Chapter 27 : Two Talented Brothers
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Two Talented Brothers
Harry looked severely shocked. "Are you sure, Poppy?"
Poppy glared at him. "Harry James, I've been a mediwitch longer than you've been alive. Do you think I can't tell when a woman is expecting? Have some sense, boy!"
Harry blushed, now he felt like the world's biggest idiot. "No . . . it's not that I think you're wrong, just that . . . well . . . we weren't exactly planning on having another baby . . ."
Poppy frowned. "Are you telling me you were taking a contraceptive potion and it failed?"
"Umm . . . no, but . . ." Harry felt the tips of his ears burn.
"Harry, dear, shut your mouth before your foot goes any deeper into it," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "We haven't exactly been celibate, you know." She colored faintly. "Actually, I'm glad I'm pregnant now. Four is a good age for Alby to become a big brother. Sevvy too. Poppy, can you tell how far along I am? I figure maybe a month and a week? I've never been particularly regular with my monthlies, sometimes I skip . . ."
Poppy waved her wand again and cast an obstetric diagnostic. "About a month, Ginny, give or take a day or two. Which means—"
"The baby will be born in January," Ginny finished. "All of my babies have been winter ones. Alby and Severus share a birthday, and they're both Capricorns. I wonder if this baby will be too?"
"Nothing wrong with that, dear. It's said that a winter child has hidden talents. Look at Severus. Never knew such a one with such talents, except for Harry."
"What about Dumbledore?" asked Harry.
Poppy looked at him. "Harry, I'm going to let you in on an old secret. Albus wasn't the all-powerful wizard you think he was. He played up that image, so Voldemort would focus on him, and not you, but his secret strength lay in his cunning brain and not his magic. Oh, he was a strong wizard, don't get me wrong, he was especially good with Transfiguration, and he did have a quickly regenerating magical core, which is why people often thought he was stronger than he actually was. But his true skills lay in being a general, and one who cultivated individuals with greater gifts than he himself possessed."
Poppy nodded. "And you also, Harry. Albus was brilliant in that way. But that 'greatest wizard of all time' business? All nonsense. It was a smokescreen. He told me often enough that you were stronger than he ever could be, and he was simply the one born to herald your coming. And Severus was your protector and your warrior, and therefore stronger than any save you."
"But . . . I saw him do incredible things . . ." Harry protested.
"Yes, I'm not denying he was one of the strongest talents of the age, but you eclipsed him and so did Severus. Think about it. You became Death's Master, the Hallows surrendered their might to you, and only you. Albus held the Elder Wand in trust for many years, but he was never its master. Just like he never could have been a double agent like Severus, and become the Master of Light and Dark magic. I'm not saying Albus wasn't a great man, but he wasn't Merlin come again either, the way some believed."
"Neither am I," Harry said modestly. "And if you told Severus that, he'd say the same. I know he's not proud of some of the things he had to do in the past."
Poppy's expression softened. "Even so, no one else could have done what he did, Harry. You can't change the truth. He sacrificed so much for us, and I'm glad he was given this chance. No one deserves it more. Love him, Harry. He needs that more than anything, even if he'll never admit it."
"I know, Poppy. And I already do." Harry said simply.
Ginny came and took his hand in hers. "We both do. We want him to be happy and safe, like he never was in his old life."
"That's good to hear. I'll leave him in your capable hands then," Poppy said, smiling. "Oh, and when your holiday's over, Ginny, you might want to arrange an appointment with Healer Winters."
"I will, Poppy," Ginny said. "Thanks for everything."
"Oh, pish tosh, girl. It was my pleasure." Poppy waved off their thanks. "You tell Severus that if he doesn't behave and take his medicine and stay in bed where he belongs, I'll come back and give him another shot in his bum."
Both Ginny and Harry laughed at that, and waved as Poppy Flooed back to her home in Cardiff.
Harry took Ginny's hand and they sat down on the couch together in the front room. "What do you think about what she said about Dumbledore? Do you think she's right?"
Slowly, Ginny nodded. "She'd have no reason to lie, Harry. She's been around, she knew those two like no one else. My mum used to say that no one knows you as well as your Healer. And once . . . once Dumbledore told me that nothing and no one is what he seems. At first I thought he was talking about the Slytherins or Professor Snape, but what if he also meant himself?"
"He could have. He was a sly old fox," Harry conceded. "I wonder if his portrait would admit to it?"
"Next time you're in the Headmistress's office, why don't you ask him?" Ginny suggested.
"I think I will. Just to set my mind straight," Harry said. Then he put a hand over his wife's still flat belly and said, "I'm sorry I acted like an ass before. I really wasn't expecting this, stupid as it sounds. But I am so very happy it did."
"Me too. But I feel like such a twit, not knowing what was wrong with me. I mean, it's not like I haven't been through it before. But it's been so long that I forgot how it feels." She closed her hand over Harry's and gave him a serene smile. "I can't wait to tell Alby and Severus about this."
