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The Remaking of Harry James Potter

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*~ How it All Began ~*

For more than a thousand years, Hogwarts had bestowed upon the young witches and wizards of the United Kingdom an education envied by magical beings throughout the world.

But Hogwarts was always much more than the magical equivalent of a vocational prep school.

Hogwarts was an experience. A marvelous magical romp through childhood toward adulthood. A coming-of-age rivaled nowhere else in the world. A castle filled with ghosts and talking portraits, moving staircases and towering turrets, steaming cauldrons and dueling platforms, and an unpredictable poltergeist lurking above ready to hurl a water balloon or spout raunchy poetry. Spacious grounds offered a lake filled with mystical creatures, a forbidden forest challenging the bravest and most foolhardy, and a Quidditch pitch up to snuff with those of the professional leagues.

For more than a thousand years, Hogwarts had offered all of this to the magical children of the United Kingdom, and if anyone saw any reason to upset the teapot or to challenge a working system, they wisely kept their opinion to themselves.

Until the summer of 2021, that is, when a man long presumed dead sent an owl to the Minister of Magic, found an ally in Hermione Granger-Weasley, and turned emergency interim Headmaster Harry Potter’s life inside out and upside down.

Fortunately, that turned out to be exactly what Harry Potter needed.


~ Chapter 1: A Peaceful Summer Axed ~

June was Harry’s favorite month at Hogwarts. It was better than September, or December, and decidedly better than February. Of course, he was judging on a single academic year’s experience and if all went as planned, he’d only have one more year before he’d never again have to contemplate a mountain of class syllabuses, text book revisions, faculty contracts and Howlers from parents.

The weather in Scotland was lovely in June. The children spent much of their free time outdoors, which resulted in fewer detentions, and the faculty members whistled in the corridors, knowing that a two-month break was just around the corner. O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s examinations were behind them, the inter-house Quidditch season had wrapped up, and the house point race was so close that all four houses were desperately trying for additional points in class to pull ahead.

Flowers were blooming, bees were buzzing, birds were singing and the sun was shining.

On the second-to-last Sunday of the school year, Harry stood at the window in the owlery watching a school owl wing away carrying his budget request to the Board of Governors. Blissfully relieved that this last big administrative headache was finally out of his hands, he smiled, grasped his hands together behind his back and stretched his sore back, and gave a contented sigh

It had been one hell of a year. In the last twelve months, his marriage had crashed and burned, he’d been forced out of the home he’d shared with his former wife for nearly twenty years, and before he could get a frame for the photo of his children he’d squirreled away with him when he left their cottage in Godric’s Hollow, the Ministry had appointed him interim headmaster of Hogwarts after the sudden departure of Headmaster Bluebonnet, who had inflicted permanent damage to his person after experimenting with engorgement charms.

While Harry had always enjoyed teaching, and had been instrumental in building the improved and much lauded training curriculum at the Auror Academy, the headmaster’s job was about two percent teaching, three percent motivation and encouragement, ten percent discipline and eighty-five percent administration. Couple all the unpleasant administrative and personnel tasks with sharing a space again – albeit a castle – with his three teenaged children facing their first summer in a broken home, and Harry Potter spent more time tense and miserable than he had since permanently leaving Privet Drive.

And sadly, that included the year on the run.

But it was June now. It was Sunday, the sun was shining and he had two full months on the horizon of plenty of work but very, very few distractions.

“Harry!”

He jumped at the unexpected voice, whirling around, wand drawn, before the intruder could even step back.

But he soon lowered his wand arm and grinned, stepping forward as Hermione Granger-Weasley smiled back and met him halfway in a hug.

“Must be business,” he said. “Parents don’t come to visit this close to end of term unless there’s been a ….” His smile faded. “Everyone alright at home?”

“Everyone’s fine,” she assured him with the kind of smile that made alarm bells sound and warning lights flash in his brain. “It’s not about the family.”

“You’re about to ruin my day, aren’t you?” he asked, pushing his over-long fringe back and out of his eyes. He studied her a moment. He’d known Hermione for thirty years and had a complete mental catalogue of her expressions. This one fit somewhere between smug and guilty, which meant that what she was about to tell him would make his life much more difficult while filling some great moral gap in the Wizarding world, such as complete liberation of the house-elves.

It couldn’t get much worse than that.

He leveled his best, authoritative Headmaster gaze at her, folding his arms in front of his chest.

“Come back tomorrow. I’m not going to let you spoil my Sunday.”

“But Harry – ”

“No.” He held up a hand as she opened her mouth again. “I’m going to the pitch in an hour to watch the mixed-house pick-up games, and then I’m having dinner and we’re having roast chicken.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, there’s always roast chicken. Look - ”

“And then,” he continued, speaking over her, “I’m going to sit down with James and break his mother’s heart by suggesting that if he’s so dead-set on playing professional Quidditch, he should try for one of the South American teams because all his offers here and on the continent are for reserve positions.”

“Oh.” Her face had taken on a new look, slightly on the wrong side between sympathetic but nevertheless planning to forge ahead with her original message and upset the apple cart of his life.

“Please, Hermione,” he said, reaching out to grasp her biceps and staring directly into her eyes. “Tomorrow?”

“But Snape’s alive!” She said the words so quickly and so breathily that she sounded like a deflating balloon. She brandished a scroll she’d been clutching. “Apparently, he’s been communicating with the Ministry and the Board of Governors for weeks now – but they finally reached a decision this morning. The Minister herself Flooed me at home and called me in….”

Harry’s hand on her arm had tightened, and he suddenly dropped it and enveloped her in a hug, then released her and threw out his arms in front of the window where the owls came and went.

“This is the best day of my life!” he exclaimed. “I’m free!” Several owls screeched in protest of the commotion, and a few downy feathers floated down onto his shoulders.

“Harry?” Hermione backed a step away, looking worriedly at her friend. “Harry – what are you talking about? I knew you’d be happy that there’s finally proof that he’s alive but….” She faltered, then held up the scroll again, no longer brandishing it. “Um – you might want to read this?”

“Why?” He grinned at her. She obviously hadn’t really understood how much he disliked being headmaster. “He wants his job back, right? And they think I’ll be upset at having to give up the …..” His voice trailed off as her face slowly morphed into expression number three, the one where she bit her bottom lip and was about to open her mouth again and totally ruin his life. “What? Hermione?” He took a step toward her that may or may not have seemed menacing, but she backed up nonetheless.

“He doesn’t want his job back,” she whispered. “He wants his Squib son to attend Hogwarts.”

“What?” he exclaimed, his brain barreling ahead to one of a dozen hyper-charged and impossible threads it could pursue following that sort of statement. “No. Too dangerous.” He was shaking his head so vigorously that his spectacles slid down his nose. He put his foot down – literally – crunching an owl pellet full of mouse bones. “Squibs can’t attend Hogwarts, Hermione. They don’t have magical protection! And this place….!” He aborted the sweeping gesture he’d been making mid-way around and frowned as her face morphed into expression four – her mouth a hard line of determination.

“Could we please discuss this somewhere else?” she said in her Hermione-means-business voice, straightening her spine and appearing to grow two inches. This was the voice that got results. The one that made her the go-to witch for Ministry contract negotiations.

“Fine,” he snapped. “But I’m not changing my mind. Hermione – ” he was talking to her back, following her down the stone stairway out of the owlery.

Later, he would examine all the possible first reactions he could have had to Hermione’s statement. Snape was alive. Snape had a child. Snape had a Squib child. Snape wanted his Squib child to attend Hogwarts. He should have put two and two together. Hadn’t she said that Snape had been communicating with the Ministry and the Board of Governors? That they’d reached a decision?

He followed her into his office – she always seemed to know the password – and made for his desk, but Hermione bypassed it and went directly to the door to his personal quarters instead. She settled on the sofa, spread out a scroll on the low table, and waited for him to seat himself beside her. Which he did. Reluctantly.

“What? No tea before you crush my dreams of a peaceful summer spending quality time with my children and what tattered shreds of sanity I have left?” he asked.

She snorted. It was an unexpected sound coming from Hermione and he couldn’t help but smile. “You have three teenagers, Harry. Three teenagers who are still reeling from your breakup. Nothing about your summer was going to be peaceful and you know it.”

“I can dream,” he said. He glanced at the scroll, recognizing Snape’s distinctive handwriting across the bottom on one of the signature lines. He sighed. Merlin’s smalls. Snape was really alive. He’d always thought he might be, ever since an exhaustive search of the Shrieking Shack and the grounds had turned up nothing but a large quantity of his blood. “Go on, then.”

“Hear me out, please, Harry,” she began. “You probably don’t know that the Ministry and the Board of Governors have been working on the Squib problem for years. They thought they’d given you enough to handle with the day-to-day management of the school after Bluebonnet neglected things for so long, and decided to put off action for a couple more years.”

“The Squib problem?” He frowned and bent closer to the scroll, squinting through his corrective lenses. “What’s wrong with Squibs? I think they’re fine. I know several Squibs, Hermione. I don’t have a problem with….”

“The problem of Squibs and magical education,” she explained slowly, emphasising the last two words. Harry had the feeling he was being spoken to much as she might have spoken to her son Hugo – when he was four years old. “Their education, Harry. It’s lacking. Horribly lacking! They live in magical families and are often home-schooled, as a surprising number of Wizarding families don’t have official Muggle identification. And without an education, their job prospects are horrible. They’re usually stuck in low-paying, menial jobs. They’re a part of the magical world but live on the fringes. They need more, Harry. They need the kind of education Hogwarts offers. And as of seven o’clock this morning, the Board of Governors has decided to give them exactly that – a Hogwarts education.” She was bristling with energy and enthusiasm as she finished, and Harry was reminded of just why he loved Hermione, even when he couldn’t quite understand her enthusiasm for the cause at hand.

He remained silent as she unrolled a second scroll, one that had apparently been rolled up inside the first, and handed it to him. He quickly read the official resolution and glanced at the signatures.

“I quit,” he said, with finality. “I can’t do this. Look, Hermione – you know that I’m not biased. I know loads of magical and non-magical people. I want everyone to succeed and be happy. And I agree that something should be done for Squibs to give them a leg up, right? But – but I can’t. I just…can’t. This job is already nearly impossible. Adding on – no.” He closed his eyes and dropped his head back, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses.

“Harry - there’s actually quite a bit more.” She was speaking in her soft voice now. The gentle one she used to break bad news. It should have alarmed him. It did alarm him. But he couldn’t muster an appropriate response. What the hell more was there when you’d just learned that a dead man was alive, that one of the most powerful wizards in the world had a non-magical son, and that he, the current and reluctant headmaster, was being charged with figuring out how to educate Squibs at Hogwarts?

“First of all, you can’t quit. You know that. You know what the terms were. Two full years and you’d be back at the MLE.” She lowered her voice and put a hand on his knee. “Everyone thought that would be enough time – enough time to find a qualified, permanent headmaster, and enough time for you to get your head together again. Everyone knows what Hogwarts means to you, Harry.”

“I remember, Hermione,” he said tersely. “Though I still question why they put me in charge of all the magical children in Great Britain if I’m too unstable to lead the MLE.”

Hermione smiled and this look, number six, was one he truly loved. Nostalgic affection. True, unadulterated fondness.

“It’s Hogwarts, Harry. Everyone knew you’d be better here, even with all the paperwork.”

“I had enough of that at the MLE too, I suppose,” he admitted. He turned his attention back to the scroll. “All right – I can’t quit. I have to do as I’m told for one more year. But I can express my opinion, and I can ask for help. A new deputy head, for example, for the transition. Someone who works for the Ministry, whom the Ministry can appoint to help out.”

“They agree you need help,” she said, then her voice took on a more serious tone. “But don’t ask for someone from the Ministry, Harry. They’d just throw their youngest apprentice your way. You need someone older, someone familiar with Hogwarts as an adult. You’ve got to complete the safety assessment in July, which leaves August for the curriculum modifications and faculty adjustments. They’re willing to provide Ministry personnel to help with additional instructors, if you feel they’re needed. Fortunately, they’ve decided to only admit Squibs in forms one and two next year, and they’ve only identified six so far, including Snape’s son.”

Harry’s mouth had dropped open. He was staring at her dumbly. Everyone had thought his last breakdown bad enough, after his wife announced she was leaving him for his childhood nemesis, Draco Malfoy, but if he were truly expected to do a complete curriculum revision and a safety study for non-magicals in only two months – well, they had no idea what bad looked like on Harry Potter.

Hermione was paying no attention to him. She’d pulled a thick notepad out of her bottomless purse and paged through it until she found the section she’d been searching for.

“Here it is – I’ve been working on this for years, Harry. I started documenting anything that wasn’t up to snuff according to Muggle safety standards during our third year – had a bit of extra time with the Time Turner.” She pointed to the top of a page and sure enough – there was her familiar meticulous and slightly childish handwriting.

“Quidditch? Bludgers? The risers in the stands?” He snatched the book away from her, flabbergasted, and paged ahead several pages. “The boats the first years take to reach the school for the Sorting, the Thestral-drawn carriages, the moving staircases, potions ingredients, the flames under cauldrons, giants, dragons, the medieval weapons with the suits of armour, the giant squid, merpeople, nifflers….” He whirled on his friend. “Nifflers? Really, Hermione?”

“They bite,” she muttered, her face reddening.

“They bite gold coins!” he exclaimed. “And jewelry! They’re harmless, Hermione.”

“They could bite a child. It would be extraordinarily easy with those great teeth – ”

But Harry had returned to the book. “Candles,” he continued in a disbelieving voice. “The low railings on the Astronomy Tower. Exploding Snap. Wizarding chess.” He dropped the notebook onto the table carelessly. “Frankly, I’m amazed you got any work done at all, as you obviously spent the majority of your formative years noting all the things in your environment that could kill you.”

“You haven’t even got to the part about the Forbidden Forest, the Shrieking Shack or the Whomping Willow,” she admitted.

“All of which are legitimately dangerous.” He seized on the small window he’d inadvertently been given. “And please tell me how we might make the Forbidden Forest safe for Squibs.” He folded his arms. “Go on, I’m listening.”

“Well, you could start by making it truly off-limits to students,” she shot back. “There are wards for that, you know.”

They stared at each other for a full minute, which was just long enough for Harry to see – at last – the humour in the situation.

“This is impossible,” he said. “And Snape of all people knows it – he’s more familiar with this place than practically anyone alive. He’s got to know he’s sending his kid into a lion’s den – no pun intended. Why is he so determined that his kid come here, anyway? Why would he want his son to be constantly reminded that he isn’t a wizard?”

Hermione sighed. One more time, she reached into her expandable handbag, and this time pulled out a fat file folder. Separation Contract between the British Ministry of Magic and Severus T. Snape was written across the front in a bold cursive.

“You aren’t going to believe this,” she said, dropping it into his lap, then checking the complicated timepiece she wore on a chain around her neck. “But you’d better read it quickly because you have an appointment at the Ministry in two hours to meet Snape face to face.”


~Chapter 2: Late for a Very Important Date~

Headmaster Harry Potter checked his appearance in his bathroom mirror. Passable – just. He certainly wasn’t known for his fashion sense, or a neat and orderly appearance, and he generally favoured comfortable clothing that allowed him to move – and move quickly. He’d spent too many years in the MLE as an Auror to leave anything to chance, and he’d much rather suffer the insults of the public at his out-of-date and unfashionable appearance than be weighed down by restrictive clothing and uncomfortable shoes.

He unbuttoned his robes and left them open, and tucked the front of his shirt into his trousers. Draco was wearing his shirts like that of late – he called it a French tuck and claimed it was all the rage on the “continent.” Harry sighed and tucked the shirt in all the way around – he was too old to try stupid new fads and besides – was he really trying to impress Snape? Snape had no idea what the current fads were in Paris, and certainly hadn’t purchased new robes this century.

The contract Hermione had dropped onto his lap had been a bit of a shock, and Harry had half a mind to hunt Kingsley Shacklebolt down in New Zealand and drag him back to Hogwarts to make him headmaster so he’d have to be the one to figure out how to adapt Hogwarts for Snape’s Squib son. What in Merlin’s name had the man been thinking when he’d signed a contract with Snape guaranteeing that any of his future children could attend Hogwarts and that Snape could have the Potions position back as long as twenty years had passed since Voldemort’s final demise and Snape had remained presumed dead the entire time?

