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Chapter 1

February passed quickly. Severus kept busy with potions, the Wizengamot, and Harry. The little boy thrived on the love he received from all of his family and friends. His vocabulary grew and his hunger for new experiences grew as well. Their friendship with the Weasley family puzzled Severus at times. He didn’t think they had all that much in common but for some reason, they just clicked into place. The kids joined the play group and lessons were being given in the forms of songs and games. The twins being two years older were a bit rambunctious but they looked after Harry like the little brother they no longer had. Percy spent his time reading everything he could get his hands on and helping out when it was snack and play time.

Aberforth had taken custody of Ron Dumbledore and Severus had secretly bought another house elf who had experience with children and gifted her to the older man. Abe, as he insisted they call him, had taken in the orphan, cleaned up the Hog’s Head and the apartment over the pub with the help of his inheriting what was left of the Dumbledore estate, and begun to cater to a more law-abiding crowd. With the help of Rosamerta, his fellow pub owner, he found kids from Hogsmeade who were willing to come over in the morning and play with the little boy, getting a hot meal in return from the older man.

While pleased that had worked out, Severus was working hard on understanding all the properties he and Harry had inherited. Which in turn reminded him of the conditions in Knockturn Alley, where so many of them could be found. He’d been an inhabitant himself while working towards his masters. Cheap living and eating, plus less pricy ingredients for his trials, had all led him to the Alley. The children who ran the area were sometimes homeless, sometimes runaways from even worse conditions, but mostly just poor kids in families who lived payday to payday on one income.

He was so lucky to have inherited so much that he just had to do something. Going to Gringotts one blustery day, he sat down with Brexit and Griphook to find out what he could do. They went over the addresses he owned through the Prince and Stewart estates. Severus didn’t want to take from Harry’s inheritance but he had them check to see if any of those addresses bordered on or were next to any of his.

They found six properties of his and fourteen of Harry’s. They were all up and down the Alley. 5 were residences and the others were businesses; some still running and some defunct. Severus wanted to have a school in place for the 5-10 year olds by the Fall so the older kids could start Hogwarts within another year. That was ambitious but he was determined. It would be a day school but breakfast and lunch would be served in case those might be their only meals of the day.

There was a series of six properties all running together on one side of the Alley about half way down. He and Griphook decided to take a walk and look at all the properties they were considering using. Severus also wanted to look at conditions to see about upgrading the properties. Some he had a vague memory of and one he’d lived in for two horrible months with no heat in a bitterly cold January and February.

That one was definitely getting fixed so some other poor student didn’t have to freeze so he could also eat. And how ironic was it, he’d been living in his own property and hadn’t known it.

They walked down Knockturn Alley, taking in the sights of shabby storefronts, poorly dressed people who eyed them with distrustful eyes, filth in the street, buckling pavements, but the worst were the children scampering alongside of them. They should have been in school. Albus had a lot to answer for. He’d abandoned these children to the streets and stolen the money which should have seen them going to Hogwarts on scholarships. That was going to change, starting today.

Number 24 was a Stewart property and it was the largest building currently available. The renter had died with Riddle’s shade and luckily, had been found within the week. There was nothing worse than getting the smell of death out of a property. Griphook used the key to open the front door. They waited a moment as the stale air rushed out. It had been a month since it had gone into stasis. March was a blustery cold that felt worse than a full-on blizzard. Severus was too young to feel the cold in his bones but he now had an appreciation for how the old must feel.

Venturing inside, Severus cast a spell which sent a large ball of light floating along beside them. Griphook began taking inventory of furniture and the condition of the structure. Some floor boards needed to be replaced. The windows all needed caulking to keep out the wind. There had been water damage at some point and the staining would need to be addressed. Also, the source of the leak, in case it hadn’t been fixed yet. The three story structure was investigated thoroughly, even the basement where the ward stone needed to be cleansed and reset.

Severus really didn’t want to know what rites might have been enacted here. He and Griphook conferred on the front stoop as to the next step.

“Ahem, you be going to rent this here store?” An older gentleman had sidled up to Severus.

“Mornings greetings, Sir. I own this building and several others along the Alley. I am going to be refurbishing all of them. Some will stay business, and some will become homes or flats. We’re also going to turn some of them into a school for the children.” Severus told him.

A look of surprise flashed across the wrinkled face. “A school? What fer we need one of them? We teach our young’uns in the family, the way they ought to be.”

“And who teaches the runaways and kinless children who live on the streets, surviving as best they can?” Severus asked.

The old man shrugged. “They takes cares of themselves or find someone who can.”

And that was exactly what Severus was afraid of. Thieves and pimps always needed fresh blood. He shivered. “Thank you for your opinion, Sir. But we must be moving on.” Sev managed a slight smile while turning and resetting the wards so Griphook could lock the door. They left the old man on the street while heading to their next address.

This one had a tenant already and when they knocked, a middle aged woman with graying hair answered the door with two little ones clutching her skirt. When she heard he was the owner, she began to wail seemingly in one breath. “Yer throwing us out. I just knew it. Raising the rent or throwing us onto the streets. I broke a cup this morning so the omens were right. Yer a hard-hearted man who’s throwing a poor widow woman an’ me six children out onto the cold, hard streets.”

Onlookers were gathering, some muttering, and frowning.

Severus could see this going badly so he cast Sonorus on his voice and broke into her wails. “Madame, we are not raising the rent and we are not throwing you out. We are just here to inspect the property and see to making improvements or repairs. Thank you for your time and attention.”

When she heard that, she quit shrieking, dried her tears, and beckoned them into the narrow row house. She had a list of repairs for all three floors and Griphook took notes while she led them up to the small attic and back down to the basement. Severus talked to her about her children. She really did have six, ranging in age from 4 to 16.

When she heard about the school, she thought that was all well and good but if they were in school, who would do the chores and look after the babies? Severus thought she could always lend a hand but did think of a nursery for the street, run by house elves so the ladies of the househlds could do their marketing and household chores.

They managed to get away from her but found they now had followers who trailed along behind them, watching avidly which places they entered. The next grouping were the six properties that sat side by side. Four were in good condition, one needed some structural work, but the last one just needed to be demolished. Luckily, it only shared one wall with the one that needed repairs. The other side wall was on a tiny lane which led to an even seedier, narrow road.

Griphook sketched the front and back of the properties. Severus had a good feeling about these buildings. He thought their placement in the center of the Alley would be handy for all the families he hoped to entice into the school. He needed to talk to Minerva about how to go setting up a school. And get her approval to start sending these kids to Hogwarts next year. It would be tight, but he just knew some of these kids were bright enough to make it. And he would make sure they had the clothing and supplies to fit in.

***

Severus left the floo with Harry in his arms. Minerva was still in the new office and was currently dictating a letter to the Board to her personal assistant, Natalia Parkinson. She was the widow of Cuthbert Parkinson who hadn’t gotten his Dark Mark removed before Riddle finally died for good. Her daughter, Pansy was now a member of Harry’s play group.

Waving at her two favorite men, Minerva finished up before standing and taking Harry into a hug. Severus exchanged greetings with Natalia who had gotten up to go to her own desk in the left of the room. She was right by Salazar’s portrait and since she’d been a Slytherin, she felt at home there.

Hogwarts chimed in with her own warm hug and Fawkes flew over to land on Severus’ arm, trilling a greeting and inviting a scratching of his brightly colored head. Both greetings made him smile broadly and Minerva moved closer so Harry could give Fawkes a scratch, too.

“Your letter was very cryptic, Severus. How can I help you today? Let’s head to lunch.” Minerva still held Harry who was busy waving to all the portraits he could see. They all waved back as the trio left the office.

“I need information about setting up a school. I thought I’d get the Founders input and yours about a school in or near Knockturn Alley. Those kids are forgotten by most and some of them could go to Hogwarts if they just had the basics taught to them and scholarships available.” He finished passionately.

“I’ve long agreed with that sentiment.” She sighed and hugged Harry close. “It’s why it made it so maddening to find Albus had hexed the Book of Names to ignore those he didn’t deem ‘worthy’.” Severus could hear the air quotes around the word. “In August, he’d give me the envelopes it generated so I could get them sent out and arrange visits with the muggleborn. He’d winnow out those who he didn’t want. I think there were a lot of names he didn’t pass on to me. But Elder Mellic fixed it so now we have everyone’s name who could go to school here. I’m sure some of them are currently in Knockturn Alley.”

The hallways teemed with students and the occasional teacher as they made their way to the Great Hall. Some of them recognized the Potion Master but all of them knew Harry. His little hand was in constant motion, waving to all of them. Severus snickered to himself and decided to teach him the ‘Monarch Wave’ he’d seen Queen Elizabeth the II do. It would be easier on his little wrist.

The head table was much longer now with all of the professors and assistants. The Heads of House all looked happier and more rested with some of their workload spread out to others. The next school year would see that spreading out even farther as new classes were added and more students arrived. It was going to be glorious, Severus thought as he sat down at his place to the right of Minerva with Harry in a high chair between them. Their chairs always appeared whenever Hogwarts knew they were coming. The others moved down gladly because everyone was happier when Harry came to visit. He was such a joyful little boy.

Severus knew that because he felt it every day. He gave thanks to Gaia daily for everything she brought into his life. But mostly because of Harry, who was showing Minerva his new tooth. Or ‘toof’ as he called it. It had been an almost painless pop out, for which Severus was grateful. It hurt him when his son was hurting and all he could do was rub some potion into the sore spot. Still, this one had prompted a question about why Harry’s teeth were white and Severus’ were yellowish. Nothing like a ‘why’s you toofs yellow, Daddy?’ to send you to the charm books looking for a tooth-whitening charm.

And while he was at it, a tooth-straightening charm. It hurt while rearranging his mouth but the results meant he smiled a lot more without fear of showing off crooked, yellow teeth. He was thinking of creating a potion which would keep his teeth white while he continued to drink tea. It went on a very long list of potions he wanted to create. If he only had the time.

“That was a big sigh, Severus. What is wrong?” Filius was to his right and he smiled at the Deputy Head.

“Too much to do and not enough time. Even with an assistant, it seems like there’s never enough hours in the day to get everything done. I’d like to have one whole day to just work on potions. No Wizengamot meetings or committee meetings or Gringotts consultations or, well you get the idea.” Severus shot a sheepish grin at the little man. “I know I’m preaching to the choir, Filius. Your days are just as full.”

“They are but with my new assistant I get to concentrate on what I love the most, teaching charms.” He twinkled at him. “Perhaps you should let go of a few responsibilities and let others take the lead on the committee front. Your genius is potions and I know they are what you love the most.”

“After Harry,” Severus said automatically. “I would dearly love to give up some committees or at least only have to meet once a month or so instead of weekly. It’s very flattering to be asked but I find I have a hard time saying no, even when I know I should.”

“Understood, but I think you’re going to have to, if you want to keep your potion-spark alive. I expect you’ve been working after Harry has gone to bed but that means you’re already tired and that’s when mistakes happen.” Filius looked closely at him. “You are often tired, aren’t you?”

Severus closed his eyes with a flush before answering. “It feels like I never get enough sleep. It’s disconcerting to say the least. I used to be able to get by on four hours a night but now it’s just not enough.”

Filius looked past him to Minerva who was listening to their conversation with a little frown. They had an unspoken but quick conversation with their eyes. They both nodded. They would be getting this young man aside so they could begin to help him. Filius ate some of his roast chicken with a little mashed potatoes while he thought about what they could come up with to help. He definitely needed to say no more frequently. He rather thought Severus was being taken advantage of.

Minerva was thinking the same thing. She needed to gather a committee who would take his wonderful idea of a school in Knockturn and turn it into a reality without taking up more of his time. She had a suspicion he was going to provide the space for the school so that was sufficient input for now. She wiped a bit of potato off Harry’s face and felt her heart leap at his grin and quiet ‘tank ou’. He really was the most amazing child and Severus was doing a fantastic job in raising him. She must remember to tell him so frequently.

Lunch was filling and Severus sat back to digest the apple tart he’d just finished. Coming back to Hogwarts was like coming back home now that Dumbledore’s influence was gone. He looked down the table and pondered how many of the staff had had to be decursed, unhexed, and generally cleared of all compulsions and loyalty charms. The old man had a lot to answer for but the children all looked much happier and the wariness at the Slytherin table was much decreased than from his time there.

The world was a better place everywhere.

***

A week later and Severus was finally able to take a deep breath and relax. Minerva had convened a committee to create the school in Knockturn. Ragnok had assigned a goblin work crew to commence work on the school location, their first task to demolish the end building that was already falling down. A human work crew was working on refurbishing and fixing the other properties, starting on the empty ones so they didn’t have to work around residents. John Turren, the work foreman, had told Severus that a couple of the kids from the Alley wanted to learn how to do construction, so he’d gotten them tool belts and assigned the three of them to different work men to help. They were earning a sickle and two meals a day.