"Maybe we should wait until Sevvy's recovered to tell them," Harry suggested, looking into Ginny's eyes lovingly. "I hope Alby doesn't get jealous. He's been the baby of the family for four years."
"All right. We'll wait awhile. And I don't think you have to worry much on that score. Look how he took to Severus."
"True, but Sevvy's the older brother. This new one will be younger. A totally different cauldron of newts."
"But then it'll be Alby's turn to be the 'big brudder'," Ginny pointed out. "I think he'll actually like the idea once he gets used to it. And if he does get a little jealous, well, that's nothing new. Mum said Percy was jealous of Fred and George at first and she had to reassure him all the time that he was still her little boy and she loved him."
"Did it work?"
"Eventually. She also made him help with the twins, giving him little tasks to make him feel grown-up and needed. I don't see why I can't do that with Alby. Or Sevvy too if I need to. He might be insecure too, because he's not a Potter by blood."
"I never thought about it like that. I guess we were lucky they hit it off as well as they did. I was shocked that Severus didn't protest sharing a room with Alby. He was always so alone before, I thought for sure he would object, but he didn't."
"Maybe that's why he didn't, Harry. Because he was alone for all those years. I think he feels good being around kids his own age, and people who want him and love him just the way he is. His other life was so lonely. I couldn't imagine living like he did for years on end. I would have broken to pieces."
Harry nodded. "Poppy was right. But that won't happen again. This time he'll have everything he could ever need or want. And you know something else? He's a terrific older brother."
"He is. And now we have to add on another room," Ginny said dreamily.
"That's not a problem. How do you want to decorate it?"
"Umm . . . I'll have to think about it. What do you want this one to be, Harry? Another son? Or a daughter?"
"Well, I have two sons already, so I'm kind of hoping we have a little girl. I'd like to spoil a little princess rotten for a change. Kind of like your dad did you."
"Oh, please, Harry! Not that bad!"
"Then you don't want a girl to do girly things with, like go shopping and play tea party and dress up?"
Ginny's expression turned wistful. "Yes . . . I sort of do. Not that I wouldn't love another boy, but . . . I remember how Mum and I used to spend Sundays baking together, or she would let me try on all her hats, she had some pretty funny ones! And her shoes too! And we always had fun picking out dinner and trying to make something all the boys would eat without whining."
"Well, maybe this time you'll get your wish." Harry said, and then he pulled her to him and kissed her heatedly. "Here's to the newest Potter. May she be as beautiful and feisty as her mum."
"And as magical and compassionate as her daddy. And smart too." Ginny murmured, kissing him back.
"Naturally. With Sevvy and Alby as her older brothers, she'll probably be reading before she's walking and casting spells before she ever gets a wand." Harry predicted.
"Merlin help us all, Harry!" Ginny squeaked. "While you're wishing for a prodigy, do us a favor and wish that she's an obedient child too."
"I would, but I'm afraid that's not possible. Not with you and me for parents." Harry laughed. "She'll be mischief incarnate."
Ginny shook her head, afraid that her husband was right. "Well, there's one in every family. Two in mine."
"Your poor mother!" Harry said sympathetically. "Well, if she survived, so will we."
"Always." Ginny yawned. "I'm tired, sweetheart. Let's go to bed." She tugged Harry to his feet and together they went upstairs.
Moving the sleeping Severus into the middle of the bed, both Potters crawled on either side of him. Harry made sure to set a Tempus Charm so he would wake in four hours to give Severus his second dose of Magic Replenisher, then he fell asleep, and so did Ginny.
It was early the next morning when Severus opened his eyes. For a moment he didn't remember where he was. But then it came back to him—summoning his Patronus to call for help, the high fever and chills and exhaustion from magical drain that had followed, Harry putting him in the ice water bath, Poppy giving him that bloody shot , and then Harry tucking him into the big bed with Mimic. Severus recalled Harry waking him earlier to give him two drafts of potions, one of them an Allergy Reliever, and the second dose of Magic Replenisher. He felt slightly better than he had yesterday . . . but he still felt exhausted and slightly sick to his stomach.
He glanced left and right, saw that Harry and Ginny were still sleeping, and felt strangely comforted by their presence. It was so very odd, feeling that way. He hadn't slept with another person in the same room for over twenty years . . . unless you counted this year, when he now shared a room with Alby. He couldn't ever recall crawling into bed with his parents, though he supposed he must have at some time. Eileen had told him once that his father hadn't been a nasty drunk when Severus was very small. That once he'd loved his son like a normal father . . . until the fateful day when Severus' magic emerged. Only Severus couldn't remember any of that. All he remembered was Tobias' cruelty. How bitterly ironic, he thought sadly, that the memories of darkness were always more vivid than those that were happy. He supposed it was because the bad memories left scars, while the good memories did not.
