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The Substitute by Snapegirl
Chapter 1 : The Substitute
 
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The Substitute

Companion piece to All That Matters

Takes places after Snape is released from the hospital, during the year or two before Harry marries Ginny and starts having children. Though this can stand alone, it's better if you read All That Matters first for a deeper understanding of how the characters got to where they are.

A special thanks to etherian, who helped me write Severus' memories of Tasha. This story wouldn't have been completed without her.

12 Grimmauld Place:

Harry kept having the same nightmare over and over. Where once he had dreams about Lily dying, or Voldemort killing all of his friends, he had managed to grow out of those tragedies by seeing a specialist versed in Mind Healing. He had thought the night terrors locked away forever, but he had pushed this particular memory deep into his subconscious, and only now was it creeping to the surface. He could not explain why, only suffer through the same awful dream over and over, a dream which in fact was not a dream at all, but the cold hard reality of a memory he wished to forget.

It took place during what chroniclers of the Second Wizard War now referred to as The Battle of Seven Harry's, when members of the Order of the Phoenix Polyjuiced themselves into Harry to serve as decoys so Harry could get safely away from Privet Drive after the blood wards fell. Harry had been riding on Hagrid's flying motorbike, that had once belonged to his godfather, Sirius Black. He had had Hedwig with him, in her cage.

She had screeched and pestered him to release her, and at last he did, feeling she would be safer with her own two wings, flying above the fray. There had been myriad curses flying about, what with the Death Eaters chasing them, and Harry had been hard pressed to dodge them all. Hagrid tried his best, but he wasn't exactly an inconspicuous target, and seemed to draw the Death Eater's aim just by being visible, which in turn put Harry in danger.

Harry had not thought the decoys would fool the Death Eaters for long, but it seemed as if they all thought the Harry flying with Hagrid was the original one, at least from the amount of hexes shooting his way. He had tried to block them with his wand, but it was hard to put up a Shield Charm when the motorbike was bucking and coughing beneath him like a runaway stallion. Harry was tossed about, bruised and battered, as Hagrid swerved and dove, trying to avoid the darting streaks of red and purple light that were deadly curses.

Harry swore inwardly at not bringing his Invisibility Cloak, but he had allowed Ginny to borrow it over the summer to play a joke on Ron and she had forgotten to return it. That oversight cost him dearly.

Hedwig, flying sentry overhead, would occasionally dive down upon a wizard riding a broom and claw at their head or face, trying to make them crash and quit pursuing her wizard. This worked for about six times, and she always escaped unscathed. It was while finishing one of these daring sorties that she spied Lucius Malfoy raising his wand and casting a deadly gout of fire at Harry's unprotected head.

She knew with uncanny prescience that Harry had no time to react to the unseen blast of magic, that he had been caught unawares and she could not warn him in time. There was only one thing she could do, and that was to substitute herself for him.

So she flew right in the path of the oncoming fiery bolt, willingly sacrificing herself for her beloved wizard. She gave one last cry of defiance before she fell from the sky, a ragged charred ball, and Harry turned and saw her.

"Hedwig! No!"

He reached out to catch her, but she was already plummeting towards the earth and his fingers grasped only air. His heart seized and he fought to keep from screaming as his familiar fell a long way away, to crash land who knows where.

"Hedwig!"

He woke screaming her name, as he had so many other times before. He sat up, his hair and neck wet with sweat, his skin clammy, his heart pounding, and tears leaking from his eyes.

His beloved owl, his first real friend, his loyal familiar, was gone forever. It had been something he had not allowed himself to remember, to feel, during the weeks following that battle. He had focused instead upon staying alive, keeping one step ahead of his enemies, and finding the Deathly Hollows. Later, he had focused upon saving his mentor, Severus Snape.

But now all those tasks were accomplished and he could start trying to have a normal life, if that were even possible. He had written several articles in defense of Potions Master Snape, titled The Truth About the Man in Black, though as yet none of the newspapers would publish them, declaring them too controversial. It made Harry angry, that even now people still weren't willing to believe the truth about the gallant spy, or the fact that Harry himself was an eyewitness to Snape's true loyalties. Small wonder Severus had chosen to move far away, to the Isle of Wight, rather than deal with narrowminded stupid people.

