No Bed of Roses by Lady Connor
Summary: Harry met Holly when she was two. Left in the park by her mother. Harry could not leave a little girl by herself, so he stayed with her. Over the years, they became as inseparable as brother and sister. When Harry found out he was a wizard, he was overwhelmed with happiness to find that Holly too was a witch and that one day she would enter his new world with him.
Little did he know that Holly was the illegitimate daughter of his most hated professor at Hogwarts, Severus Snape. Snape was not happy that his newfound daughter had a better relationship with Harry Potter of all people, rather than her own father.
Could Harry’s luck be any worse?
And how in hell did Lucius Malfoy get a job as the new DADA teacher?
Categories: Teacher Snape > Trusted Mentor Snape, Teacher Snape > Professor Snape, Snape Equal Status to Harry > Comrades Snape and Harry Main Characters: .Snape and Harry (required), Draco, Eileen Prince, Hermione, Lucius, Narcissa, Original Character, Ron
Snape Flavour: Angry Snape, Bully Snape, Comforting Snape, Controlling Snape, Kind Snape, Mean Snape, Stern Snape
Genres: Angst, Family, Hurt/Comfort
Tags: Abuse Recovery, Alternate Universe
Takes Place: 5th summer, 5th Year
Warnings: Abusive Dursleys, Character Death, Emotional Abuse, Neglect
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 6 Completed: No Word count: 57547 Read: 21879 Published: 10 Aug 2021 Updated: 17 Oct 2021

1. Up the Garden Path by Lady Connor

2. Clutching At Straws by Lady Connor

3. Pushing Up Daisies by Lady Connor

4. A Tumbleweed Moment by Lady Connor

5. That Old Chestnut by Lady Connor

6. Grasp The Nettle by Lady Connor

Up the Garden Path by Lady Connor
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Chapter 1

Up the Garden Path

 

August 1988

 

Harry has to climb a tree to avoid Dudley and his gang. He is good at climbing trees, having had a lot of practice since it is one of the most effective methods of escaping Dudley and his friends. They might be considered bullies, but they are fools. They never look up. As long as Harry stays still, he can remain safe. So, Harry settles in for a long wait.

                Dudley and his friends stay in the park for a little longer. It is quite crowded at the moment, but It is expected, as it is Saturday: the park is full of mums and dads with their children. Harry only comes here just to avoid being at home with the Dursleys. Almost anywhere is better without the Dursleys. Harry is only eight, but he knows that he is not like others. He has no parents. They died in a car crash. Only Harry survived, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had been kind enough to take him in. They had been kind enough to feed him some leftovers on the rare occasion Dudley does not eat everything. They had been kind enough to clothe him when Dudley outgrows his clothes. This happens regularly, as Dudley is almost as big as Uncle Vernon, so Harry is often left with Dudley’s cast offs.

                As the Dursleys buy Dudley expensive branded clothes, and he does not wear them for long, they should be in good condition by the time they get to Harry. If only that were true.  Dudley wears them out so much that Harry is left with little more than rags. Rags that he has to thank the Dursleys for providing.

                Even his shoes are battered, as Dudley’s bulk wears out the soles within weeks. Harry feels he might as well walk barefoot. And they are so big on Harry’s smaller feet that he has to wear several pairs of socks.

«Mamma? Mamma? »

                Harry looks at the other children with a tiny, sad smile. He knows it is hopeless wishing he did not live with the Dursleys, but that doesn’t stop him from longing that, one day, someone will come and take him away. Harry is not loved the way Dudley is loved. Harry knows he is barely tolerated.

                Harry absently plays with the hole in Dudley’s ragged plaid shirt he is forced to wear. The button had broken off in a scuffle with Dudley and Piers Polkiss, and Harry has not had a chance to mend it.

                Dudley was supposed to leave soon. The Dursleys had planned a trip to the seaside with Dudley. The forecast was sunny for the afternoon, but it would rain towards the evening, so they wanted to leave soon and come back before it started to rain. Harry wasn’t invited to go with them. He is never invited to go with them. He has to go to Mrs Figg’s house – the Dursleys often leave Harry with Mrs. Figg. She is a rather odd old lady who lives with her several cats. Harry does not mind going there. Mrs. Figg is always kind and lets Harry watch TV on her old box sometimes, when she is not forcing him to look through her photo album of all the cats she has ever owned. She also lets Harry eat biscuits or makes him a sandwich –  the biscuits are sometimes stale, but Harry does not mind:  it is more than he gets to eat at the Dursleys, so he is grateful for the food and always thanks Mrs. Figg.

«Mamma? Mamma? »

                Harry winces as he leans back against the tree. His shoulders hurt where Uncle Vernon has whipped him with a belt. Uncle Vernon often punishes Harry. Though he knows the punishments are unfair, arguing against them will only lead to more punishment. He has learned this lesson quickly.

                «Mamma? Mamma? »

Harry cocks his head as he sees a little girl wandering near the slide. The playground is bordered by two gates at opposite ends of each other: the tree Harry has climbed branches off over an empty section where there are no benches, but if he wants to jump back into the penned playground, he just needs to slide down the trunk a little and jump onto the Merry-Go-Round.

She has been calling out for her mum for several minutes. Harry lifts his glasses as he looks down at her. They ‘ve been falling off ever since Dudley broke them. Harry uses cello tape to repair them.

                 She is a very tiny girl with long, dark hair. Her skin is extremely pale, made even paler by the black dress she is wearing. Harry expects her to be crying, but she just looks around as if this is a game she is tired of playing. Harry has been hiding in the park often enough to see other children weeping at their parents if they don’t respond immediately. Harry finds it curious that the girl is not like them.

                Harry shifts his gaze over the play area once more. Not because he is looking for the girl’s mother, but to see if Dudley and his gang have left. There! He spots them exiting the park at the gates leading closer to Magnolia Crescent and, from there, it is only one road to Privet Drive.

                Still, Harry follows them with his eyes, making sure that they leave completely before he feels safe coming down from the tree. He should go as well and head towards Mrs Figg’s house, but he wants to make sure the girl finds her mum before he leaves.

He drops onto the next lower branch and the next, and then down the trunk and then swings down another branch, hanging above the Merry-Go-Round. He sways for a couple of seconds and then lets go of the branch, landing neatly on the Merry-Go-Round, which spins a little due to Harry’s weight.

                Pushing up his glasses once more, he walks over to the ladder used to climb up the slide where the little girl standing.

                «Mamma? »

                « Want some help finding your mum?» Harry asks.

                The girl looks up at him as she spins around. Her eyes are dark, almost black, and she stares at him innocently.

                «Mamma said to wait here,» the girl tells him.

                “Do you want me to wait with you?» Harry says.

                The girl looks around. The park is emptying out slowly, only a few children and their parents are left.

                «I’m Harry,» he says, holding out a hand for her to take.

He wonders for a second if she will talk to him. The Dursleys tell everyone that he is a hooligan and a liar. Most parents take their children and walk away when they see Harry, because they do not want children playing with a troublemaker.

                Harry feels relieved when she reaches out to hold his hand.

                «Holly,» she says shyly. «Harry wait wiff Holly?»

                «Yeah.»

                Holly gives Harry a smile, showing her small teeth.

                No one has ever smiled at Harry the way Holly is smiling now. He smiles back at the little girl: he likes the way she trusts him to look after her. The Dursleys have never trusted Harry like this, ever – they do not even trust him not to burn the bacon.

                Harry and Holly play in the park together as they wait for her mum. Holly is very energetic and runs everywhere, but she always stops and waits for Harry to catch up. They play on the monkey bars, but Harry is scared Holly will fall and that he won’t be able to catch her. He does not want to get into trouble with Holly’s mum for her getting hurt – he does not want Holly to get hurt.

                Holly is fearless, though, and climbs everything. She has fallen twice and Harry was able to catch her even if his back hurts when he has to stretch and once, after catching her, he stumbles and falls on his back, wincing at the contact.

                Holly keeps saying sorry and Harry tells her he is fine, which is because Holly is only two and he does not want to scare her.

                Laughing a little to show he isn’t hurt, he gets up and pulls back to his feet and tells her he will let her run to the top of the slide.

                He lets her run first and patiently waits for her to climb each rung to the top. The ladder is only six rungs high, but the gap are big enough for her to fall through, so Harry makes sure she is safe. He is not sure where she gets her bravery from, as she fearlessly reaches the next rung.

                «I won,» she shouts as she gets to the top and Harry is now on his last rung. She throws her arms up in victory and Harry laughs as he concedes defeat.

                It is as her sleeves ride down her arm that Harry sees it. A bruise. He gently grabs her arm, worried she is hurt from her previous fall.

                «Does it hurt?» Harry asks as he inspects it, carefully pushing the sleeve up further.

                Holly shakes her head and looks at him curiously. He pulls himself down from the highest rung and kneels in the platform. The ridges on the platform dig painfully into his knees, but Harry does not pay any attention to that.

                Harry freezes as he examines the bruise closely. He turns her arm over and places his hand over the bruise: it is bigger than his hand and he can clearly see finger marks, as if someone had grabbed Holly hard and dragged her away. Much like how Uncle Vernon does with Harry.

                He’s only met Holly maybe twenty minutes ago, but he is already feeling protective of her. She is still a child, really. Who would hurt a child?

                «Who did this?” Harry asks. He wonders if she will answer. And if she does, what her answer will be. Harry usually tells anyone who sees the bruises that he fell or that he is clumsy. Telling the truth would only mean more punishment.

                Holly tugs her arm from Harry’s hand. He is afraid that she will leave, that she will not allow him to help her anymore. Instead, she throws her arms around his neck and hugs him.

                Harry has a funny strange feeling in his chest. No one had ever hugged him before.

                «Mamma did it,» she whispers. Then, she pulls away.

                Harry wishes he could help Holly, but how, since he cannot even help himself? He realises then that he hates Holly’s mum. He hates her for harming someone innocent as Holly who does not deserve to be hurt.

                Harry does not have a watch, but he knows that time is getting later and later, as he and Holly continue to play. Other parents are leaving with their children and soon it is only Harry and Holly are left in the playground.

                Harry knows the Dursleys have already left and he should too. Mrs. Figg will be waiting for him.

Harry asks Holly if she knows her way home. He could walk her there and then go back to Mrs. Figg. Holly does not know though, and Harry wonders what he should do, maybe track down someone from the police or make a call from the phone box at the end of the road outside the park.

                Something prevents Harry from doing that. Maybe he could take Holly with him to Mrs. Figg and she could help in some way. He decides to stay a little longer with Holly; maybe her mum will be back soon.

                Feeling a bit tired, hungry and thirsty, Harry and Holly sit on the swings for a while. Holly does not complain that she is hungry or thirsty, but Harry can tell, though, as she licks her lips. The Dursleys never give Harry any pocket money like they do with Dudley, so Harry cannot get a drink from the local newsagent for himself or Holly.

                When it is getting late, Harry decides that he should take Holly to Mrs. Figg and get help: she will also give them food and something to drink.

                «Okay,» Holly says, when Harry informs her of his plan.

                She takes his hand without hesitation and looks at him trustingly, with her small dark eyes. They leave the playground and walk towards the gate. Harry still looks around as they walk, hoping to see a distraught woman looking for her daughter.

                Harry and Holly are near the corner with the phone booth when they hear a panicked call.

                «Holly?»

                Harry turns to see a woman in a long green skirt that reaches her ankles and a shirt running behind them. She is on the other side of the park fence, but she is not looking in Harry and Holly’s direction.

                «Holly?»

                «Oma!» Holly calls back with a great big smile.

                Harry is happy to see Holly smiling, although he is confused as to who ‘Oma’ is. Harry thinks back and could swear she calls her mum ‘mamma’ instead.

                At Holly’s voice, the woman turns around and sees Harry and Holly.

                «Come on, Harry,» Holly says as she pulls him with her.

                Harry, Holly and the woman run parallel in the park, but on opposite sides of the fence: when they reach it’s end, Harry and Holly stop and wait for ‘Oma’ to exit the gate.

                The woman immediately drops to her knees, her handbag falling to the ground, and takes Holly in a tight hug which the other girl returns. Harry is forced to let go of Holly’s hand.

                «Are you okay, Holly?» the woman asks, pulling back and checking Holly over.

                Holly nods and points to Harry.

                «Harry stay wiff me,» Holly tells the woman.

                She looks at Harry with a questioning look. Harry is afraid the elder woman will think he is a troublemaker like everyone seems to.

                Harry believes he has seen the woman before, but thinks she is new to the area. She is a tall and skinny woman, bony like Aunt Petunia, who is as thin as Uncle Vernon is fat. The woman has a long face with heavy eyebrows and her hair and her eyes are dark like Holly’s.

                The woman is staring at Harry, studying him, which makes him a little uncomfortable.

                «I didn’t want to leave Holly alone,» Harry mumbles. «I was going to take her with me to Mrs Figg. She lives on Wisteria Walk.»

                The woman still stares at Harry, looking into his eyes.

                She holds out her and and beckons Harry closer who cautiously steps forward. She cups his cheek gently: like Holly’s hug, this is the first time someone had touched Harry like this. He has another strange feeling in his chest.

                «You have beautiful eyes,» the woman says, still not letting go of Harry.

                Harry thinks this is a weird thing to say, but he has always received compliments on the colour of his eyes.                

                «Like my mum’s,» Harry tells her, feeling shy himself.

                He knows this because it is one of the few things Aunt Petunia has told him about his parents; she does not always like to look Harry in the eyes, especially not like this woman was doing.

                «What’s your name, child?»

                «Harry,» he says reluctantly, «Harry Potter.»

                Harry does not understand why she brushes his hair back to expose his forehead, where he has received the scar in the car accident that took his parents away.

                «Harry Potter,» she repeats faintly. «Thank you for looking after Holly, Harry.»  

                Then, seemingly coming out of a trance, she lets go of Harry and stands up, holding Holly’s hand like he’d done before.

                «I’m Iris, Holly’s grandmother. Come, child. I’ll walk you home. Where do you live?»

                She brushes down her skirt slightly then looks at Harry expectantly.

                «4 Privet Drive,» Harry tells her. Then, before she can leave, he continues, «But I’m supposed to go to Mrs Figg’s house. The Dursleys have gone to the seaside with my cousin so I’m to stay with Mrs Figg until they come back.»

                «The Dursleys?»

                «My Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon,» Harry explains.

                «Petunia?»

                The woman’s nose wrinkles slightly, just the same way Aunt Petunia’s does when she hears something that disgusts her. Harry wonders why Holly’s grandmother has this reaction. All the other neighbours like Aunt Petunia, even though she is nosy: she likes to pretend to be helpful, but what she really wants to know is everyone else’s business. Everybody believes Aunt Petunia when she tells them Harry is good-for-nothing and a menace.

                «Then I’ll walk you to Mrs Figg’s house.»

                Feeling flustered, Harry blushes and says: «It’s okay, it’s not far.»

                «Nonsense, child. Holly and I live on the next street over. It’s on our way,» the woman says brusquely.

                Harry nods uncertainly and leads the way.

                When they come to a newsagent, Holly stops and says: «Oma, I’m firsty.»

                Iris smiles at Holly and asks her and Harry to wait outside whilst she darts inside. Holly sticks close to Harry, hugging his legs as she smiles up at him.

                «Harry play wiff me in park again?»

                Harry cannot resist the smile Holly gives him and agrees.

                «Harry push me on swings,» Holly demands.

                «Yeah,» Harry replies smiling.

                Iris is back within minutes, holding two pouches of  orange flavoured Capri-Suns. Handing one to Harry, she rips off the straw from the back and pierces the hole, holding it carefully as Holly drinks it thirstily.

                . Harry thinks the other drink is for Iris, only giving it to him to hold until she could finish helping Holly drink hers.

                «This one’s for you, boy,» Iris says to him, raising her eyebrows at him.

                Harry is about to protest: no one has ever bought anything for him. However, he is thirsty and gratefully accepts, drinking it quite quickly as they walk towards Mrs Figg’s.

                Holly wants to hold Harry and Iris’ hand as they walk to Wisteria Walk: Iris holds Holly’s partially drunk Capri-Sun as she listens to her babble about playing with Harry in the park.

                Iris insists on walking Harry all the way to Mrs Figg’s door.

                Knocking politely on the door, Harry waits for it to open.

                Mrs Figg throws it wide open and her cats run out, wrapping themselves around Harry and Holly’s legs, who giggles in amusement and leans over to pet Mr. Tibbles.

                «Oh, Harry, I was so worried about you. I thought that, because you didn’t come earlier, the Dursleys had changed their mind and taken you with them,» Mrs Figg exclaims.

                Harry is about to explain, but Iris intervenes and says: « It’s my fault, I’m afraid.»

                Harry is ushered into the kitchen. Mrs Figg tells him she has made him a sandwich. He says goodbye to Holly and Iris and heads to the kitchen to find a ham and cheese sandwich with a glass of orange juice waiting for him.

                Harry hears Mrs Figg and Iris talking for a few minutes before the door closes shut.

                «Oh, Harry. Aren’t you a kind boy? Waiting with that little girl. To think, abandoned in the park by her own mother,» Mrs Figg harrumphs.

                Harry is pleased by the praise. He does not often get praised, not even by Mrs Figg.

                Even though Holly is only two, he hopes to see her again.

 

***

 

August 1985

 

Severus finishes buttoning up his collar and tucks his shirt back into his trousers, reaching for his coat frock and meticulously buttoning up each and every button.

                Severus is not the kind of person to throw his clothes everywhere in a fit of passion. Not with Jasmine, at least.

She is still sleeping right now, facing away from Severus and lying on her front under the covers, with only the top of her head is visible. Her hair is more orange than red. Even if it is her natural colour, he thinks it’s atrocious.  

                Her eyes are green, though they are not of the same emerald green he searches for. No one can match the spirit and looks of Lily Evans. Severus pretends that he is not looking for another Lily Evans. For him, there will always be only one Lily.

                Jasmine is an amusing companion. Severus has been seeing her since Easter, catching occasional weekends with her when he is off duty and spending time with her when he is free during summer holidays since school ended.

                He has only four weeks left until the start of term, on 1st September, and two weeks before he has to return to Hogwarts to work on his lesson plans, complete and replenish his inventory and assist Poppy Pomfrey brew more potions for the Hospital Wing, ready for the new term.

 Severus has already provided the required reading list: he does that before the end of term so that he does not get irate owls from Minerva McGonagall in the middle of his summer. Severus likes to have summer to himself without any thoughts to dunces who cannot tell one end of a cauldron from the other. How they get up and dress themselves every morning is beyond him.

He freezes as he hears a rustle under the covers as he finishes doing the last button on his cuffs. He suppresses a groan. There goes his plan to sneak out without waking Jasmine. It is not because he cares about disturbing her sleep, despite the eventful night they shared, but mostly because he is annoyed with Jasmine. Their initial attraction has waned and, after their date last night, he only stayed because she offered herself to him. Severus has needs too, but going forward he has no longer needs Jasmine.

«Were you trying to sneak away?” Her voice comes out hoarse from sleep.

She is still naked under the covers, which fall down as she turns around, exposing her bare breasts to him. She is so comfortable with her body that she doesn’t feel the urge to cover herself up again. She stretches in what she must imagine is a suggestive manner, but Severus doesn’t feel the need to go back to her.

Yes, their attraction has definitely fizzled out: he is no longer interested in seeing her again.

«I have other places to be,» Severus says, reaching for his cloak.

She looks up at him with a smile on her face. Jasmine is not unattractive. She is just… not for him. When they had first met, several months ago, she was on the arms of her colleague at some Ministry gathering or other. Lucius often drags him to this meeting in an effort to cultivate networks. Severus has to admit they do come in handy when it comes to certain hard-to-find Potion ingredients.

Jasmine had approached Severus at the bar where he was to avoid the mass of humanity: couldn’t take much more of other people before he had to retreat. It had not taken long for Severus to seduce Jasmine away from her bland colleague: so insipid, in fact, that Severus couldn’t even recall his name. Albeit She had wit, charm and intelligence, she was a Muggleborn, and a career was harder for her to achieve without the right connections: thus she is often found at various Ministry parties. She has ambitions, Severus is aware, but what they are exactly he is not sure of. Not that he cares. Jasmine will not be his concern anymore.

«There’s a gala in Cardiff next week. Tell me you’ll join me,» she says, sitting up, still not covering herself up.

He does not make the mistake of asking what the gala is for, even though it is probably some charity or other, to avoid making her think he might be interested, when he is clearly not.

«I‘m not into Ministry galas,» Severus informs her.

He is ready to leave and turns to face to go through the onerous task of breaking up with her. Even if he was still attracted to her, she is becoming too clingy and demanding for his liking, and Severus has too much going on to handle her drama.

She gets up from the bed and sashays over to him in all her glory, but Severus does not look below her face. Itch scratched: he is ready to leave her behind. Her body no longer has any influence over him.

She pouts as when he turns away from her as she attempts to kiss him.

«I have news for you,» she says, reaching out to cover herself with her nightgown when she realises he cannot be persuaded to stay.

It takes forty minutes to for Severus to leave, during which time they exchange cross words as she tries to convince him to stay together. He apparates from inside her flat, leaving her enraged and upset at their breakup. They are better off without each other. Jasmine can find herself a new mark to help her realise her ambitions, whatever they may be, perhaps at the Ministry gala in Cardiff.

                Severus appears outside the gates of Malfoy Manor, furious at his last encounter with Jasmine, livid at her ploy to trap him into a marriage. Does she really thinks that telling him she is pregnant with his child will make him reconsider a relationship with her?

The wards recognise him and allow his access. He walks back to his self-contained apartment in the west wing of the Manor, avoiding the main entrance. Severus never brings his partners back here, valuing his privacy too much. Instead, he either follows them back to their homes or makes do with a hotel room.

                Over the next few weeks, he is inundated with owls from Jasmine. Tearful missives begging to get back together. She only mentions the baby twice in her twenty letters, but Severus just burns the whole lot and asks Lucius to alter the wards so her letters cannot get through anymore.

                Severus does not tell Lucius about Jasmine’s pregnancy tactic to ensnare him: he will only laugh at him, and Severus is no mood to listen to his jokes about that. His own parents were caught in that trap and his childhood was hell because of it. Severus is certain that Jasmine is lying because he is meticulous about contraception…

 

***

 

September 1985

 

Jasmine is holding back tears as she leaves Spinner’s End. Severus has been ignoring her since they broke up and she has no idea where he is now, because he has never allowed her to see the actual location of his home. She remembers him mentioning Cokeworth where he grew up, it was a slip he made that one time when he came to her in the middle of the night slightly drunk and upset about something. She remembers him mentioning something about lilies in his drunken fumbling.

                Jasmine liked Severus, grew to love him even, though he always held back. Jasmine thought there will still be time for Severus to love her back: he was worth waiting for. She had not meant of getting pregnant. Her potion had run out and she did not have time to purchase her next dose. Severus, who was usually so careful with Contraceptive Charms, applying them even if she is taking the Potion which lasts three months, always used his own protection. Until that one, fatal time.

                Jasmine knew Severus has a broken heart and was in love with another witch, though she did not know who. He is a few years older than her and in Hogwarts they were in different houses with the consequence that she did not know him at all. He only came to notice her a year before they met, this past Easter, at a Ministry party in Liverpool.

                He is was often seen with the Malfoys. He mastered Potions at nineteen and is the youngest professor at Hogwarts, distinguishing himself by his formidable intellect and acerbic wit. There is a heart underneath all the bluster. Jasmine wanted to be a part of his life with all of her heart. She did not get pregnant on purpose, but she thought it was the only possible way for Severus to remain with her.

                However, Severus does not believe her. Her owls return to her unanswered and his wretched father refused to pass on her message.

                She is all alone.

 

***

 

November 1985

 

Jasmine can’t keep her job at the Ministry of Magic. The stress of her all makes her seriously ill and she is forced to take several days off. Her boss, upon finding out she is pregnant, fires her with some imaginary excuse. In her dismissal, she is cited for her poor attendance.   

Being a Muggleborn in the Ministry is a difficult position, but being a pregnant, unwed Muggleborn is even worse. She has no rights.

                No one is willing to help her, she has no friends to rely on and no connections to speak of.

                She has tried to owl the school when her letters, sent directly to Severus who will have already returned to school by now to sort out next year’s syllabus, come back unopened, and though her letters are not coming back with the owl, she is not receiving any replies either.

                Her savings run out very quickly and, unable to pay the rent, she is forced to vacate her flat.

 

***

               

January 1986

 

Iris takes her in when no one else does.

                Jasmine knows she would be grateful for any help. At this point, Jasmine has left the Magical World altogether, snapping her wand in a fit of pique. She has no money to replace and she does not want to anyway.

                In fact, she has no interest in anything. Even her own baby. It is Iris that takes care of Jasmine, forces her to eat and bathe. Despite her swollen belly, she is becoming gaunt. Pregnancy has been hard on her: with no money to pay for healers at St Mungo’s, she is forced to rely on the NHS in the muggle world.

               

***

 

April 1986

 

«I really loved him,» Jasmine pronounces flatly.

                A few days ago she has given birth to her underweight daughter. The nurses allow her to hold the baby for a while before taking her away. She has difficulty breathing with her tiny lungs.

                «I know,» Iris sighs.

                Jasmine does not even look at her daughter. She is too tired and, frankly, doesn’t care. The baby has ruined her life.

                The nurse returns several hours later for feeding time. Iris is still there. She has not left. The baby is fussy, and Jasmine does not have the patience, or desire, to breastfeed. She wants nothing to do with the baby.

                «What are you going to name the little tot?» The cheery nurse asks.

                Jasmine turns her face away.

                Iris gets up from her plastic chair and comes to take the baby from the cot. She gives a small squawk, but is otherwise silent.

                «Her name is Holly,» Iris announces into the silence when Jasmine does not answer.

                Severus likes flowers, Jasmine thinks. He said so, once, though only for Potions. He never brought her any during their brief relationship, if it could even be called that.

                She cannot call her ‘the baby’ forever, so Jasmine does not argue about the name. Jasmine She is only glad Iris didn’t choose Lily. Severus especially loves lilies.

 

***

 

May 1989

 

Harry thinks the relationship between Holly, her mother and grandmother is odd, though he will never say it out loud.

                Holly does not live with Iris full time, but given the amount of times her mother dumps her there, she might as well.

                Harry is shocked when Iris explains, on a day he comes to visit Holly but she is not there, that Jasmine, her mother, has full custody of her daughter. Although it is obvious that she does not care about Holly, she refuses to let Iris take her in full time.

                Harry is no stranger to being unwanted, since it is a routine phrase in the Dursley household. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon rarely let an opportunity pass where they do not tell him. He finds it sad that Holly is unwanted by her own mother as he would give anything to have his own mother, but after seeing Jasmine, he realises that not all mothers are actually nice. He wonders if he is better off without a mother. Otherwise, he could have grown up like Dudley: foolish, fat and a bully.

                Harry would not mind a mother like Iris, who is always there for Holly, waiting to take care of her when Jasmine refuses to.

                Harry asks Iris about it once.

                «Why doesn’t Jasmine call you mum?»

                He finds it odd that Jasmine uses her mother’s name rather than call her ‘mum’.

                Iris looks at Harry sadly and pulls him into a hug.

                «I wish I could tell you, Harry,» Iris answers.

                Harry regrets making Iris sorrowful and does not mention it again.

                Ever since Harry met Holly and Iris the previous year, he has spent as much time as he can with them. That is, when he is not at school, locked in his cupboard or doing chores for the Dursleys.

                Spending time with Iris and Holly also gives Harry a chance to avoid Dudley and his friends. Iris always takes the time to feed Harry, even if Holly is not there.

                When Iris finds out how much the Dursleys hurt Harry, she is furious, cursing Aunt Petunia more than she curses Uncle Vernon, which he finds odd, because it is Uncle Vernon who hurts him the most. Aunt Petunia mostly uses her words, though they are almost as harsh as Uncle Vernon’s belt.

                After the fury passes, Iris has a grim expression on her face and apologises to Harry for not being able to help him.

                Harry tells her he understands. And he really does. How is Iris going to help Harry get away from the Dursleys when she cannot even help Holly get away from her own mother?

                For Harry, it is enough for Iris to help him heal. Whatever cream she uses makes the pain go away. Almost like… magic.

                Aunt Petunia does not like Jasmine much: she is skinny like Holly and often looks sick. Aunt Petunia calls her loud and vulgar and that she dresses like a woman of loose morals. With all that make-up, brightly coloured tops that exposes her bosom, tight jeans and her constant parading of different men when she picks up or drops of Holly. Aunt Petunia does not like the looks of the men that Jasmine takes with her and has warned Dudley to stay away from all of them.

                Harry does not like the way they look either and knows Holly is scared of some of them. He is afraid they will hurt Holly like Jasmine does sometimes.

 

***

 

July 1989

 

Harry is really happy that school is over for the summer holidays. Not that he does not enjoy school. He likes learning and reading, maths and science, though he is not allowed to do better than Dudley: that will lead to accusations of cheating. It will lead to a world of hurt.

                Iris, who has seen Harry and Holly’s interest in gymnastics, signs them both up for classes at the local youth centre. As long as Harry has finished his chores, he is free to go as he please. As long as he comes home to help make the evening meal, and doesn’t stay out later than Dudley. Otherwise, they will lock him out and force him to sleep outside. On the occasions where this happens, Harry slinks back to Iris’ home, who lets him sleep in Holly’s bedroom. Holly has a bunk bed in her room, though Harry is not sure why she needs it as there is only her. If Holly is there when Harry has to stay because the Dursleys had locked him out, she always cuddles up to him as they fall asleep together.

                Harry tries to protest that Iris does not have to pay for his gymnastic classes, but she tells him it is a birthday gift for him. Harry is overwhelmed by the gift. He cannot pay for those classes himself, not to mention the Dursleys, who definitely will not pay for Harry to learn gymnastics.

                As a thank you for Iris, Harry makes sure he works very hard, not wanting her to think that he is taking her gift for granted. She has already done so much for him.

                Harry and Holly work hard all summer to perfect their gymnastics. Harry’s instructor is also happy and impressed by his trainee progress and praises his enthusiasm. As a result of the exercise, Harry is feeling hungry all the time and ends up feeling guilty when he eats too much at Iris’ house.

                He knows not everyone is well off in this part of Surrey and he thinks Iris doesn’t have that much money: her house is quite small and very sparsely decorated, with only few pictures, all of Holly.

                Holly’s bedroom only contains a bunk bed, a small wardrobe, a three-tier shelf and a very, very old dollhouse that is in the corner of the room. Her few toys take up half a shelf. Harry has seen inside of Iris’ bedroom which also has a bed, though hers is a single, a dressing table and a wardrobe.

                There are only two rooms downstairs: the kitchen, which only seems to have the essential appliances – not the latest pots, pans and appliances Aunt Petunia insists she must have – and the front room, which only had a two seater and one seater sofa set, that looked so old that Harry imagines they must be from a second-hand furniture shop somewhere. Iris also had a really old TV, but Harry never sees her watching it, though she allows him and Holly to turn it on occasionally.

                Her back garden is also quite small compared to the Dursleys’. She has no flowers or anything decorous but does seem to grow her own herbs for cooking. When Harry and Holly use the back garden to practice handstands and cartwheels and such, they always have to be careful that they do not damage Iris’ herbs.

                There is only one room that Harry has not seen yet, and it’s the cellar. Iris does not have a cupboard under the stairs like the Dursleys do; instead, the door under the stairs leads to the cellar and Holly and Harry are not allowed in there as Iris told them the stairs are not stable and she does not want to either to get hurt. Harry only knows this because he once tried to get a broom to clean up the flour he spills on the floor: he tried to open the door, but it was locked, and Iris, uncharacteristically, snaps at him to not touch the door.

                Harry is bemused, but follows her instructions. He has never disobeyed.

               

***

 

January 1990

 

«Are you okay, Harry?» Holly asks, holding Harry’s hand as Iris makes him take his t-shirt off and tells him to lie down on his stomach on the sofa. Harry gingerly obeys. His back is sore and aching. Harry was blamed for turning their teacher’s hair blue, and  Uncle Vernon wasn’t happy with him. Harry does not know why he is being blamed for it. He was nowhere near the teacher, and he did not add anything to her hair to turn it blue. Even Mrs Peterson does not blame Harry, but Dudley mentioned the incident to Aunt Petunia and she, in return, told Uncle Vernon.

                Both did not hesitate to blame Harry. Odd things always happen around Harry and though he can never explain any of them, he often gets punished for them: like the time his hair grew back overnight after the horrible haircut Aunt Petunia gave him.

                Uncle Vernon is particularly vicious in his punishments after an unexplainable event. Harry’s back feels like it is on fire. He knows it’s bleeding slightly.

                Iris is muttering angrily as she walks around collecting bandages and other supplies to help Harry. Through the haze of pain, he can hear her cursing Petunia’s name, which confuses him, as it is Uncle Vernon using the belt on him.

                «I’m fine,» Harry manages to say.

                To distract him, Holly tells Harry about her day at the Nursery.

                «Miss Parker had to stop this boy from putting a crayon up his nose. She said he was naughty on purpose, so she took all his crayons away from him and that he wasn’t allowed to play with them anymore. He was being very silly and he started to scream and shout when he tried to put the square block in the triangle shaped hole. Miss Parker had to take that toy away from his as well.»

                «Then, this other boy was feeling really ill and when he tried to eat soil from the plant pot by dipping his banana into it he threw up his banana everywhere. Then my friend Jade said she didn’t feel well and started being sick everywhere.»

                Harry winces as Iris dabs the cuts on his back, but tries to concentrates on Holly’s words.

                She has been going to Nursery for a few months now and, at first, she struggled as she cried for her Oma for the entire first week. Her teachers still express their concerns, as Holly refuses to play with other children.            

                «You made a friend?» Harry asks with a smile that is more a grimace.

                «Jade’s okay,» Holly shrugs. «She shared her grapes with me when Jack took my lunchbox.»

