August 21st, 2002: Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London
Early dawn slipped blue through the slit in the damask curtains. Harry lied in bed, watching his girlfriend's back rise and fall with her light snores. She had fallen asleep in her soft yellow bathrobe, curled on her side atop the covers, hands tucked under her head. He came closer.
With one finger, he traced a tendril of red hair splayed across the pillows, stopping where it brushed against her shoulder. After a moment of listening to her breathe, he opened his hand and laid it on her back.
He felt the solid body stir under the warm terry cloth. Harry avoided her bleary eyes when she rolled over, sorry for having woke her.
"Hm, Har? Wha' happ'n?," the sleepy witch mumbled. He shook his head and pulled away, wanting to let her rest. "No, s'okay. C'm back..."
Ginny rolled over, sloth-like, arms reaching for him before losing steam and sinking back down to the bedspread. Her snuffling breaths resumed.
She must be exhausted, he thought, affectionate as he watched her drift back to sleep. She was on her back now, mouth slack, arms canted towards him.
Then Harry blinked, rattled by a snore that shook the bed frame. Goodness, woman!
Laughing noiselessly, the wizard bent over and pressed his grinning lips to her forehead.
"Yeh?," said Ginny, with a snort. Her tone then became lost, her brow furrowing. She was still fully asleep as she cried, "Come back!," to someone unseen.
Harry, who had started to lean away again, returned. Hoping to stave off any nightmares, he wrapped an arm around her middle, settling in. Careful not to pull her hair, he laid his head down beside hers and willed himself still.
Eventually, she relaxed again, snoring softly.
A few minutes passed with the sun creeping evermore into the room. Finally sensing the outer edge of morning, Harry dozed. Behind him, on the nightstand, the Potter register displayed its detailed family map, quietly redrawing itself.
Unbeknownst to Harry, who only had been studying the cluster of dots in the north, two other red dots had been floating on the map's edges.
Both had just relocated, transparent in the shadows beneath the unlit lamp.
The first dot, once nestled on an island in the Pacific, had begun a steady trek across the ocean to the American west coast. The other dot leapt around the map. It had gone unnoticed on the cold island in the North Sea. It had then faded from the English North shore and reappeared in the Baltics.
As Harry finally fell into a fitful sleep, it disappeared from its city in Latvia. It then blinked back into existence on northern British soil. It landed a few inches east of the cluster in Manchester, flickered dangerously for a moment, but persevered.
And while the sun roamed freely about the room, it sent a sliver of light across the page, where it fell into the only solid, red dot there. Amid the cluster in Manchester, which formed a filmy blob, the one dot showed out with a sure presence. It didn't flicker, and the day had hours left before the dot would move.
And so, like Harry's dot in London, it waited to be noticed, punctuating the fleeing dark.
"Is this a joke?"
It was mid-morning, and Harry and Ginny were standing off in the parlor. He had spelled the curtains open to let in some light, so he couldn't miss her scowl as they argued by the lightless fireplace.
They had spoken well into the night yesterday, during which Harry had promised to discuss the map with Hermione. They had agreed as a pair that this was his best next step.
Then she had no doubt awoken to Harry muttering to the book, before going still, swearing, and slamming it shut. He had thrown himself into chores ever since.
She had asked if he was serious multiple times by this point. She had asked what happened that morning, and why he was neglecting to call their friend.
But Harry felt the answer to the latter was obvious: he'd changed his mind. He didn't want to talk to Hermione. In fact, he wanted to do anything but talk to Hermione—or anyone for that matter—particularly about the map.
The young man couldn't help consulting the damned thing again when he had snapped awake, shaking from a terrible dream. In it, he was standing in Sirius' bedroom, in a sudden, sweltering heat, staring up at the posters of swimsuit-clad models melting down the walls.
Horrifyingly, all the models had turned into an amalgamation of his features on shriveled, mummified bodies. Different versions of Harry's face were melting in with the dry, discolored limbs. There was a chemical smell, like Dudley had left plastic soldiers to sizzle on the stove. Then the bedroom had begun to reek of damp soil, and when dream-Harry had spun around, the bed and wooden floor fell away to reveal an open grave.