Harry lived at Grimmauld Place, it was the only residence that had top notch wards and was fit for human habitation, or was once he had rid the house of Mrs. Black's portrait and the house elf heads in the drawing room. He lived mostly alone, though there were times Ginny came and stayed over for a weekend or so, they were engaged, but Ginny was too old fashioned to move in when they weren't officially married yet. Or maybe it was out of respect for Arthur and Molly. Eventually, Harry and Ginny would use one of the properties he had inherited from the Potter estate and build their own home upon it, saving Grimmauld Place for a city home. But right then Harry had enough to deal with between trying to help reconstruct Hogwarts and battling these infernal nightmares.

His conscious mind realized that he needed to resolve the emotional impact of losing his familiar, but he didn't want to remember that horrible moment, which would be forever embedded in his mind. He didn't want to recall the last sight he had of the gallant owl, tumbling like a crumpled piece of paper through the air, until she disappeared from view. Or the way he had longed to keep screaming her name until his throat was hoarse. He had lost more than just an owl that day—he had lost his most loyal and true friend, one that had loved him unconditionally, the way no human ever could. A part of his heart had shattered on that day, and only now was he starting to feel the dreadful pain, cocooned as he had been by the travails of war and the demands of clearing Snape's name and reestablishing a relationship with his mentor.

Ginny had been supportive of him and understanding, but he knew the constant stress of his nightmares and the hounding of the press was starting to take its toll upon her. He hadn't slept decently in a week and he was growing more and more irritable and his patience was shot to hell. He would have taken Dreamless Sleep, but he was all out of the ingredients to make more and he hated the after effects of that particular potion, it tended to make him fuzzy and give him a headache the next morning. He had tried all sorts of natural sleep aids—warm milk with honey, melatonin, a lavender pillow, a shot of firewhiskey—nothing served to make the nightmares cease.

Ginny stirred, she had been sleeping next to him, staying over after he had taken her out to dinner. "Harry? What's wrong? Another nightmare?" she sat up, her blue eyes blinking sleepily.

"I'm all right, Gin. Go back to sleep," he muttered ungraciously, not wanting to admit to his crippling grief.

"Harry, you've been waking up with nightmares every time I've stayed over the past two weeks." Ginny said, ignoring his snappish tone. "Don't you think you need help? Maybe you ought to schedule a session with Healer Morris."

"Healer Morris is away on holiday in Peru. I can deal with this, Ginny. Don't worry about me." He turned over and buried his face in his pillow.

Ginny touched his shoulder briefly. "Harry . . . it's okay to tell me if you're hurting. Let me help you."

Harry didn't answer, clenching his teeth. Ginny meant well. But she would never understand the depth of pain he was feeling. She had never lost a familiar, never had one die protecting her. It had left a gaping wound in his spirit that time could not assuage. He pretended to breathe deeply and evenly, letting out a small snore. Let her think he was asleep. Better that than having her fuss over him, trying to help when no help was possible.

Ginny eventually turned over, her eyes filling with sympathetic tears. Poor Harry! He pushes me away when he's hurting so bad. I wish he would confide in me, but I know he's not comfortable doing that yet. Still . . . if only he would let someone help him. She thought about asking Ron to talk to him, then rejected that idea a moment later. Ron was a good listener, but he was uncomfortable with raw displays of emotion and Ginny sensed that Harry didn't feel like he could tell Ron about the nightmares. She knew they were about Hedwig, because she had heard Harry shouting her name once or twice. She knew how close he had been to the owl, and that he refused to even mention her name told her that he was suppressing his grief.

Ginny knew that such a response was born from years of mistreatment at the hands of the Dursleys, but she had no experience dealing with repressed emotions. Her family was very open and outspoken, they rarely hid what they felt, usually the whole world could tell when one Weasley was upset, or when a crisis had occurred. She tried to think of someone else who might be able to crack Harry's shell, perhaps Remus? She fell asleep still pondering how best to help her beloved fiancée.

Harry spent the rest of the night struggling against the dark memory, until finally he fell into an exhausted stupor near dawn.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

"Hedwig, don't!"

