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True Confessions
By Bratling

Disclaimer: I borrowed them, hugged them, squeezed them, called them George, then gave them back like a good girl. Harry Potter and all related characters and situations belong to JK Rowling.

Author's Note: This is in response to the Abused Harry challenge for the Potions and Snitches ficfest and Severitus' challenge. Spoilers up to OotP, but completely disregarding HBP. (I am firmly in denial. It didn't happen, I swear!) No ships. Mentions of past abuse. Well-meaning but incredibly dim/blind Dumbledore. Canon ships, if any at all. My thanks to the best beta readers a girl could ask for, Chris and lesyeuxverts! Thanks to Owen, for once again making sure that my Latin is actually correct. Also thanks to Loralee, for telling me that, no, I wasn't absolutely insane for going in this direction.

Child abuse, unfortunately, continues to be a major problem in our world. Recent statistics state that one out of every ten children is a victim of some sort of child abuse. If you know of a child who is being abused, visit http://www.Kidsafe-caps.org/report.html for your local reporting hotline (US only), or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD in North America. In the UK, call Childline at 0800 1111.

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
--Martin Luther King

Word got around that if you were having... problems at home, Professor Snape was the teacher to talk to. It was one of the biggest secrets in school, so naturally, everybody knew. Harry no longer remembered where he'd first heard it from his first year. The idea of telling Snape how he was treated had flashed across his mind then, but the way the Professor treated him had killed the idea. Now, though, he had a feeling that the next time he went home, he might not be coming back.

He'd tried telling Dumbledore, but had only received a pat on the head and lemon drops for his troubles. McGonagall was clueless. Remus's hands were tied by his condition. Harry figured that if he wanted to live to learn enough to kill the effing bastard who'd murdered his parents, he couldn't afford to go back to his 'family'. He doubted that Snape would believe him any more than his primary school teachers had, but at least he wouldn't get beaten for telling this time.

This time, there was fresh evidence. It was only September first, and the marks from his going away present were easy to see. The Sorting was over and the feast had begun. Belatedly, he put a bit of dinner on his plate, and started to eat. He had no desire to spend the night in the bathroom losing his supper, so he had to be cautious.

"Harry, you all right, mate?" Ron asked.

Quickly, Harry nodded. “It was a long summer,” he said.

Ron gave him a sympathetic smile. "Yeah, 'specially since Dumbledore wouldn't let you come to The Burrow. You should've heard Mum yelling at him about it."

A little smile flitted across Harry's face. Molly Weasley at full hue and cry was always fun to watch... as long as you weren't on the receiving end of her temper. "I missed you guys, too," he said.

"Did you get the classes you needed?" Hermione asked.

Ron frowned. "Only got an E on my potions OWL," he said. "Guess I won't be an Auror, after all."

Harry sighed. "I'm gonna have to talk to Snape," he said.

"Didn't you get high enough marks?" Hermione asked.

Harry was quick to reassure her. "I barely did," he admitted. "I just want to make sure, y'know? And I'm not entirely sure I want to be an Auror anymore, but I think I need the training. I mean, Voldemort's kind of obsessed with my death, and I figure that he'll keep coming after me until I'm dead or he is."

His two best friends nodded and turned back to their dinner. As soon as they were released, Harry followed his friends up to the dorms. He grabbed a pair of pajamas—more of Dudley's rejects—out of his trunk and headed to the bathroom to change. He couldn't see his back well enough to cast a glamour over the fresh wounds, so there was no way he'd be able to change where the others could see him. Quickly, he pulled off his uniform and robes and yanked the overlarge pajamas on.

He dropped his soiled uniform into a hamper on his way to bed. Tiredly, Harry reflected that it was a good thing that the house elves never told anyone about the blood spots that were often on his uniform the first few weeks. It was usually too exhausting for him to heal his own cuts and bruises, so he didn't bother. Broken bones were another matter altogether; he never came back to school without healing them first—except this year because he needed the evidence. Then again, if the house elves had told, perhaps he wouldn't have to consider telling Snape and facing more ridicule for not being able to stand up to Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley.

His going away present was his fault, anyway. If he'd only managed to work faster, he could've avoided the beating.

Maybe not. They'd never needed an excuse before. Sometimes, Harry wondered what he'd done; he'd never asked to be born, let alone survive the curse that killed his parents. With a soft sigh, he climbed into bed, shut his curtains, and put up the usual silencing spells around his bed. He curled up into a ball under the covers and fell asleep.

Harry bolted his light lunch and, with a nod to his friends, hurried off to Potions. For a moment, he thought he'd be ill from eating so fast, but he suppressed the desire to sick up because he needed the nutrients. While he could have waited for Hermione, he was determined to beat everyone else to the classroom.

Snape was always early, so he'd probably have a chance to ask for a conference before the rest of the NEWT students arrived. He jumped down the stairs, missing every other one, half-ran down the corridor, and skidded to a halt in front of the classroom.

He ignored the twinges from his bruises, the throbbing pain from his broken bones, and the stretch that pulled open some of his cuts as they didn't really matter. He had grown used to the pain. Snape showed up a few minutes later, his robes billowing behind him as usual. He unlocked the door and swept inside.

Harry followed and took his usual seat. Before anyone else could arrive, he cleared his throat. "Professor?" he began.

Snape shot him an irritated look. "What is it, Potter?" he sneered.

Harry bit his lip and wondered about the wisdom of what he was going to do—it would give Snape more ammunition. He took a deep breath and continued. "Sir, I need to make an appointment to see you to, um, discuss some things."

Snape glared at him. It was the glare that Harry had labeled 'Snape glare number two—if you're wasting my time, I shall use your dangly bits for potions ingredients' glare. "My office, tonight, seven sharp," he said. "If you're late, you'll be cleaning cauldrons for me for a week. Is that clear, Mr. Potter?"

Harry nodded. It was clear all right. This was important. There was no way he'd be late, even if he had to set his alarm to get there on time. Without another word, he pulled his class materials from his bag and set them up. He glanced at Professor Snape, then cast a shield charm around his cauldron that was keyed to his magical signature. He was determined to brew whatever potion they'd be assigned correctly, and the shield charm he'd found in the library would prevent tampering.

Harry figured that the less the professor had to be upset about the better--it could only help their meeting in the man's office. While this approach never worked with his family, it just might work with Snape. It was true that he was Snape's least favorite student, and Snape was his least favorite teacher, but if rumors were to be believed, Hogwarts's meanest teacher would help anyway. Everyone knew that Snape would help if you were being hurt at home.

The way he saw it, Snape was his best hope. No matter what happened, at least the professor wouldn't pat him on the head and feed him lemon drops like the Headmaster would. He wouldn't offer biscuits like McGonagall, either. Maybe, he hoped at least, Snape would somehow help him so, despite Voldemort, he would never have to return to Privet Drive.

He barely noticed when the rest of the Gryffindors and Slytherins began to trickle in, even though he was sure that he'd greeted Hermione. After the professor assigned the day's potion, he gathered the ingredients and arranged them in order of use in his workspace. With the concentration he reserved for sneaking out to nick food, Harry set to work, preparing each ingredient according to the instructions. He blocked out the rest of the world, not even registering Snape's usual round of insults as he diced, chopped, and stirred his concoction. He breathed a sigh of relief when he finished, then bottled his potion, making sure to fill a few extra vials in case of breakage. As usual, the professor sneered at his efforts, though Harry knew that the potion had been near perfect.

The rest of the day passed in a haze. He vaguely recalled taking notes and completing practical exercises, but they didn't register. He barely ate anything at dinner and excused himself from the common room earlier than usual to make his way to Snape's office. He hesitated when he got to the door, then knocked. He almost jumped at the hollow sound his knuckles made on it and glanced around nervously to see if anyone was around.

The door jerked open. "In," Snape ordered, appearing from behind it.

Silently, Harry obeyed. He sat down when Snape gestured towards the chair in front of his desk.

"What do you want, Potter?" Snape demanded.

Harry bit his lip and hesitated for a moment. "Word is around school that you're the one to talk to if we're having problems at home, sir," he said. He was trying to be polite; it wouldn't have done to antagonize the man.

Snape sneered at him. "Oh really? Did they not buy you the latest toy? Or did you not get what you wanted for pudding?"

Harry's hands clenched into fists and anger began a slow burn in his gut. It took everything he had not to start yelling. "Perhaps, sir, it has escaped your notice that I am neither my father nor Draco Malfoy. I have never been the spoiled, arrogant git you so often accuse me of being. For your information, sir, my relations hate me and are always disappointed when I return from Hogwarts alive," he said.

