Harry sat on Snape's couch, eyes watering, arms protecting his face while it dawned on him that he was well out of his depth. The universe he operated in had certain, easily discernible rules that, while hard to accept, were adamant on being understood.
This day disagreed with them.
For instance, rule the first: Harry attracted trouble. He knew from about age five, when a frying pan swung past his tiny head, that regardless of his intentions, he was perpetually in for it. Exactly what he was in for changed from colliding with cookware to a war shaped by a tumultuous fate, but in any case, if it was troublesome, it was Harry's.
Now, so far the afternoon had fallen in with the first rule. Harry flew to Snape's hometown—trouble. He'd run across Snape's gigantic, grizzly bear of a brother—trouble. He felled said brother in front of his terrifying older sister, as witnessed under Snape's indignant, pitiless gaze—trouble, trouble, trouble.
All boxes ticked!
And so the day had rolled into the second rule: Harry must be punished. He nearly had his neck snapped. He'd been chased with a bat. He had to look at Snape in murder clothes and was thrown from the house to play fetch.
Villains and plots fell between the first two rules. Troublesome bad guys found him a nuisance and sought to punish him, usually with death.
So far, anything Snapely slid in behind trouble and punishment like a card lost behind a dresser. As of a few minutes ago, Harry had reached into the gap, fished out the card and found a heartfelt middle finger printed on the front. All mild, considering the possibilities.
He narrowly escaped the greatest punishment, which would be losing his chance to meet his mum. Luckily, the puppeteers pulling at his many fatefilled strings gave him some slack in that regard.
Harry, Grace, Freddy and Laney all spent the afternoon elbows deep in bags of photos, catching Harry up on little lifetimes. Well, Laney sat nearby, arranging pictures in her lap like puzzle pieces, but the spirit of time spent presided.
He learned as Zed left them in favor of solitude that the woman was fresh out of prison.
"Had plenty of time to reminisce," she groused, fist pressed into her middle, waddling down the hall. "I'll leave all the rememberin’ to you all."
"You could stand to catch up," their mother rebutted, hefting a tote full of disposable cameras. She spilled these on the carpet to collect the packs of developed photos, wrapped in plastic bags and rubber-banded shut.
"Nah." She muttered about cigarettes and, "It’s rainin' fuckin' siblings." Then she shuffled away, apparently in retreat to the basement.
She seems more Snape's sister than mine. They both love to lurk in dungeons.
Once she'd gone, Harry mentioned Sirius, glad Snape had fled the room. He described wizard prison a bit, what it was now and what it used to be. Freddy said his sorries for a man twelve years inside while innocent, and Harry weaned off of telling those stories, again because his were so sad.
"He and Snape didn't get on, you could say," he summed up, fussing with his hair.
"Oh, then I gotta hear about this guy. Sounds like a riot." His mother said this smirking, cutting a stack of baby photos like playing cards.
Harry congratulated Padfoot on the being recognized by his idol, if posthumously. He then warmed up to the lighter topics, telling other stories of he and Sirius' short time in each other's lives. He had to explain some concepts, like Animagi and two-way mirrors, but the Muggles cottoned on quick.
He did this well up until he met eyes with the tattoo on Grace's neck, flying through a part in her hair. Then he went grey, stumbling on "walls full of models."
"He, uh. Nevermind."
"Huh?," Grace asked, sunken into the beaten-up couch, legs crossed at the knees. She scratched some dried mud off her calf, flicking off bits of brittle leaves. "He what?"
Don't talk about the calendars!, he screamed internally. She's your mum! It's weird! Don't be weird!
"Sirius, er, he admired your...y-your work."
She threw her head back and laughed, one arm hung along the couch back. She cackled so loudly it echoed off the tile in the kitchen. Harry nearly ignited in embarrassment, although whether it was of his dog of a godfather or the subject of Gracie's modeling, he couldn't tell.
His mother wound down, grinning openly and patting a happy beat out on her thighs. With an unabashed wink, she chucked Harry's chin and praised his good manners.
"'Admired my work,' why couldn't you say it like that, Fox?" She turned to Harry, jabbing a thumb at the man in question.
Her voice shot up an octave in offense:
"This cryin' bastard would told me I embarrassed him and ran off tellin' his friends I was some bloody accountant! Imagine! Ashamed of his own mum!"