In it were more desiccated bodies, men and women, all inexplicably in vintage swimsuits. Their faces were eaten away by wriggling, writhing bugs.
"I don't want this," he had whispered in his dream, chest tight. The hot room cooked the air, making it impossible to breathe.
Harry had jerked awake when, beneath the beetles and worms, he saw Lily Potter's cloudy, green eye, like jade set in mottled grey skin. His dead mother stared up at him. A woman screamed.
"FREAK!," echoed a voice from the dream, chasing him into wakefulness.
Sweaty and panting, heart hammering away, Harry followed his first impulse. He clicked on the bedside lap and snatched up the book there, glaring at the map.
He had had the thought, then, that perhaps the Potter register had become like the Mirror of Erised. In it, he could see the family he wanted reflected back at him. Except, on the map, the family he wanted was dead.
The living relatives presented by the page wouldn't be the family he'd lost. He believed Ginny when she impressed this much upon him. So he glared down at the page, demanding an explanation. Why were these nobodies around if his real family couldn't be?
"Who are they!?," he had snapped at the map. He had felt Ginny jolt awake behind him, but couldn't, in that moment, care.
The map answered. Much like the Marauder's Map, names appeared on ribbons around the variety of dots. In Godric's Hollow, he read the names of James and Lily Potter, his late parents. Harry had dragged a sleeve over his forehead, mopping up more nervous sweat.
Above their names, in Manchester, were names he didn't recognize. No Potter had catalogued them in the list of births. He didn't even know them from people he'd run into from the Order or at school.
They were complete strangers.
But then amongst them, he had seen a name he thought he'd recognized. Harry had then felt burning hot anger pour from his face, down his arms, to his hands on the page.
"Bullshit," he had cursed, spitting, shoving the covers of the book together with wild ferocity. It was finally too much. The book was playing tricks on him in the cruelest way possible. He had had enough of it.
And so, since waking up hours prior, the wizard had cooked breakfast, spelled the dishes to wash themselves—something he picked up from Mrs. Weasley—and then proceeded to clean the kitchen by hand. He had just kneeled down to scrub the floors when Ginny had come downstairs.
She questioned him, only to be smiled at and ignored, until she had lost her patience. She banished his brush, gloves, and sloshing bucket of hot, soapy water. Then, for the first of many times, she reminded him of their talk the evening before.
Harry, seeing her irritation, had hopped to his feet and hurried past to begin sweeping the parlor rugs. The witch has forgone her morning run to follow him from room to room. While he ignored her, she resorted to watching, arms crossed in the doorway, watching him clean.
"Are you kidding me?," she asked. "Suddenly you'd rather play house elf than call Hermione. What changed?"
Harry didn't answer. He just kept sweeping. He knew he was procrastinating the inevitable. He would probably have to tell Ginny, at least. They lived together, and she wasn't above just looking in the book herself. Besides that, he didn't normally prefer keeping secrets from her.
This didn't stop him from frowning down at her unamused face as he shuffled past. He started to sweep the far end of the room. Affronted, Ginny waved her wand and banished his broom as well.
So Harry was left standing there, empty handed, except for his wand in his back pocket. He traded burning looks with his girlfriend and, finally seeing the bags under her eyes, grew angry again.
What does she have to lose sleep over?, Harry thought bitterly. She has a family.
"Could you get off my back for one minute," he snapped, jabbing a finger at her accusingly. "You've not given me a second to breathe since I told you about my parents! You'd think you were the freak with no proper family!"
Ginny's eyebrows flew up as she stared at him, aghast, "Seriously? I don't know where this is coming from, since you don't want talk to me unless I get on your back about it. And you've wanted me here, and I'm just trying to help!"
"I don't have to tell you every little thing! Or big thing! Or anything!"
Harry turned his back on her, and kicked the ottoman at his feet. Why did she even have to bother with him? This was his problem, and if he chose to forget about it, so should she.
"Yeah? And then what, we just faff about in this depressing fucking house, talking about Quidditch and the weather until we grow old and die?"
He didn't turn to face her as she ranted, only heard her voice come closer. He tensed up, wanting nothing less than to be touched.
"I don't know what crawled up your arse this morning, Potter," Ginny continued, storming out of the room. "But what you need to do is reevaluate who the bloody hell you're talking to before you lose your temper! I’d rather you say you don’t want to talk about it than ignore me and act like nothing’s wrong.