He'd planned on dancing around the subject, perhaps even making Snape work for the information, but he couldn't now. Not only was the man an arrogant git, but he was more thick-headed than Harry had previously thought. Harry clenched his fists as he realized that the only way to shock the idiot out of his preconceived ideas would be to tell the unvarnished truth and hold absolutely nothing back. A frank confession would be the only thing that would work. After all, dancing around the subject had worked so well with Dumbledore and McGonagall.

"Your miserable, pathetic whining and your attention seeking ways won't get you any sympathy here, Mr. Potter," Snape sneered. "Being a celebrity isn't good enough for the famous Harry Potter, oh no, he has to have sympathy for being a good-for-nothing orphan as well." Snape loomed over him and something in Harry snapped. Rather than just having to tell the truth, he'd have to show him.

He slid his wand from his sleeve pointed it at himself and with a quick, angry Finite Incantatum, removed the glamours on his face and front. "You want evidence then, Snape?" he said fiercely. "Here's some." He turned to face the man.

Snape leaned back against the wall. "You were just roughhousing," he said, excusing the bruises on Harry's face and throat.

Rage tore through Harry. He stood, dropped his wand on the desk, grabbed the neck of his robes and the t-shirt he had on underneath, jerked them over his head, and threw them on the chair. "Just roughhousing?" he said. "Then what about all the rest?"

Harry turned around, showing off the welts, cuts, and bruises on his body. He made sure to let the man see the ribs he was sure were broken, but hadn't tried to fix. "I figured out how to make my accidental magic heal me when I was four," he informed the professor. He crossed his arms over his chest.

For once, Professor Snape seemed shocked into silence.

"Somehow, they found out about Sirius," Harry said, a lump rising in his throat. "It was worse this summer than it has been for a long time, because I didn't have him to threaten them with anymore. If I go back next summer, I don't think I'll be able to return to Hogwarts."

Snape gave him an inscrutable look before walking over to the fireplace. He grabbed a small tin off the mantle, grabbed something out of it, and threw it in the fire. "Poppy Pomfrey, Hogwarts infirmary," he called out.

Poppy's head appeared in the fire. "It's too early for you to have assigned detentions, Severus. Have you damaged yourself with an experimental potion again?" she asked.

"Let me guess," Severus said. "You had to spend quite some time healing the first year who tripped and fell down a flight of stairs."

"There's one in every year." She gave him a little smile. "And just think, she'll be in your class later on this week."

"Merlin save me from klutzes," he said dryly. "I have a student who has encountered difficulties at his place of residence."

Poppy's head nodded. "Standard kit?"

"If there are any potions you need that aren't in it, you know I probably have them close at hand," he said.

"Step back a bit," Poppy said as she turned to pick something up.

Harry crossed his arms over his chest and shivered. Listening to the two of them, it was easy to imagine that they were friends or something. At the moment, however, he didn't care. With a furtive glance at the professor and the mediwitch, he grabbed his discarded clothing and pulled it over his head, then dropped back into his chair with a slight wince. He almost missed the dictation quill that the professor had started, but the whispered incantation to start it drew his attention. He glanced at Snape. The man looked shocked and more than a bit unsettled, then Harry looked away. It was bad enough that he had to tell, the fact that it was Snape who he had to reveal his secret to made it worse.

Madam Pomfrey stepped through the fire, carrying a carpetbag. Harry tried to shrink into his chair, not wanting to be noticed, but she saw him anyway. "Family problems?" she asked. "I've heard Minerva complain about who they left Mr. Potter with more than once. Those nasty Muggles hurt him, didn't they? His medical records before Hogwarts are nonexistent."

Harry wasn't sure what to do with his hands. Folding them in his lap didn't feel right, so he settled on tucking them underneath his thighs. He knew that the mediwitch probably needed the information, so he cleared his throat and spoke up, all the while reminding himself that he was safe at Hogwarts from the Dursleys. "Have to be, wouldn't they?" he asked. "'S not like they ever took me to a doctor. Aunt Petunia said it was a waste of time and money, despite the fact that it was free and she never minded taking Dudley. She even got my glasses out of a charity bin."

For a moment, Pomfrey looked taken aback. "Have you ever had your eyes examined, Mr. Potter?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "The nurse in primary school sent a note home saying I needed them," he said.

Snape scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'll speak to Professor McGonagall," he said. "You'll have new glasses by the end of the week."

For a moment, Harry wanted to protest, but stayed silent, not sure if speaking would be a good idea. Instead, he pulled his hands out and started rubbing his arms for warmth. He'd never really appreciated exactly how cold it was in the dungeons. Or perhaps it was just that he'd never felt so vulnerable before in front of Professor Snape.

Madam Pomfrey strode over, said a brief incantation, and waved her wand over him. "Off with your robes and your shirt," she ordered, still plying her wand. After a few minutes, it glowed red. She pulled out a long piece of parchment and tapped the end of her wand on it. Ink crawled across the parchment, forming words. As soon as the parchment was full, she pulled out another, then started scanning him again. Five parchments later, she was finished. "Those were your medical history," she explained. "Unless there are allegations of abuse, the law forbids me from using that spell without the consent of your guardians."

Madam Pomfrey was silent for a few minutes before she continued. "As of right now, you have three broken ribs, assorted cuts, welts, and bruises, and are once again suffering from malnutrition." She paused for a few moments as healed his cuts, then handed him a potion for the bones. “Many of your previous broken bones have been healed with magic, more than I've ever healed for you. Can you explain this, Mr. Potter?” she asked. She pulled out a camera and snapped a few pictures from all angles.

Harry sighed and waved the potion away. If he were really going to come clean, he supposed that it wouldn't matter if they knew a few other little things. Those particular secrets were, after all, related to the Dursleys. "I started healing myself when I was four," he said. "I didn't know what I was doing at first, but I figured out how to keep doing it pretty quickly. I think that's why I have so few scars, actually."

"You should have more improperly healed breaks, if that were the case, Mr. Potter," Pomfrey said.

Harry scowled and suppressed a shiver. "I sneaked out one day and nicked an anatomy book from the local library soon after I figured out how to heal myself," he said. "Once I knew what my insides were supposed to look like, it was easy to fix them. I couldn't fix the old ones, though. And no, I didn't know it was magic. I just figured it was more evidence that it was what the Dursleys always claimed I was—a freak." His scowl deepened. "Hell, I didn't even know what my name was until I started school because that's pretty much all they called me."

"Language, Mr. Potter," Snape said. "I believe I can safely say that you will not be returning there next summer. Alternate arrangements will have to be made."

Harry ignored Madam Pomfrey as she started putting bruise balm on some of his more colorful bruises and snorted. “Good luck,” he said. "The Headmaster swears that I must return there for some sort of blood wards, and that it's the only place I'm safe. He has a way of making me feel guilty for what happens there when I try and complain." He winced as Madam Pomfrey's bone-mending spell hit him and pulled a face as he downed the boneset potion she handed him.

Snape gave him a sharp look. "You have attempted to complain before."

Harry shrugged. "I figured it was pretty obvious that I wasn't wanted there and both Dumbledore and McGonagall know that I hate it,” he said. “I've begged not to go back there every summer, but they send me back, anyway. Any bruises I have when I come back are ignored, the fact that I leave here healthier than when I return is ignored, too. I'm sure that I'm shorter than I should be, seeing as all my yearmates are taller than I am, and Sirius swore that neither Dad nor Mum were short people."

"You haven't spoken to your Head of House about this?" Pomfrey questioned.

"She either doesn't believe me or doesn't let me explain. We, that is, Ron, Hermione, and I, tried to tell her about the Philosopher's Stone first year, and she didn't believe us. After that, well..." he shrugged. "I considered it last year, but she refused to listen when I tried to tell her about Umbridge using a blood quill in detentions. She's like Dumbledore, I think. She prefers to hand out sweets rather than real help."

Snape scowled. "If you're finished, Poppy?" he asked.

She nodded, and gave Harry a tub of salve. "Put this on your bruises morning and night," Pomfrey said.

Harry nodded, recast the glamour on his face, then pulled his clothes back on again. "Thank you," he murmured.

"Back to Gryffindor Tower, Mr. Potter," Snape said. "We will work things out to your benefit."