And really, Snape, how many good memories did you have? whispered his conscience. Not many, not many at all. He had put over 100 horrible memories into the Pensieve and still he had not removed them all. But this time he would work on creating good memories to outweigh the bad ones, he reminded himself. This time he had a chance for true happiness.
He sat up, wriggling around Harry, he needed to use the loo. Just as his feet touched the carpet, and he was about to stand, Harry woke up.
"Sev? What's wrong?" he asked, also sitting up. His hair looked like a haystack.
Severus looked up at him, brushing some hair out of his eyes. "Need the bathroom."
"Oh. Sure you do." Before Severus could say anything further, Harry had picked him up.
Severus wriggled. "I can walk."
"I know, but you're probably real tired still, so it's better if I carry you. That way you don't risk falling or an accident."
Severus flushed hotly. "I'd never . . .! I'm not some stupid puppy!"
Harry, realizing he'd insulted the younger wizard, said, "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. But sometimes when you're sick . . ." They entered the bathroom and Harry set Severus down in front of the toilet. Almost automatically, his hands went to take down the child's pajamas, as he did for Alby. But he forgot Severus wasn't Alby.
"Leave me alone! I'm not a baby, I can do it myself!" Severus snapped, his eyes filling with tears of humiliation.
"Sorry, I always help Alby when he's sick. . ." Harry began, realizing he'd put his foot in it again.
"Just get out!"
Harry retreated from the bathroom. He was not at his best this early in the morning, as was obvious by the blunders he kept making. He waited a minute or two before calling, "Sev, may I come in?"
"Why? You think I need help peeing?"
Harry winced at the sarcastic tone. "No. I'm sorry I embarrassed you. I should have known better. I just thought maybe you might need some of that . . . err . . . cream on your bum."
"No. I'm fine." Severus said stiffly.
Harry heard the water running and after a moment, Severus came out. "I'm really not at my best at six in the morning, as I guess you can tell," he said, somewhat sheepishly.
Severus snorted and arched an eyebrow. "Obviously." Then he sighed and admitted, "I'm not my best when I'm sick either. I hate it."
"Me too," Harry agreed. "Do you think you can walk back to bed? Or should I carry you?"
Severus considered. The truth was, his legs felt like rubber and he was wobbly. "Umm . . . let me try walking first. If . . . If I need you, I'll say so."
"All right." Harry agreed, knowing how touchy Severus' pride was.
He watched as Severus took three shaky steps across the carpet before stopping, biting his lip, stubbornly taking another step, then saying softly, "Harry . . . I can't . . ."
Harry came and lifted the little boy up. "You're still weak from the magical drain, Sev." He gently placed the child on the bed. "There you go. A day of rest and you'll be your old self again."
Severus avoided the other's eyes for a moment. "I really hate being sick."
"I know the feeling." Harry sat on the side of the bed. "When I was in the hospital, the Healers insisted I stay in bed for the first two days, they wouldn't even let me up to use the bathroom. They said I might pull or tear the newly healing skin on my back, and made me use a bedpan." He made a face. "That's why I'm so grateful for your burn salve, because it got me out of there quickly. You should be proud of yourself for inventing that. And for what you did yesterday with your Patronus. Casting one at your age is supposed to be impossible."
Severus shook his head. "If you have the will and the need, you can do almost anything. If I hadn't done that, Alby and I might have drowned. I didn't have a choice."
"Well, actually, you did. You could have given up. But you didn't. You saved Alby and that's a gift beyond price. I don't even have the words to tell you what that means to me."
"You don't need to. I already know," Severus said softly. "He's family, and family means everything." He coughed suddenly. "Would you mind getting me some water, Harry? My throat is dry."
"Sure, Sev." Harry Accio'd a glass of ice water and handed it to him.
"Thanks. You know, I'm not the only one who's done the impossible. You have too, Master of Death."
"Yeah, but I wasn't five when I destroyed Voldemort for good. The first time doesn't count, because my mum did all the work. It was her magic that saved me that night."
"All right then, we've both done the impossible. It's who and what we are," Severus huffed. "Harry, if I have to stay in bed all day, can you please bring me something to read? Did you find a leather journal, by the way?"
"Yes. Whose is it?"
"It was a witch named Miranda Brentwood, I think she was an ancestor of the lady who owns this house. I also found a necklace with the diary that belonged to her. She wrote that they hid the necklace and the diary away to prevent them from falling into the hands of an enemy wizarding family. There was a lot more in there, but I never got a chance to finish it. I want to, if you'd bring me it."
"All right. But first you have to promise me you won't try and get up by yourself and you'll take all your potions. Poppy's orders. Or else she said to tell you she'll come back and give you another shot in your bum."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Humph! Bloody Healers! Fine . . . I promise."
"Good. Because here's another Fever Reducer for you," Harry reached over and uncapped the vial of green potion and handed it to Severus.