“Call Hermione or don't. I don't bloody care anymore. I didn't even want you to dig into this in the first, fucking place! You're making yourself miserable."
The witch stomped away, followed by the front door swinging open and slamming shut. Harry was viscerally glad the portrait of Walburga Black had long since been sealed behind its tiny curtain. If he'd had to hear that awful woman screech just then, as furious as he was, Harry might have set the house on fire.
Harry spent the rest of the day alone. Ginny hadn't returned by the afternoon, which he took to mean she was still furious. By then, Harry's temper had cooled. It quickly changed places with lingering shame and anxiety.
He hadn't meant to yell. He was still too humiliated by the map's trick to speak on it, but he could at least apologize. Yet he remained on his own hours after the fight.
Lying on the couch in the mostly swept parlor, Harry looked to the cold fireplace, hoping to hear from his girlfriend. He even lit the fire despite it being late August, in case it made receiving a message easier.
However, nothing came, and he knew that, unless he tracked her down, he wouldn't hear from Ginny until she was good and ready to see him. And that could mean either them patching things up or her giving him another piece of her mind.
As the early afternoon tilted toward early evening, Harry felt he could accept a hexing over the cold shoulder. He jumped to his feet when the fire in the grate burst into emerald greens. Unfortunately, as Ginny did step out of the fireplace, he forgot everything he had thought to say.
He failed drum up an apology when she looked at him. The witch walked passed him in cool silence and moved calmly up the stairs.
"I'm sorry for yelling," he muttered at her leaving back. The young woman paused, sighed, and kept walking.
"Well, you'd better be," she threw down at him, before reaching the second floor and disappearing toward their bedroom.
At least she's talking to me, Harry figured, a bit relieved that she came home. It's not much, but it's something.
Then the fireplace burst green again. Harry turned to it in confusion, not having expected anyone else that day. Usually, if someone of the old crowd planned to stop by, they would send ahead an owl. Being adults, some even with adult children, they avoided walking into any young couple's home unannounced.
"Mate, I'm coming through!"
"Ron?," Harry replied, shocked.
Sure enough, Ron Weasley came bowing out of the Floo, still in his scarlet Auror uniform. When he unbent to his full height, the ginger towered over his shorter friend with a glower.
Harry hadn't seen the young Auror in over a week, and was surprised to see him attempting a beard for the second time. Orange stubble covered his lip, chin and neck. His light hair, skin, and burning red robes shown oddly washed in the green from the Floo. This paired with his serious expression left an already anxious Harry firmly ill at ease.
Speaking of which, the green fire behind Ron kept burning. With a cough of soot, another person backed out of the Floo.
"Harry? Sorry to walk in like this, but honestly!"
Ron kept an eye on Harry while he helped Hermione from the Floo. She tutted at her large boyfriend for fussing and, lacking any sense of irony, began to fuss over Harry.
He was soon sat back onto the couch, hands plucking at his tatty house clothes. He felt a bit offended on his own behalf. While he knew he was far from Witch Weekly's Most Devilish Dandy, he didn't need Hermione worrying at his undarned cuffs.
The whole while, Ron looked askance at him, as if considering his next words.
That can't be good, Harry figured, straightening up. Ron popping up out of nowhere and being tactful put Harry on high alert.
"What," he blurted out. Hermione paused, full of concern, while Ron only stared harder, so Harry cleared his throat and tried again. "I mean, why, um, what are you doing here? Did Ginny bring you?"
"We brought ourselves," Ron replied meaningfully. Harry shrugged and shook his head, not having caught his meaning in the slightest.
"Okay," he offered, helpless. Ron only frowned at him more.
"Is that it?," the young Auror said. Ron then pulled up an ottoman, the one Harry had kicked earlier, and plopped down on it. It was so low that his friend's knees hit his chest, but he seemed not to mind as he looked into Harry's face.
"Harry, what the hell happened!? First, Hermione comes home last night more stressed than usual. She says you visited, but she can't say why, and I'll have to ask you.