With a nod of thanks, Harry escaped. He wasn't sure that he'd done the right thing. After all, Snape could easily use the information against him during classes. If he wanted to stay alive, however, he had to trust somebody, and everybody knew that Snape was that person. Rumor had it that Snape's childhood hadn't been ideal, and that was why he always helped students who had similar problems. Of course, the fact that Snape, of all people, hadn't had a great childhood was a secret, too. He made his way upstairs, moving easier than he had in a while. He knew that he could have healed it himself, but he'd needed evidence.

Maybe the professor would help him. Harry hoped so.

Severus waited for Poppy to leave before he strode out of his office and headed to the library. If the Potter boy had managed to hide the abuse for so long, there had to be other things he was hiding. After all, aside from flashes of brilliance that were few and far between, the boy was an average student. He entered the library and requested the register from Irma. He was determined that he'd find out exactly what the boy had been reading as opposed to what had been checked out. Luckily, the register kept a record of every book ever taken off the shelf by a student. He touched his wand to the book. "Harry Potter," he murmured, then opened it.

The pages shuffled themselves through the text and landed on a page headed with the boy's name. Severus's eyebrows rose as he perused the list of books the boy had read in the library. Potter's reading list more than rivaled most Ravenclaws'; even the potions section had not escaped him. It looked as if the boy had been hiding his intelligence from them. It answered one of his long-held questions, though. Lily had been the most brilliant witch of her generation, and even he had to admit that James was no slouch. It had always bothered him that their child had been mediocre.

From what the boy had admitted to, and what he'd gleaned himself from a judicious use of Legilimency, Lily's damned sister and her family had subjected the boy to fifteen years of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and the boy's fat pig of a cousin and his gang had all but molested the boy, though that was a recent development. They had a hell of a lot to answer for.

Severus gave the book back with a quiet word of thanks, left the library, and absently headed towards the Headmaster's office. Poppy was handing over the evidence to the Aurors at the moment, so it was up to him to bring the matter to the attention of the Headmaster. He didn't like this mess at all. One would think that in a boarding school, the behaviors that most abused children exhibited would have been fairly easy to see in the Wizarding World's saviour.

Then again, Severus had never bothered to look past James Potter's face. It was the role he had to play; Albus had been so certain that the Dark Lord wasn't dead that Severus had continued with his 'evil black bat of the dungeons' routine.

The rest, well, it had hurt to see Lily's eyes looking up at him. She had been his best friend, for all that she'd married his cousin. Sure, he and James hadn't got on well since their Sorting, but he was still family.

There was also the fact that he had felt like something was missing in his knowledge of the child. It had been niggling at the corner of his mind for years. There was something he should know about Harry Potter that he couldn't remember.

Severus shook his head a bit to clear his thoughts as he arrived at the gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster's office. "Fizzing Whizbees," he said, then hurried up the moving staircase when the gargoyle moved aside.

Without knocking, he swept into the office. "Headmaster," he said with a nod.

Dumbledore smiled at him. "You're early, Severus," he said, his eyes twinkling. "This far into term, you could only be here about students' family situations, but it's rather soon for the first years to know whom to approach yet."

Severus inclined his head. "True. The first years who need our help won't approach me for a few weeks yet, if that. However, the child in question is not a first year."

The old wizard leaned back in his leather chair as Severus sat down in one of the squashy chintz monstrosities. "A recent development, then?" Dumbledore questioned.

"I'm afraid not, Headmaster," Severus said. "He didn't tell me much, but what he did was somewhat disturbing. What I gleaned from his mind was even more so."

He leaned back in his armchair convinced that, for once, he had the upper hand over the Headmaster. As any true Slytherin knew, knowledge was power. At the moment, Severus had all the knowledge and thus, all the power over him. It was fairly well-known that Dumbledore was responsible for where the Boy-Who-Lived had been placed. A few choice words to the media, and he could destroy the man's reputation. Not that he would because he owed Dumbledore too much, but it was a heady thought.

Dumbledore looked grave. "I assume that Poppy has collected physical evidence?" he asked.

Severus clasped his hands in front of himself and inclined his head. "Indeed. She has turned it over to the authorities by now. The child said he feared for his life if he were to ever go back. If that were not so, I very much doubt that he would have ever come to anyone for help. The fact that he trusted me, of all people, rather than the werewolf, is a testament to that."

Dumbledore twinkled at him again and make him suppress a snarl. “You have rather terrified the children, Severus, and Remus is only back here for the year. Perhaps the child in question would rather talk to someone who is guaranteed to be here next year,” he said. "You are not usually so reticent with the details, my boy."

He snorted at the first comment. "Perhaps he understands the untrustworthy nature of werewolves," he said. "And he does not trust you to take him seriously, Headmaster. I will tell you that he's a sixth year, and not of my House."

Dumbledore looked infinitely sad. "It's Harry, then," he said.

Severus leaned forward and glared at the man. The fact that the old coot knew that one of the children had been mistreated and hadn't acted angered him; the little detail that the child in question was Harry Potter didn't matter at the moment. "You knew?" he hissed. "You knew and did nothing?"

"Suspected," Dumbledore corrected. "I merely suspected that something was wrong. I had no evidence, Severus. I had hoped that things would work out much better than they have, that Petunia would love her sister's child and treat him as her own."

The Headmaster paused for a moment. "Perhaps, then, it is time for a long-held secret to come out." He unlocked a drawer in his desk with a complicated-sounding charm and pulled out what looked like two boxes and two letters. "These should solve many of our problems, with what to do with Mr. Potter," he said, handing over one of the boxes and a corresponding scroll.

Severus didn't touch either the note or the package. Instead he ran curse detecting spells over the surface, as well as an identifying spell so he would know who it was from. He blanched as Lily's and James's names appeared. He gave the Headmaster a questioning look.

“One set is for you, and the other for Mr. Potter,” the old man said softly. "Lily gave it to me the night they went into hiding—just in case. I was to give one to you, if you survived, and the other to Harry if he outlived them the term after his sixteenth birthday."

Severus drew in a deep breath, then opened the letter.

'Dear Severus, the letter began.

'Before you read any further, please open the package. You will know what to do from there. After you have restored yourself, touch your wand to this parchment for any further communications. If our friendship ever meant anything to you, my hawk, you will do as I ask.

'All my love,

Severus took a shaky breath, then reached for the small package. Deftly, he stripped off the brown paper wrapping and pulled off the top. Inside, he found a small, rose-colored glass ball. It was something he recognized from descriptions, though he'd never seen one that he could remember. It was a memory-ball, used for long-term storage for Pensieved memories. Very few of them had ever been made, though the Ministry used a modified version to store prophesies in. "May I borrow your Pensieve, Headmaster?" he asked, his voice cracking a bit.

Dumbledore simply nodded, his face grave. He got up, walked over to the cabinet, and took a Pensieve out of it. He put it on the desk in front of Severus. "Would you like me to stay, my boy?" he asked.

Almost against his will, Severus found himself nodding. The Headmaster had been a pseudo father figure for years. For the most part, Dumbledore had been better to him than his own father. He both needed and hated that he needed the man's presence through viewing the memories, and he hated himself for being weak enough to need it.

He cast a few revealing charms on the ball, only to discover that he, himself had placed the memories inside it. He placed it inside the Headmaster's empty Pensieve with gentle fingers and tapped it with his wand. "Memoriam accio," he said.

Silvery liquid spilled out of the ball, half-filling the Pensieve. Now emptied, the ball levitated out of the stone bowl and set itself down gently on the desk, humming. Severus leaned forward, stuck his face into the pensieve, and fell in. Minutes or hours later, he wasn't sure which, he emerged, breathless and shaking. He remembered.

He remembered all of it. He felt his eyes water and tried to suppress his tears. He wasn't entirely successful as one tear escaped to roll down his face, for all the years he had lost with his son. The sorrow was followed by a surge of hot anger at what his baby boy had suffered at the hands of those damn Muggles. In that moment, he decided that, Aurors or no, they would pay, and pay dearly for harming something of his—especially those who had violated his boy. Resolving to wait until he had the proper time to plan, Severus touched his wand to the parchment and watched as words spilled forth across it.

'Dear Severus,'

'If you have now retrieved your memories, you must remember how much James and I wanted a child, and how we could not have one, due to the sterility hex he was hit with in our seventh year. I hope that you have remembered your rediscovered friendship with him, and as you never removed those particular memories, the fact that I was, and still am, your best friend. Doubtless you remember the potion you brewed for us, based upon the fact that you and James are third cousins—barely enough for the potion to work.