"Yeah, well, it's different when you've had teachers calling your mother 'lovely,’ so now y'know they wank to her after flunkin' you in maths." Freddy covered his eyes with one hand and mimed throttling someone with vigorous shakes.
"Thank god I grew like Granddad. All of secondary was absolute hell, but it evened out once I could just deck 'em in the face. "
"Hmph, and get suspended."
"Mum, ya did skin mags."
"But did you eat?"
"That's right." She picked up a picture of herself, and waved Harry closer.
In it, she squatted in a playground, posing like a rapper by the metal slide. He snickered, as she was heavily pregnant, swaddled to the neck in a parka with a cheeky pre-teen at either side. Zed beatboxed into an invisible mic, and Freddy had his hands out at funny angles. Maybe he played the DJ?
Harry wished the photo was magic, so he could see them all in action. Someone's thumb edged into frame, permanently part of the scene.
The real Grace tapped her photographed belly with a painted fingernail. "Lookie! That big melon there, that's you."
"Whoa," he whispered, reaching out for the fuzzy polaroid. She met him in the middle, pushing it into his hand before revisiting the pile they'd made on the coffee table.
"Yeah, that's taken right before you were born. We visited nearby here, so I could get back in touch with Eileen. It took a quarter hour to teach her how to use the disposable. Complained the whole bloody time, obviously."
"Wow, she died like a year after, yeah?" Freddy leaned in, touching the edge of the picture.
Grace nodded, eyes soft. "Mhm, prickly old bitch. I miss her."
The pair sighed mistily.
Harry sat back, holding the picture up for the two to admire. He wanted to ask how she knew Snape's mother. He was dying to ask how she knew Snape, figuring one answered the other. When he about let the moment pass, Grace spoke up.
"D'you think she has a book like yours, with a big family tree? It's a magic thing, right? You guys keep 'em on hand."
Her eyes were clear and direct, as though Harry were the authority in this.
He wanted to say that he knew an actual expert in such things, and that he himself wasn't one. But he didn't want to disappoint. He glanced sideways at Fox, who also watched him, although more in curiosity than with any particular drive.
Harry could hear the airy, "Well, do you know?," which both relieved and added pressure, making him brandish his wand.
His mind went blank for what to summon. "Snape family tree," "Prince family tree," and "truly any register" all failed to yield a result. He tried with, "Accio Eileen's book, please," resigned to another failure when a slim, green journal dove off the bookshelf and fell to the floor with a clack.
"Wow, okay, so that worked," he dithered. He got up to retrieve it before thinking twice and summoning a towel.
"What, too slippery," Grace snarked. He chuffed nervously and placed it on the table.
"It's been through a lot," he joked back. "No, it could want blood to open it and I don't fancy getting pricked."
"Does yours do that?!" Freddy nudged the wrapped volume on the table with a boot.
"Yeah, but please don't kick it!"
They decided as a group to leave any blood-letting for after dinner, at least. After which, Harry shared in over an hour or two of more stories and photographs.
There was one of this kid at the beach, or that grandparent in Guyana. Grace pulled out old men in linen shirts, drinking beer on porches; teenaged Freddy towering over his classmates, sulking over a few wilted shoots of onion in an egg carton; Zed at Harry's age, cozied up to another woman, drunkenly smiling in her hair, each hugging the other around her waist.
I mean, she's a person like anyone else, he had to admit. He imagined what happened to the couple in the photo after Zed's sentence. Would he meet this woman, too? Somehow, he doubted it.
More recently, they showed him Laney's first day of preschool. He balked at what was essentially a four-year-old Harry in a dress. While Grace and Freddy cooed over the little girl, he glanced up at Laney in the armchair, sorting landscapes by color.
He realized how quickly children must grow. He wondered if one day, he might have a daughter of his own, and see her sprout into a new person every year.
But outside of these warm moments were the rules. Afternoon became evening, and he began to sweat. To be content for so long felt like entrapment. When would the rules ruin this good time?
Because trouble at least never stopped. It was why paparazzi loved him. He would always be in the midst of a dire strait none could have predicted. It kept the tabloids flying off the shelves. It drove Harry indoors, after everything.
He existed in a cycle of bad to worse, with islands of good in between. And to force the good, to assume any power over the universe, well. Harry would always try, since that bit was living.
But he knew that soon, the third rule came into play, as an undeniable fact: Harry must be shunned.