Severus wrinkled his nose, but took the potion without a fuss, holding his nose and gulping it down. Then he handed the vial back to Harry. "Anymore?"
"No, but unless you want to eat soap, you'd better mind your mouth," Harry warned.
"You called Poppy a bloody Healer," Harry prompted.
"So? I've called her that before."
"When you were an adult. But now you're five and I don't let my kids talk like that."
"But I . . ." Severus sputtered.
"No excuses. This was your only warning. Next time I'll summon a bar of soap."
Severus glared at him. "You said far worse in my hearing at school, Harry. And I never washed out your mouth."
"Why didn't you?" Harry asked curiously.
"Dumbledore wouldn't let me," Severus grumbled.
Harry snickered. "You should have ignored him."
"Oh, right, and gotten sacked for mistreating his Golden Gryffindor."
"Dumbledore wouldn't have really done that."
"No? He considered you the savior of the wizarding world, Harry. As well as a favored grandchild. He gave me specific instructions to protect you and not discipline you. He didn't think you needed it, considering you had Voldemort hanging over you. I disagreed, but you can see how much my opinion was worth."
Harry looked shocked. "But that's . . . that's stupid! I never asked for him to give me special treatment."
Severus shrugged. "You wouldn't have needed to."
"He never should have done that. It was unfair. I know I'd never have thought that when I was thirteen, but now I do. All kids need discipline and rules, I learned that when I became a parent."
"That's why you're a good father," his former teacher said.
"Thank you, Severus." Harry reached out and ruffled his hair. "Then I take it you trust me to be fair to you with my discipline?"
"Good. Now watch your mouth."
The only thing Severus could say to that was, "Yes, sir."
"Let me go and get that journal. Would you like the blanket also?"
"It's spelled with a Warmth Charm," Severus told him. "And I'm not cold anymore."
Harry soon returned with the small leather diary and gave it to Severus. While the boy read, Harry curled up and dozed, since it was only six thirty, after all.
Severus began to read the potions recipes Miranda had written down. Some were standard healing drafts that any good potion apprentice learned, but others were specific to the area she had grown up in. There was a potion that cured stings from jellyfish and sea nettles, another that would summon schools of fish if sprinkled on the water. There was another that enabled one to breathe water for six hours, and another draft that transformed one into a seal for half a day.
He found the potions fascinating, as he had never had time to experiment with drafts pertaining to the sea and its creatures. But the Brentwoods were free traders and fishermen, and their livelihood was bound to the sea. He also enjoyed reading about Miranda's exploits, she had a lively way of describing events, even ones where she was in trouble for some misdeed.
But all of a sudden his eyes were closing, and he fell asleep with the diary over his face.
When he woke, Ginny was gone, though he could tell where she was by the smell of eggs and ham frying. His stomach rumbled hungrily. He sat up and reached for the glass of water, which was on the table next to Harry. It was difficult to grasp, the glass was beaded with water droplets, and he had to use both small hands to lift it.
He began to bring it over and sit down to drink it when it slipped suddenly.
To his horror, the cold water cascaded all over the sleeping Harry.
Harry woke up yelling as the water spilled all over his face and down his neck and back. "What the bloody hell!"
He was so shocked from being soaked with freezing water that he threw his arm back in a sleepy attempt to knock away whatever had spilled on him. His hand struck the glass in Severus' hand and also Severus, knocking the small boy sprawling.
Severus was about to apologize for spilling the water when he was knocked flat, and the shock of the smack on his face made him feel both frightened and betrayed. He started breathing in shallow gasps, his eyes wide and frightened. He put a hand to his cheek and whimpered, "It . . . was an accident . . . I didn't mean to . . . " Tears oozed their way down his reddened cheek and over his fingers. "You promised you'd never hit me, Potter. Not like him. But . . . you lied! You're all the same!" He curled up in a ball , and started sobbing, for he was too weak to get out of bed and too scared of angering Harry to call Ginny.
Harry was still muzzy from sleep, but he heard Severus crying and sat up. He didn't know what was going on, except that he was soaked and cold and Severus was crying. He grabbed his wand (he slept with it under his pillow) and quickly dried himself and his bed off. Then he turned to find Severus curled up on the other side of the bed, shaking with sobs. "Sevvy? What's wrong?" He placed a hand on the little boy's shoulder.
Severus cringed. "D-Don't touch me, Potter! J-just go away!"
Harry couldn't figure out what was the matter. He had fallen asleep while Severus was reading and the next thing he knew he was drenched with water. And why was Severus back to calling him by his last name? "Sevvy? Hey, are you sick?"
"Yes! I'm sick of . . . you people . . . breaking your promises . . ." Severus managed to get out between sobs.
"What? What are you talking about? I never broke my word to you." Harry cried, hurt.
"No? Then what do you call this?" Severus demanded, sitting up to glare tearfully at his guardian. There was a large red mark on his cheek. "Y-You hit me over an . . . accident . . . I . . . I was going to say sorry . . . for . . . spilling the water . . ."
