It was evening when Severus came into the sitting room, looking tired but happy. It had been a full day of paperwork and owls and messages to Dumbledore, something Harry had watched from afar. Things had almost been arranged for Harry and Hermione to be permanently in Severus' care. Hermione had been easiest, for Great Aunt Isobel merely had to sign to allow her custody of Hermione to switch to Severus. Harry's situation required a little more thought considering the Dursleys and Harry's fame.
Harry was lying on the sofa, Flying with the Cannons resting open in his hands. He closed it at the sound of Severus' approach.
"Harry?" Severus said, a newspaper under his arm.
"Hmm?" Harry said lazily, opening one eye.
"Remember how Dumbledore said that he had been busy, and that was why he hadn't come earlier?"
"Yeah," Harry said, sitting up with sudden curiosity. He closed his book and set it off to the side. Severus sunk down on the sofa as well, where Harry had made room.
"He was at the Ministry, and he did a lot of convincing and talking, so that he could do this," said Severus, unfolding the newspaper. "I would have given it to you last night ... but given the circumstances ... you seemed pretty worked up already. I've only just remembered now - I'm sorry."
"That's okay," Harry said, shrugging, thinking that he'd been busy enough this morning anyway with all the arrangements.
Puzzled as to what it could say, Harry carefully took the paper and glanced at the headline. The paper fell from his loose grasp and rested on his lap. His eyes filled with tears. He looked to Severus, who seemed to understand, for Harry was certain the emotions that were coursing through his veins had to be visible in some way, for there was no way such strong feelings could be invisible. Inside he was a mess or sorrow, and yet gratitude as well, happiness, pain, memories, and longing.
"Dumbledore thought it was the best thing he could be doing for you at the time," said Severus quietly.
Harry swallowed thickly, and Severus patted him awkwardly on the knee before getting up, leaving him be to think for some time.
Harry stared down at the newspaper, his heart throbbing with the pain of having lost Sirius. And yet, seeing this paper here with the headline telling the world that Sirius was innocent after all, a kind of relief washed over him. He shut his eyes tightly, but a few tears escaped anyway. He wiped them away, and began to read the story, about how Dumbledore had come charging into the Ministry and demanded a review of Sirius' case. How he'd testified, and gotten the Ministry to give Veritaserum to one of the captured Death Eaters from the Ministry and asked them whether they knew of Wormtail's survival. Now that the Ministry knew Dumbledore had told the truth about Voldemort, they had actually listened long enough for him to prove Sirius' innocence.
It hurt to know that it was too late, but it felt good to know that Sirius was no longer written in history as the man who killed Harry's parents, but as a good man instead. He closed his eyes and lay back on the sofa once more, the newspaper still held tightly in his hands. He fell asleep like this, a strange, melancholy sort of peace falling over him. And this peace lasted.
On the day of his birthday, Harry woke later than he ordinarily would have, although it was still far earlier than most teenagers would dare get up. Hermione was sleeping still, which did not surprise Harry. When he drifted down the stairs for breakfast he found pancakes with blueberries cooked into them like smiley faces. Severus, who had come into the kitchen to sit with Harry while he ate (he'd eaten earlier), chuckled.
"Seems that elf of yours knows it's your birthday," he said, refilling his coffee cup.
Harry grinned sheepishly and took the pitcher of syrup, drizzling it over his pancakes.
"Happy birthday, by the way," Severus added, pushing a small package toward Harry. It was wrapped only in brown paper.
"You didn't have to get me a birthday present," Harry said, although he was very pleased.
"Yes, I did," said Severus. "And even if I didn't have to, I would have."
"Can I open it?" he asked eagerly once he had swallowed his first bite of pancake.
"No, Crookshanks gets to," Severus snorted. "Of course you can open it. It isn't much ..."
Harry tore open the wrapping paper, and opened the small box.
"A razor?" Harry said, surprised.
"Yes," said Severus. "I know, boring and practical ... but you're starting to get a bit patchy in spots - which is more than your father could say for the same age, might I add. And quite frankly, I think you should at least look presentable on your birthday."
Harry grinned, surprised by the casual comment about his father. But after a moment his smile faltered.