Once again Harry woke up screaming. It was the third night in a row he had dreamed again of Hedwig's sacrifice. Each time his reaction to the dream worsened. Now he felt ill, sick to his stomach, and he shut his eyes to dull the pounding in his head, and also suppress the tears that sprang up.

Ginny immediately came running into the room, she had fallen asleep on the couch in the den reading. "Harry! Are you all right? Were you dreaming about Hedwig again?"

Harry refused to meet her eyes. "Yes. I'm fine. Go back to sleep." He could not bear for her to see him this way.

But Ginny shook her head. "Harry, this isn't good, you suffering like this."

He shot her a glare. Dammit, couldn't she see he was holding onto his self control by his fingertips? That she should just go away before he lost whatever shreds of pride remained and fell to pieces? "Well, maybe you ought to Obliviate me then," he growled. "That way we could both sleep at night."

Ginny wanted to smack him upside the head. "Harry, this isn't just about sleep. Stop being so stubborn and just admit that you need help. Can't you see that you need to talk to someone about this?"

"No!" he shouted. "That's the last thing I need! There's nobody who would understand anyhow. How many wizards do you know that lost their familiar? That was as closely bonded as Hedwig was with me? Until you lose one the way I did, you can't understand the way I feel."

"I can try. Harry, all I want is to help you."

"All right. Then just leave me alone. Forget the damn dreams and just . . . go on as usual."

"Forgetting about it won't help you," Ginny argued.

"Yes, it will. It'll spare me from having to bloody discuss it over and over." Abruptly he pushed past her.

"Hey, where are you going?"

He did not reply, heading into the master bathroom and shutting the door. A few moments later she heard the most awful coughing and retching noises. She winced and rummaged in her overnight bag for a Stomach Soother, setting it on the nightstand. Then she returned to the couch and tried to sleep, pulling the blanket over her head to muffle her sniffling and the tears she refused to let him see. A part of her longed to take Molly's spoon to his behind and another part longed to hug him and never let him go.

She felt that he was on a one way path to destroying his peace of mind and she could do nothing to pull him back from the edge of the abyss. She had asked Lupin to try and speak to Harry, but Harry had brushed the werewolf off much as he had Ginny, and Lupin had told her that Harry needed time to come to grips with his loss and left. It made Ginny want to scream. Time was not Harry's friend, it was the enemy. For the longer he waited to acknowledge the fact that he couldn't deal with Hedwig's loss on his own, the worse off he would be. Ginny had done her best to give him room to grieve, only to see now that it was a mistake. Instead of grieving, Harry was trying to pretend there was nothing wrong, instead of facing his loss, he was trying to bury it. And slowly he was killing all that remained of hope and joy and love within him.

Ginny refused to stand by and let that happen. Someone has to talk to him, to make him see that he's only hurting himself by doing this. But who? Who would he listen to? And who would be bullheaded enough to make him listen if he refuses to hear them? An instant later she had her answer.

There was only one man who could butt heads with Harry and come away unscathed. One man whom Harry respected and who might empathize with his plight, but who also would not take any nonsense from the hero of the wizarding world.

The Man in Black, otherwise known as Severus Snape.

Ginny yawned and promised herself she would write Severus tomorrow. Though he had retreated from the wizarding world, she knew Harry still kept in touch with him, and had Snape's address written down in his address book.

Page~*~*~*~*~*~Break

The next afternoon:

Ginny returned from Quidditch practice with the Holyfield Harpies tired and in need of a shower. This was supposed to be her last night staying over at Grimmauld Place, she had originally planned to leave Sunday night, but had extended her stay because she was worried about Harry. She had told her parents she was trying to help Harry with some bad dreams, so they wouldn't worry about her being gone so long.

As she walked through the den, heading towards the master suite, she heard a strange clinking noise coming from the study, which was just off the den, on the same side as the master bedroom.

"Harry?" she called softly.

When there was no response from inside the room, she quickly turned the knob and entered.

