"It's so hot," Harry complained, flopping down on the kitchen floor, hoping the tiles would be somewhat cool. They felt sticky with humidity, and in fact, the entire house was humid. It had been that way since he awoke in the early morning, and it felt like someone was pressing a blanket over Harry's face.
"Take a cool bath," suggested Snape distractedly from where he sat, slowly reading from a long piece of parchment he had received in the mail not a moment ago. Harry thought Snape had mentioned it was from Dumbledore.
"Nuh uh, no way," Harry said, annoyed that Snape seemed to have forgotten momentarily that Harry had a slight aversion to such things.. "I hate cold baths. Hate ‘em!"
"Ask Hermione to take you swimming," said Snape rather exasperatedly, frowning down at the letter before him. "There is an ocean here, you know. As long as you stay by her at all times, and you two stay in the shallows you should be fine."
"Really?" Harry asked, leaping up from the floor and bouncing on his toes, his energy suddenly seeming to have returned.
"Molly thought you might want to eventually - she told me that there is an old muggle life jacket upstairs. Put it on before you get in the water."
"Okay," Harry said simply.
Snape looked at Harry scrutinizingly to see if he was telling the truth. It reminded Harry of the way Snape used to look at him in class, and for a moment a flash of green water and forests of seaweed went before Harry's vision
"After the second task, like I would want to go swimming without one," Harry told Snape, annoyed that he didn't seem to have taken his word for it.
"Alright, I believe you," Snape replied. "Just get out of my hair so I can finish reading this letter. It is important."
"Like I'd wanna be in your hair," Harry said without thinking.
Snape looked at him sternly, and Harry looked at his feet.
"Sorry," he said.
"I should hope so," said Snape sternly, although he did not seem overly surprised by Harry's overly teenager-ish comments. "Now run along."
Harry smiled with relief and scampered out of the room, off to find Hermione, mind set once more on the cool ocean awaiting him. He practically danced when she said she would gladly take him swimming ("This awful heat takes all the fun out of reading anyway," she had said). Harry then ran to his room to put on a well-worn pair of shorts, and, true to his word, he ascended the attic stairs that Hermione had lowered for him before going to change, then found the old muggle life jacket. By this time Hermione still was not ready, and Harry stood at the bottom of the main set of stairs, bouncing on his toes. In the meantime he was trying to get the life jacket all done up. He scowled down at the straps and zipper. Harry glanced back up at the top of the stairs. Hermione wasn't in sight.
Wanting to waste as little time as possible so he could go swimming, Harry ran into the kitchen.
"What is it, Harry?" Snape said without looking up.
"I can't get all the zippers and buckles, and it's too loose," Harry said with frustration.
"Come here then," Snape said as he tore his eyes from the letter. "Let's see what I can do."
Snape turned his chair slightly and reached for the buckles along the side of the life jacket. His brows furrowed with concentration as he worked at the straps. It took him a little while, but he was able to pull the straps through the buckle further and tighten the first side. He did the other, and then reached for the zipper, which he was able to do up fairly easily. Harry watched, and was surprised how steady Snape's hands were. The left was the best, of course.
"Your hands are getting better," Harry told Snape when the last buckle clicked into place.
"You think so?" Snape said, seeming pleased.
"I bet you could way out-colour me now!" Harry told him excitedly. To Harry's surprise, Snape chuckled.
"There you are, Harry," Hermione said. Harry turned to see her standing in the doorway of the kitchen, having changed into a pair of faded shorts and a t-shirt for swimming. She was glancing at the letter on the table, as well as Snape's reply. "Did Dumbledore write back, Severus?"
"Severus?" Harry said in horror, waiting for Professor Snape to start yelling at Hermione. He looked over to Snape and, in a stage whisper, added, "Is she allowed to call you that?"
"I do not mind," Snape said, looking highly amused. Harry turned to Hermione, who was holding back a laugh.
"How come Hermione gets to call you Severus?" Harry said, his bottom lip sticking out despite his best efforts not to pout.
"Because it seems silly for her to call me Professor when I am not one anymore," Snape explained. "If it bothers you so much, you can call me Severus too. I do not mind anymore."