"Er ... Severus?" he said.
"What?" Severus asked, suddenly looking worried. "You hate it, don't you?"
"No ... it's just ... I haven't any idea how to shave," muttered Harry, embarrassed. "I've never really had anyone to watch and learn it from."
"I guess I'll have to give you a few tips then," said Severus, looking surprised but thoughtful as he felt the stubble on his own chin. For a moment, Severus adopted his teaching voice, and added in a drawl, "Well then, Mr. Potter. I suppose it is time I teach you the subtle and exact art of shaving. Provided you aren't a dunderhead."
Harry snorted with laughter, to Severus' apparent delight.
Hermione came downstairs at ten-o-clock, well rested and happy. She made to go to the kitchen, but heard talking from down the hall. She went a few steps down toward the bathroom, and to her surprise Harry stuck his head into the hall, the bathroom door having been left open.
"Look what Severus gave me for my birthday!" Harry said enthusiastically, shaving foam spread half spread over his face, his shirt off and tucked into the back of his pyjama trousers to prevent it from getting wet or covered in foam. He waved a razor in the air, and Hermione smiled, trying to suppress a chuckle at how happy Harry looked. Somehow, despite the contradicting situation, the image reminded Hermione of the four year old that had run around Bell Point not so long ago.
"Watch where you're waving that," said a muffled voice.
Hermione grinned and took a few steps further to see that both Harry and Severus were grouped around the sink, although Severus had his shirt on and was scowling slightly as he tried to get a particularly tricky patch near his jawline.
"Great gift, Severus," she told him, "I would have given him a razor myself if he'd let things get any more out of hand."
"Hey!" Harry said indignantly. "My face didn't look that terrible."
"Happy Birthday Harry," she said with a laugh, rolling her eyes. "Meet me in the kitchen after you're done - I have a birthday present for you too."
"Did I really look that bad?" Harry muttered, watching Severus out of the corner of his eye when Hermione had gone.
"Quiet, I'm concentrating ..." Severus said elusively.
"Well that's news to me," muttered Harry mulishly, accepting the answer to his question to be a yes. "Ron didn't seem to mind."
"Naturally, he is a Weasley after all."
"What does that mean?" Harry replied, bristling slightly at Severus' comment.
"I mean that he's too busy causing mischief and having fun to pay too much attention to something as boring as neatness," Severus replied simply.
"Oh." Harry's frown relaxed as he rinsed his razor in the sink.
"Missed a spot," Severus added, still seemingly examining his own reflection in the mirror. "Right side of your lip."
"How do you do that?"
"Do what?" Severus asked.
"See things without appearing to look at them."
"Well, let's see ... I was a spy, and I used to teach Potions - I practically have eyes in the back of my head. Surprised you did not know that already, Potter."
The emphasis on his last name - so devoid of heat (although not for lack of trying, it seemed), made Harry snort with laughter. It was short lived, however.
"Ouch!" Harry said, dropping his razor and holding his hand to his lip.
A crease appeared on Severus' forehead and he quickly put his own razor down, still half covered in shaving foam.
"Let's see," said Severus, turning to Harry and moving his hand away.
Harry felt himself going red, a feeling of stupidity rising up within him.
"Just a small cut," Severus said, looking relieved. "Wash it clean."
Harry accepted the wet flannel Severus handed him, then dabbed blood from the wound and wiped away the excess shaving foam.
"Dittany," said Severus, taking a small cotton ball and dipping it in the dittany and giving it to Harry. "Just dab it a few times - it will heal right up."
Sure enough, it did, and as Severus resumed shaving, Harry frowned in the mirror. The cut wasn't even visible anymore, and had healed over perfectly.
"No need to look so upset over it," said Severus, "Everyone does it. It took me forever to get any good at shaving - my father wasn't the one to teach this sort of thing. Should have seen me the first couple of times I tried to shave after my injury too. For a while I was convinced I would have to take up growing dittany the rate I was going through it." Severus shook his head slightly, looking distant.
"Wouldn't know it now," Harry said, although Severus' words did help a little.