'Now, you must remember how much you loved our little Harry. I swear that he had you wrapped around his little finger within hours of his birth. If you are reading this, we have been dead for quite some time, but both you and Harry survived us. If this is so, Harry has most likely been raised by Sirius, and knows too much about pulling pranks for his own good. However, I fear that this is not so.

'Remember how you always teased me that I had a drop of seer's blood? You're not far off, my friend. I sometimes receive feelings about the future that are never wrong. It is not a useful gift, but I do have it. I feel that our baby's life has not been a happy one. James and I have one request for you, that you watch over our son and take care of him, for he is as much your son as he is ours. Love him as you used to and as we will forever. The charms we placed on him should be wearing off fairly soon. By Christmas, his physical inheritance from you, as well as his magical inheritance from the Snapes, should start to become evident. Tell him, Severus. He needs to know before he finishes the change. It should have already begun on his sixteenth birthday. Soon, he shall look as he always should have—a perfect mixture of the three of us.

'All our love,
Lily and James'

His past love and protectiveness for the small boy he'd had a hand in creating warred with the resentment and near-hatred he had cultivated and nurtured over the years. Bit by bit, the resentment and other negative feelings crumbled, though it felt as if the unaccustomed feelings would rip him in two. Love won out as he thought of the tiny, raven-haired baby with the inquisitive green eyes and the bright, toothless smile that had captured his heart.

He picked up his wand and returned the memories to his head, shaking a bit at the pain that tore through him with their return. Long-empty places in his memory filled up, and for the first time in almost fifteen years, he felt whole. It was an odd feeling for someone who was used to having part of him missing. Odd, but welcome. Parts of him he hadn't known were empty were full again, making him realize exactly what he had been missing all along.

Severus stood up and began to pace back and forth in front of the Headmaster's desk. "Harry will not go back there," he said, with the force of command. "I refuse to allow it."

"You have no legal right--" the Headmaster began.

"The hell I don't," Severus interrupted, whirling around to face him. His robes twirled out behind him before settling back into their original state. He thrust the parchment towards Dumbledore. "Read it," he commanded.

A few scant minutes later, Dumbledore looked up. "Lily Evans would never cheat on James--" he began.

Severus glared at the man. "As usual, you have jumped to the wrong conclusion. Who, might I ask, is the primary brewer of the infelix potion in Europe?"

"You are, but I don't see--" "The infelix potion, aside from being beyond the capabilities of most potions masters to brew, requires blood and tears from the prospective father and a willing donation of seed from a male relative separated by no more than three generations," Severus explained, as if speaking to a small child. "Now, Headmaster, would you like to say who James Potter's third cousin was?" He folded his arms across his chest.

"You were," Dumbledore said. "But the hatred between the two of you was legendary. I don't see why you would help him."

Severus gave him a half-smile. "Lily convinced us to make peace, which is all you need know." It took half the summer after their fifth year for Lily to forgive him for calling her a Mudblood. She hadn't had brothers, so it took a bit of time for her to understand why he'd done it—he had been fifteen and been rescued from bullies by a girl. At the beginning of their seventh year, she decided to play peacemaker; it wasn't hard as James was always following her around trying to convince her to go out with him. It took almost half a year, but he and James finally became friends again thanks to her influence.

"I heard from his mother that you two had been friends once," the Headmaster said.

Severus nodded slightly. "I was his favorite cousin when we were children," he explained, then fell silent. James had told him years later that he'd felt betrayed when Severus was sorted into Slytherin; that was where their feud began.

He cleared his throat, then continued. "After being married for a year, Lily and James desperately wanted a child, but due to the hex, were unable. They even tried Muggle medicine, but it didn't work. Lily was the one who came to me, and after finding the potion in an old book, I offered to help. Harry was born eight and a half months after Lily took the potion."

He sat back down and took a deep breath. "If I could, I would take my son, Headmaster; he is all I have left of my best friends, and I have loved him since before he was born. I always wondered why I felt so protective of him; now I know. He will not return to that harridan—I've met her and it's a shock that she shares Lily's blood at all."

"The problem is now to keep him safe," Dumbledore said with a sigh. "The blood protections, if not renewed, will begin to fail around the beginning of July."

"Apprentice him to you," Severus suggested. "The oldest form of the bond should provide adequate protections for him. Don't get me wrong, Headmaster, I very much want to know my son, but due to my current position, I fear it would be too dangerous if I were found out."

Dumbledore seemed to consider his suggestion for a few moments. "We could teach him magics that the Ministry would not allow," Severus said, tempting the man. "Battle magics that will enable Harry to survive. Fencing lessons. All the things he missed out on being raised by Muggles. By making him your apprentice, Headmaster, we ensure his future and teach him what he needs to know to take his place in our society once the war is over."

"If he were more than an average student--"

"Oh, but he is," Severus said with a feral grin. "He's been hiding it. His reading list from the library is quite extensive. I daresay that he could easily pass OWLs in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes with little effort if he absorbed even a fraction of what he has read."

Finally, Dumbledore inclined his head in defeat. "Very well, Severus," he said. "I will need you to teach him Occulmency--"

"I will try a different method this time," he said. "A gentler one."

Dumbledore reached towards the package and letter that Severus thought were meant for Harry. "Harry deserves to hear the truth from me, sir," he murmured. "Now that I can remember, he's no longer an orphan." He intercepted the package and letter before it could be put away, and picked up his own. "Thank you, Headmaster," he said.

Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and waved his hand in dismissal, seemingly deep in thought. "I will make the offer tomorrow," he said.

"You might want to make sure the contract is signed before the Aurors arrest the Dursleys," Severus said.

"I swear it will be done," Dumbledore said.

Severus smiled and made his way out of the office. He had a Deputy Headmistress to take to task over the blood quill, and he supposed he should speak with the other Heads of Houses as well. Charges would have to be brought up against Madam Umbridge for her treatment of the students.

He sighed. He also needed to set up a meeting to inform Harry and begin to brew his son's nutrient and growth potions to bring him to where he should have been at sixteen. They were just lucky that he'd come forward before he'd stopped growing—a few more years and even with magic the underlying causes would have been impossible to correct. For half a second, Severus considered not telling the child the truth, but dismissed the idea. Harry was his son, his blood, and soon that blood would show. The boy needed to know the truth.

Hopefully, Severus thought, the changes in Harry's appearance would be attributed to his sudden growth spurt. If not and he was found out, well, they'd deal with that if it happened. If he had to give up spying, he would, but at the moment, he wasn't sure that his son would ever be able to forgive him for the past five years. It wasn't like his public treatment of the Boy-Who-Lived could change, either. Deciding that he was borrowing trouble, Severus hurried to McGonagall's office. She, like the Dursleys and Dumbledore, had quite a bit to answer for.

Upon his release from the Professor's office, Harry hurried back to Gryffindor Tower and headed straight upstairs to the sixth year boys' dormitory. He almost missed the look that Ron and Hermione had exchanged in the common room, and barely caught the way Hermione had shooed Ron upstairs. He dropped onto his bed and curled up into a ball, hugging his knees to his chest and comforting himself, the way he had done ever since he could remember. It was times like this that Sirius's death still ached. Sirius was the first adult that he'd ever considered trusting with everything, and he was one of the few adults to ever give a damn about Harry.

He was interrupted by Ron coming in, sitting down beside him, and loosely wrapping a long, freckled arm around his shoulders. Harry suppressed a flinch, reminding himself that this was Ron, his best friend and brother, who would never, ever hurt him.

"Harry?" Ron said quietly. "What's wrong? You've been, well, kind of off since the Express. I know I'm dense sometimes, but you're my best friend, and I notice when something's not right with you."

Instead of really answering, Harry tried to deflect a bit of the attention. "Hermione's coming up soon, too, isn't she?" he asked.

Ron chuckled a bit. "Yeah. She had to put her stuff away."

"I--Can we wait until Hermione's here?" Harry asked, his voice hesitant.

Ron nodded. "Sure," he said.

A few minutes later, Hermione walked in, glancing furtively around for the other boys. She climbed up on the bed with the two of them and, without a word, wrapped her arms around Harry.

"You'll tell us what's wrong now, yeah?" Ron asked.

"We know something's wrong, Harry, and we want to help," Hermione said.

Harry was quiet for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth and closeness he felt from Ron's and Hermione's hugs. Times like this were rare, saved for when he needed them the most. His two best friends never seemed to need to be asked, either. They just knew. "I'm not sure you can," he said finally.