"Wow, really?" Harry said, unable to believe it.
"Really," he said, still amused. "And in answer to your question, Hermione, yes. Dumbledore did write back. He's coming for a visit in three days to discuss a few things."
"Good," said Hermione, looking relieved.
"What's Dumbledore coming for ... Sev-er-us?" Harry asked, savouring every syllable of Professor Snape's first name.
"We can talk about that later - you two just have fun swimming," was Snape's reply as he turned back to his reply on the table, picking the quill up. Harry wondered why his lip was kind of twitchy, but thought better of asking.
"Okay, Severus. Bye Severus! Have fun writing your letter, Severus!" Harry cried as he ran to catch up with Hermione, who was already halfway through the living room to the door.
As he opened the screen door, Harry thought he heard laughter from inside the house, but he couldn't be sure because a flock of seagulls passed overhead a moment later. If it had been Snape, he really didn't know what would possess him to laugh that loudly, so Harry decided that it had to have been his imagination.
Hermione smiled down at him.
"Ready, swimming buddy?" she said.
"Yeah," Harry told her, grinning back.
"Great. Race you to the beach!" Hermione said suddenly, to Harry's surprise. He had never thought Hermione one to race.
He let out a cry of shock when she sprinted off, and by the time he had started to chase her, peals of laughter were bubbling up from inside of him. He couldn't believe that Hermione had started a race. He knew she could beat him easily, but she slowed up for him, and for a while they were neck in neck. By the time they got to the beach they were both laughing too much to care who won. They tossed their towels down in the sand. Harry set his glasses down on his towel and then they walked to the water's edge. Hermione dipped her toes in.
Harry went splashing in without any hesitation, and got Hermione wet.
"Hey," she said in mock indignation, bending down to put her cupped hands in the water. While Harry was laughing she raised her hands, tossing water at him. She managed to catch him with a few drops and he gasped, stepping back, laughter still written on his face.
"Oh yeah?" he said before running a little bit deeper and sitting down in the water. He got his head wet too, and when he stood up, his dripping over his face, he grinned. "Now you can't get me wet."
"Silly goose," Hermione said with a small laugh. "Seeing as you're all wet, do you want to go a little deeper?"
"Yeah!" Harry said excitedly.
Together they waded until Hermione was up to her waist and Harry was bobbing around in his life jacket. Hermione pulled him through the water, her hands clasping his. Harry grinned as he kicked his legs furiously, enjoying the feel of the cool water on his toes. Normally it sort of scared him when his feet couldn't touch the bottom, but today it didn't. He knew he would be okay as long as Hermione was hanging onto him.
"INCOMING!" shouted someone from behind Harry and Hermione, who let out a small scream of shock. There was a loud splashing noise, and all Harry saw before the enormous splash was a streak of bright red hair.
"RON!" Harry yelled, paddling around with frantic excitement as his friend surfaced. Ron's head came up above the water, and he remained crouching so that he could look Harry in the eye, but all Harry could see beneath his soaking wet red hair was a wide grin.
"Hiya Harry," he said. "You look different. Did you get a haircut or something?"
Harry burst into childish giggles, and Ron stood up in the water, grinning sheepishly as Hermione gave him a quick hug.
"What are you doing here?" she said as she released him, ecstatic.
"Mum wanted to talk to Snape about something," said Ron with a shrug. "Thought I'd join you two for a while."
Harry glanced off toward the house, and he waved happily at Mrs. Weasley, who was standing on the porch with Snape. They turned and went into the house. Harry saw that Ron had taken his t-shirt off and thrown it by their towels, along with his shoes.
"So, how is Snape treating you two, anyway?" Ron said curiously, flopping back into the cool water and floating on his back, clearly enjoying himself.
"He's so different from how he is at school," Hermione said. "I wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me."
"Different, how?" Ron said, splashing Harry lightly, his eyes still on Hermione.
"Heeey," Harry said, trying to dunk Ron but having no success. Ron just grinned.
"He's a lot nicer," Hermione said, sinking into the water as well. "And more relaxed. I think it helps that we all know each other better. Surprisingly, we get along pretty well now."
"No way," Ron said, incredulously.