It happened with the Dursley's. All Privet Drive thought him a delinquent, except for Mrs. Figg and her cats. It happened at Hogwarts, in second year, then again in fifth. He had been shunned by his family and neighbors, sometimes by his friends, largely by the government and the world as it dictated.
It happened here! Snape sent him from the house on a pointless fetch quest. As they settled more into a new round of memories, Harry feared the tread of the unseen other shoe.
"Ooh, you'll like this. Aw, wow, this's a gem. Severus says she adopted you. Here's probably the only picture of them together."
His mother pulled him in and showed him—his mother! Harry's breath stopped, heart giving one hard knock in his chest.
She passed him an overbright photo of two children walking down a reedy bank. The subject of the picture was the river behind it, part of a series that Grace called her last haunt about town.
Right before she moved out of Cokeworth, she had captured every facet of her hometown, in a ceremony of quick goodbyes. Many of the pictures were at night, or from a distance, like she'd snapped them on the run. This one was much like it, streaky with movement and reddened by the glare of the dusky sun off the water.
"This is her, right? Did I guess wrong?" Harry shook his head, lost for words.
The children in the photo were tucked in a bottom corner, parting the tall grass. A black-haired boy drowning in a man's coat led his charge by the hand, his chin stuck up with adventuring spirit. Behind him marched a redheaded little miss, denim dress hem gathered in hand, her head turned toward the sun.
The boy plotted their way through the grasses while the little girl lingered, seemingly lost in the view. Without warning, a hot tear spilled down Harry's cheek.
"Damn." He swiped at it clumsily, slapping some pictures to the floor. "Wait, um. Sorry!"
He dove down to scoop up glossy, loose photographs, the one of Snape and his mother still pinched in his off hand. Big hands helped him shovel pictures back onto the table. Freddy made shushing noises as he bent down, cleaning up the carpet. He picked up parchment Harry's knee had knocked from the Potter book's wrapping.
"I'm sorry," Harry apologized again, taking it.
He clutched his adoption certificate next to Lily by the creek. Her name next to her picture strummed at his deep-seated loneliness once again. Then the lonely opened up when Grace cupped his elbow, and across from them, Laney asked if maybe he'd like some tea.
Harry shook his head no and tried to cover up with humor. It was bit too much all at once. He loosely interpreted a good natured chuckle, and nodded at the tiny Snape in the photo.
"It's unbelievable that Snape was ever a kid," he pulled.
Of course, he had once seen the same boy in the man's memories. He realized the coat in the picture was the same one Snape had worn earlier in the park. Again he felt déja vu from returning to a place he'd never been.
It almost comforted him. "He used to threaten to poison us when we had his class. Or during detentions. Or passing him in the halls. He'd threaten us any time, to be honest. Looking back, I don't think he much enjoyed our company."
The room laughed at the obvious understatement. Even Laney, who mostly occupied herself, loosed a little titter. Only then did Harry hear the light creaking behind the bookcase. A panel of shelves swung open to reveal Snape, eying them all at the bottom of a hidden stair.
Harry froze, amid showing his certificate to those nearby. He heard the gong of the third rule crashing over the room. This was it. Snape would cast Harry from his home, cursing his name and turn his newfound family against him.
He watched the tendons in the man's neck flex, his jaw tight, his eye seeping loathing. Harry tensed as he was measured, trying despite his fears to be as inoffensive as possible.
"Rev!" Harry started at Freddy's shout, surprised to see Snape turn his head.
Who the hell is Rev?, he thought, perplexed.
Then he noticed Snape's attire—his fawn corduroy shirt, neatly buttoned to his neck. The change from corpse slacks to brown washed jeans matched the tucking of stringy hair behind his ears.
Harry still saw Snape, starved and kind of sickly, but as he might find in an infirmary, not climbing out of an open grave. He made it down to the man's feet before looking away, thoroughly stumped.
Where are his goddamn shoes? Then Harry tossed aside his reaction at hearing the rest of Freddy's words. Snape looked to him slowly, head tilting as it turned like a mannequin in a horror movie.
"I didn't! I did not say that!"
As the rest of the room's occupants chimed in, however, Harry picked up on a missing note. Any true malice in were absent from Snape's responses. They nearly resembled jokes.