"We can at least listen," Hermione said.

Harry nodded a little. "I've already been to see Snape," he whispered.

"Bloody hell! Those damn Muggles got worse, didn't they?" he demanded.

Harry bit his lip and leaned more into his best friends. "Yeah," he said. "They found out about Sirius, and the Order's threats just made them mad. And Dudley blamed me for the Dementors and enlisted his gang to get even."

"Was it Harry Hunting?" Hermione asked.

"A different kind of Harry Hunting," he said with a short, bitter laugh. "They cornered me a lot. And Dudley decided I could make it up to him for almost killing him," Harry stopped for a moment, afraid to continue.

Ron and Hermione both hugged him tighter, lending support. He hadn't told Snape about this, but he was sure that the Dursleys' treatment of him would leak out; anything having to do with the Boy-Who-Lived sold papers and this wouldn't be an exception. Better that they heard it from him instead of the newspapers.

He took a deep breath and shuddered. "They liked to corner me and make me--make me..." he trailed off, not able to make himself say it.

Ron grew still. "I'll kill them," he said in a calm, even voice. "They're dead already, they just don't know it yet. Nobody hurts my brother like that and gets away clean."

Somehow the cold rage that Ron was exhibiting was far more frightening than his usual loss of temper. For once, Hermione seemed to be slow to catch on. "What?" she asked, a confused look on her face.

"Hermione, what do you know about the taboos in our world?" Ron asked.

"Not much," Hermione shook her head. "I read about the Unforgivables in fourth year, but I haven't really looked for much about Wizarding culture in the library."

"Rape is one of them," Ron said, his voice still level. "If the rapist survives the experience, it's an automatic Kiss. Usually, they don't, but the exceptions still happen, and they're mostly cases like Harry's where the victim is a kid like us," Ron shrugged. "If it's a kid, well, most of us trust adults, so... If it's an adult, their innate defensive magic usually kills their rapist. It's not something that most of us talk about."

"I wasn't raped," Harry said, finding his voice.

"But you were assaulted," Ron countered. "They made you suck them off, didn't they?"

"Yes," Harry said, shivering. "I couldn't use magic to defend myself; last time I did I was almost expelled, and I couldn't be expelled, 'cause then I'd have to stay with the Dursleys. Dudley and his gang are all too big for me to fight off, and they always came after me four or five at a time."

Hermione ran her hand through his hair, over and over. It felt... good. "It's not your fault, Harry," she said. "Any of it. The Dursleys are bastards, all of them."

"You're stating the obvious, Hermione," Harry said. "I figured out by primary school that the way they treated me wasn't right. They always blamed the marks they left on Dudley. I mean, I know, logically it's not my fault, but..." he stopped.

"I've done some reading on abused children," Hermione said. Despite the hesitation in her voice, she continued stroking Harry's hair. "The only friend I had before I came to Hogwarts was taken from her parents because they were hurting her. And from what I've read, part of you must feel like what they do to you is your fault."

"Sometimes," Harry whispered. "Not always. I learned not to tell, because people didn't believe me, but Professor Snape did. He swore that I'll never have to go back to them, even with Voldemort still out there." He leaned against his friends. Since Sirius was gone, in their company was one of the few places where he'd felt any kind of peace at all. He was safe with his surrogate siblings like he wasn't safe with anyone else. He took a deep breath, held it, then let it out.

Harry relaxed into the curve of their bodies around him and, for a few unending moments, let go of his problems. He closed his eyes and let his head drop against Ron's shoulder. He wasn't sure he understood Dumbledore's blatherings of his ability to love being one of his greatest weapons. He wasn't sure what love was, and what little he'd learned about it was mostly from Ron and Hermione. They loved him. He knew it because they'd said it without words.

The trio was quiet for a few minutes, holding on to each other with Hermione still running her free hand through Harry's hair. "'S nice," Harry said, starting to get sleepy. He curled into his friends and let himself drift.

"Let's make a pact," Ron suggested.

"What kind of pact?" Harry asked with a yawn.

"That no matter what, we stick together and be there for each other," Ron said.

"We'll be friends forever," Hermione said.

They linked hands. "Fiat," they said together. White light flared up around them, leaving them breathless as it disappeared.

"What was that?" Harry gasped.

"Our magic decided to make it binding," Ron said with surprise. "That sort of thing doesn't happen often..."

"I read about this," Hermione said. "It's not quite an unbreakable vow, but we'll be almost as close as blood-sworn siblings."

"Sounds good to me." Harry blinked. He felt safe, warm and comfortable. The sleepy feeling increased threefold. He almost missed the look that Ron and Hermione exchanged as they settled down into the bed. "Way I see it, you've been my brother and sister for a while now." He yawned, and it seemed to be catching, because his friends yawned too.

"'M tired," Ron said.

"Too much studying?" Hermione asked.

"Nah. Too much Quidditch," Ron said. "Played a pick-up game after class."

"We'll study tomorrow," Hermione said. "I'm tired, too."

"Glad you're here," Harry murmured, his eyes starting to close.

The only answer was a slight snore from Ron. Harry smiled and closed his eyes.

Things would get better, he knew it. Hogwarts had taught him that family wasn't necessarily those related to you by blood. He had a family now. It wasn't exactly what he'd wanted as a little kid, but he had at least a couple of siblings who cared. As he drifted off to sleep, his last coherent thought was that it had to be enough, because it was all he had.

Severus stalked down the hallway, his robes and cloak swirling around him. Anger at his son's attackers still burned in his gut, but he divorced himself from it to give him the time he needed to deal with Minerva. While he was angry at her, his pure Slytherin side was going to enjoy this. He opened the door, letting it hit the stone wall with a loud bang. He strode into Minerva's office, without knocking, ignored the shocked look on her face, put his hands palm down on her ornately transfigured desk and leaned forward. "You have some things to answer for, Minerva," he said in a cold voice.

"Who... What?" she sputtered.

"Harry Potter has just come to me because he feels that he can trust neither you nor the Headmaster to act in his best interests," Severus continued. "He said that both of you would rather hand out sweets than help him because you ignored him and wouldn't let him explain when Umbridge was using a blood quill on students during detentions last year."

Minerva stiffened, her hands clenched, white knuckled, on the arms of her chair. "She tortured my students?" she asked in a strangled voice.

"I had not heard it from my own House." Severus said, pulling up a chair that matched the desk and sitting down. "None of them earned detentions from her, though. I told them not to antagonize her; that's probably why so many ended up on her Inquisitorial Squad."

Severus smirked as Minerva seemed at a loss for words. If he had known about Umbridge, he would have found a way to stop it. One of the reasons he had turned from the Dark Lord was the torture and abuse of children. Having once been an abused child himself, it was something he could neither condone, nor support. The fact that his own son had been abused by those sorry excuses for human beings made him beyond angry—he was livid. Umbridge's abuses only compounded the problem. "I would think that after seeing that Mr. Potter's complaints went unheard, word got around and others who served detentions with her decided that they would not be believed, either."

Minerva had the grace to look ashamed. "Perhaps... I should have listened harder," she said.

Severus crossed his arms over his chest and favored her with a wider smirk. "Perhaps you should have," he said. "If you had, then the blood quill incidents could have been avoided."

"Is there any proof that Umbridge used the quill?" Minerva asked, as she clasped her hands together in her lap.

"You know as well as I do that Pensieved memories are admissible evidence on child abuse charges,” he said. “I was told that it was because children are incapable of lying." He snorted in disbelief. "Fat lot they know. Little buggers do it all the time. They've obviously never caught Octavian Pucey and Amaretta Wilkes in a broom closet after curfew. 'Oh professor, my hand wasn't in her blouse, I swear'," he mimicked.

Minerva chuckled a little before sobering. "What else did Harry come to you about?" she asked. "It's a bit late for you to stop Umbridge."

Severus steepled his fingers and gave her a long look. "It is policy for you to know as his Head of House," he murmured, half to himself. He nodded sharply, then gave her a piercing glare. "His situation at home worsened," he began. "He spent the summer working like a house elf and being treated like a Malfoy elf. His cousin and his cousin's friends sexually assaulted him on a regular basis, as well." At that admission, he barely managed to restrain the urge to curse something—preferably Minerva, since it was her fault that things had gone so far. As Harry's Head of House, she should have noticed the abuse years before the previous summer. She should have caught it Harry's first year.