                Harry is pleased that Holly is finally starting to come out of her shell at school.

                Iris continues to clean his cuts. Harry does not know what she is rubbing on his back, as there is never any changes in the wounds, but whatever she is using is very soothing and stops his back from hurting.

                «That was nice of Jade,» Harry comments as he lets Iris move along his lower back. The Dursleys do not know that Iris is aware of how they treat him. If they did, he would be in even more trouble. He is never allowed to let anyone know. «You should share something of yours with her tomorrow.»

                «Like what?»

                «Maybe take an extra juice or some fruit or biscuits,» Harry suggests.

                His back feels better now. His skin is still tight, but is no longer burning, so much that he’s able to move around without pain. He cautiously sits up.

                «Harry?»

                «Yeah?»

                «I wish me and you could stay with Oma,» Holly states, looking between Harry and Iris.

                Iris freezes in the act of putting away her cotton pads.

                « Me too,» Iris admits, sitting down next to Harry on the sofa and looking at both of them despondently. Holding out her arm, she beckons Holly towards her, pulling her into a hug, and carefully places her other arm around Harry’s shoulders, pulling him closer.

                Harry finds himself holding back tears. Though he occasionally gets the urge to cry, he never gives into it. Crying only gets Dudley what he wants. Never Harry.

                Iris has always done so much for him. She feeds him, heals him, gives him a place to sleep when the Dursleys kick him out; she gave him a hobby that keeps him occupied, made sure he understood his class work, even if he is not allowed to show how smart he really is.

                Iris always says what she means and means what she says. She would not be lying if she did not want Harry to live with her full time: it would be so different from being an occasional visitor. Her kindness makes Harry’s heart hurt. One day, Harry would like to take part in the Olympics as a gymnast when he is old enough. It would make Iris proud. Show her how he appreciates her support.

Since he has begun to take gymnastics, Harry’s ability to climb trees has improved as he expertly swings himself higher and higher, from branch to branch. Having always been fast anyway, Harry finds himself even speedier and with more stamina since his gymnastics lessons.

                This frustrates Dudley to no end. It amuses Harry to watch Dudley try to scale the climbing frame in gym and seeing him already at the top.

               

***

 

April 1990

 

Harry is laughing as he runs towards Iris’ house. Dudley and Malcolm are chasing Harry, but he loses them when he easily vaults a six-foot wall and does a flip to the other side.

                Dudley is as big as he is dumb and by the time he gets on the other side of the wall Harry will already be inside Iris’ house.

                He knocks on the door, bouncing on his toes. He actually has good news to tell Iris. She will be so pleased.

                He knows as soon as Iris opens the door that something is wrong. Her eyes are red, like she has been crying.

                «Is everything okay? Did something happen to Holly?» he asks uncertainly, feeling panicked and alarmed.

                Did Holly’s mum hurt Holly very badly? She had done that, once, a few months ago. Jasmine had yanked on Holly’s arm so hard she had broken her wrist. Harry knows she lied and told the doctors Holly hurt herself practicing her gymnastics.

                Jasmine did not visit Holly once during the six weeks she dumped her with Iris, whilst Holly’s arm was in cast. Harry had been distraught that day as he was not allowed to visit Holly in the hospital to see she was okay. Iris assured him Holly was well, but Harry is still angry at Jasmine for hurting the little girl.

                There is an odd rattling sound and Harry startles as he feels Iris place a hand on shoulder.

                The rattling stops when Iris says, «Holly’s fine.»

                «What happened?» Harry asks anxiously as Iris pulls him inside.

                «It’s Holly’s mum, Harry,» Iris tells him sadly.

                She has barely closed the door behind Harry when Holly gets up from the sofa and runs to him, throwing her arms around his chest. Harry automatically pulls her close. Harry is short for his age and Holly is tall for hers. They are almost the same height.

                Harry does not feel any less anxious.

                «Mamma’s gone,» Holly cries.

                “What?” Harry queries astonished.

                Gone where? Has she finally abandoned Holly for good? Has Iris finally got full custody? Harry cannot feel sad about Jasmine being gone. The only good thing Jasmine has done is have Holly. As far as Harry is concerned, being out of Holly’s life will only be good for her, so that she cannot hurt her daughter.

                Iris carefully picks Holly up and takes her back to the sofa. Holly clings back to Harry as soon as he is seated next to her, while Iris sits in the single seater as she watches them both carefully.

                «Jasmine and Holden passed away last night. There was a house fire. Neither made it out,» Iris tells him in a low quiet.

                «Oh,» Harry says smartly.

                He is upset for Holly’s sake, but still thinks she is better off without Jasmine. If there was a part of Jasmine that cared for Holly, then Harry never saw it.

                He is happy that Holly gets to live with Iris full time now: it will be better for her, and Harry can see her regularly.

                Iris gives Harry a knowing look as Holly lays down with her head in his lap. Sometimes, Harry feels Iris can read his mind. He swears he can feel a tickle in his brain when this happens.

                Harry has not spent much time with Jasmine before her death, becaus Iris has always preferred him to be nowhere around if Jasmine came to visit. Harry did not mind staying away if that was what Iris wanted, though he has had to stop himself from hiding Holly away with him.

                Harry feels Holly’s tears seep through his jeans.

                Jasmine might have been a bad mum, but she was still Holly’s mother. It’s clear that Holly prefers Iris over Jasmine, but that does not mean she will not miss her.

                Harry decides to be sad over the loss of life in general, even if he is not upset at the loss of Jasmine’s life.

               

                ***

 

May 1990

 

Harry has kept this since the day he found out Holly’s mum had died. He decides to give it to Holly today because it is her birthday. It will mean more.

                «Here,» Harry says to Holly, holding handing over the small box. It is wrapped up, quite badly, in a newspaper he saved before Uncle Vernon threw it away.

                Holly does not care how badly it is wrapped up. Instead, she rips it apart with an eagerness that make Harry smile.

                Harry has carefully cut out a piece of cardboard to display the pendant he has found in his aunt’s attic. It was in a jewellery box labelled “Lily”. Aunt Petunia has sent Harry to fetch new pillows she stores up there, needing to replace her own. Harry had opened the box and found this pendant at the top: he did not have any hesitation to filch it and place it in his pocket. He has looked at it before going to sleep every night. He swears he felt it warm up.

                Holly has been melancholy since Jasmine died and Harry thought he might gift her this pendant.

                Holly smiles widely as she shows it off to Iris.

                «Looks, Oma. Isn’t it pretty?»

                Iris is already leaning forward and taking the pendant from Holly, gasping as she looks at it.

                «Harry, where did you get this? Do you – Where did you get the money for? This must have been expensive,» she says. Harry gets the feeling she was about to say something different.

                “I found it in the attic. Aunt Petunia sent me up there for something and I found my mum’s jewellery box. When I opened it, I found this on top. Aunt Petunia doesn’t know I took it, otherwise she would make me give it back. Please, let Holly keep it.”

                “Harry,” Iris says, exasperated.

                Holly, knowing how little he knew about his mum, told Harry, “You should keep this. It’s your mamma’s.”

                “I want you to have it,” Harry insists stubbornly.

                Holly looks uncertainly at Iris, who glances at Harry with a smile.

                “If you want to, Harry,” Iris relents. Then, imposing a condition, looks at Holly and tells her, “But – if Harry asks for this back, then you will give it to him.”

                Iris gives Holly a strict look, who nods and then holds still as she fastens the pendant around her neck.

                Smiling widely, Holly throws her arms around Harry’s neck and kisses his cheek in thanks. He laughs, happy they accepted his gift.

                They sit down for their meal and Holly’s cake. Harry notices Iris’ gaze on Holly’s pendant the rest of the evening. He is as happy to have found it as he is to know Holly will be wearing it. He might have liked to keep it for himself, yet he can’t help but think it is a girly thing.

                A chain of gold. The pendant is made with emerald-coloured stones, matching Harry’s eyes, that cup the golden lily.

 

***

 

June 1991

 

After the snake incident at the zoo, Harry endures his worst punishment. Beaten severely, he is thrown in his cupboard for days with barely any food.

                He is under restriction and not allowed to leave the house. Just as he finds it hard to move, he also misses whatever magical disinfectant or lotion Iris uses to sooth his back after every Uncle Vernon’s punishment.

 

***

 

July 1991

 

Harry has no idea who is so desperate to contact him. He has no idea who would send him so many letters with an owl, or whatever other method that turns Uncle Vernon into a crazed maniac.

                Aunt Petunia forces Uncle Vernon to give Harry Dudley’s second bedroom, which does not please him at all, judging by the biggest tantrum yet. Harry is happy to have a bigger room, even if he is forced to share it with most of Dudley’s broken and useless toys. He is more curious about who is sending him those letters.

                Harry is surprised that he hasn’t been punished for it. This would definitely count as a bizarre occurrence that the Dursleys would usually punish him for.

                After days of being forced to flee Privet Drive with the Dursleys to escape the letters, they find themselves in a dilapidated hut on the rocks during a dark and stormy night.

                There he meets Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys for Hogwarts.

                “Harry – yer a wizard,” Hagrid tells him.

                Harry does not look back as Hagrid takes him away the next morning to the world his parents were from.

               

***

 

Harry returns to the Dursleys, who made their own way back from the middle of nowhere. They are so scared of Harry that they leave him alone.

                Harry heads towards Iris’ house, anxious and uneasy. It is killing him that he is not able to share this huge piece of news with the two people who he cares more than anyone. Not that they might believe him. Even Harry is still struggling with that.

                He is a wizard; a famous one.

There is a whole world out there that most people do not know exists. Non -magical people were called muggles and the magical world was protected by the Statute of Secrecy.

Harry thinks the most fantastical thing of all is finding out that his parents did not die in a car accident. They were murdered. They Dursleys lied to him. Aunt Petunia lied to him about her own sister.

Harry will go to a school far away in Scotland, never worrying about money ever again. He has a mountain of gold sitting in a vault, in the deep dark tunnels somewhere underneath London, In a bank run by goblins.

Now, he has to lie to Iris and Holly, tell them he is going to a school for the gifted. How will he able to speak to them when he is away at school? Hagrid told him muggle stuff like electronics won’t work in Hogwarts. They have no phones.

Wizards use owls to send letters. Hagrid has bought him a snowy owl as a birthday gift, even though He must name her still. But he can’t send an owl to Iris and Holly. They are muggles.

He has to find a way to keep in contact. There must be some way. It is so frustrating to find out something so big and not be able to share it with people who mean so much to him. They are more his family than the Dursleys.

Harry realises he is now standing in front of Iris’ door. He knocks in a subdued manner, almost hoping she won’t open the door, If only, to delay the moment he has to lie to them for a little longer.

His wishes are ignored.

Iris opens the door and greets Harry with a warm smile and pulls him inside.

 “Holly and I were wondering when you would be back,” Iris gestures him in. “We didn’t realise the Dursleys would take you with them on their holiday.”

Harry opens his mouth to say they did not go on holiday, but then realises it is better to let them think that instead of the truth. That they were fleeing from hundreds of letters from a magical school called Hogwarts.

“Harry,” Holly yells as she sees him. She runs over before he can greet her back and is tackled around the middle as she hugs him tightly. “I thought you were gone forever. The Dursleys never take you anywhere and I wanted to give you your birthday present and we got you cake.”

Iris laughs.

“Let him in, you silly child,” Iris admonishes.

They are still standing in the doorway. Holly untangles herself from Harry and allows him to enter the house properly. Iris closes the door behind Harry and leads him to the kitchen.

There, on the small round dining table, Harry sees a treacle tart, his favourite dessert, and some presents wrapped up for him. This birthday might be his best yet. If only he could tell Iris and Holly about the magical world…

Harry smiles and decides to celebrate his birthday with them. It is only the day after and he still has not decided on what to tell them.

Iris cuts him a slice of treacle tart and Holly impatiently urges him to open his presents. Harry is surprised to find several new clothes, all in his size. It is practically a new wardrobe. He now has several new t-shirts and collared shirts, dress pants and new jeans. Even new trainers and smart black shoes.

“Oma said it because you’re going to big school this year and you should have some smart clothes to make a good impression,” Holly tells him excitedly.

“All this must have been really expensive,” Harry stutters.

Harry recognises some of the clothes as the brands his aunt and uncle bought for Dudley. None of it was cheap.

He has a completely new uniform to wear at Hogwarts and has purposely bought extra school shirts and trousers, so he does not have to wear Dudley’s cast offs.

“When you receive a gift like this, child,” Iris starts in a gentle chiding voice, “you should simply say thank you and accept it.”

“Thank you,” Harry repeats and hugs Iris as tightly as Holly does to him.

Iris gently pats his back as she embraces him too.

“You’re welcome, son.”

Harry finds he has to stop his breath from hitching. It is the first time she, or anyone, has called him son.

Later, after they have consumed whatever food Iris has made, and the table has been cleared away, that Harry and Iris are sitting on the sofas. The TV is on as they watched the Disney film, Oliver and Company.

Holly has fallen asleep in Iris’ lap as Iris strokes her hair soothingly.

“Thank you again for the clothes, Mrs Pierce,” Harry says. The clothes are packed away in a bag and he will store them safely in his school trunk. The Dursleys might be cowed now, but Harry is sure that they will not stay subdued for long.

“Don’t mention it, child. You deserve new clothes. I’ve been wanting to buy you some for a while. I was just afraid your aunt and uncle would take them for you and punish, wrongly, for having them in the first place if I did.”

Harry flushed. She is probably right.

“Besides, I know you won’t need to hide them at your new school. Your aunt and uncle are hardly going to come to you at Hogwarts to snatch them away from you.”

Harry’s head spins so fast that his glasses almost fly off.

“You know about Hogwarts?” Harry yelps.

Holly stirs at his loud voice.

Iris gives him what he can only class as a smirk. He has never seen that expression on her face before.

               

To be continued...
Clutching At Straws by Lady Connor
Author's Notes:
Thank you JAWorley for calling my bluff. If JA hadn't posted her updates I would have delayed posting out my latest chapter. Well played, JA. Well Played!

Chapter 2

Clutching At Straws

 

August 1991

 

Harry is shocked by Iris’ knowledge of the wizarding world. She explains that the odd things happening around Harry have made her believe he was a muggleborn like Jasmine.

                He is even more shocked to find that Jasmine was a witch. Harry has only been in the wizarding world for one day and already thinks it is brilliant. He cannot wait to learn new spells. his wand Already feels like it is a part of him, and even the fact that the core is shared with that of Voldemort’s can’t dampen his excitement.

                Ollivander has said Harry is destined for great things and he knows he has to prove himself now. The Dursleys have convinced the neighbours he is a delinquent in the making, destined to a life of crime, and only Iris and Mrs Figg know otherwise.

                Being a wizard is different. No one knows him. He can be just… Harry. For a moment, he almost tells Iris that he is the Boy-Who-Lived. That he is famous. Then, he changes his mind. Being the Boy-Who-Lived is not important. It’s only a title other people gave him. He wants to go into the wizarding world and earn himself a title.

                The Dursleys will never be proud of him, but Iris and Holly will be.

                “Holly is a witch too,” Iris tells Harry, watching him carefully.

                Harry’s eyes dart to the sleeping Holly.

                Now that he thinks about it, he realises odd things happen to Holly as well. She is usually calm and does not throw tantrums, but, occasionally, when she sees Dudley hurting Harry, or she sees someone else taking something does not belong to them, glass might crack, or a branch will fall. Harry remembers one of her balls changing from green to blue. Harry had thought it was his imagination or that he was wrong. Now he knows it is magic.

                He is relieved that he does not need to hide his true self from Iris and Holly. Then, a thought occurs to him.

                “Does Holly know?”

                Has Holly been aware of being a witch the whole time and chose not to share with Harry? He feels hurt at first, then realises she might not have been able to say because of the Statute of Secrecy. And, after all, wasn’t Harry going to do the same?

                “Holly doesn’t know,” Iris assures him. She leans forward, still keeping one arm around Holly and reaches out to Harry with the other, who extends his own arm to take Iris’ hand.

                “She tells you everything. I knew she would want to tell you and, well, I didn’t know how to prove it to either of you. It sounds odd to someone who has lived their whole life without magic. So, I waited until I heard you received your letter to Hogwarts.”

                Harry ruminates on this a while. When Iris takes Holly up to her room, he’s still thinking about it. He finds it difficult to wrap his head around the fact that Jasmine was a witch, but then realises that he does not actually know much about Jasmine.

                From what he has seen of witches and wizards in Diagon Alley, they are an odd lot. Jasmine was weird and he would never have been able to guess she was a witch.

                Iris comes back alone.

                “Why did Jasmine give up being a witch?”

                That could be the only explanation.

                “Jasmine loved being a witch. She loved school,” Iris starts to say, then sighs wearily. “Being a muggleborn in the wizarding world isn’t an easy thing.”

                Harry nods. He thinks back to the blond boy who had sneered at him when he thought he had non-magical parents. He does not know the boy’s name but he seems to be the magical version of Dudley Dursleys.

                “Jasmine suffered for her ambitions. Then, there was the incident with Holly’s father.”

                Iris falls silent. A morose look settles over her features and she looks so… tired.

                Harry has never seen Holly’s dad. She has told Harry that her dad abandoned Jasmine when she was pregnant, because he refused to believe her. Harry does not like to talk about Holly’s dad, whoever he is. It makes Holly and Iris sad. Though he suspects it is for completely different reasons.

                Harry thinks Holly is sad because she imagines what her mum would have been if she had not been rejected by Holly’s dad. Iris probably thinks the same but Harry thinks there is more to Iris’ sadness.

                Adult relationships are so complicated.

                “At least you can talk to me about this now,” Iris tells him, pulling him out of his thoughts.

                “Really?” Harry asks in a bright voice. “Thanks, Mrs Pierce.”

                “Oma, child. You can call me Oma. Just like Holly does.”

                Harry feels overwhelmed again.

               

***

 

Harry spends the rest of the month dividing his time between flicking through his schoolbooks and attending his gymnastics. His instructors are disappointed to see him go away, but Harry promises to return every summer.

                He finds his books so fascinating. He finds a name for his owl in his history book, deciding to call her Hedwig.

                Iris also tells Holly that she is a witch and that one day she will go to Hogwarts as well. Her first reaction was of sadness, initially, to find that Harry will be going to a school so far away, but he assures her he will send so many letters that she will not miss him.

                Holly is afraid of Hedwig’s talons at first, but quickly begins to adore the snowy owl. Hedwig spends more time with Holly than she does with Harry, as she spoils her with bacon rashers every morning.

                One day, when Holly has a play date with some friends, Harry is surprised when Iris ask him to come over.

                When Iris leads him to the door under the stairs that connects to the cellar he is even more astonished. He and Holly have always been forbidden from this room.

                It is cool down here, he realises as he carefully descends the creaking steps.

                Iris turns the light on and he can see the room properly. It is better lit than Harry expects: there is a small desk in the corner and shelves and shelves of books. Looking through the titles, Harry realises they are wizarding books.

                “Did these belong to Jasmine?” Harry asks, as he examines the titles.

                Many seem to be about Potions, some on dark curses. There are several school books here, though the titles show they are more advanced versions of his Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1. Some go even up to Grade 7.

                There are few historical texts as well. Harry looks them over in awe.

                “Some of them are Jasmine’s. She didn’t want to keep them anymore, so, I kept them down here. Out of the way.”

                There is an odd pause as Iris hesitates over her next words.         

                “Most of them belong to my son,” Iris finally admits.

                Harry rapidly turns back to Iris in shock, almost twisting his ankle as he does so. She has never mentioned having a son, before. He stares at her wide-eyed, and Iris flushes as he gapes at her.

                “I know you and Holly have no secrets from each other, Harry,” Iris begins to say, stepping closer to him and cupping his face. Harry looks up at her. “But I’m asking you to keep this one secret. There’s a reason I’ve never mentioned my son. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, and it… it hurts. I wasn’t a really good mother to him.”

                Harry cannot imagine Iris not being a good mother. He sees the way she is with Holly. How she is with him.

                “Is he dead?” Harry asks hesitantly.

                “No, ,” she sighs. “But he probably thinks I am.”

                Harry’s brow wrinkles in confusion.

                “One day I will tell you about him. Just… not today. One day, I will need to tell Holly. I’m trusting you to keep this one secret, Harry. Will you do that? For me?”

                Harry does not like seeing the sadness on Iris’ face, so agrees without hesitation. There is a warm glow in his chest: no one has trusted him like this before.

                Iris pulls him for a hug, which he returns. They stand like that for some time.

                “Why did you bring me down here?” Harry asks, pulling away.

                “I wanted you to have this,” Iris tells. She does not let go of him, just moves to the side so they are both facing the shelves again, her arm still on his shoulders. “Your relatives are not the open-minded sort, but, here, you can be yourself.”

                It is as leaves Iris’ house with his new clothes and other presents that he realises that he has not even asked her son’s name. The opportunity is gone now, and Harry does not want to bring up it anymore for fear of bringing back her desolate look.

 

                ***

 

                On the morning of September 1st, Harry wakes up early, too excited to go back to sleep. He has made sure to pack up all his things the night before. His clothes are nearly organised, his books are in one section, his cauldron is neatly stacked and all his ingredients are stored properly.

                The Dursleys have agreed to take Harry to the train station, although only because they must take Dudley to a hospital in London to have the tail Hagrid gave him surgically removed.

                Harry has told Iris this, though she still says that she will meet him at the train station.

                Several hours later, Harry is standing in King’s Cross station. Uncle Vernon, in an uncharacteristically generous move, unloads his trunk and even wheels it into the station. Dudley insists on getting out as he wants a snack from the WHSmith, whilst Aunt Petunia remains in the car.

Vernon walks out laughing several minutes later with Dudley, having taunted Harry about the fact that platform 9 ¾ has not been built yet.

                Harry is not worried. Iris has already told him how to get onto the platform for the Hogwarts Express, but… He does not go yet. He is still waiting for Iris and Holly. They promised to be here to see him off.

                As he stands there, watching the Vernon and Dudley leave without a backward glance, he remembers that Aunt Petunia would have gone to see off his mum when Lily left for Hogwarts. It makes him sad that Aunt Petunia is still so bitter about Lily being a witch that she would rather Harry suffer at King’s Cross than see him safely on the train to school.

                He watches as Vernon and Dudley get to the car. Dudley jumps suddenly, holding his enormous backside, but Vernon does not notice as he’s already getting into the car.

                Dudley gives a mad look around and looking over his shoulder locks eyes with Harry. He gets a scared look and scrambles into the car, still staring at him even as Uncle Vernon drives away.

                Barely a minute has passed when Iris and Holly walk in through the same doors the Dursleys exited from. Holly lets go of Iris’ hand and runs to Harry, hugging him tightly as if they have not met in ages. Harry was only at Iris’ last night because she had made him his favourite foods as a send-off he would never get from the Dursleys.

                 Iris hugged him too as she greeted him.

                “Did you make you sure you packed everything?” she asks.

                “Yes, I did… Oma,” Harry still blushes as he calls her that.

                Iris smiles at him, pleased.

                “You’ll write, won’t you, Harry?” Holly pleads, taking his hand with both of hers.

                “All the time.” And he intends to keep his promise.

                “Did you have breakfast?” Iris inquires.

                “No,” he admits sheepishly. “I was too excited.”

                Though it did not stop Aunt Petunia from making Harry make it for everyone. Dudley had a big surgery he needed to get through, after all.

                Iris rolls her eyes in affectionate exasperation and brings out some sandwiches wrapped in cling film. Then, as they still have time before Harry has to get on the train, she leads them to a café and buys herself a coffee, hot chocolate for Holly and Harry, and bacon sandwich for all of them. Harry eats his very quickly.

                Hedwig, who is already eliciting weird looks, hoots loudly, attracting more attention as she eyes the bacon. Holly sneaks the snowy owl some of her bacon, whilst Iris pretends not to look.

                “You’re spoiling her,” Harry complains without any real heat.

                “She’ll be flying all the way from Scotland. She’s going to need her energy,” Holly giggles.

                Hedwig snaps her beak in agreement.

                Harry does not truly mind, as he liked to see Holly happy.

                Finally, it is time for Harry to board the train.

                “Make sure you eat properly, child. No junk food. Don’t just fill up on desserts and sweets,” Iris instructs.

                She has told him about the Great Hall and the variety of food offered every day.

                “Yes, Oma,” Harry agrees.

                “If you need anything else, just send me a letter with Hedwig,” Iris continues.

                “Yes, Oma.”

                “And you pay attention in your classes. I expect you to try your best.”

                “Yes, Oma.”

                “Keep practicing your gymnastics when you find a space. Hogwarts don’t have a PE system,” Iris carries on.

                “Yes, Oma.”

                When all reminders are exhausted, they stop in front of the wall between Platform nine and ten.

                “Go, my son. You don’t want to miss the train,” Iris says emotionally, giving him a final embrace.

                “I’ll miss you Harry,” Holly says tearfully, hugging him tightly, reluctant to let him go.

                “We’ll see Harry again, Holly. Sooner than you think. Hm? Come on, darling. We’re blocking the entrance.”

                Holly kisses his cheek one last time and lets Iris lead her off, heedless of her tearful eyes that follow him the whole time she is walking away.

                It is as another group of travellers block his view of Iris and Holly, that Harry takes the opportunity to slip through the barrier with his trolley.

                Pushing his gloom to one side, he is awed by the Hogwarts Express. He moves aside with his trolley when he realises he is blocking the barrier.

                 Not a moment too soon as a red-headed family spills through, in twos and threes. There are quite a few of them.

                Soon, he makes himself comfortable in an empty compartment near the end of the train, with Hedwig still in her cage.

                It is not long before the door to his compartment opens again and the younger brother of the twins who helped Harry carry his trunk inside the train enters.

                Apart from an incident or two with the annoying blond he met in Madam Malkin’s, Draco Malfoy, and the scary first year who memorised all her school books, Hermione Granger, Harry spent the rest of the uneventful train ride with his new friend, Ron Weasley. Together, the boys laugh, joke, share their food and learn about each other’s families.

               

***

 

First Year

… you were right about the feast, Oma. They had everything and the food is wonderful. They even had treacle tart!

                I got sorted in Gryffindor with my new friend Ron. I’m so happy about that! Ron has five brothers, all older, and one younger sister, but she doesn’t start at Hogwarts until next year. All the Weasley boys have been into Gryffindor.

I almost got sorted into Slytherin. But, I met this prat on the train, Draco Malfoy. He reminded me of Dudley. I’m going to stay away from him.

The castle is so vast and the staircases move and the portraits move as well! I have saved  some Chocolate Frogs for you, Holly. I bought them on the train with some Every Flavour Beans. Be careful with those, because they mean every flavour. One of Ron’s brother’s claims to have once eaten a bogie flavoured bean …

… I share a dorm with Ron and three other boys: Dean Thomas, who is a Muggleborn, Seamus, who said he’s half and half, and Neville, who is a Pureblood.

Ron thinks Dean’s West Ham poster is weird because it doesn’t move…

 

***

 

… Classes are amazing. Most of them, at least. Although It’s mostly theory. I like Charms the best, so far. Professor Flitwick really knows what he’s talking about and makes it fun to learn. I thought Defence Against the Darks would be better, but the professor’s a little weird. It’s a pity, because I was really looking forward to it. Quirrell’s classroom stinks of garlic and the lads from my dorm think it’s because he’s afraid a vampire he fought against before will come back for him.

Transfiguration is hard and Professor McGonagall is really strict, making us do a lot of reading, but I like it.

I was really looking forward to Potions because I read all those books in your basement, Oma, but this professor is truly awful. I swear I really read all those books you said I should, but Snape asked me so many questions, something about asphodel and wormwood, aconite and bezoars. I’ve written them all down to look up properly later. Anyway, only this girl, Hermione Granger, knew the answers, but Snape kept picking on me.

He certainly hates me for some reason, though I don’t know why. Hagrid thinks I’m just imagining it, but I don’t think so.

Hagrid invited me for tea after classes. He lives in a hut on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Students aren’t allowed in there. Hagrid said it’s because it’s full of dangerous creatures.

 

***

 

… I love flying. Being on a broom is something marvellous, (a feeling of complete freedom that I can’t even describe in words.) Professor McGonagall said my dad was a brilliant flyer and he was in the Quidditch team of his House.

                She was so impressed with my flying that she made me a Seeker on the Gryffindor team. According to her, I’m the youngest Seeker in a century and I even have my own broom, the latest brand, Nimbus 2000.

I have to work so hard to keep up with all my homework and go to Quidditch practice and my gymnastics.

Ron thinks gymnastics is boring, but Dean thinks it’s cool, so, when I practice, he comes with me, sometimes. I don’t know where I’m going to practice when the weather gets colder. Perhaps I’ll have to ask Professor McGonagall.

 

***

 

 

… it’s a long story, but I’ve made another friend. It’s Hermione Granger. She’s a Muggleborn and terrifying clever, and she makes me and Ron do our homework before letting us play. Ron’s been teaching me how to play chess. I’m rubbish at it, but he is amazing and even his older brother Percy, who is almost as smart as Hermione, can’t beat him.

Even Hermione can’t beat him, though she lasts the longest, but that’s only because it takes her ages to make a move. Ron thinks it will do Hermione good to lose at something, occasionally, because she’s so brilliant at all her classwork…

 

***

 

Harry continues to write letters to Iris and Holly throughout the year. Their letters always come back with loads of questions from Holly about everything, and admonitions to stay out of trouble, making sure he eats well, behaves in classes, does his homework and looks after himself from Iris. Like a real mum.

                Iris always gives him advice when talking about his teachers, and shows how pleased she is with his progress and how she is proud of him for joining the Quidditch team at such a young age.

                Harry deliberately does not tell all the other dangerous adventures that he has faced or that has happened to him over the first year – like the troll, and the three-headed dog, and the Philosopher’s Stone and one of his professor’s having Voldemort on the back of his head. He does not want Iris to worry, but he plans on telling her some of it when he is there in person.

 

***

 

Summer 1992

 

The Dursleys have reverted back to form, no longer scared of him. Harry had hoped, when he left the Hogwarts Express, he would be able to convince the Dursleys to leave him alone with the threat of magic. After all, they do not know that he is not allowed to use magic during summer holidays.

                This has not deterred them. Apparently, when they went to the private hospital to have Dudley’s tail surgically removed, they found it had already disappeared. They think Harry had used magic on Dudley, that day in the train station.

                Never mind that Harry still had not any training at that point. The Dursleys are experts in their own brand of logic.

                As soon as Harry steps through the front door of number 4 Privet Drive, his trunk is locked in the cupboard under the stairs and he is sent to his room with a padlock on Hedwig’s cage. She is not happy with the turn of events. Neither is Harry.

                The next day, he agonizingly stumbles towards Iris’ house, having suffered from the worst beating he has ever had received. He has snuck out with a caged Hedwig after all the Dursleys left the house for the day. He cannot allow Hedwig to be locked all summer. Iris can help him get Hedwig out of her cage and keep her safe for him.

                Iris opens to the door to his knock. Her welcoming smile fades as she observes Harry’s strained features. Quickly taking Hedwig’s cage from him in one hand and holding back Holly, who was rushing to greet Harry with a huge grin on her face, Iris still tries with the other to guide him to the sofa to lie down.

                “Those animals,” Iris mutters angrily above him.

                Harry has to stand up again, wincing tenderly, to take his t-shirt off. It hurts as it peels away from his skin. Holly gasps as she sees his bloody back when he lies back down.

                Vernon has never beat him this badly before. Until last night, Harry has never thought of Vernon as the kind of person to hold back.

                “Holly, go get my first aid kit, sweet,” Iris instructs her granddaughter.

                Holly rushes back and Harry tilts his head slightly to watch her come back with a little green box.

                “Please… Don’t cry,” Harry says comfortingly.

                Despite his pleas, Holly begins to sob. Handing over the kit to Iris, she kneels on the floor next to Harry, taking his hand in both hers. Holly should not see him like this. She has experienced so much sorrow in her own life, it seems almost unfair to make her see Harry suffer. He wishes he can protect her from himself. He wishes he could stay with Iris forever.

                Harry hisses and flinches every so often when Iris dabs a particularly painful wound, nonetheless, despite all her efforts, she cannot heal him properly. Harry has realised she has been using potions on his back for several years not to heal him, but only enough to ease the pain. Never fully, as it would make the Dursleys escalate their violence if they saw his wounds completely disappear. So that is what Iris does now. She heals his wounds enough to make the bleeding stop, though. She cannot remove the marks wholly.

                He does not realise when he falls asleep. He just feels Holly’s small hand stroking his hair, like she has seen Iris do so many times when comforting him.

                Harry wakes up several hours later, still lying face down on the sofa with his arm dangling off to the side. Holly is still in the floor, having fallen asleep leaning back, and Harry’s arm is wrapped around her body. Even in her sleep, she has not let go of him. He is still feeling stiff and unable to move straight away, and not just because Holly is holding his arm hostage. His back is sore rather than on fire, so it is definitely an improvement.

                Iris notices that Harry is awake and makes her way over from the kitchen. She gently picks up Holly from the floor without waking her and places her on the one-seater, covering her with a shawl that is usually draped over the back of the seat.

                “How are you feeling, child?” Iris asks him, as she helps Harry into a sitting position.

“I’m better, thank you,” he replies.

Once he sat up, she hands him vial she has plucked from the front pocket of her dress.

With surprise, he realises it is a Pain-Reliever. He realises that, as a muggle, Iris is not capable to brew potions for herself. Where has she bought this from?

                “It’s a Pain-Relieving Potions,” Iris explains, seating herself next to Harry.

Whilst he uncorks it, she reaches to the small coffee table and pours a glass of water from the jug she has ready.

                 “Where did you get it?” Harry asks curiously, then drains it in one go.

He is handed a glass of water which he sips slowly to get the awful tasting potion off his taste buds.

“Where I got it isn’t important,” Iris tells him.