Severus thought that was a wonderful idea and said he would cover their cost but John had just shook his head and told him, it was his pleasure. He might even get a couple of apprentices out of it. Severus made a note to investigate apprenticeships. It went into his planner as a note to Ragnok and Minerva. He really wished there was something they could use to measure how much magic the kids had at their disposal. He needed to ask the Founders if there was something in their time. That note went in as well.

Lucius had winkled him out of two Wizengamot committees which just left the one on potion regulations which met every other week. That one actually used his knowledge and expertise so he wanted to stay on it. Some of the rules and regulations were antiquated and he wanted to explore what they could get rid of and what needed to stay. Salazar was very helpful there in speaking of what his time had done. Severus had brought his portrait with him to the last meeting and the other committee members had been taken aback but then settled down to work. That was a refreshing change and resulted in the abolishment of some of the oldest regulations on the books.

It was a good start and Salazar had consented to be taken to future meetings. It made Severus laugh inwardly when the others waited with baited breath to hear the lord of Slytherin speak. He could be so haughty when looking down his nose at someone. He really had helped streamline the process under which they were working. So far, all their changes had been approved by the Wizengamot and the new regulations plus the rescinded ones, had been copied and sent out to everyone in the Potions Guild.

Life was good again and Severus had managed six hours of sleep last night so he was feeling pretty mellow. Which was a good thing, since they were headed down to the Silvius vault to take a look at what was in it. Harry, Theo, and Dobby were giggling and shouting ‘Whee!’ while the cart rolled faster and faster. The vault was deeper than the Founders and was numbered 6, after the 1 and 2 of Emrys and the 3-5 of Le Fay.

Severus didn’t know quite why he was avoiding going into the older vaults but Ragnok had taken to saying something each time he came in so he’d compromised and said the Silvius vault would be the next to be opened. Was he afraid of what he’d find in them? Or afraid they’d be duds with nothing exciting at all? He flip-flopped back and forth between the two questions/feelings.

“Oo-o-o, Daddy, what is dat?” Harry was craning his head towards a hollow with a great hulking shape within it.

Severus’ eyes widened. He’d forgotten that the goblins used dragons in guarding the older vaults. “That is a dragon, Harry. He helps the goblins protect all of our vaults.”

The creature roared and Severus flinched, expecting flames but none followed. And the roaring almost sounded like words. He frowned back at the dragon while the cart slowly came to a stop outside of Vault 3.

“What’s wong, Daddy?” Harry looked up at him quizzically.

“It almost sounded like I heard words when he roared.” Severus shook his head and smiled down at his son. “Not to worry, Harry. I think I might have been a little frightened by him roaring at us.”

Harry giggled and kissed his cheek. “Yous’ not afwaid of anything, Daddy. But he did kind of scaw Theo and me.”

Theo nodded his head and shivered a bit. “Scary, Unca Sev.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about him, Harry and Theo. He’s chained up so he can’t leave the lower tunnels.” Griphook told them.

“Aw de time?” Harry didn’t like that idea at all.

“He roams free after the carts are turned off, Harry. There’s a spell that keeps him from coming all the way to the top then. We take very good care of our dragons, little one. Every three months, we switch them out so this one will be leaving next month for our dragon preserve in Wales. A new one will arrive to take his place then. So he’ll get to fly very soon.”

“Okay,” Harry nodded and his frown disappeared.

Severus lifted him and Theo out of the cart to join the others who’d come down with them. Mentoc was their curse breaker today and Nebbins was their Recorder. The vault had never been inventoried as far as the goblins’ records showed. Remus and Regina had come also so they were ready for anything. Harry went right to the door and Severus pricked his finger so he could touch the stylized S on the seam of the vault.

“Open, pease.” He said as his blood welled up and sank into the letter. Severus healed the small wound right away with a spell and a kiss. “Tank ‘ou, Daddy.”

The seam began to unseal before them and the door started to open without any help at all. No door knob had appeared or even a hand hold. Severus wondered at that but was too busy trying to see inside to really think about it. The old air rushed out with the scent of sweet lemon blossoms instead of stale air. That was odd. Mentoc stood in the doorway and cast his first spells, “Lux . . . Revealo.”

The chamber was still for a moment before globes began to light up all around the room. Colors began to appear as they responded to the reveal. The shades of color were almost more than could be counted. Hues of green, purple, and blue shone from the trunks lining the walls. A bookcase glowed with orange hues from pale peach to tangerine. A library table of solid oak stood catty-cornered in front of a shimmering wall hanging in rich shades of all colors. An oak chair sat sideways in front of it as if the owner had just pushed back from the table to stand up. On the table was a solid gold chest, which reminded Severus of Albus’ treasure box.

And all over the floor, galleons piled up almost as tall as Harry. As they looked on in awe, a shower of gold appeared and joined its brethren on the floor. Severus was amazed. What could still be producing profit two thousand years after this vault was begun? Mentoc continued to cast spells and he was solidly in the way of them entering so Severus tried to be patient. The bookcase was calling his name but the chest on the table was intriguing, too.

“What’s we goin’ to do wit aw dis gowd, Daddy?” Harry giggled again as more gold fell into a heap.

“Well, we’ll take some and invest it for you for when you’re older. We’ll find out why more is coming in, literally as we speak.” Severus pondered for a moment. “What else would you like to do with it?”

Harry leaned against his leg and thought about it. Mentoc kept on casting spells, slowly around the room. Remus was looking at the bookcase, eyes squinted as if he could read the titles from here, although most of them were title less.

“I tink we souwd have a pawty, with cake and biscuits and silly punch.” Harry looked up at him with such a satisfied look on his face.

Severus kept back a chuckle while nodding his head. “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, Harry. We can have a party on the Spring Solstice and invite everyone to our home. That’s only a week away so we’ll have time to plan it all.”

“Silly punch?” Remus asked.

“Everybody acts silly who have more than one cup. Somebody cast a cheering spell on it at the last party and everyone was very, very cheerful for the rest of the party. Harry thought we were all quite silly.” Severus was pretty sure Sirius was responsible for the charm and from the look in Remus’ eye, he thought so, too. Still, it hadn’t been harmful and everyone had had a good time.

“Alright, gentle sirs and lady, it’s safe to go in. Nothing harmful but if something is reddish in color, I’d leave that alone until I can undo the spell. If you’ll remember, that curse will turn you into an animal of some kind.” Mentoc nodded at them. “The color glow will last for an hour or so before I have to recast it. And the document box next to the bookcase may tell you what investment is still producing income after all these years.”

The green leather small trunk was what he was pointing at and Severus would take that one home so they could go through it leisurely. It was the gold chest which was drawing his attention right now, almost as if a compulsion spell had been cast. He made a beeline for it while Harry and Theo picked up gold pieces to study. Regina was watching over them while Remus headed to the bookcase with his hands firmly clasped behind his back to keep from reaching out for them.

“Orange means it has changed form. I suspect from scroll to book form.” Mentoc reminded Remus. “It’s alright to touch them.”

Remus muttered a cleansing charm for his hands before reaching out to carefully pull a book from the shelf. Severus sat down in the chair and slowly lifted the lid of the gold chest. Inside was a scroll lying on top of a glowing layer of crystals of all colors. They took his breath away with their rich hues. One glowed as yellow as the sun and he itched to pick it up but he unrolled the scroll instead.

Greetings, Heir – I can sense it will be some time before this is read. Our family has the gift of True Sight and it is showing me centuries of darkness before you come to claim your heritage. Know that the knowledge retained in this chest is from the Before Times, several thousands of years in our past. Some of the scrolls in the bookcase are also from those times so I suggest you read them first before interacting with these crystals. The scrolls will react to your magic when you ask them for the Atlantis scrolls. The crystals are teaching tools from the Kingdom of Atlantis and their progenitors. Take the time to mindfully go through them. The knowledge will settle into you slowly depending on your current level of education. There is no hurry although I know you will be curious and want to dive right in. Be calm and choose wisely. One of the crystals will beckon you to choose it and whichever one it is, know that it is the right beginning for you.

I foresee a renaissance coming to our world after a time of war. I am glad you are a part of this rebirth. I also sense the one first reading this after so long is not the heir but his regent. You are doing a fine thing in bringing up my heir to be kind and knowledgeable. I hereby give permission for you to be the first to access these crystals. What is in them will help in bringing closure to wizardkind from the wars of the last few decades and showing them a new path forward. It will be a glorious new beginning for our kind and all who wield magic.

From the far past, know I wish you well in all your endeavors and hope your future is as wondrous as I have foreseen.

Tacitus Agricola Silvius

Lord of the Hidden Realms

Severus read it twice and was ready to start a third read when Harry’s voice broke through. “Daddy, wat’s ‘ou weading?”

He blinked and sat the scroll back in the chest before lifting Harry into his lap. “Your ancestor, Tacitus left you this box and a scroll telling you about what was inside. It’s . . . kind of mind boggling.”

“Why?” He asked curiously and craned his neck to see it.

“I’ll read it to you when we get home. We’re definitely taking this box home with us.”

“Kay,” he said. “Wat about de pwetty hanging?”

For the first time, Severus eyed the tapestry hanging before them. It read like a labyrinth with fantastic creatures and odd looking buildings, even people occasionally popping up out of the trees. It was oddly fascinating in a swirling kind of way and he rather thought he could spend hours looking at it. “I think we’ll take it, too. It has a lot in it that’s odd but intriguing. I’m going to also be taking a scroll home with us. Tacitus recommended I read it first.”

“Tas-is, dat’s a funny name, Daddy.” Harry giggled.

“Tacitus is an old Roman name. Several of their emperors had it and even some people today bear the name. It’s kind of like my name, Severus. The Prince family liked using old Roman names for their children.” Severus liked these teachable moments when he could pass along history to his son.

“Der any stowies about them, Daddy?” Harry asked hopefully.

“I’ll find some so I can read to you.” Severus dropped a kiss on the dark hair under his chin. He then closed the lid of the chest and stood up, bringing Harry up with him so they could cross to the bookcase.

Remus was enrapt with a scroll he’d pulled off the shelf, leaning against the wall while he read. Severus took a deep breath and asked with his magic for the scroll which would help him learn about the Atlantian crystals. A scroll lit up in bright yellow, almost the exact same shade as the crystal which had caught his eye. He plucked it up off the shelf and handed it over when Harry held out his hands.

“Feews good, Daddy.” Harry stroked the vellum.

“I think so too, Harry.” He turned and spotted Nebbins, writing down the contents of a trunk. Going over, he looked in to see what was there. It looked like small tapestries layered almost to the top of the trunk. The colors reminded him of the tapestry in the corner. “Nebbins, is it full of just tapestries?”

“Yes, Lord Prince. They’ve been in stasis since they were put here. I’d like to put them back into stasis once I’ve inventoried them. Fabric doesn’t last very long when exposed to air, heat, and humidity.” The goblin stopped counting to speak to him.

“I agree. But we would like to take the hanging tapestry with us. Do you know a good goblin preservation spell we can use on it?” Severus didn’t want anything to happen to it when they took it from the safety of the vault.

Mentoc chuckled from behind them. “It already has a preservation spell on it and it’s a very good one. Whoever wove it did so with a preservation spell for each stitch. Nothing will be harming it short of dragon fire.”

Severus perked up. “Good, that’s a load off my mind. Now, is there something we can wrap around the chest so we don’t look like we’re taking a golden chest full of precious things out into Gringotts?”

Remus gasped and pointed to the table. Severus turned around and saw the gold chest was now a dowdy black wooden box. He laughed out loud. “I can’t wait to see what else it can do.”

“Interesting,” was all Mentoc said but Severus noticed he nodded towards the chest and drew a quick rune in the air.

This vault was fast turning into his favorite, even better than Slytherin’s, although he wouldn’t be telling Salazar that. He could feel change coming and he hoped Tacitus had it right. A glorious new beginning was exactly what the wizarding world needed. And Harry and he would be right here to see it happen.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter two

Severus pushed his chair back from the scroll on his desk. His mind was whirling and he blanked his thoughts to keep from exploding. Standing up, he began to pace around the room. He felt like the universe was expanding exponentially and he desperately needed a Harry-hug. But Harry was playing at the Abbots today. But thinking about him brought back something he wanted to ask.

“Salazar, do dragons have a language that sounds like parseltongue?”

“I never took the time to find one and talk to it. They’d been cleared out of England by the 700’s although there were rumors of sightings in Wales but I never traveled there to verify. What makes you wonder about it?” Salazar was seated, petting the painted copy of Sasha, his snake.

“When we went to the Silvius vault, number 6, we passed the goblins’ dragon and it roared at us. It almost sounded like I could understand words. Something like – intruder alert.” Severus stopped in front of the portrait.

“How intriguing. It would be easier to travel to Wales now-a-days. If there are dragons to be found there?” Salazar raised an inquiring eyebrow.

