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Severus wound up sipping his coffee by the counter. Grace posted over the sink, going through the motions of rinsing her mug. She swiped it with a rag and upturned it on the dish rack. An inch of milky water spilled out of it. He dropped the dirty mug back in the sink and breezed to her other side.

"He left?"

"Yeah, he just disappeared, like you lot do," Grace recounted. "We never been rightly together since then. Messed around, had Laney, and he writes to her and sends gifts, but…"

She shook her head. "Can't forgive it. Won't, not that he's ever asked me to. He knows I'd wanna deck 'im."

Severus sucked chicken from his teeth and hummed. "He sounds like a deadbeat."

"Eh." Grace started a show of washing the rest of the dishes, twisting on the cold faucet and passing a spatula under the stream.

Severus reached across and shut off the water, mumbling about the waste. He stuck a dry sponge in the older woman's hand, and let her pretend. She didn't even blink. She rubbed it over a crusted plate from breakfast, lost in thought.

"He didn't know much about me, really, so it was easy for him to go. But Chuck cares, even if he can't parent," she continued.

Severus watched her smear tomato on a spoon with mild interest.

"He'll buy Laney anything she asks for to make up for never bein' around. Sends her postcards, sometimes, with his photos—the landscapes and stuff, not the other ones.”

She waved down the length of her body, as if that would explain her meaning. Severus nodded to keep her talking, dismissing the gesture.

“And now she's getting older and reads all these stupid relationship books tryin' to figure him out. Ahhh, he pisses me off!"

"But we were discussing his and your first child. The one you say is Potter."

She glared at the younger man. Severus lifted a condescending brow: "What? A man was a disappointment, a surprise to no one. We've established that you have terrible taste."

Grace huffed. "Me and my ex-girlfriends get on great, just so y'know."

"Well, have children with them next time. See if it sticks."

"Arsehole." A deepening of a laugh line said she nearly smiled. Severus rolled his eyes, at best preferring levity to tales of heartbreak. He had very little patience for heartsick woes. He could barely stomach his own.

She touched her ear to her shoulder, presumably stretching a crick in her neck by way of shaking off a bad memory. Then she cringed, back rounding, as if weathering another one. A veil of gloominess returned over her.

"You gave him up for adoption," he led.

"Yeah, yes, I gave the baby up. I couldn't afford him without Chuck or my mum's help. She'd left work 'cause of sarcoids, and we all shared a friend's pull out sofa in London by then, since the bank gone and took our house.

“My other two weren't even in school, and Zeddie turning thirteen was, Christ. Everything went into her, all my energy.

"Dummy ended up in prison anyway. But hell, at least it wasn't for murder."

"I shared that in confidence," Severus objected lightly, drawing from his cup.

"I ain't judgin', just sayin'. It was hectic. It never isn't for us. This house was supposed to be the change in tides, but pfft! Werewolves and wizards and shit, not bloody likely."

The wizard said, "Your brood is hardly a blessing," when the basement door creaked open.

A pink sweatered body squeezed into the kitchen, yowled, and scrambled up to him, wedging itself between Severus' calf and the cabinets. His cat balled up against the chipped cabinet doors, shaking and mewling plaintively. Grace cooed and bent down, extending her dirty sponge like a treat. Cat only shivered and meowed something shameful.

"Aww, poor thing! Was you stuck down there all night?"

Kissing noises ensued. Severus gagged and waved away the woman soliciting his shin.

"Leave her! Leave her be!"

"Why'd Zeddie not eat her?"

"Werewolves have no interest in animals. Focus!" He picked up the cat and deposited her under the sink. He'd done it every so often in Latvia, after always finding the rescue in a cupboard or a bookcase after a terrible storm. She would crawl out once she thought it safe.

"Tch. At least give her food," Grace chastised. 

"Mind your own beasts! She will make herself a nuisance as soon as she's hungry. Who handled the adoption?"

He recalled waking only half an hour before to, "Not another one, Lena, for the love of God."

"Was it my mother?"

Severus dissected her reaction, using the heft of what he knew of her. His reference material was limited, but by this point, fairly dense. She was disturbed, sorrowful, obstinate as she remained in her crouch, then two new emotions as she stood upright, returning the sponge to the sink.