"And think how great at this I would have been if a certain little boy hadn't decided to distract me every time I had a moment of peace to shave," Severus said, although he was smirking at Harry, and his eyes had lit up with amusement.
"Well, if that certain little boy hadn't taught you how to colour properly, who knows where you would be?" Harry said back. Severus chuckled, the sound deep and yet without the characteristically dark tone to it.
When Harry had succeeded in getting the remaining shaving foam from his face (and the small streak of it from in his unruly mop of hair), he went into the kitchen to meet Hermione, who was just finishing up her breakfast. She slid a wrapped package across the table at Harry and took the last sip from her glass of orange juice.
"I thought that it was fitting, considering how things are going to be a whole new world for you this summer," Hermione said cheerfully. "Well, for both of us really. New memories, and all."
Curious, Harry ripped away the paper. Hidden in the wrapping was a camera.
"Developing the pictures is really easy using the magical method," said Hermione matter-of-factly. "Just one potion is needed - the bottle in the box in fact - and a nice dark place and an old pan. I thought you could use the laundry room here for now. The potion I got makes the pictures move. You can get a potion to make them just like muggle photographs too, but I thought you'd prefer this."
"Wow, it's great," said Harry breathlessly. "Hermione ... thank you so much."
"Well, I thought you would want to remember this summer," she said, "and your first proper birthday party."
"It was Molly's idea," said Severus, who, at last cleanly shaven had finally re-entered the kitchen, seeming pleased he had arrived just in time for Hermione to break the news. "We thought it best not to surprise you later today - give you time to get ready. The Weasleys, Hagrid, and Lupin are coming for dinner tonight. Just a sort of potluck, nothing fancy. Things have been a bit hectic lately, so we thought that was best."
"I'm making a cake, so you had best get out from underfoot soon," Hermione said with a smile.
"You're ... wait, Remus is coming? Cake?"
Hermione laughed at Harry's confused but ecstatic look. He felt like it was too good to be true.
"Yes, Harry, we're having a party, just for you, because we love you, and Severus even invited Remus, and I'm making you a cake," repeated Hermione, clearly seeing he needed to hear it again to believe it. Harry smiled.
"I think I rather have to make up for missing so many," Severus said, looking a little blue all of a sudden.
"Thanks," whispered Harry, his eyes suddenly watering.
Hermione smiled, and Severus clapped Harry awkwardly on the back as he left for the porch to sit outside for a while, as he usually did in the mornings.
"Now get out - I have a cake to bake!" Hermione said with a laugh, shooing a still grinning Harry out of the kitchen. "The sooner I get it iced and decorated the better. It's my mother's recipe, and it's going to be great. Go take pictures of the ocean, or something." She giggled slightly and added, "See if Severus will strike a pose!"
"I heard that!" Severus called from a distance.
Harry let out a bark of laughter and left the kitchen, holding the camera in his hands. He walked into the sitting room, on his way to the door to go outside. Harry stopped, however. He paused, and listened. He could hear Hermione moving things around in the kitchen, hunting around for pans. He could see Severus moving just beyond the screen door. He could hear the cry of the gulls from the seashore, drifting in through the open front windows. He remembered when he heard those gulls for the first time during those first hours at Bell Point. He had thought they sounded sad, but at the moment, Harry wondered how he could ever have believed this.
Harry convinced Severus to go walking by the tidal pools with him. It was slow going because Severus had to go with much caution. He had brought a good walking stick - salvaged from the remains of the tree that had fallen a few days ago and had yet to be cleared away with magic. The clunking sound of the walking stick followed Harry as he knelt down by the edges of the crystal clear pools, admiring sea stars and small flashing fish as they flipped through the water. He picked up one of the sea stars and gave it to Severus, who was sitting on a rock. Severus held it in his open palm and examined it with care, a small smile about his lips. He had said he didn't feel like kneeling down on the hard rocks to look for silly things in the water, but Harry had seen through it, knowing that it was more of a reflection of Severus' lingering difficulty in kneeling or manoeuvring tricky landscapes. It was clear he was correct, for Severus found the sea star highly interesting.
Harry snapped a picture of him with it, to Severus' surprise, causing him to look up, but not until after Harry had captured the moment. He grinned.