Severus nodded absently and sat down at his desk, ignoring the scroll and pulling some of his embossed stationery towards him. It was still a little strange to need such elegant parchment but every time he saw his coat of arms and list of titles, he still got a thrill.

“There is a dragon preserve around the Glyder Fawr Mountain in Snowdonia, Wales. I expect there’s an apparation point at the boundary of the preserve.” He started to write.

“I’d like to go with you. Seeing a dragon up close would be quite interesting.” Salazar looked quite excited for him.

“I’m sure that can be arranged, Salazar.” Severus hid his smile when Godric chimed in, he wanted to go, too. Now, he was really hoping he got a yes from the preserve.

“Is there such a thing as a traveling frame we could take which would be easier to travel with than your home frames?” Severus paused in his writing, to look up at them. “How do you travel between frames? Or are there two of you since there are two pictures of each of you?”

“There are two of us but what one knows, the other does also.” Rowena spoke up. “I’ve heard modern paintings can actually travel from one frame to another, which we can not do. Our portraits were actually painted three years apart. The ones at Hogwarts are younger than these. Does the Painters Guild still exist in this day and age?”

Severus thought for a moment. “I have no idea. Sebastian, who did your painting?”

Sebastian Potter nodded. “The Painters Guild is based in London. I was offered another frame which I could travel to if needed but I had no need so I declined. The painter I selected to paint my portrait was Ezra Cafferty. He was younger than me but he might still be alive. I enjoyed sitting for him, he was a gentleman of varied experience and a lovely story teller.”

Severus smiled. Sebastian didn’t speak up often but he was a good story teller himself. “I will ask Lucius tomorrow at the Wizengamot. He will know or know who to ask.”

“Good thinking, Severus. If there is such a thing, I would enjoy seeing a dragon, as well.” Rowena looked quite interested.

“I’ll investigate further. But first, we’ll see if the preserves even allow guests. However, if it proves dragon is a parseltongue language, they would likely want Sal’s potion to enable them to speak to their charges.”

Salazar preened. “Of course, they would.”

Severus smiled while signing his name. Rolling it up, he sealed it closed with his new seal, then got up to send it off with his owl, Archimedes. He was actually looking forward to the Wizengamot session.

***

The session was two hours long but quite interesting since they were working on streamlining the Ministry and how it functioned. There was also some of the preliminary work on staging an election for the Minister’s job. Politics were fascinating to watch. Although, he knew his and Harry’s seats could be considered King-maker seats and he truly didn’t want that responsibility. But he was just going to have to suck it up and learn how to deal.

He was afraid there were dinners and parties in his future while his votes were solicited. He was very sure though, he had to find a way to get Harry to meet each of the three candidates to get his impression of them. His little boy could spot a fake from a meter away.

While he was wool gathering, Lucius finally declared this session adjourned and Severus sighed in relief. Now, to wait a few minutes until the crowd around his friend dispersed, he chatted idly with Gerald Greengrass. He had yet to commission a portrait for his family so he couldn’t answer Sev’s questions about portrait painting.

Finally, Lucius was free and Severus moved to his side. The Chief Warlock walked with him to the apparition point. Severus asked his questions and Lucius was intrigued.

“I’ve got the rest of the morning free, Sev. Let’s go visit the Painters Guild. I’m curious what they’ll say about your questions.”

“Great, let’s go now.” Severus was excited.

Lucius knew the apparition point at the Guild so he side-alonged with Severus. They appeared in a grand entrance hall of marble and elaborately gilt framed portraits of previous Painter Grand Masters. A young wizard entered to greet them.

“Mornings Greetings, Gentlemen. I am Apprentice Painter Franco Straza. How may the Guild help you today?” His Spanish accent was slight but there.

“Mornings Greetings, Apprentice Straza. Is there still an Ezra Cafferty in the Guild?” Severus asked.

The young man blinked. “But yes, of course, he is the current Grand Master of the Guild.”

“Oh good, I know we have no appointment but would it be possible to speak with him today? I am Lord Severus Prince-Stewart and the Earl of Ravenclaw. My friend is Lord Lucius Malfoy.” Severus hadn’t had the chance to name-drop thus far and hoped it might get them in to see the painter. Lucius smiled proudly at how easily Severus got all his titles out.

The young man’s eyes widened comically wide. “I shall ask immediately. Perhaps you and Lord Malfoy could wait in our front parlor? It’s this way.”

They followed him down a short hall into a plush parlor filled with comfortable chairs and gilt tables. The portraits on the walls ranged from medieval renderings to lush landscapes with people frolicking, gardening, and other pleasure seeking.

“Florenzo, tea for two please.” Young Straza said into the air. An elf in a paint splattered smock appeared with a tea tray, he placed on one of the tables between two chairs with a look at the two men who nodded and sat in those seats.

“I shall return shortly, Lord Prince-Stewart and Lord Malfoy.” He bowed to them and left while the elf popped away.

Lucius poured for them both and Severus realized he was hungry. He piled several of the small water cress sandwiches on a small plate, then added several of the petite-fours. Each sandwich was two bites and the tiny cakes soon disappeared. The tea was a strong Darjeeling and washed it all down beautifully. He sighed happily.

“I know,” Lucius set his cup down and also chose the sandwiches. “I’m always hangry after a Wizengamot session. Maybe it’s the satisfaction at the progress we’re making?”

“Maybe,” Severus took another satisfying drink. “How many parties am I going to have to go to for the Ministerial candidates?”

“At least two, too many.” Lucius said wryly. “I’m thinking of having a party in the conservatory, kind of like a picnic. The orange trees are in blossom and their scent is amazing. It will be low key and the invitation will be for them and their families. That will show us their family dynamic and see how they interact with ours.”

Severus smiled. “I love that idea, Lucius. I was wondering how to get Harry to meet them. He’s a very perceptive little boy and can spot someone or something ‘icky’ pretty darn quickly.”

Lucius chuckled. “I know. I want a Minister who has a family and loves them as much as we do ours. No more career politicians.”

“What a refreshing idea.” A rich baritone came from the doorway, followed by a silver haired gentleman in a sumptuous black velvet robe. “I am Ezra Cafferty and it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Prince-Stewart and Lord Malfoy.” He shook hands with them and pulled up a third chair. “Florenzo, another cup please and some of those butterscotch brownies I smelled on my way here.”

The elf popped in again with another cup and a plate of brownies which looked delicious. He waited while Lucius poured another cup of tea for the Grand Master, then took the depleted tea pot away. He quickly returned with another pot still slightly steaming.

“Now, Gentlemen, what can I do for you today?” He asked genially.

Severus told him their questions and what might be available in traveling frames. He reminded the Grand Master of Sebastian Potter’s portrait but also of the Founders’ portraits.

The last widened the painter’s eyes. “Amazing! I do remember Mr. Potter’s portrait. He wanted planted herbs to line the painting and had all of them lined up when I came to the estate. That was rather refreshing for me. I enjoyed bringing life to them within Magic’s parameters.” He paused and took a brownie, biting into it with pleasure. A few moments passed as they all enjoyed the sweet treat.

Brushing his hands free of crumbs, he sat back with his cup. “The Founders’ portraits sound intriguing. Very few portraits remain in public view from medieval times. We have books detailing the spells used at that time period but nothing from the painters who painted their portraits. I would very much like to see them for myself. Do you think that could be arranged?”

Severus swallowed the last of his brownie and spoke. “I thought you might ask that, Grand Master, so I brought the Countess Ravenclaw’s portrait with me. Could you conjure an easel for me?”

“Oh please, call me Ezra. This is so exciting!” He jumped up and immediately an easel appeared near their chairs.

“Then I am Severus, Ezra.” He stood and pulled the miniature painting from his pocket. Resizing it to normal size, he gently placed it on the easel and pushed some of his magic into the name plate.

Rowena opened her eyes and smiled.

“Countess Ravenclaw, it is a blessed pleasure to meet you.” The painter said reverently, with a bow. “I am Grand Master Cafferty and it would be my honor to make a traveling frame for you.”

“How lovely, Grand Master. We must have a long talk about how the art of portrait painting has changed over the centuries since my time.” She nodded kindly to him.

“I look forward to it.” He smiled and looked back to the others. “How soon do you need the traveling frame? How many portraits would potentially be included?”

Severus thought a moment. “Well, Godric and Salazar for certain and Sebastian wants to go also. But Helga might want to be included in the future. Would it be difficult to resize later or should we just say six people might want to travel in it?”

Ezra rubbed his hands together. “All the Founders at once in one frame would be amazing. I can definitely prepare a frame for six. And we can add the spells that allow a portrait person to travel from one frame to another. It has been reported that the Hogwarts portraits all travel around the Castle from one picture to another. No one from the Guild has been allowed into the school since Dumbledore took over.”

Severus set his cup down with a clink. “Minerva hasn’t said anything about the portraits but then, our focus was on the actual building and its furnishings. Shall I give your name to her, Ezra? Then she could contact you, perhaps after school has let out for the year.”

“Yes, that would be wonderful. We have long wanted to get a look at those portraits and landscapes. I know when I was a student, they fascinated me. Especially the ones in Slytherin.” He smiled fondly. “Once I apprenticed, I was never allowed back into the Castle. It was a disappointment for me. No one from the Guild was ever approached by the former Headmaster to paint his portrait. He may have gone out of the country but if he didn’t, there will be no image of him to appear in the school.”

“We’re alright with that, Ezra.” Severus and Lucius exchanged a look and wry smiles. “Now, I do not know the etiquette of portrait painting but I would prefer to not let the Founders from our estate. Can you accommodate me?”

“But of course,” Ezra was practically rubbing his hands together. “I would be honored to come to the manor to do my work. I would like to bring my apprentice with me since this would be an incredible teaching moment.”

“Yes, of course, I’ve been finding many such moments since I adopted my son. I’m sure he will have many questions for you when you arrive.” Severus smiled, just thinking of what Harry might ask.

“I will answer them to the best of my ability. Now, as to dates, let me have Franco bring my scheduling calendar.” He tapped a broach on his left breast and the apprentice who’d greeted them came in almost immediately. “My calendar, please.”

The apprentice nodded and left. They chatted about what all was involved in creating a portrait and Lucius also requested to be on a first name basis with Ezra. To Severus, it felt like he’d found a new friend and that made him smile. Some day in the far future, he wouldn’t mind sitting for a portrait himself. Remembering Sebastian’s request for herbs in his portrait, he decided he’d have whatever his most favorite potion was at that time on a workbench in front of him. That would be fun.

And maybe a toy train in the foreground as if Harry had just been there. That really made him smile.

Franco returned with the calendar and they compared schedules. A week from today was open for both of them and they inked in the appointment. Severus told Ezra he would come and get him since the estate was still under the Fidelius. Shrinking Rowena down, Severus pocketed her. They left in a leisurely manner, all three content with the outcome of their questions. Severus was looking forward to learning something new.

***

Ezra hummed to himself while fitting his favorite brush into the space made for it in what he liked to call his tool box. It held the tools of his trade but his fellow painters hated it when they heard him call it that. Bunch of pretentious pantywaists, if you asked him quietly. He chuckled and put in a tube of his favorite crimson oil paint. It nestled next to a shade of green he’d used many times since he painted Sebastian Potter’s portrait. He remembered how Sebastian’s eyes had lit up when he’d seen the preliminary sketch for his oil painting.

It was the perfect color of the leaves of the rosemary plant. It said ‘life’ to both of them. Ezra was looking forward to interacting with his portrait again. After all, it appeared Sebastian had recommended him for this once in a lifetime chance to visit with the Founders of Hogwarts. He smiled happily. What an amazing visit would be his and how nice it was that Franco would get to participate, too. It would be such a learning experience for the young man.

He pondered for a moment, take the cerulean blue or the azure? The portraits were mostly painted in indoor settings and had been for over a thousand years. Perhaps the Founders would enjoy an outdoor scene. Salazar Slytherin might enjoy a garden of potion ingredient plants or Godric Gryffindor a horse pasture with his favorite horse. And the Countess Rowena might . . . hm-m, he thought of books when he thought of her so perhaps a nice garden with gazebo where she could read outside. Something to inquire about while speaking with her.

“Grand Master, I have the frame box but wasn’t sure what all we should take.” Franco came into his studio, carrying a flat chest.

“I think perhaps three basic frames which will hold up to six people and a selection of some of our more exotic woods. It might be a treat to show them something from far away.” He wiggled his fingers a bit and both shades of blue went into the slot.

“And metal?” Franco asked while shrinking the larger frames to fit in the chest.

“Hm-m-m, I don’t think of metal when I think of the Founders.” Ezra blinked and considered it. “Perhaps one of the gold highlighted frames. I just can’t see them with any of the steel or aluminum frames.”

“The weight factor with aluminum and the bigger frames could be considered.” Franco slotted in some samples of South American woods and some from India, China, and New Zealand.

“Yes, you’re right.” Ezra smiled at his apprentice. “Go ahead and put in the aluminum one. I know it’s your favorite.”