Harry does not question it. Not after healing him. It would be ungrateful. She has been helping for so many years that it does not matter where she gets magical items she should not have access to. He silently accepts that Iris has more knowledge about the magical world than he does, given that she has two children who have gone through Hogwarts. She is bound pick up extra knowledge even if by proxy. Iris has always been a straightforward resourceful person. She has probably been able to sneak into the Magical world for years.

“It just breaks my heart that I have to use these sorts of potions. I seem to be cursed to piece my children back together,” she murmurs into the silence.

Harry has no words for this. It is sad that Holly has to be healed as well from the hurt bestowed on her by Jasmine. He also feels the warm glow he always gets when Iris refers to him as her child.

“Come, Harry. I’ve made you something to eat,” she declares, standing up and brushing down non-existent wrinkles from her dress.

. He is still stiff, but the Pain-Reliever has kicked in. It will probably last him part way through the night. He has been through this pain before. Iris has never given him a potion before. Perhaps she only recently stocked up on it, or perhaps she didn’t give it to him because he did not know about Potions before his Hogwarts letter.

As he follows Iris into the kitchen, he realises her dress is looser on her skinny frame than usual. He silently sits down and studies her. He can see that her face is gaunt, and she looks paler than normal.

“Have you been ill?” Harry queries as she opens her fridge to bring out a plate of sandwiches.

Iris flits him a glance and answers unconcerned voice, “I’m just recovering from a touch of flu.”

                 Harry know Iris always plays down her health. He remembers last year when Iris spells and had dizziness and trouble breathing. She likes to pretend nothing is wrong with her. Harry and Holly had to force her to rest: he took over cooking for weeks. In the morning, Holly and Iris made do with cereal or toast. In the afternoon, Harry came over to cook something for lunch and for the evening.

                When not being forced by Aunt Petunia, Harry enjoys cooking. It helps to have an appreciative audience. Both Holly and Iris enjoy eating what he makes for them. Holly always requests blueberry pancakes whenever she can get away with it.

                Harry pretends to believe Iris and slowly begins to eat his sandwich as she pours him a second glass of water.

                He freezes mid bite when he suddenly remembers Hedwig.

                “Oma,” he gasps in flustered tones, putting his sandwich back down. “Vernon put that padlock on Hedwig’s cage. Have you got some bolt cutters so I could let her out?”

                Iris, startled by Harry’s sudden panic, quickly gathers herself and reaches out to grab his arm and, gently guiding him back to his chair.

                “Relax, child. I’ve already release Hedwig. When you fell asleep, I let her out from her cage. See?”

                She points to Hedwig’s cage on the kitchen counter, now empty.

                Relieved, he collapses back against the chair, wincing slightly at the stretched feeling his skin. It is not painful, thanks to the potion, but still uncomfortable.

                “Thanks,” he sighs. “Where is she?”

                “Stretching her wings,” Iris informs him.

                Harry nods and goes back to eating his sandwich.

                It is later, when Harry is about to leave, that he notices it. Harry decides to leave Hedwig’s cage with Iris, who has gone upstairs to fetch something. He is about to move it out of the way when he sees something shining in the kitchen bin.

                Looking down, he realises it is the padlock Vernon put on Hedwig’s cage. There is something odd about it, though. Puzzled, he reaches into the bin and picks it up to figure out why seeing it bothers him. Experimentally, he pulls up the shackle. It comes up easily.

                It is as he pushes the shackle back down and engages the lock mechanism that he comprehends why this bugs him: Vernon has hidden the key for the lock. If Iris has used bolt cutters, the mechanism would not work as the shackle would have been cut.

                Either Iris has picked the lock somehow, or magic has been used.

 

***

 

Arabella Figg is in the kitchen cleaning her sink when she hears the knock on her front door. Her face briefly contorts into a frown, trying to remember if she is supposed to be expecting a visitor.

                Arabella rinses her hands and grabs the hand towel hanging from the door handle under the sink to dry them off and heads to open her front door, revealing Iris on the doorway.

                Wordlessly, she steps aside and allows Iris to enter her home.

                “Tea?” she offers in lieu of a greeting, as she closes the door behind them and heads back to the kitchen.

                “That would be wonderful,” Iris agrees, following the elderly woman.

                Draping the hand towel over the back of a chair, Arabella bustles around, topping up the kettle with more water as and switches it on. Iris takes a seat at the small square dining table, pulling her cardigan tighter around herself.

 Whilst the kettle is boiling, she pulls out two mugs and throws a tea bag in each, followed by two teaspoons of sugar in hers and one in Iris’, and use the remaining time to finish rinsing the sink and clear up. Just in time as the water is boiled. She fills the mugs with water, stirring to help dissolve the sugar. Grabbing the bottle of milk from the fridge she adds a dash of it to her own tea. Iris has always preferred hers without.

                Neither woman speaks the whole time, though the silence is not uncomfortable. Arabella has known Iris for many years. Since the day she walked Harry to her house the first time, in fact.

                Arabella places the mugs on the dining table and then fetches a plate of cherry scones from breadbin, that she has baked herself.

                Iris acknowledges her tea with a simple “Thank you” but keeps her eyes fixed on the table, staring unseeingly at the worn wood. Her mind is elsewhere.

                Arabella breaks the silence. “How bad was he?”

                Iris only gets this look about her after healing Harry from the tender care of Vernon Dursley. It is usually worse after a visit from Vernon’s vicious sister, Marge: the last time this had occurred, her ferocious dog had bitten Harry’s leg and chased him up a tree. He was nine at the time. Harry’s leg is still scarred from that bite. Arabella thanks their lucky stars that Marge only occasionally visits her brother in Surrey. Usually, Vernon and his family travels to her house in Canterbury, while Harry stays with Arabella.

                Iris raises her eyes to meet the other woman’s eyes. Then takes a deep breath, releasing it slowly. She pulls the mug towards herself with both hands, seeming to need the warmth.

                “Vernon whipped him till he bled.”

                Arabella gasps. It truly is the worst beating. Vernon is usually more controlled than that. If beating an innocent child can be called control…

                She hears the cold fury in her voice as Iris explains the reason why. She can understand it well enough. How Harry has grown into a kind-hearted, sweet boy is beyond her. All his life he has known only violence and neglect, but Arabella firmly believes that he would still be tender-hearted, even if had not found a family with Iris and Holly. She has seen how devoted he is to Holly, considering her no less than a blood sister.

                Arabella takes a sip of her hot tea to help swallow the anger she was feeling towards Vernon and Petunia Dursley.

                “Do you need more potions?” Arabella she asks as Iris gathers herself, who shakes her head.

                “I have enough for now.”

                “Is he back at the Dursleys?”

                Iris nods.

                “I healed him and he left a few hours later. He needed to get back before his family,” Iris spat out the names with great venom, “got home.”

                “Can’t you poison Petunia and Vernon?” Arabella questions, only partially jesting.

                Iris snorts.

                “I would love to.”

                They fall silent again. Iris takes a mouthful of her tea.

                “It’s my fault,” she murmurs, slamming her mug down. Her tea sloshing over the top.

                Arabella does not flinch; she has seen Iris’ temper before. She calmly pushed the kitchen roll on its holder towards the woman.

                Absently, Iris breaks off a piece and dabs at the spill.

                “It isn’t,” Arabella disagrees calmly, taking another sip of her tea.

                “I shouldn’t have interfered,” Iris continues, ignoring the other’s words. “I should have let Vernon take his son to the hospital for his surgery.”

                “If not for this, then Vernon would have found another excuse,” Arabella argues.

                “You’ve been holding back from going to Dumbledore because of me,” Iris quarrels, not in the mood to let what she feels is a transgression of hers slip through her fingers. “If I wasn’t in the area, you could have gone to him, he would have taken Harry away from here, somewhere he wouldn’t be suffering right now.”

                “I already tried to speak to Dumbledore,” Arabella admits.

                Iris looks at her in astonishment.

                “When?”

                “After you came from healing Harry for the first time. I wrote to Albus. Told him about the bruises, about the chores, about how they like to show their love.”

                “Then why is he still here?” Iris gaped at her.

                “He asked for proof. He had promised Petunia he would not interfere. He asked for incontrovertible proof. Harry doesn’t come to me. He comes to you. I couldn’t give him proof without exposing you.”

                Iris stares at Arabella in dismay.

                “You protected me? Why didn’t you protect Harry?”

                Arabella flinches at the unintended accusation.

                “Albus Dumbledore has not stepped foot on Privet Drive since the night he left Harry off with Petunia. If he did, he would have found you here,” she replies in a quiet voice.

                “Harry said the Dursleys gave him a bedroom after the first letter. They were afraid of being watched,” Iris says.

                Arabella lets out a huff of breath.

                “They were,” she responds self-deprecatingly. “Just not closely enough.”

                “Would Dumbledore really not get him out of here?” Iris questions.

                “I wish I could give him proof.”

                “Harry will never reveal his suffering to anyone else. It took too long for him to trust me enough to heal him,” Iris admits.

                Silence falls again in the kitchen.

                “I’m a monster, Arabella. I’ve condemned one child to protect another,” Iris utters forlornly, pushing her half-drunk mug away and pressing her palms against her forehead.

                “If that’s true for you, Iris, then it’s true for me as well,” Arabella says in a firm voice.

                She knows this.. Ignoring Harry’s abuse at Vernon and Petunia’s hands makes them just as ruthless, both accomplices.

                A guilt the size of the Knight Bus weighs on Arabella’s heart every time Harry comes to see her, even if It is not as often as he visits Iris. When Arabella broke her leg last year, she was unable to look after Harry on the fated trip to the zoo. She was still getting used to her crutches. After Harry was finally let out, still recovering from whatever miserable punishment his aunt and uncle had inflicted on him, the dear boy still came to Arabella’s to help her cook every other day.

                Petunia certainly taught him well: Harry is a very good cook, even better than Arabella. She knows that Harry prefers Iris over her. She doesn’t hold it against him, however much that realization may pain her. Like Harry, she has a reputation in the area. She is a loner, the crazy cat lady.

                Besides, Arabella would still prefer the presence of her cats over ninety-nine percent of Privet Drive residents. Bunch of busybodies. Criminals, the lot of them, judging Harry on the word of the waspish Petunia. Blind. All of them, if they cannot see that Dudley is the budding delinquent.

                “What should I do, Arabella?” Iris inquiries, despondently.

                “Just… Be there for him,” Arabella replies simply.

                Iris does not respond to that.

                “There’s something I need to tell you, ,” she admits, pulling her hands from her head.

                Arabella listens with growing misery as Iris describes her ill health.

 

***

 

“Why did you do that, Harry?”

                Harry is lying on is worn mattress, staring up at the ceiling, and is surprised when he sees Dudley standing in his doorway.

                “Do what?”

                He frowns at Dudley. What is he being blamed for now? Harry knows whatever Dudley will be accusing him for will be believed instantly by his parents, there is no point in arguing that. But knowing what he is being accused of, also helps him gauge how bad his punishment might be.

                Harry watches Dudley warily, swinging his legs over the side and sitting up. He is ready to bolt if he needs to, even if Dudley is blocking the way.

                Dudley looks nervously over his shoulder as if he expects his parents to be right behind him. They aren’t. They are both out, Vernon at work and Petunia at some friend’s house – exchanging gossip, no doubt.

Dudley drops his voice to a whisper, “Take the tail away?”

“Oh,” Harry says. He has already been punished for this. “It wasn’t me.”

Dudley does not look like he believes him any more than Vernon did.

Harry reasons the spell might have worn off. Hagrid isn’t a fully trained wizard, having been expelled before he could complete his seven years of training. It would not be unimaginable that his spell would not be permanent.

“I didn’t want Dad to punish you for that,” Dudley admits. “I didn’t expect him to.”

Harry looks at Dudley like he’s an assignment he is trying to wrap his head around.

“You’ve egged your dad on far lesser stuff than that,” he snaps.

Dudley flushes and Harry is stunned to see it, because he seems to be ashamed rather than angry.

“I’m sorry,” his cousin exclaims before thundering down the stairs.

Harry stares at the space where Dudley was standing for a long time. It is not until he hears the door slam shut behind him that Harry untenses.  

What was all that about? He thinks, feeling thoroughly confused.

 

***

 

It is the day of Harry’s birthday, and he has to clean the house from top to bottom. Vernon is expecting some important clients and it is in his uncle’s, and Harry’s, best interest that everything goes well.

                Harry, who has not had a single letter from his friends, is miserable. Even Iris is surprised that he has not received any correspondence.

                On entering his bedroom on the eve of his birthday and seeing a bizarre looking creature jumping on his bed, Harry knows in his bones that this birthday will be worse than any other.

 

***

 

“I’m sorry, Hedwig,” Harry whispers to his owl through the bars of the window.

                Hedwig flies in circles outside his window and, with a sad bark in his direction, flies off.

 

***

 

Dudley pushes a plate of grapes, an apple and banana with a packet of Space Raiders (pickled onion) through the cat flap.

                Harry briefly wonders what Dudley did to the food, but he is too hungry to care. Food is food. He has been locked in his room for over a week and is only given one cold can of soup a day. He is only allowed to go out to use the toilet once in the morning.

                Whether Dudley is sneaking food because he has grown a conscience or because he’s dipped in the toilet, is something Harry tries not to think about it.

                Dudley has been secretly giving him extra food since he has been locked up, and hands him a bottle of water as well.

                Without his schoolbooks, Harry can only do some stretches to pass the time. Much to his chagrin, he has not been able to practice his gymnastics much since he has come back from Hogwarts.

 

***

 

Harry is woken from his strange dream by a loud noise outside the window.

                Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he grabs his glasses and puts them on. As he focuses on what he sees, a huge grin splits his face.

                Ron and his brothers are outside his window in a flying car.

 

***

 

Harry sends off Hedwig with a letter to Iris and Holly.

                He knows they must be so worried. He doesn’t want them to.

 

***

 

Ron chooses to lag behind with Harry when Iris calls his name. She and Holly have been waiting, disappointed, as they had thought he has already boarded the Hogwarts Express.

                Harry introduces Ron, and quickly explains that they were late leaving the Burrow, so they only have a few minutes. Holly has not let go of Harry since she ran up to him and Iris gives them both an extra tight hug. Handing him some extra packages – the birthday presents they had not been able to give him and a bag which contains a lunch she had made for him – Iris is understanding and drags a protesting Holly away, urging Harry to get onto the train.

                Harry watches them walk away and Holly gives him a forlorn wave as she looks back at him. He and Ron wheel around their trolleys and head towards the barrier, running at full speed only to crash their trolleys, attracting a lot of muttering and attention.

                Harry is happy he told Hedwig to fly ahead to Hogwarts earlier this morning; her cage was still at Iris’ and he did not want her to get hurt.

                He and Ron load up their trolleys again, and some kind passers-by hand him his wrapped presents. Ron pushes against the barrier and the two boys exchange looks of horror as the clock chimes eleven.

                They have missed the train.

                Later, in Snape’s office, Harry wishes he did not listen to Ron’s brilliant idea of flying his father’s car to Hogwarts.

 

***

 

Second Year

 

… I never thought there could be anyone more incompetent than Quirrell, but Lockhart doesn’t even have to try to look inept.

                All my other classes are going so much better, but Snape seems to be worse. Hermione always checked my essays last year and she said there was nothing wrong with them, nonetheless Snape always marks me down for them.

                I got my summer homework back and there is so much red ink on it that I can barely read my original essay. I’d like you to take a look at it, Oma, so I’ve included it with the letter. You’ll see how unfair he is. None of the other professors have had a problem with my homework.

                Fred and George said I don’t have to worry about Potions following fifth year because I can drop it after then. I’m thinking of playing Quidditch as a professional, so I don’t think I’ll need to keep going with Potions after that. Besides, like you once told me, end of year exams are for teachers and it’s the qualifications that actually matter, So, as long as I pass my OWLS and my NEWTS, then it should be okay. I’ll continue study potions independently, but if Snape is going to red ink all my essays for no reason, then there’s no point in trying.

                Sorry, I complained too much, didn’t I ?

 

***       

 

I’m sorry I couldn't come back for Christmas, but you know the Dursleys won’t allow it. I missed you both last year as well. Maybe next year you could come to Hogwarts? Third years are allowed to visit Hogsmeade village, so I was thinking we can all explore it together?

                Thank you both for my presents. I love the calligraphy set, and the fountain pen is so much better than using a quill and ink. I should have done that last year.

                Hermione said she’s going to borrow Hedwig to ask her parents to send her some fountain pens too. She hopes my handwriting will improve if I keep practicing with that.

                This year, I received another hand knit jumper from Mrs Weasley. It’s brilliant!

                Hermione and Ron said hi to you both. Ron also said he hopes you liked the Liquorice Wand and Ice Mice he sent you, Holly.

 

***

 

Classes are going as usual. There’s isn’t much new. Lockhart’s still a prat.

                Thanks for the advice on picking electives for next year, Oma. I tried asking Percy but he wasn’t very helpful. I’ve decided to go for Arithmancy, Care of Magical Creatures and Ancient Runes. I am sure  it will be difficult, but I know you’ve got loads of books on them and you said I could borrow them. Plus, Hermione will help. She didn’t even need to think about it. She’s signed up for everything, of course, though I don’t know how she’ll manage every class.

 Ron wanted to do Care of Magical Creatures and Divination and wishes I had signed up for those lessons with. He thinks Divination will be an easy class, so he’s a little upset that we’re not taking those together. Hermione has convinced him to take Muggle Studies as well, that way he can take Magical Creatures with both me and Hermione and Muggle Studies with her. Besides, Muggle Studies will be a doddle with me and Hermione helping him with his homework.

 

***

 

Harry purposely kept his letters vague, not wanting to worry Iris and Holly about the threats from the Heir of Slytherin.

                He does not tell them that Hermione has been Petrified by some unknown monster, nor that three quarters of the school think he is the Hair of Slytherin.

                When he returns back to Surrey at the end of the year, he does not tell them about fighting the Basilisk, or about his encounter with Lucius Malfoy who is pissed at Harry for freeing his House-Elf.

               

***

 

Summer 1993

 

The Dursleys have not forgotten or forgiven for his escape from his bedroom the previous year. Vernon takes great pleasure in reminding Harry of this.

                They still lock up Harry’s trunk and wand in the cupboard under the stairs when he returns to Privet Drive. Fred and George have taught Harry to pick the lock and he takes the first opportunity to utilise his new skills when the Dursleys are away from home.

                Instead of keeping his homework in his bedroom, Harry sneaks it out to Iris. He can do them there and Iris can help him structuring his essays better. Harry thinks this will not make a difference to any of Snape’s assigned essay, but he is sure his other professors will appreciate the effort.

                Dudley is still curiously nice to him. Harry is also shocked to see how much weight his cousin has lost. Apparently, this is because Dudley has found a new passion in boxing whilst at school and during summer he will keep up with it at the local youth gym.

                Harry feels ambivalent about this: on one hand, Dudley seems to have turned over a new leaf; on the other hand, if he goes back to his bullying ways, he will be able to punch with more power and accuracy.

                Vernon seems to be particularly proud of this. Harry just keeps his mouth shut and gets on with the chores. He needs to keep his cool and somehow get Vernon or Petunia to sign his permission slip for Hogsmeade. He wishes he could get Iris to sign it instead, but she is not his parent or guardian, no matter how much Harry wishes she was.

                   

***

 

Harry watches Iris carefully. She seems to be in worse health than last year. Harry is concerned and he tries to ask Iris about it, but she keep deflecting. He discerns that Holly does not know much either, despite living with her all year round; still, he tries to ask her about Iris’ eating and sleeping habits.

                Harry has put a lot of effort into learning about healing over the last two years at Hogwarts. What Harry has not told Iris and Holly is that, although he is practicing his gymnastics at school, he has also been practicing some acrobatics... on his broom.

                The first time he had tried this during his first Quidditch practice, his teammates thought he was trying to kill himself. Oliver Wood especially seemed to regret letting him onto the team, thinking McGonagall was mistaken in Harry’s flying skills: eventually, he proved them wrong when he demonstrated some simple manoeuvres on the broom, such as doing a somersault or a backflip, though he made sure he was only a few feet off the ground when he showed those.

                As Harry continued to practice and grew more confident in his skills on his Nimbus broom, Oliver allowed him to practice the same manoeuvres slightly higher.

                His first match might not have gone well when Quirrell was jinxing his broom and he had nearly swallowed the snitch, and in his second he had to be even more careful as Snape was refereeing the game.

                Last year he had been able to show off his skills some more, but not as much as he would have liked.

                The point is that Harry had learned a lot about healing spells and potions because he needed them whenever he got hurt practicing his broomstick stunts. He wishes Iris would tell him what was wrong with her: maybe he could do some research and find some magical help for her.

                She has done so much for him. He desires he could do something in return.

                “I know you’re a witch,” Harry says softly, having decided to tackle this subject at least, since Iris is so reticent about her health. She freezes in the act of peeling potatoes.

                Harry is standing next to her, chopping up the onions and carrots.

                She looks like she is going to deny it before her shoulders slump.

                “What gave me away?” she finally asks.

                Harry darts a quick glance at Holly, who is in the front sitting in front of the TV, watching a rerun of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon.

                He keeps his voice low.

                “A few things. I know you have a lot of knowledge, which might have been from the books you have downstairs, but there are other things as well: like, I started to notice how you cut certain things as Potions ingredients. The door to the cell has no lock, but Holly can’t open it when she tries while you can even without turning the key. Some of the potions you have knowledge of and seem to be able to get when you shouldn’t.

                “Then, last year, I saw the padlock from Hedwig’s cage. You didn’t cut it off with bolt cutters, did you? It was in one piece. You used magic, didn’t you?”

                Iris gave him a side- long glance and there a smile twisted her lips.

                “Very clever, Harry,” she shakes her head ruefully.

                He is glad she is not mad at him for figuring it out.

                “Were you ever going to tell me?”

                Her answer is quick.

                “Yes.”

                Then, she sighs and puts down the potato and the peeler, so she can turn to face Harry completely. He does the same, giving Iris his full attention.

                “I know I should have told you the same day I said I know you got your letter from Hogwarts, but please, believe me, Harry,” she cups his face and looks at him gravely, “it was not my intention to hide it from you. It was to protect Holly. One day, she will get her letter to Hogwarts and, to be honest, that day scares me.”

                “Like Jasmine, I left the Magical world for a reason. It is cruel to people it thinks don’t fit in. But Holly… she deserves her chance. Perhaps, by the time she gets to Hogwarts, they will have progressed in their thinking.”

                She lets go of Harry and picks up her potato and peeler again to continue where she left off.

                Harry turns back to the chopping board, picks up his knife and begins slicing again. Giving Holly another glance to make sure she is not paying attention, he drops his voice to little more than a whisper and says, “Jasmine wasn’t your daughter, was she? Holly’s dad, he’s your son, isn’t he?”

                Iris is startled. The potato slips from her hand and the peelers drops to the counter with a clangour.

                Harry is alarmed to notice the fear in Iris’ eyes. She clutches the counter top tightly, and sways as if she is about to swoon. He has never seen her frightened like this, and regrets putting that dread there, bringing the whole thing up.

                “I won’t tell her,” Harry promises hastily. Throwing down the knife, he reaches for her, but she raises a hand to ward him off. He is hurt, and Iris must notice, as she touches his shoulder comfortingly.

                “I’m sorry,” Harry says miserably as he guides her to a chair and fetches a glass of water.

                Iris takes a moment to gather herself and Harry gives her space by taking over peeling the potatoes, though he can’t help but glance back at her every so often to make sure she is okay.

                “Life shouldn’t be this hard, child,” Iris pronounces in a despondent voice that Harry does not like to hear from her. “Unfortunately, it is. I’ve tried to protect my family as best I could, but that doesn’t stop me from questioning myself all the time. Am I doing the right thing? Have I made things worse? What could I have done differently?

                “Jasmine deserved better than how … my son… treated her. Holly deserves better than how Jasmine treated her. You deserve better than Petunia and Vernon. You and Holly deserve better than me,” Iris confesses.

                “No, don’t say that,” Harry denies instantly, still keeping his voice down. He drops the potato and peeler and goes to kneel before her, taking her hands in his own. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me and Holly. If it wasn’t for you, I would think all people are like the Dursleys. You showed me there are kind people out there, you’ve always been there for Holly, when Jasmine wasn’t. You’ve been there for her when he wasn’t. I don’t need to know who he is. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the one who’s lost out by rejecting Holly. I promise you I won’t ever say anything to Holly. I trust you.”

                He squeezes her hands to emphasise his point.

                “Oh, Harry,” Iris says tearfully. She pulls him in for a hug and Harry awkwardly hugs her back. “I hope you’ll still say that when you’ll find out the truth; because, one day, you will.”

                The words are whispered into his hair, and he can feel her tears fall on his scalp.

                “There’s nothing you could do that will drive me away,” Harry assures.

                Her arms tighten around him.

 

***

 

After the rage and adrenaline fades away, Harry is left in a cold panic. He has used accidental magic and is trying to outrun the letter he knows he will receive from the Ministry of Magic.

                He is on his way to Iris’ house, the only place he can go this late. Aunt Marge is floating away somewhere, Uncle Vernon is in a rage and Aunt Petunia is practically catatonic.

                Dudley has purposely got in the way of Uncle Vernon choking Harry, under the guise of helping him when Ripper, Aunt Marge’s bulldog, had latched onto Vernon’s leg. Harry had grabbed his trunk and left, but not before extracting his wand and threatening Vernon with it.

                Harry is about to turn down Magnolia Crescent when he hears a growl in the dark alley to his left. When blue eyes blink at him in the dark, he is startled and falls, throwing out his arms.

                That is how he accidentally summons the Knight Bus.

 

***

 

Harry ends up spending the rest of the month in Diagon Alley, in a rented room at the Leaky Cauldron. He cannot believe his luck at not being in trouble, especially given last year’s warning, but he has no intention of poking that particular dragon.

                Hedwig, who was staying with Iris, is already waiting for Harry in his room.  He debates sending a letter now, even if it is so late. It was still early evening when Aunt Marge was blown up and Iris usually goes to bed late.

                Harry decides to err on the side of caution and pens a quick letter to Iris, explaining what happened and reassuring her that he is safe. He invites them to visit him in Diagon Alley if they are able to, though, knowing how Iris is trying to stay away from the Wizarding World, he is not hopeful that she will accept the invitation.

               

***

 

Dudley has been having second thoughts from the moment he stepped outside his house to Mrs Pierce’s.

                However, he cannot deny his concern and needs to make sure Harry is okay. Mrs Pierce will be able to tell him. Dudley has seen Harry with the little girl – Hallie, or Holly, or something like that. He has seen them in the park together, sometimes with the old woman. And during Christmas when Dudley  was home for the holidays, he has seen Harry’s owl, Hedwig, flying to the house.

                Gathering his courage, Dudley knocks on Mrs Pierce’s door.

                It is opened just as he is debating leaving, believing no one is home given how long it is before it is unlocked. He frowns as no one is there. There is a slight fear. Did it open by magic? Mrs Pierce might be witch. It could be possible, though Harry has been coming here for years before he found out he was a wizard.

                “What do you want?” A little, rude voice asks him.

                Dudley directs his gaze downwards. Before he can answer, Mrs Pierce comes up behind her granddaughter. Her gaze is warm, at least until her eyes light on Dudley; then, her whole demeanour turns cool.

                “Do you know if Harry is all right?” Dudley blurts out, before his courage fails.

 

***

 

Iris and Holly are already there, waiting for them at King’s Cross when the Ministry cars drop Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys off at the train station.

                Holly spots him first and gives him a hug. She has been worried, Harry knows this from the letters Iris has been sending him. This is the second summer in which an incident that cuts Harry’s return to Surrey short. If it weren’t for Holly and Iris, Harry would try to stop returning to Privet Drive. He knows it would make Madam Pomfrey happy if he could get away from the Dursleys, but he always refuses to talk about his family.

                Harry hugs Holly back, picking her up with a wide grin.

                “You left before we could give you your presents again, Harry,” Holly reproaches him, wrapping her tiny legs around his waist.

                “I know, I can’t express how sorry I am.” Harry kisses her cheeks apologetically.

                “I’ll forgive you if you send me lots of Chocolate Frogs and Ice Mice,” Holly bargains.

                Everyone laughs at Holly’s negotiating skills.

                “Deal,” Harry agrees. Then, turning back to the Weasleys and his friends, he introduces Iris and Holly to them all, though Ron has already met them both last year.

                They move towards the barrier, Mr and Mrs Weasley subtly questioning Iris. Fred and George take charge of entertaining  Holly, who is greatly amused by their antics, and equal parts fascinated by Hermione’s new cat, Crookshanks.

                Harry hears Iris telling them Holly’s mum is a witch, and therefore knows about the Magical world. It is the same assumption Harry had made since the beginning and Iris only continues with it. He can’t begrudge her for holding back the truth. He has promised not to tell, but at least it alleviates Mr and Mrs Weasley’s fear that Harry has broken the Statute of Secrecy.

                Iris hands over a bag fully of Harry’s presents and lunch for the train, as has become tradition. After hugging everyone goodbye, the Weasleys, Harry and Hermione take turns pushing through the barrier.

                Mr Weasley pulls Harry aside to warn him about Sirius Black and he is touched the elder wizard does this. Harry promises that he will not go looking for Black, but makes a mental note to search the library for the reason why the convict would go after him, other than being a minion of Voldemort and wanting to kill Harry for defeating his master.

                Once on the train, Harry and his friends settle in, across from facing the sleeping professor. Harry buys enough Chocolate Frogs and Ice Mice to keep Holly happy for some time.

                He ends up needing some chocolate for himself, after having an encounter with a Dementor for the first time.

               

To be continued...
Pushing Up Daisies by Lady Connor

 

Third Year

 

They’ve despatched Dementors around the school because of Sirius Black. Everyone’s asking their parents for chocolates even though the Dementors can’t get into the school.

                Even Madam Pomfrey is filling up her supplies in the Hospital Wing. Seamus reckons it’s for when students have to pass them on their way to and from Hogsmeade.

                Not that I’m allowed to go to Hogsmeade. Neither Vernon nor Petunia haven’t signed my permission slip, but I imagine even if they had, then Dumbledore and McGonagall would have found a way to keep me there anyway. You know, for my own safety.

                I’m gutted that I’m not allowed to see the village, but I’ll probably give Hermione and Ron loads of money to buy me something. And yes, Holly, I’ll share it with you.

                I don’t like the Dementors. Oma, I hear my mum’s voice when they’re near. I hear her last words. I hear him killing her.

 

***

 

Thanks for the chocolates, Oma, but my last letter wasn’t a suggestion for you to send me some. I appreciate them, anyway. And Ron certainly did. Growing up in a pureblood family, he thinks muggle stuff is weird and thinks wizard sweets are better. I think between you and me, Oma, we’ve educated him otherwise.

                Dean saw your packet to me filled with Dairy Milk and Toffee Crisps and everything else you’ve given me and used a school owl to ask his parents for the same. He did the same when Hermione and I started using fountain pens. Some purebloods still don’t like to admit that some muggle things are better, but many muggle-borns have written home for fountain pens. Fred and George have made some money by enchanting their inkwells to refill the pens.

                Plastic doesn’t hold up well with magic as it’s not a natural material, but the twins are extraordinarily ingenious, and they’ve managed to adapt somehow.

                Anyway, I promise I won’t sneak off to Hogsmeade. I wouldn’t want to worry you like that, and maybe next year, when the security measures are lifted, I could go. If I can convince Vernon or Petunia to sign my form, that is.

 

***

Classes are going well. Arithmancy was interesting –  I was always good with numbers, so I liked the class a lot. Ancient Runes is more complex, and I can foresee it will be a challenging class. Everything comes easy for Hermione, so it’ll be a doddle for her, though I don’t know how she’s getting into all the class as some of them clash.

                Speaking of predictions, Hermione and Ron had their first Divination class as well. I’m glad I didn’t take the class. The Divination professor, Trelawney, told Ron he was going to die.

                This upset him, but when we went to McGonagall’s class, she said Trelawney always picks one student to die every year, and they’ve all lived despite her prediction. And then she told Ron that if he were dead, then he wouldn’t have to worry about homework, so, until then, he’s still expected to do some classwork. At least he didn’t complain about Muggle Studies.

                Oh, guess what? Remember the biting book – Monster Book of Monsters? Well, Hagrid set that book. I couldn’t believe it when Dumbledore had announced him as the new Magical Creatures teacher.

                And you won’t be able to guess what Draco Malfoy did in Hagrid’s first lesson…

               

***

 

Harry is sitting in the library. His friends are in Hogsmeade, so he takes the opportunity to research Sirius Black.

                He starts with old Daily Prophet articles from Voldemort’s defeat, reading about the trials of various Death Eaters captured at the time.

                He sees that Lucius Malfoy’s name is amongst those who got away claiming to be under the Imperius Curse. This leads Harry to search for what Imperius Curse actually does. He feels sick as he reads what the Unforgivables are. He remembers the green light he dreams of. It’s the spell that killed his parents.

                He still dreams that nightmare occasionally, more so recently since his only encounter with the Dementors. Harry hopes they will be removed soon.

                He almost dismisses one article until the name Longbottom catches his eye. As his curiosity is piqued, he continues reading, growing pale with every word.

                The Ministry sentenced Rabastan Lestrange, brother to Rodolphus Lestrange, his wife Bellatrix Lestrange, and Bartimus Crouch Junior, to life imprisonment in Azkaban for countless crimes. All four have been found guilty of being Death Eaters and carrying the Mark of You-Know-Who. (Harry made a mental note to look up the Dark Mark, having seen it mentioned several times).

                Amongst their numerous crimes, it was discovered the Lestranges tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom, lauded and formidable Aurors in their own right, to the point of insanity due to the overuse of the Cruciatus Curse, after the defeat of their master. Their son, Neville Longbottom, was with them that dreadful night and miraculously remained unharmed, possibly because he was well hidden, though not far from their bodies.