“So I sit back, expecting a visit or something today, because y'know first it's her, then it's me, that's how these things tend to go. I figure it was a fight with Ginny, and you were like, afraid to come to me with it or something, and Hermione talked you down.
"But then today it's Ginny barging into my office," Ron ranted on, "saying today you two fought, about something else. But then she can't tell me what it's about and I have to hear it from you!
"And she spends all day sulking at my desk, looking worse than the case files, so I bring her to Hermione. And then they have this, like, telepathic girl chat, and I'm left not knowing what's up with my best friend, because he hasn't told me!"
Harry barely squeezed out, "Er, it's," before Ron interrupted him.
"Don't say 'it's nothing,' mate. It's never nothing. Harry, you look like shite. You yelled at Ginny! You pretty much never do that, since you think she hung the fuckin' moon. So, tell me what the hell is going on, before I have to kick your arse for hurting my little sister's feelings."
Harry looked to Hermione in desperate need of help, and was slapped with her big, pleading eyes.
"I think you should tell him, Harry," she urged, gripping his limp hand in hers. "I know it's personal, but Ron will understand, maybe even better than me."
Except you don't know how personal it is, he thought at her, biting his tongue. You think you know but you can't possibly.
Harry was then struck with how Hermione was there, in front of him. He looked frantically to the stairs, fearing Ginny might be coming down them, with the Potter map in hand. There was no one on the staircase, though. Ginny had sequestered herself upstairs for this talk, it seemed.
Harry sagged in relief, and then slid further back into the couch, feeling all used up. He didn't want to talk about it. He didn't not want to talk about it, either, if only for the friction secrecy caused with his friends.
The young wizard sometimes wondered if people had a maximum allowance for secrets. If for people like Dumbledore, they needed to balance their massive checkbook of hidden things even after death. That's why he'd given and kept secrets like currency.
Or for people like Snape, who lived on the edge of secretkeeper overdose, if they needed to spill everything at once to avoid a grisly fate. It felt like any person had a upward threshold of how many secrets they could keep before their life implodes.
If his theory of allowances was true, Harry had blown through his secret budget by puberty. He asked himself if this explained the persistence and perceptiveness of his friends. They kept him honest, in the black, saved him from choking on unsaid things. They were honed by years of shaving past some epic demise caused by a secret. Their prying tended to save lives and was a hard habit to break. Still, he craved long, impenetrable privacy.
He put his head in his hands, not sure if he was grateful or fed up.
"I'm so tired," he groaned. "I feel like I haven't slept right in days."
Harry realized this was true as he said it. The problem was, he had no idea how to fix it. Say nothing and let the matter die? It likely wouldn't, as neither Ron, nor Hermione, nor Ginny would be happy with him freezing them out.
And Harry, while wishing to forget the birth certificate, and the map, and Lupin, and the sketch, didn't want to hold it all in. He didn't think he had to, to move on. He just, didn't want to say it himself.
"Harry," Hermione said patiently. "Would you like me to tell him?"
Harry nodded, face still in his hands. He covered his ears while Hermione talked, tired of his own story. Then the map kept flashing through his mind. He relived the awful joke, and then his horrible dream. Soon, he uncovered his ears, much preferring the facts told in Hermione's quick chatter over the business inside his own head.
"Wait," Ron stopped her, bug-eyed. Hermione huffed, frustrated by the interruption, "Lupin said that?"
"Yes, Ron," the fussy witch hissed, glancing at Harry. "That's the part you focus on?"
"Sorry," he mumbled, clearly nothing of the sort. "Hey, have I heard of her?"
"Ron!," cried both Harry and Hermione. The redhead flushed and waved her on.
"Honestly, I don't know why I keep you around," Hermione continued, exasperated. "This is a sensitive matter! You have the diplomacy of a cat in a sandbox."
"I love you, too, sweetheart," Ron grinned weakly. "That's fantastic imagery you've got. My fault, Harry."
Harry waved Ron off.
"I couldn't answer you, anyway. Lupin only seemed but so sure himself. He tripped through an apology and then rambled on about how this stupid sketch I have 'favored' one of Sirius' favorite models. I guess she was popular in the 70's or something, and y'know Sirius."