Franco blushed but slotted in the polished metal sample. They worked in silence for a few moments before Ezra checked his pocket watch. “It’s almost time. Quickly now, we don’t want to keep Lord Prince waiting.”

His apprentice nodded and closed up the frame box after he closed the storage cabinet where they kept the frames and wood samples. Lifting the strap over his head, he let the frames hang down. Reaching for his master’s box, Ezra shook his head and carried it himself. They reached the foyer a few moments before a soft chime rang and Lord Prince apparated in. Exchanging pleasantries, he gathered them in and a moment later, they were in a black and white marble foyer. A sumptuous rug under foot was a riot of greens and blues.

“Welcome to Potter Manor, gentlemen.” Lord Prince let go in time to catch up a small boy.

“Daddy, is dese de paintews?” The dark haired imp asked excitedly.

“They are, Harry. Grand Master Cafferty and Apprentice Franco Straza, this is my godson, Harry Potter.”

Ezra held out his hand and gently shook hands with the adorable little boy. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Harry. You may call me Ezra.”

“Peased to meet ‘ou, Miwstah Ezwa.” His smile was so bright.

“Mornings Greetings, Harry. You can call me Franco.” Franco said with a little bow and a smile.

“Mowning, Miwstah Fwanco.” He waved at him. “Can I watch ‘ou paint?”

“But of course, Harry.” Ezra had packed some extra sheets of the paper he preferred to sketch on, knowing a child was part of the household. They were always curious and it was better to have them be a part of the sitting then running rampant through the room.

“The others are in my study, Ezra and Franco.” Severus turned to his left and led them into a study which Ezra immediately coveted.

It wasn’t just the portraits he saw in a glance but the books which filled three walls of the room. Maybe Severus would allow him some browsing time once the portraits were taken care of. But he was busy introducing the others in the room. Lord Black, Dowager Nott, and her son Theo were first; followed by a scholar named Remus Lupin, Lord Rookwood, and Headmistress McGonagall, who’d come to talk to him about coming to Hogwarts to work on the Founders’ portraits there.

He found it interesting that her set of portraits couldn’t leave Hogwarts at all. And they seem to have been frozen for half a century by the last Headmaster. A more despicable man could hardly be found and Ezra was glad he was dead. Even better, he’d never had to actually turn down the man’s request for a portrait. But he just didn’t think he had it in him to paint such evil onto innocent canvas.

Shaking himself free of that thought, he prepared to cast a series of spells on the portraits which were here. Taking out vellum, and his always inked quill, he set them to one side and cast the first Revealo onto Sebastian’s portrait. The quill wrote down the spells he remembered casting on it. Good, no one had tampered with it. Moving to Salazar’s painting, he cast on it and watched what emerged. Interesting, they hadn’t invented several of the spells he took for granted. He’d have to write this up for the quarterly Painters Journal.

Quickly, he went down the row and had similar results from all of the Founders’ portraits. Well, that made it easy. Now, to talk to Severus and see what came next.

***

Severus listened to the conversations going on around the room. He marveled at the different topics from Salazar talking to Ezra about the different paint formulas common in his day to Franco’s description of a background for the traveling portrait frame. Harry and Theo were diligently drawing with charcoal on paper at the small table they’d moved in from the play room. He hoped Dobby knew a really good cleaning spell for charcoal since both boys had streaks on cheeks, arms, and clothes.

He watched with interest as Ezra cast his spells on the portraits while his quill wrote beside him. The Grand Master nodded at the results. “Severus, the older spells are holding up well and the ones I need to cast to make them capable of movement will fold into the original spell matrix without harming them.” Ezra laid the sheets on his desk and Severus cast his gaze over them, not really understanding any of them.

“That’s good news, Ezra. Will the new spells allow them to move from their home frames to new ones?” Severus asked while Minerva read over his shoulder.

“Yes, indeed they will. At the moment, Sebastian could move to any frame which has the reciprocal spell on it. That’s the main thing missing on the older portraits. Even though he has the spell to leave, the Founders portraits don’t have the receiving spell on them. That’s one we’ll cast on them as well as the leaving spell so they can move about. The new painting will have both spells as well as several damage control spells.” Ezra detailed just enough so they could understand.

Severus nodded and pointed to two lines on the sheets. “And the spells which are blurred here?”

Ezra smiled. “Proprietary spells of the Guild about which I am not at liberty to talk. You will notice they are on the Founders and Sebastian. They’ve been secrets of the Guild since pre-Roman times. They are the animation or life spells as we like to call them. And the person being painted must contribute some of their life force and knowledge to the spell as well.”

“Severus, I remember sitting and thinking about my life while Ezra cast the spells. It took a while, perhaps an hour or so but when we were done, there I was in paint.” Sebastian spoke up shyly.

“Interesting. Would you like me to have a picture of your garden painted which you could move into?” Severus asked the portrait and watched his eyes light up.

“Oh please, that would be wonderful. And maybe some other gardens too?” He asked eagerly.

“Sebastian, I will make a list of some of the gardens we’ve painted in the last fifty years and send it to Severus. I’m sure the owners of those paintings would allow you to visit. One of those spells is on Sebastian’s portrait. Guild records have a list of every reciprocal spell cast. We’ve over 80,000 cast from oldest to newest. Some of them are in Hogwarts so the Headmistress would have to give permission for them to be opened up to your visit.” Ezra looked at Minerva.

“I know Pomona Sprout, the head of Hufflepuff House has several paintings hanging in her office and the Common Room of the greenhouses and outdoor gardens. The greenhouses all have alarms on them in case something happens like broken glass or a heating malfunction.” Minerva smiled at Sebastian. “I think she’d be thrilled to have you visit. I’ll get approval from the Board and get back to Ezra. We need to set up an appointment for you to come to Hogwarts to look at our paintings. We have a lot of them and I’d love to make sure they are alright. The goblins unhexed those Albus had cursed but I’d feel better if someone or several someones from the Guild came and had a look.”

“What an excellent idea. It’s been years since any of the Guild has been in Hogwarts. I know I wondered how the portraits worked when I was a student. Is there still an art class taught?” Ezra asked.

Minerva huffed. “No, That Man got rid of all the ‘frivolous’ classes. Would a member of the Guild be willing to teach? Starting next term, of course, it’s too late in the year to begin anything now.”

Ezra nodded. “We’d be delighted. Perhaps starting with year two, let them get the basics into their heads before offering an extra-curricular course.”

Minerva smiled and offered him her hand. “Agreed. We’ll speak more a bit later. For now, I’d like to see about getting some new, bigger painting backgrounds the Hogwart’s Founders portraits can move to.”

“As do we, Minerva.” Severus spoke up. “Frames are next up, I believe.”

The apprentice reached for the flat chest he’d brought with him and set it on the desk. Once opened, he took out three readymade frames and spelled them to their normal size, which was quite large.

“These three would comfortably hold up to six persons. We can make them of any material of course but these happened to already be made.” Ezra explained as Franco propped them against nearby bookcases.

Severus smiled and tried to imagine all of the Founders in one frame. “I like all of them but what would the canvas painting look like?”

“Ah, I thought you might ask.” Ezra grinned and opened his paint box, bringing out the canvas of an outdoor temple scene from ancient Greece. He enlarged it and with Franco’s help, fitted it into one of the frames. It was a simple oak frame with three inch wide sides which effectively disappeared into the pastoral scene.

“I like that. But how heavy is it?” Severus asked.

“There is some significant weight because of the oak. But a spell to negate the pounds could easily be cast and would not harm the painting at all.” Ezra assured him.

“I like the look of the oak. It’s a more natural feel since it blends in with the painting. What do the rest of you think?” Severus opened it up to the paintings and other people in the room.

The discussion ran on for some time, especially when the wood samples came out of Franco’s box. Severus had never even heard of some of the woods he was seeing. Harry liked the zebrawood with its dark stripes streaking through a honey blond base. Severus was surprised to learn there were different varieties from trees in Central America and even Africa.

Salazar was intrigued by the aluminum sample and asked about its properties. He wondered how it might react to some potion ingredients. Its low density and ability to resist corrosion might prove interesting for some potions. Severus had never heard of an aluminum cauldron but said he would check with the Potions Guild to see what experiments might have already been conducted. That would be interesting.

They adjourned to the dining room for tea and further conversation. The tapestry from the Silvius vault was hanging there since it was the only room with a wall space large enough to hold it. When going to move it, they discovered both ends had been folded behind it. It turned out to be twelve foot wide but only eight foot high. The moment Ezra saw it, he immediately went over to it.

“How beautiful, Severus.” He started at the right side and slowly moved left while drinking it all in. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. What spells are on it, Severus?”

It was the first time Minerva had seen it, too. She hesitantly reached out and gently touched an embroidered tower. “It feels alive, rather like one of the portraits. Have they seen it?”

Severus frowned in thought. “I don’t think they have. We brought it straight from the Silvius’ vault and immediately hung it here. Ezra, why don’t you cast what spells you might know and I’ll go bring in Rowena’s portrait.”

Ezra nodded distractedly and cast three spells in quick succession. The tapestry glowed golden for a moment then quick washes of different colors raced across it. He started back when he saw that and Minerva exclaimed at what she felt beneath her fingers.

Severus came back in carrying Rowena’s portrait and easel. After setting them up, he looked at the now glowing tapestry. “Goodness, what do the colors mean, Ezra?”

But Rowena had gasped. “The Hidden Realms tapestry!”

Severus looked quizzically at her. “It was in the Silvius' vault. The scroll we have is signed by Tacitus Agricola Silvius, Lord of the Hidden Realm. I didn’t think the Realm existed any longer.”

“The Realm should still exist but the doorway was lost millennia before my time. The myth was intriguing and a few artifacts still existed in my line. There is a chest of keys in my vault. One of them supposedly was the key to the doorway to the Hidden Realm. There have been quests for centuries, but to my knowledge, no one has ever succeeded in finding the door.”

Severus suddenly had an armful of excited little boy. “Daddy, we can go on a quest like King Awthow did with his knights.”

He dropped a kiss on the tousled head. “Well, we can at least think about going on a quest. But first, we need to go visit some dragons. That’s our first quest.”

Harry nodded eagerly. “Yes, dwagons fuwst, then we can look for the doow. Hogwawts has a lot of doows, Nana Minnie. Is any hidden?”

She chuckled. “Well, there may be some we don’t know about but Hogwarts will know all of them. I don’t think Hogwarts is old enough for this hidden door. But I haven’t asked her about doors so I’ll have to do so when I go back.”

Severus smiled and put Harry into his high chair. “Our quests are adding up. Ezra, do you know what all those colors mean?”

Ezra nodded distractedly. “Yes, it’s most interesting. The preservation spells are beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“The goblin curse breaker Mentok, who first cast on it, said that every stitch was woven with a preservation spell. The last of the Silvius line seemed to know it would be centuries before his vault was opened again. I’m wondering if he had the gift of prophecy or simply an extra sense of what might be.” Severus was trying not to think about Rowena telling him he might have that ability. It was messing with his world view of himself.

“Amazing,” the painter shook his head and began pointing out the colors. “The green seems to be hiding animals, the purple is time, the gold is knowledge, and the blue seems to be other creatures. But the only time I’ve ever seen the crimson, it was in a very old painting in the National Picture Gallery in Edinburgh which they thought was salvaged from an enclave of the High Elves.”

Severus blinked and stared, then blinked again. “High Elves?”

“Like big Dobby’s?” Harry asked.

“Not exactly, Harry. High Elves lived among us a very long time ago. But they left so far in our past, they are only myths now.” Minerva sighed and sat down at the table. “I’ll pour for everyone. I’ve hit my limit on amazing discoveries today. Ezra, how would you like your tea?”

Severus sat down and made sure Harry had his sippy cup full of juice and half a butterscotch brownie. Maffet had taken on the challenge of making some as good as the Painters Guild elves’ recipe. She’d come darn close and Severus had enjoyed every single batch. Accepting his cup from Minerva, he took a long swallow and decided to just go with the flow. The universe was an even more amazing place than he’d ever imagined. Looking about the table, he smiled. He’d have good companions on these quests, he was no longer alone.

Chuckling, he wiped a messy face and dropped a kiss on a now brownie free cheek. And Harry to keep him grounded when the world threw them challenges. Going on a quest or two could be fun.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Spreading his arms, he embraced the coming dawn with all his senses.

The wind blew past his ears, bringing the caws of the ravens who loved this mountain. The scent of pine wafted by him and he breathed it in deeply. His hands trailed through the air leaving mixed colors of blue and green and purple, visible only to his sight. His fingers tingled with the magic of the coming day, slowly changing into what he needed. Opening his mouth, he drank in the air and shivered with the need for more. His eyes feasted on the slowly brightening horizon, indigo fading into the brilliant yellow of sun rise. All was as it should be.

Lifting his wings, he flew forth to reach the dawn.