                The Lestranges’ deranged quest for information about You-Know-Who left the Longbottoms in the Janus Thickey ward of St Mungo’s hospital for the rest of their natural lives, with no hope of a cure, requiring constant care.

                This intrepid reporter has found out that the Longbottoms remember no one, including their infant son, Neville, who will reside with his paternal grandmother, Augusta Longbottom.

                Harry drops the article shakily. Having just read about the Cruciatus Curse as one of the three Unforgivables, he understands what the Longbottoms were subjected to. And Neville was there, so close to his parents and probably able to hear their desperate screams.

                Now, he sees his clumsy friend in a new light. Harry’s parents are dead, but he wonders if it is worse for Neville, whose parents are still alive but unable to recognise him and raise him as they should. Sometimes, there are fates crueller than death.

                Since Harry confronted Voldemort at the end of his first year, he has hated him for killing his parents. Now, reading about Neville’s parents and the suffering they went through, the abstract thought of Voldemort having followers has become a sickening reality.

                Hagrid and Ron had told Harry about people who followed Voldemort when he first entered the Wizarding world.  

                There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin, Hagrid once told him.               

                Harry had believed it at the time, so much that he had begged the Sorting Hat not to put him in Slytherin.

                Reading this article, he realises that there were people who had believed in Voldemort with such a passion that they’d destroyed other people’s lives for it.

                Harry decides there and then to be a better friend to Neville. From his stories about his grandmother and uncle, he knows Neville is constantly put down for not being a better wizard. Harry comprehends the power of confidence. The Dursleys never believed in Harry, so he thought he would never amount to anything, even if he tried hard enough.

                Iris believes in Harry. She had made Harry believe in himself. He might not be a top performer like Hermione, simply not having her natural intelligence, memory and ability to understand things so quickly, but he still receives good marks in every class – except Potions.

                Harry has still a couple of years to decide, but he is already debating whether to drop Potions as a class after OWLS. He cannot imagine studying under Snape for that long. Besides, Percy had told him that Snape only accepts those who score an Outstanding in the OWLs.

                Neville suffers from worse confidence than Harry did all those years ago. Yet, when Lupin believed in Neville, even after Snape told him he was practically useless, he did well with the boggart. Neville just needed a push in the right direction. The other boy doesn’t have many friends. He seems to be a loner. Harry feels suddenly guilty of ignoring the other boy. He knows what it feels like to have no friends. Neville deserves a friend as well.

                Harry continues to search about Sirius Black. He is only mentioned in one article Harry has found so far, and that is the one with pictures of his arrest: Black is laughing his head off as the Aurors drag him away.

                There is something deranged about him, Harry thinks as he studies the article. He flicks through several copies of the Daily Prophet; he sees nothing about the trial for Black, which he finds odd since even those who claimed Imperius got a trial.

                Harry continues to read through various articles before time runs out –about Sirius’ brother, Regulus Black, who also was accused of being a Death Eater but, in the end, had turned against Voldemort. He had cited pressure from his parents and talked of how he was tortured by his mother when he had tried to go against the ideals he grew up with. Regulus had named several Death Eaters who were convicted, but, oddly, not his brother. Harry thought that the brothers would have become Death Eaters together.

                He carefully puts everything away, then leaves the library to meet his friends. They will be on their way back from Hogsmeade.

 

***

 

Dumbledore was mad when the Dementors swarmed the pitch – I didn’t want you to worry by telling you this, but Ron insisted I should. Gryffindor was playing against Hufflepuff instead of Slytherin because Malfoy was still milking his injury.

                The Dementors still have a terrible effect on me. We lost the match when I fell from my broom. The Whopping Willow smashed my Nimbus into pieces. I asked Lupin for extra lessons to look for more precautions, as they seem to be particularly hard on me, but he said he was too busy, at least for the moment. He fell ill and said he’s catching up with loads of work but won’t start them until after Christmas.

                Can you send me some more smarties and Lion bars, please? Hope Holly hasn’t already eaten all the chocolate frogs I sent her last time.

 

***

 

Thanks for the books you send me, Oma. I read the one about the Patronus very quickly. As Lupin won’t be able to teach me the charm until after Christmas, I’ll take the chance to revise the theory so as not to in blind.

                And I appreciate the books and notes you sent me on Occlumency; I’ve already started doing the exercises you outlined, I’m trying to do them every night, and I can already tell how much difference I’ve made with them: I feel like my mind is sharper and it’s helping me retain information much faster – and that’s in 3 weeks!

               

***

Happy Christmas to you and Holly, Oma. I hope you enjoyed my gifts!

                Thanks for the extra fountain pens. I needed a new one, and now I have four. I hope you liked the jewellery box and bracelets I sent you and Holly. I still can’t go to Hogsmeade yet, but Hermione brought me back a catalogue last time, and I picked out the ones I thought would suit both of you and then she bought them for me.

                Did you get a Weasley jumper again? Mrs Weasley gave me one this year too. I chose a shawl for her, like the one I got you last year, Oma, but in blue instead of green.

                ***

 

I got a Firebolt for Christmas, a gift with no sender. Hermione went to tell Professor McGonagall behind my back, so she and I fought. I know she meant well, but she acted like I would go ahead and ride it. All right, maybe I got a little excited, but, come on, it’s a Firebolt. It’s the latest broom on the market I saw in Diagon Alley when I stayed at the Leaky Cauldron. Of course, if I could have afforded it, I’d have bought it, but I still have four years of school to get through.

                Still, I wish Hermione had trusted me to speak to McGonagall myself instead of going behind my back. She should have trusted me, and it hurts me that she didn’t.

                Ron’s angry at her too, but not entirely for the same reason. Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, keeps going after his pet rat, Scabbers. I mean, all right, Scabbers is a bit useless: he’s old, and he doesn't have any tricks, just eats and sleeps. But still, Ron’s had Scabbers for years –  I think he said twelve or something. He used to belong to his older brother Percy, then, when he was made Prefect a couple of years ago, he got a new owl as a reward, and Ron got Scabbers.

                He talks badly about Scabbers, but we all know he’s protective of him, so he doesn't like that Hermione doesn’t take her cat trying to eat his rat seriously.

                I’m actually on Ron’s side with this, and I’m not just saying that because Hermione got my Firebolt confiscated. I know cats chase mice and rats and whatnot, but it’s a little rude that Hermione’s not respecting Ron’s boundaries about his pet. She wouldn’t like it if someone else’s pet tried to eat her cat because Crookshanks would be lower on the food chain.

                Hermione’s been frazzled all year, anyway. We kept telling her that she needed to take a break or drop 1 or 2 of her electives, but she’s too stubborn to listen. She hates Divination, so I don’t know why she keeps going to it, and she doesn’t need Muggle Studies because she was raised as one: both subjects are a waste of her time.

 

***

 

Harry is still looking for more information on Sirius Black. He has already found out that he was best friends with his dad, James Potter. He had come across an article mentioning it last month was combing through various editions of the Daily Prophet.

                It was a small article published the year before Harry started Hogwarts on the anniversary of his parent’s death. It made him angry at the time, but now he understands why people kept telling him he should not go after Black.

                Harry had almost thrown away his photo album – or at least specific photographs – when he had realised that Black was in his parents’ wedding photos. Black was in many photos. He didn’t look like a maniac in those. He looked… happy. Normal, even. Harry doesn’t understand. Was Black already planning to betray his friend at the time?

                Harry has calmed down since then. He now spends his spare time between classes, homework, Quidditch and gymnastics, Patronus lessons and teaching himself Occlumency, searching more about Sirius Black and the other Death Eaters.

                Harry had looked at their genealogy and family trees. Sirius Black and Regulus Black had been born to Walburga and Orion Black, had three female cousins, Bellatrix (now Lestrange), Andromeda (now Tonks) and Narcissa (now Malfoy).

                Narcissa is, of course, married to Lucius Malfoy and the mother of Draco… Harry cannot help but roll his eyes at the Malfoys. His curiosity is piqued when he sees Snape’s name added separately.

                Severus Snape was taken on as the ward and later the foster son of Abraxas Malfoy in 1977. Harry notes the date on his parchment to try to find the editorial in the Daily Prophet. In the meantime, he looks at the family tree. Severus Snape is the son of Eileen Prince – an old Pureblood family – but his father is Tobias Snape, a muggle. Harry wishes the Genealogy books had pictures for everyone. He would like to see what Snape’s parents look like.

               

***

 

                My Patronus lessons are going well. Lupin is surprised at how well I’m doing, considering it’s such an advanced Charm. I managed to get a strong mist on my first try, and he reckons he will soon be able to start seeing a form. I wonder what mine will be. I wish I could find out what form my parents’ Patronus would take, or even if they could perform it. It’ll be interesting to find out.

               

***

It is entirely by accident that Harry finds it. He is glad that he is alone because he does not have to explain anything to his friends.

                It is a small piece stuck to the back of the Daily Prophet in 1959, referencing the marriage of Eileen Prince with Tobias Snape. Less than a year later, there was another article, barely more than two lines announcing the birth of their son.

                It is not the words in the article that catches Harry’s attention, though he quickly skims through those as well. It is the picture of a sullen-looking woman, sallow-skinned and thin. Harry has seen those lips smile. He has seen that face light up in laughter, her eyes crinkle up in mischief, crease in anger. He had never seen her so downtrodden and lifeless. He finds it difficult to believe that the woman in the picture is the same one who has tenderly tended his wounds for so many years.

                Iris Pierce is Eileen Prince. The same Eileen Prince who is married to Tobias Snape. The mother of Severus Snape.

                Harry closes his eyes, realises what this means, and groans to himself as his mind automatically finishes the thought.

                Severus Snape, the bat of the dungeons and all-around greasy git, is Holly’s biological father. Sweet Holly. Cute, kind, caring and adorable little Holly is Snape’s illegitimate daughter. Harry flinches at the thought of it. None of those adjectives could ever describe the man he knows.

                Merlin’s beard! Holly… is a Snape.

 

***

 

I did it, Oma. I finally did it! We were playing our last Quidditch match against Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor was in the lead. I saw the Snitch, and I went for it, but then people started pointing out the Dementors, and I pulled out my wand, casting a fully corporeal Patronus. Ron said it has antlers and Hermione, who got a better look at it, said it was a stag.

                Apparently, it wasn’t a Dementor. It was Malfoy and his mates dressing up as one to scare me and knock me off my broom – not that I knew it at the time. I thought there were real Dementors, so I just cast my Patronus, and my stag knocked Malfoy on his bum. Serves him right. McGonagall was so angry that Malfoy had attempted such a thing that she gave him and his mates detention every day for 2 weeks.

                And, even better, I caught the Snitch. Gryffindor won not only the match but also the Quidditch Cup! Oliver was so thrilled…

 

***

Harry Potter,

                 I must admit, I was surprised to receive your letter. I have been out of the country for many years… As I’m sure you have done your research, you will know that I was once a Marked Death Eater. Living at home was simply too much for me and, given that I testified against many of those who roamed free claiming the Imperius, I felt it best to leave. Also, to be honest, I needed to get away from my mother. She is dead now, and I do not regret her death, as harsh as it may sound. She was not a kind woman.

                My brother Sirius and I had tried many things to please our mother. Eventually, Sirius stopped trying – or so I thought. I let my mother pressure me into joining the Dark Lord. Suffice to say; it was the worst mistake I have ever made. Leaving his service before his defeat nearly destroyed me. Inferii are not easy to fight. My family House-Elf, Kreacher, actually saved me: without him, my life was lost.

                By the time I recovered, the Dark Lord had been defeated, my Mark had faded, and I was arrested and tried for my crimes. I was fortunate not to be sharing a cell alongside my brother.

                Speaking of, I must confess my surprise along with the rest of the world that Sirius betrayed his best friend, James. He had a much better relationship with your father than he had with me. In fact, I was often jealous that he treated James more like a brother than his own blood.

                I suppose it was because he was rebelling against Mother. Walburga Black did not hesitate to set her children straight with the help of an Unforgiveable, if necessary. I was still trying to gain my family’s approval. Mother simply vented the wrath of Sirius’ rebellion on me; he never seemed concerned about any of that. He was stubborn and selfish and only saw what he wanted to see. He saw his family as evil, and he cared more for his best friend James Potter than anyone else.  

                I didn’t lose my love for my brother. Ultimately, I stopped looking to him to protect me. He thought he was so proud to have become a Gryffindor. It was a slap in the face to my mother’. With her wand pointed at me, it was a hex in mine. Sirius was no different from her, really, just a snake in a lion’s clothing. Just like Mother tortured her sons at home, Sirius tormented various Slytherins in school – under the guise of a joke, of course.

                Sirius lost all the respect I had for him the day I saw his picture in the Daily Prophet, all those years ago. He was nothing more than a hypocrite. Because, if I’m frank, I never saw it coming. Sirius always made out that Potter meant everything to him. I was not in the Dark Lord’s Inner Circle, and yes, we wore masks, but I would have recognised my brother anywhere. He never could resist showing off. But that does not mean that he did not turn on everything he claimed to have believed in. Turned on you, his godson.

                Mark my words, Harry Potter. My brother is tenacious and persistent. He will not stop until he gets to you. And when he does, you are the one who must be prepared. If you get the chance to shoot first, take it. Do not hesitate. He won’t give you a second chance.

                Take care, Harry Potter.

                                                Regulus Black

 

***

 

Harry continues to exchange letters with Regulus. He surprises himself by this. Upon learning his brother has escaped from Azkaban, Regulus has returned to Grimmauld Place, where his family home in London is located. Although Regulus writes about hating his brother, Harry still thinks he loves him.

                Harry uses various school owls as well as Hedwig. Flying from Scotland to London and Surrey, which is not far from London, is not a short journey, and he does not want to tire his familiar.

                It has taken Harry two weeks to conclude that he does not care that Iris and Eileen are the same person, that Iris is really Snape’s mother or that Snape is really Holly’s father. Harry has known Iris and Holly since he was eight and they have always been there for him. Snape had mistreated Jasmine so badly that she gave up her magic and left the Magical world forever.

                He has looked up Jasmine Pierce in Hogwarts’ student records. She was a pretty witch back then, with red hair like the Weasleys and olive-green eyes. She had been a Ravenclaw and finished Hogwarts with nine OWLS and nine NEWTS, and she had gone on to work for the Ministry just after few years: she must have still been young when she was pregnant with Holly.

                Whatever Snape had done to her had hurt her so badly that she passed that hurt to Holly – sweet, innocent Holly, who is nothing like Snape.

 From the letters he is exchanging with Regulus, he realises that Harry’s dad and Sirius Black tormented Snape – and Lupin and Pettigrew, too. From what Harry can tell, James and Sirius were the worst, even after his mum and dad started dating. He struggles to understand why his mum had agreed to date his dad after everything he had done.

                Regulus had told Harry that James had changed enough to make Lily believe he was a better person. Harry is astonished to read from Regulus’ letters that even though James was such a horrible bully, after Hogwarts, he took responsibility for himself and took care of Sirius when he had nowhere to go.

                It hurts Harry to discover that his parents were like that. Harry does not know what Snape was like as a teenager, despite Regulus telling him some things from their school days. He does know what Snape is like now: as an adult, he is no better than a teenage James Potter. Harry has no respect for teenage James, though he still loves his dad. Harry has acquired enough memory from being near the Dementors to know that James Potter sacrificed himself to protect him and Lily, tried to give his wife and son time to escape. He had failed, but he had tried nevertheless because he loved them.   

                Harry wishes he knew enough about adult James and Lily. He could ask Lupin, but since he found Lupin’s part in bullying Snape and others they didn’t like, he has lost respect for his once favourite teacher. He is glad he has mastered the Patronus Charm. He no longer needs to visit Lupin in his office.

                According to Regulus, Lupin might not have been an active bully like Sirius and James, but standing by and letting it happen is just as bad despite being a prefect. It briefly occurs to Harry that Regulus could be lying about it all, yet, he chooses to believe him because he still told him that Snape and Lily had been friends for years, since before they even started Hogwarts – like Holly and Harry. They stopped being friends because Snape called Lily a Mudblood when she tried to stop James and Sirius from bullying him.               

                Harry knows what it is like to lash out in anger. He likes to think he would never call Hermione a Mudblood, regardless of the provocation. Hermione may be bossy and uptight and a know-it-all, but she has a kind heart, and she has always stood by Harry. Even though he still thinks it’s wrong that she went behind his back to McGonagall, he decides he would rather be friends with her again than stop being friends over a broom. He knows enough about Hermione to realise that she had no friends before coming to Hogwarts like Harry. To lose one forever over something so silly would be wrong. Harry values his friendship with Ron and Hermione, and now Neville.

 

***

I always knew Neville was good at Herbology, but, honestly, I didn’t quite realise how brilliant he was. Hermione is book smart, but Neville… has a natural gift.

                I told Neville, you have your herb garden, Oma, and he’s sent along these cuttings and magical growing powder.  I’ve included the instructions Neville wrote for you, and he told me he has lots more as his family have a massive greenhouse at home, so there’s always extra growing powder to hand out.

                Thanks for the advice on Sirius Black and my dad. The Dursleys always told me that my parents were useless layabouts who died in an accident. Everyone always kept saying how brilliant they were. My dad might not have been the kindest when he was my age, but I’d like to think he grew up.

                And Regulus has been good as well. I’m surprised every time I get a letter from him, but I think he’s just lonely. He might have been a Death Eater at one point, but I can tell he regrets it. I still wonder why Sirius turned against my dad. He’s supposed to be crazy because of Azkaban and the Dementors. Maybe we’ll never know. Maybe he was never my dad’s friend at all. It would be a long time to pretend, though, wouldn’t it?

                In other news, we tried to help Hagrid with Buckbeak. Hagrid lost his head at the appeal, but Dumbledore intervened and said his friend Newt Scamander took Buckbeak away. Hagrid is devastated that he’ll lose him, but at least Buckbeak won’t get executed. And Hagrid already knows Scamander will take care of the hippogriff.

 

***

 

Harry and Hermione rush into the tunnel from the Whopping Willow, following the route of the big black dog. Ron is injured, and they don’t have time to call for help.

 

***

If you get the chance to shoot first, take it. Do not hesitate. He won’t give you a second chance.

                Harry recalls Regulus’ words from his first letter. They run through his head the whole time, but Harry is not able to do it. He cannot kill Sirius Black as much as he would like to. He simply isn’t capable of it.

 

***

They listen to Lupin and Black in stunned silence. Werewolves. Animagus. Secret Keepers. Pettigrew is a rat. Black is a dog. His dad was a stag.

Snape is lying unconscious on the floor. Pettigrew is lying bound in ropes. Even Ron has temporarily put aside his pain. They watch as Black and Lupin force Pettigrew to change back into human form.

                Part of him is happy that his dad’s friend never betrayed him. He wouldn’t know what to do if Ron or Hermione ever betrayed him like that. He wouldn’t do it to them.

                Harry believes Sirius and feels a little sorry for him. He still thinks the man was an idiot as a teenager, but twelve years in Azkaban is more than enough punishment. No matter what Snape reckons.

                He also thinks that Sirius needs to grow up a bit and tell him to stop when he purposely hits Snape’s unconscious head against the wall as they levitate him out.

                Lupin uses a spell to split Ron’s broken leg and levitates him through the tunnel; Hermione does the same with Pettigrew. Only Harry is left without anyone, so he follows Sirius, who is levitating Snape.

                “You know, Harry, your parents made me your godfather,” Sirius begins to say. “I don’t know if anyone told you that.

                “Yeah, I know,” he responds.

                “Well, your parents appointed me your guardian,” Sirius says stiffly, “you know if anything happened to them…”

                He waits for Sirius to complete his sentence. Does he mean what Harry is thinking?

                “I’ll understand, of course. If you don’t want to leave your aunt and uncle, I mean,” Sirius continues. “But… just think about it. Once my name is cleared, if you wanted to… you could stay with me.”

                Harry’s breathing stops at that moment. His brain freezes. Getting away from the Dursleys. For years and years, he had dreamed of leaving the Dursleys behind. This could be it. He could be living with Sirius. He realises that he cannot do that as his eyes land on Snape in the same instance. He cannot leave Iris and Holly behind. Iris isn’t aware that Harry knows about her real name, and he will wait for her to tell him. If she ever decides to. Because if she chooses not to, he is okay with that too. Iris and Holly could have left him behind so many times, yet, they didn’t. They come to see him off every year when he leaves for Hogwarts; Iris helps him with his homework and gives him books on everything she thinks he will need to learn better; she has taught him Occlumency. He won’t leave them behind.

And besides, Sirius needs help. He has been in Azkaban for twelve years, and he needs to fix himself first. And if he ever finds out that Holly is Snape’s daughter, will he ever take Harry to see her?

                Not really believing himself, Harry says the words he never thinks he would ever say, “I’m sorry, but I would rather stay with my aunt and uncle.”

                Sirius’ face falls in disappointment but nods in acceptance. Harry is relieved.

                It is at the exit of the tunnel that everything happens at once.

                “Oh, no. Professor! You forgot to take your potion,” Hermione exclaims, dropping Pettigrew from loss of concentration.

                They all freeze. Ron is helpless, his face a picture of horror. Lupin doesn’t have time to levitate Ron downwards gently but drops him abruptly, causing him to feel pain as his injured leg hits the ground first.

                Lupin stiffens, and his limbs begin to shake. Sirius drops Snape to the ground not too gently and transforms into his dog form, charging at Lupin, who has now shifted into a terrifying creature.

                Harry reminds himself that he has faced a troll, a three-headed dog and a basilisk. He swiftly thinks about what he has learned of werewolves, even as his mouth dries up: learning Occlumency has certainly helped him pull information out of his brain faster.

                “Hermione, you take Ron,” Harry manages to hiss. Ron is still lying on the floor, grimacing in pain. “I’ll get Pettigrew.” That still leaves Snape, who is still unconscious.

                Sirius yelps in pain as he is thrown to the side by the angry werewolf, while the now transformed Lupin makes his way towards Harry and the others. A werewolf will always go for a human target. Wolfsbane is like poison to them – as is silver. They are strong, mindless beasts and cannot be reasoned with, nor can they be tamed like most other animals. However, Harry’s mind promptly hit upon a solution: like most animals, they still deal with survival; they can still be afraid of fire.

                “Incendio!” Harry casts, pointing his wand towards the ground as the wolf aimed at him.

                Hermione, catching on, copies Harry’s spell. Even Ron manages to cast it, however feebly, before falling unconscious. Harry steps closer to him, intending to shield his injured friend.

                Sirius, still in his dog form, feebly gets back on his paws.

                “Pettigrew’s escaping!” Hermione shouts.

                Somehow, whilst everyone was distracted by the werewolf, Pettigrew has managed to undo the binds on him.

                Harry grits his teeth in anger as he watches Pettigrew transform into a rat and scurry away while Sirius leaps to chase after him. He wishes he could do the same, but he is still busy handling werewolf Lupin. Also, he can’t leave Hermione alone with an unconscious Snape and Ron.

                “Let him go,” Harry roars at Sirius, but he does not listen.

                Harry cannot help but feel betrayed once again. Catching Pettigrew is the reason why Sirius had ended up in Azkaban, the reason he escaped, and here he is leaving Harry and Hermione to defend themselves against a werewolf. He can’t deny that this hurts him. It feels like Sirius will never make him a priority: he now knows he made the right decision about living with Sirius.

                He begins to feel cold, and a distant scream echoes in his head.

                “Dementors,” Harry yells a warning to Hermione, who pales even more since she does not know how to cast a Patronus like him.

                “Take Ron. Go. I’ll stay with Snape,” Harry shouts to her.

“I’m not leaving you, Harry,” Hermione stubbornly stands with him, coming to his side.

He casts a powerful fire charm at the werewolf, which hits him. Harry didn’t mean it to happen, but as it singes the werewolf and scares him, he howls and runs off towards the Forbidden Forest.

“Come on,” he says grimly.

He hears Sirius coming in the distance, bounding back into his dog form. Harry cannot see if he has Pettigrew with him. Perhaps, he has decided to kill him, after all, and leave his body in the forest, despite Harry asking him not to.

Hermione has already levitated Ron, and Harry is about to do the same with Snape when the cold increases rapidly and the screams become louder. Together, they look up and see a cloud of Dementors descending on them.

Hermione shrieks in panic while Harry tries everything to focus on his happiest memory.

                “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Harry roars.

                Prongs, as he decides to call it, leaps out of his wand and chases the Dementors away. Stunned, Sirius transforms back to his human form and stares in awe at the silver stag.

                Harry can feel his energy draining but maintains the Patronus.

                “Pettigrew?” he queries.

                “He got away,” Sirius answers, looking at Harry sadly. “I’m sorry. I should have stayed with you.”

                Harry’s heart warms at Sirius’ apology. He is glad he came back, that he realised where he was supposed to be. Maybe there is hope for Sirius, after all.

                Still holding the Dementors back, Harry turns to his godfather and utters, “I need you to promise me something.”

                “What? Anything.”

                “I’ve been in touch with your brother. He’s still living in Grimmauld Place. Go to him. He’ll help you. Promise you’ll go to him.”

                Sirius looks at Harry, confused.

                “Promise,” he insists.

                Sirius nods. “Al-all right,”

                “Now get out of here. I’ve got the Dementors. Go!”

                “Thank you,” Sirius manages to convey.

He gets up, swiftly gives Harry a hug, nods in Hermione’s direction and transforms back into Padfoot, slinking off towards the tunnel leading to the Whomping Willow, just in time as its branches snap back to life.     

“You can’t keep holding them back, Harry,” Hermione states, her voice exuding panic.

“Watch me.”

 Harry refuses to let go of his Patronus until the Dementors have turned away. It only takes a few seconds after that for Harry to lose consciousness, and Hermione is left alone with three wizards knocked out.

 

***

“I heard Snape outed you as a werewolf,” is how Harry opens the conversation once Lupin allows him into his office.

                The professor has already started packing.

                “Parents won’t be pleased to find out that their children are being taught by a werewolf, Harry,” Lupin sighs. “After last night, I could well understand their fears. I could have bitten any one of you.”

                “I don’t care that you’re a werewolf.”

                Lupin’s eyes light up at Harry’s words, and he feels guilty about what he’s about to say.

                “Did you know Sirius was innocent?”

                Lupin mentioned last night that he had confiscated the Marauder’s Map from the Weasley twins, which is how he knew to get to the Shrieking Shack. He had seen Sirius’ name on there. And Pettigrew’s.

                “No,” he shakes his head.

                “But you knew he knew many passages in and out the castle. Passages you didn’t tell Dumbledore about,” Harry continues, seeing Lupin’s face lower at his words.

                “Dumbledore took a risk with you. Not once. Twice,” Harry says coolly. “You betrayed his trust. You didn’t know Sirius wasn’t a danger to me or anyone else in the castle. You knew he had a good disguise. You protected him all year. Yet, you didn’t even question why he might have betrayed my dad twelve years ago.”

                “I know I should have told Dumbledore,” Lupin stammers, shocked by Harry’s words. He thought his relationship with Harry was good because he has spent so much time in his office throughout the year.

                “Yes,” Harry cuts him off. “You should have.”

                Lupin turns away in shame. “I’m sorry,”

                “I’ll miss you because you’re a good teacher. But, you’re not a good friend. You don’t know how to do the right thing. I can see why Snape hates you. You don’t know how to stand up to your friends. You don’t know how to be a friend.”

                Harry knows his words are harsh, but, deep down, he also knows that Lupin needs to hear these things. He might have had a hard life as a werewolf – he doesn’t pretend to understand what that’s like, though it certainly isn’t an easy one –Dumbledore had given Lupin an opportunity, and instead of using it wisely, he is still squandering it.

                “I’m sorry if I sound cruel,” Harry apologises, “but I believe everything I’ve just said. It wouldn’t surprise me if you used the fact that you’re a werewolf as an excuse never to contact me again.”

                He walks out without waiting for an answer.

 

***

“So you’ve been using a time turner the whole year?” Ron gapes at Hermione as she tells them her secret of how she attended all her classes.

                Hermione flushes.

                “I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. But now I’ve handed it back to Professor McGonagall. I’ve decided to drop Muggle Studies and Divination.”

                “Well, it’ll be a bit awkward if you decide to re-join Trelawney’s class next year after you walked out,” Neville snickers.

                Harry joins in.

                They are interrupted by a tapping on the window of their carriage. Harry gets up to let in the tiny owl, who lets him take the letter and then settles on Ron’s shoulder, much to the redhead's surprise.

                Exchanging a curious look with his friends, Harry opens the letter and scans it.

                “It’s from Sirius,” he explains briefly. Turning to Ron, he states, “Sirius said the owl is yours because he’s sorry you lost a pet through him. He said he sent me the Firebolt to make up for thirteen missed birthdays, and he also gave me a permit to give Dumbledore to go to Hogsmeade. And that he’s safe at the place I told him to go and that they’re planning to lead the Dementors away from Hogwarts.”

                Hermione snatches the letter out of Harry’s hand to read it for herself. He exchanges an eye roll with Neville and Ron, who begins to stroke his new pet, a huge smile on his face.

Harry and Hermione have filled Ron and Neville in on what had happened, though he still wouldn’t tell them where he told Sirius to go. He knew Hermione had heard, but for Harry’s sake, she is keeping quiet. Harry appreciates this.

                Then, casually, Ron points out, “You know, if you’d used your Time-Turner to go back and do your homework, and even get some extra sleep, you could have kept it for next year and still manage without losing your mind.”

                Hermione loses her mind.

 

***

 

Summer 1994

“Oh, look at you, Harry,” Iris exclaims, welcoming him inside. “You’ve grown up so much. What have they been doing at that school of yours? Stretching you over the rack?”

                Harry laughs but is pleased with his growth spurt. He is still shorter than Ron, a foot taller than him. At least, he is now catching up to Neville and, even better, to Hermione.

                “Harry!” Holly comes running up to him, throwing her arms around his middle for a hug, waiting for Harry to pull her close. He has missed her. His arms tighten around her as she looks up at him with black eyes. Snape’s eyes, he realises. Thankfully Holly has never looked at him with malice.

                “Did you miss me, Harry?”

                “Sometimes. When I was running out of chocolate and kept thinking of all the Chocolate Frogs, I kept owling you,” he jokes.

                “Did you me bring me anymore?”

                “No,” Iris put her foot down. “Enough sweets and chocolates for you, little miss. Harry, you seriously need to stop spoiling her.”

                “All right,” Harry agrees. However, when Iris turns around to go to the kitchen, he pulls out a Liquorice Wand and hands it to Holly with a wink.

                They are caught by Iris, who gives them a look between a stern glare and fond exasperation.

                “I’ve brought you some Cauldron Cakes,” Harry says sheepishly, pulling three out from his shirt pocket.

                Iris shakes her head and walks away, muttering, “I give up. Let all your teeth fall out.”

                Holly giggles and follows Harry into the kitchen.

                Several hours later, Iris has eaten all the Cauldron Cakes as Harry catches her up with the things he didn’t tell her in his letters and the events.

                “And Dumbledore believed you? Without proof?” Iris asks in disbelief.

                Harry nods. Truthfully, he was a little surprised at the time as well.

                “Unfortunately, Fudge didn’t. Snape told him we had been Confunded, and the Minister believed him. Still, it’s enough that Dumbledore trusts us and Sirius is somewhere safe.”

                Harry observes Iris at the mention of Snape. It might be his imagination, but he thinks she might have leaned forward slightly. He wishes he had something nice to say about Snape for the first time, at least for Iris’s sake.

                “I expected Snape to deduct points for attacking him,” Harry mentions casually. “It was … unexpected that he didn’t.”

                “Perhaps Dumbledore had intervened and refused to let him, given that it was your professor who said you were all under Confundus. Hardly fair to punish you if you weren’t responsible for your own actions,” Iris points out.

                Harry grins. That is precisely what Dumbledore had done. He just realises that Iris has referred to all other professors by their name, apart from Snape. She keeps calling him “your professor” or “the Potions Master”.

                He studies Iris as they fall silent. Her dark hair, black eyes, and sallow skin – even worse because she is still ill – are all the things he usually sees in Holly. Now, he sees Snape.

                Catching Harry staring at her, Iris arches her brow at him, reminding him once more of another Snape characteristic.

                “What is it, child?”

                Thinking quickly, Harry says the first thing that occurs to him but has nagged him all year.

                “I wish you would tell me what’s making you so ill, Oma,” Harry pleads softly. “I could help you. To find a solution – a magical one.”

                Iris pins him with a stern look.

                “Do you think I haven’t look at all possibilities, Harry? I have a library full of books downstairs.”

                Harry flushes, realising she is right.

                “Oh,” he says smartly, looking away and then back at her. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

                “No one lives forever, child,” Iris tells him gently. “I’m an old woman. Who knows when my time will come to an end.”

                “Not for another hundred years,” Harry says fiercely. “Witches and wizards have long lives. And you… you’re still a witch.”

                Iris gives him another kind smile, reaching across the table to squeeze his hand reassuringly. It’s a smile he can never imagine receiving from Snape.

                Then, clearing her throat, she pulls back and asks in a business-like voice, “How are your Occlumency shields coming along?”

                A little startled by the change of subject, Harry is slow to reply, “Er, fine. I think.”

                “There’s something I need to tell you, but I’d like to test your barriers first.”

                Cautiously, Harry nods with permission.

                Quickly shoving all thoughts of Snape deep into the back of his mind, he instantly pulls up his barriers.

                “When you’re ready, Harry.”

                He looks Iris in the eyes and lets her test his barriers. They’re not perfect. He is still working on them, but Harry already has a memory lined up just in case they fail. One of the first time he cast the Patronus successfully.

                It takes Iris several minutes to break his barriers, and Harry is disappointed that he can’t keep her out completely.

                When she exits his mind, he is left with a pounding head.

                “Well done,” Iris praises. She is pleased, which makes Harry relax. She gets up from the table to fetch him some paracetamol and a glass of water.