Now Harry saw the empty glass on the bed, and to his horror he recalled throwing his arm out and feeling it strike something . . . he had thought it was a pillow . . . "Oh my God! Sev . . . dear Merlin, I swear I didn't hit you on purpose . . . I would never . . . I was half-asleep and I just threw my arm out, I didn't even know you were there . . .swear to God I didn't . . ." He stared at the red mark on his ward's face and felt ill. "Sevvy, I'm so sorry!"
"Harry, why were you shouting?" Ginny asked, coming into the room. Then she saw Severus' face, and her husband looking wretchedly guilty, and snarled, "What the hell did you do, Potter? You hit him?"
"Gin, it was an accident . . ." Harry began.
But before he could explain, Ginny came and picked up Severus, hugging him to her. "How dare you? I'll give you an accident, you bloody bounder!" Without pausing to think, she slapped Harry across the face.
The crack echoed in the room, but Harry made no move to defend himself. He just sat there, stunned.
"Stop it!" Severus shouted. More tears fell down his face. "Ginny, don't! You don't understand."
"Damn right I don't. What the hell happened to you, Harry? Why would you do such a horrible thing?" Ginny demanded, looking down at Severus, who was clinging to her and snuffling softly.
"I didn't mean it, Ginny. I was sleeping and I got woken up by icy water spilling and I just . . ." he told her what had happened. "I would never hit Severus like that deliberately, Gin. Don't you know me any better than that by now?"
"Oh, Harry! I'm so sorry. I've been so . . . emotionally crazy . . . I'm like one of those Muggle rides . . . a rollercoaster, I think it's called . . .one minute I'm wildly happy, the next I'm crying, or seeing red . . . when I saw his face like that and you looked . . . you looked so guilty . . . I just reacted . . . please forgive me . . . I'm so damn sorry . . ." Now she was crying as well. "Here, let me fix it . . ." she took her wand and uttered a healing charm.
"It's okay, I know you didn't mean it," Harry said. He silently thanked Merlin that Alby hadn't been here to see his parents lashing out like two crazy people at each other. "You were defending Sevvy from what you thought was a threat." He reached out to hug both Ginny and Severus tightly. "Sevvy, would you mind if I . . . held you a little?" Harry asked, his voice filled with remorse. "I just want to . . . to heal your face . . . I promise I won't . . . hurt you . . ."
"It'll be okay, Sevvy," Ginny murmured as she gently placed him in Harry's lap.
Severus looked up at her, his eyes filled with tears and said, "I was trying to tell you not to be mad at him . . . it was an accident." He blinked hard and turned to look at Harry. He saw that Harry's green eyes were filled with tears as well. Suddenly he threw his arms around Harry and cried, "I'm sorry, Harry! I shouldn't have spilled the water . . . it's my fault!"
"Shhh . . . I was stupid . . . you can't help it if you spilled the water on me . . . let me see, Sev . . ." Harry gently removed Severus' skinny arms from around his neck and turned his face up. Then he placed his hand over the hurt cheek and muttered a charm and it was healed. "All right now?"
Severus nodded and hugged Harry again. "I was stupid too . . . I should've known you wouldn't just . . . smack me around. But I just . . . it reminded me of my . . . my father . . ."
"Yeah, I know . . ." He was so relieved that Seveus forgave him, and he had not destroyed their fragile trust with one misplaced smack, that he had to blink back tears. Harry rubbed his ward's back and murmured, "It's been one hell of a morning. Gin, is there anything for breakfast?"
"Of course. I was just going to bring you two a tray." She departed, leaving the two of them alone.
Harry watched her go, then said, "Merlin, I'm lucky she loves me, or else I'd be dead on the floor right now. Heaven help anyone who really wants to hurt her kids. Hell hath no fury like a mother avenging her children."
"Scary, isn't it?" Severus remarked.
Alby wandered in after Severus had finished his breakfast, holding a piece of parchment in his hand. "Hey, Sevvy! I'm sorry you're sick. Mummy tol' me it's 'cause you used your magic to call for help when we was stuck in the tunnel."
"Yeah, that's why I'm stuck in bed all day." Severus patted the bed.
Alby climbed up next to him. "I made you a pick-ture, Sevvy." He handed Severus the parchment.
Severus looked at the picture, trying to decipher it. "It looks very . . . interesting, Al. What's it of?"
"It's you an' me visiting the wildlife sanc'try. Daddy said that we can go tomorrow if you're all better, so I drew us goin' there."
"That's great, Alby. Thanks," Severus said. "I'd like to go there."
"Me too! Me too!" Alby cried, bouncing up and down on the bed.
Severus had to smile at the little boy's enthusiasm.
He reached for Miranda's diary, intending on reading some more of it, when Alby spied it.
"Sevvy, is that the story we was reading in the secret room?"