"Yes way!" Harry said, staring at Ron with wide eyes. "He's actually ... well, fun now."
"Fun?" Ron said, looking at Harry as though he'd grown another head. "Look mate, I know Snape, and he's not fun."
"I thought I knew him too," Harry said, getting slightly worried at what Ron would say about Snape, "but I guess I didn't. He even makes jokes sometimes. I mean, he's a little grumpy, but we get along okay."
Ron looked to Hermione to see if Harry was telling the truth, and upon seeing no contradicting expression, he shook his head in disbelief.
"Weird," muttered Ron. He looked at the two of them, and Harry could tell that there was an immense battle raging inside him. It was a moment or two before he spoke, but at last he said, "I still think he's kind of a git - but if you two think he's different ... then I guess I'll just have to take your word for it."
Hermione beamed, and Harry grinned. He splashed Ron a little, his way of saying thank you.
"Your Mum talked to you, didn't she?" Hermione said, holding back a laugh.
Ron rolled his eyes, and by the look on his face, Harry could tell she was right.
"Hey, Harry, come here," Ron said once his ears had returned to a normal shade, a sly look on his face.
Cautiously, Harry approached Ron.
"What?" he said, looking up at Ron, who had stood up in the water.
"Gotcha!" Ron cried with a laugh, grabbing Harry around the middle, but not roughly.
"Hey!" Harry said indignantly.
"Bill used to do this," Ron said, as though that explained exactly what he was doing. "Do you trust me?"
"Duh, Ron," Harry told him despite his confusion, Ron still holding him round the middle.
"Then plug your nose Harry!"
"Three - two - one!"
Harry let out a cry of both fear and delight as Ron tossed him up above the water. For a moment Harry was flying through the air, and then he fell the short ways back into the water. Harry held his breath as the water splashed all around. He came bobbing up, and as soon as he broke the surface he was laughing.
"Ron!" Hermione gasped, horrified. "You might have warned him first!"
"Aww, lighten up Hermione," he said. "He loved it. That was fun, right Harry? I used to love when Bill did that. Besides, Harry never had any brothers to toss him into a lake - or ocean, for that matter."
"That was wicked, Ron!" Harry cried now that he had breath to speak. "Do it again! Pleeaase, Ron?" Harry begged.
Ron grinned at Hermione, who just rolled her eyes.
Harry cried out with delight as Ron tossed him into the ocean again, and still laughing, they decided to wade out a little bit deeper, so that Hermione was chest deep, and Ron was a little over waist deep.
"What did your Mum want to talk to Severus about?" Hermione asked curiously.
"Severus?" Ron said, sounding as shocked as Harry had earlier. "He lets you call him that?"
"Well, he isn't going to be a Professor anymore," Hermione said. "He said that he didn't mind."
"Merlin, he has changed," Ron muttered, shaking his head and accidentally spraying Harry with water, who was hanging onto Ron's arm and paddling around him. "I don't know what Mum wanted to talk to him about."
"You're lying," Harry said simply.
"Alright, I know, but she didn't want me to mention it."
"Why?" Harry asked playfully, looking up at Ron as he bobbed up and down.
"Becaaauuse," Ron said, mimicking Harry's tone.
"You two," Hermione said, shaking her head and laughing as Harry and Ron stuck their tongues out at each other.
They both turned to Hermione and made faces at her instead for her comment, holding back laughter.
"I'm getting chilly. Why don't we go and look for things in the tidal pools?" Hermione suggested, ignoring their silliness.
Harry and Ron agreed, and they all wandered out of the water, down the beach and toward the rocks, talking as fast as they could as they caught up on the fun things they had missed telling each other.
"No, no, it isn't too much trouble," said Severus thoughtfully as he refilled Molly's glass of ice cold lemonade, as well as his own. "I think it's a great idea."
"I just thought, even if Harry isn't completely back to himself next week, a birthday party would be nice," she said. "And, seeing as Dumbledore doesn't want him moved, this place is really the only choice."
"It is suited well for a gathering of the sort," Severus said thoughtfully. "The kids can swim if it's hot, and everyone can sit in the shade of the trees. We can take a table outside and eat supper out there."
"We can make it a potluck, of sorts," she said brightly.