Harry was sitting on his comfy leather desk chair, having pulled it out from behind the desk and positioned it close to the fire. On the desk amid cluttered parchments was a crystal decanter of Ogden's Finest Firewhiskey. Harry was slumped in the chair, his hand clutching a shot glass half full of the potent amber liquid. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair looked like a bird's nest. His shirt was stained and rumpled, he had on yesterday's jeans and socks with holes in them. He was staring into the fire, his green eyes bleak and filled with despair.

Ginny's heart broke. "Oh, Harry!"

He jerked up, his eyes focusing blurrily upon her. "Ginny? What're you doin' home so early?"

"Harry, it's the middle of the afternoon. How long have you been in here drinking?"

"None of yer business!" he growled, slurring his words softly.

"Of course it's my business!" she snapped angrily. "Do you think I like seeing you like this?"

"If it bothers you so much, get out!" he shouted. "Leave! You can't help, you might as well quit staring!"

"Harry, drinking yourself into a stupor won't bring Hedwig back," Ginny began.

"I know that, damn you! But it'll make me feel better! Now leave! I don't need you preaching at me. You're not my mother."

"Good thing. Because she'd whack you six ways to Sunday for how you've been behaving, Harry James Potter!" Ginny yelled, then she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She was now sizzling mad, and stalked into the master bedroom to grab herself a new set of clothes and then went into the bathroom to take a shower. Her temper needed time to cool, before she said or did something she'd regret.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Harry tossed back another shot, feeling the golden liquor burn all the way down. It hit his stomach and a burning warmth spread through him, easing the pain somewhat. At least if he was drunk he couldn't remember his dreams, couldn't feel the jagged edges of the wound Hedwig's death had left upon his soul. All he felt was numb.

Upon realizing his glass was empty, he rose and poured another shot from the decanter, anxious to quell the grief within. He was furious at Ginny for sticking her two Knuts in. How dare she lecture him on grief and the best way to deal with it? The only grief she'd ever known was the death of the family cat when she was thirteen! It was hardly the same as losing a familiar, especially one who had done what Hedwig had.

All of Harry's old insecurity and feelings of worthlessness welled up within him, the alcohol brought them surging to the surface. Hedwig's sacrifice haunted him, he knew he was not worthy of it—of any of the deaths that had occurred during the war. He had never asked for anyone to risk their lives or sacrifice themselves for him, yet they had done so. He regretted their deaths deeply. No one should have ever died for him. Especially not his snowy owl.

He heard the study door creak open.

Without turning around, he snarled, "Damn it, Ginny, leave me the hell alone!"

The door shut with a soft click.

"I am not Ginny," murmured a familiar silky voice.

Harry spun around, the glass of firewhiskey still in his hand. "Severus! What—how—?"

"Sit down before you fall down," Severus ordered, sweeping his black cloak behind him. He was not wearing his robes, but instead had on ordinary charcoal gray slacks and a pearl gray collared shirt with black boots. His hair was tied back and he looked very fit since the last time Harry had seen him.

Harry found himself obeying Snape's authoritarian tone before he even realized he was doing so. "Why are you here? Did Ginny tell you to come?"

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Am I not allowed to visit an old student? From the looks of things, you could use someone to talk to."

"Talk! Pah!" Harry sneered. "Is that all any of you can think of to do? Talk to me? You're pathetic!"

Severus frowned. "Since you are inebriated, Potter, I shall overlook your remarks. Though perhaps you would benefit from a quick ducking in a barrel of freezing water."

Harry drank half the glass before setting it down on the edge of the desk with a clatter. He glared defiantly at his mentor. "Y'wanna know why I'm drunk, Sev'rus? Fine! I'll tell ya why. It's cause I can't stand the memories anymore."

"What memories?"

"The one where Hedwig dies for me. Just like that." He snapped his fingers. "An' she's gone. Y'ever . . . lost a familiar, Sev'rus? D'you know how much it hurts?"

"I lost worse. I lost your mother," Severus answered.

Harry blinked, feeling suddenly like he was a tongue-tied idiot. "Thas' right. I forgot." He looked up at the former Potions Master. When he went to pick up the glass, Severus reached out a hand and grabbed his wrist. "Hey! Lemme go!"

"No. That is the last thing you need." Severus said implacably. "It'll only mute the pain, it won't banish it."