Embarrassed, he approximated, and hesitant.

"Yeah…yeah, she did what she thought was best. I mean, none of my pregnancies passed for normal, but this was too much. These weird things kept happenin', like I'd dream about, I dunno, flyin' over the Atlantic and wake up a foot off the bed. Zed and Fred, I don’t remember much, I was busy boxin’ yer dad, and with Laney, I only got dead good at spottin' lies. I think it helped Freddy get—well, that’s no business of yours. But it was easier with Laney, to where I figured she wasn't too magic, not enough to get carted off to wherever, like you did."

"I'll admit that it is cloistered, but Hogwarts is only a school," Severus said, rolling his eyes. He put down his own now drained mug—"I Heart NY," with an apple in place of the heart. Hilarious. "Students return home for holidays and three months' in the summer. No one swings down from the treetops to spirit your children away."

This irked her. Grace dropped the pan she had been scrubbing and pinched Severus in the ribs. He blustered and leapt away, horrified. How dare she—

"Then explain that old man! The one who took him!"

Severus cast off his mental tirade in a snap. Old man? He had no idea to whom the Muggle referred, not technically. And yet he suffered the clammy slap of disquiet at the old man his mind portrayed. The scene drawn vividly: a braided silver beard to his knees, a star-spangled suit, half-moon glasses, a wistful, grandfatherly smile. Merlin, he could practically hear it: 

"It is for the best, dear girl. You’re brave to do good by your child. Too few people are strong enough in these trying times. Thank you for doing the right thing."

Albus, Severus lamented.

He had so few details of the story, and still saw it spread out before him. Another tweak, another meddle, another hushed contract tucked among the many.

Say Lily Potter lost the child of prophecy—because it was the only possibility. Severus was sure if she claimed pregnancy, his former friend had once a child to mother. And with the stresses of war, perhaps, or a thieving curse; maybe a fall or unviable genetics. The child was lost.

Albus Dumbledore, the fate fixer, the eternal optimist, would happen upon a new golden child. He would convince the Muggle mother and reverse the tragedy. He would see it as matchmaking, helping troubled homes.

And he’d never visit the hole he tore to mend another. He’d send an eye out, if that, to make sure all was well. And if it wasn’t? The guilt of complication was Severus' lot.

How then? If you're so sure? How did they meet?, revolted his logical mind, the one loathing of new fears and upheaval.

"I was maybe, six months in? When I came here. Since I couldn't go to any surgery what all glowin' and floatin'. Still it took weeks for Eileen to get me to see this 'classmate' of hers, some type of midwife. Again, one of you.

"I fought it, since I thought I weren't never comin' back, like they'd cut me open and leave me. I kept sayin' I'd give birth in the tub before goin' to a witch doctor.

"But Lena kept sayin', 'You don't want a wizard’s child in these times! They'll come for you! They'll snatch you both!' It's how I knew about you and those shady types. Whatever, I ended up with a witch, I guess—older, named Merry, out in Sussex.

"And there was this old man there. Long, long beard, washed out and pale on the landing. I thought he might've had a grandchild comin', but it didn't look good, so I pretended like I didn't see him. To give him some privacy.

"But he recognized your mum, which spooked us both, and when he came lookin' later. That's when he said he and Lena talked…"

Grace was too near to breaking something. The last glass pillar Severus stood on, that at least of the man he killed, he knew everything—she would shatter it. She forged ahead, taking his head shaking as doubt. She rolled her nightgown sleeves up past her elbows, counting the keys points on her fingers.

Severus nearly shushed her, as she ushered forth his daunting new understanding. She embodied too harsh a truth.

Listen, Severus, counseled a wizened, inner voice. Severus could imagine it in its wingback chair, surrounded by spinning bobbles. Listen. Let it break.

"Why would I lie!? Look, Merry had this big house out there, this big, blue and white cottage-type house where you get in and it's crackin' huge! And creepy, like dead quiet, even though you have all these rooms like a hotel."