Why had the Ministry of Magic wanted Severus Snape out of the picture for twenty years?

Hermione had her opinions, and he thought they were sound enough – he had to admit she was nearly always right about these things. But there had to be more. She thought the Ministry had enough to do with rebuilding Hogwarts and the Ministry to worry about either prosecuting Snape, protecting him or dealing with his notoriety. Harry, however, narrowed in to a specific line in the contract – standard language according to Hermione – that stated that any existing Wizarding contracts involving Severus Snape were made null and void by this contract. Was there an existing contract Snape wanted rid of? Had the Ministry, assuming his true alliances aligned with Voldemort, made him promise to be a live organ donor to an Order member in need? Or promise his first-born child to serve as Hogwarts gamekeeper for life?

The contract also awarded him a stipend and living expenses for the duration of his time away from Great Britain, assistance with the establishment of a new identity, and a twenty-five year contract with St. Mungo’s to supply potions for its critical care facility.

Harry ran his fingers through his hair, though there was really no hope for it, adjusted his still-round spectacles – slightly smaller versions of the ones he’d worn in his school days – and rubbed a hand against his cheek and chin. He should have shaved. Hell, he should have showered. He’d have done either – both even – had he had more time. He imagined Snape’s disparaging look as his voice played in his head. “There is no excuse for a slovenly appearance, Potter. The Headmaster of Hogwarts should be prepared to meet, at a moment’s notice, with anyone – a parent, a member of the Board of Governors, even the Minister of Magic herself.”

The Snape in his mind’s eye was Potions Professor Snape, the same Snape that occasionally still appeared in his nightmares – stealing the spotlight from the Snape who was a more frequent player in his nightmares - nearly-dead Snape bleeding out on the floor of the Shrieking Shack.

Well, if Snape was going to start haunting his nightmares with increasing frequency, Harry sure as hell was going to get the real story out of him. How he’d survived. Where he’d been. Where that not-so-magical son of his had come from. He hadn’t been able to wrap his head around the child coming in the usual way – the way his own children had – and imagined instead that one of Snape’s Slytherins had realised their child was a Squib and had left him on Snape’s doorstep in a basket with a note suggesting he could help with cauldron scrubbing.

The thought repulsed him, and he left it to the stress of the year, and particularly of this day, that he’d not been able to think of a more probable or believable explanation for Severus Snape having an eleven-year-old non-magical son. There had to be hundreds of other possibilities.

Why was it so hard for him to believe this child was actually Snape’s biological son, anyway? Why couldn’t Snape have produced a child in the same way Harry had? Well – not with Ginny, of course, though given her current taste in men, he wouldn’t necessarily discount the possibility.

Shit. Malfoy. Ten to one Snape still kept up with him and knew all about Harry’s humiliation. Not that he couldn’t have read about it in the Prophet like the rest of Wizarding Britain.

POTTER’S HUMILIATION! the headline in the Prophet had screamed in typeface so tall the paper had been six inches longer than usual that day. Snape might have been on the continent then, but he’d probably have been able to read that headline from Calais.

“You’re late for your date,” sang the mirror.

He stuck out his tongue at it and it blew a raspberry in return.


~Chapter 3: The Man Behind the Myth~

Hermione met him in the atrium of the Ministry near the main bank of lifts. Without comment, she extracted her wand and threw a shaving charm his way.

“Ouch!” he protested, rubbing his jaw gingerly. “A little close, don’t you think?”

A pressing charm was next, which tidily removed the wrinkles from his robes and left him a bit steamy.

“I’m not four,” he grumbled.

“Exactly. A four-year-old wouldn’t need to shave,” she shot back.

They rode in silence for a full minute. This late in the day, most everyone had gone home and they were alone in the lift save for a few errant memos that couldn’t find their destinations and spent their days riding the lifts until their magic waned and they fluttered to the floor in dramatic swan songs.

“Thank you,” he mumbled, just before the doors opened. He smoothed a hand across his cheek and chin and shot Hermione an appreciative look. Hermione really was the best at shaving charms.

He followed her to a small conference room across the corridor from the Minister’s office. The door was closed, but he could hear the murmur of quiet voices within.

“Ready?” she asked, running a hand over her hair to smooth it down. She needn’t have bothered – it was perfectly coiffed, as usual.

He shrugged but put on the bravest, most professional face he could muster as she knocked lightly then pushed open the door.

Snape stood as they entered.

Merlin’s navel lint! Harry almost fell over on the spot.

In his mind’s eye, he’d been picturing the Snape whom he’d faced in Hogwarts all those years ago, grim and dour and angry and ugly and slimy and big-nosed and potion-stained and …. He slammed a mental lid on his descriptive litany and extended his hand.

Snape’s hand was warm and dry. His handshake was firm. He looked Harry directly in the eye.

“Headmaster Potter,” he said with a nod before extending his hand to Hermione. “Ms. Granger.”

Had Harry been faced with the Snape he’d known, the Snape he’d expected, perhaps with salt and pepper hair and a few more wrinkles, he suspected he’d have been perfectly at ease.

But this. Sweet Morgana’s Mascara! – this left him adrift on a piece of bark on the ocean, tossing raisins at sharks to keep them at bay.

He had no doubt that this man was Severus Snape. He might be one of the elite Potions masters of the world, but he’d obviously not been able to develop a potion strong enough to heal the scars Nagini had given him.

When Harry wasn’t trying to wrench his eyes away from the longish modern haircut and barely-there beard, from the dark-framed spectacles and tiny stud in his earlobe, he was trying not to stare at the ropey scars protruding up from below Snape’s unbuttoned collar. He forced his eyes downward, and was immediately transfixed by Snape’s robes. Perfectly fitted and cut for fluid movement, they were similar in style to his Auror’s robes yet embellished with rows of buttons both decorative and functional. Wrist to elbow. Waist to neckline. Neck to shoulders. Tiny buttons of navy blue with an iridescent shimmer….

“Headmaster Potter?”

The Minister of Magic, Magnolia Plumtree, straightened a stack of parchment and regarded him levelly.

“Minister.” He nodded to indicate he was ready to begin as Hermione scooted a smaller stack of parchment across the table to him.

“You’ve been briefed by Ms. Granger and have read the documentation she provided?” When he nodded, she got straight to business. “I dislike spending time unnecessarily stating the obvious, but Mr. Snape, who is obviously not dead, had decided to enroll his children at Hogwarts in September. One of them – ” she paused, shuffled the parchment, and read from it, “has shown no magical ability, did not appear on the Beauxbatons magical registry, and is assumed to be a Squib. However, in keeping….”

“Excuse me.” Harry shot Hermione an unforgiving look. “Children? Plural? More than one?”

“I am familiar with the definition of plural, Headmaster,” Snape drawled. “Were you so focused on the fact that I have a non-magical child that you overlooked the fact that I have a magical one as well?”

Harry opened his mouth – to do what, he really didn’t know. Given half a chance, he might have clarified that he was focused on more important things – Snape being alive, for one. Snape having children – any sort of children - for another. Snape looking clean and cared for and stylish and modern, for yet a third.

But Snape didn’t give him even half a chance. He began speaking, sounding much as he had lecturing his Potions class, though a bit less bored and haughty and quite a bit less condescending.

“Twenty-four years ago, I agreed to disappear from Wizarding Britain so that the Ministry could begin to rebuild the damage done from Voldemort’s regime without the inconvenience of dealing with the spy who murdered Albus Dumbledore.” He paused and looked at each of them in turn, as if gauging their reactions. Fortunately, Harry had spent many of those same years as an Auror and was able to keep his expression mostly neutral, mainly by mentally composing a list of things he was going to do to Kingsley next time he showed his face in England. “In return, the Ministry awarded me a contract with St. Mungo’s so I would have a livelihood, as I lived in virtual exile.” Here he looked more pointedly at the Minister, who held her ground and didn’t even blink. “The Ministry also agreed to allow any future children I might have attend Hogwarts, regardless of their residency or citizenship status in the UK. My aim, of course, was to return to Hogwarts after my exile. It is my home – it has always been my home – and I left it, by necessity, somewhat prematurely.”

He glanced around again, challenging any of them to contradict him.

No one did.

“While I did not intend to become a father, a father I became. Albus Tercerus and Alder Severus are fraternal twins. While both are quite naturally brilliant, one of them has never shown any sign of magical ability. However, a contract is a contract, and a promise a promise. Both my children will attend Hogwarts in September. I do realise that this may be a slight inconvenience to you and your staff, Headmaster Potter, and am quite ready and willing to help you with the necessary preparations this summer.”

Words were rolling around like pixies in a shoebox inside Harry’s head.

Albus and Alder. Twins. Slight inconvenience. Father. Brilliant. Home.

He needed to say something. They were all looking at him expectantly. He tried to sort the jumbled words and thoughts into categories, herding random groups of them into broom cupboards in his brain.

When words came, they were not the words he’d planned to say.

“How are you even not dead?” he blurted. “And you named your son Albus Tercerus? Tercerus? Who’s the sec….?”

Snape arched one elegant eyebrow – Harry suspected it was regularly tweezed – and gave Harry a pointed look.

“I planned ahead for nearly all eventualities, Headmaster.” He said the last word carefully, hitting each syllable solidly, almost as if he’d been practicing saying it without a sarcastic bite, or a roll of the eyes. “And yes. I most certainly did, despite the fact that the name was a bit…used…already. And no, I did not steal my children, or inherit them, or win them in a game of chess, or create them in my laboratory. They are Snapes, and they will attend Hogwarts – together. And as their term will start in less than three months, I propose that that be what we concern ourselves with.” He riffled quickly through the pile of parchments and extracted a sheaf held together with a large Muggle clip. “The Board has authorized the completion of a safety study. I think you and I can manage that on our own, Headmaster, while Ms. Granger begins to plan a lower-form curriculum suitable for Squib students.”

From Hermione’s reaction, he might have just as well said, “While Ms. Granger begins to build a social services network for freed house-elves,” or, “While Ms. Granger announces to the United Nations that she has solved the world’s water crisis.” She didn’t quite squeal, but Harry was familiar with all her tells and by her bright eyes and all-business attitude, he knew she’d been given the equivalent of an unexpected bonus along with two weeks of vacation and a private office.

Fortunately, Harry had by now gathered his thoughts together well enough to contribute to the conversation in a more meaningful way. He was the headmaster, after all. Hogwarts was his school, for good or for ill. And he, at least, among those gathered here, realised how utterly impossible the task at hand was.

“But you’ve got a pierced ear,” he blurted, to his immediate horror and near immediate embarrassment. “I – I mean – you didn’t…”

He faltered, cleared his throat and straightened the stack of parchment Hermione had given him that he hadn’t yet touched. When he looked up, he found Snape studying him.

“And you didn’t have that nick in your earlobe last time I saw you, Mr. Potter,” Snape replied. “I’d have done a much better job had I been the one behind the wand that gave you that scar.”

Hermione, who’d been chewing on the end of her quill, made a choking sound while the Minister sighed. They all knew who was responsible for George’s missing ear.

Harry, however, felt his world begin to right itself again. Finally – evidence that this wasn’t some new being with manicured nails and designer spectacles masquerading as Severus Snape. There was a good bit of snark in that statement, despite the level, almost conversational tone. But the big tell for Harry was that Snape had called him Mr. Potter and had forgone the Headmaster appellation.

“Well – then we’re decided, yes?” the Minister asked. “I’ll leave it to you three to work out a schedule, but we’ll expect weekly reports on progress and a full accounting to the Board of Governors by 15th August. They’ve allocated additional funds for the safety upgrades. Where is that, now?” She sorted through a pile of scrolls and passed one to Harry. “Standard stipulations of course – stay within budget, don’t alter any of the old magic, no tampering with any of the items on the PMA….”

“PMA?” Harry unrolled the scroll and brought it closer to his face. It was filled margin to margin, top to bottom, with writing so tiny he had to squint through his glasses to read it.

“Protected Magical Antiquities.” But it was Snape, not the Minister, who’d answered him. “There are more than two hundred of them at Hogwarts, Headmaster.” There – he was back to formalities again. He shook his head, and if he was feigning disappointment to cover his irritation, he did a very good job of covering it up. “Did the CPH not give you an orientation when you set the password for your office?”

Damn. Another acronym he didn’t recognize.

“CPH?” This time the question came from Hermione. Harry felt a six-tonne weight lift from his shoulders as he turned to give her the most appreciative thank-you-for-saving-my-arse-again look he could muster.

“The Council of Portrait Headmasters,” Snape explained with the barest hint of a smile, and Harry didn’t know if it was a private joke or something he really should have known all along. “Bunch of busy-bodies. They were forever telling me how to run things.” His gaze moved back to Harry once again, and Harry was suddenly extremely conscious of his only-very-slightly notched ear and the place behind it with the shiny smooth skin where the curse had barely grazed the side of his neck. He didn’t know it then, but he’d be thinking about that particular spot quite a bit in the coming months.

“I’m sure you two can catch up at Hogwarts.” The Minister stood and nodded toward the door. “Ms. Granger, you’ll be continuing your role as intermediary between my office and the Headmaster’s. Please do keep up posted on progress and problems. Mr. Snape, we’ll be late for our next meeting. We can use my Floo. This way, please.”

And without further comment, the Minister disappeared through a side door and Snape followed her with nothing but a curt nod in Harry’s direction, leaving Harry and Hermione alone in the conference room.

“That was….” began Hermione.

“Rude?” suggested Harry.

“Surprising,” corrected Hermione. “And yes, a bit rude, too. Leaving like that, I mean. You don’t even know how to contact Snape. You’re totally at his mercy.” She frowned, still staring at the door through which the Minister and Snape had disappeared. Then, gathering up her things, she sighed and turned toward Harry. “And Harry—really? His earring? That’s all you could think to say? I really thought your unhealthy fascination with the man would have ebbed after all these years and all you’ve been through.”

“Will you quit with that?” he said, with a sigh to match hers. “I’ve hardly thought about him in more than twenty years.” He threw up his hands in mock surrender when she gave him a death glare. “Fine. Almost twenty years. I admit I was a bit rabid about getting his name cleared posthumously but after that – after that I got on with things, didn’t I?”

“You did. You got married. And had children. And you named one of them Albus SEVERUS.”

She said the name in a whispered hiss, and he shushed her even as he scrambled to follow her out of the room to the lifts.

“Come on, Hermione,” he said as he hurried into the lift behind her. “I know you were just as shocked as I was. He looked….” He stopped himself, unsure what combination of words to use to describe exactly how Severus Snape had looked in that conference room.

They exchanged a glance and, a moment later, both were trying not to giggle.

“Good,” Hermione said at last. “Merlin help us, Severus Snape looked good.”


~Chapter 4: Ahead of the Game~

Harry Potter might have been at a particularly low spot in his life. Self-confidence temporarily wiped out by the train wreck of his marriage, emotions unbalanced by his feelings of failure and inadequacy in being supplanted by Draco Fucking Malfoy, frustrated by the administrative headache of what should have been his dream job, he nevertheless gathered enough stamina the day after the meeting at the Ministry to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and try to take control of this new situation before it took control of him.

Hell with Severus Snape and his pro bono assistance. Harry had no intention of waiting for Snape to come calling before he began his own assessment of the safety issues at Hogwarts. It was all about situational awareness, wasn’t it? And situational awareness was something he’d learned in spades during his years at the MLE.

He spent six and a half hours on Sunday creating a level-by-level map of the castle, with ancillary maps of the castle grounds. He numbered each room or common area and made corresponding headers in a notebook. By the time his children came in to join him for tea, he was ready to grill them.

Relieved to find their father engaged in something other than their marks, their behaviour and their mother’s activities, they bent over the maps willingly while Harry jotted down notes.

“Peeves,” said Lily, definitely, when asked for her thoughts on the most unpredictable dangerous thing in the castle. She had taken the Peeves problem on full steam as a first year and was now nearly on level with the Bloody Baron in being able to control him.

“Oooh,” said Harry. “Good one, Lils.”

“Alright – so if you were a first year Muggle-born, what would make you feel the most unsafe?” he asked Albus.

“The staircases,” replied Albus. “They’re scary even if you already know about them.”

“Muggle-borns usually hate the Quidditch stands, too,” James said.

“Good, good.” Harry scribbled on the map. “Now, try to think like a Muggle. What would have upset Aunt Hermione’s parents the most on their first visit to Hogwarts?”