"Haha, funny; now give it to me," said Severus, handing back the starfish and holding his hand out for the camera.
Harry stood with his back to the ocean, finding that he didn't even have to fake a smile. It just came naturally, because right now he felt luckier than he ever had.
"Say ‘ten points from Gryffindor'," Severus told him in his most sardonic tone.
"Severus," Harry said, although he laughed.
"Close enough - my name is synonymous with the Gryffindor's misery after all," Severus added, handing the camera back to Harry with a smirk.
"For someone who's convinced a whole school he has no sense of humour, you sure are funny," Harry told Severus as he sunk down onto the large stone as well. Severus did not reply, so Harry added, "What a beautiful day."
"No thanks to your ugly mug."
"No thanks to your unoriginality."
Harry nudged Severus with his shoulder. Severus raised one of his eyebrows, glancing at him for a moment before turning his gaze back to the ocean. He nudged Harry back.
"Happy birthday, brat."
Brat. Harry grinned and looked out onto the ocean, which was rippling in the breeze.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, admiring the ocean view.
"I never want to leave this place," said Harry, feeling immensely content.
"Me neither," Severus said with a sigh. "Such a shame the Order needs it."
"Yeah," said Harry gloomily. They had talked of this before during the past few days leading up to Harry's birthday. Severus had taken to look through house listings in the Daily Prophet in the evenings, and job listings. Severus had been writing to Dumbledore as well, who occasionally gave a suggestion or two when it came to job opportunities, what with his extensive network of friends and contacts.
"For the first time in my life ... I'm actually not looking forward to going back to school," Harry said, almost unable to believe it.
"I don't particularly want you to go back either," Severus said. "It will be strange not going back. I ... I wish I was."
"Me too," Harry muttered.
"Oh well, no sense in thinking of all of that. Today's a day for celebration."
"Celebrating that my ugly mug has survived this long?"
Severus chuckled, but there certainly was a grain of truth in it.
It seemed like forever until six-o-clock rolled around and just about all the Weasleys showed up - Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Charlie, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Severus worked together to get the tables set up by the lights on the porch - pretty coloured jars that Severus had done himself. Hermione had been fretting about how she wished she could use magic to decorate the place when Severus thought he'd give it a try. To everyone's delight and amazement, he was able to manage the fairly basic wand movement of a colour changing spell, which required more concentration and proper pronunciation than anything. But it was the first proper spell Severus had done, and they were all so giddy with excitement they almost forgot to feed Crookshanks (until he reminded Hermione forcefully by digging his claws into her jeans). Once Crookshanks was fed and Severus had done a dozen or so jars, Hermione filled each of them with small candles and arranged them all around the ledges of the porch. They shone like beacons from the house, their light distant and twinkling where Harry, Hermione, and the Weasley children were down by the water.
It was a hot summer night, and with the sun beginning to lower, Harry, Hermione, Ron, Fred, George, Ginny, and Charlie went running into the water as soon as they got the chance. There was much splashing, dunking, and laughing. Harry and Ginny had a particularly great time sneaking up on Charlie, going underwater and grabbing both his legs, dragging him under the water too. Ginny got lifted up and tossed into the water for her crime, Charlie's strong arms accomplishing this easily thanks to the hard physical work required to be done by a dragon keeper. Harry thought he got off easy until he got dunked when he was least expecting it.
After a while, Mrs. Weasley came down to the beach carrying a ball, which she had rescued from the depths of a dusty corner in the attic. They all decided the best use for the ball was a game of keep away.
Having an uneven number, Ginny was sent to beg Mr. Weasley to come play too, and he didn't disappoint. He came running into the water like an overly excited child as Mrs. Weasley laughed from a chair on the lawn, where she and Severus were talking.
"Remus!" shouted Harry excitedly as he emerged from diving after the ball and missing. "Come and play!"
"In a minute," called Remus, "I'm just going to go say hello to Molly and Severus!"
"Okay!" Harry called before chasing after Fred again, who had the ball under his arm and was trying to get it to George.