                “Thanks,” Harry mumbles. Opening the tub of painkillers, he takes two and throws them back, followed by the glass of water.

                “You’re progressing well,” Iris compliments. “Are you still doing your exercises every night?”

                Harry nods.

                “Yeah, they’re getting easier now.”

                “And it’s helping you with your lessons?” Iris prods.

                “It is.”

                Before Iris asks her next question to stall the actual conversation, Harry softly turns it around on her, “What did you need to tell me, Iris?”

                Whatever it is, it cannot be worse than Snape being her son, he thinks.

                She takes a deep breath whilst Harry holds his own in anticipation.

                “It’s about Arabella Figg.”

 

***

 

“Aw, I wish I could go to the Quidditch World Cup with you,” Holly pouts.

                “I do, too,” Harry says, feeling genuinely upset that Iris will not allow him to take Holly. “But I’ll buy you lots of souvenirs.”

                Holly perks up slightly.

                “Only for the winning team,” she stipulates. “I don’t want the losing team’s rubbish.”

                Harry laughed and promised that he would get souvenirs for both teams and give her the winning one.

                “We’re making demands again, aren’t we?” Iris comes in, giving Holly a stern look which she returns with an innocent one.

                Turning to Harry, Iris hands him a package of new clothes: it has become a tradition for Iris to give him them for Hogwarts every year.

                “If you outgrow these, send Hedwig, and I’ll send you some new ones,” Iris instructs him. Then, running her hands through his hair to try and tidy it, she mumbles, “Teenage boys grow likes weeds.” Then, “You need a haircut, child.”

                Harry grins and allows her to pull him into the bathroom, where she directs him to sit on the edge of the bathtub and orders him to take his t-shirt off whilst she fetches a towel to wrap him in.

                When she returns, she is holding the towel and a comb and a pair of scissors. As she goes around to wrap it around his shoulders, she freezes.

                Harry knows what she is looking at – the collection of scars she has healed since he was eight.

                “How have they been?” Iris asks in an odd voice.

                “I told my relatives that my escaped convict of a godfather saw my scars and would come back to hurt them if they tried anything,” he replies nonchalantly.

                Holly, who is watching from the doorway, giggles. Iris snorts. Harry is forcefully reminded of Snape once more.

                “You should have let the Hat put in you Slytherin, boy. You clearly belong there.”

                “Perish the thought,” Harry snarks with mock indignation.

                “Careful boy,” Iris shakes her head, tapping him gently on the nape. “Or I’ll cut your scalp with a razor.”

                Harry feigns innocence and sits still as she begins to snip away with the scissors.

 

***

 

Harry buys two large rosettes and two scarves in both teams’ colours and a flying Firebolt miniature for Holly; for himself, a pair of Omnioculars, adding two more to his order for Ron and Hermione.

                He lets the excitement overtake him as he follows the Weasleys to the Top Box.

 

***

Harry takes the lunch that Iris had packed for him and accepts the hug from Iris and Holly. Holly is pleased with her gifts but pouts when Iris stows them away in her handbag, saying she can have them when she gets home.

                As Harry gets onto the train, he wonders if Iris’s pinched look is due to what he told her happened at the Quidditch World Cup. They did not have a chance to talk properly.

He had almost decided not to tell her but was afraid she might find out from Mrs Figg. Rarely going to see her, previously he had no idea that she was a squib: in the month Harry was still at Privet Drive, and he intends to go over to visit her.

                Mrs Figg was apologetic that she hadn’t told Harry earlier that about being a wizard. She made many excuses, but Harry found he was not angry; though he has to deal with brushes of danger every so often, he knows he has a good life. He has Iris and Holly. He has Dudley, more or less, who is still being nice to him. Last year he even received a gift from him. Harry had laughed when he saw it was a smelly bath set but sent Dudley a blue monogrammed towel that turned black when it was in needed washing. He has his friends. He has Regulus, who still send him letters, and now, he has Sirius. He thinks he might have Lupin.

                His ex-professor had owled Harry once during summer to explain that the Map belonged to him, now, and reveal the nicknames' meaning. Harry is pleased to have another keepsake of his dad – it went nicely with his Invisibility Cloak. If Harry were the mischievous sort, like Fred and George, he would make trouble whenever he had the chance.

                Harry sends back a letter to Lupin thanking him and phrasing it so that he can still owl back if he wants to.

Harry has not had a reply yet.

               

***

Fourth Year

 

THEY’VE CANCELLED QUIDDITCH!!

                Do you know what a travesty that is?

                Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament this year, and we have two schools coming over to compete. They didn’t need to cancel Quidditch for that!

 

***

 

There’s a Quidditch shaped hole in my heart, Regulus, and you’re laughing at my pain.

                How’s Snuffles doing? Is he enjoying the sun?

 

***

 

They drew my name from the Goblet of Fire. I have to compete. They’re making me compete. Hermione and Neville are the only ones who believe me when I say I didn’t enter. Ron too thinks I’ve put in my name in the Goblet, even though I already told him I wasn’t going to compete: now, he thinks I’m a liar, the git.

                Hermione believes he’s jealous because his brothers or I always overshadow him. How’s that my fault? I never ask for trouble. It follows me around.

                I just wish he would believe me.

                                                                    

***

All the Gryffindors think it’s great that I’m in the tournament, while all the Hufflepuffs support Cedric Diggory, which is fair because, well, he is their Champion, and he deserves it. But they hate my guts. I understand why but, I don’t have to like it.

                Malfoy’s got all the Slytherins wearing POTTER STINKS badges, and most of the school bought them from him.

                Ron is still not talking to me.

                Seriously, Snuffles, Regulus, I’m surprised that he’s not got a POTTER STINKS badge as well.

 

***

 

DRAGONS!

                Dragons!

                Oma, what do I do?

 

***


Don’t the Blacks have some enormous libraries?

                Is there nothing you can tell on how to get past one?

 

***

 

… so, in the end, I decided to use my Firebolt and outflew the dragon. It was brilliant.

                Don’t worry, Oma, I didn’t get hurt.

                I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard what creature screams when it speaks? It’s the ghastly sound that comes out of the egg.

 

***

 

My Firebolt was terrific, and I flew circles around the dragon. My shoulder got stung by its horned tail, but I still managed to get the egg.

                Krum was impressed as hell: he and Bagman told me I could have a career as a Quidditch player. I wouldn’t mind. Quidditch is great.

                Anyway, the egg contains the next clue, which shrieks or screeches instead of saying words.

                Ron and I are friends again. I made him apologise properly for not believing me.

***


Regulus, you’re a genius.

Snuffles, your suggestions were less helpful but still appreciated. You’re as bad as Fred and George. They said it sounded like it was Percy in the shower. Why on earth do you know about your House-Elf warbling in the bath?

 

***

 

I managed to figure out the next clue, Oma. Regulus helped me work it out, and it turned out to be a mermaid. I have to rescue something I’d miss the most that’s supposed to be at the bottom of the lake: I only have an hour to look for it.

                I hope they don’t take my Invisibility Cloak, my photo album, my Firebolt or that Gobstones set you gave me. I’d miss those the most. Bet that’s what they’re going to take.

                At least that one’s out of the way; now, I have to worry about asking a girl out to the Yule Ball. Why do girls always travel in packs?

                Now more than ever, I’m glad you taught me how to dance.

 

***

 

Remind me never to ask for advice about girls from an escaped convict and hermit with only a House-Elf for company.

 

***

 

I had a better time at the Yule Ball than I expected to –  Better than Ron and Hermione, at least.  

I asked Cho, the girl from the Ravenclaw team. I told you about last year to be my date, but she’d already agreed to go with Cedric. I didn’t realise they were dating.

                It was upsetting, I suppose. Instead, I asked out Parvati, one of the girls from Hermione’s dorms.

                Ron attempted to ask out Fleur, but he came back shocked that he’s even tried. I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but she’s a Veela, so the allure probably played a part. I’m glad I wasn’t there –  I would have laughed my arse off.

                He then tried to ask Hermione out – you know, in typical Ron fashion. He actually said to Hermione: “You’re a girl. You can go out with one of us.”

                Even I knew that was the wrong thing to say. Hermione already had a date, anyway: she had agreed to go with Viktor Krum.

                Conversely, he ended up going with Padma, Parvati’s twin sister, who was Sorted Ravenclaw instead.

                I would have been happier not going, but, unfortunately, I had to open the dances as a Champion.  

                Ron acted like a miserable sod the whole evening. He was totally jealous that Hermione went with Viktor, so he tried to drag me into it by saying that she was fraternising with the enemy. That’s a direct quote, by the way.

                Padma ended up having a miserable time because of Ron – The only good thing that happened to her all evening was when some of the boys from Beauxbatons asked her to dance. Parvati permitted me to dance with her sister as well, mostly of pity. Suffice to say, Ron ruined many people’s evening that night.

                Ron can be thoughtless sometimes. Things are a bit frosty between Hermione and Ron at the moment.

 

***

You know this is my fourth year at Hogwarts and, even after all this time, I didn’t expect to make another friend.

                I met this girl, Luna Lovegood, sort of by accident. She’s pretty unique. She was walking around barefoot one evening; at first, I thought it was strange that she was walking around with no shoes in a draughty old castle in the middle of winter.

                Then she told me that her shoes had been taken. Now,  I’ve gotten to know her the last few weeks, so I can tell she doesn’t like to say anything outright, despite her bluntness, but I gather that her dorm mates torment her a bit.  More so than just her dormmates, in fact.

                People always like to isolate those who dare to think differently, and Luna is about as peculiar as you can get.  

                I like her, in any case.

                I’ve taught her some of those security spells you showed me, so now her belongings are as safe as mine.  I just wish I could hex those idiots who still keep picking up on her. I know a few good ones now—the advantage of training for the tournament.

 

***

You know, Oma, I think I do like her that…

 

***

Albus follows a nervous Arabella to a well-kept house one street away from Privet Drive. Most houses in this part of Surrey all looked the same, and the one Arabella leads him to is no different. The house is detached, and the property is kept fenced. From the outside, it looks smaller than the Dursley’s residence, the garden is well maintained, and everything seems in its place.

                It is the middle of the school day, and Albus has left Hogwarts in Minerva’s capable hands.

                Arabella taps lightly on the white-painted door. Albus holds himself off to the side as he examines the ceramic garden gnome with interest.

                The door opens, and Albus straightens up towards the residence.

                “I’m sorry, Iris. He seemed to know already,” Arabella says in place of a greeting.

                ‘Iris’ looks at Albus, paling slightly, but seems to gather herself.

                “Come in, Albus, Arabella.”

                Iris moves aside, allowing them entry. They follow her to the kitchen, where she gestures for them to sit at the dining table. Albus pulls out a chair for Arabella first and then seats himself. Iris needs time to collect her thoughts, and he allows her to do so as their host moves around the kitchen with deliberate grace, gathering the items she needs to make tea for her unexpected guests.

                Albus looks around the kitchen with great interest: there, on the fridge – a muggle cooling box – there is a picture of Harry and the little girl, Holly, whose information he has come to enquire about.

                Finally, after a fraught ten minutes in which Albus waits serenely and Arabella sits fidgeting, Iris sits down opposite him, having placed a plate of biscuits, a teapot, sugar, a small jug of milk and three cups.

                 Iris makes no further move, so Albus pulls out his wand slowly and taps the teapot to begin pouring tea for everyone.

                “Sugar? Milk?” he asks pleasantly.

                “Two, please,” Arabella states.

                Iris shakes her head at the sugar but adds a splash of milk.

                She is the one to break her silence. “How did you find me?”

                “A curious little spell,” Albus tells her. He takes a sip of his tea and reaches for the plate of biscuits, picking up a delightful looking one with a heart cut into the top layer showing a gooey red centre. He bites into it and is surprised at its pleasant raspberry flavour. “How long have you known Harry?”

                “Since he was eight.”

                Albus studies her critically. She is suffering, he realises. He wonders what illness is afflicting her. He listens as she explains how she met Harry and how close they have become over the years. It does explain how well-adjusted Harry is, given what Arabella has told him about his treatment at the Dursleys. He allows the sadness of that to wash over him. He has asked Arabella for proof in the past but now realises that only Iris knows the whole truth because Harry didn’t trust the older woman. He will have to get Harry somehow away from the Dursleys. Iris has to tell him exactly what the boy has suffered, and he will deal with Petunia and Vernon himself.

                Once she falls silent, Albus asks, “Harry has told you about his participation in the Triwizard Tournament?”

                Iris nods.

                “The second task will take place this Saturday under the Great Lake. I used a spell to find out which person each Champion will miss the most: Holly Pierce was the name spat out by the spell. I did not know any Holly Pierce currently attending Hogwarts, nor was she a student from the other visiting schools. I checked the school registry to confirm.

                “Once I started looking up her location, I realised that her address was close to Harry’s home. I decided to check with Arabella first, given that she has been a resident for as long as he has been here.”

                Arabella had blanched at Holly’s name but refused to say anything further. Instead, she had asked for Albus to follow her to the address in question.

                Looking around at the pointedly muggle kitchens, Albus begins his questioning.

                “How much does Harry know?”

                “He knows I’m a witch. He figured it out last year and asked me about it.” Iris looks proud of Harry as she says this.

                “Does he know your real name?” Albus looks at her intently.

                “No. I haven’t told him.”

                “Are you going to?”

                Arabella sips her tea in silence, observing the two.

                Iris doesn’t reply.

                “Tell me about Holly,” Albus invites, taking a sip of his tea. “She is Severus’ daughter?”

                The Headmaster listens with hidden astonishment at how Severus treated Jasmine. He remembers the Ravenclaw: she was a bright girl, ambitious in her own right. He is distraught to realise that her kindness has turned to bitterness given the treatment she received at the hands of Severus.

                “And Harry does not know Holly belongs to Severus?”

                “No,” Iris sighs. “That is another truth I have hidden from him. I don’t know how he will ever forgive me when he finds out.”

                Albus is glad she said when and not if. He is guilty of many truths he has hidden from Harry, he knows; yet, he is still not as close to him as Iris is. It will hurt him greatly to find out that she has kept the truth about herself for so many years.

                “I have noticed Harry is much kinder than he should be capable of, given the trials he has endured.”

                “I won’t let you take Holly and have her participate in the tournament. Severus can’t see her.” Iris sits up and looks Albus straight in the eyes, who is pleased to see some spark of fire in her eyes. “You should not have let Harry participate at all.”

                Albus nods his head in acknowledgement of the truth of this.

                “I am here because I was curious, and now, I am not. Worry not, I won’t take Holly anywhere,” He assures her again.

                The spell was performed for the other champions as well. They all came up with a personal connection, and their Headmaster (or Headmistress) spoke to their families. After outlining every safety measure they will take, only the Delacour's have consented to use their youngest daughter as a hostage.

                Mr Krum’s family is unwilling to travel the distance, and Mr Diggory’s cannot spare the time, so they have had to resort to their Yule Ball dates. Luckily, the spirit of the tournament is still met.

                “I will choose another hostage for Harry,” Albus tells her. For Harry, he will take Ron. They are best friends and have gone through much together.

                “There’s something else I must tell you,” Iris confesses, darting a glance at Arabella.

                Albus catches the underlying tension this statement provokes.  

                “What is it?” He feels a coldness descend upon him as Iris describes her illness and the effect of the medications she is taking.

                “Oh, Eileen,” Albus says sorrowfully, closing his eyes in dejection.

 

***

The final task is tomorrow, and I can’t wait for the whole circus to be over.

                I can’t wait to come home, Oma, and bake some shortbread with you and Holly.

 

 

***

 

Tobias needs the aid of a cane to get around. His knee pains him and stiffens when he sits for too long. He tries to take a short walk every day, but he knows not to venture too far from home.

                He heads for the park and enters through the side gate. He sees her already sitting on one of the benches, watching the little children play. Tobias cautiously limps towards her.

                She sees him coming and calmly turns back to the playground as Tobias sits rigidly beside her.

                “Never thought I’d see you again, love,” he greets her gruffly.

                Her reply is icy, like her tone of voice. “You were never meant to.”

                “Is that any way to welcome your husband?”

 

***

 

Harry and Cedric do not expect the Cup to be a portkey.

                They land – Merlin knows where – but it’s definitely not Hogwarts. Harry’s leg hurts, bleeding from the giant spider’s pincer and, when the beast drops him, he sprained his ankle.

                “Avada Kedavra!”

                Harry stares in horror as the flash of green fades and Cedric’s life is taken from him.

 

***


“I can touch you, now,” Voldemort laughs coldly as he traces the scar on his forehead. Harry screams in agony.

 

***

 

Harry watches in dread as Voldemort uses Wormtail’s Mark to summon his Death Eaters.       

 

***

“You’re not going to go back to him,” Narcissa reminds Lucius.

                Lucius is clutching his Mark in pain. They have been discussing this all year since the Quidditch match when the Dark Mark was released into the sky. They saw the signs. They knew this day would come.

                Narcissa does not care one whit for muggles; she does not want to lose her family. Lucius has already gotten rid of the cursed Diary the Dark Lord gave to him. He was almost caught for possessing it as well, though there was no evidence to tie him to it, rightfully. Once the Dark Lord finds out that Lucius lost his possession, his life will be forfeit.

                Narcissa cannot lose her husband.

                The pain fades away. Lucius straightens up, cupping Narcissa tenderly and pressing a kiss to her brow.

                “I’ll come back, darling,” he promises, leaving his study to fetch his Death Eater’ garb.

                “I hope so,” Narcissa whispers to the void.

 

***

“Reg!”

                Sirius has no idea how to help his brother, assisting him into a chair. They are in Dumbledore’s office. Harry met them here before the task, and although Regulus can be seen in public, Sirius is still a hunted convict.

                “The Dark Lord is back,” Regulus tells him urgently, clutching desperately at his brother’s robes.

                Sirius feels the blood drain from his face.

                “Harry,” he mumbles, knowing in his heart that his godson is in danger.

                “I need to go.”

                “He’ll kill you, Reg,” Sirius snaps.

                “You know Harry is in trouble. The timing is suspect.”

                Sirius reluctantly nods.

                “Go find Dumbledore first.”

                Sirius can only wait, hidden away.

 

***

 

Lucius is waiting for a chance to interfere.

“Bow down to death, Harry Potter,” cackles the Dark Lord.

The boy has been subjected to multiple Cruciatus Curses, is bleeding from his arm and leg, and can barely stand, but can still break through the Dark Lord’s Imperius Curse.

Lucius feels a reluctant admiration for the insolent whelp. He knows he is a strong player in this war that has started today. However, he is still a boy.

Lucius catches Petrus Parkinson’s eyes, who will do anything to protect his daughter. Then there’s Thadeus Nott, who was already planning to run away with his son. Crabbe and Goyle were on his side as well. It will be a difficult summer. They will always live afraid if the Dark Lord is not defeated this day.

Lucius knows of Severus’ Vow to Dumbledore. The idiot is planning to return to his spying duties; he wishes he could stop his friend, somehow.

                He watches in awe as Potter’s and the Dark Lord’s wand connect. The boy is only fourteen, the same age as Draco, but he faces the Dark Lord and holds his own. Draco could not do that. Lucius admits to himself that he could not do this either. If he were not already planning to betray the Dark Lord, he would certainly change his mind after this.

               

***

 

Severus approaches Albus.

                He can tell by his pinched face that Severus is in pain. As casually as he can, he raises his left hand to brush down the front of his robes. Only Albus can detect the almost imperceptible tremor. Severus’ Dark Mark is active.

                Regulus Black rushes up to Albus at the same instance.

                “I’m going to him,” Regulus says, eyes blazing. “We think he has Harry.”

                Albus nods. The thought has occurred to him as well. Two of the four Champions had to be pulled to safety, and the spectators are getting antsy waiting for Harry Potter or Cedric Diggory to emerge as the winner.

                “I shall go with you,” Severus says in a firm voice.

                The Headmaster is surprised, but the choice belongs only to Severus. He was his spy thirteen years ago when Albus had demanded him to do it. Over the years, as Albus has got to know the younger wizard better, he has explored other ways to utilise Severus besides allowing him to continue his spying ways. His main reason for staying in Hogwarts is to protect Harry, and Severus does not need to be a spy to do it.

He still does not know he has a daughter, and Albus has promised Eileen that he will not reveal her secret. She has a year before her illness overcomes her.

                Albus cannot justly stop Severus right now. If he did, he might suffer the consequences of the Vow, as Harry’s life is on the line. Albus does not doubt that Harry is wherever Voldemort is now.

                Albus turns away from Severus and Regulus as they discreetly make their way towards the school gates, where they could apparate. He needs to find Alastor to see if his friend can locate Mr Diggory.

 

***

 

Albus is sitting behind his desk in his office, his head in his hands.

                Lucius is standing behind his wife, who is sitting in an armchair near Albus’ bookshelf. Albus confesses that he is surprised that Lucius is here, having betrayed Voldemort, especially given his event two years ago, when he attempted to use his Lord’s possessions on innocent children. Albus is planning on speak to Lucius and Narcissa in further detail regarding this, but later. One mess at a time.

                Harry is lying in the Hospital Wing, several floors up, resting from his ordeal. Albus is sorry for forcing Harry to voice his ordeal since he had just been through it, but he needed to know as much as he could. Time is of the essence, and they need to begin planning as soon as possible. Harry is not alone. Sirius has elected to stay up there in his dog form, and Albus has given Poppy his guarantee that ‘Snuffles’ is tame.

Regulus is sitting in the farthest corner while Severus is leaning on the mantle above the fireplace.

                Severus has outed himself as a spy, barely escaping with his life. Albus is not sad that he can no longer be a spy for him, though he can tell that he regrets this more. The Headmaster fears that Severus will think he is no longer helpful if he cannot spy.

                Albus finally breaks the silence. “Voldemort will remain hidden whilst he gathers his forces.”

                “Fudge is already on the verge of denying it all,” Severus murmurs.

                “Yes. That possibility cannot be denied,” Albus agrees. Cornelius is indeed teetering. On the one hand, he had statements from several Pureblood families, including Lucius, who certainly knew how to handle Cornelius; on the other hand, he would not be able to handle being a Minister in a war scenario and still believes there is insufficient evidence. Cornelius has even forced himself to believe that Lucius is suffering from some sort of Imperius’ aftereffects thirteen years later.

                Cornelius cannot deny two things: Barty Crouch Senior broke his son out of prison, who had masqueraded as Alastor Moody for the whole year and put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire.

                Any further discussion is disrupted when one of Albus’ gadgets suddenly begins blaring and smoking on his shelf next to the Malfoys. He immediately rushes up to it and plucks it from the shelf. It stops as suddenly as it started, and Albus returns it to its place, staring at it unseeingly, even as he is aware that his guests are watching him, waiting for answers. He had enchanted it in March after visiting Eileen.

                Albus ignores them as he realises that Eileen has lied to him: she had assured him that she will live for another year and is looking for some hope of a better solution with her medication. It seems Eileen already knew she only had a handful of months.     

                “Albus? What is it?” Severus asks in concern, stepping towards Albus’ desk.

                Knowing he will be unable to brush this off, Albus settles for a half-truth given his reaction. He pushes the truth behind his Occlumency shields but is still unable to look Severus in the eyes.

                “I cannot speak of it at this time. This gadget is enchanted to inform me of the death of…” he is unable to come up with a false name, so simply says, “someone important.”

                There are rare occasions when Albus would like to indulge in teenage tantrums of throwing and breaking things. This is one of those occasions. Sensing his feelings, his familiar, Fawkes, flies up from his perch and lands on his desk in front of him, then hops into his lap.

                His guests exchange puzzled looks with each other, wondering who else could have died. They already have a grieving Diggory family upstairs in the Hospital Wing.

                Before anyone could say anything else, they are further interrupted by the arrival of an owl that flies through Albus’ open window. He can make an educated guess as to the contents when the owl lands on Severus’ shoulders, dropping off the letter to the impatient Potions Master and then leaving the way it came.

                Albus schools his face into something calm, knowing that he must react as if he does not know what information that letter contains.

                “Well?” Narcissa prompts. She stands up from her seat and steps towards Severus when he does not immediately speak. “What does it say?”

                “I have a daughter,” Severus replies faintly, continuing to stare incredulously at the missive.

                 

               

               

               

 

To be continued...
A Tumbleweed Moment by Lady Connor
Author's Notes:
This is where the story will really begin to kick off folks. I feel like the first three chapters were just exposition and thank you all for putting up with it. The scene is set and now it's time to really explore the relationship between all my characters. I hope you all enjoy this chapter.

Chapter 4

A Tumbleweed Moment

 

“You have a what now?” Regulus asks dumbly.

                Severus does not repeat it, still staring at the letter in his hand. It’s from his father and, even if Tobias Snape didn’t sign it, he still recognises his handwriting. He does not even know how his father got a hold of an owl.

                It could be a joke, Severus thinks furiously, though Tobias lacks a sense of humour.

                Lucius snatches the letter from Severus’ hand so that he and Narcissa, who has stood up from her chair, can read it also. The letter does not contain much, just a few simple lines – another indicator that the letter is written, bluntly and coarsely, by Tobias: he has never been one for diplomacy.

               

                You need to collect your bastard child. Her grandmother’s passed away. For Christ’s sake, boy, don’t your kind have birth control?

                                                                Da

A chair appears behind Severus and moves forward, bumping into the back of his legs: he falls back into it without thinking, still lost in thoughts about whether this is a joke.

                Having taken it from Lucius, Regulus quickly reads the letter – not that there is much to read – and passes it on to Albus, who also skims through it.

                “Eloquent,” the Headmaster murmurs. Then, in a louder voice, “Well, Severus, it seems you have one more task to resolve before your summer begins.”

 

***

 

Summer 1995

 

Dudley surprises Harry by helping him carry his trunk to his room. Dudley has already been home two days since his school broke up for the holidays.

                “You need to go to Mrs Figg’s tomorrow morning. First thing,” Dudley whispers urgently.

                Harry is confused. Had something happened to Mrs Figg? Iris hasn’t mentioned anything. He had written Iris the day after the Final task to tell her he had won the Tournament but wants to tell her about Voldemort’s return in person. He is concerned that Iris hasn’t written back, but perhaps she is waiting for him to come and talk to her face to face.

                Dudley looks upset, and Harry cannot understand why.

                “Is she okay?” Harry asks.

                “You need to talk to her,” is all Dudley says.

                “Do you think I could sneak out and go see Oma and Holly?”

                Dudley looks even more distressed but is unable to answer when Petunia calls Harry down. Though the Dursleys have been better since Harry mentioned Sirius, they still expect him to do chores whenever they say so.

                Harry cannot shake the antsy, itchy feeling under his skin. He wishes he could just forget about the chores and leave. He wants to see Iris and Holly: Iris has a way of making him feel like he can fight anything, and Holly gives him the hope to fight for something. Dudley keeps looking at him like he wants to says something, but Petunia or Vernon constantly interrupt him. Finally, Dudley gives up and goes upstairs.

                It is several hours later that Harry collapses in bed. He walks past Dudley’s open door and sees that his cousin has fallen asleep playing his NES console, still on top of the covers. Petunia has made him cook the whole evening’s meal, organise the cellar and clean out his old cupboard.

                He is still recovering from the events in the graveyard, both physically and emotionally. He falls asleep, exhausted and doesn’t even change out of his clothes, only having enough presence of mind to kick off his shoes.

                He is awakened the following day by a distressed-looking Dudley.

                 “Come on, Harry, we need to go to Mrs Figg’s right now,” Dudley is saying.

                He is still feeling exhausted and pushes Dudley away, but turning the clock, he is shocked to see it is almost ten o’clock.

                “Get your shoes on, come on. I fell asleep waiting for you and forgot to set my alarm,” Dudley was saying.

                “What are you on about?” Harry asks, irritated, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

                “We need to go to Mrs Figg’s right now. They’re going to take Holly away,” Dudley explains with tears in his eyes. Harry does not immediately register the other’s words. He is astonished at how upset Dudley is.

                Then, as his brain catches up, Harry jumps up from bed, jams his feet back into his shoes and races out ahead of Dudley.

                Pulling the front door harder than he intended to, Harry flings it open and dashes out onto the street. He hears Dudley slam the door shut behind him, but he doesn’t stop for him. Dudley is much fitter than he used to be and can keep up with Harry without panting like he used to. It’s a good thing he doesn’t play Harry hunting anymore.

                Harry doesn’t understand why they have to go to Mrs Figg’s instead of Iris’s, but he doesn’t waste time questioning Dudley as he pelts down Wisteria Walk.

                He is still four houses away when he sees Holly being seated in a battered, old white Ford. Harry picks up speed as the woman gets into the driver’s seat, starts the car and begins to drive away.

                “HOLLY!” Harry screams for her.

                “I’m sorry, Harry, I tried to delay them for as long as I could,” Mrs Figg calls to him as he runs past.            

                Harry does not even stop.

                “HOLLY!” He screams for her again, desperate to reach her.

                Holly is in the back seat: as her name is called out, she turns and sees Harry through the rear window.

                Just as it looks like the car is about to pick up speed, it comes to a sudden stop. Holly has opened the passenger door, the one closest to the pavement. When the car stops in its tracks, and luckily no cars are coming behind, she jumps out and runs to Harry.

                Sweating and panting, Harry falls painfully to his knees in front of her. The woman driving the car looks angry at first, but her expression changes to something closer to sympathy. Holly throws her arms around his neck and buries her head on his shoulder. He can feel her tears seeping through his shirt while her whole body shakes from the frantic sobs, and he can’t help but pull her tighter to him.

                Dudley and Mrs Figg catch up to him, standing there and looking at both of them with great sorrow.

                Holly is trying to say something to him, but Harry cannot understand her through her sobs. He knows it’s about Iris, in any case. He only distinguishes that she is trying to say Oma.

                The woman gives them a few minutes, but Harry can see that she wants to get moving. She walks forward and leans in slightly, placing a gentle hand on Holly’s head, and says in a soft voice, “I’m sorry, son. We need to go now.”

                She reaches over Harry’s shoulders and lightly tugs on Holly’s hand, who is trying to resist and tighten her hold on him.

                Harry looks up at the Social Worker because that’s what she must be, and says “It’s okay, sweetheart, it’ll be okay.”

                The Social Worker backs off and gives the two of them some space. Unwillingly, Harry pulls Holly and looks at her forlorn face, using the hem of his t-shirt to clean the tears away, and then cups her face as Iris did with them.

                He has to swallow the lump in his throat and take a deep breath before he can speak.

                “I promise I’ll find you again. I’ll find you again, and I’ll write, okay? I promise.”

                Holly nods but still throws her arms around Harry again, who reluctantly pulls away, not without one last squeeze, and gets back to his feet. He takes Holly by her hand and walks her back to the car, ensuring she’s seated and buckling her belt.

                Before he closes the door, he leans over and whispers, “I promise,” one last time.

                As he pulls himself out of the car, he sees that she has the bag Harry owled her for her birthday: it’s from Hogsmeade and had many spells on it. He hopes she was able to use of the magical expansion and packed as much as she could.

                Harry closes the car door and nods towards the Social Worker without really looking at her. He stands there until the car drives off and becomes a speck in the distance. When the car is out of sight, Dudley puts a hand on his shoulder and leads him back to Mrs Figg, who walks back with them.

                “Let’s have a look at that knee, Harry,” the woman says softly.

                Harry follows along like a zombie, letting himself be led into Mrs Figg’s house and directed to a chair in her kitchen. He doesn’t even register his leg being lifted and placed on the other chair or the hem of his jeans being rolled up to expose his bloody knee: it’s the sting of anti-septic as Mrs Figg dabs at the scrape that brings Harry out of his daze.

                “What happened?” his voice is dull.

                “Iris passed away,” Mrs Figg explains. She doesn’t look at him, concentrating on cleaning his cut instead. Dudley looks stunned as well. “She was on new medication for her heart, but I’m afraid I’m not sure, entirely. Iris lay down to rest, and Holly said she wasn’t waking up. She was scared, the poor little mite. So, she came running over to me.”

                Mrs Figg breaks down into tears and gently pushes Harry’s leg away. She gets up and turns her back on Harry and Dudley, trying to hide her pain.

                Dudley takes charge of cleaning his knee and then puts a plaster to cover it.

                Collecting herself, but still not looking at the boys, she fiddles with a dish clothe which she picks up and puts back down.

                “I – er – called for an ambulance – and they tried to – tried to – ” Mrs Figg is unable to finish her sentence as she burst into sobs once more. Harry cautiously stands up and goes over to her: he realises he is now taller than her, as he pulls her close to hug her as he had done with Holly. Iris and Mrs Figg have been friends for years: he knows she has been placed here by Dumbledore to look over him, even though he didn’t know Mrs Figg was a squib until that year. She and Iris had become close, and she and Dudley are the only ones left, apart from Harry, who knows that Iris was a witch.

                “Oh, I’m getting your t-shirt all wet,” Mrs Figg groans, pulling back as soon as Harry releases her, and she moves to grab her tea towel again, patting at the boy’s damp tee ineffectually.

                “When is the funeral?” Harry forces himself to ask.

                Mrs Figg freezes, and he knows he is not about to hear any good news.

                “She’s already been buried.”

                His heart sinks. So quickly?

                “Iris already made arrangements. She might have lived in the muggle world for over a decade, but she made sure to have her body buried in her family. Her solicitors claimed her body as soon they found about her death.”

                At Harry’s questioning look, she clarifies, “Magical solicitors have ways. I think she might have had some help from the goblins, making sure to have her Will updated about her burial preferences for years. Oh, and she left all her books to you, Harry. When her visits to the doctors increased, she knew she was struggling. If muggles ever came to her house, she wanted to make sure no magical items were found. I have everything she left for you downstairs in my cellar.”

                Harry doesn’t care about the books right now.

                “Once her muggle estate is settled, you’ll get a letter about her house. She left it to you and Holly.”