“That their daughter was going to school in a pile of rubble?” suggested Lily.

All in all, it was the best afternoon they’d spent together in nearly a year. They all had a good laugh at Hermione’s insistence that nifflers were dangerous, and had a lively argument about whether Hagrid was scary or cuddly.

“What’s this all about, anyway?” James asked as they devoured a plate of biscuits some time later.

“Special project,” said Harry, swallowing a mouthful of chocolate wafer. “I’ll tell you all about it when term ends.”

And later that evening, after dinner in the Great Hall and a brief meeting with the heads of house, Harry stayed up late in his office with a pile of index cards on which he’d written all the dangerous, unsafe and scary things at Hogwarts that he and his children had discussed. The index cards were courtesy of Albus, who ran back to his common room to get them from one of his Muggle-born friends who swore by them for studying ancient runes. His categories, after some trial and error, were “Definitely Dangerous and Potentially Life-Threatening,” “Potentially Dangerous and Capable of Causing Bodily Harm,” and “Scary but What’s Hogwarts Without It?”

He felt accomplished when he went to bed that evening – ahead of the game for a change. Ready to take on Severus Snape and his closely cropped facial hair and well-shaped eyebrows and over-abundance of buttons should he walk right into Hogwarts in the morning in the middle of breakfast complaining about the pointy spikes on the gate and the too-slick paving stones on the walkway.

Harry slept well that night, and didn’t once imagine Draco Malfoy making love to his wife.


~Chapter 5: The Return of the Prodigal~

Unbelievably, Snape didn’t contact Harry during the two weeks left in the term. Harry was left to wait and wonder, tweaking his plan, considering contingencies, standing on the Astronomy Tower in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon experimenting with different railing styles and heights. For the first time since he’d sunk into despair following Ginny’s betrayal, he looked forward to his time alone. Minerva McGonagall, who’d given up her head of house duties but was still at Hogwarts teaching Transfiguration, took him aside to thank him for finally seeing Poppy about some mood-altering potions to see him through his “difficulties.”

“Really, Harry, they’ve done you a world of good. Your entire outlook has changed. Every single headmaster in my long service here has had to resort to something – Pepperup at the very least. Snape kept a bottle of single malt scotch in his desk drawer, and of course Albus had his sherbet lemons.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked. Sherbet lemons? “What about his sherbet lemons?”

“Why, they were liberally dosed with calming potion! Surely you didn’t think any of us could live in a school with hundreds of under-aged witches and wizards and not resort to magical pharmaceuticals?”

He laughed, hoping she thought him not quite as stupid as he currently felt, and didn’t bother telling her that he wasn’t on anything at all, and that she might want to consider retiring before Severus Snape’s sons showed up on the heels of their not-so-dead father.

The morning after the Farewell Feast, with the House Cup awarded to Ravenclaw, and the seventh-years’ prank discovered but not yet undone – every pair of the Headmaster’s underwear, including the ones with holes (and the skin-tight green ones with I want to slither in, baby in sparkly silver across the front) strung together and hung from the house banner flagpoles on the Quidditch pitch on a windy day, Harry made his way with the rest of the faculty to Hogsmeade to officially close the school year by bidding farewell to the children as they left on the Hogwarts Express.

James, Albus and Lily were off to spend a week at the Burrow before their mother collected them for the trip to Uruguay for James’ interviews with the South American Quidditch league, and they were in high spirits indeed. James, with ready access to his father’s quarters, was the certain source of the underwear currently on display over the Quidditch field, but Harry’s spirits couldn’t be broken by such a triviality. The sun was shining, the term was over, the students were on their way home and he had an entire week before Hermione was scheduled to come ruin his summer with her first draft of the revised Squib-friendly curriculum. The faculty meeting in which Harry would drop the bombshell about the revisions was still two days off, conveniently scheduled a mere two hours before the entire group, sans headmaster, would be leaving for a Wizarding faculty retreat at Beauxbatons.

Word had leaked out about Severus Snape being alive and well in London, of course, and the Prophet screeched out daily headlines speculating on his whereabouts. They’d published a blurry photograph of someone who might have been Snape spinning out of a Ministry Floo, but frankly, the blurry man purported to be Snape looked too much like the old Snape and not at all enough like the new to fool Harry. Harry knew very well what the new Snape looked like, and suddenly there he was, walking purposefully across the platform toward Harry, black leather carrier bag over his shoulder.

The students were ignoring him altogether as they crowded onto the train, which had chugged into the station minutes before, discharging a few passengers as it customarily did on its infrequent runs.

The faculty members who’d accompanied the headmaster to the train station were not ignoring him, however.

Filius Flitwick, who’d been standing on a bench to prevent being trampled in the usual departure chaos, tugged on Poppy Pomfrey’s wimple to get her attention. Old Meriwether Swallows, who’d been teaching Potions since Slughorn retired, gaped and pointed. Neville Longbottom dropped the potted plant one of the students had given him as a farewell gift. It landed on his toes but he remained rooted to the spot. Gustav Becker, who taught Ancient Runes and who’d been a Slytherin two years ahead of Harry, whispered “Merlin’s Toenails, that’s him.”

But Snape ignored them all and walked directly to Harry.

“No need to loiter here – we’ve work to get done if we’re to start educating Squibs at Hogwarts in two months,” he said, enunciating each word at a louder-than-average volume. He hardly paused to deliver those words as he made his way to an empty carriage.

Harry stood his ground, pointedly ignoring Snape as he waved to James and Lily, who were hanging out neighboring windows.

“Damn. Forgot about the train,” he muttered to himself as he watched his daughter teeter precariously as she attempted to pull herself back inside.

“Educating Squibs?!” exclaimed Swallows, wheeling on Harry. “Surely he didn’t….”

“Squibs! At Hogwarts? Headmaster – is this true?” asked Filius, head turning quickly from Harry to Snape to Harry again.

“That’s Snape!” exclaimed Becker. “Severus Snape! That’s….”

“Impossible….” murmured Poppy, a look of incredulous wonder on her face.

Harry shrugged his shoulders helplessly and, as if drawn by a string attached to his navel, walked directly to the carriage and climbed inside. He sat opposite Snape; as they began their ride back to the castle, he dropped his head into his hands and squeezed his eyes shut, letting out a mental scream.

“You didn’t tell them,” Snape said. He sounded pleased with himself.

“Brilliant deduction.” Harry raised his head and glared. “They’re leaving for Beauxbatons on Monday for a seven-day faculty retreat. I have a meeting scheduled for two hours before the carriage arrives to take them there. So thank you for the two additional days of torment I’m about to endure.”

“Ah.” Snape looked thoughtful for a moment but offered neither apology nor insult. Instead, he canted his head slightly and looked critically at Harry. “Are those ordinary teaching robes?” He reached out and gathered a fold of the fabric in one hand, feeling its weight with a frown.

“What do you mean, ordinary teaching robes?” asked Harry. “Yes, these are my robes. What did you expect me to be wearing – something Dumbledore left behind with petrified sherbet lemons in the pockets? Or maybe my Auror’s robes?”

“I expected you to be wearing something appropriate to your age and your status,” Snape said, only a tiny hint of a snap in his voice. “Though your Auror’s robes at least fit you well – unlike these. These look like maternity robes.” He shook his head and made a tsking noise that made Harry bristle. “You are the headmaster of the most prestigious Wizarding school in the world – you should dress the part.”

“Dress the part?” repeated Harry, staring at Snape as if he’d grown another head. His voice rose to something just short of a screech. “Dress the part?”

“We’ll work on that when we have a free moment or two,” Snape said dismissively. He turned his head to look out the carriage window, and Harry counted silently to ten, then back to one, then up to ten again. When he’d finally calmed down enough to speak, and had opened his mouth to let Snape know that what he wore was none of the other man’s business and he’d best keep his over-large nose out of Harry’s, the castle came into view and, just for a moment, a look of such abject longing came over Snape’s face that Harry was rendered effectively mute. The look faded as quickly as it appeared, and he could almost see Snape school his features and force his face back into a neutral mask.

Harry stored that look away, pocketing the memory of it. A Slytherin would have seen the advantage in using that information to his own ends, taking advantage of a perceived weakness.

But Harry was no Slytherin.

Snape continued to scan the castle and grounds as they passed through the gates. Finally, he managed to pull his gaze away and let it settle back on Harry.

“The boys are with their grandparents all of July,” he said. “We must take advantage of the limited time I have. As your children will also be otherwise engaged this month….”

“Wait. How do you know that?” Harry bristled, his imagination immediately placing Snape in Malfoy Manor having cocktails with Ginny and Draco.

Snape stared at him for a long and uncomfortable moment.

“No, Mr. Potter. I did not learn your children’s summer plans by gossiping with Draco Malfoy. You’d be much better served to lose the jealousy and get on with your life. You’re not getting any younger, you realise, and if you want to start dating again you’ll need a serious attitude adjustment….among other things.”

He said those last words under his breath, but Harry was too focused on what came before them to pursue that line of thought.

“Who says I want to date again?” Harry shot back, then thought better of the emotional kickback. He took a breath, looking out his own window at the Forbidden Forest. “And even if I did, it’s not got a thing to do with why you’re here. You’re here to help with a safety study, Snape. A safety study. Not to analyse the thread count of my robes or help me with my jealousy problem!”

“Ahh. You admit it, then.”

Harry started to count to ten again. In Gobbledygook.

“Ah, here we are, then.”

The carriage rolled to a smooth stop directly in front of the castle doors and Snape exited, jumping out and landing lightly on both feet. Harry crawled out behind him, less gracefully with his voluminous robes, yet managing to make a fairly presentable exit, but stumbled back against the carriage as Minerva McGonagall’s voice, at its all-time shrillest, and in full brogue, cut the clear Scottish air.

“Severus Snape, you unmitigated bastard! How dare you show your face at Hogwarts again?”

The old witch stood at the top of the stairs with her hands on her hips, looking every inch as formidable now as the first time Harry had seen her on the day of his Welcoming Feast.

Harry might have expected this particular confrontation to go very poorly. He’d been worried in particular about McGonagall and had planned to take her aside several hours before their pre-retreat meeting in two days’ time. In a soundproof room, with wand at the ready.

Snape, however, seemed to swell instead of shrinking at the onslaught.

“Professor McGonagall,” Snape said, quite politely.

Harry looked warily from one to the other, understanding immediately that there was old business here to be settled. He wisely chose to stay out of it.

The two stared at each other for some time, Snape at the bottom of the stairs and McGonagall at the top, her robes billowing backward in the gusty breeze. After what seemed like a decade, but was more likely thirty seconds, her posture relaxed and she held out her arms.

“Severus.”

He immediately climbed the stairs and took her hands in his.

“Minerva. My apologies for not saying goodbye. I left – unexpectedly – and was unable to return.”

What the ….?

He bent and kissed her cheek, and she put her arm around his waist and led him forward into the castle.

Leaving Harry, the headmaster, quite forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

He pinched his arm. He knew he wasn’t dreaming, but it was what one was expected to do in situations such as this.

Snape and Minerva were nowhere to be seen by the time he made it into the entry hall, so he headed to his office, expecting to find them waiting by the gargoyle.

But there was no sign of them there, either. He decided to let them have some time to get reacquainted, as they were very obviously and a bit surprisingly old chums, and rode the stairway up to his office. He had end of year work to do and would enjoy a bit of peace and quiet with the children off to their homes and the rest of the faculty likely gathered at the Three Broomsticks by now, working themselves into a lather about Snape and an influx of Squibs.

Snape’s unexpected arrival had made him forget all about the seventh-year prank, and thus, when he opened his office door to find McGonagall and Snape standing at his open office window, watching his smalls whip in the breeze over the Quidditch pitch, he was momentarily distracted from the obvious breach of security by the embarrassment of his underwear on display.

“My tenure as headmaster ended before I had the pleasure of experiencing the seventh-year prank,” Snape said, in lieu of greeting or explanation of how he and Minerva had gained access to his password-protected office. He turned to gaze out the window again, an out-of-place fond look on his features. “I understand the custom is to leave the evidence for twenty-four hours unless it is dangerous or overtly immoral.”

Harry had never heard of that particular custom and suspected that Snape hadn’t, either, but Minerva was quick to offer her two Knuts.

“Yes – that’s it, exactly. When Harry was a seventh year, I believe the students doused the oatmeal with a burping elixir. Nearly everyone had oatmeal that day as the house-elves were preparing for the summer break and hadn’t stocked eggs and meat. The ride home on the Hogwarts Express was….” She paused, noticing Harry’s expression. “What? You don’t remem….”

“First of all, I spent most of my seventh year on a camping trip and you’d have us believe that anyone bothered to show up for school a month after the Battle of Hogwarts to do a prank?”

McGonagall looked appropriately chagrinned, but gathered herself, straightened her shoulders, and forged ahead. “Your fifth year, Potter. I simply misspoke. Age does that to one, you know. The mind grows feeble….”

Snape’s face had been doing some odd contortions and suddenly Harry realised that he was laughing. It was a sound Harry had never before heard coming from Snape, and it had an instant effect on the array of dozing portraits in the room.

“What is that noise?” screched Headmaster Droopsox. He waved painted hands aimlessly as if chasing off a fly.

“Laughter? In this office?” exclaimed Headmistress Coxwold, scrunching up her nose in displeasure.

Dumbledore, who still spent the majority of his time snoozing, opened one eye, looked at Severus and Minerva, and closed it again with a murmured, “Let them have their fun, Merlin knows they won’t be having much of it in the days to come.”

“What do you mean?” Harry strode purposefully over to the portrait. “Professor Dumbledore? What do you mean by that?” He tapped on the frame several times, and Dumbledore covered his head with the newspaper on his side table.

Snape had finally found his voice. “Feeble? Your mind, Minerva? There is absolutely nothing wrong with your mind. You simply want the pleasure of a good laugh for twenty-four hours when you look out the window to see Potter’s intimates on display for all of Hogsmeade to see.” He took a final look out the window, then turned toward Harry. It was only then that Harry saw that Snape was holding the notebook in which he’d been tracking his safety assessment, as well as the entire stack of coloured index cards. “Come, we’ll need more space.”

“I still don’t understand this new policy,” Minerva said as they hurried down the corridor behind Snape. “We’ve had Squibs among us since the days of the Founders. Why now?”

There was nothing for it. They were all going to find out soon enough.

“Because of him,” Harry said, pointing ahead to Snape and only wondering peripherally why he was following Snape through the corridors of his school. “Well – more precisely – because of his son. He has a Squib son, and a contract with the Ministry guaranteeing that any of his future children can attend Hogwarts.”

McGonagall seemed to take this news in stride, in stark contrast to Harry’s initial reaction. She chuckled. “Well, if we’re to teach Squibs, and Snapes, this might be the right time to retire. I could have handled one or the other, but not both.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Minerva,” Snape admonished. “I’m counting on you to keep the rest of the faculty in line. And what the headmaster has failed to mention is that I have two children, and they’ll both be attending Hogwarts next term.”

“Ah, you have been busy, then, these past twenty years. Not just sulking in some dungeon hideaway plotting revenge on the Ministry for making you disappear.”

Harry’s ears perked up. They’d reached the stairway leading down past the hourglasses, and he hurried down on Snape’s heels. Snape had obviously cued Minerva in on some details already. “That,” he said, hoping that McGonagall’s presence might make Snape more keen to talk. “That part doesn’t make sense to me. Why did they want you to disappear?”

“They?” Snape asked, with a sardonic laugh. “They were only following instructions. Instructions Albus left them.”

Minerva, who’d just transfigured one of the student tables into a large, square worktable so solid it couldn’t even be scooted across the marble floor, took a greater interest in the conversation.

“Albus? Why would Albus have had his hands in your life when he was dead and gone?” she asked.

Harry thought Snape started to respond, but he abruptly closed his mouth.

“Perhaps you should ask him,” he said. “Though I doubt the brains he left for his portrait are as duplicitous as he was. We may never know the why of it, but I at least had the foresight to ask for a contract. I’d leave, but on terms we all agreed to.” He looked around the hall curiously – it had been redesigned and reappointed after the damage from the Final Battle – his gaze ultimately coming to rest on the spot in the center of the hall where Voldemort’s body had briefly rested. There was no memorial there, no plaque or statue, but students walking around the spot over nearly twenty-five years, deliberately avoiding treading on it, had worn a path around it that nearly everyone used.