***

Severus blinked awake all at once, the dream slowly leaving him with an ache of longing. He had dreamt of flying before but never as a dragon. That was new. He’d always wondered if his animagus form was a creature which flew. He’d been called an overgrown bat before and had grinned to himself. How ironic it would be if he really was a bat.

But a dragon, fierce and strong – that would be amazing. Of course, it was only because today was the day they went to the dragon preserve. He and Harry had dragons on the brain. The entire week had been spent reading stories about dragons and drawing dragons with increasingly bright and cheerful wing colors.

Ezra had been there daily and some of his dragons were beautifully drawn. He’d begged a place in the group going to Wales for both he and his apprentice. Severus was amazed at how quickly their acquaintance had become a friendship. The age gap between he and Ezra was as nothing and Franco had become the younger brother he’d never had.

But he needed to get up and start his day. Throwing back the covers, he headed to the bathroom.

Severus looked in his armoire and tried to decide what to wear. Some days he really wished Narcissa hadn’t made him get so many different clothes. In the old days, he’d never had to make these kind of decisions. He just rotated this four robes and kept them clean with spells. But now, he had robes for the Wizengamot, robes for semi-formal gatherings, different ones for formal parties, his brewing robes, the ones he could wear when meeting with friends, and casual robes to wear at home when it was just family.

Actually, now he thought about it, they were going to a dragon preserve and that called for sturdy clothes which meant jeans and a Henley would suit the trip. And the tan leather jacket, he’d been wanting to wear since he’d bought it. The dragon hide boots and some thick socks should be warm enough. There’d been a bit of a warming trend recently and he thought he could forego hats and scarves. Humming a tune he’d heard in the grocery the day before, he finished getting ready so he could help Harry in his clothes decisions.

An hour later, Severus eyed the expanded dining room table in the bigger dining room. Harry had needed more play space and they’d needed a bigger dining table to hold everyone on play date days. Thank goodness the goblins had been able to create more wizard space in both places. And the house elves had the table magically expanded before he’d thought to ask. Edward had been fixing the broken furniture in the attic of the Manor so they’d had enough chairs to seat everyone, even if they didn’t all match.

His life and heart had expanded along with all the other changes thrown at him in the last few months. And such surprising changes. Regulus and Regina were smiling at each other over Theo’s head. That romance was growing daily and always made him smile. Remus and Sirius were laughing at some story Ezra was telling at the other end of the table. Lucius was helping Draco with his bacon while next to him Amelia Bones was mopping up a spill from Susan’s juice. He’d never seen the auror dressed so casually before. Even her hair was down and simply clipped back at the nape of her neck.

Gerald Greengrass and his daughter Daphne was on Severus’ right side. Narcissa and Beatrice, their two pregnant ladies were having a spa day so the daddies were on child care duty. Franco was helping Harry to his left with his toast soldier. Severus shook his head with a grin at Neville who was busy wiping egg on Frank’s shirt. Augusta and Alice had joined the spa ladies for the day.

The rest of this side was filled with the Weasley family. Minerva had given permission for the oldest two boys to leave Hogwarts this weekend so all five boys were here with an Arthur who finally looked at peace with his life. Minerva considered this a field trip suitable for extra credit. Severus was kind of surprised Hagrid hadn’t figured a way to come with them on this adventure . . .

No, it was a quest. Harry insisted after all their reading, they were going on a quest for magical dragons. Not that there were non-magical dragons around, Severus reminded himself. Still, he was taking his son on a quest and he was really looking forward to it.

***

Their house elves popped them into a small hollow next to a low sprawling building made of stone which blended into the rocky landscape. Everything was gray here with only the occasional pop of bright color, like a pair of shutters in bright green and the vibrant red of a pot of geraniums sitting on a door step.

“Der’s no dwagons, Daddy.” Harry said sadly after quickly looking all around.

“This is where the dragon keepers live, Harry. The dragons are big and need more room to move around.” Severus reassured him.

“And I’ll be taking ye all out to where ye can be seeing them.” A melodic voice turned them all to the speaker, a young woman dressed in the same grays as the landscape around them.

Severus was reminded they’d been told what colors they should wear. No bright colors and definitely no reds or bright blues had been mandated. He and Harry were dressed in browns as were most of the others. Although, a couple of them were in black and gray.

“Now, I am Bridget Linglock and if ye would introduce yerselves, we can get going.” She smiled at them and they sounded off around the circle of adults, children, and house elves. Harry had been determined Dobby would come, too and the other kids had followed along with their nanny elves.

“It’s a pleasure to have you and especially the children here. Dragons are important to the magical world and it’s never too early to introduce them to our youngsters.” She spoke softly but her words sounded like songs to Severus’ ears. “Perhaps one of you will become a dragon keeper? Now, a few rules before we head into the Preserve. No excessive noise or cries, they will hurt the ears of our baby dragons. We’ve been blessed by three newborns this year and they’re only two months old. Their Mums are keeping them closer to the near meadows which means you’ll probably get a good look at them. No sudden movements which might alarm the mothers. Stay together and I’m glad to see ye brought your house elves with ye in case ye need to leave quickly. No feeding of the dragons, in fact, no food of any kind should be taken into the Preserve. I’ll ask ye to leave the food you’ve brought here for when we come back for our break. Any questions?”

When no one asked anything, she opened the door behind her and had the elves put their picnic hampers inside before leading them down a dirt path towards the hidden valley where the dragons lived. Severus kept one eye on the path while taking glancing looks for the different shapes which might herald one of the Welsh Greens who Harry and he had been reading about. Harry was quivering in his arms, so excited to see a dragon. Dobby had a rapt look on his face and Severus was sure he was just barely keeping in a ‘whee’.

Bridget slowed near a gray boulder bigger than she was, and motioned everyone forward into a half-circle. She pointed straight ahead then slowly moved her hand right towards a particularly verdant beech tree. The boulder between the trees looked like unpolished malachite and Severus wondered if Ezra had a color to match it. But he was looking for a dragon and could only see the trees, their light green foliage heralding spring, then Harry gasped and began to smile.

Severus tried looking beyond the tree in case the dragon was behind it but just then the boulder moved and he was staring into bright silver eyes. They were mesmerizing and he actually took a step closer, only to have Bridget halt him.

“Dinna look so long into their eyes, Lord Prince. They can enthrall ye.” She said quietly.

He shook his head and blinked several times. “Thank you, Bridget. She’s so beautiful.”

“Aye, she is indeed. That’s one of our nesting mothers. We’ve named her Cressida and the wee dragonet is Cressy.” Bridget left them and went to help the others who had yet to see the dragon.

“Daddy, look – der’s de baby.” Harry spoke into his ear. “He’s in the pile of leaves neaw the next twee. He’s so pwetty.”

Severus also spotted him. “He is pretty, Harry. And he’s just your size.”

“Can we pway, Daddy? Can we?” The pleading look was all too powerful on his susceptible father.

“Dragons are wild animals, Harry. They’re not safe to play with when we don’t know them. But we did come here to see if they speak parseltongue. Let’s ask Bridget if we can try to speak to them.” He looked over to see she was helping Gerald, Lucius and their children.

Looking back, he saw the baby, Cressy leave his nest and come towards them. His mother rose up to join him. Bridget took a deep breath and began motioning them back to the trail they’d just left.

But Harry was too busy introducing himself to Cressy to notice. //Hi, Cressy, my name is Hawwy and dis is my daddy.//

The baby stopped with a look of surprise then tapped his claws together in the dragon version of a hand clap. //I’m Cressy and dis is my mummy.//

//You speak, two-legs. I have never heard one of you speak before.// The mother curled around her child.

//Very few speakers of what we call Parseltongue exist, but more will be able to once my potion becomes available. Would you like those who care for you be able to speak directly to you?//

//That is acceptable. Most of the two-legs are kind to us and it would be a pleasure to speak with them. There is one who should not be rewarded with our language. He smells of dead dragon and he is cruel when alone with us.// She blinked slowly and a picture formed in his mind. He was a short man with dark hair, blue eyes, and a burn scar on his right cheek.

//I will investigate, Cressida. That is what the dragon keepers call you. Do you prefer a different name?// Severus asked.

//I have heard them call me that and it will suffice. What are you called?//

//I am Severus and it is a pleasure to speak with you.// He bowed to her and she nodded her head back. //Forgive me, Cressida, but I need to speak to our guide.//

Bridget was in front of him with wide eyes and a look of awe on her face. “Ye can speak with them. Great Gaia, they do have language.”

“I am a parseltongue as is my son. In his case, it is a birth gift but in mine, it’s a potion.” Severus told her.

“A potion to speak with dragons. Oh, that would be a blessing, it would indeed. Is it expensive?” She asked eagerly.

“Not that pricey, Bridget. In fact, I brought three doses with me, in case it was wanted.” Severus patted the zippered pocket where he’d placed the vials.

“Oh-h-h-h,” Bridget closed her eyes and sighed. “I need to go get Head Comstock and Healer Duncan. But I shouldna leave ye alone here.” She suddenly hit her head with her hand. “I ken, send up a signal flare and that should bring them running.”

Stepping away a bit, she pulled a long slender tube from her pocket and pointed it to the sky in the direction of the buildings. A bright but soundless star burst of bright red exploded in the sky.

//May we approach closer, Cressida?// Severus could feel Harry leaning closer to the beautiful beings and wanting to get down.

//Just the two of you. The others do not speak?// She asked.

//They do not. How do you feel about Bridget, the small woman with the red hair? Her name is Bridget.// Severus asked back.

//She is respectful of us and brought the Healer to fix a cut on Cressy a few days ago. She would be a good speaker.//

Severus unzipped his pocket and brought out a vial. “Bridget, Cressida says you are respectful of the dragons and would be someone she would trust to speak with her.

“Great Gaia, blessed be thy name.” Bridget reached out with tears in her eyes and a shaking hand. “And bless ye, Lord Prince.” Taking the vial, she uncorked it and quickly swallowed. “Ugh, that tastes like day old socks. How long does it take to work, Sir?”

“Give it a few moments, Bridget.” Severus watched her face and a shiver rippled through her whole body. “Look at Cressida and speak to her.

She turned and bowed to the dragon. //Greetings, Cressida.//

//Greetings, Bridget. Please join us.// The dragon mother clicked her talons just as her baby had done earlier.

They spoke to the others about what was going on. They decided to sit and listen in to what their conversation might bring forth. Severus watched as Ezra and Franco brought out their sketching material and Lucius created an easel to hold up the traveling frame with all the Founders in it. Then Severus, Harry, and Bridget slowly made their way to the side of the dragon where Cressy sat impatiently waiting for Harry.

Severus finally understood just how big they were. Cressida’s slender neck was long and sinuous attached to a scaled body that lightly shimmered in the morning sun. Her forelegs were thick and sturdy, ending in razor sharp talons. It seemed the females of the species were larger than the males and he felt quite dwarfed by Cressida. When they got within a few feet, the humans bowed again and sat down. Severus reluctantly let go of Harry but the little boy just moved a slight distance away to sit with Cressy.

Bridget began the conversation with question after question about diet, needs that might not be being met, population size, differences in dragon species, and mating behaviors. Severus translated the parseltongue for the rest of the group and they gave him questions to be asked for them. It was a lively group which met the stunned gaze of the Head and Healer of the preserve.

Passing the sitting group but stopping just beyond the three, Head Comstock said calmly. “Bridget, what in hell are you doing?”

Severus stood to face them. “Bridget is speaking to Cressida after ingesting a parseltongue potion. Dragon-speech appears to be a subsect of the snake language. I have two other doses if you would like them?”

Comstock looked utterly dumbfounded but the Healer stepped up and took the offered vial, chugging it down immediately. That left the Head gaping before he shrugged, stepped forward, and reached for the last potion vial.

Severus grinned. This quest was going quite well. After some discussion, the other children were allowed to meet Cressy and pet the wee dragon with soft hands. They were still rather awestruck by being beside a real dragon and they asked their questions of the baby just as softly as they petted him. Harry was ecstatic to be able to speak with Cressy and Severus wondered if he was thinking of becoming a dragon keeper.

Severus pulled Comstock aside and told him about Cressida’s misgivings about the cruel staff person. The Head asked her for the picture of him and she sent it directly to his mind. By the flinty look on his face, the person was already on probation but this would tip him right of the job. It was the first time Severus really thought the potion might need to be restricted. He hadn’t published it yet and perhaps now he wouldn’t. The dragons deserved to have some say in who could understand them so intimately.

The Head asked her if anyone else was unsuitable for the dragons. She told him she would have to speak to the others. Severus then asked her who kept the stories of their clan. Once she had the meaning of clan explained, she told him the Eldest kept their history but she wasn’t available today because she was at the upper lake for a bath.

Severus wondered silently if that was the dragon version of a spa day. He suddenly had a vision of all their ladies sitting in a Roman style bath with steam slowly rising around them. Then he put a large dragon in with them, who was slowly keeping the water warm for all of them. Dragon Lady Longbottom would have finally met her match. That made him grin like a lunatic.