"Who would be coming, besides you and your family, that is?" Severus said. "We probably should not have too many, so as not to overwhelm Harry, especially if he has not changed back yet."
"Perhaps just Hagrid, and Remus," said Molly. "Harry would probably be happy to have them around. As long as you don't mind Remus coming by ..."
"That sounds fine to me," Severus said, and while he was rather irritated that the wolf had to come, he reminded himself that Harry would like to see him. "I can put up with Lupin for one night. Harry would appreciate him being here."
"Thank you, Severus," said Molly. "I know you two aren't always on the best of terms."
"I have been selfish, in the past," he said quietly. "I am often wrong, too."
Molly looked at him in surprise, amazed.
"Molly, may I confide in you?"
"Certainly," she said, shock still evident on her face.
"I went to pay a visit to Harry's aunt and uncle's home," Severus said quietly, fearing to be overheard despite knowing that Harry was probably still swimming.
"The day before yesterday," muttered Severus. "I was able to apparate."
"Congratulations," she added, delighted.
"Thank you," he said, taken aback by the praise. "Anyway ... I found out I was ... very wrong, before. I used to think Harry was spoiled ... that he had everything. Well, you know what kind of background James Potter had. I thought Harry was no different."
"That has never been true, has it," Molly said sorrowfully. "How bad was it? I have asked Harry a few times about his family, and tried to get him to confide in us, but he has never said much besides that his Aunt and Uncle are very strict."
"It was awful," Severus told Molly in a low voice. "I knew Petunia as a child. I grew up near her and Lily and she was a right piece of work then. The things she said while I was there ... you should have heard her. I had to get out before she gave me a tour of Harry's room, otherwise I would have done something stupid. They used to lock him in a cupboard Molly. A cupboard!"
He had to look away, for the tears in her eyes were unbearable.
"Does Dumbledore know?" she said, her voice shaking.
"That's the thing ... I do not know," Severus said heavily. "He has been busy lately, and has not had time to visit yet. I am unsure as to whether or not he is avoiding the subject, or he truly is busy. He has always told me that it is the best situation for keeping Harry safe from the Dark Lord. I ... I just cannot help but wonder, would he really leave Harry there, knowing what goes on? Does he know how bad it is? And when he comes ... I am almost afraid to ask."
"I wanted to have a word with Dumbledore a little while ago, and he said he was at the Ministry all day," she said thoughtfully. "He is busy, at least somewhat. I think we just have to give him the benefit of the doubt, Severus. But, Harry ... oh, the poor dear."
The two were silent for a little while, the worry evident on their faces.
"Where is he going to stay? Have you given any thought to it?" Molly said grimly. "He cannot stay there."
"I, I have given some thought to it," muttered Severus.
"We would be willing to take him in a heartbeat," Molly told Severus.
He nodded, and he thought his face remained expressionless until Molly smiled softly.
"Severus, you want him to stay, don't you?" she said quietly.
"Did I say I wanted -" he began, defending himself, but he saw he wasn't fooling her, and he muttered miserably, "I would miss him."
Molly looked at him in a way that made him want to throw up, and when she wiped her eyes, he resisted the urge to roll his.
"But he wouldn't want me as a guardian, believe me," Severus said with heat, scoffing. "I mean, I was horrible to him for years, and it has taken me this bloody long to realize I was wrong."
"Severus, I think he would stay," she said to him after a moment. "If your view of him has changed this much, it is partly because Harry has felt that he can be himself around you. Harry's a subtle child. He is quiet around those who he does not feel safe around. If you feel that you have gotten to know him, it is because he feels safe with you. That's a sign you should not ignore, Severus."
Severus stared thoughtfully into his glass of lemonade, and Molly smiled softly. She seemed to sense that his mind was still sorting a lot of things out when it came to this topic, and so she did not seem bothered by his silence.
"Well," she said after a minute or so, "we have a birthday to plan. Shall we begin?"
"Indeed," Severus said, glad for an easier subject to consider.