Severus relaxed in the warm air, feeling content as the moths swooped low over the grass. He could see the happy gathering, splashing and laughing in the water, enjoying the lingering heat from the summer day. Molly talked of the kids, life at the Burrow, and other similarly pleasant topics. It was a surprise when Lupin suddenly appeared nearby, saying hello.
"Lupin," said Severus, his voice not biting as it usually would be. He decided that he might as well be civil.
"How have you been, Severus?" asked Lupin.
"Well, and yourself?" he said.
"Alright, but busy," said Lupin. "I'm glad to get a chance to see everyone. I sure appreciate you inviting me for Harry's birthday."
"Harry will be pleased you have come, no doubt," Severus added.
That was the extent of the conversation, and then Lupin began to talk to Molly, asking a few things about the family, and the other usual subjects.
"What a hot evening," said Lupin, wiping his brow. "I suppose I shall have to go join Harry now - he's waving again. It was nice talking to you two."
Lupin paused for a second.
"You know, Severus, I bet you would have fun if you joined us," said Lupin suddenly. "Besides ... if I join they'll be an uneven number."
I am shocked. Is Lupin inviting me to ... play?
Molly smirked at Severus' look of surprise.
"I am quite content, I assure you."
"Hmm, pity," said Molly. "It is so terribly nice - I thought I might go wading a bit."
Severus frowned thoughtfully, remaining silent for a moment before giving his answer.
"Lupin, you can expect that whichever team I am on, will thoroughly smash yours in keep away," said Severus.
"Oh, I don't know about that," said Lupin with a decidedly wolfish grin. Severus smirked slightly, because whatever Lupin though he was sure that he was definitely going down. He followed him down to the water. Both Severus and Lupin both tossed their shirts in the pile on the sand and raced each other into the water in an odd moment of what felt like something almost like friendship. Severus couldn't go that fast, but he made up for losing this part by being the first one to dive into the chilly water. It felt nice in the evening heat, and Severus laughed when he saw that Lupin was cautiously lowering himself into the water. He laughed even harder when Harry came flying over and thoroughly dunked Lupin.
"Severus!" Harry cried. He saw it about to happen the moment before he leaped.
Uh oh, thought Severus.
He came up from the water spluttering.
"You're going to get it!" Severus cried, chasing after Harry, and he found to his amazement he was quite fast in the water. His leg brace - while still helping support the leg thanks to its water proof nature - did not seem to be needed as much. Severus felt stronger with the water supporting him, and he wondered why he hadn't done this sooner.
Lupin ended up on the team with Hermione, Fred, George, and Arthur. Harry, Ron, Charlie, and Ginny were on Severus' team. They started with the ball, and with Molly acting partially as a referee in the shallows an epic battle began as they tried to keep the other team from getting the ball. Severus and Harry in particular put up a heroic fight, and Lupin and Severus went head to head in a ferocious battle every chance they got. On one hand Lupin had incredible reflexes, whereas Severus could always predict when anyone was trying to fake a throw from many years of spying, allowing him to see clearly his opponents thoughts through their body language alone. Lupin learned quickly it was better not to even try to fake a throw near him.
Of course, in the end, they had to call it a tie, because -
Ron's shout alerted everyone and they all dove out of the way as Hagrid sunk into the water with a huge splash, his red and white striped bathing suit lurid and blinding.
After that the game of keep away fell apart as everyone greeted Hagrid, and in any case, after another ten minutes or so everyone began to complain of hunger, so the group dried off (with the help of a few spells on Molly's part) and worked together to carry the dishes people brought for the potluck outside.
At long last, after everyone was finished, Hermione went inside to get the cake. Molly held Harry's camera, ready to take pictures as she has been doing for him off and on this evening so he would have photos to look back and remember.
Severus felt himself begin to grin as he caught sight of the cake Hermione had made and decorated. It had two tiers, and a creamy vanilla icing covered it in thick swirls, with decorative slices of oranges sticking to the sides. It looked delicious, and Harry's face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw it, with its deep brown chocolate lettering spelling out Happy 16th Birthday Harry across the top, the glowing candles reflecting in his eyes. He looked up, grinning over the cake at Severus.
Molly snapped the picture, and Severus thought that at that moment, he was more grateful for the photo than Harry, because it was a moment he wished could last forever.