It took the young wizard a second to pinpoint exactly what he witnessed. He was unused to accidental expressions on his old teacher's face. But he suspected rather incredulously that Snape might actually be relaxed, or as close to it as was permissible by law.
This was around when Harry believed he'd exited his known universe. Everything up to "Snape: relaxed," fell in with either a rule or an exception. This was neither, and thus new territory. Snape couldn't be relaxed, as an enforcer of fate’s many punishments.
And yet, there he stood, dawdling by the bookcase.
If the man could nearly smile, if a wary look could pass between them that didn't start or end in bloodshed, then that meant Snape was human. Not only a nightmare, or a nuisance, or a wall of cannibal sins, but also an awkward bloke in his living room, poking around for something to say.
Of course then Harry spotted a slice, only a sliver, of the homegrown grey-blue dark in the older wizard. He had only seen it in himself and Grace, maybe in Zed as she shuffled off, and now there—and swiftly stifled—in Snape. The man took up Eileen's journal with reverence, then staunch blank regard, before closing his eyes and holding it out for Harry's mum to read.
The garbled handwriting seemed to stump him as well as Harry. He recognized the pang of disappointment, and possibly betrayal, when the man's eyes skirted helplessly over the page. It induced Harry in the bare stone vault, with only a wooden box on a stand. To have practically nothing when for a second he hoped for everything…
Merlin, I'm empathizing, he discovered in horror. Please, no!
He knew himself too well. Outlandish little notions budded along his struck and winter-scored thoughts. Sweat poured now, and the orphan—former orphan—regretted every lonesome day and every love-soaked moment for how it prepped the land for perpetual sowing.
Unblossomed wonders started decorating his insides in a most dreadful way.
Which is why when Snape grabbed the Potter register, Harry wavered. He spent several seconds stuck on either yanking it away or seeing what happened. He hadn't even known he considered the latter until he bungled snatching it back.
His hands couldn't decide to take it, and then it was whipped away, sprung wide open.
A very impossible thing just happened: Snape's blood unlocked the book. The register, which had snicked shut after hours by itself, popped open in the other wizard's hand. The older man didn't even notice that only his blood lined the edge of the pages.
Snape just flipped the pages until he found a family tree, while Harry sat by his hip, slack jawed.
I shouldn't be surprised. We're related, he reasoned in the midst of stupefaction. The quiet sense hailed unexpectedly loud over the clamorous, Snape can open the book!
Sure, they must be related, but on Snape's side, never Harry's. Harry didn't have a side! He just hitched a ride with whoever came by going a way toward home. He had to assume Snape won out, sanguinely-speaking. For such an apparently unrooted Snape to land Harry's way—.
"Which names are the same?," said man snapped. Grace read from the journal with writing like from some dream. Harry pitched forward gripping the couch cushions. Yes, he had to know!
"Harry!" The Boy-Who-Lived gasped, grabbing his chest to catch his leaping heart. Out of nowhere, he thought he heard Ginny's voice. He must have hallucinated in his moment of distress.
Behind him came the frantic rapping of knuckles on glass. Harry scooted back, surprised that the voice calling him was real. Then he felt a tickle in the fine hairs on his neck, a sixth sense attuned to battle and Quidditch. Harry ducked left, then right, only realizing after a lamp hit the ground that Snape had thrown something at his head.
"You said you hadn't been followed here!," Snape spat. "That sounds like following to me!"
Harry checked around himself, running a hand through his hair. The two books sat dejected in a corner, having been flung across the room. His heart ratcheted up from a pitter-patter and spun out into full-blown race.
"Ginny's here," he croaked, eyes wide. He clicked into autopilot. The dumbfounded young man made to open the curtains. A hand shot out and smacked his to the couch.
"Stop it!," clipped his mother. He blinked dumbly and rubbed his smarting digits. "Who's Jenny?"
"His sighthound," hissed Snape.
"My girlfriend. Oi! Don't you call her names!" He flushed with anger on the witch's behalf. "Not after what you and your friends did to her! You don't get to!"
"It's obviously a trick, you idiot! That is a Death Eater in disguise, weedling his way in by feigning some dearly beloved's distress. You'd be sick to know how well tired tactics like this can doom a family.
"Think! How else would Weasley know to come here!?"
"She has a copy of the same map I do!" He got up to answer the door and was roughly shoved down again. He protested, only to feel a wide palm hold him still.