And so they went to work, deciding who would bring what, what time, decorations, and the kind of cake that Molly would make.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent a good half-hour wandering among the rocky tidal pools, looking for starfish and crabs. Hermione seemed to particularly enjoy identifying different species of plants (they're all in Magical Water Plants of Britain's Coasts, you know). Harry just enjoying getting to be with his two best friends, and the time passed quickly. They went into the ocean for another quick swim before towelling off and heading for the house. Thirsty, the three of them trooped down to the porch and went inside, in search of a drink. They found Mrs. Weasley and Severus talking at the table. They stopped their conversation as they entered the room.
"How is the water?" Molly asked, noting everyone's damp hair as Ron brought the glasses down from the shelf.
"Great!" Harry said enthusiastically. "Ron threw me!"
"Threw you where?" Severus asked, sounding slightly alarmed.
"Into the water," Ron said, his ears turning red. "My older brothers used to like to do that when I was little."
"Ah, I see," Severus said, although he was still frowning as though he was unsure of what to think of this.
"Oh, Bill used to do that all the time," said Mrs. Weasley with a chuckle. "Ginny was so funny, bothering him every time we went swimming. I swear he never got a moment of rest."
Ron grinned, and Harry wondered what Ron and Ginny were like as children his age. Well, physical age, at least. He bet they were a handful.
"We walked down to the tidal pools," Hermione added brightly, changing the subject. "There were some fascinating species of magical water plants. You would have liked them, Severus."
"Perhaps I will have to take a walk down there sometime," Severus said thoughtfully as Hermione handed full glasses of water to Ron and Harry, who drank thirstily.
"Well, Ron, we had best get going," Mrs. Weasley said. "Charlie is coming for dinner, and I want your room nice and clean for when he arrives."
"Mum," Ron said, "Charlie doesn't care."
"But I do," she said sternly, and Harry sniggered behind his hand.
"I do not see what you are laughing about, Harry James Potter," Severus said in his teaching voice. "As I recall, your room isn't as clean as it could be either."
Ron started to laugh, half out of amazement and half out of glee that he wouldn't be the only one cleaning.
Harry scowled and followed Mrs. Weasley out of the room and to the porch. He gave her a hug, and she kissed the top of his head.
"It was good to see you, dear," she said quietly, kneeling in front of him. "I am just sorry I couldn't stay longer."
"Thanks for bringing Ron!" Harry said enthusiastically.
"I am glad you enjoyed having a visit," she said with a smile, standing up.
Hermione gave Ron a hug as they said goodbye.
"Come visit again soon," Hermione said to him. "It was so nice to see you."
"Yeah, it was great to catch up." Ron turned to Harry. "Swimming was great."
"Especially when you threw me in the water!" Harry said with much enthusiasm.
Ron's ears turned red, but he looked pleased with himself.
"See you, Harry," he said. "Don't let things get you down."
Harry smiled, and said, "Yeah, see you around."
"And if Snape is giving you a hard time, write me, okay?" Ron said in a low voice.
"Thanks, Ron, but I don't think I'll need to," Harry said quietly, smiling anyway as he glanced back through the screen door and into the sitting room, where Snape was scratching Crookshanks' back with care. "But I'll keep writing anyway!"
"Alright then, bye," Ron said, waving to the two of them as he ran to catch up with Mrs. Weasley, who had begun to walk down to the point.
Harry and Hermione watched until Mrs. Weasley had disapparated with Ron, and then the two of them went back inside, smiling and content after a good day. Harry paused to wonder what Mrs. Weasley had been talking to Snape about, but he did not spend too much time thinking of this, for it was almost supper time and he was told to go wash up by Severus.
For such a calm and relaxing day, the night was surprisingly tension-filled. As the clock struck one, Severus awoke with a start, his left hand clamped over his mouth, his body shaking. He looked around frantically, not sure where he was. In the dim light he caught sight of the seashell resting on the desk under the window, and with a wave of relief he remembered that he was at Bell Point. Yet, the image of Lily, lying dead on the floor and staring blankly up at him was the same as it always was, and he knew that that was one nightmare he would never escape. He shuddered slightly, trying to control his shaking. Hastily, he wiped his eyes. They were damp. Knowing he would not sleep for a long time, he swung his legs over the bed and grabbed his brace. His breath hitched slightly when he saw the lily that adorned it.