When Minerva learned, a few minutes later, that Harry and Severus would be working on a safety assessment of the castle, she let out a peal of laugher that sounded as incongruous from her mouth as Snape’s chortle did from his.

“Nothing will make me enjoy seven days locked in with my fellow professors more than the thought of you two back here dreaming up ways to make this place safe for non-magical children. You might start with the magical ones – they’re the most dangerous thing inside these walls, aren’t they?”

And with that, she left them to it, off perhaps to count her Galleons to determine if a slightly earlier-than-planned retirement was indeed in the cards.

Harry felt his entire face go slack as cold reality washed over him.

The children.

In all his planning, and thinking, and plotting, and experimenting with railing heights, and trying to get a leg up on Snape before he arrived, he’d forgotten the one thing that was nearly impossible to control.

He chanced a look at Snape, who, to his utter disbelief, was looking at him rather sympathetically.

“This is all new to you,” he said. “Being in charge of an entire school. Parenting as a single parent. Dealing with other parents, and the Board of Governors, until you feel you’re the pivot point in a colossal game of tug-of-war. But what is also new to you is working with Squibs.”

“I grew up with Dudley Dursley,” Harry pointed out. “I went to an elementary school in Surrey. I’ve been around plenty of non-magical kids.”

“You err in equating Squibs with Muggles,” Snape pointed out without ire. “Squib children share one thing in common with Muggle children – their inability to use magic. But there the similarities end. They are immersed in the magical world, can see Hogwarts, can ride a broom with a wizard or witch at the helm. They benefit from magic, and many potions, can go to Diagon Alley with the family, and most important – and this is the one thing you are to remember if you forget the rest of this conversation – given the opportunity, and support from their families, they develop resources to compensate for their one great deficiency. They are more adept with technology, and can take advantage of the benefits of both the Muggle world and the magical one. When sent to Muggle schools, they often excel at sport. When they have magical siblings, they have a drive to excel, to beat their siblings at something. And while I do agree with Minerva that the children themselves are the most dangerous thing here at Hogwarts, they are not the focus of our efforts.”

He continued gazing at Harry for a few more uncomfortable seconds, seconds in which Harry managed to refrain from blurting out all manner of things such as, “How do you know so much about Squibs when your magical son doesn’t even have a wand yet?” and, “Please show me how to grow a beard exactly like yours,” to, “Nothing you said about Squibs applies in any way to Filch.” He did, however, gather his wits about him enough to call up tea from the kitchens, then turn to face Snape.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” He gestured at the empty table and the stacks of cards in Snape’s hands, then employed one of the most useful negotiating techniques he’d learned in his years at the MLE. “Let’s at least see what we agree on before we discuss what we don’t.”

In hindsight, that would have been the right time to agree to keep their discussions focused on Hogwarts.


~Chapter 6: Slippery Slope ~

While most people only experienced Hogwarts when it was teeming with people and activity, Harry liked it best when he could walk a mile through the corridors and encounter no one save the occasional ghost. He could take his time poking into nooks and crannies, gazing out from turrets and towers, and studying ancient portraits and paintings, magical artefacts, and left-behind items from a thousand years of student life. He was roaming the castle today, while Snape was off on a morning outing to visit his boys, and he had several hours before Hermione was to arrive to present a draft of her curriculum plan.

It had been a week since term had ended and Snape had descended on Hogwarts. A surprising week. A productive week. An eye-opening week. And ultimately, a frustrating week.

Surprising in that he’d found Snape to be professional if not perfectly polite, sociable if not friendly, with a sarcastic sort of wit that was more palatable than mere sarcasm alone.

Productive in that they’d found they agreed on far more than they disagreed, and already had the outline of a workable safety upgrade plan, one that didn’t mention nifflers at all.

Eye-opening in that he’d learned a good bit about Squibs that he’d never known, and gained what he hoped was an appreciation for what he’d be dealing with in two months’ time.

And finally – frustrating.

It became more and more evident, as the week had progressed and they’d spent much of their waking time together, that Snape was eyeing him as something other than what he saw on the surface. That he was looking deeper. Studying Harry. Puzzling him out. And Harry knew he was being played, but not in a cruel way. Every once in a while, Snape would ask a question out of the blue. A question that had nothing to do with Squibs, or magical education, or Hogwarts, or safety, or the curriculum, or anything of the sort. Questions he always felt compelled to answer – well, questions he wanted to answer. It occurred to him at the end that Snape was doing this on purpose, in a surgically calculated way, but to what end, he had no idea.

It made sense, in a way. Snape had left Britain and had gone to France, where he’d obviously – somehow – transformed himself from an unpleasant, unhappy and yes – greasy git to a something entirely different. He not only looked better, and acted better, but he very obviously liked himself more too. And yes, Harry hadn’t been taking care of himself much lately. But he didn’t need his whole life scrutinized and a personality makeover to boot.

There were questions about his career. Was it as satisfying as he’d imagined? Did he miss it now that he was here at Hogwarts? Questions about his family. Did he want more children? What was it like having a daughter? And sometimes, questions about that last year on the run, and if he found the opportunity, as he did that first day while they worked in the Great Hall and Snape didn’t once make a derisive comment about the index cards, about the Final Battle, or even, once, about those last moments in the Shrieking Shack.

“What were you thinking, Potter, when I told you to look at me?”

They’d stared at each other a very long time when Snape asked that, Harry painfully aware that his eyes were still as green as they’d been that day, until Harry had finally answered, lowering his eyes to the index card in his hand.

“That I didn’t want to die,” he said. “But that I was going to anyway.”

Frustrating. Because there was something else – something hinted at by the tenor of the questions, and the more Harry thought about it, the more he thought that there was something about Snape leaving that Harry was missing.

He tried asking questions of his own, but Snape would seldom answer the obvious ones. He did seem to appreciate Harry’s attempts to get information by carefully probing the edges of subjects, and would drop a nugget or two when he was feeling particularly generous. In this way Harry learned that Snape had been living in Paris, and that he had plans to continue living there while his sons were at Hogwarts, and that their mother had died when they were young, but that they’d not been married or even living together. That he wasn’t the marrying sort – he wasn’t successful at long-term commitment in general, though children were the obvious exception to that rule. He looked side-eyed at Harry when Harry asked him if he dated, and moved right along to another topic.

Harry found himself on the Astronomy Tower as he wandered the castle, in the very place where Albus Dumbledore had died, and it struck him then that Snape was particularly close-mouthed when it came to Dumbledore. And that made him recall the meeting in the Ministry where Snape sad said that it was Dumbledore who’d more or less decided his fate. What kind of instructions had Dumbledore left the Ministry regarding Snape?

And, by extension, had Dumbledore left instructions relating to Harry, too? Or was it conceit to put himself on the same level as Dumbledore’s most trusted spy?

He looked out over the grounds toward the Hogwarts gates and saw, to his surprise, two figures – who, by their hair and silhouettes, could only be Snape and Hermione – approach the gate together. They seemed to be deep in conversation, and he watched them for several minutes as they came through the gates and walked down the path, trying to tamp down a growing suspicion that there was yet another layer of this puzzle left to unravel. Were Snape and Hermione working together? What business did Hermione have with Snape? What were they keeping from him?

Though, he admitted, they weren’t exactly trying to hide, and were rather obvious as they made their slow trek to the castle in broad daylight. Still, it seemed odd to him, and he tucked it away for further examination as he made his way back to his office to wait for them.

It turned out they’d met by chance in Hogsmeade, and had been discussing the curriculum plan. Snape had quite a bit to say about it.

“Acceptable substitutes?” he’d practically blurted after listening to her synopsis as Harry hurriedly scribbled notes, thankful he had a friend as brilliant as Hermione because her “draft” plan already sounded ready to launch. “While I understand and appreciate the premise, cooking classes are hardly an acceptable substitute for Potions. There are a hundred – no, a thousand! – medicinal recipes that do not require the use of magic. The study of ingredients – how they react with one another – should be a greater focus in the Potions curriculum as it stands, and the Squib students can be given the same Potions and partner with a magical student who can provide the finishing if required.”

Hermione listened with obvious interest, but politely, making him work his point. She took lengthy notes, and when he was finished, she said, “Excellent. What do you think about Transfiguration? It’s really all about repurposing an item, isn’t it? Muggles do that all the time. What about two different classes? Magical and Non-Magical Transfiguration?”

And they were off again.

Harry never felt very clever, or indeed very useful, when Hermione’s brain was fully engaged, and usually just sat back and enjoyed the show. Snape, however, continuing his curious project of pushing Harry out of his comfort zone, was having none of that.

“What’s wrong with you, Potter? Do you expect Ms. Granger to do all the heavy lifting-? This is your school, and ultimately, you will be responsible for the implementation of this new curriculum.”

Harry now found the scrutiny of both Hermione and Snape on him.

“He’s right, Harry. You’ve got to be on board with all of this. What do you think about Charms?”

Harry stared at her. Charms? How the hell could you possibly adopt Charms for a Squib? “Charms? Alright – what’s the non-magical equivalent of an Accio? Oh, I know –running across the room and hurling the pillow back at where you were standing. That’d be dead useful, I’d say. And instead of a tickling charm you could actually – I don’t know – tickle the other person? And instead of a Jelly-Legs Jinx, just kick your opponent in the shins. I don’t even know why we bother learning magic with those handy tools already available.”

Hermione obviously did not think he was funny. Snape, however, eyed him rather speculatively.

“Have you ever considered dark green robes or do you still associate the colour with Slytherin?” he asked.

Hermione’s eyebrows shot up into her hairline, rising even higher as Snape continued.

“And you’ve sparked an idea, Potter.” He’d apparently given up the use of Harry’s title as soon as he’d arrived at Hogwarts and was no longer in the Minister’s presence. “There are potions that have the same effect as many charms we use. For example, a paralysis potion. That, with the antidote, would be an acceptable substitute to a well-placed Petrificus Totalis. We might think of this subject as Alternative Charms.”

“You’re not serious,” Hermione said. “That’s – that – you just can’t.”

“Yet students can send jinxes at each other through the air, without the other’s consent. How is that acceptable but dosing each other with potions is not?”

“Hello?” Harry waved his hands between them. “What does the colour of my robes have to do with any of this?”

Snape held up a hand in his direction, eyes still on Hermione. “Later – over dinner, if you don’t mind.” He then moved fluidly back to the potions/charms discussion. “Ms. Granger?”

“Consent,” she argued. “In Defense or Charms class, when practicing a specific charm or jinx, the students consent, by their willing participation, to be the subjects of the respective charm or jinx. The same goes for Potions – we frequently sampled our own or someone else’s potion during class to test efficacity.”

“Have you ever used a jinx or curse against someone without their consent?” He held up a hand again as Hermione glared at him. “Let’s limit this to your earlier years at Hogwarts.”

“No. Of course not,” she answered immediately.

“Neville might disagree with that,” Harry said with a wide grin.

Hermione blushed.

“Point,” Snape said. “And how is that different to slipping a potion into someone’s pumpkin juice?”

“Premeditation?” Hermione stated with confidence. “Your wand is always at the ready so you can react when and as needed. But to dose someone with a potion, you need to prepare in advance and have the potion at hand.”

“Slippery slope,” Snape answered. “I believe, Miss Granger, that a more formal debate is required. Shall we give it forty-eight hours, so we have time to build our respective cases?”

While Harry would have cringed at the preparation time and insisted on having it out then and there so he could rest peacefully at night and not have to do mental calisthenics in his sleep, Hermione nearly bristled with anticipation.

Snape did agree, however, that the meat and bones of her proposal were sound. Ancient Runes and Astronomy were relatively magic-free already, as were History of Magic and Muggle Studies. The other classes, with the exception of some activities such as flying lessons, could be adapted so that Squibs could not only attend but participate and learn, and perhaps even encourage the magical students to do some outside of the box thinking.

Harry was content to let Snape and Hermione fight this one out. He’d focus on safety in July and then turn his attention in August to what he knew would be the real issues.

The Wizarding world’s reaction. Prejudice against Squibs by portions of that same Wizarding world. The other students’ prejudices. Parents. Even the professors.

Fortunately, the meeting he’d had with the faculty before they left for Beauxbatons had gone surprisingly well. The professors who regularly taught or used magic in their classes obviously thought that their routines and curriculums were safe, as Squibs couldn’t possibly participate. And those who didn’t were not too concerned about the introduction of six students across the spectrum of the entire school enrollment.

Besides, the real interest in the entire affair turned out to be not the Squibs at all, but Severus Snape.

“I don’t know any more than the rest of you,” Harry told them. “Other than he’s been living in France, and he wants his boys to be educated at Hogwarts.”

“Boys?” Neville exchanged a glance with Anya Kamal, the current Care of Magical Creatures professor. Like Neville, Anya had once been scared to death of Severus Snape. “You mean we’ll be teaching more than one Snape next year?”

“It can’t possibly be that bad,” Harry reasoned. “They won’t outnumber the Weasleys – not by a long shot.”

“How will the Squib children be Sorted?” asked Minerva just as he was getting ready to end the meeting. “The Sorting Hat won’t do it – that fact was established quite some time ago. You do plan on these new students having a house affiliation, don’t you?”

“Of course,” he answered, pretending he already knew this about the Sorting Hat, and being forced to think on the fly. “We’re devising a quiz – a set of questions to help assess their character and motivation. We’re calling it the Sorting Quiz. The Squib students will come up when their names are called along with all the others, and we’ll announce their house affiliation when they do.”

He thought it was a fairly brilliant idea, all told, especially since he’d literally just pulled the idea from the air, but of course, Minerva, old troublemaker that she was, had more to say.

“A quiz? And how and when do you plan to administer this quiz, Headmaster? In the boats on the trip across the lake?”

“The Sorting Quiz Committee will determine that,” he answered. “Would you like to chair that committee, Professor McGonagall?”

And with that, the meeting had ended, and he wouldn’t have to deal with the faculty again for more than a month.

“Potter – I did tell you the team from the Ministry will be here on Tuesday to tour the castle to go over our initial report, did I not?”

Harry jerked back into the here and now. Hermione was gathering her things, and Snape was paging through a richly bound personal organizer.

Tuesday? Shit. He vaguely remembered Snape mentioning something of the sort, but definitely hadn’t associated a date with it. He’d been too busy surreptitiously counting Snape’s buttons and not so surreptitiously practicing walking like Snape in his quarters, executing quick about-faces to snap the hem of his robes.

“Of course. Tuesday.” What day was it, anyway? Friday already?

“And as it’s now Friday, we’ll need to extend our work over dinner tonight to analyse our findings and buy you some new robes in Hogsmeade.”

Hermione’s head jerked up and she stared at Harry, as if he’d been the one to mention dinner and shopping in the same sentence. She stared even harder, eyes narrowed, when he didn’t tell Snape to stuff it, but instead said something ridiculously inane.

“Ginny prefers shopping in Diagon Alley.”

“So we’re not likely to run into her, then, are we?” Snape said smoothly.

Harry shook his head, wondering what alternate reality he’d fallen into when Severus Snape arose from the dead. “No, he said. “I suppose not.”


~Chapter 7: Buttoned Up ~

Dinner in Hogsmeade was entirely professional.

Snape came armed with the notebook he’d carried around all week and a Muggle ink pen and stayed on task. He clearly was accustomed to having to churn out reports and disseminate facts and findings. The highlight of dinner for Harry had nothing to do with the venue or the food. It was the expression on Snape’s face when Harry suggested that the moving stairways be equipped with devices such as those used on the Muggle lorries that emptied rubbish bins. The device-equipped vehicles beeped in warning when the vehicle began backing up. They were also used at pedestrian crossings to sound when the lights were about to change.

“If the children had a warning when the stairways were about to move,” he suggested, “they could grab on to something and hang on. Perhaps we could install rails like the ones in the tube carriages.”

Snape’s ink pen paused over the notebook. He slowly raised his eyes until he was looking directly at Harry. He looked as though he was trying not to laugh, as his mouth worked to maintain the half-scowl of which he was apparently so fond.

“Potter,” he said. “You do realise that magical children can fall off staircases too, do you not?”

“But they don’t!” exclaimed Harry. “Their magic protects them, doesn’t it? Like the time Neville fell out of a window when he was a kid and bounced when he hit the ground.”

Snape’s eyes widened, probably imagining a ten-year-old Neville Longbottom bouncing across the lawn. “And has something similar happened to one of your children?” he asked.