"Hell, were you givin' out maps on the corner? People live here, y'know. Have a care." Freddy managed to worm patient disappointment into the jest. It was a little like being scolded by Remus, had the werewolf ever claimed the problem.
Not wanting to seem arrogant, Harry apologized and offered to answer the door.
"Then if it's a trap, it's just me in the way. The rest of you can escape," he nodded at his plan. Unexpectedly, the palm weighing him down didn't move.
"Rev? Is he gonna be a problem?" Harry's pulse spiked, awash with dread. Had the third bell rung? Was he out on the curb? What did he do? The map was a major oversight, fair enough, but wasn't it fixable?
"You'll get hurt. That's a stupid plan," Laney offered, putting her pictures aside.
Grace waved her upstairs and told her to hide until someone fetched her. She tried to argue and was promptly shushed, so she grabbed a book to read from the case.
The cracked leather grimoire she reached for rattled when her fingers touched its spine. Snape snatched her hand away and pushed her toward the secret stairs.
"Do you hate having fingers?! You heard your mother, girl. Go upstairs!" The little girl let loose a world-weary sigh and went.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "The gall—Potter—!"
More knocks patterned on the glass, Ginny's voice calling for him. Then it moved, fading and re-emerging at the front door.
Tap, tap, tap! "Harry, let me in!"
"Potter, don't you move!"
Now Harry sat frozen in uncertainty. Snape glared at him, nostrils flared, daring him to so much as wiggle. The Dark wizard parted thin lips, no doubt to lambaste him, when a tune tripped through the tension-thick air.
Snape curled a lip and dove into a jeans pocket. He whipped out something black—a cellphone—and threw it on the carpet. It clattered and vibrated by Grace's foot, but chirped merrily on nonetheless.
She uncrossed her legs with a hard eye roll and picked it up: "Throwin' my shit. Yeah, Zeddie, what's happening?"
"Blasted thing is indestructible," Snape grumbled, disgusted by the phone but with eyes glittering. "Turn her up! I can't hear it!"
Grace sucked her teeth and pressed a button. Zed's irritated rasp joined the war room, "—fuckin' sleep! Who's this girl at the door?!"
Harry raised a brow and looked around, but didn't see the haggard woman anywhere. Had she gone outside?
"Where is she? How does she know someone's here?"
"Still downstairs, pretty sure," Freddy explained. His restraining hand became an affable squeeze and shake. It seemed Harry was forgiven. Then the grinning man smacked Harry on the back so hard, the boy yipped, "Why!," leaping to his feet.
"Prick!," he scowled before he could help it. That hurt! He only bought a bright smile for his troubles.
"Who is she, Rev?," Zed groused. Scuffling against the mic, like the phone was slid across fabric. "I swear if it's another sister, I'm packin’ up and I'm out."
"Leave then. You'll get no pity from me," Snape sniffed in staunch reply.
He seemed placated, however, by the last person coming into counsel. It confirmed Harry's suspicion that Snape and Zed might get on the best.
"So, the windows are working,” the older wizard continued. “At least something can go right."
"Yeah, it's like a Bond movie in here. I can see clear in most directions. Congrats on doing it without the baby's help."
"Shut up. Describe the trespasser."
"What's she doin', uhh." More scuffling, a metal squeak and labored huffs. Harry recognized the sound of a rubbish cot in a closed room. Zed shifted in bed and coughed, "Hm, average height, kinda thin, kinda forgettable. I dunno, plain-lookin'. Brown hair, leggings.
"I think she's got a limp though, since she keeps holdin’ her side. Must be hurt. Is that her yellin' in the background?"
By this point, Ginny's voice grew worried. Almost as soon as Zed noticed it, the cries dropped off. They all held their breath as they say a shadow return to the curtain, barely visible thanks to the light on the front porch.
The silhouette fit the description, average and thin and vaguely girl-shaped. But "brown-haired" and "limping" didn't match Ginny at all.
If something happened, she could be disguised. Harry looked to Snape for a cue. The man only scowled, fists clenched, making Harry wonder, Where is his wand?
"Do something!," Harry mouthed at him.
Just then, a mist of blue-silver light filled the room, and a massive glowing horse burst through the living room curtain. It galloped straight through Harry and the Muggles on the couch, sending the latter into a fit of screaming and cursing. Wisps of light streamed behind the mare like the tail of a comet as it rounded the living room twice.