"But you're keeping your promise, Sev," he muttered to himself, thinking of Harry, and all the things he had done to repay his debt - all the things he was still willing to do. He could not help but think he had done a much better job of redeeming himself this summer than all the years he had known Harry at Hogwarts. He cringed as he thought of everything he had said and done to make Potter's life hell. But now, he was no longer a Potter. He was simply Harry.
Severus shook his head, and got shakily to his feet, his heart still racing. He wiped the sweat from his brow. It was a hot night. He was wearing a pair of shorts, and he debated throwing a shirt on before going into the kitchen, but the heat was too much despite the time of night.
Severus crept from his room and into the kitchen. It was a little bit cooler in here than in his room, and for this he was grateful. He frowned for a moment, running his hand through his sweaty hair, trying to calm his breathing, which was still coming too fast for his liking. On a whim, he reached up and grabbed a glass from the shelf. He set it on the counter and fetched the pitcher of cold milk, and he poured himself a glass.
Severus sunk down at the table and took a sip. It was cool and sweet on his tongue, and it relaxed him slightly. He had not had a glass of milk in a long time. He used to drink it quite often when he was in school. And, back in those days he would have nightmares just as he did now. Although, they were of different things. Mostly his father. If they were particularly bad, he would creep from his bed and go down to the brightly lit kitchens for a mug of hot chocolate, or a glass of milk. He frowned down at his glass right now, thinking that for all the years that had passed, there were some things about him that never really changed. He shook his head slightly, and took another gulp of cold milk. Severus sighed a little bit, trying to clear his mind of the twisted nightmare he had just emerged from. It had been a mess of everything - his father, death eater meetings, Lily's death, and a whole host of other things. It had created such a jumbled mess of emotions that Severus was having trouble processing them all.
Severus was so lost in thought he almost jumped out of his skin when a small voice spoke by his side.
"Harry," he said, startled, his hand over his heart, which was still racing.
"Sorry," whispered Harry, looking at his feet. He had only one sock on, and was wearing just his pyjama trousers. His hair was sticking up worse than ever from sweat.
"No, no, I simply did not hear you coming," Severus said, trying to keep his voice gentle so as not to worry Harry. "What is it that you need?"
Harry looked up at him for a second, his green eyes wide behind his lopsided glasses. Severus felt his stomach clench at the sight of them, but he did not look away.
"Did you wet the bed?"
"No," said Harry quietly.
"That's good," Severus said, hoping that it would encourage Harry. "What is bothering you, then?"
Harry's lip trembled a little, and he whispered, "I ... I had a bad dream."
Severus watched as Harry rubbed his eyes a little and sniffled.
"I had a nightmare too," Severus said softly, and Harry looked up at him in surprise. "That's why I am up as well."
Harry looked a little bit relieved, but he remained silent.
"Would you like a glass of milk?"
"Yes, please," Harry said with a whisper, and so Severus got up and poured him a glass, setting it on the table opposite where he was sitting. Harry climbed up and wrapped his small hands around it and took a drink.
"Sev'rus?" Harry said, suddenly holding back what seemed to be a giggle.
"Mhm?" Severus replied as he set his own glass down.
"You got a moustache," he told him in a whisper, barely containing his laughter.
Severus hastily wiped his upper lip, and he looked over to Harry.
"You have one too," he told him pointedly. Harry giggled a little.
They fell into seriousness once more, neither seeming to have their minds on the present.
"Do you want to tell me about your dream?" Severus said after a little while, noting the look of apprehension that had fallen over Harry.
Harry rested his chin on the table for a moment, staring at Severus.
"Kept dreaming ‘bout Padfoot," mumbled Harry rather tearfully. "And he was being chased by dementors ... only the dementors turned into dog catchers and they were gonna take him away from me. And they asked for me to p-prove he was my dog ... but I didn't have any p-papers." Harry shuddered slightly. "T-Then they sucked his s-soul out," he whispered.
"That must have been terrible," Severus muttered.
Harry nodded a little and took another gulp of milk.
"What was your bad dream about?" Harry asked Severus curiously after a little while, milk still clinging to his upper lip. Severus sighed, and paused to think.