Merry Charing-Claire, the warwife. Severus knew the Healer Grace described, as she was one of many targets for Voldemort. Rumors said she delivered Muggleborn children in a hidden property, one never found. Albus had shown a little interest in her once, and then never again.

"Eileen squeezed my arm so hard, and I'd already gone into labor on the train to Sussex, so they gave me this nasty drink for pain, stronger than what your mum made. They took me to a bedroom and like that!"

She clapped, startling him.

"He popped out. Two hours of labor, tops. Four kids and till today, he was the quickest. So I'm sitting there, watching them clean him up, and he's wailing and—well, all newborns are kinda ugly, so he doesn't look great.

"Oh, but I loved him. And I'm lying there, my mind changing like, 'Maybe I can work it out. The other two, they can help. We don't need much, I can keep him and keep moving.'"

Grace's face went wobbly, her dark eyes reddening. Severus leaned away, wary of another outburst. If she cried again, he would leave the room. He might leave the house entirely and take his chances in the streets. Fortunately, the woman steeled herself.

"Lena said his name would show up in some registry with your government, so I never named him. I just, while everyone was outta the room, I packed him in his little blanket and legged it to London."

He stared, disbelieving. "You ran?"

She lifted a stubborn chin. "I sure did! Then like I said, the old guy came the next day. Your mum had told him my address, telling him it was my best chance. He showed up with all this stuff for Fred and Zinnia, weird candy and clothes, some money.

"Zed didn't trust him which should've been my clue. But he took me aside, said he knew a couple who'd just lost their baby. He said they'd take good care and love him. And it...it took a few hours, but if I knew I'd never seen him again, I'd have spat on 'im!"

Grace shook, clenching her fists, eyes welling. "That bastard promised I'd be close! That I could visit, that I could write! That they'd say my baby was, I guess, the right kinda blood? And no one would hurt him. He said, 'You would be acting out of love.' Blah, blah, 'You're doing the right thing.'

"And then I cried and cried, because I wanted him! I wanted to raise that boy, he was special! I'd never given up a kid, I would never—!"

"Hey, hey, tranquila. Mum, c'mon."

Severus missed her coming up the stairs. Zinnia sidled up to her mother, who'd begun to hiccup, face wet. The daughter draped an arm over her mother's shoulders, and proffered a tissue for Grace to blow her nose in. The two of them shared an uneasy look while the older woman got ahold of herself.

"Why're you bringin' all this stuff up for, hey?," Zinnia chastised testily. "Reverend, we don't talk about this, okay. Mind yours."

"How long were you listening at doors," he retorted. She flipped him off and snapped back:

"I came up for somethin' else and heard her say 'Merry.' Why'd you get her started on this old, hurtful mess?"

"Severus knows him," uttered her mother, face buried in the tissue.

"Who? Knows who? Gandalf? What's his name, Elvis, Allen?"

"Albus," Severus supplied, "Albus Dumbledore."

"No, h—." Grace stopped and stared at him, twisting her tissue in her fists. He nodded, feeling cold. "You know him, too. Albus."

Again, he was made to answer for the old man's plots. Always so well-meaning and catastrophic. Severus could see how everything Albus might have done served a higher purpose. He only wished the man lived to meet the ones he'd used.

If none of it could be avoided, then he shouldn't have left them with Severus to make the apologies. Even he knew no grieving mother deserved that.

"The man I," he looked to Zinnia. The thirty-something year old frowned back, shoulders hitching. "Can I ask what you were imprisoned for?"

"No. Piss off."

"Alright, well," Severus steadied on. "The man I killed, that was Albus Dumbledore. I was...unaware he had done any of that, but it,” he paused, searching for the right words. “It is not outside of my expectations for his character. You have my sympathies."

He could only give a piddling apology when faced with a missing child. Attending the Death Eater revels, he had seen babes torn from mothers' arms enough to feel pity. The emotion usually disgusted him, but he'd listened, so he knew. This wasn't this family's first tragedy. It remained their worst suffered, something like death but never final, never done.

He'd seen it at play, how the group relied on one another for safe harbor. How they fell together in random rooms, used each other's presence as a boon. It felt alien in abstract, but even Severus fell into the pile. It started with his parents, maybe, and then with Zinnia and the cigarette in the kitchen.