Ginny's Patronus stopped in front of Harry, standing a head above him, mane flowing in a nonexistent breeze. He cupped a loving hand around the glow of its nose nuzzled into his palm.
"It's her," he declared, feeling a swoop of gratitude. "Thank Merlin."
"What? What happened?!," Zed shouted. Below they heard a crash and thudding footsteps, underneath the adults trying to catch their breath.
"Hello?!," echoed from the kitchen.
"It's a bloody horse in the house!," gasped Grace. Everyone was on their feet now. Harry turned to explain before remembering Zed said Ginny was hurt.
He shot past Zed who stumbled past him to the others, and wrenched open the front door. "Ginny!"
"YOU!" A brown-haired girl rammed into his chest, winding him. Her arms came up, squeezing his waist as she said, still shouting, "Are you alright?!"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fantastic. What—," he took in her face under the lamplight and saw her flinch when he pressed her cheek. He didn't recognize the face at all and needed to dispel the whatever glamours she'd used right that second. He needed to see her, see what was wrong.
"Gods, Potter, the fucking door!"
"Is that Snape?" Ginny hugged him harder and ogled over Harry's shoulder. "Sweet Merlin, he's really...did...did Snape just say 'fuck'?"
"Here, we can talk inside." He hustled her into the house, covering her back and scanning the street for danger.
"Harry, there are people after him. Ouch! Please, my side."
Ginny nursed a bowl of soup in her lap while her evil headmaster thunked a jar of bruise balm on the coffee table. She murmured a hasty thanks, clenching when Harry took it to smear on her ribs. She could do it herself, but it wasn't worth her boyfriend's panic. He already shook with rage as she recounted her attack.
If it keeps him safe, she compromised, catching his hand and kissing it.
"Are you sure of this, Weasley? You're saying they were assassins."
Ginny leaned on the arm of a chair so old its bones creaked. The Chaser tucked her transfigured tank top underneath her bra keep it up, while her exposed side was tickled with grease.
"Hm," she said, chewing and fishing meat out of her lukewarm soup. It was good, even at room temperature. "Technically, sure, they were assassins. In practice, I've met deadlier Bludgers. If you know they're coming, it's just managing the numbers."
"With you, me, and Snape, we outnumber them," Harry urged, jabbing at her bruises.
She shifted and threaded their fingers together, forcing him to slow down. Ginny sighed when his painful prodding lessened.
"What about without Severus? Can you still beat them?"
Ginny blushed at the nearness of Harry's mother pacing around the table. "Gun-It Gracie" had aged wonderfully—matured did her better justice. Harry's curls but silver-shot and dressing her ears; his pretty eyes but deep brown instead of green, like the ground evergreens grew from; and she had curves, apparent from the hug of her tie-dyed sundress, which she changed into to entertain her guests.
The witch suddenly appreciated why Harry shooed her from Sirius' calendars. It was outrageous to crush on your boyfriend's mum. Of course, she relived the moment she'd ended the glamours and the older woman set about getting her fixed.
Grace snapped orders out to this and that person, sending everyone from the room. Then she took Ginny by the shoulders and muttered, "Here, take the chair."
Ginny sat and sagged nearly to the floor. The Muggle woman then clasped the witch's wand hand and said, "If he's hurt you, just nod, and I'll get you outta here."
Her tone as quiet as a grave, and as rock solid as a tombstone, shaking Ginny to the core. The young woman could only return the woman's grasp and swear, "No, Harry would never. H—maybe that's normal to say. Ma'am, I'd kill him if he tried."
Grace searched her face, like Ginny could be her child and she only wanted the best for her. The witch held still and equally as serious, and they sat that way for a second until Snape came back into the room.
The wizard's suspicious gaze met her own, turning the moment into a standoff. Then Grace patted Ginny's hand stoutly, and the girl had allowed herself to relax. Her sure grip told the witch she had landed somewhere safe.
As though sensing as much, Snape backed off. He crossed his arms, standing arrow-straight and imposing, despite his almost frail appearance. He left to fetch homebrewed bruise balm, leaving Ginny to question who here protected whom.
Regardless, she did feel safe. Grace's quiet support, if mysterious, reminded her powerfully of Harry. The "saving people thing" shone through.