"A dear friend of mine, mainly," muttered Severus at last.
Severus looked at Harry, into his green eyes, still wide with fear.
He was silent for a moment, unsure of whether or not to tell the truth. The reality was that Severus was tired of hiding. He was tired of fearing. A little boy of four years old was not someone to fear. If Harry learned that he had known Lily, and because of this, somewhere down the road, how the prophecy had gotten into the Dark Lord's hands, then so be it. It was only a matter of time, anyway.
"Your mother," he said finally, despite the fact that it seemed his voice was having difficulty working.
"You were friends with Mummy?" whispered Harry, his eyes now wide with wonder.
"We grew up near each other. We were the best of friends until fifth year," muttered Severus.
"Well," Severus began, trying to think of the simplest way to explain, "my parents died the summer before fifth year, and I was very angry. I wasn't very kind to anyone that year ... not even myself. Lily thought I was mad at her, because I'd snapped at her far too many times. I just didn't know how to tell her what was really bothering me."
"Didn't she know your parents died?" whispered Harry in horror.
"Well, yes," said Severus thoughtfully, considering all the ways he could tell this so that would not upset a four year old. Harry still wasn't exactly thinking like a teenager. "You see, I didn't tell her my father and I had argued the night before they died. My father said some pretty nasty things, and I started to believe that I wasn't much of anything. So I let myself get in with a bad crowd, which she didn't like. I did not like them particularly either, most of them, but I didn't think I was good enough to hang around anyone else."
"I think you're good enough," Harry said simply, smiling a little and staring unwaveringly across the table.
Taken aback slightly, Severus did not know what to say at first.
"Thank you, Harry," he muttered at last.
"Can you tell me about Mummy?"
Harry looked so hopeful, he couldn't bring himself to say no.
"For a little while," he said quietly.
Harry grinned, and Severus began.
"I first saw your mother at the playground when I was ten," Severus said thoughtfully. "It took me a long time to work up the courage to go say hello ..."
And so, for the next half hour he spun the tale of how he and Lily met. He then told Harry of all the mischief they got into that first year of friendship, how they had fallen in the river while they were boating in an old tin washtub (the cork plugging the hole in the bottom fell out), how Lily baked him cookies for his birthday and burned the lot, how Severus had nicked his mother's ancient broomstick and taught Lily to fly in a pasture outside town.
Severus wished he could tell stories of Lily forever, but before they knew it thirty minutes had passed, and Harry was starting to fall asleep, fighting it all the way.
"Sev'rus," he mumbled sleepily as Severus took his hand and led him out of the kitchen, "can you tell me more about Mummy tomorrow?"
"Anytime you would like," Severus told him with a smile, relieved that Harry had not been appalled that he had been friends with his mother. He had feared for the longest time that Harry would take it badly ... but he could not see why now.
Harry grinned sleepily up at him as they walked down the hall together. Harry made to turn to go up the steps.
"Not yet," Severus said firmly, a thought occurring to him. "I daresay you should go to the bathroom before you go back to bed. You did have a glass of milk, after all."
"Oh," Harry said, standing still for a second. He looked up at Severus, and after a moment, he whispered, "Yeah, I hafta go."
Severus led him to the bathroom and waited until Harry came out again. He then tried to lead Harry to the stairs, but Harry refused to move. Severus looked down at him questioningly.
"You had a glass of milk too," Harry told Severus scornfully.
It took every ounce of sanity Severus had to refrain from bursting into laughter.
"I will go later," he said, hardly daring to speak. "Let's get you tucked in first."
"Okay," said Harry, permitting Severus to lead him up the stairs by his hand. "But, you'd better, you know. Otherwise you'll wet the bed."
"I am a little old for that, thankfully," Severus said as they reached the top of the stairs.
"I thought I was too," Harry said darkly, for a moment sounding like a teenager.
Severus was able to keep it together long enough to make sure Harry was tucked under the covers and that he had his stuffed lion. Then, he crept down into his bedroom, flopped down on his bed, pressed his face into his pillow and laughed more than he had in years. All the while thinking that it was a good thing that he didn't hate Harry anymore, because had he still been the evil git of the dungeons, that was a comment he never, ever would have let Harry forget.