"Y' don' unnerstand! I need it! I don't want to feel like this." Harry tried to remove his wrist from Severus' grip, but couldn't do so.

Severus did not budge, keeping a firm grip upon Harry's arm. "I know it hurts, but that isn't the answer. It never is. It only masks the pain, it doesn't get rid of it. Take it from one who knows."

Harry struggled. "Let go, you bastard! I don't care if I'm numb. I want to be. Nobody understands, dammit! I don't want to dream, I don't want to feel, all I want is to stop feeling anything at all."

"That may seem like a plausible solution, but trust me, it is not. In order to be free of your burden of guilt and grief, you must face it, not bury it beneath alcohol and denial." He set a hand lightly on Harry's shoulder. "I have been there, Harry. I know what it is like to lose a familiar, your first and best friend, the most loyal creature upon the face of the earth."

"How could you? You never had one at Hogwarts," Harry cried, his tone accusing.

"Due to my work as an agent, I could not permit myself to bond with one. But when I was six years old, I had a familiar named Tasha."

"Was she an owl?"

"No. She was, perhaps, the ugliest dog I had ever seen. To be fair, when I found her, she resembled a multi-coloured toupee that had been dipped in mud and sorely chewed. I almost ignored her thinking she was nothing more than a piece of grotesque trash in an alley near one of the abandoned factories where I would play as a child. It was the tiniest of pitiful whimpers that caused me to crouch down to better examine the toupee. I discovered that it was a puppy. A very young and distressed puppy.

"Picking up the filthy thing, I put it inside of my coat, and ran to the park - the same park where I would someday meet Lily.

"In that park there was an old cement sewer pipe – it was quite large in that a man could walk through one just bent double. Hidden mostly by scrubby bush it made for the perfect hideout. It was there that I cleaned the puppy, discovered that it was a 'she' and immediately christened her Tasha.

"I could not take her home, of course. My father would not allow pets. In the half hour that I had tended to Tasha I knew there was no way I would give her up. Tucking her into my coat once again, I began wandering the streets, not caring that night was falling.

"Growing up in Spinner's End there were a handful of families that lived in and around my neighborhood. A rather down-trodden Anglican church served the parishioners that lived there, and they also helped the community. My mother and I partook of the meals that were offered too many times to number.

"Before I knew where I was going, the church was in front of me. There I was standing before the old wooden door, holding Tasha in my coat, and quite unaware that I was crying. That night I made my first grown-up friend, Father Joseph Edwards.

"Father Edwards intervened, rather strongly I might add - there was a rumor he had once been a boxer of some note - with Tobias, my father. Before I knew it, Tasha was able to come home with me.

"Tobias grumbled, yet stayed away from Tasha. My mother thought Tasha was adorable, and told me that she was a Pekingese. She went on to explain that Tasha's smashed looking face was not an accident, but was a mark of those dogs.

"Tasha gave me love and devotion, but she brought a light into my mother's eyes that I could not say I had ever seen before. Tasha even made my mother laugh, and I cannot tell you what a gracious sound that was. I wanted Tasha to live forever. Sadly, that was not to be."

"What happened to her? Did your dad do something to her?"

"No. Six months after I had found Tasha I had her in the park, and we were playing. From out of nowhere a huge dog I had never seen before showed up and came for me. He came up to my chest, he was a strong and powerful brute, a mix of some sort, and he was crazed. He would have torn me apart quicker than blinking. But my loyal familiar refused to let that happen. Despite her tiny size she had the courage of a lioness. She stood in the vicious dog's path, growling, allowing me to back away. When I heard Tasha yelp in pain, my accidental magic put in its first appearance by vanishing the huge dog, but unfortunately it was too late. Tasha's neck was broken.

"I felt like dying when I picked her up. So grieved was I that to this day I do not know if I walked, or possibly Apparated, but I was at the church. Father Edwards had been doing work outside, and heard me sobbing, and came to me. For the longest time he simply held me, while I held onto Tasha's body. I knew she had substituted herself for me, had saved me, and I felt terribly guilty for not being able to do the same for her.