He thought of Fred throwing him from the ward blast, or holding him up in the hall. The man handing him his clothes in the hall bathroom, where Severus suspecting him of kindness. despite their onerous face. He was the man who played music to a werewolf.

As she stood there in front of him, Severus recalled picking Zinnia up from the cellar floor, and her pestering him, sat atop the dryer while he washed their father's clothes. Of the relief he stifled to see her survive the night. Of the insane way her eyes found his and thought them steadying.

The werewolf who loved the blues.

He recalled Grace, and the box of his mother's dishes, and the night of bickering over books, desperate to cure her daughter, despite all word that it was impossible. The older woman never blinking, treating him like some unruly younger brother, citing Eileen Snape at him as if the woman raised her herself.

He remembered her tending to her youngest in his parents' bedroom. The cups of coffee, the relentless push like a joint into the socket. Even the soup. Grace herself was something like the werewolf: gripping people between her teeth, shaking them apart, spreading the curse.

There was blood between them, old and new. Severus went to sit, dizzy at the prospect of being known. In only a few days, he was different. He knew them in some unshakable way and cared.

"Their nan thought Baby New Year was the devil's spawn—she could be that way about things. The most Christian woman your ever heard of, pushing an abortion like fuckin' Avon."

"Baby Who?"

"And you stop there. That's what I called him, ‘Baby New Year.’ And he said his name is just Harry? Not short for—okay, alright. Harry. I've known some Harry's. Kinda plain."

"Yes, as opposed to his illustrious sire, Chuck."

"Don't be a prick, you."

Potter, as loathed as he was to Severus, was for them a lost member of a wandering tribe. At best, he was better off without them. And at worst, they had failed to protect him. Severus could know how that ate away. And he at least had some deaths to mourn over. They hadn't even a baby's proper name until Potter's letter, over twenty years later.

Albus robbed them of that peace.

"You killed the guy before you even knew what he did," followed Zinnia suspiciously. She narrowed her gaze as she urged her mother to a chair. "For shit's sake, woman, sit down!"

"He was asking for it," Severus explained. "Grace, do sit."

"It’s a ruthless way to say it,” she grumbled, “but I can agree. He was askin' for it, given he went around stealin’ poor people's babies."

"No, I’m not being metaphorical. He quite earnestly insisted. He was dying of a prolonged illness and considering many outcomes, asked me to kill him. He even said 'please.'"

"That's...fucked up, Rev."

"Hm. He could be a vicious pragmatist." Severus held Grace's glare. She came over red with outrage. "I truly didn’t know, nor was I of a mind or position then to hold him accountable, even if I did."

"He’s—he was—your friend. You said he was basically the Pope, but he hurt people!" Grace ignored her eldest offering a chair, and moved instead to grip Severus' forearm.

He jumped at the rough thumb over his—over where the Dark Mark used to be. It had faded now to be almost invisible. The brown thumb over top stood out more than anything.

He thought of her like Narcissa, a frantic woman seeking her son. He laid a hand over hers, squeezing once timidly before trying to slide it off. Grace caught onto his wrist, now palm flat against his brand, refusing to budge. Severus grunted and when the two of them started wrestling by the fridge, Zinnia grabbed her mother by the arms and forcibly sat her at the kitchen table.

"Yeah, he hurt people,” Zinnia declared, “So did the Pope. Geez, you're gettin' more and more like Nan. There's no point in arguin' about a dead man.” She pulled out a chair for herself and plunked down with a gusty sigh.

"It's done! Quit pickin' at it."

Grace started to explain, when the front door squealed and slammed shut. Small rubber soles slapped up the hallway, light pants preceding Grace's youngest child into the kitchen. The girl appeared, winded, stopping just at the threshold so abruptly she nearly spilled over.

"Fred!," the girl gasped.

"What happened?," Zinnia prompted. "Why ain't he with ya?"

Rain trickled down the girl's chin and onto the floor. Severus' lip curled, welcoming this irritation over the onus of sentimentality. He didn't let Zinnia's immediate concern faze him. He knew firsthand how protective she was of that yeti. Still he tuned in to the girl's reply, only meaning to be curious:

"He's,” more panting, At the park! Fighting a pervert!"