The two wizards shared a tired grin at the memory of the old dog. Hermione's smile was strained, a little flustered, but there. Then a questioning look came over Ron's face. He scratched his fledgling beard, as he said:
"D'you think her stuff is hanging in his room?"
Harry remembered his nightmare of the melting posters and felt nauseous.
"God, I hope not," he answered, chilled. "How would you feel if it was your mum posing in a bikini?"
"Ugh! Don't say that!"
He turned, and felt his cheeks grow hot. Ginny now stood on the second to last stair, holding the bannister. Her hair was twisted up into a bun, and she looked as if she'd been crying. He stood up, asking if she was okay. She just gestured for him to sit as she walked into the parlor.
She waved Ron down too, and Harry realized that both he and her brother had jumped up at seeing her.
"I'm fine, stop," she told them both.
Standing by Harry, then, he noticed with trepidation that she had his closed register in one hand. Her other hand came up under his chin, tilting his head back to look her in the eye.
"Did you talk to Hermione?"
"Yeah, yes," he said. He blinked slowly and braved holding her wrist. Harry resisted looking from her to the book. "Did you see it?"
Ginny searched his face, and nodded solemnly. "I wish you'd just told me, but I see why you didn't.”
"Can I ask what's going on?," Hermione edged in, pointing at the book. "You read more of it, Harry?"
"That the Potter family tree you were talking about?," Ron also asked.
In response, Ginny simply left the book in Harry's lap and walked away. He wanted to ask her to stay, but given that he had earlier claimed to hate it, he let her go. He would have to properly apologize as soon as they were alone.
"If she's still like that next time I see her," Ron warned in only a half-joking manner, "I'm really gonna have to lay into you. No hard feelings, you understand, but that's my baby sister."
"She can handle herself, Ronald," chastised Hermione, gauging Harry in her peripheral. "They're talking it out. Leave it alone. But what did you need to talk to me about, Harry?"
He almost laughed at how she gave him no room for argument.
Fine, he surrendered, flipping open the book to the map.
"This," he said, handing it to the curious witch.
Her eyes scanned the open pages before it had even left his grip. She read the title, showing no trouble at parsing its meaning. He supposed she had a leg up, given that she worked adjacent to family documents all day. Plus, the book ad unpacked itself thrice over. However, he suspected that even if they were lost in the woods, at night, and the map was in its original Latin, Hermione would still have gasped in realization in the same ten seconds flat.
Having a friend too bright to keep secrets around was a small, mixed comfort.
"Oh, I've heard of these," said Ron. Harry looked up, not having expected that. "Yeah, our family tree doesn't have a map, but I know about them. It's not a physical map all the time, though."
"Really?," Harry asked. He hadn't thought of if the Weasley's had a map like his or not. Then he remembered their big clock, where every hand was a relative. "Oh, like the clock at the Burrow?"
"Yeah, exactly! That's a Weasley heirloom," the young man said, a little smug. "Betcha didn't think we had any of those. It's no hand-drawn map, but it's nothing to sniff at, either!"
"I think it's better than a map," Harry returned, sullen. He glared over at the thing Hermione ran her finger over, the witch likely memorizing the coordinates. "This thing sucks."
Hermione reached out and smacked his leg. He sniffed at the smart pat.
"Don't you dare, Harry Potter," she chided, still reading. "This is a priceless artifact, and we're lucky to have found it. To think, all this history could've been lost in a musty, old bank vault forever."
Harry didn't answer as his nerves returned. He felt the moment coming.
Hermione started her perusal with the illustration at the bottom. Once she had taken note of the artist's name, she began to move up the page, reading from left to right. Much too quickly, she ran into her first dot, one Harry hadn't noticed, bobbing in the United States.
"What's the difference between red and, oh. I see," she said, trailing off to peek up at him and duck back down. "Sorry, I understand. You’ve some family in California. I think this is the great uncle Remus mentioned, 'Charlus Potter.' He's still alive!"
"Good for him," Harry clipped touchily. "I suppose someone's gotta be."
Hermione stayed consistent as she examined the map, head turning toward him and then scanning away. There were more late relatives, none living, until she tripped across his name in the southeastern corner of England.
"And here you are, 'Harry James Potter.'"
"Yup," he choked out. He was losing his nerve. "Maybe—"
"Oh my God!"