"Why can't Snape fight?," she asked, meeting the man's eye. He curled a lip, like she'd asked something stupid. But his eyes flicked away and back again. He had flinched.
"Sir?," she pushed. He sneered.
"Don't act cute. You've not changed a bit since your school days, I see."
She gave him a once over, taking in his Muggle clothing, his hair down his sides, and and his general position beside persons un-traumatized by his presence. And said nothing in return.
"Disrespectful as always," he groused. She smirked, gripped Harry's hand harder, but didn't blink.
I'm not afraid of him, she affirmed.
He's only kind of deplorable, she also mused. She forced the months of Hogwarts rebellion to play nice with the man's Order of Merlin for heroism and self-sacrifice. The two facts built a sad little sand castle between her lungs.
Well, it's his house. At least try, she tried to scold herself. The rebel shoved a crab down the good girl's shorts, and she had to make eyes with silence.
"He's weak, we think, yes?" Grace paused in front of Snape, who glared down at her. "What, why're you embarrassed?"
"Weak from what?," asked Harry. He at least managed to sound concerned. Poor boy probably was, now that he'd noticed the man was in need.
Ginny blessed his big, free heart. She felt glad to be in it, and happy with her own a little closed. "The first run-in, maybe? How could you be exhausted from a fight with two amateurs?"
"Be fair, I mean. He's done a lot," said the shockingly Snape-ish man camped on the stairs. He looked exactly like a Weird Sisters frontman, which made him impossible for Ginny not to like. And then his name...she could say it, but not that much. She wasn't inhuman.
"Fred was my brother's name, actually," Ginny laughed. She didn't know why she was laughing, and so loudly. It seemed better than going home.
"Aw, damn. Lotta, uh, funerals in this couple, huh? It's fine, call me Fox."
"Besides that's two-on-one," Fox continued to argue. His elbows touched either side of the narrow passageway. "You make Rev sound like some kinda duelin’ savant!"
Neither of his former students let on that he was. They agreed on a subconscious level not to give Snape the satisfaction.
"Why do you call him that?," Harry asked instead. "It's not his name."
"Brilliant deduction. Because much like you, Potter, he and his sister struggle to grasp basic manners."
"Because Rev's a weird, old, goth nerd who dresses like a vicar. S'either Reverend or Abe Van Helsing."
Snape whipped his head back and barked at him, now obviously ashamed. Ginny hiccuped, trying not to choke on soup. "Snape is a nerd," she whispered, astonished.
"H-he," Harry squeaked. "Look at his face!"
"Mhm." She smiled onto their tied fingers, feeling weak herself from Harry's good mood. The frantic need to find him finally slackened as she accepted he'd been in good company.
Fox brimmed with self-satisfaction, lighting up the creepy hallway. Snape harangued him to no obvious effect except more delight. It was the twins versus Percy at dinnertime, and it blew Ginny's hair back.
Hard not to see them for brothers. She examined Harry who was now openly in stitches. Her side ached less, so she bent and pecked his flushing cheek.
"To answer your question, Weasley, I was not aware my assailant had a partner." Ginny listened to Snape while she swallowed another bite of now cold soup. "I only met with one man before a swift departure."
"Well, you showed up covered in blood, Severus, it's not like you debated this nobody."
He shrugged, and it aggravated Ginny out of a good appetite. She bristled. He would've assigned detention for the very same shrug years ago. She could hear it now:
"Use your words, Weasley. This remains a school, not a locker room. Ten points from Gryffindor for sloppiness and five for wasting your teachers' time. Fix your face, girl. That'll be detention with Filch for brazen disrespect."
"Weasley, Potter! Pay attention!"
"Yes, professor," the couple droned. They looked to each other and snorted.
"Children," said like, "animals."
Ginny untucked her top. She felt a draft, on top of feeling suddenly sixteen again and baring her stomach in class.
"I am asking why you assumes I had met them already," repeated Snape. By then he had finally settled on the edge of the sofa, shading his baggy eyes.
Grace had already claimed the opposite corner. Both dark heads dipped into the books she'd picked up and laid open on the middle cushion. Ginny recognized Harry's family tome paired with a starved, handwritten diary. It resembled the hand-bound, more rustic books that Ginny's family tended to gift.
She wondered if it was the Muggles' and then realized it'd have to be Snape's. She wasn't sure, as they had all rushed their introductions. Perhaps he and Grace were actually brother and sister? But then, they looked nothing alike.