Harry shook his head. “Fortunately, no. Kids are sturdier than you’d think. We’ve not even had to deal with a broken bone yet. And all three of them play Quidditch.”

“Amazing,” Snape said. Harry couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic, as it seemed rather obvious that Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley’s children would play Quidditch. “Well, I suppose you got through Hogwarts without serious injury.”

This time, he raised an eyebrow at the end of the statement, and Harry laughed.

“I don’t think I had any serious accidents that weren’t caused by someone trying to kill me,” he said.

Snape regarded him a long moment, and Harry wondered what he was thinking. Perhaps nothing – perhaps he was only analysing the fibre blend of his second-best robes.

“Did you ever consider that something else is protecting the children at Hogwarts other than their innate magic?” he asked. “Are we chasing our tails trying to identify every potential source of injury for the Squib children when we don’t even know what it is that’s protecting the ones already there?”

“Everyone knows it’s their magic,” Harry protested. “It happened to me once – Dudley’s friends were chasing me and suddenly I was up on the roof. How else could that have happened? There were no witches or wizards or magical places around then.”

“I fail to see how a supposedly Muggle child is safer on the roof,” Snape said. “And besides, accidental magic generally stops altogether once a witch or wizard gets their wand and learns to channel magic through it. There are very few documented cases of accidental magic at Hogwarts.”

“Alright.” Harry took another bite of the chocolate torte Snape had ordered for the two of them to share. He’d probably gained half a stone in the year he’d been at Hogwarts and hadn’t had to get into his form-fitting Auror’s robes every day. “You’re not saying the children’s innate magic isn’t protecting them – but that it might be something else, something in the environment.” It was an all-too-infrequent occurrence of late that Harry had time and opportunity to discuss magical theory and old magic. How had Snape managed to direct the conversation so fluidly to something Harry was so naturally curious about?

They continued to chat after dinner as they walked down the high street, until Snape stopped suddenly in front of a shop which claimed to offer “modern” attire for the “traditional” wizard.

“This one,” he said, taking Harry by the arm and directing him through the door so that he was the first to enter the shop, with Snape on his heels. Harry, who’d never shopped for his own clothing without Ginny, and who’d certainly never been inside a shop like this one, felt immediately conspicuous and out of place. Snape, however, seemed perfectly at home. He signaled to the shopkeeper, who quickly made his way over to them, eyes widening in surprise as he recognized Harry.

“I’ve brought you the headmaster,” Snape said by way of introduction. “He’s having some difficulty finding robes that look modern, fit well, and still convey the dignity and authority of his position.”

The shopkeeper, who introduced himself as Nelson Crockett and said he was the son of the shop owner, walked slowly around Harry as he stood just inside the door, uncomfortable and self-conscious. Crockett finished his circuit and sighed.

“Robes off now, please. Let’s see what you’re hiding underneath all that excessive fabric.”

Reluctantly, Harry unbuttoned his robes and slipped them off his shoulders. He was wearing black trousers and a blue button-down shirt. He’d owned both items for at least ten years, and the shirt was a bit loose and the trousers a bit tight.

A tape measure materialised and Crockett began expertly taking Harry’s measurements, lecturing as he worked.

“If you mask yourself with over-large clothing, ill-fitting and ill-cared for, the clothing is exactly what others will notice first. But we want others to notice us first, not our clothing, so we must select clothing so that it will help present the you you want the world to see.”

“He’s right,” said Snape, who’d been leaning against a wall, arms crossed, watching the proceedings. “Case in point – the robes I wore when I was your professor. How would you judge me if forced to do so based on my clothing? Can you see that it may have been a deliberate choice on my part?”

“Buttoned up,” Harry said, watching Snape as he spoke, trying to see past the man standing before him now to the severe Potions master of long ago. “Unapproachable. Dark. Severe.” He shifted as the tailor wrapped the measuring tape around his thigh.

“And your robes?” Severus persisted. “What do they tell me about you?”

Harry glanced at his robes, which Crockett had hung on a peg. They were plain, wrinkled and over-large. The hem dragged the floor and was frayed in several spots. They had little weight and looked more like an afterthought than a deliberate fashion choice.

“I don’t know,” he answered with a shrug. He looked back at Severus. “You tell me.”

“They tell me you don’t care much about your position,” Snape answered, lowering his voice as Crockett stood and hurried off to a back room. “A position, might I add, that is both important and prestigious. They say you’ve given up. That you can’t or won’t muster the energy to truly face the dilemma in which you find yourself. They speak of a man who’s reached a crossroads and is having a good deal of difficulty deciding which path to take.”

He spoke quietly, but his words hung in the air between them.

“I don’t think you can tell all of that from my robes,” Harry challenged quietly.

Snape gave an enigmatic shrug, a barely there lift of the shoulders, and in the same quiet voice asked, “Did you love your wife? Did you have a happy marriage?”

Harry stared at Snape, swallowing the angry retort that rose like bile in his throat. Movement across the shop caught his eye as Nelson Crockett reappeared with an armful of robes.

“These are for colour, style and general fit,” he explained. “Your own garments will of course be hand-made to your specifications.”

Relieved at the distraction, Harry put on a practiced smile and held out his hand for the first set of robes Crockett offered. The remainder of the session was entirely about the fit, fabric and style of the proposed clothing, and Snape kept his comments strictly non-personal.

But they had a long walk back to the castle, and Harry wasn’t naïve enough to think this small reprieve would continue once they were out of Crockett’s earshot.

“You’re right,” he said as they walked out of Hogsmeade. “I did need new robes.”

Snape, who had turned his head toward Harry in surprise as Harry spoke, laughed.

“Yes. You did,” he said. “Rather badly.”

“I’m not convinced they’re going to turn this job around for me, though,” Harry said. “I’ve got another year before they’ll take me back at the MLE. They’re supposed to be shortlisting headmaster candidates this summer.”

Snape gave a noncommittal hmmph, and Harry frowned.

“What?” Harry asked, happy to keep the conversation as far away from his marriage and relationship with his wife as possible.

“A two-year search for a headmaster?” Snape shook his head. “Doesn’t that seem excessive to you?”

Harry shrugged. “How would I know? After the Battle, Minerva stepped into the position right off, and she stayed for a good ten years. I have no idea how long it took to find Bluebonnet – for all I know, she could have given the Board of Governors a three-year notice when she decided to step down.”

“Are you really so naïve?” Snape asked. Harry looked at him blankly, and Snape sighed. “Melvinus Bluebonnet is Felicity Coddlebomb’s brother. And before you ask – because you most decidedly should know this – Felicity Coddlebomb was on the Hogwarts Board of Governors for more than sixty years. She died several years ago. There was no extensive search for the perfect headmaster, Potter. While the job is important and prestigious, it’s notoriously difficult for all the reasons you have previously identified, and more. I can tell you with great confidence that the Board of Governors has no intention of replacing you in a year.”

Harry’s feet had stopped plodding forward. He stood rooted on the spot, gazing at the castle in the distance before them.

“No.” He shook his head, looked at Snape, whose face remained impassive, then back at Hogwarts.

He loved Hogwarts. He loved nearly everything about it, from Peeves to the potentially killer stairways to the cozy common rooms to the view from the highest turrets. What he hated about Hogwarts came from outside the castle - dealing with the Board of Governors. Faculty searches. Faculty contracts. Dealing with parents who didn’t agree with Hogwarts policy, or his manner of enforcing it.

“I was head of the MLE,” he managed. “This is supposed to be a cooling down for me. A chance for me to get away from the stress of my marriage falling apart.”

“Who’s running the MLE in your absence?” Snape asked. “One of your subordinates?”

Harry’s face paled.

“Fuck,” he said. “Derrick Gilliam. Hates field work – pudgy around the middle. Loves paperwork. Organized as hell. His sister is….”

“The undersecretary to the Minister of Magic,” Snape supplied.

“Did you like the job that much?” Snape asked as they resumed their walk to Hogwarts.

“There were parts I loved and parts I hated,” Harry answered. There was no uncertainly in his voice about this subject. “I’ve been at the MLE since I left Hogwarts. I’ve been a field agent, an investigator, a trainer and these last few years, the director. To be honest, I was happiest when I was the head Defensive Magic trainer. I really didn’t enjoy running the department, but it was a logical step up for me, and Ginny….”

He trailed off, suddenly not wanting to explain that Ginny had encouraged him to accept that last promotion – had hoped they’d be able to save enough money to buy an estate in the country.

Probably with bloody white peacocks.

“There’s a similar position at Hogwarts.”

Harry laughed. “Yeah, I’ve heard that.”

“You could excel as headmaster, Potter.”

Harry shrugged. “Frankly, I’d rather teach Defense.”

“You’re the headmaster – teach the seventh-years. Who’s stopping you?”

Harry stopped again and turned to Snape with a look of surprised wonder.

“You’re brilliant, you know that?”

“Of course I know that. I also know that you’re in desperate need of a good haircut. Let me guess – your wife cut your hair and no one’s touched it since she left.”

“Merlin, no – she’d butcher it, Snape. Molly cuts it, but I’ve not been to the Burrow since the divorce.”

“Same thing,” Snape said. “We’ll add that to the list.”

“The list? What next? Classes on charm and etiquette? Or are you going to redecorate my quarters and teach me how to make a souffle?”

“Do your quarters need a make-over too?” asked Snape. “Are they filled with chairs you pilfered from the Gryffindor common room?”

Harry laughed, hoping Snape didn’t know how close to the truth he’d come.

When they reached the castle at last, Snape paused at the foot of the stairs.

“I have an idea about what protects the children here,” he said. “An idea about how we can test it, at least. I’ll need a few days to get things ready, but we can begin testing by midweek. We’ll need some additional adult monitors, so round up some helpers if you would.”

“You’re kind of bossy,” Harry said with an amused smile.

“Effective,” Snape corrected. “I get things done.”

They parted for the night and, as Harry got ready for bed a short time later, he couldn’t help but notice that his quarters looked exactly as they had when he’d moved in here nearly a year ago. He might as well be living in a hotel for all the thought and care he’d taken in making the place his.

Which was ridiculous. Why did he still feel like a visitor in the first real home he’d ever had?


~Chapter 8: Toad and Newt~

Snape’s boys, it turned out, were not identical twins.

They resembled each other, but one was a couple inches taller than the other. He had Snape’s almost-black hair and dark brown eyes, while the other had brown hair and a smattering of freckles. At eleven and a half, they were not unlike any of the first years Harry had so frequently passed in the corridors of the castle, wide-eyed at their magical surroundings, but ready to slide down a banister or take off their shoes and skid across the polished marble in their socks as soon as the adults were out of sight.

The only problem with these two children was that Harry didn’t know which was which.

And that was Snape’s brilliant plan. An experiment and a control. Two children, one with an invitation to Beauxbatons and one without, wizard and Squib, and no one in the castle, save Snape, knew which was which.

They were to be given free rein of the castle – could go through any unlocked door, explore any common area. Harry had recruited eight people to help out by observing the children as they played and explored. Hermione and Ron and Neville and Hannah joined Minerva and three other faculty members, each assigned to a large common area such as the library, Great Hall, Astronomy Tower or house common room.

Harry himself would follow them everywhere they went.

“Thanks for that,” he told Snape as Snape outlined the plan during their all-hands meeting after he returned with the boys.

“You’re an Auror,” Snape said dismissively. “You’re better equipped for the physical activity than the rest of us.”

Harry’s eyes traveled to Ron, who’d definitely filled out over the years. Ron grinned. Several hours after meeting Snape, he had finally stopped stuttering around him. “I’ve never been happier to be out of shape,” he said.

The children had been spelled with a simple jinx which prevented them from saying their own or the other’s name, and consequently now referred to each other as Newt and Toad.

Newt, the taller of the two, was the obvious leader, though Toad got up to enough trouble to easily match him. Both boys were curious, and brave without being foolhardy. They’d been brought in to meet the rest of the team, and had been given firm, no-nonsense instructions by their father. They were encouraged to thoroughly explore the castle, to play and to run, to slide down banisters if they felt so inclined, but to not take risks beyond those they’d normally take when no adults were present. They were not to attempt to unlock any locked doors or force open any that appeared to be stuck as opposed to locked. Nor were they to break anything on purpose. They were warned that there were ghosts in the castle, and a poltergeist, and that there was even the possibility they’d come upon a house-elf immersed in summertime cleaning.

Both boys were dressed in Muggle clothing, more formal than the jeans or shorts and old trainers that Harry’s children had worn outside in the summer, though obviously well-suited for play. They seemed reasonably adjusted and well-behaved and more like typical eleven-year-olds than Harry had imagined.

Children, Harry thought. Normal kids. Looking at them, he had no idea which was the wizard and which was the Squib.

Six hours later, as he puffed behind them up the stairs to the faculty box in the Quidditch stands, he still had no idea. Every incident was catalogued, from a bumped head to a skinned knee and a near fall. They’d both been on a stairway when it decided to bypass an approaching landing and stretch upward, and there’d been a near-tumble then, but both boys had ultimately kept their footing.

He really didn’t know what to make of it.

They’d already spent a good hour at the lake, throwing in stones and wading near the shore. Something had grabbed Toad’s ankle, or so he claimed, but he’d fallen backward and wrenched it free while Newt threw rocks at the water at his feet. So far, there’d been no disasters, as the rock that had hit Newt’s foot had only bruised it and not broken a bone, but really, how often did disasters happen even in the world outside Hogwarts when children were left unattended? Sometimes, sure. But not every time.

At six o’clock, when they all sat down in the Great Hall for dinner, Harry had nearly fallen asleep in his smashed potatoes. They’d spent the following hour in the faculty lounge compiling incidents on an enormous chalkboard, looking for patterns that might point out any magical interference, or comparing the severity of the incident with the child affected.

At seven thirty, everyone had gone home except for Harry, Severus and the children. They’d gone outside again, and the boys played in the courtyard while Harry and Severus sat on the stairs and mulled over the day’s events.

“And I thought Auror field work was hard,” Harry complained. “I just spent an entire day following two eleven-year-olds around Hogwarts and we’ve learned absolutely nothing.”

“We’ve learned quite a bit,” Snape corrected. “We’ve learned that in a single day of fairly unrestricted play at Hogwarts, a Squib child had no more injuries or near-accidents than a magical one.”

“A single day, with only two children,” Harry said. He reached down, looked sidelong at Snape, then removed one of his boots. He set it to the side and stretched his foot, groaning as his tight calf protested.

“Are you suggesting additional days of research?” Snape asked, the shadow of a smile just noticeable on his face.

“Sure, if you and I switch places,” Harry answered. He bent to remove his other boot, dropped it to the side to join its mate, and stretched again. “Do you know how many stairs I climbed today?”

“You need better shoes,” Snape said. His eyes were on the boys, but his words were for Harry. “Why don’t you take care of yourself, Potter? You’re getting by by making do, when you have the resources and the independence to at least get what you need, and to purchase items that are comfortable and will wear well over time.”

Harry shrugged; he lifted a foot over his opposite leg and rubbed the arch. He couldn’t help but recall the days when Ginny would rub his feet as they relaxed in the evening, or when he’d take hers in his lap and do the same for her.

“Taking me to the shoe shop next?” he asked, wincing as thirty feet away Toad got down on all fours so Newt could stand on his back and heft himself up on a ledge.

“Immediately after that haircut,” Snape said. His eyes, too, were on his sons, but he didn’t interrupt their play.

“I know we don’t have enough data to make real conclusions,” Harry said after a bit, “but I have two more ideas we can test over time – we’ll need to make sure the faculty and Poppy help track all serious accidents, even the injuries they heal right away with magic.”

“Go on – I’m listening,” said Snape.

“The castle itself – the magic imbued in it by the Founders, who created Hogwarts as a school for children.” Harry rubbed a hand against the stone stair beside him. Sometimes, he thought the old walls actually thrummed with magic.

“That mirrors my suspicion as well,” Snape replied. “But you said you have two theories.”

“Right.” Harry hesitated. He wasn’t sure at all about his other idea, and hoped Snape didn’t ridicule him for it. “House-elves.”

“House-elves?” Snape frowned.

“Yeah, house-elves. No one really understands their magic, do they? But they take their role at Hogwarts really seriously. That’s one thing I’ve learned this year. They’ve come to me more than once with a report about children being seen somewhere they shouldn’t be.”