Too late now, it's all or nothing, Harry caved. It has to be a joke, anyway! Some fucked up prank.
"Harry!" Hermione laid her hands flat on the map, incredulous. "I didn't...he's alive!?"
Harry shrugged. He did well to casually ignore some facts since they came to his attention after the Final Battle.
A letter arrived one day, delivered by eagle owl, on cardstock embossed with a little silver flower. He had saved the world except for some and had been presented an opportunity to save one more. Not even save, simply aid. And the letter was worded so prim and proper. So, he had put in a request to Kingsley. He only asked that the Aurors be nice and respect a certain lady's privacy. Maybe offer her some medical help should she need it. That was all.
The then freshly titled Man-Who-Conquered, still aching from his ordeal, then hid away his impeccably polite thank-you note. Harry still had it upstairs somewhere, shoved beneath the insole of a shoe.
If at eighteen he cured a bit of survivor's guilt, and let that fact fizzle into obscurity, what as the harm? It wasn't as if he would see those people again. It wasn't as if anyone would really know what to do with the information. Honor the man? Try him for murder? No, all parties involved were glad to turn enough blind eyes for one skinny man to live in.
It was a non-issue, really, so much so that Harry had genuinely forgotten until that morning. He could never shake the cold dread of having that kind of sway, but the man he’d helped? Barely on his radar.
"Harry, did you know about this? When? How!?," Hermione's voice went higher and higher as she questioned him, egged on by his silence.
He didn't think he could tell her or Ron everything. They worked at the Ministry, and word could spread. He trusted them with his life, as he always had, but there was far less reason nowadays to test that trust.
He also owed Narcissa Malfoy for saving him in '98. Even if he paid any formal debt when she dodged prison, he still carried an emotional one. Once saved by a person, he couldn't turn around and expose them for harboring a criminal from the law. And said criminal, as little as Harry really liked him, had done more for the fight than most. Maybe he didn't deserve prison or a hero's welcome, but only to be left alone. Harry could do that for him.
But for right then, in that moment, Hermione was looking at him, stunned, mind working furiously to answer her own questions. Harry looked back at her, unsure what to say.
Ron leaned over and pushed aside her hand on the map.
"Snape!?," he hollered, blown back onto his backside. "Snape is alive!? You're related to Snape!?"
Oh, whatever. Harry leaned away from his friends, propping himself on the arm of the couch, one shoulder coming up and falling in the most uncaring shrug ever wrested from his twenty-two year old body.
"It has to be a joke," he insisted. "The book chooses what it shows, so it must be messing with me. It's the only way. It's the only goddamn way."
"But," Ron said, making wide-eye contact with Hermione. "What, is the book evil or something? Like a Horcrux, like Tom Riddle's diary? Maybe someone swapped this for your real family's, I don't know, to wreak havoc."
Harry gave him the floor, figuring this was as good an explanation as any. Anything made more sense than him being related to Severus Snape. The map presented that name in perfect script on a ink-drawn ribbon, like it was a normal thing to suggest.
"Severus Tobias Snape" floated beneath a red dot in Greater Manchester, as if this were speaking to a simple truth. Harry might have honestly found it funny, if the cruelty of such a prank didn't infuriate him. Even now, the hand supporting his head was clenched in a tight fist.
Hermione sighed something deep and put-upon, and Harry already knew he would dislike whatever she had to say. Hermione knew he would dislike it as well, hence the sigh. It was her, "Here I go, time to be the bad guy," sigh. It was a rather unfair attitude of hers, but not entirely off-the-mark.
The witch folded her hands over the book, and addressed both wizards.
"Do you really believe that a Potter heirloom that accepted Potter blood, found in a Potter vault that also accepted Potter blood, would go out of its way to trick Harry?"
"Aw, don't say it, Hermione," lamented Ron. "It's impossible!"
"I'm going to," she shot back sternly. She looked to Harry and grimaced at his dark expression. "Please, be reasonable. We read your birth certificate at the Ministry, we're reading the map. We even have clues from the sketch. Look."
She tapped one of the names in the blob of dots. The group, which had been in Manchester City, was now migrating east, toward Snape. The name she pointed out, however, read, "Georgina Altagracia Hedgerot."