"Are you back to that?," probed Harry. "What about the men out there trying to kill you?"
"They’ve been skulking about all this time, and as Weasley suggests, they know where I reside and have done nothing to end me. They've likely set themselves on murdering her," he said pointing at Ginny, "and will grace me with their loving presence when it suits.
"We have some measure of surveillance, and once I am able, I will resurrect the wards. You both will be lending your services, obviously."
"Obviously," mumbled Harry, wagging his head. "Why can't you do it now, before it gets too dark?"
Snape paused and then dug further into the books. He answered with his face downturned. "There were several incidents in and after arriving here, from which I've yet to recover. Lest I permanently damage myself, I will be refraining from magic until I am ready."
"And how long will that take? If they attack tonight—."
"Then I will fight tonight." He disengaged, and dove into reading. He tried to point on a page Grace was reciting aloud. The woman batted him off.
They don't look like siblings at all, Ginny puzzled on. But if they were that'd make Snape Harry's uncle? But if they aren't, then are Snape and Harry really related at all?
Could Snape be Harry's father, buzzed a terrifying concept. For a second she lived afraid for Harry, only for the boy himself to say, "That really feels like it can wait."
"Why, Potter? Nervous? Well, you're in plenty of company. I'm as excited to share family with you as you are, me. Simply sit quiet and tend to your—," Snape flapped a hand at them, "Eugh. Weasley, I'll not ask again."
She nearly replied with a shrug, knowing it would feel fantastic, but decided to be helpful. "The Malfoys told us."
At this, the wizard on the sofa froze. He had one finger in the air, about to point at something else, when he stabbed it in Ginny's direction, eyes snapping. "What did you say!?"
"The Malfoys came to us," Harry illuminated. "They said they were being harassed and said explicitly that you were back in England, on the run. They actually told us not to write to you—."
"But you did."
"Yeah, I—was going to write again, and actually sent a letter out." He screwed the top on the open jar of balm, looking abashed. "That's why we went out with maps and stuff. We were trying to catch the owl before anyone could follow it."
Snape retracted his finger and rubbed his mouth, looking dogged. "You say the Malfoys came to you? Who, Draco?"
"And Mrs. Malfoy," Ginny added. She simply couldn't resist shrugging this time, when Snape looked at her aghast. "She didn't want us tipping anyone off before she could get her hands on you. Honestly, she seemed peeved."
"Yes, well," the man muttered, rolling his eyes. "I suppose she's got a right."
And again, he dropped the topic entirely and returned to the registers. At this point, she was sure he was running away. "Tell me what it says."
The woman eyed him and then leaned back, drawing lines in the air like she was calculating a math problem. "According to Eileen, her first cousin was Harry's grandfather. Which makes you," she squinted, "second cousins once removed."
"Fleamont?," Harry asked, surprised. "Cousins?!"
"Yeah, Fleamont and his little brother, but most of that name's crossed out. Just 'Ch—Potter.’ Damn, all of that guy's branch is scribbled out. She must've hated him."
"Wait, please. The Potters and the Princes were—," Harry interrupted. He and Snape now shared the same greenish-grey cast.
The older wizard's eyes slid closed and he folded over. He wrapped his arms around his head and Ginny wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it.
Possibly since she was pureblood, she was desensitized to the shock. She found out in second year that she was distantly related to the Malfoys. It gave her about a month of angst, until Ron bragged to everyone that Hermione punched Draco Malfoy in the nose, and everything felt fine again.
"I think your grandfather's aunt was her mother, Cadmea. She might've been thrown out on her arse, though, 'cause there's this doodle of shears here, see?"
She tried to show the hand-drawn book to Snape. He gagged and pushed it away with a feeble, "Don't."
"That means you and my dad were cousins!"
Harry's breath stuttered. Snape heaved. Grace, Fox, and Ginny chatted quietly while the two processed with sickened groans. The witch carded through her boyfriend's hair while he shook. She put her bowl aside and thanked his mum for supper.
Snape recovered first. Ginny swore under her breath. She had bet on Harry.
"Dammit. I wish to God you couldn't read," Snape croaked after a minute, dabbing sweat from his temples. He looked sidelong at Grace, who in turn looked over to Ginny—consoling her own Potter—and grinned.