Comstock told him he’d meet with the Eldest, who they’d named Hestia, and let him know when she could meet with him. Severus didn’t say why he wanted to meet with her but let him think he wanted the history of dragons. What he really wanted was any memories they might have of the Hidden Realms.

Harry was yawning at Cressy, who was yawning back, showing rows of brightly shining razor sharp teeth. Cressida unwound from around her son and stood. Everyone else stood up and bowed to her. Harry patted Cressy goodbye and the other children all waved as the dragons retreated to the forest.

The group went back to the keeper’s lodge where their lunches were and all settled in to eat. Severus sat with Head Evan Comstock and they were soon on a first name basis. He made notes on how many staff this preserve held but then he asked how many preserves there were in the world and about how many dragon keepers there were in all. The answer made him blink. He’d be busy brewing for the next several months if he kept the recipe a secret.

He’d have to talk with the Founders about this. He wasn’t sure he should keep this potion from wide-spread use. And yet, now he’d seen and spoken to them, he wanted to keep them safe. Dragon parts were still sold all over the world and they weren’t always harvested legally. But that reminded him about the laws about dragons and he made a mental note to check with Lucius about revisiting those since dragons could now be classed as sentient beings.

So much to do and only so many hours of the day. Maybe another committee could be formed?

***

Harry woke up from a great dream of flying with Cressy. Sitting up, he remembered that today was the day they went back to the dragon preserve to meet with the Eldest so daddy could get more stories. He wondered if Eldest meant Grandpa or Grandma. But now he was a big boy, he needed to get ready for the day. Sliding out of his bed, he went to the bathroom first. Using his step stool, he tinkled then pushed his steps over to the sink to wash his hands and brush his teeth.

He wondered if Cressy brushed her teeth. She had a lot more than he did and they looked really sharp. He’d ask her today. Spitting out the foamy toothpaste, he washed out his mouth with water from his little cup. Hearing sounds from his daddy’s room, he waited to turn on the hot water so his daddy could do it for him. He didn’t want Harry to get burned with the too hot water.

“Good morning, Harry. Did you sleep well?” Daddy asked.

He nodded. “I was flying with Cw-cw-cressy.”

“Good boy!” Daddy dropped a kiss on his head. “Pretty soon all your r’s will be good. Ready to wash your face?”

Harry nodded and waited to run his wash cloth under the water when daddy thought the water was alright. It felt so good to get the sleepies out of his eyes and wake up his face. When he was done, he wrung out the cloth before jumping down from his steps and throwing it into the laundry hamper. He could hear Daddy brushing his teeth when he went back into his room to pick out his clothes for the day. He remembered no bright colors and he pulled open his armoire to choose some pants and a t-shirt.

“Mornings greetings, Master Harry.” Dobby always knew to pop in when Harry opened that door. “What is you wanting to wear today?”

“We’re going to see the dw-w-ragons today, Dobby. No bw-w-right colors.” Harry wanted to get those r’s right so the other kids didn’t think he was a baby.

“Brown or gray, Master Harry?” Dobby asked while pulling out a drawer for clean underwear and socks.

“Gr-ray, Dobby.” He pulled out a long sleeve shirt with little buttons in front. It was a dark gray with a dark green dragon on the front. It was one of his favorites.

“Dobby be getting your pants for you, while you puts everything else on.” The house elf snapped his fingers and brought down a pair of dark gray pants.

Harry dressed and went down to breakfast, knowing his daddy would be down shortly. Dobby gave him a boost up into his tall chair and Maffet floated some scrambled eggs and bacon onto his plate. He gave his thanks to her with a bright smile and dug in to eat. The little fork his daddy had made for him was just the right size for him to feed himself. He was a big boy, after all, and only babies needed someone else to feed them.

His daddy came in then and got his own plate full of breakfast from Maffet. But he drank his tea first with a big smile. Grown-ups sure did like tea. But not youngsters, Daddy said he could have some when he reached the really old age of eleven. That was a long ways away since he’d only be two on his next birthday. Oh well, he got yummy juice to drink out of his sippy cup, so that was alright with him.

Dragons – they were going to see his friend Cressy!

***

Harry really didn’t like apparating but holding his breath helped a little. Daddy rubbed his back until his head stopped hurting. When he got big, he was going to figure out a way to travel without it hurting. But they were at the dragon reserve and he needed to look for Cressy. There were three big dragons near them. Two of them were gigantic big, Harry thought.

//Mornings Greetings, Cressida. Thank you for inviting us back.// Daddy bowed to them and Harry did too. That was just polite. Grownups did a lot of greeting when they met anybody.

Cressida nodded her head at them. //Greetings, Severus and Harry. This is the Eldest and her mate.//

//Greetings, Eldest Hestia and Mate Prius. I appreciate your time this morning. I have questions about the history of the dragons.// Daddy asked. //May Harry and Dobby play with Cressy while we speak?//

//Yes, Cressy and Bridget are over in the sand pit.// Cressy’s mom pointed her head over to a big play area where his friends were already digging and building.

This was going to be so much fun, Harry thought while pulling Dobby along with him towards them. //Hi, Cressy and Bridget, what are you making?//

Bridget smiled at them and Cressy clicked her claws.//We’re building a castle, Harry.//

//Like Hogwarts?// Harry asked while asking Dobby to bring his pail and shovel from home. //Hogwarts is very, very pretty.//

Dobby came back with all his beach toys and filled one of the pails with water so the sand would stick better. They chattered back and forth while building their castle. Cressy had learned some new words while talking with the keepers and Harry had learned some at his play date so they traded and now knew ever more new words.

Bridget was called away just before the castle was done but Dobby was helping and soon they sat back and enjoyed their handiwork. “Well made, Master Harry. Do you want your morning snack now?”

“Yes, Dobby, I’m hungr-ry.” Harry managed the word pretty well and Dobby snapped his fingers, making their snacks appear. //Cressy, do you have something you can eat?//

//Yes, mummy brought some with us. I’ll go get them.// Cressy crossed the pit and picked up a bright red box. Bringing it over to them, they all settled in for their morning snack.

Harry thought his biscuits and juice were really yummy but Cressy’s snacks looked like dried twigs. He decided he’d ask his daddy later what dragons ate.

//Could the elf make more water for me?// Cressy asked him.

“Dobby, Cressy needs water. Can you make some?” Harry asked his friend.

“Dobby can.” The elf rinsed the sand out of the pail and filled it up with cool, fresh water.

//Thank you, elf.// Cressy nodded to him and Dobby nodded back.

When they were finished, Dobby made the debris go away and brought out something Harry thought his dragon friend might enjoy. //Cressy, we have bubbles. Have you ever played with bubbles before?//

//What are bubbles?// She asked.

Dobby opened the bottle and pulled out a large wand with a big hole at one end. The air glinted a little within the hole and when Dobby moved quickly away from them, a huge bubble formed and bobbed in the air. Harry clapped his hands gleefully and Cressy goggled at the sight.

“Make another one, Dobby.” Harry ran over and popped the bubble with a loud splat. “Please.”

“Dobby make lots.” The elf grinned and began dipping and moving so pretty soon there were six or seven iridescent bubbles floating in the air.

Cressy popped one with her claw and giggled when it splashed her a little. Pretty soon, they were running back and forth to catch the bubbles before they soared too high for them to reach. A breeze blew in and scattered the bubbles all over the pit. They were at the far edge of the sand when a rough voice broke into their giggles.

“Git over here, boy.” A man appeared and roughly grabbed Harry’s arm. “Bring the beast with you. It’s because of you, I’m out of a job. But I’m not leaving empty handed, no siree, I’m taking you two with me. Your daddy will pay to get you back, boy. And the beast will pay off in parts once I’ve got her rendered.”

“NO!” Harry tried to get loose from the tight grip. “Let me go. My daddy won’t let you hurt us.”

The dirty looking man scuffed at him. “Won’t have no say in the matter, boy. I’ll have you and he won’t dare to anything but answer my demands. Now, hold still while I shock the beast.”

//Run, Cressy, he’s going to hurt you.// Harry called to her.

//He has a shock stick that really hurts when it hits you.// Cressy backed away and sneezed. //He smells bad, Harry.//

//He’s a very, very bad man, Cressy. You should go get your mummy.// Harry was trying hard not to cry but the fingers on his arm were squeezing so hard, it really hurt.

“Master Harry says no.” Dobby was suddenly there and he looked very scary. “Let him go.”

Harry wasn’t sure what the elf did but the man let go of his arm and flew back a long way to hit the quarry wall. He fell down and didn’t get back up. Dobby hugged Harry close and reach an arm to Cressy. “We go back to the others right now.”

And in a blink they were by their parents’ sides.

***

Severus felt fear rise up in his mind and he quickly stood from where they’d been sitting and talking. “Harry?”

And his son was there, crying and talking about a bad man. Cressy was hugging her mum and saying the same thing. Dobby looked fierce right before he disappeared again.

Severus held Harry close and tried to make sense of what he was saying. A cold chill ran down his spine when he got the gist. Someone had been going to kidnap his son and use Cressy for parts.

“Did he hurt you anywhere, Harry?” He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped away the tears.

“My arm, Daddy, he held on weally tight.” He held out his right arm, all his r’s forgotten in the shock and Severus pushed back his sleeve to reveal the bruising already coming up.

‘Bastard. I will render him down to parts and incinerate every single one.’ His mind was already plotting his revenge even while he took out his first aid kit and pulled a pain potion out for his son.

“This will help make the pain go away, Harry. You were very brave, my son.”

“Dobby was vewy fierce, Daddy. He made the man let go and hit the wall.” Harry made a little face at the taste of the potion but was already relaxing into his father’s arms. “Dat’s lots bettew, Daddy.”

“I’m glad, Harry. We’ll put bruise paste on it when we get home and by tomorrow, you won’t even know you had a bruise.” Severus pressed a kiss to his head and rocked him gently. //Cressy, are you alright? Did the bad man hurt you?//

//He had the stick that shocks but he didn’t have a chance to use it. Dobby stopped him. He was very brave.//

//Dobby was as fiewce as a dwagon, Daddy.// Harry agreed with the dragon.

//I’m glad he was stopped.// Severus would have continued but Dobby had reappeared with a scruffy looking man tied from head to foot with ropes.

“Bad man sleep until you get him to the Aurors.” Dobby said with a very satisfied grin.

“Well done, Dobby.” Severus recognized the man he’d told Evan Comstock about. “Dobby, we’ll watch over him while you go get Head Comstock. I think he will take this man to the Aurors for us.”

“Dobby can do that.” And the elf disappeared.

//Will this man face justice for his attempt at kidnapping and death?// The Eldest said in a gravelly voice which shivered up his spine.

//Yes, Eldest Hestia, he will. I have already started the process of having the dragons declared sentient beings within the Wizengamot. I will take it further to the ICW once it is passed here. The more dragon keepers speak your language, the more people will understand you are people just like them.// He shrugged a bit. //Well, albeit with more teeth and talons.//

Hestia grumbled what he thought was a dragon laugh. //We will help with their education when it is time. Our archives will be opened to you after our next council meeting. Perhaps by then you will have found a scholar or two to study them.//

Archives? Severus hugged Harry tighter. Dragon knowledge in readable form. He wondered if they had dragon librarians or archivists. Ariadne, the ghost from Ravenclaw Castle, was going to be so excited. His eyes dropped to the bound form of the would-be kidnapper. After they got rid of the trash, they could concentrate on the future again.

Thank Gaia for Dobby.

And what else could he do to protect Harry? His Slytherin friends would help and so would the God-Mutt and Wolf. No one was ever going to hurt his son again. Nobody.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Stephen Wenton dizzily fell into the dirty brick wall and slid down onto the filthy alley cement. The fuzziness was getting worse and he let his head fall into his hands, propped onto his knees. It had been three days since he’d had anything to eat and he’d lost hope this morning. He’d kept thinking today was going to be different but all his days had come down to this. No food, not much water, and his tongue felt thick and heavy in his dry mouth.

So, today was the day. Just give up, find a dark corner, and let himself die. He’d tried for day jobs with the new construction crews, janitorial jobs, everything short of selling his body. He’d lost track of all the places he’d been turned away from. He shivered and wished for the hundredth time that he’d been wearing his winter robes when the auctioneers took everything.

What was left? He could sell his body, he knew what he looked like when he was cleaned up. But he hadn’t been able to wash for days now, every precious drop of water he’d found, he’d drunk. Even the dirty water caught in the bottle by the trash. And how long would he last as a whore? He shivered while remembering the vacant eyes of the pretty boy who’d staked out the street corner near here. He’d really rather be dead than have to do that.

Pride sucked but it was the only thing he’d inherited from his father. He just couldn’t bring himself to beg for money or food. It was too late for that. He’d sunk too low.

“Is ‘ou feelin’ poorly?” A little voice from right by his ear startled him.