                Harry doesn’t even care about the house but is touched that Iris considered him family enough to do this. He can’t deny he has fond memories in that house, but he would much rather have Iris and Holly back than it. As long they were together, they would have made memories anywhere. Now, they’re both alone in the world.

                “What about Holly? Didn’t Oma have any plans for her?”

                Mrs Figg sighs as she sits back in the chair at the dining table.

                “Iris never told me her plans for Holly. I managed to take her temporarily before Social Services came to pick her up today. I did try to hold them off as long as I could, Harry dear, but the woman… she was in such a rush to go.”

                Dudley, who has remained silent until now, flushes and confesses.

                “I tried to tell you yesterday, but Mum and Dad kept getting in the way. So, you know, I thought I’d wait until I saw you come upstairs to go to bed, so I left my door open, but I fell asleep playing games and then the next thing I know, it’s morning.”

                Dudley looks genuinely upset, so Harry can only reassure him that it’s not his fault.

                “Anyway, Social Services will be placing Holly in a temporary home whilst they try to find her next of kin.”

                He almost doesn’t hear Mrs Figg tell him, quite hesitantly, “You won’t be able to write to her, Harry. She’ll be with muggles.”

                He is stunned as the thought occurs to him: Holly’s next of kin is Snape.

 

***

 

As soon as term ends and the hormone-filled animals, ridiculously named students, board the train, Severus visits his father in Spinner’s End. Lucius insists on coming along with him, but he’s still unsure if this is because he doesn’t want Severus to get arrested for murder or entertainment purposes. Possibly both. Lucius has always had a bizarre sense of humour.

                Severus sweeps inside his childhood home the second Tobias opens the door.

                “What is this?” he hisses, practically waving the crumpled piece of paper in his hand in Tobias’ face.

                “Come in, son,” his father asserts sarcastically. “Lovely to see you, too. I know, son, it’s been a while. I’ve been well. How about you?”

                Lucius manages to slip inside before Tobias shuts the door in his face.

                “Blondie,” Tobias greets.

                Lucius gives the house and Tobias his usual sneer and returns his greeting with a simple, “Wrinkly.”

                “What do you mean I have a daughter?” Severus hisses, following Tobias into the grotty living room.

                His father takes a seat in his shabby-looking one-seater he had before Severus was born: he remembers it when it was cream coloured. Now, it’s just encrusted with dirt and grime. Severus itches to burn it whenever he comes for a visit.

                “How many ways can that sentence be interpreted?” Tobias says unconcernedly, turning his attention to his zombie box, otherwise known as a television.

                Lucius makes a show of looking around and, seeing nowhere clean to sit, pulls out his wand and conjures himself a chair. Tobias glares at the show of magic, but the wizard sits down without a care.

                Severus takes a deep breath, telling himself to calm down.

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” Tobias shrugs, reaching for his can of Strongbow from the floor.

“Where is she?” He looks around the room as if expecting her to pop out.

“Dunno.”

“How old is she?”

Tobias doesn’t even deign to answer. He just grunts and half shrugs as he sips his can of cider. Severus blocks his view of the telly, forcing him to look up at his son as Severus.

“What. Do. You. Know?” Severus enunciates clearly, leaning over and placing his hands on either side of his father.

“I’m not one of your pathetic little school children, Severus, you can intimidate by hanging above like a bat.” Tobias’ voice is cold.

They engage in a silent battle of wills. Severus can feel Lucius shifting, getting to jump between them if things get violent. They certainly have in the past.

“Tell me about my child,” Severus demands as he takes a step back.

“What I told you in my letter, boy. She lived with her grandmother. She’s kicked the bucket, and now the brat’s an orphan.”

Severus exhales sharply and pinches the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.

He feels weary. “This isn’t one of your gags?”

“What do you think, boy?”

In response, he glowers at his father.

“How did you find out?” Lucius takes over as Severus gathers himself.

“Well, one of your whores came to me about ten years ago. Told me she was messed up with your sprog and wanted to know how to get you a message,” Tobias explains carelessly, craning his head around Severus to snatch a glimpse of the telly again.

“Ten years ago?” Lucius’ voice is incredulous.

“She came around to tell me some bullshit about you and her having an affair. She wanted to know where you lived and then said she was pregnant. Told her to piss off and not to bother me again.”

“Do you remember her name?” Lucius asks.

“Do you expect me to remember the name of some bird he shagged ten years ago?”

“I expect you to remember the woman who claims to be pregnant with my child,” Severus snaps.

“You should remember who you’ve been screwing.”

“Fair point,” Lucius concedes from his seat.

“She had some sort of flowery name. You’ve always had a thing for them,” Tobias adds slyly, sipping from his can again.

Lucius quickly gets up from his seat to stop Severus from rushing towards his father, who doesn’t even flinch but struggles to hold him back.

Tobias has never liked Lily and makes sly digs whenever he can: he’s always thought she was an ‘uppity bitch’. Severus has always been sensitive about her. He moves back as he remembers whom his father means.

“Jasmine?”

Tobias shrugs. “Could be.”

“Which one was Jasmine?” Lucius questions.

Severus doesn’t answer. His sallow skin pales as he recalls how, years ago, Jasmine told him that she was pregnant with his child. How she had sent owl after owl. How he had asked Lucius to block her owls and any other unknown ones. Severus had then started getting letters at Hogwarts. He had burned every single one of them. Unread.

Lucius leads Severus to his conjured chair.

Tobias smirks at him. “You remember her now, don’t you, lad?”

He finishes the can, crushes it and lobs it across the room into his bin. Severus distantly hears the clunk it makes when it lands. He lowers his head into his hands, resting his elbows on his knees as he recalls everything. He hears the snap of the tab being pulled and the hiss as the air is released. Tobias has opened himself another can of cider.

“I never believed her,” Severus says to his knees. “She told me she was pregnant, but I thought she was lying to get back together, or that she wanted to use me for my inheritance, or whatever reason I told myself at the time.”

“Never heard from her until a year later when I got a letter and a snapshot in the post. Ugly little moppet. After that – nothing,” Tobias says indifferently.

Severus stands up so fast that Lucius almost trips, trying to back away. He is back in front of his father in two long strides: he slaps the still full can from the old man’s hand and drags him upright by his lapels.

“You knew she had my child,” Severus hisses furiously. “You kept my child from me?”

“Perhaps you should have answered her letters yourself,” Tobias sneers in his face.

“You had no right!”

Lucius tries to step between them. “Severus, you need to stay calm. Let’s discuss this like rational adults.”

“Getting awfully snippy for a child you rejected, Severus,” Tobias mocks. “Should have kept your pecker covered.”

Severus feels himself dragged back and is forced to let go of Tobias.

“You should have told me.”

Lucius is still pulling him back and refuses to let go.

“Calm down, Severus or I’ll Stick you to the chair,” he pants.

Severus forces himself to take a deep breath. Talking to his father always takes away his control, so that’s why he only visits Tobias once a year. At times like this, he wonders why he even bothers.

There is a fraught moment as Severus gathers himself together. Tobias calmly retakes his seat, looking regretfully at his upended can of Strongbow.

“You don’t even know how to be a father,” he mumbles.

                Lucius tenses, ready to intervene.

                “I must have learned from you how not to be a father,” Severus snipes back; then, sighing wearily, sits in Lucius’ chair, forcing his companion to conjure himself a new one.

                “Blondie, too good to sit in on my sofa?” Tobias gripes, getting only Lucius’s grin in response.

                “Tell me what you know. Please,” Severus reluctantly forces the word out.

                “Your bird came to me asking for you,” Tobias begins. Severus holds onto his patience. They have already gone over this part. “I told her to piss off and that I didn’t know where you lived. She left. A year later, a few months after the baby was born, I got a letter from the granny saying the sprog is my granddaughter too and asks if I want to know her.”

                “And?” Lucius leans forwards, looking impatient.

                “And I didn’t bother to reply. I don’t care, do I? Never got another letter until granny wrote me, saying she’s dying, and she told me to tell you to collect her if you want her.”

                “Collect her from where?” Severus and Lucius ask together.

                “Wherever Social Services took her,” Tobias says slowly like they are idiots.

                “Do you know where?”

                Tobias shrugs. “No clue.”

                “What about Jasmine? She never got in contact with you again?”

                Tobias just gives Severus a look. The Potions Master growls in a low voice in his throat.

                “Do you have the letter? Did it have an address?” Lucius prods.

                “It might have,” Tobias say sketchily.

                “Let me see it,” Severus demands.

                “I wrote you that letter ages ago. If you were that desperate for your kid, why didn’t you come to me when you got it?”

                Severus rolls his eyes. Trust his father to think a week ago is ages.

                “I was working. You have no clue what’s going on in other parts of the world. A lot has happened this last week. I had some things to take care of before I could leave. Now, where is that letter?”

                “I’ll have to look for it.” Tobias hides his eyes from Severus, who narrows his own eyes at his father. The old man is prevaricating.

                “I’ll wait.”

                “What’s the girl's name?” Lucius exasperatedly calls at Tobias’ back as he gets up, glares at Severus and then stalks off to the kitchen.

                Severus covers his face once more, realising he should have asked that himself.

 

***

 

“Have none of them written to you?” Dudley enquires.

                It is late in the evening, and they have the park to themselves. Before Dudley speaks, the only sound they hear is the squeak of the swing swaying gently under their weight.

                Harry comes to this park a lot. It has become a habit since Holly was taken away. It has been almost three weeks since he was forced to let her go. He likes to stare at the slide where he first saw her almost seven years ago.

                Ever since he has come back from Hogwarts, his temper has been closer to the surface than ever before. He has never been a particularly angry person. Right now, he feels that everything is out of his control. Harry heaves a sigh but answers Dudley anyway: His cousin doesn’t deserve his temper.

                “Dumbledore’s banned owl post. Voldemort’s still out there, hiding or something. All I know is that everyone else is staying somewhere safe, together.”

                Except for me, he thinks. I’ve been left alone. Even Luna is with her father, travelling as they hunt for Snorkacks.

                Harry has taken to doing his homework at Mrs Figg’s house, while Dudley joins in occasionally and flicks through some of Harry’s first-year books. He has stopped hanging out with Piers and his other friends, spending more time with Harry or training for boxing. Dudley has already won a match –  Junior heavyweight or something.

                Dudley doesn’t say anything more. They fall into silence again, apart from the squeak of the chains.

                Harry has been following the Daily Prophet. There have been no deaths reported, no suspicious activity. The Prophet is slowly starting to question his claim of Voldemort’s return.

                “We should go back,” Dudley eventually says hesitantly. “Or Mum and Dad might lock you out.”

                Harry does not answer immediately. He is unwilling to leave but knows that he might have to spend the night at Mrs Figg’s house if he gets locked out. He has no problem with Mrs Figg, but she is not Iris, and there is no Holly to come and cuddle with him.

                Harry nods, and Dudley relaxes as he waits for him to get up first. They walk back to Privet Drive in silence while he ignores Dudley’s looks of concern.

                Harry does not immediately notice the chill. This summer, there has been a massive heatwave, and the local council has put on a hosepipe ban. Most people have been walking around with vests and shorts: Harry is wearing jeans as he has no shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt.

                “Is it me, or has it gone freezing all of a sudden,” Dudley comments somewhat idly as he hugs himself and rubs his arms.

                Harry frowns. He stops and looks up. It’s not just gotten colder than it should, but it has also gone darker than it should be for this time. They should still have another two hours of light left. It is when Harry hears the distant echoing scream. He realises what is happening.

                Confused and alarmed, he turns to his cousin and urgently voices, “Dudley. It’s Dementors. We need to run.”

                Dudley catches the worried tone and follows Harry as they begin to run home. The screams in his head echo louder. Harry pulls out his wand, hoping he won’t have to use it.

                Dudley trips and falls. Harry does not immediately realise this and only suddenly stops when a Dementor floats in front of him. Looking back for Dudley, he sees his cousin shaking and curled up into a ball on the ground. He remembers that muggles can’t see Dementors.

                Harry summons up his happy memory, thinking about Iris and Holly. He points his wand at Dementor descending over his cousin and bellows, “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

 

***

 

Lucius is sometimes irritated as he listens to Severus curse Potter for his idiocy. He is willing to confess that he does not know Harry Potter that well. His last encounter with him was in the graveyard at the Dark Lord’s resurrection. He could admit to a certain admiration for the way Potter handled himself in that situation. In fact, now that he thinks about it, almost every encounter with Potter has ended in violence – the bookshop in Diagon Alley, the Headmaster’s office after the diary fiasco…

                In his everyday life, both Severus and Draco have told Lucius that Potter is arrogant, entitled and a reckless rule breaker, and he has no reason to distrust either of them: in his brief interactions with Potter, he has seen nothing that would indicate otherwise.

                Still, as entertaining as listening to Severus put the boy down, Lucius admits that it can also get tiresome.

                On this occasion, Lucius has a headache and finds Severus’ rants tedious. He can understand why he is irritated with Potter at this moment, having spent the last three weeks trying to track down his daughter, travelling to various temporary houses. Severus has also been to visit his father more in this time than in over a decade.

                After visiting the fourth residential home, Severus was advised to bring some form of muggle identification before collecting his daughter, Holly. He has spent the last several days rooting around his muggle Birth Certificate and any other form of muggle identification to prove that he is whom he says he is – He has even had Dumbledore write out a letter of reference. Lucius thinks it is all overkill, but who knows what methods muggles use.

                They have been forced to use magic along the way when the social workers cited some form of confidentiality, but Severus was overcautious with the use of his wand. They could erase memories, but the muggles still had those ridiculous ‘confuters’ – little boxes they store information on. So, they were forced to operate in the slowest way.

                Severus and Narcissa were supposed to leave today for the next residential home, with all of Severus’ paperwork, but this latest incident with Potter has scuppered those plans.           

                Potter is claiming he was attacked by Dementors and therefore forced to use his wand. Severus is now unhappy because he has to help investigate this claim.

                Lucius, to get away from Severus’ ridiculous rants, volunteers to investigate at the Ministry. It takes him almost a week to find out that Umbridge sent the Dementors to discredit Potter about the allegations of the Dark Lord’s return.

                 “Look like Potter wasn’t lying after all,” Lucius gloats as he sits back in his favourite wingback chair, sipping his favourite brandy as a celebration of his victory of a successful investigation.

                Severus sneers at Lucius: he has never liked to admit when he is wrong.

                “What’s Fudge doing about Umbridge?”

                “Well, he wanted to keep her in charge and sweep her actions under the rung. I might have had to convince him that this will only come back to bite him in the backside. Public opinion might be teetering regarding Potter at the moment, casting doubt on his claims of the Dark Lord’s return, but… what if he is right?”

                “Which you could also prove by telling Fudge that you were there that night and helped Potter escape,” Severus points out dryly.

                Lucius gives him a look as if to say, ‘don’t be daft.’

                “All in good time.”

                Severus waits for Lucius to speak again and prompts him with a “Well?”

                “Fudge wanted to send Umbridge to Hogwarts to have her teach Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

                “Tell me you stopped that plan!” Severus demands immediately.

                Lucius allows him to fret a little before confessing, “Relax. I’ve made sure Umbridge is not allowed anywhere near Hogwarts.”

                Lucius ignores the glare Severus sends his way.

                “Thank Salazar,” Severus mutters. “Dumbledore needs to find a competent professor this year. Or find another Potions Master so that I can finally take over the position, as I’ve been asking to do for the last fourteen years.”

                Lucius cannot resist smirking. He wanted to break this news since he had come back from the Ministry after dealing with Umbridge. That hag has been demoted so far down the line that it will take her a hundred years to climb back up.

                “Dumbledore has found himself a new Defence teacher. I would wager this one is quite competent.”

                Severus narrows his eyes suspiciously at Lucius and asks, “Would you happen to know this new teacher?”

                “Me.”

                Lucius is not amused or flattered by Severus’ incredulous laughter.

 

*** 

 

Harry settles into his new bedroom, which he shares with Ron and Neville. He has been silent since the Order sent a guard to escort him from Privet Drive.

                His back is still aching from the Dursley’s punishment after the Dementors attack. Dudley was still a little out of it when Harry had made it back to Privet Drive with his cousin. Mrs Figg met them halfway, having felt the effect of the Dementors when she was returning with her bag full of tinned cat food.

                Without Iris’ help, his back has to heal slowly, without magic. Harry misses not just the healing Iris helped him with but also the comfort she offered him. Dudley was upset when he found out how Harry was punished, but he didn’t blame his cousin. Overcoming the effects of Dementor is not easy, and Dudley is still just a muggle.

                Harry is happy that he is not going to be expelled. Apparently, someone in the Ministry wanted to discredit him – Umbridge or some such name. Whoever saved Harry not only stopped him from expulsion but also his trial, which was supposed to take place in front of a full Wizengamot.

                Regulus and Sirius explain what suffering a trial is before a full Wizengamot, and he is glad he avoided that fate.

                Harry’s thoughts are interrupted by the sound of Hedwig pecking at his window. He gets up and lets her in: she follows him back to his bed as he sits against the backboard and settles into his lap. Harry responds by stroking her head in a way that is soothing to both of them.

                Hedwig squawks at him.

                “I know Hedwig. I miss them too,” Harry says quietly.

                Hedwig gets up and flies to Harry’s open trunk at the foot of his bed while he watches with some confusion as she roots around. After almost a minute, she comes up with his fountain pen, and Harry understands instantly.

                “I can’t write to her, Hedwig. She’s in a muggle area,” he explains patiently.

                Hedwig drops the quill in his hands, moving towards Neville’s bed and grabbing a piece of parchment and bringing that to Harry as well.

                “I told you, Hedwig. I can’t send her a letter.”

                Hedwig keeps nipping at Harry’s hand until he is forced to give in.

                “All right, all right,” he snaps.

                Taking the pen and parchment between his fingers, Harry takes a deep breath and clears his mind, thinking about what he wants to write in the letter.

                Deciding to keep his letter short, he writes,

 

Holly,

I promise I’ll find you. Please, believe me. One day, we’ll be together at Hogwarts and, when I’ve finished school, I’ll take you away from whoever you’ve been placed with, and we’ll live together in Oma’s house – because that’s where she wanted us to live. She left the house to both of us. I’ll keep writing when I can. I don’t care about muggle areas. Hedwig and I both miss you. If you can’t reply, don’t worry. I’ll tell Hedwig to visit you whenever you’re by yourself – but, please, don’t think you’re alone. I’ll always be by your side, even when you don’t notice.

Harry.

 

Harry admits to himself that just writing the letter makes his heart feel less heavy. He ties the letter to Hedwig’s leg and watches his friend fly out into the distance.

 

***

 

Severus can feel his heart pounding hard as he and Narcissa approach the front door. After several false leads, which he is sure Tobias has been giving him on purpose, and many delays which erode his limited patience, he is finally outside the door where his daughter is currently housed.

                The door is weathered but clean: It is a large, detached two-storey house with a gated front garden, and Severus sees a garden in the back separated by another gate.

                He hears the laughter of several children coming from the back. One of them is his daughter. Severus has never thought about having children of his own. Indeed, teaching them puts him off from wanting any.

                Yet, even as he had read his father’s letter about his daughter, he cannot deny the need to bring her home. Holly. He repeats the name to himself. His daughter, Holly. Holly Snape. He knows that she probably has her mother’s name on her birth certificate, but she is his, and she will take his name.

                He has yet to find out what happened to Jasmine. His priority has been looking for his daughter and bringing her home. Jasmine’s mother raised Holly, though he does not know why Jasmine gave her up.    

There is no good reason to abandon your child, Severus thinks.

Severus does not even think about letting his daughter get carted off to an orphanage, even with the war that has just begun and the return of the Dark Lord. Also, he cannot allow his child to think she is unwanted. If Severus had known about her ten years ago, if he had believed Jasmine when she first told him, then he would have raised Holly himself. Somehow. Instead, he has lost the first nine years of her life.

                Narcissa knocks firmly on the front door. Severus has been out of sorts ever since he’d received his father’s letter. Since the end of term, he has been meticulous and organised; except with anything regarding his daughter, he has been (not that he would admit it) a nervous wreck.

                He does not even know what she looks like. He recalls Jasmine’s red hair and green eyes. He cannot help but imagine his daughter with red hair and green eyes.

                Severus clears his mind and straightens his spine. Both he and Narcissa have donned the full muggle garb: she is wearing a long sundress, royal blue with white trim, and her hair tied up in a neat bun.

                He pats down the suit he is wearing today, all black to Narcissa’s exasperation. He discreetly checks that he still has all the relevant paperwork.

                They are not sure if Holly is aware of magic, so they have decided to travel by muggle means, having hired a car and driver for the day, as slow as it is still better than public transport. Severus had not used it since before he went to Hogwarts (he does not include the Hogwarts Express as public transport) –just remembering it makes him shudder, and he cannot ever imagine Narcissa on anything primitive as the bus or the London underground. So, Lucius has thoroughly researched the matter and decided to have a private luxury car waiting for them outside the Residential Care Home.

                A car and driver show them as people of means, which will help alleviate any concerns that Holly will not be taken care of.

                The door is finally opened to reveal an elderly woman with a broad, welcoming smile.

                Severus forces his face into a facsimile of a smile. Narcissa’s is more natural, though not genuine: she is the queen of manoeuvring people into where she needs them to be. A perfect foil to Lucius, who’s an expert at charming people into doing his bidding. Together they are formidable and the reason Lucius has so many connections and favours owed to him.

                “Oh, hi. Oh, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I was on the phone in the other room about… oh, well, you’re not interested in that, I’m sure,” she laughs in what is supposed to be an inviting manner. “You must be Mr and Mrs Snape?”

                Narcissa gives a polite smile as she leads them through to a room towards the back of the house. It seems to be a cross between a living room and an office.

                Severus understands that the children who pass through here do not stay permanently. Their stays last as long as a week or two at most, whilst the state looks for a next of kin, or a place is found for them in an orphanage. Holly has been moved three times, inexplicably, but this is not unusual. Sometimes they need extra room for siblings, so anyone who is by themselves might get moved. Had it not been for magic, Severus has no doubt he would have spent the whole summer (or possibly longer) roaming all over Guildford looking for his daughter.

                “Please, have a seat.”    

                Severus and Narcissa take a seat next to each other on the larger sofa. Severus attempts to look like he knows how to be a part of a couple. He is tense as anything.

                “Oh, dear, I’ve forgotten to introduce myself. I’m Sylvia Ross,” then she sits down on the smaller sofa in front of her guests.   

                “Pleased to meet you,” Narcissa gives another polite smile.

                “So,” Sylvia Ross begins in an overly bright voice, “you’re here about Holly Pierce?”

                Narcissa and Severus look at each other for several seconds.

                “Well, Severus, of course, is her biological father,” Narcissa begins, placing a hand on Severus’ upper arm in a familiar gesture. “We were amazed to receive a letter informing us that he has a daughter.”

                “I was never told about her, Miss Ross,” Severus begins quietly, not knowing how to refer to their hostess since she hasn’t expressed any preference, so he falls back on formality. “My separation from Holly’s mother was not amicable. Then I went away for work purposes, and my new address was not available to her. It never occurred to me to let her know, as I had no reason to, given that we had parted ways.”

                Severus is telling the truth, but the way he has phrased it makes it sound less bitter than the actual events. This way, it sounds like it was just a tragic accident.

                Sylvia Ross eats it all up and gives them a sympathetic, syrupy glance.

                “Oh, that’s so sad,” she comments, putting a hand on her chest.

                “What can you tell us about Holly? Narcissa questions. “Can we see her?”             

                “Yes, of course. Come on, let’s go through to the kitchen. I’ll have someone fetch her in. The children like to be outside in nice weather, and Holly goes outside every chance she gets. She sits alone at the far side of the garden, away from everyone else, and stares up at the sky. It’s like she’s trying to see her grandmother in Heaven.”

                They follow Miss Ross into the kitchen, where she points out to them to a little girl in the distance. Severus is surprised at how big the garden is. All he sees is a girl lying in the grass looking up at the sky. He and Lily used to lie down on the grass like that. He cannot see if she has red hair.

                “Hold on a moment. I’ll have someone bring her on.”

                Miss Ross steps outside the back door and calls for an older boy. Severus cannot hear what she is saying to him, but he runs off towards the back end of the garden and stands over Holly, his daughter, and passes on Miss Ross’ message.

                “Let’s get the formalities out of the way,” Miss Ross says as she returns. “I’ve sent Gavin to ask Holly to pack her things.”

                Going back into the living room, Severus pulls out his paperwork. He uses a discreet bit of magic to make her think all is in order when it looks like she is about to question him on some things. Miss Ross hands him a copy of Holly’s records, including her Birth Certificate.

                Severus snatches it up, startling Miss Ross with the abrupt movement. Narcissa smooths away the moment with a comment about his eagerness to know more details about his daughter. She is not wrong.

                Severus skims over the Birth Certificate whilst Narcissa reads it over his shoulders. He relaxes as he sees his name recorded on it, feeling some of the tension drain from him. Jasmine has not denied his name on his daughter’s Birth Certificate.

                He offers a quiet “Thank you” as he looks back up at Miss Ross and sees an understanding look in her eyes.

                “There are a few things you should know about Holly,” Miss Ross says, inviting them to sit back down as they wait for Holly to come back. Severus listens with half an ear as he strains to hear Holly’s footsteps coming in and walking up the stairs. Has she even come inside yet?

                “I’m not sure how much you already know, so please, bear with me if it’s something you’ve heard before. Holly’s mother passed away five years ago. A house fire. Miss Pierce had given custody of Holly to Mrs Iris Pierce in the event of her death, Holly’s grandmother…”

                It is her hesitation that catches Severus’ interest and gets his full attention.

                “From what I understand, Miss Pierce was not the most… dedicated… of mothers,” Miss Ross finishes delicately. “There was never sufficient evidence, unfortunately, to look into it further.”

                Severus can feel himself getting livid at the implication that Jasmine had abused his daughter. Narcissa places a calming hand on his wrist, and he works to clear his mind again.

                “Mrs Iris Pierce was a very devoted grandmother to Holly, though; by all means, they were happy together. Holly cries herself to sleep every night. She’s been quiet most of the time, but getting her to fall asleep is difficult. I think it’s because she’s afraid she won’t wake up like her grandmother.”

                At their questioning look, she clarifies, “From what I’ve read in the reports, Mrs Pierce was feeling unwell and lay down for a rest. Holly was home at the time. She tried to wake her up, but when Mrs Pierce didn’t get up, she ran off to a neighbour for help.”

                Severus feels Narcissa’s fingers dig into his wrist.

                “Thank you for telling us,” he says stiffly.

                Miss Ross nods.

                “I think she misses her friend too. There was a boy she was fond of. The Social Worker who went to collect her told me Holly almost threw herself out of a moving car to get back to him.”

                “A boy?” Severus repeats incredulously. “At her age?”

                He conveniently forgets his own obsession with Lily at that age.

                Miss Ross gives him a bemused look.

                “You’ll have to forgive Severus outburst. He teaches teenagers,” Narcissa excuses, putting a hand on his arm again.

 

***

 

“Hedwig!” Holly whispers happily as she abandons her packing to open the window. Hedwig comes in and carefully settles on the girl’s shoulders, nuzzling her head affectionately.

                Holly has been watching for Hedwig every day. Every chance she got, she was outside, looking at the sky for signs of the white owl. Every night, she tried to stay awake as long as she could, looking for Hedwig, thinking of Harry and Oma. She did not know if Harry would send her a letter because she was staying with muggles. Until Hedwig came, she was despairing that Harry would never be able to contact her again. She was afraid that he would forget her and move on, and it would be years before she got her own Hogwarts letter and could see Harry again. Even then, they would only have one year together at Hogwarts before Harry graduated.

                “You’re so clever,” Holly whispers again, giving Hedwig a rub.

                She knows Miss Sylvia is waiting for her to come downstairs with her bags packed. Gavin told her that people were waiting for her and needed to get her things: she thinks she’s being moved again. She’s beginning to get used to it, and it won’t take her long to pack. So, she rips open the letter and reads through it. By the end, she is smiling.

                Harry hasn’t forgotten her. Holly puts the letter into her bag and gets the rest of her stuff as well. Hedwig gives her one last nuzzle and an affectionate peck with her beak and flies out the window again.

                Holly descends the stairs, feeling less disheartened but still wary. She clutches her bag, a gift from Harry, possessively in front of her as she walks into the front room that Miss Sylvia likes to use as an office.

               

***

 

Severus hears the tiny footsteps only because he has been listening for them. He gets up from the sofa and turns to the door, anxious to get the first proper look at his daughter.

                His first thought as she walks in is that she doesn’t have red hair. Instead, it is black like his but silkier and tied back in a braid. She looks so much like him, but a prettier version, thank Salazar – Severus had been an ugly duckling when he was Holly’s age. Her black dress is old but clean. She is wearing a baby blue puffer jacket and clutching a school bag tightly to her chest.

                Severus is not even aware that he is walking to Holly until he crouches on one knee in front of her. Sylvia Ross and Narcissa watch in silence.

                Holly looks at him blankly, waiting for him to speak.

                “I’m Severus. I’m your father,” he manages to keep his voice even. “You’re coming home with me.”

                He finds that he’s holding his breath, waiting for her to speak.

                When she does, he is shaken by her words and the fire in her eyes.

                “I don’t know who my dad is. My mum was just a bed-hopping slut.”

                Holly backs out of the room and turns away, clutching at her school bag even tighter.

                Severus can feel his face burn as he abruptly straightens up. He is reluctant to turn back to Narcissa and Miss Ross, who gives him an unreadable look and follows Holly in the hallway.

                This is not the way he expected his first meeting with his daughter to go.

                “You said those exact words to Jasmine.” Narcissa’s tone is smooth, but Severus hears the censure anyway.

                He gives the tiniest of nods.

                “At least we know she’s definitely your daughter.”

               

                               

To be continued...
That Old Chestnut by Lady Connor
Author's Notes:
An early birthday chapter for one of my fave authors, JAWorley. I hadn't intended to post two chapters so close together, so everyone needs to thank JA and please send her many birthday wishes via reviews

Chapter 5

That Old Chestnut

 

Harry knocks on Regulus’ bedroom door and waits for him to let him enter quickly. He does not want to be seen by Sirius: he is the least helpful person he can talk to about this. Having just sent his first letter to Holly, Harry has decided to try and do something more. He can’t wait another two years before he sees Holly again. Perhaps he is afraid she will forget him and settle down in a new family; perhaps he is afraid she will adopt a new big brother.

            Regulus opens the door and expresses his surprise to see Harry standing there.

            “You all right, Harry?” he asks in concern, opening the door to let him in. Harry takes a glance to see if someone is coming and ducks into the room.

            Regulus immediately realises something is wrong and closes the door firmly. He is not surprised when Harry asks to put a Silencing Spell uses. The same one the Order utilises to keep out unwanted listeners.

           

***


Regulus can see that Harry is nervous about something and cannot help but be concerned, becoming fond of the boy. He had not expected this when he had replied to Harry’s letter two years ago. He had not expected to keep writing to the boy. However, he does not regret doing so: Harry gave him his brother back, and for this, he will always be grateful.

            Regulus makes Harry sit on his bed whilst he takes his chair and angles to see Harry and rest his legs on his desk simultaneously. It is his casual way of getting Harry to relax and open up to Regulus about what has been bothering him recently. Apart from the obvious, witnessing Voldemort’s resurrection and the subsequent wand fight that followed (that he had witnessed the end of), the death of a classmate and being attacked by Dementors.

            Regulus is somehow honoured that Harry has chosen to confide in him rather than Sirius. He waits whilst the boy gathers his thoughts.

            “I need your help,” Harry starts. “But you can’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. It’s essential that you don’t.”

            Regulus cautiously agrees.

            “As long as it doesn’t put you in danger,” he stipulates.

            Harry is quick to assure him, “It doesn’t.”

            “All right,” Regulus nods.

            Then, Regulus listens with mounting incredulity to the whole tale. Meeting Holly and Iris in the park. Getting to know them. Finding out he was a wizard and Iris telling him she knows about Hogwarts. Finding out Iris was a witch, that she was Eileen Snape, and that Holly is Snape’s daughter. Regulus waits until Harry is finished before focusing on some things that Harry is purposely leaving out.

            Regulus takes his feet off the desk and turns to face Harry properly.

            “Harry, I’m going to ask you one question, and I want you to answer honestly. Promise?”

            Harry gives him a confused nod.

            “How badly do your relatives hurt you?”

            Regulus has purposely asked an open-ended question so that Harry cannot give an instant denial. He can already guess, given the way the boy’s face has blanched.

            “Answer honestly, Harry.”

            He does not say anything. Instead, he stands up and turns around. He pulls his t-shirt up, exposing his back to Regulus, who clenches his fists in anger and slowly gets up from his chair to approach him. Gently, he tugs down his t-shirt’, turns the boy, so Harry faces him and puts his hands on the boy’s shoulders, pulling and pulling him into an embrace.

            “Thank you for trusting me,” Regulus says into his hair. “I won’t let you go back there. Okay? No matter what. I won’t let you stay with them ever again. You understand?”            

            Harry slowly puts his arms around Regulus and nods into his chest. He holds the boy for a moment longer and then lets him go, sitting down on the bed, patting it, for Harry to next to him.

            Harry does so. Regulus does not push any further about Harry’s relatives at that moment, though he wants to ask a million questions – Questions like, How long has this been going on? How often? How is he still a good person?

            Regulus’ mother was not the kindest of people and often cursed her sons when they did not comply. Regulus and Sirius carried their own scars – Not all were physical. When his mother passed away, Regulus made sure to burn her bloody portrait. Kreacher had been devastated by this, but he had managed to win his House-Elf around. It helped that Regulus saved Kreacher’s life once, the same way he later saved his master’s life.

            Regulus pushes all this aside to focus on the problem Harry came to him with. There’s a part of him that wants to laugh at the irony of life: Harry Potter has managed to befriend Severus Snape’s daughter. Only Harry could have this sort of luck.