"When I had no more tears left, Father Edwards took me through the church and to a small courtyard. Without either of us speaking, we buried Tasha. Kneeling over her small grave, I could only cry again. It was then that I told Father Edwards that as much as I hurt, I was terrified that my mother would lose all of her happiness because she had loved Tasha so much. Father Edwards took me home, he told my mother about Tasha while I held onto her hand. I was very glad my father was out drinking since the night before, and had not returned.

"When Father Edwards left us alone, my mother wept, and I held her just as Father Edwards had held me. Finally, though, I told my mother how unfair it was, and that I wanted Tasha back. I demanded that since she was a witch she HAD to bring Tasha back.

"My mother explained to me, as patiently as she could, that as miraculous as magic was, it could not do that. Before I managed to go off on a mad tirade, my mother caught me, and held me close. And these were the words she said to me:

"Tasha must not be remembered as a simple familiar, dearest Severus, she was a part of you and I, a part of our family. When we think of her, we should both do our best to remember the joy she brought to our lives. It is the best way we can honour her memory. And remember too that she died doing what she loved best, defending her best friend." She then took my hand, and held it over my heart. "Those we love will always be held within our hearts, my child. We grieve now, but I promise you that there will come a day when you think of Tasha and you shall smile."

"I mourned Tasha's loss for a long time, until the day I told Lily about Tasha. We visited Tasha's little grave in the church courtyard together, and while we sat beside her grave, Lily asked me all about Tasha.

"Good memories felt like they were pouring from my heart as I talked, and I was surprised when we both laughed when I related one of Tasha's antics.

"When I think of Tasha, even now, my thoughts are good ones. I think of how she brought Father Edwards into my life who was a good friend to me for many years; perhaps even more so than Albus Dumbledore was. My mother's life did become a harder one, but there were times when I caught her smiling, and I knew she was remembering Tasha, the familiar who had brought hope and light to two people who had very little of joy to begin with, and who had been a loyal friend to a small lonely boy.

"As your Hedwig was to you. You say you don't wish to feel anymore, but by refusing to do so, you lock away the good memories along with the bad, Harry. You had many years with your owl, and she was with you through good times and bad. You do her a disservice by not remembering what you shared."

Harry gulped hard. "But she died for me! I never wanted—I never asked for that!" he protested, his voice rising.

"You never would have needed to. Anymore than I asked Tasha. Understand, Harry, that the core of a familiar is a true and loving heart, and by their very nature they are willing to substitute themselves for us if there is need. Hedwig saw that you were in danger and she chose to save you. She did so knowing full well the cost. But like Tasha, she counted the cost worth it."

"Why?" Harry cried raggedly, shivering. His eyes glistened with tears, tears he refused to shed.

"Because she loved you. As Tasha did me. There is no greater love than the willing sacrifice, and because of it you are alive today and looking forward to a better life. Do not waste the second chance she bought for you, Harry. You cannot bring her back. But you can appreciate the gift she gave to you and live the life you were given."

"Even if I don't deserve it?" Harry asked in a choked whisper.

"She thought you deserving of it," Severus reprimanded sternly. "Do not dishonor her sacrifice by saying otherwise. She was wise, like all her kind, and she would not have chosen a wizard unworthy of her, now would she?"

Slowly, Harry shook his head. "No." Severus was right. Abruptly, Harry made a soft choked mewling noise, as he struggled to keep from crying. He turned his head away and stared into the fire.

Normally, Severus would never have intruded upon Harrys grief, he was by nature a very private man, and respected the privacy of others. However, he sensed that the younger man would not allow himself to grieve, unless urged to do so; and Harry badly needed the solace of tears.

So he tapped his wand upon the chair Harry was sitting on, enlarging it enough so he could sit beside the younger wizard and gently drape an arm about his shoulders. As Father Edwards had done for him so many years before, so now Severus pulled Harry's head down on his shoulder and held him.

Harry stiffened at first, but then he buried his head in the Potion Master's shoulder, breathing in the familiar spicy scent of dried herbs that always seemed to cling to Severus. The hard knot of grief and guilt unraveled and all at once he was crying. First silently, then as the tears poured out of him, he began to sob, harsh racking sobs that shook his slender frame.

Through the stormy deluge, Severus held him, at times rubbing small circles upon his back, and murmuring, "That's right, child. Let yourself grieve. Only then will you heal."