"Merlin help us," she said, closing her eyes.

"Indeed," he said, raising one eyebrow. He would not break cover even with Minerva, so he was doing his best to keep his reactions neutral. "He should be back in his dormitory by now. If you will excuse me, I must inform the other Heads of Houses of Umbridge's detentions. Any student who had one will have to be interviewed." With that, Severus stood up and left the room. Her reaction had left him almost gleeful; it wasn't often that he managed to best either the Headmaster or Minerva, and both of them in one day was quite a coup.

Mentally, though, he cursed the need to go see Sprout. While part of him was exultant at discomfiting both of them, he had more important things to see to—like planning revenge on the damn Dursleys. He was sure that Lily and James would approve. They could not be allowed to get off lightly with what they had done. A cruel smile flitted across his face as he considered turning them in to the Dark Lord. It wouldn't take much: tell his son that he would never return to Privet Drive and the wards would fall. After that, all it took would be to inform his other master of their whereabouts and they would die in agony, just as they deserved. Their fat whale of a son was another matter.

Routine school records showed that Dudley Dursley attended a public institution named 'Smeltings' where he was a boarder. There would be far too many innocent casualties if he gave the brat's location, so that was completely out of the question. He would not be the cause of harm to innocent children if he could help it... even if they were probably all spoilt little monsters. The easiest way would be to wait until Christmas holidays, but with the Aurors having already been notified, that wasn't feasible. The thought that he might not be able to have his revenge on the bastards made the anger surge. He decided that he'd just have to find the Room of Requirement after he saw Sprout so that he could break something—several somethings.

Harry dropped onto a bench in the Great Hall, put some breakfast on his plate and rubbed his eyes. They'd been woken early by Professor McGonagall, who hadn't exactly been pleased with the fact that the three of them had slept entwined on his bed. It didn't seem to matter to her that they'd all been fully dressed at the time; he wasn't certain that he understood the reason for her upset. It wasn't like they were doing anything. The thought was vaguely disturbing and more than a little icky; both Ron and Hermione were his siblings. True, what Ron felt for Hermione was anything but a sibling relationship, and sometimes Harry thought that she returned Ron's feelings, but he'd been in between them like an old fashioned bundling board. He vaguely recalled hearing something about bundling boards on the telly.

He poured himself a cup of pumpkin juice and reached for his fork as an equally groggy Ron and Hermione stumbled in to join him. "Lousy way to wake up," Ron grumbled.

Hermione suppressed a yawn. "To be fair," she said. "I wasn't supposed to be there."

Harry shrugged and took a bite of his breakfast. "If they wanted to make sure that girls couldn't come up the boys' staircase, they should've warded it like the girls' staircase is warded."

"Too right," Ron said with a yawn as he reached for the bacon.

Harry ate a mouthful of fluffy scrambled eggs and was just about to say something when he was interrupted by a pitch black owl, who landed by his plate and held out a leg. "Hello there," he said as he untied the letter from the owl's leg. "My, you're a handsome fellow."

The owl preened a bit at the praise. Harry fed it a bit of bacon and stroked its feathers. The owl hooted again, nipped his fingers gently, and took off.

"Who is it from?" Hermione asked, picking at her breakfast.

Harry examined the envelope, which was unmarked except for his name, which was written in dark green ink that turned silver when it caught the light. The handwriting looked vaguely familiar. "Don't know." He opened the envelope before he remembered where he'd seen it before—on his potions essays. True, the ink was usually red, but that shouldn't make much difference. Quickly, he read the single line of the note.

"Do something so that I can give you detention today."

He tucked the note in his pocket, and then, oblivious to Hermione's protest, removed his tie, unbuttoned his collar, and messed his hair up more. Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, the familiar rustle of Professor Snape's robes came from behind him.

"Detention, Potter, you're out of uniform," the Professor's voice said. "You have a free double peroid after lunch, correct?"

"Yes, sir," Harry said, keeping his voice neutral.

"My office, directly after lunch, then," Snape said.

"Yes, sir," Harry said again. He watched as Snape swept away, then put his tie back on and tried to smooth down his hair.

"Greasy git," Ron grumbled.

Harry had spent a bit of time thinking about the enigma that was his Potions Professor in the past few days. True, the man was unpleasant, infuriating, insulting, and had hygiene problems, but he was also stuck in an untenable situation that could easily mean long torture and eventual death. "I imagine he needs to speak to me about the... problems I've been having," he said.

Ron seemed to hesitate and bit his lip for a moment. Hermione was equally silent. "It makes sense," she said.

Ron nodded. "I don't like him, but Hermione's right."

"I don't like him, either," Harry admitted. "But I sort of respect him, I guess." Without another word, he applied himself to his breakfast. He finished quickly, as he wasn't yet up to consuming normal portions and waited for Ron and Hermione. They had Transfiguration first today, which all of them were still taking. He was a bit worried about it; according to official school policies, which he'd looked up in the library long before he'd decided to rat out the Dursleys, McGonagall had to have been informed about his interview last night with Snape. He supposed it didn't matter, because soon someone would leak the news that their 'Chosen One' had been routinely been abused since he was a baby. Briefly, he wondered if it would drive any potential allies into Voldemort's camp. He didn't know. What he did know was that he still wanted the impossible—both his parents and Sirius back because, despite what flaws they must have had, he was sure that they never would've treated him like the Dursleys did.

Harry knocked on the door to Professor Snape's office. Most likely, word had already spread that he had detention with the Potions Master, so nobody would question his presence in the dungeons. The door swung open by itself and a voice came from deep within. "In," Snape's voice said.

Harry obeyed without a word, curious as to what exactly Professor Snape had wanted to speak to him about. He looked at the professor, and was shocked to find fear and trepidation in his eyes.

"Come with me," Snape said. He walked over to one of the shelves, traced a pattern on it with his wand, and the wall next to it disappeared. He walked into the newly-revealed passage and gestured for Harry to follow.

Harry hesitated, reluctant to go after him.

Snape turned and gave him Snape glare number one, the 'do as I say and I won't cut your living heart out with a spoon to use in my experimental potions' glare. Harry's insatiable curiosity chose that moment to flare up, so he followed his professor down the corridor. He whirled around in surprise when the light disappeared from behind him, leaving only light from the flickering torch in the sconce in the passageway. He shivered because the darkness was reminiscent of his cupboard. Oh, it wasn't that he'd ever been afraid of being in there--far from it--it was that he'd never liked the total darkness that he'd often been subjected to whilst in it. Otherwise, his cupboard had always been a safe haven, because the Dursleys couldn't hurt him in there. In a way, the cupboard under the stairs had always been his sanctuary growing up.

"Come, Mr. Potter—Harry," Snape said as he walked down the corridor.

Suppressing a sigh, Harry followed. The passage ended in a seemingly dead end, decorated only by a carving of a snake which was slithering around the wall. Snape muttered something that Harry didn't catch, and the wall slid aside. The professor ushered him inside, gesturing to the couch, then drew his wand. A few spells later that Harry recognized as locking and privacy charms, and Snape sat down in a matching armchair. Silence descended upon the room and it was a long while before the older wizard said anything.

Harry took the opportunity to look around. The room was decorated in warm browns and creams, with bookshelves stuffed with books covering almost every inch of the wall. Small knick-knacks were scattered around the room wherever there was space. An old, low, oak table occupied a place in front of the black leather couch. The table matched the color of the bookcases almost exactly. A Pensieve sat on top of it, the stone bowl empty of the silvery liquid that he was used to seeing in it. A battered mantle, dark with age, stood over the fireplace. On top of it resided a small silver container, which Harry assumed contained Floo powder, and a silver-framed photograph that had pride of place. He watched it for a moment, and was shocked when his... mother walked into the frame and waved.

Harry gave the professor a questioning look, but Snape kept his silence for a few minutes more before speaking. "I received a letter and a package as of late that allowed me to remember memories that I removed to protect people I loved from the Dark Lord," Snape said, his voice low. "I have a similar package for you, Harry. I'm uncertain what your letter says because I wasn't there when it was written." The professor handed him a letter and a small box.

Harry examined the box first. It wasn't very big--Neville's Remembrall could have fit inside it with a little room to spare. The box was wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with rough twine. "It would be best if you opened the letter first," Professor Snape said.