            “I suppose the reason you came to me with this, instead of Sirius, is because of his irrational hatred of everything Snape-related?”

            “Partially,” Harry admits. “You were friends with Snape.”

            Regulus nods.

            “How did you find out about Iris and Eileen being the same person?” he questions curiously.

            “When I was researching about Sirius in third year. I just found it weird when everyone kept telling me not to go after Sirius. I just didn’t understand why they kept saying it like that – Like there was something personal. So, I started doing some research and found out it was because Sirius was mates with my dad. Then, I kept looking for other things, like people’s families, and that’s how I found out about you. Then I looked up the Malfoys because they were related to you. Then I read that The Malfoys fostered Snape. And then I found out that Snape’s mum was a Prince – I recognised her from her old picture. I knew it was Oma.”

            “You never told Iris you knew?”

            “No.”

            “Why not?”

            Harry turns to face Regulus properly, propping one leg on the bed.

            “Oma helped me more than anyone else on Privet Drive. When I got hurt, she healed me. When I was hungry, she made sure I had something to eat. She gave me my first birthday present and my first Christmas present. She made me feel like I wasn’t an orphan. It was the happiest feeling in the world for me when I found out that I didn’t have to hide being a wizard from her.

            “I remember when I asked her if her son was Holly’s father and, Regulus, I’ve never seen her look so afraid. She said one day I would find out the whole truth. I know she was planning to tell me about Snape. I truly believe that. When I found out that he was her son, I didn’t care. I cared about Oma and Holly: They were more important than Snape.”

            Regulus heaves a great sigh and stands up. Harry turns to follow his movements.

            “What do you want to do then?”

            “I sent Holly a letter with Hedwig before I came here, give or take a couple of hours ago. I know, I know. I shouldn’t have done that. She’s probably with muggles, and Dumbledore still has an owl ban,” Harry repeats this as if he is afraid that Regulus will tell him off, but he has no intention of doing so.     

“Regulus, she’s all by herself,” Harry’s tone turns imploring. “Oma’s gone. I’m not there for her. She has no one to turn to. I had to send Hedwig to let her know I’m still thinking of her. She’s… she’s all alone.”

“You care about her?” Regulus asks.

Harry’s answer is simple and doesn’t take long. “She’s my sister.”

Severus’ daughter is Harry’s sister, Regulus thinks. He cannot help but snort at the thought. Then, all at once, the laughter begins to bubble out.

“What?” Harry asks warily.

“Severus’ daughter is your sister,” Regulus shakes his head once he can control himself. “That makes Severus your dad as well.”

Regulus is barely able to get the sentence out as the giggles overcome him again.

He is rewarded with a face full of pillow. Regulus catches it before it falls to the ground, still laughing, and throws it back at Harry, sinking back into the chair by the desk.

“It’s funny, Harry,” he insists while Harry snarls half-heartedly.

Harry waits impatiently for Regulus to get a grip.

Regulus clears his throat but still has a smile on his face as he asks, “What do you want me to do?”

“Is there no way to bring Holly here? She’s a witch, so it’s not like we’d be breaking the Statute of Secrecy. And, maybe… she can stay with you?”

When Regulus does not immediately answer, Harry quickly carries on, “Or – or you can tell Snape that he has a daughter and maybe he’ll go get her.”

Regulus is on the verge of revealing to him that Severus already knows but holds back. Instead, he looks at Harry sympathetically, “If Severus goes to her, you’ll most likely never see her. It’s not like she can stay at Hogwarts during term time. And if Severus finds out you two have known each other from before, do you truly think he’s going to let you see each other?”

Severus and Regulus may not be the greatest of friends, but he is not blind to Severus’ irrational hatred of Harry Potter, as unfair as it is. In that sense, Severus and Sirius are no different from each other. Neither are Harry and Severus, in some ways, Regulus reflects, thinking of the scars on Harry’s back.

“You’re worried about her, aren’t you?”

“I told you. She’s alone. She has no one to trust. If people keep annoying her, she’ll lose her temper: it’s hard for her.”

Regulus finds himself snorting in laughter again. “She definitely sounds like a Snape,”

Harry rolls his eyes at him but shakes his head in amusement as well.

This time, it doesn’t take Regulus long to calm down.

“I’ll try and bring her here, but I’ll have to explain everything to Dumbledore. He is the Secret Keeper, and he’ll need to know,” Regulus points out.

Harry looks like he will argue but concedes that Dumbledore’s assent is essential.

“Thanks.”

After Harry has left after giving him all the information he could, Regulus wonders about where Holly was supposed to be taken, why he doesn’t just tell him that Severus has already received a letter informing him about his daughter. It would relieve his mind greatly to know that. Regulus knows that Severus has been looking for his daughter since the end of term, but he doesn’t know how Severus is progressing in his search. Perhaps he should find out.

First, he needs to speak to Dumbledore.

 

***

 

Lucius is sitting in the family parlour with a book titled Breaking the Down: a syllabus for Idiot Teenagers Who Think They Know Everything, preparing to be a teacher, when the Manor wards alert him to the arrival of Narcissa, Severus and his daughter. Lucius’ lips twitch every time he thinks of Severus’ daughter.

            He can’t wait to meet her.

            He immediately snaps his book shut and places it on the table piled with books next to him, all selected on how to be an effective teacher. He needs a different persona to Severus but manage to scare his students into fearing him.

            “Hokey,” Lucius calls, standing up.

            The House-Elf appears immediately.

            “Go to Draco’s room and tell him our new guest has arrived,” he orders.

            “Yes, Master,” the Elf bowed and pops away.

            Lucius makes his way to the Guest entrance. It’s not used all year round, only on occasions when the Malfoys throw a party for Christmas or whatever other special occasion they wish to celebrate. For security reasons, anyone who arrives via apparition would appear at the gates, and a carriage would be waiting to take them to the Hall. Only people keyed into the wards could Floo anywhere in the Manor; otherwise, guests Flooing in would be directed in the specially prepared Conservatory. Lucius had spent many days unkeying several people from his wards after the betrayal of the Dark Lord.

            They do not know if Holly is aware of magic, so she is being brought by car to a location not far from the gates; from there, it is a deceptively short walk to the gates, where a carriage is already waiting for them.

            Severus has already made up a room for Holly in the self-contained apartment he has lived in for years. He has refused to buy any clothes or toys yet, preferring to take the girl with him and shop for things together – an element of pragmatism that Narcissa is vexed about. Instead, she would rather go out and buy anything she thinks is suitable for a young lady, hang practicality, and hang the cost. Lucius had to stop her from strangling Severus for his choice not to spoil his daughter, though it shouldn’t surprise him, given that he is never one for indulgence or waste. Lucius believes it is due to his upbringing with his brute father, Tobias.

            Lucius gets to the Guest entrance first. The carriage comes into sight just as Draco comes up behind,  dressed in his best formal clothes: smart black trousers, a white button-down shirt, and a black waistcoat. His father is similarly dressed, but his button-down is a pale blue.

            Draco is smirking.

            “How old is she again?”

            “Nine,” Lucius answers.

            “At least he won’t have to worry about nappies and nightly feedings,” Draco chuckles. “Pity. I would have liked to see Uncle Sev change a nappy.”

            It seems like Draco, too, is looking forward to having fun at Severus’ expense.

            The carriage draws near. Lucius and Draco walk down the steps to meet it, and as it comes to a stop, the older wizard moves to the door and opens it, holding out a hand for Narcissa to alight first. She lifts her skirt with one hand and carefully steps down whilst using her other to support herself with Lucius’ hand, who is watching her sombre expression worriedly.

            Ah, he thinks, things have not gone well.

He and Narcissa take a step back as Severus gets out of the carriage, then turns around to reach for his daughter. He beckons for her hand and tells her in a low voice to come to him.

Lucius has not seen her yet.

“What’s happened?” he whispers. “Did she not react well to magic?”

“Quite the opposite – She was fine with magic. In fact, she knows she’s a witch, just like her mother. She did not, however, react well with Severus.”

Narcissa keeps her voice soft.

Lucius is about to speak again, but, seeing Severus turn away with a frustrated look, he steps aside and looks at Narcissa for help. He can feel his eyebrows rise at this. Narcissa switches places with Severus.

“Skittish, is she?” Lucius drawls in a quiet tone.

Severus shakes his head but does not look at him, who, instead, exchanges a look with Draco, somewhat confused.

“Come on, darling. You can’t want to stay out here all night. Soon, it will be cold. We’ll go inside, where it’s warm. We have your room ready, and we have a huge feast waiting for you. You can tell us all about yourself.”

The girl remains stubbornly inside the carriage, and it takes Narcissa several minutes to coax her out. Then, she steps back, and Lucius thinks she has finally succeeded until Narcissa drops her hand.

Holly steps up to the carriage door, looking fragile and miserable, clutching her bag to her chest as if she is afraid it will be snatched away. Lucius is forcibly reminded that the girl is grieving. They might be excited that Severus’s long lost daughter is joining their family, but Holly has lost her grandmother, her only guardian in her old world, and she’s been thrust into a literally different world with a father she has never met.

She looks like Severus in his first year, a little lost and overwhelmed: She has his black hair and dark eyes, though thankfully, she does not have his hooked nose.

Lucius feels an overwhelming need to take her in his arms, hold her close to and protect her from any harm. He wants to whisk her into the Manor and never let her go again, to wipe that desolate look from her eyes and see her smile.

Holly ignores Narcissa and jumps from the carriage, landing lightly on her feet on the hard ground. She waits there and tenses when Narcissa places a hand on her shoulder, touching her lightly.

Lucius does not like the sad look painted on his wife’s face.

Draco steps forward to close the carriage door and then presents himself before Holly, leaning down to her level and introducing himself.

“I’m Draco.”

            He even attempts to smile, though he is unnerved by the whole situation.

            Apart from looking at his face, she ignores him, preferring to lower her gaze on her shoes.

            “I can carry your bag for you,” Draco offers, reaching out to take it from her.

            Holly instinctively backs away from him, turning to the right to avoid his hand.

            A little frustrated, Draco moves away, looking at Lucius in askance.

            He takes his son’s place, and pasting a smile on his face, he gets down on one knee in front of her.

            “Pleased to meet you, Holly. I’m glad we found you at last. I’m your Uncle Lucius. If you ever have problems with your father, you come to me.”

            Holly whispers her first words with desolate determination. “He’s not my father.”

            Severus clears his throat.

            “We’ll go inside. Come, Holly, I’ll show you your room.”

            Lucius stands up, offering his elbow to Narcissa, who takes it. No one moves until Severus takes the first awkward step towards the entrance.

            “Dinner will be served in half an hour,” Lucius tells them.

            He wants to join them as they show Holly her new room. Although Severus’ apartment is entirely self-contained, it can still be accessed from the Manor. When Severus does not want visitors, even from the family, he simply raises the wards so that no one can access them. He still has this option, but since Holly is moving in, her bedroom will technically be in Malfoy Manor rather than Severus’ space: Narcissa intends to be a big part of Holly’s life, whether Severus plans for it or not.

Draco follows Lucius into the Dining room. There is still time before the evening meal is served, Lucius and Draco sit in their usual seats a little earlier than usual.

            “What was that about?”

            Lucius looks at his son, who seems perplexed.

            “I’d wager it was the result of an acrimonious breakup,” Lucius offers.

            Draco looks partway through, hesitant and incredulous. “Was it really that bad?”.

            “This is your godfather we’re talking about, Draco. What do you think?”

            He grimaces in understanding. Severus has never been the easiest of people: If he can tolerate someone, he will make an effort to be polite – he has never been able to network like Lucius. He tries to recall when was the last time Severus attended a party where he needed to make connections: around 1986, he thinks. Not long after he broke up with Jasmine, in fact, Severus might have only dated one or two girls before he gave up altogether.

            Lucius only met Jasmine a handful of times after he had searched his memories to place her. Curiously, she was also the one who had lasted the longest – Months instead of Severus’ usual weeks. Lucius thinks this was because of her looks: Red hair and green eyes, it seems to be Severus’ signature. He isn’t aware of this, but Lucius always investigates any girl Severus dates to ensure there are no surprises in the closet. Not just on their family line: They have to watch out for anyone who wants to use Severus just for his money. Gold diggers or mud rakers.

There was one witch who was a budding journalist, and after Severus had gained his Mastery and published his first essay on the uses of Wolfsbane, she had begun to look into the wizard’s past for a scandal. Lucius had made sure that the witch would never attempt such a thing again. In fact, after Lucius had dealt with her, she had abruptly decided that journalism was not for her.

            There was nothing in Jasmine’s background that screamed gold digger or user, despite her ambitions to work in the Minister’s office. Lucius might even have approved of Jasmine Pierce if she hadn’t been a Mudblood.  However, he should dig into her file: Something odd tickles Lucius’s mind about Holly and Jasmine. Maybe reading her file, which he will have to look for, will jog his memory.

            Draco is sitting there looking bored as Lucius tries to remember where he has placed his files. He is confident he has not destroyed them: His father had taught him never to destroy even the most innocuous of information. One never knows when the need might strike.

            Lucius is mentally walking through his study, trying to place each location when Severus walks in alone. This jolts him back to the Dining room while Draco sits up with interest: He knows not to disturb Father when he is mentally on the hunt for something.

            Draco gives Severus an impatient look. “Well?”

            Studying Severus closely, Lucius sees the strain in his friend’s eyes.

            “Where is the rest of her things?” Lucius chooses this topic as it seems safer at the moment. “Surely, everything she has cannot be in that bag.”

            Holly might have indicated she knew about magic, but Narcissa and Severus could not have used their wands whilst still in the muggle areas. It is feasible they could have shrunk her things whilst in the carriage, but Lucius recalls the possessive way she held her bag.

            “When children are taken away from their home, they usually are only allowed to pack one or two bags, especially until they are permanently placed. Whatever she has in that bag is what she was allowed to take with her,” Severus explains. “Her grandmother’s estate is still being handled. Most likely, I’ll get a letter about what to do with the rest of her things.”

            “She’s been moving from house to house for close to four weeks,” Lucius points out. “She can’t have much.”

            Severus sighs.

            “I’ll have to buy her a new wardrobe anyway.”

            “So, what has been her reaction to magic?” Draco interrupts. “She seems to be okay with it.”

            “We brought up the topic about magic on the walk to the gates. She already seems to know. She told Narcissa that her ‘Oma’ already told her about it.”

            “She told Narcissa?” Lucius picks up on this point.

            “She hates me,” Severus says miserably. “She won’t look at me or let me help her. She barely acknowledges me. Narcissa is helping her freshen up for dinner. I thought it best to make myself absent.”

            Lucius nods. Severus will have to work hard to win his daughter’s trust, To reserve whatever damage her mother had inflicted. Lucius would also have to pay attention to his words around the girl. He gives his son a sideward glance: he, too, would need to watch what he says.

            “Draco, you will sit next to Severus today,” Lucius suggests. “Given her aversion to you, Severus, perhaps it is best to let Narcissa act as mediator.”

            Draco gets up from his seat and moves across the dining table to sit next to his godfather.

            “Have you managed to get much information at least?”

            In answer, Severus pulls out a small manila folder, shrunken to the size of a deck of cards. With his wand, he unshrinks it and pushes it towards Lucius.

            “Have you read through it already?”

            Severus nods. “In the muggle car. I sat with the driver whilst Narcissa and Holly sat in the back. I took the opportunity to review it then.”

            Lucius does not doubt that Severus has already memorised it. He flips it open and studies the first page: It is Holly’s Birth Certificate.

            It has all the usual information.

            Name of child: Holly Pierce

Gender: Female

Date:  5 May 1986

Place of birth: Maternity Unit

            Mother’s name: Jasmine Pierce

            Place of birth: Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Occupation:  Unemployed

Father’s name: Severus Snape

Place of Birth: Spinner’s End

Occupation: Teacher

Lucius is surprised that Severus’ place of birth is listed. Then again, Jasmine knew enough about him to try and see his father, Tobias. He peruses the other documents: Jasmine has a Death Certificate, dated 30 April of 1990. The Cause of death is listed as smoke inhalation from a house fire.

            Something about it stirs Lucius memory. Putting it aside, for now, he looks through the rest of the paperwork: Jasmine’s mother, Iris Pierce, gets custody of her granddaughter. Lucius finishes inspecting the documents and snatching one Draco has stolen.

            “I was reading that,” he protests vehemently.

            Lucius clouts him and hands it all back to Severus, who, also ignoring Draco’s scowl, shrinks it down and puts it away in his pocket once more.

            Hokey pops into the room and bows down.

            “Mistress Narcissa and Missy Holly have left Missy Holly’s room, sir. Does Master want dinner to be served now?”

            “Yes, Hokey. Start bringing up the food,” Lucius dismisses.

            Hokey does not disappear straight away. Instead, he turns to Severus and asks, “Is Master Severus still wanting-”

            “Yes, yes, Hokey. Just do as I asked,” Severus snaps impatiently.

            Hokey nods and leaves.

            “Special dish?” Lucius queries in interest.

            “Something like that,” the other says vaguely. His attention is on the door, waiting for Narcissa and Holly to enter.

            Only a few minutes later, the duo walks into the Dining room and take their seats. Narcissa, seeing the change in seating, gives Lucius a discreet nod of approval. First, she pulls out Holly’s chair for the little, ensuring she is seated but sitting in the chair next to her. Lucius still sits at the head of the table as the family patriarch and his wife sits to his right.

            Lucius is disappointed as Holly shows no reaction to the food suddenly appearing, aside from a slight jump. She’s muggle raised, he thinks. Where’s the wonder?

            Holly stares at the food in front of her without interest, her hands resting on either side of her plate.

            Lucius begins to serve himself, leaving Narcissa to look after Holly. Severus does not move to eat, but Draco starts to serve himself, watching everyone hesitantly. Narcissa asks Holly what she would like to try first.

            “Here, try some of this Shepherd’s pie first,” Narcissa continues when Holly does not acknowledge this.

            The meal is spent in awkward silence. No one is eating much. Hoping to arouse her curiosity, Lucius deliberately engages Draco in conversation.

            “How have your Potions classes been this year, Draco?”

            Draco jumps to fill the uncomfortable silence.

            “Good. Really good. Uncle Sev has been giving extra pointers on how to improve my essays for next year since it’s OWLs year,” he begins to ramble.

            Narcissa interrupts smoothly and begins to explain to Holly, “Potions is one of the core classes offered to Hogwarts school. You will attend there yourself. You receive your letter on your 11th birthday. Draco has a natural talent for Potions that Severus has been nurturing since he was your age. Your father, of course, is the Potions Master at Hogwarts. No doubt one day he will begin teaching you the subject himself soon.”

            “He’s not my father,” Holly states in a cold voice, not looking up from her plate, which she has yet to touch.

            Lucius catches Severus’ flinch at Holly’s words.

            Narcissa does not let this deter her and continues as if the interruption didn’t occur, “OWLs stand for Ordinary Wizarding Level examinations, that every witch and wizard must pass at the end of their fifth year. They are essential qualifications.”

            Lucius resumes the conversation again. “I hope your Transfiguration marks have improved.”

            “Theo said he would tutor me,” Draco responds in a smaller voice.

            “Charms?”

            “Borderline E.”

            “Defense Against the Dark Arts?”

            “A.”

            “Herbology?”

            “A.”

            Lucius and Draco continue back and forth like this until he has interrogated his son on all his subjects. Of course, Lucius had already seen his son’s results. Unlike OWLs and NEWTs scores, usually sent out during the middle of summer, final examinations marked by teachers themselves are announced before the year's end.

            “I do hope you have already started your summer homework,” Lucius says in strict tones.

            He can tell by the pinkening of his cheeks that his son has not. Glancing surreptitiously at Holly, he can see she has not started eating.

            “No more flying until your first two assignments are completed,” Lucius announces.

            Draco splutters in irritation. “That’s not fair.”

            Lucius raises an imperious brow at his son.

            “Is the food not to your liking?” Severus ignores Draco’s attitude. He has barely touched his own, taking no more than a few forkfuls before returning his full attention to his daughter.

            “You’ll have to let us know what you like to eat most,” Narcissa smiles down at her.

            Holly reaches for the juice Narcissa poured for her, taking a few sips. No matter how much she tempts, Holly refuses to eat her food.

            “Can I go upstairs?” the girl asks several minutes later.

            Narcissa instantly agrees, abandoning her food and taking her back upstairs.

            The second they clear the door, Lucius looks to Severus and demands, “Why is Narcissa upset? What else has happened?”

            Severus looks like he going to refute this, but Lucius glares him down.

            Draco spears a roasted carrot and slowly brings it to his lips as he stares between his father and godfather.

            “Holly might have mentioned something that has offended Narcissa.”

            “What is that?” Lucius presses.

            Severus remains stubbornly silent, and Lucius can feel his ire rising. They continue their meal in silence. No doubt Narcissa will tell him later what else has transpired. He has noticed that Narcissa has been quiet towards Severus, but, at first, he attributed it to Holly’s reticence. However, he began to notice her cold tone when she referred to Severus earlier regarding his position as a teacher.

            When Narcissa returns, almost ten minutes later, she looks concerned and fatigued.

            “She’s already fallen asleep,” she announces, resuming her seat. She picks up her fork and then puts it down again. “I find it curious that she fell asleep so quickly, in a new environment to boot, when the woman from the Care Home told us Holly struggles to sleep.”

            Lucius notices her gaze on Severus, and his heart sinks as he realises what he must have done.

            Severus fidgets under Narcissa’s blazing eyes: in a temper, she is a sight to behold. Despite only knowing her a few hours, she is interested in Holly, but her protective instincts have awakened, and very little can calm her down. Lucius can try, but his methods are not suitable for an audience.

            “I asked Hokey to add a few drops of Milk Thistle to her juice,” Severus confesses reluctantly and visibly braces himself for the consequences of his actions.

            Narcissa’s voice is artic cold. “You drugged your daughter?”

            Lucius stays silent, torn between wanting to slink away so as not to be caught in the maelstrom and watching as she is ready to shred Severus like a goblin strips gold from a wizard. He also admits to getting a little aroused at the sight of her flashing eyes.

            “For Morgana’s sake, Severus, when you drugged Draco so he would leave you alone, I warned you that drugging children is not the way to go.”

WHAT?” Draco cries in indignation but is unceremoniously ignored by his mother.

“That child already does not trust you, and you thinking slipping her Milk Thistle is going to help?”

“She needs rest. It wouldn’t have worked so quickly unless she didn’t need sleep,” Severus tries to defend himself.

“What was your plan? Hope she wakes up well-rested in the morning, forgetting that she hates you?”

“I just wanted … I just wanted to help her,” he replies, defeated.

“You are far from doing anything for her, and drugging her against her will, will do you no favours. What if she finds out? She hasn’t even touched her food. What if she stops eating entirely because she’s afraid you’ll dose something again? Where will you stop? Today it’s just Milk Thistle: If she continues in her aversion for you, will you dose her with some sort of Compulsion Potion?”

            Severus pales at the accusation but dares to argue back.

            “I would never do that,” he bites out in an icy tone.

            “So you say, Severus, so you say. You already have fences to mend with your daughter. Who knows what else her mother has told her about you.”

            Lucius finds himself holding his breath: They are getting to the fundamental matter now.

            “Care to venture what else Jasmine might have said to her daughter about you?” Narcissa asks pointedly.

            She seems to have found the words so abhorrent that she does not want to repeat them. Lucius finds himself impatient to hear them.

            Severus darts a glance at Draco, but Narcissa promptly catches this too.

            “No need to hide something from your godson,” she derides.

            “I didn’t mean it,” but his protests are weak.

            “You’re a liar, Severus Snape. And since you’re so ashamed that you can’t bear to repeat it, even if not to think those words in the first place, let alone say them out loud, I shall tell your godson precisely what you said about the witch who bore your child.

            “Severus, apparently unable to break up with a witch without hostility, told Jasmine that she is nothing more than a bed-hopping slut. A phrase which she has no issue with repeating to her daughter. A phrase that has impacted that innocent child so much that it’s the first thing she says to her father.”

            Lucius winces, grasping the reason for Narcissa’s fury and the seriousness of the situation. She had never approved of his temporary relationships, not because she was a prude, but because Severus could never end any of his relationships without creating a spiteful atmosphere – Come to think of it, it was probably why he backed off from dating. The wizarding world is small, and bitter words spread faster than a Niffler after shiny trinkets.

            “And you,” she turns her attention to Draco, who is startled at the sudden attention of his livid mother and gives her a panicked look.

            “If I ever hear you have treated a witch that way, I will yank out your tongue and feed it to hippogriffs,” Narcissa threatens.

            Draco squeaks in terror and nods frantically.

            “Now, go to your room,” she orders.

            Draco pushes back his chair so fast that it falls backwards with a loud crash. He runs away without a back glance for fear of more threats.

            Severus is too ashamed to look them both in the eye and too frozen to dare make a move. Lucius himself dares not breathe.

            The three sit there for several minutes as Narcissa composes herself. She stands up abruptly and pushes her chair back with slow, deliberate movements, excusing herself in a distant voice and leaving the room once more.

            The food the House-Elves have prepared is practically untouched; Holly was not the only one without appetite tonight.

            Lucius finally lets the tension drain out and lets out a weary sigh, eyeing critically Severus, who has slumped back in his chair in misery: he is so withdrawn that he does not dare let anyone see his vulnerability. On one level, Lucius and Narcissa are honoured that Severus drops his guard for them, given everything he has been through; on another level, he exposes himself to criticism that he only lets Narcissa get away with. They have mutual respect in that regard.

            Lucius often finds himself biting his tongue to keep peace with his best friend and brother in all but blood.

            Still, Lucius will occasionally hand out little gems of wisdom such as, “You sabotage yourself, friend.”

            Wisdom delivered, Lucius also leaves and goes to his bedroom, where Narcissa is already getting ready for bed, despite the ridiculously early hour.

            He spends the rest of the evening and half the night calming his wife down. Evidence of this can be found over his body the following day.

 

***

 

Albus is very rarely caught off guard. Even when he is, he has learned to understand, adapt, and move on. Balancing education and politics has not been easy, but he has succeeded, though he is aware that he has made many mistakes, dropped the quaffle more times than he should have.

            Eileen’s unexpected death has been a devastating distraction. One more thing to juggle. On top of looking after the school, dealing for Cornelius, bringing the Order together, devising a plan of action and attempting to thwart whatever plans Voldemort is putting in place.

            Albus does not doubt that Voldemort is currently licking his wounds, so to speak, from the double blow of not only failing to kill Harry Potter (for the third time) but also losing half his forces before his second reign of terror has even begun.

            Gaining Lucius Malfoy as an ally is not what Albus expected. He knows that Severus trusts the man to look out for himself and his family and agrees with this assessment. Lucius has always been a slippery snake, slithering back to his den when danger is near: In fact, the Malfoys have a habit of landing on their feet. Albus welcomes them as allies, but he does not necessarily have to trust them. Now, having Lucius as a Defence Against the Dark Arts professor is an unpredicted, but not unwelcome, surprise. If Lucius plans on surviving the war with his family intact, he will certainly need to train this generation with the crucial skills. Thwarting Umbridge’s attempt to harm Harry and the school further – Lucius has undoubtedly proven his worth.

            At least, Albus does not have to worry about recruiting for the position yet again –until next year, he thinks wryly.

            Finding out that Eileen has been alive all these years was a boon. Finding out Eileen with Severus’ daughter was a surprise. Finding Eileen living so close to Harry Potter and knowing that she practically raised him was a shock that Albus is still trying to assimilate.

            It would have been a delicate balance, but Albus had already started the beginning of a plan to make Severus aware of the fact that his mother was alive and taking care of his daughter. When Eileen told him she was dying but estimated she had a year, Albus had first enchanted one of the gadgets to monitor her health. Albus’ first instinct that Eileen had lied about her health had been correct, though he had momentarily doubt himself until he had seen Severus’ letter informing him of the existence of his daughter. Then, Albus had received his letter from Eileen that evening: she had certainly explained a few things to him and made a few requests of her own, including delaying Severus’ attempts to find his daughter. Albus is usually better at predicting human nature; Eileen had momentarily turned him upside down.

            And now, he discovers that Harry has done the same.

            The boy has been so very different from what Albus expected him to be. When Arabella had informed him over the years of the Dursleys’ treatment of Harry, he had asked for proof so that he could get him out of there permanently. Arabella had never done so, so Albus had dismissed her concerns as being overprotective.

            Harry was better adjusted than Albus had anticipated, despite Arabella’s claims. He was intelligent, charming, easy-going, and one of the kindest souls Albus had seen in one hundred and fourteen years. Despite what Severus thinks, Harry is not James.

            Once Harry entered Hogwarts, Albus has kept a closer eye on the boy than he ever imagined. Albus never accounted for Eileen, and he has been glad for her influence on Harry and, though he could be wrong, he also feels the boy influenced Elieen.

            Harry has a way of bringing people together, a power he is endearingly unaware of. A natural leader. Also, a master researcher and keeper of secrets, apparently.

            “So, Harry is fully aware that Eileen and Iris were the same person?”

            “Yes.” Regulus accompanies his affirmative with a nod.

            “And he also knows that Holly’s is Severus’ daughter?”

            “That too, yes.”

            “He wants Holly to be brought into Grimmauld Place?”

            “Or for Severus to find her and take her in,” Regulus adds.

            Albus falls silent as he cogitates on it all.

            “Harry said Holly already knows about magic,” Regulus adds when the silence lingers longer than Albus intends for it to.

            He still doesn’t answer as he ruminates on it all again.

            “I know Severus has started looking for his daughter. Has he had much luck?”

            Severus had, in fact, found his daughter and retrieved her earlier that day. Albus knows this because he had allowed for him to. Eileen had requested that Albus have Holly moved around to distance the young girl from where she and Holly had resided. Although Albus knew this was only delaying the inevitable, he acquiesced, silently sending out apologies to the little girl who was suffering due to his decision. He hoped Eileen knew what she was doing.

            “Severus has not confirmed that he has found her yet,” Albus answers. Which is true. “From our last brief meeting, he told me he was having trouble locating her.” Because of me, he thinks.

            Albus can see that Regulus is getting impatient, so he finally answers the younger wizards question, “I do not see why Holly cannot come to Headquarters. However, Severus is also looking for her, and you know he has little reason to bring her to your home.”

            “Well, yes. He’ll take her to Malfoy Manor,” Regulus agrees, and Albus can see the beginnings of a smile.

            “The important matter is that young Holly is taken away from wherever the muggle services have placed her. Eileen would much prefer her granddaughter not suffer. For the moment, Severus shouldn't find out that Eileen was alive and her relationship with Harry.”

            Regulus agrees with this instantly: Severus’ dislike for Harry Potter is not something the Potions Master is quiet about.            

            “Do you think Severus will keep her hidden away? To protect her?” he asks.

            “We cannot deny that possibility,” Albus admits, causing Regulus to frown.

            “It’ll devastate Harry if he can’t ever see her again.”

            Albus heaves a sigh.

            “So far, the only people who know of the existence of Holly’s connection to Severus are you and I, Severus himself, of course, Harry and the Malfoys. I would say that Draco is included in that, as he still resides in Malfoy Manor. Harry’s friends do not know of the connection?”

            “Harry says he hasn’t told them, and I get the feeling he’s reluctant to tell them that angle. They know she exists. They have met her in the past,” Regulus explains.

            Albus reaches for a piece of parchment and a quill which he dips into the inkwell. He jots down the address for Arabella with a little guilt: He knows he is sending Regulus on a wild Snorkack hunt.

            “This is Arabella Figg’s address,” Albus hands over the parchment. “She will provide you with the information you’ll need to track Holly down. Once you’ve located her, we will begin making plans to get her away from the muggle services she is with. We will deal with what we need to tell Severus if you locate her before he does, though bear in mind he has an advantage. If she is with Severus before you find her, then you’ll have to leave her, I’m afraid.”

            Regulus nods but is pleased that Albus has allowed this.

            “One more thing, Headmaster,” Regulus says, turning before reaching the door. “Harry’s not going back to the Dursleys. Ever.”

            “How bad is it?” Albus asks, feeling a rare shiver of fear.

            “He has scars. They whipped him until he was left with scars,” Regulus says grimly. “I’m not letting him go back.”

            “I already promised someone else that I will not allow Harry to return,” Albus confesses. “I have unfortunately already had to break that promise given Voldemort’s return. I regret the time he had to spend there whilst grieving the death of Mr Diggory and Eileen. It was unavoidable until I managed all other … I promise you, Regulus. Come the end of summer, Harry will not be returning to Privet Drive.”

            Regulus leaves, relieved and satisfied. As soon as he leaves his office, Albus quickly writes another note to Arabella explaining she will be receiving a visit from Regulus and what actions she needs to take.

            “Fawkes,” Albus calls as he folds up the parchment.

            His familiar appears in a flash.

            “I need you to deliver this to Arabella, my friend.”

            Fawkes squawks and disappears in another flash of fire.

            “Oh, Eileen. Am I only making a mess in supporting you?”

 

***

Harry is happy to see Hedwig return with his letter to Holly.

            “You found her, Hedwig?” he checks.

            Hedwig gives him a happy bark, flying around his head before settling in his laps.

            “You’re brilliant, Hedwig,” Harry praises, and his owls preens.

            “I won’t always have a letter. Just go out any time you need to – You know, to check on her. To let her know she’s not alone.”

            Harry is happy that Hedwig found Holly and managed to give his letter. He spoils her by feeding her more owl treats than he usually does.

            “We’ll bring her back,” he vows fiercely.

            Hedwig nips his fingers in agreement.

 

To be continued...
Grasp The Nettle by Lady Connor
Author's Notes:
JA didn't even need to cajole this chapter from me ... at least on this occasion

Chapter 6 - Grasp the Nettle

 

Severus has been feeling out of sorts since last night. Actually, since the night of the Dark Lord’s resurrection. Ever since he caught the Lily Potter’s shadow protecting her son that night in the graveyard, Severus has felt like he took a bludger to the solar plexus; since that night, he has felt like the bludgers have not stopped coming for him.