He jerked up his head and looked at the little boy with the dark hair. “What?”

“Is you sick, Miste’?” The child had the most amazing green eyes.

“I’m just resting, little one. It’s been a long day.” Stephen cleared his throat to ask where his parents were – no way, this well-dressed child with the plump cheeks and infectious grin, didn’t have concerned parents who hadn’t yet realized he was missing. But clearing his throat made him start coughing and he buried his head in his arm to muffle it.

A little hand patted his shoulder. “It be okay. My daddy has potions can fix dat cough. I go get him.”

Stephen continued to cough while thinking no parent in the world would let the little boy return to a dirty street person such as he’d become. The cough felt like it was going to bring up his stomach and he wondered if he could die from that alone.

Just as well. He was tired unto death.

“Sir, try this for that cough.” A strong hand appeared in front of him, holding two potion vials . . . no maybe just one. His eyes were seeing double.

But pride be damned, he’d take the charity. Raising his head, he noted the color of the potion and realized it was a Pepper-Up.

“Stephen?” That voice, he knew that voice. “What in the world has happened? You look dreadful.”

And that shocked question made him begin to laugh and cough at the same time. Which proved disastrous since now he couldn’t breathe. Just before he passed out, he wondered what had brought Severus Snape to Knockturn Alley.

***

Hot, he was hot. Had he found a fire to warm himself? Something was trapping his arms, he couldn’t move them at all. He made a sound and a soothing female voice told him he was safe.

Safe, it had been awhile since he’d been safe. He decided to just believe her while falling back to sleep.

***

He woke again. It was quiet. The bed beneath him was soft; the sheets were clean and crisp; the scents were from a hospital ward; and he was quite naked under the sheets. Had someone taken him to St. Mungo’s? Wait, had it been Severus Snape who’d found him?

But his mind wasn’t up to much speculating. He really should take advantage of being safe and clean to get some more sleep. So, he let go again.

***

He woke again to the sound of the little boy’s voice, but this time in a whisper.

“Daddy, when he wake up?”

“When the potions do their work, Harry. He was very sick and his body needs time to heal. He’ll wake up when he’s ready.” A gentle voice replied.

It was Severus Snape, no mistaking that sexy voice. Stephen struggled to open his eyes but it felt like they’d been glued shut. Another moment and he finally succeeded. Blinking, he found bright green eyes looking into his.

“Youse awake! Look, Daddy.” A bright grin rewarded his effort. “Hi!”

“Hi, little one.” He croaked out, his gaze seeking the tall figure behind the boy. “Sev?”

“Stephen, it’s good to see you awake. You’ve been quite ill for the last three days. Madame Ponsby stops by once a day to check on you.” The tall man sat on a chair, he’d pulled nearer to the bed. “How are you feeling?”

Stephen stopped to think about it. “Surprisingly well, considering how bad I was feeling back in the Alley.”

“Told you, Daddy has gweat potions.” The little boy said in satisfaction before crawling onto the bed beside him with a black plush dog.

“He always did.” He confided to the child. “Where am I?” Looking around, he saw a richly appointed room instead of the hospital ward he’d been expecting.

“You are in one of our guest rooms at Potter Manor. This young man is Harry Potter. I’m both his godfather and his regent until he comes of age.” Severus smiled at him before speaking to thin air. “Maffet.”

A small house elf popped in. “Yes, Lord Prince?”

“Our guest has awakened and Madame said he could have some warm broth and perhaps a slice of your fresh bread.”

Lord Prince? Stephen wondered how that had happened.

The elf nodded and disappeared, returning with a tray which included a cup of tea, faintly steaming. Severus helped Stephen into a sitting position and stuffed several pillows behind him before settling him back. Maffet positioned the tray onto his lap and patted his hand before popping away.

Even the house elves were welcoming. This felt like one of the stories his mother used to tell him about enchanted castles and servants who catered to your every need. He picked up the spoon and it shook in his hand. He was too shaky to eat his broth that way. Severus saw the tremors and transfigured the bowl into a mug with handles on each side.

He nodded his thanks and picked it up with both hands. He was still shaky but he’d be able to drink without making too much of a mess. The broth was chicken and tasted amazing. When was the last time he’d had something so tasty? He couldn’t remember so he settled in to just enjoy it while he could. The fresh bread smelled of early morning baking and he eyed it with suddenly greedy eyes.

“But he needs jam, Daddy. It’s just bw-read.” Harry said earnestly.

“Madame Ponsby says plain is better for his tummy while he’s recuperating.” Severus told him.

“It’s okay, Harry. My stomach has been kind of delicate lately.” Stephen cleaned out the last of the broth with a sigh of repletion and put down the cup. “But it looks like Maffet makes really good bread so I’ll enjoy it even without butter or jam.”

And the first taste was pure heaven. Chewing slowly, he closed his eyes and breathed in the yeasty smell of bread. So many good memories of his childhood before . . . He stopped that train of thought with practiced ease. Today was about broth and bread and maybe a story or two about how his friend had become a lord and a father.

***

Severus watched Stephen enjoy the bread while Harry cheerfully chattered about the birds who came down to nibble at the feeders they kept filled with seeds, nuts, and apples. The young man still looked like a breath of wind would blow him away. He was gaunt, his skin pulled tight over his face and entire body. He’d been so close to death, it took his breath away to even think how that first day had gone in the Goblin infirmary. Madame Ponsby had had to work very quickly to get oxygen into his lungs after emptying them of fluid.

His lips had turned blue and he’d looked like a day old corpse. Severus had been sending up appeals to Gaia ever since. The young Ravenclaw had been as much of a friend as he’d had that last year at Hogwarts. Two years behind him, but with a quick mind and a love of the library which equaled his own. They’d studied together often, rarely speaking but enjoying having another person at the table. They were usually the last two out of the library when Madame Pince began turning out the lights.

What had gone so wrong for his friend? He’d lost track of him while working towards his Mastery. Stephen had still been a student for another two years and the divide was deep between those in Hogwarts and the rest of the world. Yet another disservice Dumbledore had forced on the students. Their isolation from the outer world had led to a false sense of calm while the rest of world descended into war.

Perhaps Stephen’s family had been a casualty of that war? His core had been semi-blocked and the loyalty hex was there but it was the Wasting curse which had widened his eyes in shock. Elder Mellic had shaken his head and sighed while dispersing all of it. The block had definitely weakened his ability to fight off the poor living conditions and subsequent sickness. Towards the end, Dumbledore had been pulling massive amounts of energy from very few people.

But the old man would not claim another victim. Stephen was getting better, slowly, but still getting stronger. They’d been spelling nutrition potions into him over the last few days but now he’d be able to eat real food which would make him even stronger.

The tea cup was being raised now and the look of dismay when Stephen realized it was chamomile was comical.

“No stimulants just yet, my friend.” He told him with a grin.

And there was a pout, almost the equivalent of a Harry-pout, bringing animation to the tired face. “It’s been months since I could afford real tea.” The sigh tensed Severus’ muscles but no coughing began and he relaxed again. “Still, this is good, too.”

Harry giggled. “Daddy weally likes tea. He says it’s de bestest dwink eve’.”

Stephen finished the cupful in three gulps. “I agree with your daddy. Tea was a wonderful discovery for all humans.”

Severus chuckled. “Elves, centaurs, and goblins like it, too. We’ll have to ask Cressida and Hestia if they like tea, as well.”

Harry looked thoughtful. “But how dey dwink it, Daddy? Der claws be weally big and cups be weally small.”

“We’d have to make really big cups.” Severus held his hands several feet apart while Stephen watched with wide eyes. “Cressida and Hestia are dragons, Stephen. We’ve become dragon-friends recently.”

“Dragons?” Stephen said faintly before looking rather alarmed. “Um, I think I need to use the bathroom.”

Severus used the elimination spell Madame Ponsby had taught him. Stephen gave him a grateful look and relaxed.

Harry was still musing about dragons and tea cups while Severus tried to think of something the little boy needed to do away from the grown up talk he needed to have with Stephen. Dobby popped in just then and asked if he would give the elves a train ride. Sometimes that elf could read his mind. Harry slid off the bed with a wave to Stephen and took Dobby’s hand for the trip down the stairs. He wasn’t allowed on them by himself just yet. Although he did a good job going up on his seat, one step at a time.

When Severus could no longer hear them, he eyed his guest. “What happened, Stephen? You just graduated a year ago.”

Stephen sighed and turned his cup around and around in his hands while staring off into the distance. Or perhaps it was the past. “Mother died a month after my graduation. She’d been ill for a while and I’d spent every minute I could with her. I really didn’t pay much attention to anything else while I took care of her. Father wasn’t there often and I just supposed he was working. When he visited her, he always brought a little treat like a flower he said reminded him of her smile or a chocolate truffle he told her was almost as sweet as her. Just little things I was actually proud of him for remembering she liked.”

He paused for a long moment and Severus stilled his restless hands by pouring more tea into his cup. Stephen took a long sip and began speaking again in a quieter voice. “She died that summer and we buried her in the family vault. I was so tired of the grief, I slept for almost three days straight. When I finally surfaced, I immediately noticed all the things missing from the house. Small things from our collection of Fabergé Eggs, big pieces like the billiards table in the game room were just gone. On one of Father’s rare visits home, I asked him what was going on. He said it was a temporary downswing in our investments but he was taking care of it. And I believed him.”

“Gambling?” Severus asked quietly. He’d never had a good feeling about Aaron Wenton. He’d been one who always thought himself above the hoi polloi, of which Severus was a member.

Stephen nodded. “Six months later, he was killed in some kind of fight and I discovered there was nothing left. He’d mortgaged the property to the hilt and it was forfeited three days after his funeral. The contents were sold off to meet the mountain of debt he’d left behind. I was allowed a small bag of toiletries, a change of clothes, and what I was wearing. The vault was empty of everything but a few books which the auctioneers deemed worthless since they were just journals of past Wentons.”

“I’m so sorry you had to take all of that on, Stephen. I wish I had known, I would have helped.” Severus could have at the very least loaned him some money or had him stay at Spinners End with him.

“I felt like such a failure.” Stephen sighed. “I thought I would get a job and start anew. But I wasn’t really qualified for anything. All my reading and studying didn’t really give me any helpful skills in practical work. And my name . . . well, that didn’t help either. I just kept sliding down until I just gave up.”

“Well, I’m glad Harry found you then. We’ll get you well and then find work for you. I believe I have the perfect job for you, my Ravenclaw friend.” Severus smiled and moved the tray from his lap. “Slide down and take a nap. Once Madame Ponsby has a look at you, perhaps you can have something other than broth for dinner.”

The young man smiled wanly and did as asked. Severus removed the extra pillows and Stephen seemed to go to sleep between one breath and the next.

***

Stephen slowly arose from the bed and shuffled to the bathroom. It had taken a full week to get this far and he realized just how far he’d fallen into ill health. Madame Ponsby had shown him the results of her crystals and they’d been quite appalling. Staring at himself in the non-talking mirror above the sink, he took dispassionate note of his sunken eyes, dull hair, and pale skin. He looked like a death camp survivor.

Still, he’d survived and Sev had been tantalizing him with little hints of what his new job might be. Running the water, he thankfully brushed his teeth. He’d hated not being able to brush. He hadn’t had enough magic to use a spell but that could be laid directly at the feet of the now dead Headmaster. He spat out the foam and noticed very little blood this morning. Madame Ponsby had told him his gums would soon be back to normal and she was right.

Washing his face, he looked longingly at the tub. The goblin healer had nixed the idea of a bath until he was better. Maybe today would be the day she gave her permission? He hoped so because freshening charms could only clean so much. He was longing for the day when he could just soak up to his neck in hot water. Maybe some bubbles like his mother had enjoyed. He smiled at the thought of the strawberry liquid in the sparkling tear drop bottle he’d gotten for her every Christmas. That was a good memory he hadn’t thought of in a while.

Taking a whiz and washing his hands after, he decided to shuffle back to his bed. Sev had left him a scroll to read and its description of the Alexandrian Library was simply amazing. Too bad those blasted soldiers had torched the magnificent collections. Still, it was fun to read and imagine what it would be like if the books and scrolls had survived.

He’d just settled himself into the comfortable bed and reached for the scroll when a knock came from the door. “Come in.”

And Harry bounced in. “Good mor-rning, Unca Ste. How is you feelin’?”

“Good morning, Harry. I feel much better today. How are you?” Stephen couldn’t help but smile at the little one who’d saved him.

“I’se good. Daddy sez you can eat bweakfast with us.” Harry was practically vibrating with energy.

“Stephen, you look much more alert this morning.” Sev’s deep voice came from the open door. “Madame Ponsby said you can get up and join the rest of us at breakfast. Then we’ll check your energy levels and see if perhaps a morning in the library is possible.”

“Oh, yes. I’d love to see your library.” Stephen threw back the covers, swung his legs out, and felt for his slippers.