"Yes, this is Miranda's journal." Severus answered.
"Can you read me some more?"
Before Severus could say yes or no, they heard Ginny calling, "Albus Severus, what did I tell you about putting away your crayons and paper? This room is a disgrace! Come here, right now."
"Uh oh," Alby groaned. "I forgot to put away my crayons . . . and my toys . . . and my sparkle paints . . ."
"Better hurry up and go over there, before you get in trouble," Severus advised.
Alby scurried out of the room. "Comin', Mummmy!"
Twenty minutes later, Alby returned, this time he had something wrapped in tissue in his small hands. "Here, Sevvy! I brung you a present, so you get well faster." He carefully set the present down on the bed next to his brother and climbed up on the bed. "Open it!"
Severus set down the diary, and took the present and unwrapped it. He gasped. "This is . . . wicked, Al! Did you make this yourself?"
"Mummy helped me some," his brother said. "She put the glue charm on it and took the pick-ture. Do you like it?"
"It's one of the best presents I've ever gotten." Severus told his brother sincerely. He gently stroked a finger over the picture frame, which had been created by gluing many tiny and small seashells together. Inside the frame was a photo of Harry, Ginny, Alby, and himself. It was one of the first pictures Ginny had taken, when they were all standing in front of the sandcastle. Everyone was smiling and waving. It made Severus smile. It was the first real photo he'd ever had of himself since his rebirth. He smiled at it. He felt a surge of warmth flow through him as he studied the photo. He looked like he belonged with them, and they were a real family at last.
"I'm going to put it here," Severus said, putting the framed picture on the night stand next to him. "You want to hear more of Miranda's diary?"
"Yeah! Read it to me, Sevvy! Please?" Alby curled up next to his big brother. "I gots my listening ears on."
"October 15th, 1889:
Today I quarreled with my stuck-up cousin Amanda. She's my Aunt Valerie's daughter, and a more spoilt brat you cannot find. We were brewing a potion and she wouldn't listen to me when I told her not to add the bristle boar quills when the fire was on, and the whole solution was ruined. I was so mad I called her a silly numbskull. Then she went and pulled my hair! So I kicked her one in the shin. Served her right, the little goose! But then she goes wailing like a big crybaby to her mama. Now I'm the one stuck in my room all day till supper! It's so unfair. I wish Dad were home, he always listens to my side before he gives out punishments. But Aunt Valerie never does, she thinks Amanda's an angel that can do no wrong. Ha! More like the devil! The way she carried on over her shin, you'd of thought I whacked her with a cauldron stirrer. She pulled out a great hunk of my hair and you don't see me weeping and wailing like a baby in leading strings.
Oh, Dad, I wish I was a boy sometimes, then I could go with you on your ship and collect all kinds of things and see the world . . ."
Alby listened, rapt, to Severus' narrative, until he drifted off to sleep, his head on Severus' shoulder.
Severus looked down and saw his brother asleep, then yawned and joined him, carefully placing the journal beneath his pillow.
And that was how Ginny and Harry found them an hour later. They couldn't help but smile at the closeness between the two boys, who came from radically different backgrounds, but who were as close as if they truly were blood brothers.
The next day:
That morning, Severus felt one hundred percent better. His fever was gone and so was the terrible weakness. Harry called Poppy and she came and did a reading on his magical core, pronouncing him back to normal. She gave him a hug to celebrate, making him blush.
"Yay! Sevvy's all better, now we can go see the animals! The animals!" He sang at the top of his lungs.
Harry winced. "Alby, try and sing a bit quieter, won't you? I think they heard you in Scotland." A singer his son was not.
"But I like to sing, Daddy," his son said.
"Yeah, and I like to be able to hear myself think," his father retorted, tweaking his son's nose. "Got me?"
"Uh huh. I need to be quiet so you can think, and you take a long time, because you're a man, and men take forever to figure things out."
"We what? Where did you hear that one?" Harry cried indignantly.
"Aunt Mione said it. And Mummy agreed with her," Alby answered innocently.
"Figures!" Harry snorted.
They Apparated to the wildlife refuge, which was a large preserve containing all sorts of local wildlife, ordinary as well as magical. There were several trails, and along them were benches, and some of the benches also had tables next to them so people could stop and eat. Bags of animal feed were sold in the gift shop and there was a center where you could go and see pictures of the animals there and learn about them. Most of the trails had magical boundaries on them so the animals couldn't roam around and startle people. But a few, like the deer park, were wide open, and visitors could walk in and feed the deer treats. Some of them were tame and would eat out of your hand.
While they walked down the trails, looking for animals in the trees and brush, Ginny began to discuss something she had seen in the local paper. "Harry, tomorrow's our last day here, and I saw in Cove Courier that they're going to have a bonfire on the beach tomorrow night. They'll be roasting marshmallows and little sausages and toasting grilled cheese. They'll have pumpkin juice and fizzy lemonade and making something called S'mores for a sweet. It sounds like fun. Maybe we should go to it. What do you think?"