"What!?" Grace was back on her feet, running for the knife block. She pulled a blade from the slotted wood with a hard scrape and spun back to face the little girl, who nodded vigorously.

"Quick, where's the park!?"

"Wait!,” her daughter cried at her mother crossing the cramped kitchen in a leap. “He says he's magic!"

"Rev—!" But Zinnia saw something in Severus' demeanor that gave her pause.

She and her mother carried on the pause and then each shook her head at the state of him. Zinnia dashed from the table, thumping down the basement steps. Severus rose to his feet as she returned, a sickeningly familiar bat in hand, as well as a fistful of his dirty clothes.

She threw the clothes at him, which he caught against his chest.

"I meant to say earlier, you left these in the hall bathroom. Wash 'em, they stink." Then she followed her mother and sister as the girl led them out into the street.

Severus looked down at himself and grimaced. The wizard in the park could very well be the oaf in Latvia. The fool probably confused his Fred for Severus in a weak disguise.

Idiot or not, any attacker arriving today met him greatly disadvantaged. He hadn't much ability to cast without falling insensate. In his outfit, Severus appeared about as Muggle as he felt. The Dark wizard would grip no hearts with fear, least of all one set on killing him.

He mulled over his dirty clothes, gruesome articles they now were. He might at least intimidate. The wizard changed quickly into his musty, blood-stiffened shirt and trousers. Keeping the boots, he threw on the brown trench that hung on the coat tree, itself coated in dust. Severus swiped an umbrella from the plastic bucket-turned-stand and trudged out into the rain.


Severus apprehended the women and girl part way through the woods. They huddled by a decimated few bushes, yards from a part in the trees. He crept closer, umbrella low over his face, eavesdropping on their rapid hissing in case the whole of them were a threat. He listened for signs of Imperius or Death Eaters under guise.

"It's got our whole fuckin' names on it!"

"Zed, I said watch your damn mouth! Laney, don't repeat that."

"What is this shit?!"

"I swear to God."

They're fine, he realized blandly.

Severus announced his arrival by clearing his throat. With a slash, Grace leapt between him and her daughters, knife held aloft. He raised his brows, lifting the umbrella to show his face. The group relaxed, except the child, who dipped behind a tree. He snorted at her antics, glad he might still inspire fear.

"Why've you stopped?" He approached carefully, scanning the surrounding woods for enemies.

"The baby found some stuff," explained Zinnia. The ex-con showed him the broom in hand with angry befuddlement. Severus recognized it as for flying, although not the model.

It resembled what the youngest Weasley flew, from what he could tell from last Cup's news. Its handle angled sharply and the bristles coiled in that same peculiar way. He remembered complaining about it aloud to no one when he first saw the silly thing in the Prophet.

So, there is a wizard, he thought, fist tightening on the umbrella handle. This is bad.

"And this paper—Laney, give it here!" Grace beckoned to the shrinking child tucked in the trees.

Severus only remembered his garb moments later, when the girl averted her eyes with an audible gulp. He braced for a swell of thoughts that didn't come thanks to her looking away. Absurdly, the man edged away as well, although he tried to seem unbothered.

A square of parchment was soon unfolded and hidden behind from below. He groused, "Enough, foolish brat," as he squinted in the dark to examine it.

He roughly detailed the shape of continents—a map? On it, he confirmed that yes, his and the Hedgerots' names were spelled out, first, middle, and last.

"'Candace'?," he asked Zinnia. The ill-natured woman spat on the ground. Grace shoved her, offended.

Severus returned to the map with a smirk, reading its header aloud. He didn't make it far. "'Harry J—!' It's Potter's!"

Severus snarled and snatched at the parchment. Laney ducked and ran into the clearing, parchment waving.

"It's—wait!" Grace lowered the knife to rest on her leg, and covered her mouth, aghast. She didn't even rush out after her youngest into the clearing. She stood frozen, suddenly overcome.

"He knows us!," the girl shouted to Merlin-knows as she ran up to a black mound in the grass. The heap strained and flopped to one side. Fred tried to roll over and plopped on his backside, losing to the slippery mud.