Snape, oddly, looked like one of his students had just made the perfect potion. Pleased but rather shocked that the miracle had come from this particular student. “I’d forgotten that, Potter. It happened during my tenure as well.” He fell silent a moment, his expression thoughtful, and when he spoke again, he didn’t look directly at Harry. “Though when students began disappearing, holing up in the Room of Requirement – before I had determined exactly where they were – the house-elves were still going through the same amount of food stores as always for meals. When I called in the head kitchen elves, they refused to tell me where the students were.”

“Which kind of proves the point, wouldn’t you say?” Harry sighed. No matter what he, Ron and Hermione had gone through that year, he still thought his friends here had suffered just as much, and been just as brave.

Snape nodded, but remained pensive, and they watched the boys a moment longer.

“I know which is which,” Harry said after a few more quiet moments.

“Oh?” That almost-there smile flitted over Snape’s face again. “Do tell.”

“Newt is Alder. He’s not magical. And Toad is Albus.”

“And how did you arrive at that determination?” Snape asked, not giving anything away by his reaction.

Harry smiled. “I know you’re not supposed to judge by appearances, but that’s exactly what I did. Toad is fairer – he’d have reminded you more of Albus when he was born, while Newt is long and lean and darker, like you. Like a tree. An alder, perhaps.”

Snape nodded slowly. “And why do you think Alder is non-magical and not Albus?”

“Just a feeling. Honestly, I’m just hoping it’s him. He seems like he’ll hold his own better here while we get the kinks worked out of how we go about educating kids from magical families that can’t use magic– that he has more of your personality.”

“You can say Squib, you know,” Severus said. “The children will.”

“We just need to make sure they use it correctly, then. It’s not a slur. It’s the same as ghost, or professor, or Muggle.”

“To many, the term Muggle is an equal abomination,” Snape commented.

“Well, yeah. It’s going to be an uphill battle. But we’ll push through it. I’ve dealt with worse in my day.”

“Now you sound like an old man,” Snape said with a small snort.

“Well, am I right?” Harry asked. He watched the boys scramble along the stone ledges in the courtyard, pointing above them at the occasional owl out for an early hunt, then he turned toward Severus. “About the boys, I mean.”

“I understood what you meant,” Snape answered. “And yes. On all counts. Even on why they have the names they do.”

“My Albus looks like me,” Harry mused. “More than the other two. He’s got my eyes, at least.”

“You couldn’t have known that when he was a newborn,” said Snape. “I imagine you had the name picked out well before he arrived.”

“I thought I knew what I was doing,” Harry admitted. The sun was kissing the horizon and the warm summer glow of sunset relaxed him, encouraged him to continue when normally he’d not have shared such things. “James’ name comes from my roots– my father and my godfather. Men I hardly knew, but who gave me life and love. And I like to think that Albus’ name comes from my wings – the two men who kept me alive when my dad and Sirius were gone.” He tipped his head back and watched the clouds. “All four of them gone – or so I assumed – but kept alive in the names of two little boys.”

He didn’t mention Albus’ middle name – he couldn’t imagine that Snape didn’t already know. All of Wizarding Britain knew how he’d chosen to honour Dumbleore and Snape.

When Snape spoke at last, it was to call out to his sons. “Ten more minutes, boys.” He watched Harry pull his boots back on, then cleared his throat.

“It wasn’t a surprise, or a shock,” he said, “not after what you did to clear my name after the war. You should know this, Potter – you did exactly what Kingsley and the Order thought you would do – what they counted on you to do, in fact. What Albus assured them you would do. They didn’t need me around for a messy trial when they had you to do all the fighting.”

Beside him, Harry tensed.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that the plan was already in place, though it was orchestrated rather quickly, once the outcome was known. It wasn’t nefarious, Potter. People are used all the time, with or without their permission. That was the entirety of my adult life before I disappeared. The fight against Voldemort was rife with acts done by his opponents that barely skirted the edge of morality and legality. How many of your friends didn’t use an Unforgiveable? You yourself broke into Gringotts.”

“Yeah, I remember that,” Harry said, running a thumb over the shiny burn on his wrist that he’d had ever since.

“Narcissa’s trial was early. That too, was entirely intentional. A litmus test. What would Harry Potter do for her? Once you stepped forward in her defense, they knew you would fight even harder for me, and they knew your voice would be heard.”

Harry, a grown man past forty with twenty plus years of Ministry service under his belt, took it stoically.

“To be a fly on the wall during those meetings,” he mused. “Molly insisting, ‘He’s just a boy,’ telling them to keep me out of it. Minerva’s mind on how she was going to piece the school back together and letting them argue it out. Kingsley having to scrape up every possible tool, every weapon at their disposal, including me. Nothing was sacred back then – no one got a free pass.”

“Not even the Boy Who Lived,” Snape mused.

“That’s it! That’s what they called you!” Albus and Alder had made their way over to their father, and Alder addressed Harry. “We learned all about you in special studies, Headmaster.”

“Did you learn all about your father, too?” Harry asked as they made their way back to the castle.

“He was supposed to be dead,” Albus said. “We didn’t know that it was really him until a few months ago. We thought Dad was Snape’s cousin.”

“Well, I think it all worked out for the best,” Harry said. “You got to grow up away from all the admirers and still get to come to Hogwarts.”

“Yeah, thanks for that,” Albus said, in a voice so reminiscent of his father’s that Harry grinned. “I really wanted to come but not without Alder. Dad said you’d go nutters over it all. He said you had enough to deal with already with the idiots on the Board of Governors and that bint of an ex-wife….”

“Albus!” snapped Severus.

“It’s alright,” Harry said, squeezing Albus’ shoulder. “She really is a bit of a bint, isn’t she?”


~Chapter 9: A Thing for Slytherins~

Plans for the revised curriculum and first round of safety improvements were firmly in place before the first of August. In the end, Hermione managed to work around the magical limitations of the Squib children and the magical expectations of the faculty and craft changes to existing courses to accommodate all beginner students.

“It won’t be as easy as they get older,” she warned Harry, “but we’ll have more support from the Ministry next year, plus lessons learned as this year progresses.”

“I won’t have to worry so much about these kids as they get older,” Harry responded. “But I’d like to make a success of it this year before I move on.”

He thought a lot about moving on, now. He’d made inquiries about the search for a new headmaster, and had been given answers that were vague at best and downright duplicitous at worst. He contacted the replacement MLE director, who assured him there’d be a position for him “somewhere” in the organization when he was ready to return.

Ready to return? Somewhere in the organization?

The Board of Governors had addended its consulting contract with Snape to include oversight of the safety enhancement project so that Harry had sufficient time to work with the faculty on the curriculum changes. Their comfortable pattern of a morning meeting, lunch together in the faculty lounge and an after-hours walk on the grounds or visit to Hogsmeade for dinner or shopping continued into August around even more meetings with school and contracting personnel and family visits. By the time Harry’s children arrived to spend a week with Harry at the castle the first week of August, Harry, without realising it at all, was quite a different person to the man they’d left behind at Hogsmeade station on the last day of June.

He’d had that visit to the barber a few weeks into July and, instead of emerging with a short, modern haircut as he’d envisioned, he’d come out with most of the hair he’d had when he’d entered, and a styling regimen and something Severus called “product.”

“Why do you fight it?” Severus had asked him on their walk to Hogsmeade that evening. “You have hair most wizards would envy.”

Harry had nearly snorted at that comment.

“I’m surprised you haven’t grown it out,” Severus had persisted.

And the stylist had agreed. Harry had sat there while Severus, Tristan the stylist, and one of his colleagues had stood around him, all three of them fingering his hair and discussing options as if they were three mediwizards consulting before a difficult procedure.

“The Headmaster of Hogwarts should maintain a traditional look with a modern flair,” Severus had dictated even before the fingering of his hair had commenced. “Mr. Potter had been in the Auror corps for more than twenty years and needs some professional help in transitioning.”

“I’m not staying here forever, you realise,” Harry had attempted.

“We’ll give you a look that will transition well into any profession,” proclaimed Tristan. “I’ll make sure I show both you and your partner some styling tricks for difficult days – when the humidity is high or you don’t have time for a proper wash. All without magic, of course.” He shuddered, and Severus gave him what could only have been a sympathetic look.

“Why not magic?” Harry turned in his chair, realising, at that exact moment, that he’d reacted to precisely the wrong part of Tristan’s statement. Tristan’s assumption that he and Severus were anything more than friends simply hung there, uncontested.

“Just because you can use magic doesn’t mean you should,” Tristan explained as he stood behind Harry and ran both hands lightly through his hair, tickling his scalp pleasantly. He shook his head as if trying to clear an unpleasant thought. “I cannot explain it better than that. You should know this. You should feel this.”

“If you take the time to do it yourself, you’ll be more invested in the effort and the outcome,” Severus said, tying up the matter neatly. He cleared his throat, something he did more frequently now, and Harry imagined the damage from Nagini’s bite was not completely a thing of the past. “And to be clear, Headmaster Potter and I are not partners. We’re…friends.”

He hesitated in choosing a word to describe their relationship, and Harry wondered what word he’d have chosen himself. Associates? Business partners? Friends?

“We’ve been working together on a project at the school,” Harry explained.

“Ah.” Tristan gave Harry an interested look, but let the matter drop.

Harry thought about that conversation later, as he stood in his quarters and stared at himself in the mirror. Severus hadn’t said a thing about his sexual orientation, or about Harry’s. No denials. No attempt to establish that they were both heterosexual. He blinked behind the new frames he’d picked out on his own a week ago when he’d passed Eagle Eyeglasses Emporium. He was headed home from Honeydukes, where he’d gone to pick up some sweets for his children. He’d had to resist the urge to go by Severus’ quarters that evening to show them off on the way back to his own rooms.

The new eyeglasses weren’t a radical departure from the style he’d been wearing for years. He didn’t claim to know what clothing looked best on him, or what was stylish and what wasn’t. He didn’t have a sixth sense about his hair, and recognised now that he needed to listen to those who did. But when it came to his eyes, his instincts were solid. He knew to let his eyes be the focus, not the spectacles. Frameless and rounded, utilitarian instead of a fashion item. He’d let the shape morph over the years, from rounded to an almost oval.

But oddly, he’d wanted something unordinary this time. Frameless still, but with a hint of sparkle reminiscent of the eyes behind the half-moon spectacles. A glint of gold at the corners, that caught the light and threw it, that made him take immediate notice when he’d first tried them on.

He smiled more in these glasses, at the reflection of the grown-up man with hair tamed and back. At the man with tiny golden Snitches worked into the buttons on the cuffs of each of his new robes.

He’d worn the robes for two days before he’d noticed, and when he’d shown Severus, Severus hadn’t been surprised at all.

The children blew into the castle on the fifth of August, tumbling out of his office Floo and greeting him with exuberant hugs. He’d just released James after congratulating him on his second Chaser offer with the Brasilia Bomberos and was giving Lily a second hug when the Floo flared again and the former Mrs. Harry Potter stepped lightly and confidently into his office.

“Mum,” Al said, stepping between his mother and father, “what are you…?”

“I’m here to speak to your father,” she said, glancing around the office with casual interest. She eyed each child in turn. “Privately.”

Harry hadn’t seen Ginny in months. And while she looked as athletic and young as she ever had, tanned and even more freckled than usual after their trip to South America, he noted at once that he didn’t feel the usual mix of resentment and longing he had every other time they’d been together following his discovery of her infidelity.

“Why don’t you go see Hagrid?” he suggested to the children. “He’s been looking forward to showing you the baby hippogriffs.”

When they were gone, he turned to face Ginny, who was regarding the portrait wall with an odd look on her face. Several of the portraits were staring at her with undisguised interest.

“Somewhere more private, perhaps?” she said lightly, giving him a good look at last. Her eyes widened, and her mouth turned slightly downward. “Those are new robes,” she said, her voice suspicious.

“Did you expect me to wear the old ones until you took me shopping again?” he asked, raising a single eyebrow, a facial expression he’d certainly never made before this summer.

Ginny stared at him, then cocked her head to the side.

“You’ve changed, Harry.” She studied him, unsmiling. “Who is she?”

Harry laughed. “Is it so hard to believe I could start taking better care of myself just for me?” he asked.

“Yes.” Her voice was flat.

“It’s no one,” he said. He held the office door open until she walked out, then stepped ahead of her onto the moving staircase. “What do you need to tell me that can’t be said in front of a bunch of sleeping portraits?” he asked.

“Draco and I have had a parting of the ways,” she said with a one-shouldered shrug. “Don’t tell anyone I told you, but he’s a bit too adventurous in bed for me. I admit, I was looking for something more than your fumble and grope, but threesomes with his ex-wife -”

“Stop.” Harry whirled to face her as he stepped off the stairway just ahead of her. He stepped back against the wall and lowered his voice. “I don’t need to hear anything about your sex life, past or present.” He was unaccountably hurt by her “grope and fumble” comment, but was even more irritated at her attitude. “So you and Malfoy broke up. How does this affect me?”

“Is that aftershave?” Ginny had stepped in closer, and she smiled knowingly. “You’re lying, Harry, I always know when you’re lying. If you’re not seeing someone already, you’re trying to win her over.”

“Gin – just tell me what you want.”

He’d pushed away from the wall and stepped backward, distancing himself from the confrontation.

“Well,” she said, giving him that too-casual one-shouldered shrug again. “I didn’t ask for spousal support when we separated, did I? I suppose I didn’t think far enough ahead.”

“You mean beyond marrying Malfoy and being comfortably wealthy? Wow. Whatever he asked you to do in bed must have been pretty raunchy for you to leave behind all that money.”

He didn’t expect the slap, but he supposed he deserved it. Ginny glared at him a long moment and he met her eyes, realising in one shining moment that he had won, that she had indeed earned her just rewards. But the realisation didn’t make him feel as he imagined it would. Not gleeful. Not justified. A little bit – he had to admit – but honestly, he had other things on his mind now. Like what he was going to do with his life when he left Hogwarts. And why Snape, of all people, had been able to see right through him to the man desperately trying to claw out of his predictable past.

“You can also rub my nose in the fact that I left my job after we split up. So I have no realistic means of supporting myself until I find something else.”

Or someone else, he thought. “You’ve got the house,” he said. “You could sell it – ”

“Who are you?” she said, looking hard at his face. “Sell the house? You want me to sell the house that you loved so much? Where our kids were born? Where they grew up? You?”

She had a point. He’d loved that house. He’d been comfortable there, peaceful. At home. He hadn’t wanted to move even when they’d grown to a family of five. But it wasn’t his house anymore. It wasn’t their house, their home.

“It’s just a house,” he said. “You could live with your parents for a bit, while you look for another job.”

“You wouldn’t consider – taking me in, then?” she asked, her voice breaking a bit. She looked – guarded.

He stared. She couldn’t be serious. They’d spent more than twenty years together. He’d been happy. They’d been happy. Marriages fell apart for reasons much less serious than infidelity, he knew, and six months ago, he’d have given the idea of a reconciliation a good bit of consideration.

“Gin – no. Just…no.” He tried to smile, but couldn’t muster a happy thought. “Come on – let’s go sit outside in the sun and talk.”

“Look, Harry,” she said as they walked toward the entrance hall, her heels clacking on the stone floors. Holy Hermes, she was wearing heels. His Quidditch playing ex-wife, who spent most of her days in sandals or trainers, was wearing leather shoes with three-inch heels. “I’m not asking to get back together. I just need a bit of help since things didn’t – work out.” She ducked instinctively as Peeves sailed by over their heads, cackling. “The kids told me a bit about your project this summer, and I’ve been following it in the Prophet. Do you think there might be something for me here? You’re going to need some additional staff – I don’t know – mentors for the children, perhaps? Teacher’s aides?”

No no no no no and no. While he’d thought that someone might see the changes at Hogwarts as an opportunity, he’d not expected Ginny to be the one to approach him for a job.

“We’d only have to work together for a year, right? Then you’re going back to the MLE. I could stay on here, work my way up to Quidditch Coach when the position opens. The castle is huge, Harry. We’d hardly have to see each other.”

“Gin - don’t. Stop. I can’t. I can’t give positions to family and friends. You have to go through the same channels as everyone else. But no – don’t do that either. It’s a horrible idea. You don’t enjoy working with kids – look how you were with James when he was learning to fly.”

“Are you calling me a bad mother?” she accused.

