moment while Hermione held him there, pushing her face into his shirt. This had become the norm. This had become their routine. Every couple of weeks they would visit the Burrow, or the occupants of the Burrow would visit them on occasion. He saw Harry and Ginny every couple of days at least. More for Hermione than for him.
This was it, the picturesque of happiness, the purest image of contentedness.
Yet he didn’t feel he deserved such a life, he didn’t feel right in the atmosphere, as if this place didn’t have enough air for him to breath. It was fair to say that everyone had gotten used to him and Hermione, they may have even accepted it. Harry was civil enough to him now that they might even be called friendly acquaintances. Although anything closer than that would be a lie.
He felt like he would rather like he and Hermione to be at Spinners End, alone together like they were when this thing had first begun.
The Burrow stifled him, pressed him into a shape that was rigid and uncomfortable. Yet he endured, he knew it would not be long before the four of them would be back in the house he had abhorred for so many years of his life. He felt safe there, secure in the walls that had seen so much misery.
‘Children!’ Molly’s voice stung his ears and snapped him from his melancholy meanderings ‘Dinner time, come on, in you come’ there was the thundering sound of small feet and then the three children came tumbling through the door.
‘James!’ Ginny berated as she handed Silas to Harry quickly, Harry held him his arms awkwardly for a second, the way men do when they are given someone else’s child other than their own, but then pulled him closer and pulled faces at the wide-eyed child.
‘What in Merlin’s name have you been doing!’ Ginny shouted as she pulled her eldest son’s arm out and inspected a rather bloody gash on his forearm. James shrugged his shoulders and expressed an unfathomable string of sounds that sounded mildly like.
She frowned at him and pulled out her wand, healing the abrasion within a second, and leaving just a tiny patch of red swelling that would go down soon enough.
‘Wash your hands’ she said ‘You to Al, you look as though you’ve been mud wrestling with the Gnomes’ it was true, Albus was patched with mud and his hands were positively filthy.
‘Look Mummy’ he said with a smile and opened the palm of his hand. A large green caterpillar was wriggling on his palm, its slinking body collecting together and then spreading apart as it tried to crawl away.
‘That’s lovely sweetheart’ Ginny said, hiding a smirk. She plucked it out of his hands and went out of the garden door to release it back onto the lawn.
Molly had outdone herself, as ever, with the three courses she had cooked, and everyone sat stuffed and sleepy after their helpings of strawberry strudel. There was only one number missing, and that was Neville. His seat beside Luna was empty, his plate and cutlery clean.
‘When did Neville say he would be here?’ Hermione asked Luna as she placed Aurora’s colouring pencils towards the centre of the table to stop them rolling off the edge.
‘Well, he was supposed to be here an hour ago’ she said in her distant way, looking down at her watch which was decorated with tiny flowers in different colours ‘But it doesn’t surprise me that he’s late, I’ve hardly seen him at all this week, ever since Kingsley promoted him to the Minister’s Advisory position he’s been working constantly’ her large eyes saddened a little.
The sudden mention of Kingsley reminded Severus that he had not seen him for a few days, which was quite odd as Kingsley was always checking on the Departments at the Ministry.
‘We haven’t had much time to talk about the baby at all’ Luna said, and the table grew suddenly silent.
‘What?’ Hermione spluttered. Luna’s face brightened with forgetful surprise.
‘Oh, I’ve not told you have I?’ all the women at the table seemed to lean in fiercely ‘Neville and I are going to have a baby’ she smiled and the table erupted with excited squeals from the females and deep throated words of congratulations from the men.
Aurora smiled toothily, Albus was falling asleep in his chair made higher with cushions, and James stuck his fingers down his throat, making Aurora laugh.
The kitchen fire suddenly burned a bright a emerald, and out popped Neville Longbottom.
‘Speak of the Devil!’ Arthur exclaimed.
‘Congratulations Neville!’ Harry said, standing up and giving him a slap on the back. Neville’s face drew a blank.
‘Luna just told us the news’ Ginny said delightedly, fear quite suddenly registered on Neville’s face and Severus noticed that he was rather pale. It was a kind of guilty fear, as if the whole room had suddenly found out about a dirty secret he had been concealing.
‘You know’ Hermione filled in a little quietly ‘about the baby’ Neville’s face relaxed, and he smiled weakly.
‘Oh, Merlin right, the baby, the baby’ he said shaking his head smiling ‘of course, well thank you’ he sat down next to Luna and pecked her on the cheek ‘it made her father’s day when we told him’ he said as Molly began to fill his plate with food.
Severus noticed that the paleness of his skin did not perk up, in fact, he looked even iller out of the emerald firelight. There were deep, dark bags under his eyes that were red rimmed and blood shot. His hands were trembling just a little, and it looked to Severus as if he might have lost some weight quite suddenly. For his skin appeared to be hanging from his cheekbones in a haggard sort of way.
He caught a glimpse of Harry’s face in the corner of his eye. Apparently he too had noticed the change in Neville. Harry turned to Arthur with his eye brow raised, silently conversing with the older Weasley. Arthur simply nodded inconspicuously and turned his eyes back to Neville.
It was clear to Severus that something was not quite right, but the reason for the sudden feeling at the bottom of his stomach was concealed within the bloodshot eyes of Neville, and the creasing brow on Harry Potter’s forehead.
There was a screech at the window that made everyone jump, and a large Eagle Owl soared through the kitchen door and landed abruptly in the centre of the table. Its head held defiantly high and its golden yellow eyes scanning the faces meanly.
It held a letter within its beak, he glanced quickly at Severus, hopped along the table towards him, dropped the letter in his lap and squealed again before stretching out its wings and flying back out of the room.
Severus recognized the writing at once, it was from the August Brookes, the Head of the Exploration of Sources department at the Ministry. Severus looked at Hermione, and then tore open the letter.
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