Harry nodded and turned his attention towards the envelope. It was made from the heaviest cream-colored parchment he'd ever seen, with his name on the front in unfamiliar, elegant script that sparkled in the candlelight. He turned it over. The seal on the back was one that he couldn't recall seeing, though it was oddly familiar, and the wax that had been used to seal it was red with metallic gold flecks that glittered in the light. He put his hand over the seal to break it and it flared with light before settling down again. He opened the envelope, noting absently that the seal had come loose all in one piece, and took out the thick folds of parchment from within.

He opened the parchment to find the same script that had been on the outside of the envelope. He had a funny feeling that he should know whose handwriting it was, but he shook it off.

"My dear son," the letter began.

"I hope that you will never receive this letter, and that you have grown up with this knowledge. However, your mother insists that I must write this just in case we don't survive and you do. As I write this, your mother is working on a different letter and you are fast asleep in your cot after using your mummy's wand to turn your Uncle Sirius purple. (Good show, by the way. Thirteen months old and already a Marauder!)

"This letter is probably the hardest I will ever have to write. If you are now reading this, it means that the measures we took to protect ourselves and you were not entirely successful. It also means that you were raised by either Sirius or the Longbottoms. I hope that you have had a happy life, Harry, because you deserve the best. You were very much wanted, loved, and planned for even before you were conceived. You were our miracle baby.

"Perhaps I should begin at the beginning. I'm sure you have been told that I come from an old pureblood family, and that almost all purebloods are related. While this is true, most of our family's recent connections are to darker families like the Blacks and the Snapes. If I am not there with you, you are the last Potter. We have few close relatives, due to our propensity for dying young in blazes of glory. My greatest wish for you is to die at a very advanced age, surrounded by my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren at the very least.

"In our seventh year, when it became obvious that your mother and I were becoming serious, one of Voldemort's supporters inside the school hit me with an infertility hex for which a countercurse has yet to be found. I, of course, told your mother long before our marriage. While we were at Hogwarts, she had a very close friend, her best friend, in fact, who was both a defense expert and a potions expert. His name was Severus Snape, and he was also my third cousin. They remained friends, even after his father forced him into taking the Dark Mark at the end of our seventh year.

"I hope such things as the Mark are nothing more than a note in a history book for you, my son. I fear it is not so, for we are in uncertain times. After we finished school, your mother and I married and were happy, except for the simple fact that we could not have children of our own. We considered blood adoption, but without venturing into the Muggle world, finding an orphan without any living blood relatives was hard. We considered adopting a Muggle child, but your mother refused to risk that our child might become like her sister, Petunia, so jealous over her lack of magic that she eventually began to hate magic and everything associated with it. Your mother confided our problems to Severus, who started searching for a solution. Before Hogwarts, you see, he and I had been very close, but when he was sorted into Slytherin, I felt betrayed, treated him shabbily, and encouraged my friends to do the same.

"NEWT year, I apologized and eventually we became, if not exactly friends, on friendly terms again, which was why Severus was willing to help Lily and I find a solution. After almost a year of research, he came across a lesser-known potion that would enable us to have you. The Infelix potion requires a potions master of the highest calibre to brew, as it is exceedingly difficult. For it to work, it also requires the blood and tears of the prospective father and the seed of a male relative. If Severus had been a more distant relation, it would never have worked, but it did.

"Harry, you are mine and Lily's son, but you are also Severus Snape's son. I do not know if he will still be alive when you receive this, though I hope for it. He held a dangerous position in the war that risked his life every second of every day. If he is alive and knows you, he may have treated you badly because of the removal of many of his key memories concerning you and us. I only ask that you give him a chance to be the Daddy he once was to you. If you are anything like Lily and I, I know that you want proof that what I have written is true. Ask to see Severus's wand. On the end, there should be two small dents that you made when you were teething. Severus was smitten with you, Harry. He started trying to teach you magic before you could talk properly.

"There is also further proof. Inside the package you have been given is a memory-ball. Place it in a Pensieve, tap it with your wand and say the incantation, 'memoriam accio'. One should be available to you. If not, ask Albus Dumbledore and he should aid you. Inside the memory-ball are copies of memories of our time as a family as well as key conversations that led to your conception and birth. We had almost given up hope when Severus came to us with a solution. We love you Harry and both your mother and I hope that you never have to read this letter and that between the three of us, you have at least one other sibling by this time.

"If you have been raised by Sirius, it is entirely possible that he has taught you to hate and distrust your other father, because neither of them ever quite got over their mutual antipathy. I ask that you try to overcome that, if it is so, and give your other father a chance. He loved you once, my son, and I am sure that despite the majority of memories concerning our family, that somewhere he does still. Be happy. Find someone to love and start your own family.

"All our love,
“Papa and Mummy"

Harry's throat had tightened and he caught his breath in a sob. Despite everything he could do to stop them, tears escaped and rolled down his face as he clutched the letter in shaking hands. He raised his eyes and stared at the professor. "Is it true?" he asked, his voice wobbly.

Silently, Snape handed him a white cotton handkerchief. "It is," he said. The professor's voice was rough with suppressed emotion.

Harry used the handkerchief to scrub the tears for his face. He handed it back to Snape, then reached for the box. He had to know. He couldn't see how something like this would benefit the Dark Lord if it were a hoax. He cut the twine with his penknife, ripped off the wrapping, opened the box, and followed the instructions. He was absolutely fascinated by the way the liquid spilled out of the ball with his incantation and the way the ball removed itself from the Pensieve. He drew the stone bowl close to him and, without a word to Snape, stuck his face in it. A recorded message played first.

His mum and dad sat on a love seat in front of him, with a baby version of himself asleep on his mum's shoulder. Lily spoke first.

"Baby, we're so sorry we had to leave you behind, and we never wanted to. Here inside the memory-ball you'll find evidence of what your Papa told you in his letter. If Severus survived and we didn't, you still have a father out there," the image of his mother stopped speaking.

"Wherever we are, I know we're proud of you, Harry,” his dad said. “Be sure to watch this all the way though and I hope that Severus is still alive if we aren't and able to take care of you. I know you're sixteen and mostly grown-up now, but give him a chance. He's not bad... for a Slytherin."

Lily smacked James on the arm. "James!"

Harry couldn't help but smile at that. The picture faded out into another memory. He watched in fascination as the events played out, showing him how his family had been before Voldemort had stuck his abnormally flat nose into it. Through the Pensieve, he witnessed his parents' wedding. The next memory showed how his mother had reconciled the two former enemies.

Lily grabbed hold of Severus's hand and dragged him to a secluded corner of the library. Upon seeing them, James stood up. "What the--"

"James, this is my best friend, Severus," she interrupted. "Severus, this is my boyfriend, James. I'm tired of the two of you behaving like three-year-olds and I won't stand for it any longer."

Silence descended over the trio. Lily elbowed Severus in the ribs. He sighed and held out his hand. "The things girls make us do," he muttered. "Cousin, can we try and get on for Lily's sake?" he asked.

Before James could respond, Lily interrupted. "Cousin?" she questioned.

"Third cousins," James said, not taking his eyes off Severus. "Most pureblood families are related to one extent or another. The Snapes are impoverished, but they're related to my family."

"Not quite so," Severus said smoothly. "My father calls it 'blood money' and refuses to spend any of it, which amounts to the same thing. We live in an investment property left over from the Industrial Revolution. It used to be a boarding house for factory girls. Spinner's End is probably the most depressing place on earth."

"Is that why you're such a git to him, James?" Lily asked, obviously exasperated. "Because he doesn't have a lot of money? I know that Severus hasn't been entirely innocent in your little war—he's retaliated every time you and your friends pranked him."

"No," James looked ashamed. "We were supposed to be in the same House, but he went to Slytherin!"

Severus folded his arms across his chest. "Like I had a choice," he retorted. "My father made sure to leave me a permanent reminder of what house I was to go into. He branded a snake on my back right before we left for Platform nine and three-quarters! I had to argue the damn hat out of placing me in Ravenclaw so that I'd survive when I went home for the holidays."

James had the grace to look ashamed. He held out his hand, which Severus took. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll talk to the others and get them to lay off."

Severus inclined his head. "Things are far from fixed," he said. His face looked like he'd sucked on a lemon. "But I won't start anything."

"Neither will I," James promised.

That particular memory ended there, but the next showed the friendship between Lily, James, and Snape, with the recollection of how Snape had made them the potion following close behind.

"Lily?" Severus called as he ducked out of the fireplace.

Lily came into the room and smiled at him. She walked over, stood on her tip-toes, and kissed him on the cheek. "Severus!" she said with a bright smile. “It's been too long since you've come over,” she said.