"What is your fool child doing?!" As he asked, the girl spun on her toes and pointed at them.

The three adults cursed and dove out of sight.

Severus hissed, incensed. Despite proof based on her diction, the child was either simple, or more likely, cursed to comply. He searched the grass for other people, looking for this purported pervert wizard. He acknowledged they might also be invisible, glad for the rain as a tell. However, as he watched, a hand nodded drunkenly from the grass right beside Fred and the girl.

A forefinger reached, only for her—Marisleny—to pull the map away.

Not cursed then, he reasoned, only dense.

She'd scurried from Severus like he might eat her, only to traipse right by a stranger uncowed. The difference was most assuredly Fred lain there beside her.

Suddenly, the man lolling next to the yeti sat up at something the little girl said. Severus' spine snapped straight, the wizard fuming, recognizing the idiot who now hurried onto all fours.

Potter hadn't aged a day since the Battles: still bony and unkempt and nowhere near his proper place. The boy's chin sported some sad attempt at stubble, or it might’ve been dirt peppering his face and his feckless jaw, hung open in shock.

Severus seethed.

"Fox!"

Zinnia, broom and bat in hand, surfaced from the forest. Seeing the stranger next to her brother spurred her into menacing action. Her back arched, and her shower of frizzed hair could've crackled with the fury she radiated.

Grace wafted along in her wake, numbly watching the scene. She tapped an absent rhythm on her thigh with the knife blade, mud staining her socks and slippers. Severus worried distantly that the day may have broken her when, blinded by rage, Zinnia stalked into the clearing.

Diffused, rain-white sun drew out Severus' rusty, dry blood on the pitted metal of her bat. Happening on some bit of charity, Severus respected her fair mindedness, and that she reserved the bat for all her enemies, whether or not they were him. With deep regret at seeing the fear on Potter's face and know he’d need to intervene, he called out to her.

As expected, she didn’t hear him. More’s the pity. A second later and he nearly grew sick for Potter's part. Fred sat up, said something indiscernible, and slumped over, unignorably unconscious. Severus felt the plummeting black take over the elder sister's mind even from yards back, still in the woods.

She might kill him, he thought, hard as his head may be. The young witch started crying. Clinical distance said nothing of the situation beyond, “Oop,” leaving Severus to play referee.

His only solace was the crying triggering life in Grace again. She lurched toward her child, making room for Severus to step out from behind.

He moved with purpose, assuming as much ambient fear and outrage and layering it on top of himself like extra clothes. He honed this skill with decades of practice, adjusted to children or Death Eaters as needs presented. He came through at his full height, lifting the umbrella to meet eyes with the living, breathing aggravation in the dirt.

"POTTER!," Severus boomed.

Above the park, the sky fissured, throwing down lightning that flashed white-hot through buckets of rain. It seared an afterimage of the frightened idiot into the very air. Severus breathed deeply—for one moment, vindicated.

"Err, afternoon, sir! It's been, uh. It's been ages!"

Oh, to never hear that voice again. What bliss, he aggrieved. "Sir," ha! Now, it's "sir."

Exactly like his damned father, the boy didn't know when to quail or quit. The idiot Gryffindor stood despite his obvious terror, trembling like a newborn fawn.

Severus sneered as Potter tossed his head to and fro, trying to decide which threat to tackle first. Like a spectator at a game, Severus wanted to shout to mind Zinnia, who stalked closer, dropping the broom to grip the bat with both hands.

Potter surprised him by grasping the situation rather quickly.

"No, one second! He's fine, he's fine!" The boy aimed his wand at the passed out Fred.

"Enneverate!"

The yeti sprung awake, sputtering. He looked around, saw Potter standing there, and grabbed the boy's leg in his hands. He looked like he might crush it, given Potter's pained yelp of, "Freddy!? Why!?"

"Zeddie, don't! He's just some kid! I'm fine!"

When as expected, words and visible facts did nothing, Fred released the boy and shoved him, yelling at him to run. Potter measured Zinnia up, dithering before being forced back by a hard swing. The bat completed a wide arc, cutting the air by Potter's head, spraying her other family with tossed rain as it hit the wet air so fast, it whistled.