“No. You were a good mother,” he said. “But you were a bad coach. You got frustrated too easily when he didn’t listen to you, or didn’t understand your directions.”

She frowned, and her shoulders sagged a little. The gesture tugged at his heart. She’d always been strong, and when she showed signs of weakness, he’d always rallied to cheer her up.

He managed to keep his mouth shut, and they emerged outside to sunshine and a pleasant breeze.

“What’s going on down there?” Ginny asked, distracted by activity by the Quidditch pitch.

“They’re installing higher railings on the stands,” Harry answered.

He didn’t bother explaining the project – she’d already said she was watching the goings-on in the paper.

“They’re not planning on using rubber Bludgers, are they?” she asked, a bit derisively.

Privately, Harry thought that a rubber Bludger could still do a lot of damage. “No, no one’s suggested that yet,” he said, trying to keep his voice matter-of-fact.

“Have you thought about a coaching position with one of the South American teams?” he asked her after a bit. “They seem eager to grab up talent from the UK.”

She shook her head. “I’m not all interested in living abroad,” she said dismissively. “Especially in South America. It’s so different there – the weather, the food, the people.”

“Then I’m not sure how I can help you,” Harry said. He saw the children and Hagrid in the distance, standing by a pen near Hagrid’s hut. “I’m not in a position….”

“If you don’t want me to sue for spousal support, you’re going to have to come up with something,” she said flatly. “I don’t want to go through the time and trouble of selling the house.”

Merlin, he didn’t want to go through all this again. All their assets had been divided and he’d more or less handed her the house already. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll talk to my solicitor. She’ll work with yours and perhaps we can keep this out of court.”

“Who is that?” Ginny didn’t even acknowledge his concession. Her eyes were on a figure walking up from the Quidditch pitch. Harry recognized Snape at once, but Ginny stood and brushed off her robes and ran a hand over her hair to smooth it down.

She needn’t have bothered. It looked perfect already.

Harry stood, too, if only to better see her face when he answered.

“That’s Snape,” he said. “He’s overseeing the safety upgrades.”

Her eyes widened but she continued to watch Snape walk toward them.

“Hmmm,” she said. “Seems I do have a thing for Slytherins.”

Harry’s stomach did a somersault. “Snape?” he managed. “Snape’s old enough to be your father! He’s…he’s….”

“Hot,” Ginny supplied, smirking at Harry. “Look at him! He’s done a bit of an about face since he left Hogwarts, hasn’t he? Does he still do Potions?” She lowered her voice and when she spoke again, she sounded like she could get whatever she decided was hers. “Maybe he needs an assistant.”

Harry’s stomach rolled unpleasantly again. “Stop – it’s not funny,” Harry said, voice low. Snape had most certainly recognised them by now. He’d be close enough to hear them soon.

“Who said anything about funny, Harry?” she said. “You really should open your eyes a bit. If you’re only looking at Gryffindor women your own age, you’re leaving a lot of potential on the table. We’re not kids anymore, and he’s definitely not the greasy git you and Ron loved to hate.”

She stepped forward and away from Harry as Snape approached and Harry saw Snape give him a curious look as Ginny extended her hand.

“Mr. Snape. How nice to see you back at Hogwarts after all this time.”

Harry couldn’t see her smile, but he knew which one it was. He’d catalogued her facial expressions even more thoroughly than he had Hermione’s. It would be the one that was soft, and warm, and just a little bit shy.

Snape took her proffered hand. “Mrs. Potter. It’s nice to be back as well.”

She immediately engaged him in a rather robust conversation about safety standards in Quidditch, then deftly moved the discussion to safety in the Potions laboratory.

And throughout it all, Harry remained silent. And seething.

Severus had no idea what he was dealing with. He couldn’t know that Ginny and Draco had broken up, and that Ginny had already set her sights on a new Slytherin.

“My Albus told me you have a son named Albus, too,” he heard her say as he pretended to watch the children at Hagrid’s. “Ours was almost Arthur, after my dad. Arthur Albus. Then he was born and Harry turned the whole thing on its head. It surprised me but I was hardly in a position to argue,” she said. Harry was sure that pleasant, demure smile was still there. He couldn’t imagine that Snape would find it attractive, but then again, he himself certainly had.

When Snape explained that he’d come back to the castle to send an owl to one of the suppliers, and insisted he had to get back to work, Ginny made her move.

“Harry’s on his way down to Hagrid’s to spend some time with the children,” she said. “I’ll wait here and walk down to the pitch with you to see the progress.” She laughed. “I might even dig out one of the school brooms and take a turn around the pitch – for old times’ sake.”

Harry gave a dramatic eye roll and gave up. Snape was on his own. He’d do what damage control he could after Ginny left. If she ever left. At this rate, she’d be inviting herself to dinner and offering to give Snape a massage or take him on a broom ride to survey the safety improvements.

An unbidden image filled his mind then, of Snape face down, stretched out on a table with a dark sheet draped over his arse, long, pale limbs splayed out and his hair loose and cascading over his neck and shoulders.

Harry blinked. Blinked again. Where the hell had that come from?

“Harry? The children?”

Ginny was smiling at him pleasantly, but Snape was staring at him, at his face, with a look that seemed both concerned and pensive.

“Right. You two have – fun.” He practically choked out the word and hurried away, wishing then that he’d thrown Ginny under the bus when he had a chance. That he’d told Snape that he hadn’t been planning on fetching the children from Hagrid, and that Ginny and Draco had split and she was interviewing new candidates for the empty side of her bed.

No. That wasn’t it at all. He wouldn’t let spitefulness turn him inside out again. They were all adults here, right? Snape would see through her. Harry had no claim on him – no, on her. On Ginny.

Fuck.

On Severus.

Feeling like the bottom of his world was about to give, crushing all he knew to be true, sending every concept he had of life and love and happiness into a fathomless cavern, he began walking down the drive toward Hagrid’s hut. He couldn’t resist a backward glance, though, a few minutes later. Snape was gone, off to send his owl, but Ginny remained, casually sitting on the stairs, bare legs stretched out before her in the sun. She’d taken off her robes, leaving her in a sleeveless t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Not luridly sexy or revealing, but a bit daring for anyone in the Wizarding world, and even more so for a witch in her forties.

Harry seethed.

He realised that the outfit was likely intended for him, and wondered if she’d actually been planning to seduce him afterall.

And if she would have succeeded.

There was a part of him that recognised that sex with Ginny would have been exactly what he needed, especially the kind of sex they would likely have had after an argument. Hard and fast and angry and possessive. The kind of sex that had been a rare thing for them, and a source of embarrassment afterward despite the passion of the moment.

And there was another part of him that rejected the idea altogether. He was in a different place now. A different time. He was different, and relying on the crutches of the past would certainly not help him when he was ready to leave Hogwarts and strike out on his own again.

“Dad? What happened to your face?”

Lily had run up the path to meet him, and he raised his hand to his cheek, puzzled for a moment, before recalling Ginny’s slap and how it had stung.

“Peeves,” he said. He smiled. “Almost got your mum, too.”

Lily grinned, and ran back to the hippogriff pen, and Harry took out his wand and did a quick healing spell.

He understood the look Snape had given him, then, as Ginny had been talking. The look over her head at him. Puzzled and concerned.

He pushed it all as far from his consciousness as he could, and joined the children and Hagrid to admire the hippogriff twins. He’d take his time getting back to the castle, and Ginny would be gone, and Severus would sigh with relief and commiserate with Harry, and all would be right in the world again.


~Chapter 10: Follow My Lead~

During the safety overhaul, Hogwarts offered dinner in the Great Hall to the contractors. Harry and Severus ate with them most evenings, so when Harry and the children came down after cleaning up following an impromptu swim in the lake, he expected to find Severus at their usual place.

He certainly didn’t expect to find Ginny with him.

“Muuuum!” Lily complained as she ran over and plopped down beside Ginny, who was sitting beside Snape. “I thought we were staying here with Dad!”

“I’m just here for dinner, luv,” Ginny said. “With Mr. Snape.”

Snape looked up at Harry, who’d hesitated across from him. His gaze immediately swept up to Harry’s face, specifically to his left cheek.

“Sit, please,” Severus said, nodding at Harry and the boys. “Mrs. Potter and I were just about to discuss ways we might involve Squibs in Quidditch.”

From the look on Ginny’s face, Harry doubted very much Ginny had known of this plan.

“Of – of course,” she said, as James and Al stared at her as if she’d grown another head. “Squibs can ride on brooms as passengers – with a witch or wizard. I suppose they could be Beaters….”

“Mum – no.” Al was shaking his head. “Quidditch is dangerous enough with only one person on a broom. You were a professional Quidditch player! Can you imagine trying to maneuver a broom with another ten or fifteen stone of weight on it? Seriously?”

Ginny glanced at Severus, who was studying Albus with interest.

“How about giving the Keeper a platform to stand on? An athletic person – wizard or Squib – could manage to guard the goals on their feet.” James had that look on his face and Harry hid a smile. If this played out as it usually did….

“Oh – that would work, James!” Al leaned in and began to sketch on the table with his wand.

“You’re going to sand that by hand if you leave any permanent marks,” Harry warned.

“I know, Dad.” Al continued his sketching. “If we string cables across the top of the pitch, we could suspend the Squibs and simulate flying on brooms.”

“Boys. Enough.”

Ginny’s voice meant business and the boys immediately stopped talking. There were a few moments of awkward silence then Lily spoke.

“Have you ever thought of revising the game to be played on the ground? Squibs could play then, but so could people who hate to fly, or who’re afraid of it, or who have some sort of medical condition where they can’t.”

“You mean like football, or rugby,” James said, leaning back.

“Right – and if it was a Muggle game, you’d have to use regular balls. But here at Hogwarts, you could use a real Snitch, but spelled to stay closer to the ground.”

“It would have to be slower, too,” Harry added, surprised at how logical the whole thing sounded. “But why not? People change up rules to games all the time. And we’re not eliminating the Quidditch we all love, just adding a non-aerial option.”

He sent the children off after dinner to unpack their things and work up a preliminary set of rules for a ground-level, limited magic version of Quidditch, then reluctantly stood to excuse himself. He had a pile of mail to go through, and the first faculty meeting to plan. He gazed down at Ginny, whose cleavage seemed more prominent than it had been a few minutes before, when the children were there. She smiled up at him almost smugly.

“Goodnight, Harry. Have a fun week with the kids. Now that I have Severus alone again, I’m going to get him to tell me who it is you’ve cleaned up so nicely for.”

She surprised Harry then by standing up and leaning over the table, directly in front of Severus, to kiss him on the cheek. Her breasts pressed up against Severus’ face and Harry pulled away quickly.

“Goodnight, Ginny.” He nodded at Severus, whose face looked incredibly neutral for someone who’d just had a pair of shapely breasts unexpectedly pressed into it. “Snape.”

“Goodnight, Harry.”

Severus paused before Harry’s name, emphasising it so that it was quite clear that they were on a first-name basis.

Harry smiled. “Severus.”

His heart hammering, he left the Great Hall and went to check on the children, who were staying up in Gryffindor, then returned to his office and started in on his owl post, trying in vain to keep at bay the image of Ginny’s breasts pressed against Severus’ stoic face.

A sharp knock on his door an hour later startled him and, when Severus pushed open the door, Harry was both surprised and relieved to see that he was alone.

“Does your ex-wife have prejudices against homosexuals?” Snape asked, speaking quickly.

Startled, Harry shook his head. “No. Not at all. Her brother Charlie is gay. We had gay friends.” He frowned as Severus glanced back out the door, then stepped inside. Leaving the door slightly ajar, he moved over toward Harry.

“Good. Just follow my lead,” Severus said, voice low.

“What are you talking about?” Harry frowned as Severus scooted aside a stack of books and sat on the corner of Harry’s desk, facing Harry. He glanced at the door, listening as the spiral stairway creaked and began to move.

“I’m talking about putting her off me – and you too, if we’re lucky,” Severus said.

“Good luck with that,” Harry began. “Hey!”

Severus plucked his glasses off his face, glanced one more time back at the door, then leaned down toward Harry.

“Look at me,” he whispered.

Harry met his eyes for one impossibly long moment, then, before Harry had time to think, or react, Severus’ hands were on the sides of his head and his lips were on Harry’s and he was kissing him.

“Hands around me,” Severus murmured, moving his lips to the shiny scar on the side of Harry’s neck. “Now!”

Harry obediently wrapped his arms around Severus. His heart had stopped beating. Or had begun beating at triple speed. He couldn’t tell, because he couldn’t breathe – daren’t breathe – because Severus Snape was kissing him, working those long fingers into his hair, caressing his scalp, moving his lips across his jaw to that spot just below his ear and fuck he was going to melt right there, on the spot, into a pile of goo that the house-elves would have to mop up in the morning. That scar – that burn whose texture had so repulsed Ginny – Good Godric! His whole body was reacting, alive and on fire after a long and restless sleep and ….

“Stretch your neck back,” Severus instructed in that same demanding but quiet voice, and Harry did just exactly that, groaning and exposing his neck just as the door flew open and Ginny exclaimed “There you are!”

Severus whirled around to face her, getting quickly to his feet and letting go of Harry so abruptly that he nearly tipped backward out of his chair.

“Really!” exclaimed a voice behind them. “Knock before entering, ma’am! Can’t you see these two were busy snogging?”

Harry didn’t have to turn his head. He knew Phineas Nigellus’ voice better than any of the others, save Dumbledore’s.

“Of course I can see that they were snogging!” she snapped. She glared at Severus. “You should be ashamed of yourself for leading me on!” She folded her arms and glared next at Harry. “And you – you – lock your door next time!”

Without another word, she turned and exited the room, as gracefully as one could muster after having just discovered one’s ex-husband kissing the man whose pants, or pocketbook, one was trying to get into.

Harry stared at the back of the door. He licked his lips and straightened his collar, then found his glasses on the desk where Severus had dropped them and put them back on.

“Well, that was effective,” he said with a self-satisfied grin. He should be embarrassed. Humiliated. Ashamed to show his face in public.

“I’ve never done that before,” Severus said, sinking into one of the chairs facing Harry’s desk.

“Done what? Kiss a man to get rid of a woman?”

Severus laughed. Laughed until the corners of his eyes crinkled. “Well yes, that too, I suppose. But I meant something so – spontaneous.”

“Spontaneous?” Harry repeated. “You do know she’s going to tell Ron, don’t you? Probably stopping by their place on her way home, in fact.”

Severus groaned. “I apologize. Just tell him the truth – you were accosted by a madman who’d promised his sister to reveal to her who, exactly, her ex-husband had been shagging this summer.”

“You didn’t!” Harry grinned even more broadly. He was convinced that an alien life form had taken over his brain. He’d just been caught in the arms of Severus Snape, in a teenaged snog session, and he couldn’t care less.

“She was convinced your self-improvement was a ploy to attract the ladies,” Severus said. “And in her mind, there had to be one particular lady. I told her that yes, she was right, and if she gave me a few moments, I’d make sure she could catch you and your paramour in your office together.”

“Brilliant.”

Severus grinned. Harry thought his slightly lopsided grin was brilliant too.

“My paramour, eh?” said Harry.

“Do you prefer lover?”

“I like them both – though I’ve never actually had one. A paramour. Or lover. Except for Ginny.”

“Seriously?” Snape’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Only your wife?”

“Yep. And I’d never kissed a man before, either.”

“Nor I.”

They looked at each other until Harry grinned a slow grin.

“Ever want to before?” he asked.

Severus studied his hands a moment, then slowly looked up to meet Harry’s eyes.

“Once or twice,” he admitted.

They were smiling at each other rather stupidly now, Harry behind his desk and Severus seated in front of it like a student at a disciplinary meeting.

“You know, Ginny did give me a good piece of advice today,” he said.

“Oh?”

“She said that I should open my eyes a bit. That if I’m only looking at Gryffindor women my own age, I’m leaving lots of potential on the table.”

“I imagine that was in reference to her newfound appreciation of Slytherins?” Snape asked.

“Right – best piece of advice she’s ever given me. Turns out I was leaving half the population out of the running.”

Snape shook his head. “You weren’t even looking at all, Harry.”

Harry shrugged, the stupidly happy smile still on his face. The gold on his glasses caught the light and he grinned even more as Severus frowned at it. “So – do you have a problem with gays?”

“Asks the man I just snogged.”

Harry just raised an eyebrow and waited.