Severus nodded. "I found a solution to your problem," he said, his voice serious. "I even brewed it. It needs to be heated again, and James needs to add ten drops of blood and ten tears to it, stirring widdershins in between each ingredient. It's back in my lab--"

Lily interrupted by hugging him. She pulled back and searched his face. "What aren't you telling me?" she asked. "I've been your best friend for too long; what is it?"

Severus closed his eyes and his mouth thinned into a line. "The baby won't just be yours and James's," he said. "If you use this potion, it'll be mine, too. It's all very legal, and there won't be any kind of taint of illegitimacy. It's not often used, but it is a way to keep family lines from dying out."

Lily kissed him on the cheek again. "I'll talk to James, but I don't see any problems." She smiled at him again. "Thank you, my friend."

Severus looked at her, and Harry could tell that his most feared teacher might've been at least a little in love with his mother. "I could never refuse you anything, Lily, you know that."

"I know." Lily grabbed Severus's hand and gave it a squeeze. "If things had been different--"

The memory cut off there, with the next following one showing bits of his mother's pregnancy, his birth, his first words, first step, even his first accidental magic. He saw almost his entire babyhood with his original family. The lump in his throat grew bigger and it became impossible, once again, to suppress his tears as he witnessed that once in his life, he had been well and truly loved.

Because of the letter, he wasn't surprised to find Professor Snape appearing in the family scenes, but the man's behaviour surprised him. For five years, Snape had ridiculed and tormented him, but there was no doubt that the Snape in the memories had loved the baby version of himself. Harry spared a brief thought for wondering what had happened, what had made the man hate his own kid? He expected hatred and ridicule from the Dursleys; since he had been a baby, they'd made it perfectly clear that he didn't belong to them.

He saw his dad and Sirius try and teach him about pranks, with his mother telling him that if he had to prank people, he should spread it around and prank the whole school at once. He watched as Snape tried to teach a baby Harry magic.

Severus tossed baby Harry high in the air, then caught him in a big hug, smiling at the child's squeals of glee. He sat down, settling the baby in his lap. He pulled out his wand and showed Harry how to grip it. "Now," he said with a whisper, "I know you can do this, little one."

"Dada dada dada!" Harry said.

"That's right, I'm Daddy," Severus said. "I knew you were smart. Now, hold it like this," he positioned Harry's hand on the wand.

Harry looked up at his daddy, then stuck the bigger end of the wand in his mouth and gummed it.

"Not in your mouth, Harry," Severus said.

Lily walked in and sat down in a nearby armchair. "Severus!" she said. "He can't even talk yet!"

"He has us for parents," Severus retorted. "He's bound to be a prodigy! Besides, he showed his first accidental magic at three months old; that's so far ahead of most magical children that he has to be magically powerful, too!"

Harry giggled around the wand.

Severus took out a handkerchief, took the wand out of Harry's mouth and wiped the drool off the end. "Besides, you know he doesn't have to talk." He turned back to the baby. "Why don't we see if we can turn Mummy's hair green?" he asked with a slightly evil grin.

Lily got up, walked over, and smacked Severus on the arm.

Severus ignored it. "Harry, if you really want something to happen, you don't need the words, all right?" He put Harry's hand back on the wand and guided him through a swish and flick. "Now all you have to do is point the wand and think of what you want to do."

Harry gave his Daddy a toothless grin and pointed the wand at him. Lily broke out in laughter. Severus pulled some of his hair forward to look at it. It was pink. He raised an eyebrow and looked at the baby. "We're going to have to work on your aim," he said.

He witnessed all of the hugs and kisses that had freely been handed out to him and even heard his mother sing him lullabies. The most heart wrenching part came around the time that his parents went into hiding. For his own safety, the three of them decided that it would be in his baby self's best interests for Professor Snape to remove his memories of them and store them for when it would be safe. Certain physical traits had been hidden by complicated glamours and magical traits had been suppressed by complex spells.

Severus hugged James, then Lily, and walked over to the cot. He picked Harry up out of it and cuddled him. "I don't want to do this," he said. It was obvious to anyone watching that it was painful for him. "I love you, and this will keep you safe." He kissed the small child on the forehead. "I hope the war is over soon, little one. When it's over, it will be safe again for me to be your Daddy."

Little Harry reached up and fingered Severus's nose.

Severus hugged the baby tightly. "I'm working towards it," he whispered. "And so are your Mummy and your Papa. Be good for them. I'll always love you, even when I can't remember you anymore." He kissed the baby again, laid him in his cot, and covered him with a blue, fuzzy, monogrammed blanket. He brushed his hand through the baby's hair. "As soon as I can, I'll be back, Harry James Octavius Severus Snape-Potter. I promise."

He walked over to a low table that had a Pensieve on it and began removing fat silver strands of memory. It took quite some time, but after he finished, he put a clear glass ball into it. Severus waved his wand over it. "Memorium repono," he said, then turned and walked away, not watching as the silvery liquid was sucked into the ball, and it turned a delicate shade of pink.

Harry watched the last memory with tears in his eyes. Logically, he knew why his parents had done it, but pain welled up in him whilst he was watching. He pulled out of the Pensieve and looked at the professor, not able to talk around the lump in his throat.

"Harry..." Snape paused, looking hesitant. "I understand if you want nothing to do with me, considering how I've treated you these past five years, but if you're willing, I'd like to try." He came to a full stop and was silent for a few moments. "I would like to know my son," he said finally.

Harry bit his lip. Confusion and hope ran through him and warred with the stubborn belief that the man was an evil, slimy git who hated him. But it was the chance to have something he'd always wanted—a real parent. Longing took over as he remembered what he'd seen in the Pensieve. He wanted that. He wanted it so much it hurt. One question, however, was foremost in his mind. "If you'd remembered," he said, his voice hoarse, "would you have left me with the Dursleys?"

Snape made an abortive move forward, as if to give him a hug. "Never," the man said. "I would not have allowed you to live with any Muggles, let alone the Dursleys."

Harry's breath caught in a sob. "What will become of me now?" he asked. "Voldemort will kill you if you claim me."

Snape frowned. "Has Dumbledore spoken to you yet?" he asked.

Harry shook his head.

"He will be offering you an apprenticeship," Snape said. "That way, he can protect you and the Ministry will not be able to interfere in your guardianship. You'll be able to stay here at Hogwarts and you and I can get to know each other." The professor slumped back into his chair. "I'll ask Professor Dumbledore to convince the castle to add a room for you in here, and I'll show you a different secret passageway to my chambers so you may use your cloak to come and see me."

Part of Harry felt relieved, but the rest... Dumbledore was rather inconsistent in the way he treated him. He wasn't sure if he wanted to give the old wizard more power over him than he already had. Then again, he could learn things from the Headmaster that nobody else could teach him.

"Harry," Snape's voice interrupted his ruminations. "If I weren't spying, I swear that I would claim you as my son now." The professor leaned forward and gave him a smile that looked strange on the man's face.

Slowly, Harry stood up, the intense longing for a parent that gave a damn overcoming his reservations. "I think... I want to try," he said finally.

Snape stood and gave him a quick, awkward hug. "Good," he said. "I can help if you'll let me, son."

Harry nodded and sat down again, curling his legs underneath himself. Snape sat down next to him on the couch without a word, seemingly offering support. "What about the glamours?" he asked the professor.

"Some of them should be starting to wear thin," Snape said. "By Christmas, they should be gone, but the potions to treat your malnutrition should jump start several growth spurts, so the fact that you've my cheekbones and ears will be attributed to that. We can only hope that it will correct your vision, though it's not likely. If you want that fixed, we should be able to do it in a year or so." The professor smiled. "You were adorable as a baby, and I daresay that you'll be the first handsome Snape in two hundred years once you finish changing."

Harry leaned against the back of the couch and sighed. He had noticed a few changes, but not many. His hair was still wild, but it was slightly better behaved than before. It was finer and softer, too. It wasn't noticeable to most people, but it was his hair, so he had. It still wouldn't stay down, but that was a lost cause, anyway. He almost flinched when the professor put an arm around him but stopped himself and leaned into the embrace.

Strangely enough, he felt... safe there, and somehow it felt familiar. For the first time he could remember, the hole in his heart had been at least partially filled. While it didn't make what the Dursleys had done to him go away, he felt better than he had in ages. Someone loved him and it was enough, because it was more than he'd ever had.