His first meeting with his daughter did not go according to plan, he thinks, dropping the towel from his waist at the foot of his bed.

            Holly categorically refuses to look at him, let alone accept or talk to him. The whole car and carriage ride was spent in awkward silence. Even Narcissa spoke to him the bare minimum after Holly’s first disastrous words.

            “I don’t know who my dad is. My mum was just a bed-hopping slut.”

            Severus had always felt that all his relationships ended in anger and harshness. Every time he parts from visiting his father, his last words to his mother, that one harsh word that drove Lily away forever and no amount of imploring made up for it.

            Severus’ breakup with Jasmine was worse than any other. After getting the letter from his father, he had borrowed Albus’ Pensieve and looked through his memories of Jasmine, managing to find out the exact date of Holly’s conception. The one time he did not use a Contraception Charm to protect himself.

            Before the Pensieve, he barely remembered that night, but he couldn’t forget it after viewing it. The whole time Severus had babbled about Lily. He still remembers what drove him to drink that night, almost to the point of oblivion. He wanted to forget, and so he sought out Jasmine. Their drunken fumbling that night was nothing remarkable, but it had shamed him at the time – Ashamed because he had realised he was trying to replace Lily with a substitute. Jasmine could never replace Lily, and so his attraction to her had left him cold.

            He had only spent one more night with her after his regretful drunken night and then avoided her for weeks using Hogwarts as an excuse. The next night they had met up; after several weeks, she had practically thrown herself at him, and Severus had decided to indulge one more time. The last time. He didn’t know how to gracefully back out of a relationship.

            “I think I’m falling in love with you, Severus,” Jasmine says to him, reaching out to embrace him.

            Severus feels panic at the words. Jasmine is just fooling herself. He only ever wanted the love of one person. She was dead.

            “What would a bed-hopping slut like you know of love?” Severus sneers cruelly.

            If Severus had slapped her, Jasmine could not have looked more shocked.

            They argue for several minutes, as Severus is desperate to leave whilst Jasmine franticly tries to convince him that she wants to be with him.

            “But I’m pregnant, Severus. Are you really going to leave me?”

            He laughs. Harshly. In her face. Her tears do not sway him. They must be fake.

            “A liar’s last little ploy,” Severus throws at her. “I could never love you, and you could never be pregnant with my child. Are you trying to pawn someone else’s bastard off on me?”

            Severus apparates away after delivering that line. He has had enough.

 

What else had Jasmine told his daughter? he thinks as he buttons up his shirt.

            Now Narcissa is angry with him, and no doubt he has Lucius’ censure as well. Last night, Severus was only trying to help when he had added Milk Thistle to Holly’s juice. He can tell that Holly has not slept in a while. Narcissa was right to reprimand him, though he resents that she accused him of wanting to use Compulsion Potions to make her like him.

            Severus finishes dressing quickly, making his way to Holly's room. Narcissa has already beaten him there, standing inside Holly’s room and helping her select an outfit from her meagre choice of garments.

            There will be a shopping spree at some point today, he is sure. Severus lingers outside Holly’s bedroom, waiting for Narcissa to come out with his daughter.

            Holly sees him standing there as she steps out of her room and pauses long enough to cast a hard look that makes his heart sink, though he keeps his expression neutral.

Still, he offers a “Good Morning,” though it is ignored as expected.

Narcissa follows Holly straight out and pauses like her, giving him a nod.

            “Morning, Severus,” Narcissa greets him.

            Severus is relieved to find Narcissa has calmed down since his gaffe last night. She might not have forgiven him, but she is willing to move on. Lucius has done an excellent job in soothing his wife.

            As they enter the Dining Room again, Severus sees Draco in the same seat as last night and decides to sit next to him so that Narcissa and Holly can sit together.

            It is as awkward a breakfast as last night’s dinner. For Holly's sake, everyone is overly bright and energetic, who stares blankly at them before turning back to her plate after taking her seat.

Narcissa dishes up some scrambled eggs for her while everyone else begins to serve themselves.

As Narcissa reaches for the pumpkin juice, Holly speaks up, “Water, please. The juice tastes weird. Like grass.”

The Malfoy matriarch shoots a knowing look towards Severus, who suppresses a sigh. It seems like Lucius will have to work hard to soothe Narcissa again today.

Holly only takes a few bites of her eggs and nibbles on her toast, but it’s still enough for Severus to be relieved to see her eating. He knows he is not the only one keeping an eye on her eating habits – Narcissa is making sure she is eating well, ready to fill her glass or plate again, and Lucius, too, is watching her, though, like Severus, he is not obvious about it.

Lucius hides behind his copy of the Daily Prophet after clearing his plate and sips his morning coffee whilst everyone else is still eating. Contrarily, Severus prefers to read the newspaper in the privacy of his own room. Having already moved on from the night’s events, Draco reaches for his third helping of bacon rashers and fried eggs.

Severus notices Holly watching the front page of the Daily Prophet with curiosity.

“Have you ever seen the Daily Prophet before?” he asks, attempting to make conversation.

Holly darts a quick startled glance at him but returns her attention to her plate.

Severus finds himself frustrated by her lack of engagement. Everyone else at the table politely ignores him, though he sees the newspaper twitch slightly.

Lucius is still reading when Artemis, his owl, flies in and drops off a bundle of letters. Artemis hoots impatiently at Lucius until he lowers the paper and unties the letters from familiar.

“Blasted owl,” he scowls. “Behave.”

“What’s her name?” Holly asks, looking at the owl in fascination and trepidation.

“His,” Lucius corrects, glaring at his owl. “Artemis.”

“He’s beautiful. Can- can I pet him?” Holly asks hesitantly.

“Artemis is very territorial,” he answers. “He only lets me near, and even then, he can be very irritable. I should have turned your egg into an omelette when I had the chance, owl.”

Very few people know that Lucius has an ongoing feud with his owl. He was initially bought for Draco when he was due to leave for Hogwarts.  He is a sensitive bird – Severus has scars from where Artemis scratched him for whatever he did to offend the owl... Lucius kept the bird for himself, seeing he was the only one Artemis would tolerate.

As if to purposely prove Lucius wrong, his familiar rises, spreads his wings, deliberately hits him in the face and flies over to Holly, who raptly follows his movements. Landing in front of her, Artemis gives off a little squawk and stares intently at the little girl, who cautiously reaches a hand to pet the dark feathered owl. Everyone is frozen, waiting to intervene in case Artemis loses his temper.

They all exchange looks of astonishment as Artemis allows Holly to stroke him carefully. The dark owl has never been this docile, even with Lucius, to whom he belongs.

Holly ignores her food to devote her attention to the owl, but Severus sees her filch a piece of bacon from Narcissa’s plate (which the witch pointedly ignores, though she continually admonishes anyone else who does it) and feeds Artemis little bites.

“Don’t overfeed the ball of fluff, child. He’ll get fat,” Lucius says, clearing his throat, but he is taken aback when Artemis turns and glares at him before carefully turning back and nuzzling Holly’s now empty hand. He flies out with an uncharacteristically friendly peck, but not before spilling the last of Lucius’ coffee.

Holly watches Artemis fly away before turning back to her plate. It doesn’t escape anyone’s notice that she has started eating more.

“Once we’re finished with breakfast, we’ll take a walk around the Manor to show you around,” Narcissa informs Holly.

They have yet to introduce her to the House-Elves. Though she has accepted everything with more aplomb than expected, seeing a House-Elf for the first time will be jarring.

 

***

Severus feels like a third wheel as he trails along with Narcissa and Holly, who barely acknowledges his presence. They only bring one House-Elf, to begin with. Holly startles a little when Roker appears, but she nods and moves on after studying the creature in silent contemplation.

            Severus is surprised at how unresponsive Holly is to magic. She was only four when Jasmine died, and Iris, her grandmother, took over custody: How Severus wishes he had known about her then. Perhaps he might have been able to make up for the damage Jasmine had done. Had Iris continued to speak ill of Severus after Jasmine? She was her mother, so of course, she would take Jasmine’s side.

            Jasmine would have told her mother all about magic, and Holly seems to know more than Severus and the Malfoys expected, which was good for not having to deal with a hysterical child thrust into a completely new world after the death of her last remaining family.

            After a tour of the Manor and Severus’ apartment's main areas, Lucius leaves, heading straight for his study, and Draco drifts back to his room.

           

***

 

Lucius locks himself in his study, leaving Narcissa and Severus to look after Holly. They will be going off to Diagon Alley soon to buy everything they need to for the girl, without her for the time being. He is unsure if Draco will follow them or go off and do his own thing, but Lucius is now doing what he should have done when he had heard about Holly and her mother.

            Lucius has not needed to look through these files for years, but he meticulously manages them. After securing his study door, he uses his wand to open the trapdoor to a hidden room under his floor.

            Lighting it up, he strides to the back corner where he stores all the things related to Severus, not that the wizard is aware of them.

            It does not take him long to find what he is looking for. First, he locates the investigations regarding Severus’ girlfriends, if they can be called that: more like companions, although even that sounds like a kind word. Bed warmers, more like.

            Then he locates Jasmine Pierce’s folder.

            Lucius debates going up and reading it in the comfort of his study but then decides to conjure himself a chair and read it whilst still in the secret room. There is a reason he has kept these things from Severus, and even Narcissa doesn’t know that he is keeping tabs on Severus and his bed warmers.

            Settling into his chair, he flips the folder open from the beginning, carefully reading through each page, patiently committing it to memory, no matter how insignificant it might seem.

            He has been using his investigator for years. Though Lucius himself very rarely ventures out to the muggle world, his PI can navigate between both worlds without issue. She is a well-kept secret and knows how to ferret out information - for the right price.          

            His PI has found a copy of Jasmine’s birth certificate and muggle school records. The only child of Owen and Jasmine Pierce – bright by all means: there are even accounts of Jasmine’s accidental magic. Lucius is, as always, impressed by his PI’s thoroughness as he reads through all of it.

            He reads with interest the concise summary of Jasmine’s years at Hogwarts. According to the death certificate in his hand, the passing of her father, Owen Pierce, during her fourth year at Hogwarts: Cause of death was pneumonia. He also has copies of her OWL and NEWT scores, all previous addresses at which she had lived, the jobs she held in various Ministry departments until she settled in the Department of International Magical Co-operation. Her last known residence before she was in a relationship with Severus.

            Lucius almost misses it, dismissing her father’s death certificate that he has already seen before, taking a good look and reading with more interest he has given the rest of the file.

            The Death Certificate does not belong to Owen Pierce. On the contrary, it belongs to Iris Pierce. According to the piece of paper Lucius is holding, Iris Pierce died of something called diabetes-related complications. In 1984. Almost a year before Jasmine and Severus got together.

            That begs the question: Who is this Iris Pierce who had taken care of Severus’ daughter all these years?

 

***

 

“Come on, Harry,” Ron cajoles. “Mum’s getting worried. You’ve not been eating properly. She’s ready to tie you down and spoon-feed you.”

            Harry sighs and nods, giving in and follows Ron and Neville back to the kitchen. He still doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite. He knows his friends have been worried about him because he has been quiet since arriving at Grimmauld Place. There is not much to do.

            Mrs Weasley spends most of the day in the kitchen, keeping a supply of food and snacks ready for the steady stream of Order members coming in and out of Headquarters.

            Harry spends most of his time in his bedroom with Ron and Neville. To distract himself, he has thrown himself into his summer homework – to Hermione’s delight and Ron’s dismay. Harry may not enjoy homework, but he enjoys learning about magic. Iris has always taught him to put every effort into his studies.

            Currently, homework is a distraction from his worries about Holly. Harry had sent two more letters since his first successful attempt almost a week ago. Each time, Hedwig comes back with his letter unopened. Harry is worried about what this means: Is Hedwig unable to deliver the letters because Holly is not alone? He doesn’t know.

            When Regulus told him that Dumbledore had agreed to bring Holly to Headquarters, Harry was deliriously happy, though it was tempered by the knowledge that Snape was also looking for Holly and, if he had found her first, then there was nothing he could have done. Harry’s trying not to think what Snape would do if he found Holly already in Headquarters and took her away. He feels terrible that he wishes Snape didn’t want anything to do with his daughter so that Harry can have Holly all to himself: he only hopes that she doesn’t forget him or hate him if Snape makes her hate Harry as he does. It is a big fear if he is honest. It is one more thing to worry about. He does not want to lose Holly. Especially not to Snape.

            Regulus has spent the whole week trying to find Holly, alongside Snape. Every day, when Regulus comes home without her, Harry’s heart sinks in deeper.

 

***

 

“Why does she stare up at the sky all the time?” Draco asks his mother.

            Holly has been keeping away from them all. Narcissa wants to spend as much time with Holly as possible but is wary of smothering her. Severus often can be found flouncing away in frustration: The little girl knows how to give everyone the silent treatment. Draco can catch a glimpse of life in the girl when Lucius’ owl flies in every morning to visit Holly, even when he does not have any post to deliver.

            “The woman at the care home said it’s because she’s staring at her grandmother in the sky,” Narcissa admits. They are watching Holly from the window overlooking their vast garden. Holly barely speaks to them and, when she does, she is polite except when she speaks to Severus: Then she is cold, bordering on rude.

            Draco is impressed that Severus has managed to keep his temper so far. He has a bet with his father that he will explode at any time.

            “Do you believe that?”

            Draco is about to turn away when he sees his father crossing the expanse of the garden. He is surprised when he sees Lucius lower himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged next to Holly. Looking at his mother, he sees she is frowning in puzzlement at Lucius’ behaviour. For the first part of the week, Lucius has barely left his study, unless for meals. Then, for the last two days, he has been out of the house all day, returning only late in the evening.

            “I’m not sure,” Narcissa finally answers as she watches Lucius engage Holly in some way. “She is certainly looking for something.”

 

***

 

Hedwig. Holly is looking for Hedwig. She has not seen her since Harry’s last letter. She knows Harry hasn’t forgotten her already. Not after a week. Maybe she is impatient. After all, It’s only been a week.

            Holly hopes Harry’s relatives haven’t hurt him again. There’s no Oma anymore to help him heal– what if he’s so badly hurt that he can’t even send Hedwig anymore? What if they have locked him and Hedwig up again like they did last time?

            Holly has no way of knowing. She misses Harry so much. He said Hedwig will always try to deliver his letters when she is alone, so Holly tries to spend as much time alone as possible.

            Over the last week, she has spent more time in her bedroom reading all the letters Harry has sent to her and Oma since his first year at Hogwarts. She had found them already in her bag as if Oma had hidden them there. Holly is glad that she has them; she also made sure to get her photo album. Harry sent it for her birthday a few years ago: It has some photos of Harry and his friends, though there are more from his second onwards because Colin Creevey, a boy in Harry’s house, started then, and he liked to take pictures all the time. Harry wanted her to have a family album as he did of her parents. But this was just for Holly, Oma and Harry.

            Holly did not have many clothes. She did not care about them as much as she did about Harry and Oma’s presents.

            Rereading Harry’s letters, Holly realises precisely where she is and with whom: Draco is the boy who always tried to bully Harry and make him feel bad; Mr Snape (she refuses to call her his dad) is even worse. They are very rarely mentioned, but when they are, none of the news is good. Harry does not allude to Lucius or Narcissa at all. Holly feels very trapped.

            In his letters, Harry compares Draco to Dudley, back when he was a bully. Holly even misses Dudley.

            She hears footsteps approaching her and stiffens as a tall figure puts down a cloak like a picnic blanket and then lowers himself next to her. It is Mr Malfoy. He looks up at the sky with her.

            “Enjoying the sun, child?” Mr Malfoy asks.

            Holly looks at him briefly and then back at the sky. She is not alone. Hedwig won’t come now.

            “We’ve been very remiss in our attentions to you, darling,” Mr Malfoy says softly when Holly doesn’t answer.

            She takes her eyes off from the sky and stares into the distance instead.

            “We’ve all been so happy to find you that we forgot about the circumstances that brought you to our attention in the first place. Allow me to correct that now. Please, accept my condolences on your grandmother’s passing,” Mr Malfoy continues. He is observing Holly. “Will you tell me about her?”

            Holly can feel her eyes about to water and looks away.

            “Oma- ” is the best she can manage before her voice breaks. “She was my Oma.”

            Holly wipes her tears with her fingers, rubbing her eyes in a futile effort to stop more. A white handkerchief is dangled in front of her. Startled, she looks hesitantly at Mr Malfoy before reaching out to take it.

            It takes some time for Holly to stop, though she cannot stem the odd sniffle.

            “Tell me about your house,” Lucius prompts.

            “It was home,” Holly answers. “Oma filled it with pictures of us.”

            She slowly begins to talk about life with Oma, being careful not to mention Harry. From his letters, he talked about perils at school and the presence of dangerous people. She knew Harry always talked to Oma about some stuff that they didn’t tell her. She didn’t mind. She knew that she would figure it out for herself when she was old enough to go to Hogwarts.

            “You’ve impressed us with your reaction to magic,” Mr Malfoy comments.

            “Oma already told me about it. After…” Holly almost says after Harry got his letter. She trails off and instead says, “She said I would get a letter like Mamma did. When I turn eleven.”

            “Do you remember your first accidental magic?”.

            Holly has to think about it, looking down at her wrist.

            “I hurt my wrist,” she states, holding it out as if Mr Malfoy could see where she hurt it. Mamma had pulled her too hard. It was scary when she did that. Holly remembers a window breaking at the same time she screamed when Mamma did it. It was an accident. Holly knew her Mamma didn’t mean it. It was the first and only time Mamma had ever done anything like that: Even she had been shocked by what she had done. All Holly wanted to do was go back to Oma’s house and spend time with her and Harry. She had refused to get out of the car, not wanting to go to Creepy Carl’s house. Holly is unaware of the haunted look she is wearing and how much this alarms Mr Malfoy.

            “Holly?” he prompts carefully.

            “I broke a window when it happened,” she finishes in a whisper. She had to wear a cast for six weeks. It itched. Oma made her take some yucky medicine, though she now knows it was Potions of some sort. It helped her with the pain.

             “I know it’s a difficult period for you. We can’t replace your … Oma or bring her back. I know you must miss your home, your friends, your neighbours, your whole life where you were before. But… This is your home now. We want you to be comfortable here. We can be your new family.”

            “I just miss my brother,” Holly lets slip out before she realises. She bites her lip and looks away, playing with the handkerchief in her hands.

            “Your brother?” Mr Malfoy is startled. Then, in an amused voice, “I wasn’t aware Severus had more than one child.”

            Holly sneaks a peek at Mr Malfoy. He is smirking. She doesn’t know what he finds hilarious about that.

            “You don’t have to be related to be family,” Holly says more sharply than she intends.

            “No. You’re right, child,” Mr Malfoy agrees solemnly. “Tell me about your brother.”

            “He’ll come for me one day,” Holly announces abruptly. She cranes her head to look towards the windows as if she can see through them. “He’ll take me away from here. Away from him.”

            There’s a funny look in Mr Malfoy’s eyes when she says that.

            “He’s your father, child,” he chides softly.

            Holly gets up to her feet.

            “He’s not my father,” she shouts, suddenly furious. “He didn’t want me. He called Mamma a liar and told her to leave. He called her mean names and yelled at her. Because of him, she didn’t want me. He’s not my father! He wasn’t there. Ever. Oma was there. And H-”

            She chokes back the name before saying out loud. Turning around to face the Manor, she begins to scream.

            “I hate you! You’re not my father. You’ll never be my father! I hate this place! I hate you!”

            Holly begins to feel warm. Like the sun is shining too brightly. She wants to scream again, but her throat hurts, and there’s a burning smell, and why is it so hot?

            “Holly! Watch out!”

            Mr Malfoy grabs her, pulling her away from the fire into his arms, holding her close to his chest. She throws her arms around his neck as he picks her up, gasping and heaving for breath.

           

***

 

Lucius picks Holly up, holding her tightly with one arm, and with the other hand pulls out his wand to extinguish the fire.

            His fishing expedition indeed yielded some results. He is impressed by the strength of the girl’s emotions and the bright fire burning Narcissa’s roses. Holly is gasping against his neck: once the fire is out, Lucius uses both hands to hold to him, comforting her by stroking the back of her head. He is not angry with the child. She didn’t do it on purpose.

            After finding out everything he had over the past week, he came out to coax some information from the young girl. He didn’t get as much as he would have liked, but he got more out of her than expected.

            “Are you hurt, darling?” Lucius asks, pulling back so he can see her properly. Her face is streaked with tears, snot dripping from her nose. He fishes another handkerchief from his pocket and calmly wipes her face.

            At the same moment, Narcissa and Severus run out of the Manor: Lucius knows they were watching.

            Holly shakes her head and hiccoughs out, “I’m sorry.”

            Wiping her face gently, he says, trying to comfort her, “I know, darling, I know. I am not angry with you.”

            In fact, he cannot help but be proud of her accidental magic, as if she were his daughter, not Severus’.

            She hides her face in his neck as she sees Severus approaching, clinging to him tighter as he tries to take her from Lucius, who shakes his head at him when he tries again. He sees the hurt frown that Severus attempts to hide when Holly lets Narcissa touch her instead.

            Lucius carries Holly back to her room, passing a concerned Draco who is still inside, leaving Severus and Narcissa to follow but wait outside as Holly falls asleep before he has even laid her down.

            “One day, Holly, you’ll realise how much you truly mean to Severus,” Lucius whispers, stroking her hair as she snuggles in deeper. “And how hard he is trying for you.”

 

***

            Later, the Malfoys and Severus are sitting in the Family room. Or rather, the Malfoys are sitting, and Severus is pacing on the rug.

            He cannot deny the feeling of jealousy that has kept bubbling since the moment he saw Lucius sit next to Holly in the garden. It was the last sight he had expected to see when he arrived behind Draco and Narcissa as they stared out the window.

            Then, even from a distance, he had seen Holly actively engage with Lucius, cling to him after her bout of accidental magic. Refuse to let go of him as he took her upstairs to her bedroom, hiding from Severus, not even willing to look at him.

            Yet, at that moment, Severus hates how Lucius can charm his daughter. His daughter. He knows that Lucius is hiding something: just by looking at him, he can tell that he is strengthening his Occlumency shields.

            “What else did she tell you?” Severus snarls as he whirls around to loom over Lucius.

            Lucius knows his tricks too well and refuses to be intimidated.

            “More than I am going to tell you, Severus,” Lucius sighs. “You want to know what she said? Go earn her trust and inveigle it out of her yourself.”

            “And how do I do that, pray tell, after all the vitriol Jasmine has spewed?”

            “Is there anything about what she reported to Holly that isn’t true?” Narcissa enquires in a calm voice that does not fool Severus: she has never approved of the way he has ended any of his relationships.

            Severus can feel the same ugly flush crawl up his neck that he had when they had picked Holly from the Care home.

            “No,” the word reluctantly leaves Severus’ lips. He turns around and steps to the empty armchair, falling into it in a way he would never do in front of anyone else. He lets his head fall into his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. “I treated Jasmine abominably at the end, and she took all that anger out on my child. But what kind of person treats a child in such a way? What kind of person misplaces their resentment on an undeserving target?”

            It angers him that Jasmine treated an innocent child like that. Did she look at Holly and see Severus? Did she want revenge on him and, in his absence, used Holly as her target instead?

            Severus looks up from his hands to see Lucius observing him with a curious twist of the lips. Not quite a smirk, not quite a smile.

            “Does my situation amuse you?” Severus snaps.

            Just like him, Lucius is slouched in a way that he will never do in front of anyone but his family – Leaning back in his chair, legs stretched out, and ankles crossed. One elbow is on the armrest, his temple resting on his fist, whilst the fingers of his other hand drum absently on the opposite armrest.

            “You are so blind right now, Severus,” Lucius says indolently. “It is almost humorous how you don’t understand what is happening. Perhaps, when you do, you will remember your words from today.”

            Narcissa gives Lucius a puzzled look.

            “I am not in the mood for riddles. Will you speak clearly?” Severus bites out.

            “You are my entertainment, my friend.”

            Before Severus can retort to that, not that he knows how, Lucius stands up and says, “I’ll be in my study. I’ll be down for dinner later, Narcissa darling. Hopefully, Holly will feel well enough to join us.”

He walks away without waiting for an answer.

            Draco, who has been sitting there silently, pretending to read his book, follows his father out with his eyes while Severus swings his gaze back to Narcissa.

            “What is that about?” he demands.

            Narcissa stares at the chair Lucius has vacated and absently replies, “Lucius does not share everything with me, Severus. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”

            He lets out a frustrated breath.

            “How am I supposed to bond with my daughter?”

            Narcissa’s eyes are sympathetic as she finally looks at Severus.

            “Show her she is wanted. Be patient with her, Severus. She has lost her mother, grandmother, and home, and she has lost her peace with it. She has spent three weeks getting bounced from one house to another until we found her. Then, she is confronted with the man who did not want her in the first place, as far as she knows.

            “Lucius is right, Severus. Look at what we’ve done. We have forgotten about her loss and tried to have her fit right with us as if nothing had happened. We were too busy congratulating ourselves on finding her and her knowledge of magic that it did not even occur to any of us that she is still grieving.”

            Severus looks down, ashamed. They have done that. Narcissa is usually much better at these things than him, yet, even she treated Holly’s loss as if it was of no consequence.

            “Did you tell Dumbledore you found her?” Narcissa asks after the silence continues.

            “Why would you need to tell Dumbledore?” Draco speaks up, tired of being ignored.

            “Because he was there when Severus got the letter and is probably wondering what’s happening,” his mother explains patiently.

            “Why do you need to tell that crazy old fool? It’s none of his business,” Draco drawls.

            Narcissa takes a deep long-suffering breath.

            “It seems we have not explained the situation to you sufficiently, Draco,” Narcissa begins in an enduring voice. “Your father has denounced the Dark Lord’s services in such a way that it now means we are in danger. We have sided with Dumbledore. He might be a blood traitor, but remember, Draco, he is a powerful wizard beneath that doddering old fool act. He sees more than you’ll ever know, and he still has much influence.”

            “Does that mean I have to play nice with Potter?” Draco mumbles resentfully.

            Severus feels a familiar irritation that always arises at Potter’s name.

            Narcissa surprises them both by snapping, “What is your obsession with that boy?”

            “I’m not obsessed with him,” Draco protests hotly, earning a look of disbelief from his mother.

            “When you go to school in September, Draco, remember to keep your head down. Whether you believe it or not, Harry Potter holds great power, and he is on Dumbledore’s side. War is brewing, despite what the majority of the Wizarding World believes. Your father is doing what is necessary to survive and see our family safe on the other side. If you cannot keep a civil tongue around Potter and his friends, then I suggest you stay away.”

            Draco nods sullenly.

            “In the meantime, try to engage with Holly. Try to talk to her about Hogwarts. I’m sure you’ll find a topic. She is part of our family now.”

            Draco’s nod is a little less surly this time.

 

***

 

Lucius stares at the copies of the letters and photographs littering his desk, as he had been doing since he found them days ago. Whilst Holly had been distracted with Narcissa and Severus earlier in the week, Lucius had snuck into Holly’s room looking for her bag, finding it hidden under the bed. It only contained the letters and photos. Rather than risk being caught in the little girl’s room, he elected to make copies of everything and take them to his study to peruse at his leisure and with great privacy.

            Lucius has never bothered about invading someone else’s privacy before: he is a man who coveted knowledge in the name of power — blackmail, extortion, bribery, corruption, coercion. Lucius has experience in all these. Knowledge is power. Malfoys have always held it in some way.

            It began the same day when Lucius finished reading the file containing details about Jasmine’s life. And Iris’ death.

            It was the only time he had ever felt regretful, guilty even, for invading someone’s privacy. She is just a child. Nine years old. He still feels like a creepy pervert when he thinks about how he rooted through her every drawer, including her underwear.

            He convinces himself that he is doing to protect Severus, Holly, and his own family.

            After reading the letters, there is a considerable part of Lucius that is satisfied. He has solved the puzzle. The real Iris Pierce died in 1984, before Holly was born. Before Jasmine and Severus even met.

            Yet, in 1986, suddenly, there is a record of Iris Pierce again: Lucius’ PI has unearthed the address of where Iris has been these past nine years, pretty much since Holly was born.

            From the second he sees the picture, he recognises her — Eileen Snape nee Prince. Eileen had disappeared when Severus was still in school. Suspicion had fallen on Tobias at the time, but without proof, nothing could be done. However, Lucius had been tempted to enact his own brand of revenge.

            His father, Abraxas, had stopped him. Lucius thought he should have worked harder to convince his father to give Severus a place to stay. Instead, seeing Severus’ potential, he had taken the dark-haired wizard as his ward, helped him gain his Prince inheritance, got him a Master to complete his Potions’ apprenticeship with. He gave him independence, directed them both towards the Dark Lord. The last one turned out to be a mistake for both of them.

            Back then, the Dark Lord had been more persuasive and charismatic. Towards the end of his reign, before he was defeated, he had become obsessed with immortality and news of his possible defeat after hearing some prophecy. Lucius wanted to eliminate mudbloods and blood traitors, yet even he had not expected the level of violence the Dark Lord inflicted. However, one does not walk away from the Dark Lord’s services. Not if one wants to live.

            When the Dark Mark darkened over the past year, Lucius was gripped by the fear of having to prostrate himself before the Dark Lord once more. He was convinced there was no way out until Narcissa had convinced him that they would have to ally with Dumbledore – not a prospect Lucius was looking forward to.

They were not blind: after all, Severus had lived with them for years. They knew he trusted Dumbledore, and no matter what he said about staying in his post because that is what the Dark Lord wanted: Severus was not loyal to the Dark Lord.

            Lucius knew all too well of Severus’ loyalty to Lily. His lips twist into a grimace as the memory of her enters his mind: Severus and his senseless devotion to a dead woman.

            He looks at the letters again. He already suspected Iris was Eileen and the photographs confirm that. What he did not expect to see in the photographs was Harry Potter. Then, reading through the letters, he now knows of the connection: the affection and attachment Potter has had with Holly and Eileen over the years.

            His heart sinks a little when he sees mentions of Severus and Draco in his letters. Not many references, but enough for Holly to make the connection. Lucius wonders how much Severus’ bullying plays a part in Holly’s antipathy towards her father. Indeed, she wouldn’t be fond of a father she never knew when he tormented the brother she had admired since childhood. He wonders how they ever met.

            He feels laughter bubbling inside him. Severus will not be happy when he finds out his daughter loves Harry Potter. Lucius picks up the latest letter from Potter, where he states that one day he will find her, and they will live together because that is what Eileen wanted.

            Lucius finds he does not doubt Potter’s words. After witnessing how he has stood up to the Dark Lord in June past, he knows that Potter is the determined sort.

            Lucius is now committed to Dumbledore. He has burned his bridges with the Dark Lord and all the Death Eaters on his side. Still, the Dark Lord has suffered a massive blow: he has lost not only Lucius but also Petrus Parkinson, Thadeus Nott, Titus Crabbe and Victor Goyle.

            Crabbe and Goyle have already fled the country. Lucius is not surprised. Their children are not the smartest: like their fathers, they were nothing more than muscle, all brawn and no cunning. Salazar knows what ambitions those boys had besides filling their stomachs with as much food as possible.

            Crouch Junior has been Kissed. He only has Macnair, Pettigrew and some of the less competent members who managed to escape incarceration. The Dark Lord was probably trying to find a way to recruit. No doubt he already has animals like Greyback on his side.

            Closing his eyes, he presses his fingers to his forehead as he ruminates through it all. He does not regret breaking all ties with the Dark Lord, especially after witnessing how Potter held his own. At only fourteen years old. In the safe space of his Occluded mind, Lucius admits that even he could not stand up to the Dark Lord in such a way.

            Severus does not recognise the irony of how he treats Harry Potter because of his father, James, compared to how Jasmine treated Holly because of him.

            Severus is no less than a brother to Lucius. However, he needs to recognize that he must do everything he can to help his child survive. Lucius will protect Holly because she is Severus’ daughter. He will also protect her because she is crucial to Harry Potter. And Harry Potter is more powerful than Severus is willing to admit.

            Lucius has not missed the mentions of Regulus Black in Potter’s letters.

            All of this now begs the question: how much did Potter know about Iris? Does he know Severus is Holly’s father? Should Lucius tell him?

            Pulling out a spare bit of parchment, he quills a quick note to Regulus. They have an overdue meeting.

 

***

 

“What are you hiding, Lucius?” Narcissa asks as they get ready for bed that night.

            Lucius watches as she strips off her dress, pausing in the act of unbuttoning his shirt and pulling it out of his slacks.

            “Something that will piss Severus off,” he admits.

            Narcissa freezes, realising Lucius is serious.

            “What is it?” She asks as she presses herself against Lucius so that he finds himself distracted by her body against his.

            He pulls her close and presses a kiss to the top of her head.

            “Let me keep this to myself, Cissa. Just for a little bit longer.”

            Narcissa looks like she will argue but backs down as Lucius tightens his arm around her.

 

***

Regulus opens the letter that comes for him. He recognises Lucius’s temperamental owl, although he has rare occasions to exchange an owl with him. Though he supposes they are meant to be allies now, he must regularly exchange words with his cousin’s husband.

            What Narcissa sees in Lucius goes beyond him.

 

Regulus,

I would be much obliged if you could meet me at Malfoy Manor at 11 am tomorrow. I have an urgent matter to discuss with you that is better resolved in person.

Lucius.

            Regulus sighs and quickly replies his agreement. He does not know what Lucius wants to talk to him about, but it’s not like he’s having luck with his other task of finding Holly. He wonders how Severus is fairing. Regulus has not seen the other wizard since they were all summoned together after the Dementors attacked Harry. Maybe he could use this opportunity to talk to Lucius and see where Severus is in his quest.

 

               

               

To be continued...


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