While Fred wrapped Marisleny in his jacket and rocked her to calm, he shouted at the maddened Zinnia to leave off. Grace arrived by his side, gesturing with the blade while she too yelled, "Zeddie, stop!,” clutching at the girl in her son’s coat. Now fully revived, she shouted to warn her other daughter back, to no avail.

Severus, about to step in, stole a moment to enjoy firstly, that there was no Death Eater attack underway, and secondly, Potter's pleading squawks.

"Snape! Snape, stop her!" The idiot puffed along, knees up, elbows pumping. One might see where he'd been a decent athlete once upon a time.

Severus held out an empty hand, grinned wickedly and shrugged. He was least able to stop the rampaging woman, if her brother and mother couldn't.

"Just go, Potter!," he shouted. A bit of his anger rekindled when he growled, "You're not even meant to be here!"

"But no one followed me! I—!" Then the twit slid on the wet ground and landed splat in the muck.

Zinnia had begun to drag along, still recovering from her ordeal of last night. She rallied, but fell short of hitting him, lucky for Potter. Instead, she sunk to the ground with a groan, eyes rolling back into her skull.

The bat bounced away, glancing off a rock and pinging like a final bell calling the match. A draw: zilch up. Perhaps Potter boasted a technical win, accounting for that he remained intact and within his senses. Something might also be said for his agility or stamina, but not by Severus, obviously. The older wizard only scowled and walked to the mess of them lying in the grass.

"I do not speak for my own health, Potter," he imparted, looking down his nose at the irritant.

Potter panted, eyelids fluttering. He stared past Severus at the clouds. A quietude possessed him that made the other man uncomfortable, like he was mired beyond computation.

"Leave," Severus finished with a sniff. Potter muttered something. "What was that, insolent brat?"

"Harry-hunting. It's just like the Dursley's."

Potter's stubborn but lost look so strongly resembled Grace, and with Lily's eyes—Severus sighed and backed away. The boy stood gingerly, staggered and caught his balance. He made to brush himself off, and smeared mud down his front before seeing it was a lost cause.

"I'll go." Potter kept his back to them as he said this. Carefully, he rounded the clearing to fetch his broom.

Severus turned away and sure enough, Grace came up to him. She sported the exact, hard set determination from last night, glancing from him to Potter and back.

"It's Harry, right," she pressed. "That's him, he came here."

That map of Potter's...one more troublemaking artifact, Severus ascertained. I'll need to ask how he came to acquire it. I suppose I'll have ample opportunity.

To Grace, he nodded shortly. There was no point in lying, after all. The woman handed Fred the kitchen knife and tucked some soaked curls behind her ears. Shyly, like a girl meeting her beau's parents, she leaned into the quiet trailing Potter's back.

"H—," she coughed and tried again. "Harry!"

The boy turned and saw his mother. Severus couldn't help but wonder how Potter learned of her. Painfully, it seemed. Whatever the boy had cobbled together over his expressions caved into something forlorn and abandoned. If Severus didn't know Potter to be a terrible liar, he would've thought it artificial.

Because no one could possibly look so orphaned. But then, Severus had been alone at the churchyard in Dover. He knew nobody who witnessed the look of him there, leaving his mother behind.

He watched Grace go to Potter. Whatever she called out was engulfed by a crack of thunder. The park was small, and so soon she approached near enough to place hands on the boy's face. Severus expected they were calloused and overwarm, and could only imagine the contrast to the leeching cold.

"M...sorry!" One could hardly hear it over the storm. Potter shook his head fervently, and pressed the woman's hands against his cheeks.

Out of such deep grief like Severus never knew he fostered, Potter summoned an eager, guileless smile.

Lily, Severus' sadness stirred. He shushed it.

"Who the hell is that?!," yelled Fred over the lashing rain. Severus thought to say, "Baby New Year," but couldn't find the gall.

"Your brother," he said brusquely. Then Severus turned to pick Zinnia from the grass, where he worried she'd fallen asleep.

"Enough dawdling! Help me with this hellbeast before she drowns in a puddle."