"Sounds good. How about you, boys? Would you like to go to the bonfire?" Harry asked his sons.
"Will there be other kids there?" asked Alby.
"Uh, yes, I imagine there would be." Harry said.
"Can we go swimming?" asked Severus, he had missed swimming while being stuck in bed all day.
"Yes, of course we can," Ginny answered. "I didn't have enough swim time this holiday. I think it'll do me good." Swimming always relaxed her, and with this pregnancy she felt wound tighter than a time turner.
They had reached the deer park. They walked into the middle of the grassy verge, holding their bags of crunchy animal feed at the ready. Alby was so excited he couldn't stand still. "Where are they, Mummy?" he shrilled.
"Shh, Albus!" Ginny hushed him. "Deer don't like loud noises. You have to be quiet, like a little mouse."
"Okay," Alby whispered. He kept his eyes focused on the grass and the trees.
Harry stood, relaxed and calm, next to Ginny, and Severus was next to him, waiting patiently.
There was a flicker of movement in the trees beyond. Then a group of silver deer began to creep from the forest verge. There were four does, two with small fawns at their side, and a large buck with seven point antlers. They carefully made their way over to where Harry and his family waited.
"Sevvy!" Alby whispered loudly. "That deer looks like the one that came in the tunnel to help us." He pointed to a dainty looking doe, somewhat smaller than the others.
Severus looked at her, and thought his brother was right. The pretty doe did sort of resemble his Patronus.
The does and fawns continued to approach, but the buck remained wary, watching from a few feet away.
Alby frowned, "Why isn't that one coming, Mummy? The one with the horns?"
"That's a buck, Alby, a daddy deer," Ginny explained. "And his job is to watch and make sure his family's safe."
"Oh. But don't he want some treats?" her son queried, still staring at the buck as if mesmerized.
Ginny and Harry poured treats in their hands and held them out for the deer family, showing the boys how to feed the deer. As the does and fawns began to nibble the feed, Severus cautiously walked towards the pretty doe with some feed held out.
"I won't hurt you. Come and get it," he called softly.
The pretty doe ambled over, sniffed his hand, then licked the feed from it delicately.
Severus grinned. "Here, girl. Want some more, beautiful one?"
The slender doe ate all the feed from his hand. Severus wished he had more to give her.
Then all at once she lifted her head and looked him directly in the eyes. He saw to his amazement that instead of the liquid brown eyes he'd expected, this doe had green eyes like leaves. He felt his head swim, and then a familiar voice spoke into his mind.
"Soon, Sev, I'll be with you."
"Lily?" he gasped.
But the doe shook her head and her eyes returned to normal. She reared up before him, then spun and raced off.
Severus stared after her in longing. "Hurry, Lily," he murmured.
Harry had turned and seen the doe rear up and was startled. As he asked Severus about the deer, Ginny was busy feeding the rest of the herd. The three were having such a good time that no one noticed when Alby sneaked away to see the buck standing halfway across the field.
Ginny looked up as the does began to leave and said, "Harry, where's Alby?"
Harry turned around. "What do you mean, where's Alby? Isn't he . . .?"
"No. I thought he was feeding the fawn."
Harry's mouth tightened. "Ginny, if he's run off to explore again, I swear I'm going to paddle his behind . . ." he trailed off as he saw an astonishing sight.
There stood his small son, standing beside the great buck, holding his hand out and the big animal was gently lipping the feed off Alby's hand as if he were the family pet.
"Well, I'll be!" Harry whistled. "How on earth did he do that? That deer's wild as they come, and I've never seen a buck eat out of someone's hand, they're too wary."
The next thing they saw astonished them even more.
Alby began to stroke the buck, putting his little hand up to pat the buck's velvety nose, and even scratch the base of the antlers when the buck lowered his head. The deer was practically kneeling so the boy could touch the top of his head.
"Come on, Storm, let's say hi to my mum and dad!" they heard Alby say to the buck.
Severus wanted to chuckle at the way his brother talked to the deer, as if it could understand him. His jaw hung open when the stately buck began to pace beside Alby, following the child like a dog. "Harry . . ." He tugged on Harry's sleeve. "Do you see what I see? Or am I dreaming?"
"If you are, then so am I," Harry said.
"Harry . . . that deer is following him . . . as if . . . as if he understands every word Alby spoke to him," Ginny hissed, awestruck. "These aren't magical deer, are they?"
"No, I don't think so."
His son approached, talking to the buck a mile a minute. Every so often the stag would pause and bob his head, as if agreeing with the child.
Alby ran up to them, his green eyes alight with joy. "Mum, Dad, Sevvy! This is Storm, he's my new friend. He's the leader of the Shooting Star herd. He says he's almost ten years old and his wives are Rishka and Briar, and he has two daughters, Ashkin and Misty, and the babies are Vallon and Sunny."