The Potions Master held the hero of the wizarding world for a long time, until all the tears were spent and Harry was sniffling slightly into his shirt. Normally at this point Severus would have handed Harry a handkerchief, but he was loathe to disturb the young man, and so he allowed Harry to remain huddled quietly against him.

After several more long moments, Harry sat up, looking faintly ashamed, and took the handkerchief Severus proffered and wiped his eyes.

"How do you feel now?"

"Better. A little bit."

"It's a start. Now you need to work on recalling good memories of Hedwig. I'm sure you have many. Take your time and recall them before going to bed tonight. It may help you sleep better. Try and practice some meditation as well."

"Meditation? I don't know how to do that."

"I shall teach you."

"You will? But don't you need to . . . go home?"

"Is that a polite way of telling me to leave?"

"No! I didn't mean it like that. I just thought . . .you might have been brewing or something . . ."

"No. I have no pressing matters to attend to at the moment, and will remain here until you start resolving this problem. That is, after all, what a good mentor is for."

Harry gave Severus a tentative smile. "Thanks, Severus. I'm sorry to be such a burden."

Severus' eyes narrowed. "You are not and never let me hear you speak so about yourself again. Helping a friend is not a burden, but a privilege."

"So . . . you never got another familiar?"

"No. It just never seemed right to me. Someday, though, it may be right. We shall see." He banished the decanter of firewhiskey back to the kitchen, and in its place he Summoned strong cups of coffee, along with cream and sugar.

As Harry reached for the sugar bowl across the small table, his eyes met Severus's and in them he saw a grief shared and a mutual understanding.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Severus remained at Grimmauld Place for two weeks, working with Harry on resolving his grief and learning how to assuage it. He taught the younger wizard standard meditation techniques and visualization, focusing upon good times Harry had shared with Hedwig. Harry was surprised at how many there were. Severus also helped Harry make a memorial for Hedwig, which was a tangible reminder of her, but also one that helped to put her death in perspective and remind the grieving wizard that she lived on, so long as he remembered her.

Once Harry began sleeping through the night, and had apologized to Ginny for being so nasty to her, Severus decided that he had helped all he could, and took his leave. He wrote to Harry a few days after returning to his home on the Isle of Wight. All was well, Hedwig's ghost finally laid to rest.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

A week later, the postman knocked on Snape's door and carefully placed a package in front of the door. As he turned to leave, Severus came out to answer it, looking puzzled. "What is this?"

"Special delivery for you, sir. The kid who sent it said you had better open it immediately, the contents were perishable."

Severus bent and lifted the box, carrying it into the house. "Harry James Potter, I hope you didn't do what I think you did," grumbled the leading potion maker in the realm.

He opened the box and found a six week old black and gold kitten curled up inside. She woke when he lifted her, and purred loudly, rubbing her face against his cheek. Attached to her green collar was a small scroll.

"Harry, I'm going to kill you." Severus muttered, trying to avoid the tiny kitten's rough tongue as the cat attempted to groom his hair.

He unrolled the scroll and read:

Dear Severus,

This is my way of thanking you for bringing me out of the darkness. It's time you created some new memories and made a new friend. Her name is Grace. She comes from a long line of familiars, bred by a wizard breeder named Magnus Felix. I know it's not a Pekingese, but I figured getting another dog would seem like a replacement for Tasha, so I decided a kitten was better. I hope you like her.

Your friend,

Harry

"Well, well. Perhaps there's a bit of Slytherin in you after all, Mr. Potter," chuckled the Potions Master as he stroked his new companion, a quiet smile upon his face. The kitten turned about twice and settled in his lap, purring thunderously in approval.

AN: This was written for my niece Mary, who absolutely loves Harry Potter and who also loved a puppy named Bernard. Sadly, she lost Bernie this Christmas Eve when he ran across the street and was hit by a car. I wrote this to help ease her pain and the pain of all of us in the family, who will miss the lovable scamp of a Shar Pei/Lab mix who liked to chew everyone's shoes and try and push my mom in her wheelchair and play tug-o-war with various stuffed toys and who always "smiled" when he saw us come in the door.

 

 

 

 




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