“No. Not with gays, or Squibs, or Gryffindors, or Muggles, or half-Giants, or goblins. You?”

“I really wouldn’t want to date Hagrid.”

“Point taken. Care for a nightcap in my quarters?”

“Are you propositioning me, Mr. Snape?”

Snape stood and offered his arm and Harry pushed back his chair and came around the desk to take it. Snape looked over at him, and Harry changed course and stepped in front of him.

“Oh sod all the courtship formalities,” he said, throwing his arms around Snape’s neck and pulling him down into what he’d later claim was the best kiss of his life. Holy Helga it felt good to stand pressed against Severus, to laugh together at the awkwardness of aligning noses and knocking spectacles, and feel his body responding to something other than the morning smell of coffee and stiffness after a round of faculty Quidditch.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he said a few minutes later. He had no clue how they’d made it over to the wall, and no business saying he didn’t know what he was doing considering he had his back to the wall and one still-agile leg wrapped around Severus’ thighs.

“Nor I,” admitted a breathless Severus, who had fitted himself tightly against Harry and was rubbing his midsection against Harry’s in slow and exceedingly effective circles.

“Ooooh yes – that,” Harry said, slamming his head back against the wall hard enough to hurt as Severus pressed his hands to the wall beside his shoulders and made a delicious almost-thrust with his hips.

And hours later – or minutes – or seconds – what did time matter, anyway? – Harry was meeting those almost-thrusts with upward thrusts of his own, head still pressed against the wall, neck taut and slightly turned, and Severus’ mouth laving the shiny spot beneath his ear, then sucking on it until every nerve in his body was on fire and his cock so hard it threatened to break the perfectly-tailored seams of his new trousers.

“Don’t you – don’t you know any …. any… undressing charms?” he panted through his rhythmic thrusts.

Severus groaned and thrust and sucked on his neck and it was too late for undressing charms, or fumbling with belt buckles, and possibly too late to salvage the new trousers, because Harry’s entire world coalesced around his throbbing erection, vision narrowing to a spiraling, blurry tunnel as he exploded in an orgasm so powerful that he found himself on the floor of his office moments later, a sated and groaning Severus half atop him, still giving an occasional and exhausted half-thrust into his thigh.

“I think I’ve been waiting for that my entire life,” he murmured.

“I think I’ll take that Potions professor position,” Severus replied softly, speaking into Harry’s shoulder.

“What Potions professor position?” Harry mumbled.

“Didn’t you hear?” he asked, pushing off Harry to lie beside him, still too worn out to stand up. “Old Swallows would like to retire in a year or two.”

Harry rolled onto his side and stared at Severus, at the indentation in his nose from the bridge of his spectacles, which had been lost somewhere between the desk and the floor, at the just-past-rough growth of beard on his cheeks and jaw, at the angry scars on his neck, and at his dark, dark eyes, at the satisfaction he saw there, and the hint of mirth.

“Look at me,” Harry whispered and, when Snape did just that, Harry kissed him again, and all was right with the world.


~Chapter 11: The Rest of the Story ~

True to form, and to Harry’s expectations, news of his romance with Severus made the rounds of the Weasley family quickly, and the first owl arrived while Harry was still sound asleep in his quarters.

He was alone, by mutual agreement. They’d cleaned up and walked up the Astronomy Tower – cliché, perhaps, but a memorable moment under the waxing moon. They’d each returned to their own quarters, and Harry had slept peacefully until Ron’s owl tried to peck through his window.

There were four more owls at breakfast, and two at lunch, and the children were growing suspicious. He broke it to them as carefully as he could. James and Lily took it well, with James giving him the “Whatever makes you happy,” line and Lily trying to hold back her amusement, but Al gave him a thumbs up and dropped a “Well, this might be a good time to tell you that I’m bi, too,” bombshell on him.

Which really wasn’t much of a bombshell, considering.

The remaining weeks of summer proved to be just exactly the amount of time needed for the Wizarding world to eat, chew and spit out the story of a long-thought-dead Severus Snape romancing a previously-heterosexual Boy-Who-Lived. By the time the first of September arrived, its attention had moved to Squibs Arrive at Hogwarts for Unprecedented Orientation! and Former Mrs. Potter Linked to Polyamorous Triad with Draco and Astoria Malfoy!

The “Unprecedented” Squib orientation was used to administer the new Sorting quiz. The incoming prefects and Head Boy and Girl had been brought in to create the questions with the heads of houses. Each question had four potential answers, each one generally indicative of the traits of one specific house.

“Brilliant,” Harry had said after reading the final draft. He’d secretly taken the test himself, and had been relieved to find himself still a Gryffindor.

So, when the actual Sorting arrived, after the first-year and new second-year Squibs boarded sturdy white boats and all the students were handed life jackets, which they shrugged into gamely, the entire school held its collective breath with anticipation as the first Squib was called forward.

Like every child before her, she hopped up on the stool. But instead of putting the grimy old hat on her head, she held her breath while the Head Boy and Head Girl sent appropriately-coloured sparks high into the air and called out “Hufflepuff!”

Alder Snape was the last Squib sorted.

Albus had gone, true to Snape’s predictions, to Gryffindor, though Harry knew from his quiz that he had strong Hufflepuff tendencies as well. Alder replaced him on the stool, attempting to look calm when, like every first-year before him, he looked both excited and terrified. Harry knew what Severus had predicted for Alder, but Harry had his own predictions too. Alder was very decidedly a Slytherin, and certainly smart enough to be Ravenclaw, but smart enough, too, to figure out how to trip up a quiz.

“It’s the same as convincing the Sorting Hat to not put you in Draco Malfoy’s house,” Harry told Severus that evening after the festivities died down and he had a moment to Floo-call him. “Alder knew Albus would go to Gryffindor and he wanted to be with his brother.”

“But Gryffindor - two of them in Gryffindor,” Severus said with a sigh. “That child is too Slytherin for his own good – the Squib sorting process will need to be revised next year.”

“And the new headmaster can worry about that,” Harry declared.

Severus responded with an enigmatic smile.

*~~*

As Severus had predicted, the Ministry strongly encouraged Harry to remain at Hogwarts as headmaster.

And while Harry had certainly grown into the position this second year, he had no real interest in being headmaster for life, or indeed, for more than an additional year or two.

He’d begun covering N.E.W.T. level Defense just after Christmas, and had the pleasure of instructing his own son, who was preparing for a potential apprenticeship in Japan with an Asian master. He gave the Ministry an additional year to find his replacement and began his own job search in earnest.

Severus, however, had other ideas.

“You belong at Hogwarts, Harry. Make an arrangement with the Ministry – give them an additional year as headmaster in return for the Defense position.

“That would put Saunders out of a job,” he said diplomatically.

Severus shook his head. “Saunders wants the Potions position. He’s got a dual mastery.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to shake his head. “Severus – that position is yours and you know it. As soon as Swallows retires, they’re contractually obligated to offer it to you. And you know he’s planning on finishing this year and next and then retiring.”

Severus, who was neck-deep in blue-hued bubbles in the headmaster’s bathtub, beckoned to Harry with a long finger. Harry, who had already bathed and was wearing nothing but a towel, sat on the edge of the tub. Severus scooped up a handful of bubbles and pressed it onto Harry’s stomach, leaving his fingers splayed there as he spoke.

“Offer the position to him now,” Severus said. “Lock him in to it. Then speak to the Board of Governors about extending your contract in exchange for the Defense position.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Of course you can do that.”

“Alright, I won’t do it – not at the expense of your….”

A moment later, Harry found himself in the tub atop Severus and sporting a beard of blue bubbles which Severus promptly kissed off.

“You can. You will. I have other – plans,” he said as he sucked on Harry’s neck.

“Oh do you?” Harry said with a smile as he pulled away from those wicked lips and slid down between Severus’ legs. “In that case, so do I.”

He took a breath as if to dip his head underwater and engulf Severus’ cock, but Severus stopped him with a barely there shake of his head. Turning Harry around, he brought him back against his chest so that Harry was sitting on his legs. He ran soapy fingers over Harry’s chest, circling his nipples, then leaned over Harry’s shoulder and blew gently down on them. Harry arched his back and moaned, wiggling on Severus’ slippery lap and rubbing his arse over his lover’s hardening cock.

“How did I get through nearly fifty years of adulthood without sampling your arse?” Severus growled, moving his hands down to knead Harry’s buttocks, spreading them so that his cock rested promisingly in his cleft.

“The same way I got through twenty-five years thinking I was straight,” said Harry. He wiggled again, but Severus tightened the arm around his middle.

“Patience,” he said. “I have plans….”

*~~*

“Look at this!” Harry exclaimed, walking into the recently remodeled and expanded headmaster’s quarters. “None of the responsibilities and all of the perks.” He turned to face Severus, who had settled into one of the leather sofas facing the enormous fireplace, waiting for the tea he’d requested from the house-elves.

“You have responsibilities of your own,” Severus replied. “The Defense Mastery prep class is already closed with a waiting list of five. You’ll have your hands full enough.”

“And you have an incoming first year class of almost seventy, including six Squibs,” teased Harry. “Talk about a Wizarding baby boom.”

“And two fourth-years of my own, while your brood is grown and gone, lucky bastard.”

“True, but considering Lils’ last year, I think I’ve earned my rest, don’t you?”

“It turned out fine in the end – she had sense enough to annul the marriage, but really, Harry, she could have chosen worse than Scorpius Malfoy.”

The attendant house-elf popped in with tea, and Harry settled beside Severus, pulled off his second-best boots, lined them up neatly beside the sofa, and rubbed his eyes beneath his gold-glinted glasses.

“You can rest after you and Hermione complete the upper-form curriculum revisions for non-magicals,” Severus said, pouring for both of them and handing Harry his mug.

“Nope. Hermione recruited Al and Rose to help her with that,” Harry answered. “The Ministry is even giving them intern pay. I’m free to teach Defense and make trouble for the headmaster.”

“Trouble?” Severus set his mug down and gave Harry an interested look. “What sort of trouble?”

“The sort where I hide all your robes, tie you naked to the bed and tell the rest of the faculty you’ve fallen in the bathtub again and hurt your back.”

“You realise we scarred Minerva for life the last time you used that excuse and she barged in to see how I was faring.”

“Might I remind you that Minerva announced her retirement the next day and, even if she hadn’t, she’d probably knock first next time?”

They drank their tea and ate a biscuit in companionable silence. The Welcome Feast was only two hours away, the Hogwarts Express was expected in Hogsmeade station within the hour, and the new headmaster had his speech prepared and his newly made robes in charcoal grey with mother-of-pearl buttons pressed and ready.

But he had a bit of downtime now, so he tugged on the dark elastic securing the new Defense Professor’s long plait at his neck.

“Why don’t you wear it down tonight?” he suggested, burying his face in Harry’s neck and finding that spot that made Harry’s toes curl.

“I’d look like Hagrid,” Harry managed through a rumbling moan. “Except no egg in my beard.”

“You’d look a bit wild, maybe a bit frightening, but you’re not the headmaster any longer. You need a new look – to go with those new robes.”

“I love those robes,” breathed Harry. His robes hung beside Severus’, emerald green in the cut-away style worn by the Aurors, but with the personal touches of bespoke Wizarding robes – multiple wand pockets, custom closures and buttons and a removable cape that made him feel a little bit villain, a little bit superhero.

“I love you in those robes,” Severus said.

“I thought you loved me more out of them.”

“Parts of you, anyway,” quipped Severus.

“You’re a perverted old man,” teased Harry.

“Not as long as you’re here to keep me young.”

Harry had smiled a lot these past three years, but the smile on his face now took on a life of its own as he considered that statement.

“Then make it forever,” he said. “Marry me.”

*~~*

The sun was setting on another year, and Harry and Severus leaned against the appropriately high railing on the Astronomy Tower watching the sky turn golden.

“I had a visit from Hermione today,” Harry said, turning to rest his back against the railing so he could see Severus properly. “She’s reviewing a new contract for the Ministry and that reminded me of something I always meant to ask you about but never did.”

“Oh?” Severus spread his fingers out on the railing. His wedding ring, an intricately carved platinum band matching Harry’s gold, caught the fading sun and gleamed brightly. The castle was quiet, and Albus and Alder were on the Hogwarts Express bound for a month spent with their grandparents in France.

“That contract the Ministry had with you – it had a clause which nullified any other older contracts you might have had with the Ministry or another magical party. She told me that was standard, but I wondered if there was something – some contract – you wanted to put behind you.”

Severus chuckled. “I’m afraid Ms. Granger was right – it is standard Wizarding contract language. Though save for chance, it would have removed my obligation to marry the woman my mother had chosen for me.”

He yawned and motioned toward the stairway. “We should go down – it’s been a long day and I’m exhausted.”

“Hey – you can’t stop there!” protested Harry. “What woman? What chance?” He grabbed on to Severus’ wrist to hold him in place. “Severus, I can’t believe you had a marriage contract and never told me.”

The look on Severus’ face spoke of memories he’d rather not dredge up again.

“It was a long time ago Harry – I hardly remem….”

Harry lifted Severus’ hand and pressed his lips to the pulse point on his wrist. “Tell me,” he murmured.

“Harry, it isn’t the pretty story you imagine.”

“Tell me anyway, Severus. If it was important to you, it’s important to me.”

Severus sighed. “I’ve told you before the boys’ mother was a Squib, and that she died some time ago. Her name was Delphine Claudel. In all honesty, the contract was made when we were babies, and nullified when she turned out to be a Squib. But when I left England after I recovered following the Battle, I went to Paris and her family helped me get established there. We were friends – good friends, even – and once even lovers. She was a good person, a good mother. She helped me understand the importance of remaking myself – of taking care of all the many thing I’d neglected during my years at Hogwarts. She had impeccably good taste.” He pulled on Harry’s plait and fingered a button on his collar, and Harry knew he had Delphine Claudel to thank for his own transformation too.

“What happened to her? I know she died when the boys were little but you never said what happened to her.”

Severus’ voice, when he answered, was flat. “She was killed in the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris while dining out with her fiancé. It was a difficult time – for her family of course, for the country. For me. It reminded me of what I’d come from, and that there would always be great evil in the world.”

Harry wrapped his arms around Severus in the sort of bone-crushing hug he reserved for those times when he wanted to meld them into a single being, merge their very souls. “But it’s not in you,” he murmured. “And it’s not here at Hogwarts.”

As they stood there wrapped in each other’s arms as the sun slipped away, Peeves the Poltergeist tap danced on the ceiling of the library, the Hogwarts Express pulled into King’s Cross Station, and the Council of Portrait Headmasters debated asking for privacy blinds if the current and former headmasters couldn’t keep their clothes on in the office. They were generally supportive of the idea – quite a few thought it the best entertainment they’d had since leaving their corporeal forms.

“Oh, let them have their fun,” said Headmaster Dumbledore, who always kept at least one eye open when the business on the desk had nothing at all to do with Hogwarts. “It’s just as I planned – a just reward for all their troubles. They’re exactly where they need to be.”

“With the headmaster’s cock in the Defense professor’s arse?” shrieked Marigold Stalwart, who was in the “Blinders, please,” camp.

“Or the other way around,” snipped Phineas Nigellus.

“Hmph. Hardly ever,” said Headmaster Dippet, who claimed he never watched Harry and Severus go at it.

“I always kept my clothes on when the Defense professor buggered me,” said Marigold Twiddle with a faraway look of longing in her painted eyes. “Once, he tiddled me with two fingers from under my desk until I nearly sang like a choir girl while I held a disciplinary meeting with a parent.”

“Shhh – don’t wake the portraits,” breathed Harry’s voice at the door.

“Perverted portraits,” whispered Severus. “The only time Dumbledore bothers keeping even one eye open is when I’m buggering you on my desk.”

And to the great disappointment of nearly every portrait, they disappeared into their quarters and closed the door behind them. There was silence for a long moment, until Dumbledore’s voice sounded in the darkness.

“So, Marigold, why don’t you tell us more about that disciplinary meeting….”

“Oh, Merlin help us, sexually frustrated portraits,” said Severus, who, along with Harry, had his ear pressed against the door.

“They’ve ruined it for me,” complained Harry. “I’ll never be able to get you off from under the desk during a parent meeting again without thinking of Twiddle getting tiddled.”

They were far too old for the giggles that consumed them, and not at all spry enough for the randy buggering that followed.