To their shock, the deer bowed to them, then he tossed his great antlers and stood proudly before them.
"He says he's pleased to meet you," Alby piped up.
"Al, what do you mean he says?" asked Severus. "You're pretending, right? Like we do at home, with Bucky and Mimic. You're talking for him, right?"
His brother shook his head. "No, Sevvy. I'm not making it up. I can hear him in my head. I heard him call to me before, that's why I went by him."
"What do you mean, he called to you? What did he say?" Severus queried.
"He said, come closer, little Speaker. Come and speak with me, who has the gift of beast tongues. So I did, and he told me his name and the names of his wives and kids." Alby related seriously. "Can't you hear him, Sevvy?"
"No, Al. I'm not . . . that is I don't have the gift of beast tongues."
Alby looked shocked, that there was something his brother didn't know or couldn't do. "Mum, Dad, can you hear Storm talking?"
Both elder Potters shook their heads.
Alby's mouth hung open now. "Storm, how come they can't hear you and I can?"
The stag pawed the ground and snorted, bobbing his head.
"Really? Only me? Wow! I'm like . . . like Alan and Jack in the story we made up. Remember, Sevvy? Remember? Jack could talk to animals too!"
"Harry, our baby has one of the old magics," Ginny said to her husband, smiling proudly. "He's a Beast Master."
"He's a Beast Master?" Harry repeated. "Just what is that, Ginny?"
"It means that he can speak the language of all beasts and birds, and someday he can also command them. Some Beast Masters can also transform into animal shape, similar to an Animagus, but more naturally. Beast Masters are also skilled in Herbology and the earth magics. There hasn't been a Beast Master in our family since . . . since my great great grandfather's day. And even then he was a distant cousin on my mum's side." She was grinning broadly and tears of joy were flowing down her face.
Storm snorted again, sounding regretful.
"Do you have to go?" Alby was saying to the buck sadly.
The great deer bent his head and whuffed into Alby's face. Then he licked the little boy's face.
Alby giggled. "Okay, Storm! You go back and be with your family. I hope you have fun playing with your fawns. And tell your does hi from me!"
He waved as the great stag flicked his tail and then bounded away across the meadow. "Bye, Storm!"
The little boy turned around and asked, "Mummy, did you see me talking to the deer?"
"Yes, sweetie, I did," Ginny said, wiping her eyes.
"Why are you crying, Mummy? Are you sad?" Alby asked, coming over to give her a hug. His green eyes were anxious.
"No, Alby. I'm proud . . . so proud. I have two very talented sons." Ginny said, then she turned and buried her face in her hands.
Severus stared at the weeping witch and wondered why Harry wasn't concerned. "Harry, what's wrong with Ginny?"
"Nothing. She . . . ah . . . gets like that when she's expecting." Harry said, going to hug his wife. "Hey, love, can you turn off the faucet? You're scaring the boys a little."
"I'm sorry . . ." Ginny sniffed. "I'm so happy I could float . . . and I'm crying my eyes out too. I can't seem to help it. I think I need a Calming Draught." She dabbed her face with a cloth in her pocket.
Severus stared at the redhaired witch. Had he understood Harry right? "Ginny, you're . . . going to have a baby?"
"Yes, Sevvy," she said, turning to look at him, smiling. "Poppy confirmed it. Soon you're going to have a new little brother or sister."
Severus looked a little bit uneasy. But then he smiled. "Congratulations! I wonder what it will be?"
"Where, Mummy? Where's the baby?" Alby asked, looking around as if expecting the baby to just appear out of thin air.
"In here," Ginny guided her youngest' s hand to lie atop her still flat tummy.
Alby's eyes widened. "How did the baby get in there, Mum?"
Ginny blushed and turned to Harry. "Harry, tell your son how the baby got inside me."
"Ginny!" Harry sputtered. "I can't tell him that!"
"Why, Dad? Don't you know?" his son asked.
"Yeah, Harry? Don't you know?" Severus asked, snickering.
"Be quiet, Sevvy! Before I make you tell him where babies come from." Harry threatened. "Alby, how the baby got inside your mummy is . . . well . . . it's . . . complicated . . . err . . ."
"Dad, do I hafta get a book and look it up?" asked his son, puzzled.
"No . . . no, of course not . . .!" Harry stammered. He was blushing furiously now. He whirled and glared at his wife and son. "Stop it!"
They were holding their sides, laughing their asses off.
"It's kind of like magic, Al . . ."
"It is? Did you wave your wand and cast a spell on her?" Alby inquired innocently.
"Umm . . ."
Severus fell on the ground, howling with mirth. There were times when he absolutely adored his little brother.
A/N: Hope you liked this chapter. I tried to have a mix of serious, dramatic, and funny. I hope I balamced everything out well. Did you like Alby's talent?
Next: The bonfire . . . and some surprise guests!
Thanks everyone for reading and following this story.
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