"This could be 'Grace,' the woman in the sketch, your...birth mother. Healer Charing-Claire wrote that she was a Northerner." She circled Manchester with her finger.
"We also know that the only witness to your actual birth was named Eileen," her finger now slid over to the bastard's.
"Remember sixth year, the Potions textbook? Eileen Prince was Snape's mother. If Snape's mother and yours were from the same county, or even more, the same town…"
They all watched on the map as the group of dots all named Hedgerot joined the one dot labeled Severus Snape. They formed one, five petal flower, a forget-me-not that was bleeding red, instead of periwinkle blue.
"You make it sound like Snape's mom was around to goad Harry's into giving him up," Ron said, mildly disgusted with the thought. "No offense, but it'd suck less if this was a prank."
"Men," Hermione rolled her eyes, truly annoyed. Harry scoffed, not sure what she had to be annoyed about. He let her speak though, not trusting himself to. "There are legitimate reasons why a woman might give up her child for adoption.
“Harry! Didn't you say once that Snape grew up poor? Ron, if this woman was the same way, maybe she couldn't afford to keep him. She couldn't predict then what would happen to Harry's parents later on. She might not have even had control over who adopted him, if she got scared and ran."
"Oi, I don't know if you noticed," Ron rebutted, going red in the face, "but my mother isn't exactly an heiress. We didn't grow up with whole a lot, but she kept every one of her kids. And Snape's mom kept him!"
"But did she have a choice? Snape's mom or yours? And you had your dad, and his help and his income, however much that may be.
“And magic! I've literally seen your family just add more space to their house when they need it. I'm not saying that Molly had it easy, but what if this woman had none of that? There's no sketch of a father, so maybe he was absent.
“And what if she's a Muggle? No extra help for stretching food or keeping kids healthy."
"No way Harry has a Muggle mum," Ron said, insulted on his friend's behalf.
"...And what is wrong with having a Muggle mum, Ronald?"
"Nothing's wrong, but!"
Harry looked from Ron to Hermione, her expression thunderous, and sensed the conversation might be flying off the rails. There was more being said than Harry had considered. Both Hermione's argument and Ron's defense soothed the boiling anger in his stomach.
But he felt the rage might have jumped from him to them. He didn't want his issues tainting the people he loved.
"Alright, ground it, both of you," he said, climbing to his feet. Neither of them gave him their attention, as engrossed as they were with glaring at each other.
He stood between them to break line of sight, for all of their sakes. "Good game, hit the showers."
"Nope," he said. Finding the scrap of warmth he felt in being so viciously defended, he thumped Ron on the shoulder. Then, summoning his appreciation for her clarity of purpose, he smiled down at Hermione.
"Thank you for coming here to check up on me. I think you helped shake me out of my own head, and gave me some things to think about. I needed perspective.
"Now, leave my home, and don't return until either I invite you, or the neighbors complain about the smell."
"Harry, that isn't funny."
"Yeah, yeah, quit stalling," he groused, pushing them to the Floo. He invited them both to grab a handful of powder. When Hermione arranged herself in the green flames and spun away, Harry held Ron back by the shoulder. He looked his friend in the eye.
"When you get home, you need to apologize."
Ron looked about to argue, but Harry kept his heavy gaze on him. Eventually, the taller wizard hung his head and sighed.
"Yeah, I know. I went too far with the Muggle thing. I don't know why I said it."
Harry patted him on the back and guided him into the hearth. He was careful not to catch the hanging threads of his house shirt on fire.
"You should unpack that. But if Hermione's still upset next time I see her, I'll have to kick your arse. No hard feelings, but she's like a sister to me."
Ron managed a sorry grin before calling out his address and whirling away. Harry watched the flames sink into the cracked logs, and then snuffed them. The parlor was unbearably hot, now, and Harry itched to be upstairs. He left the register where it sat on the couch, thinking he could use a second away from it.
As he walked past, however, he couldn't help a quick count of all its red specks of life.
Six relatives, excluding me, he thought. Seven all together. The magic number, ha ha universe.
He rubbed at his cheeks, and noted he was due for a shave. He then climbed the stairs to the bedroom slowly, to prepare himself. He still had a proper apology to make, and he wanted to do it right.