“Pancakes for bweakfast.” Harry practically sang the words as he hopped up and down by his Daddy.

“Dobby.” Sev spoke to the air and the elf appeared. “If you would take Harry down to breakfast, I’ll make sure Stephen gets down the stairs alright.”

The elf nodded and took Harry’s hand, guiding him from the room. Sev had the warm robe from the end of the bed ready for Stephen to slide his arms into the fleece sleeves. Tying off the cord, he accept Sev’s arm and finally left the warm haven of the last week. The hall was wide with an intriguing amount of doors opening onto it. Sev let him set the pace and he tried to do a little less shuffling and a little more walking.

The top of the stairs was rather daunting as he saw the steps – the very many steps ahead. But Sev took a tighter grip on his arm with his left hand, while his right arm went around his waist. Stephen put his right hand on the railing and nodded that he was ready. They took it slow and finally he was on solid ground again. The room across from the stairs had their sliding doors open and he could have sworn he saw a train in it but they’d already turned to the next set of doors and the dining room came into view.

He was gently seated onto a very comfortable chair for a dining room. But his eyes were fixed on the huge tapestry that hung suspended against the paneled wall. It was beautiful and his gaze swept slowly over it once, then went back to start over again.

A firm hand gently shook his shoulder. “Stephen, you can look at it later. Now is for breakfast and you need to eat.”

He wrenched his gaze from the tapestry and looked up at his friend. “Yes, of course. But you’ll tell me about it after breakfast. Yes?”

“Of course, but now look at what Maffet has brought you.” Sev patted his shoulder and set down at the head of the table with Harry on his other side, sitting in a high chair with a bib already around his neck.

But there in front of him was a steaming cup of tea. Real tea, richly colored a dark brown with just a hint of cream in a flowered tea cup, just waiting for him to pick it up and drink. He slowly brought it up and took a deep breath of the heavenly elixir. He could hear Harry giggling at him but nothing mattered but that first sip in months of his favorite drink. Hot . . . silky . . . smooth . . . sweet but not too sweet - this was heaven in a cup.

Now Sev was snickering at him, too. But it didn’t matter as he sipped some more. He felt like parts of him were waking up after a long sleep. Nothing had ever tasted so good and he silently vowed to never take this for granted. This was surely Gaia’s reward for all the troubles of the recent past.

“B’oober-ries!” Harry exclaimed and that brought Stephen’s eyes open. A stack of blueberry pancakes had appeared before each of them and they were still faintly steaming.

Harry’s were already cut up into bite sized pieces and Sev was carefully pouring some syrup over them while the little boy watched rapturously. There was a cruet of syrup in front of him so he set down his tea cup and poured some on his pancakes as well. Cutting them up slowly, he took a first bite and sighed at the taste. Everything tasted so good. He had never appreciated the combinations of flavors before. The sweet maple and the tart/sweet blueberries blended together so well.

Sev’s chuckles opened his eyes again and he blushed a bit at how he must have looked. “They’re really good. And so is the tea. What kind is it?”

Sev nodded. “Maffet is a very good cook. And the tea is a new blend I’m trying. It’s a mixture of Assam and Ceylon leaves. I admit, it’s becoming one of my favorites.”

Stephen ate slowly while listening to Harry talk about pancakes and dragons. The little boy had such an imagination. But his eyes kept straying to the tapestry and the amazing creatures hiding among the trees, waterfalls, and meadows. It was odd, but his eyes seemed to see a path meandering with a little flash of silver every now and then. It only appeared when he wasn’t looking directly at it.

Now he was aware of it, he realized the tapestry was laid out like a maze in a rough circle-like pattern. His eyes widened suddenly. There was more than one path. He’d caught a glimpse of a golden one, then one shining with a copper glint. For some reason, he knew there should be a fourth and he opened his gaze up by letting it go completely unfocused.

There it was – a path glowing like the color of moonlight.

“Stephen . . . Stephen.” A hand waved in front of his face. He blinked and came back in a rush to the breakfast table.

“There we go. Don’t focus so hard on the tapestry. It’s mesmerizing and can suck you in for hours.” Severus sat back down and resumed drinking his tea.

Stephen shook his head and smiled at a giggling Harry, barely suppressing the urge to stick out his tongue at his daddy. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And the four pats are so subtle, you can hardly see they’re there. What a maze it is.”

“What paths?” Severus said, his gaze snapping to the wall hanging. “A maze? Of course, that’s why the streams flow in a circle.”

“Streams?” Stephen hadn’t noticed them but now he’d been told, he could see the subtle flow of them around the edges.

“I must make some notes.” Sev stood to grab a journal-like book from a side table. “We write down when we see something new in the scenes. Everybody seems to see something different.”

“Is ‘cause de light is diffe’nt in evybody, Daddy.” Harry tried to wipe the syrup off his fingers without licking them. Stephen dampened his linen napkin and wiped each sticky hand.

“Tank ‘ou, Unca Ste.” He smiled at him and Stephen smiled back while wiping his cheeks and mouth.

“You’re welcome, Harry.”

“Our lights are different, Harry?” Severus paused in his writing with an inquiring look on his face.

“Yeah, de lights aw-w-round eveybody’s head.” Harry patted the air around Stephen’s ear and forehead.

Stephen wondered what the heck the little boy was seeing. When his gaze met Severus’, they exchanged a bewildered look. But then he had an idea. “Could it be our magic he’s seeing?”

Severus blink once then tilted his head. “What colors do you see around my head, Harry?”

“W-w-reds, Daddy and ow-range and yellow.” The little boy smiled.

“That sounds hot like fire.” Severus said slowly. “And fire is the element I’m most comfortable with.”

“Stephen’s colors are pw-retty like moonbeams and sunlight.” Harry continued.

“Air is my main element. He can see magic. Wow, that’s very exciting.” Stephen thought a moment. “That could be extremely handy when it comes to him making friends later in life.”

“It actually could be pretty useful in the upcoming Minister’s election.” Severus looked thoughtfully into the distance. His gaze sharpened and came back to them. “I think this should remain a secret between the three of us for now. Harry, can you not talk about seeing people’s colors until we decide to tell everyone? Unless someone has really icky colors, then you should tell one of us.”

“Su’e, Daddy. I’se can do dat.” Harry picked up his sippy cup and drank his juice.

Stephen smiled. Nothing much fazed the little boy as far as he could tell. It showed how well loved he was. He’d once thought he was that well-loved but he pushed that regret away and finished off his tea. “What are the plans for today?”

“Well, I have the Wizengamot today and with Regina gone for the week, Harry was going for a play date at the Greengrasses. You are not yet up for leaving the house. Madame Ponsby would have my head for stressing you. I have some people you’d like to chat with in my study. I think you’ll enjoy them.”

“Portraits? It’s always fun to speak with them.” Stephen wondered who they could be. Someone who loved potions for sure and maybe one of the owners of Potter Manor?

Severus smirked. “Yes, it is. But you have to promise when you get tired, you’ll have one of the elves pop you to bed.”

“Yes, I will.” Stephen knew he wasn’t up to much. “Thank you for taking such good care of me, Sev. You literally saved my life when you and Harry rescued me.

Harry patted his arm and Severus’ smile gentled. “We’re both very glad to have you with us. Now, to work.”

***

Sev had Rowena Ravenclaw’s portrait.

Her portrait.

And he was the current Earl of Ravenclaw.

And he’d already been to Ravenclaw Castle.

Ravenclaw Castle – the largest known library in the world.

Stephen felt a little faint. So he moved his eyes to Salazar Slytherin, who was snickering at him while Godric Gryffindor outright laughed. He blushed beet red and dropped his eyes. “Sorry, I’m staring. I can hardly believe who I am seeing.” He raised his gaze again and smiled. “I should have questions for you. I had a list for years which I kept in case your portraits were ever found.”

“Well, whip it out, young man, and we’ll answer what we can.” Godric said good naturedly.

Stephen smile slipped. “I lost it when the estate was lost. But I’m sure, in time, I can remember some of them. Is your Castle all right, Countess Ravenclaw?”

“Severus is taking care of it wisely. He is going to create a University around the collections. You must ask about his plans. I’m sure he would love to share them with you.” The Countess smiled on him. “I suspect you will want to stay there once you are introduced to the Castle.”

“Oh my, yes, I would move in and never move out again.” Stephen shivered just thinking of all the books. “But a University sounds wonderful. The wizarding world doesn’t currently have one. Only masters and apprentices to move on in a craft. So much of our history has been lost or dismissed as not important. Or dark and therefore evil.”

“Dumbledore is no doubt burning in Hel for his perversion of Magic and his belief that he was the sole arbiter of what was proper Magic and should be taught.” Godric huffed in annoyance.

“It will take years to repair the damage done to the last two generations of wizards but Severus and his friends are taking up the reins of government and education towards a renaissance of our culture.” Salazar said quietly with a smile. “Once you are stronger, young Stephen, you will find enough good work to last all your life.”

“Yes,” Stephen sighed happily. “Yes, I will help where ever and how ever I can. I owe Sev my very life. Anything he needs me to do, I will do. And creating a University would be amazing!”

He settled back in the comfy chair and realized he could remember some of those questions. With a smile, he began to ask the Founders about their lives. Life was suddenly something to be looked forward to.

And Ravenclaw Castle waited, shimmering in the distance.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

“Green, green, green.” Harry sang quietly while he ran among the apple trees in his back yard. They had pretty blossoms on all their branches and they smelled sweet. Daddy said spring was here and they would be working in the garden helping new things to grow. He hummed happily while looking for the bunnies he’d seen from his bedroom window. When he went too fast, he sometimes still fell down but he was getting better every day. Overhead, Hedwig flew a little then rested on a branch. She was excited about spring, too.

“Harry! I’m leaving.”

The little boy spun around one of the apple trees and headed back to his daddy. He was wearing the special robes for the Wizzy and he needed a super-dooper big hug before he left.

“Daddy!” Harry loved being picked up and swung in the air before coming in for a really good hug.

“Be good for Regina and Stephen. I’ll hopefully be back for lunch at one.”

Harry kissed his cheek. “I be good, Daddy. Me and Dobby is lookin’ for bunnies.”

“Good luck with that.” Daddy smiled at him and kissed his forehead where his old owie had been. “Just don’t leave the yard. Lippit can show you where he’s planted so you don’t accidentally run over the baby plants. Love you, Harry.”

“Love you too, Daddy. We be careful.” Harry was set down on the ground and Daddy turned and disappeared.

He couldn’t wait until he learned how to do that. Theo came up from his house just then with his mama behind him and everybody said good morning. Dobby came over and Lippit appeared. While Aunty Regina went inside to work in the study with Unca Ste, the elves and boys started their explorations in the garden. It was going to be a fun morning.

***

Severus wished he was having as much fun as Harry probably was. Looking for bunnies would be so much better than listening to this blowhard ramble on about tradition and being careful about changes they might make to the wizarding world. Tiberius Bramble was only twice as old as Severus but his pomposity was more like Dumbledore’s. He must have been born old, Severus thought unkindly.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he thought instead of the two new orders for the Abruptio Placentae Potion he’d just received. He’d never realized how many miscarriages the Wizarding world had harbored. As an unmarried man, he hadn’t been privy to the conversations between the ladies of his acquaintance. Except for the Weasleys and the Blacks, he knew of no family with more than one child.

Had it been the restrictions on their magic? Now that Dumbledore’s leaches have been removed, was this the beginning of a wave of baby-making? Would they even need the potion if it was the restriction on the mother’s magic which hadn’t given the growing child enough to use? How could they find out? What healers could be asked, aside from Madame Ponsby, who should he be talking to?

Noise from the seats around him brought his attention back to his fellow Wizengamot attendees. Ah, this session was over. Was there anyone here of whom he could ask these questions? He was still learning names and who they were in real life. Granny Longbottom was the only female in attendance since she was proxy for Frank who was working as a fulltime auror these days. Would he embarrass her with the question? He didn’t want to do that.

“What in the world is my favorite Potion Master thinking so hard about?” Her voice preceded her.

“A question or maybe a whole series of questions about a delicate topic. Are you game to answer some of them? Madame Ponsby is the other person I’ll be asking.” Severus motioned her to the chair beside his and she sat down.

He asked his question. She looked startled for a moment then appeared to go into deep thought. He let the pause stretch out and shook his head at Lucius who was looking concerned, perhaps on the verge of coming over to them. Perhaps this conversation should be moved to a more secure location?

“I suffered two miscarriages before bringing Frank into the world. Dumbledore and I went to Hogwarts at the same time. Could he have begun leeching magic even at that young age? After my first miscarriage, my mother comforted me with the fact she had two misses between my brother’s birth and mine. But Hettie Winkle, my best friend from school, had five children two years apart like clockwork. I wonder if St. Mungos’ has historical data which could be studied?” She frowned a bit.

“Would you be willing to ask them?” Severus offered her a hand up after standing himself. “It would come better from you than from me. I’m headed to Gringotts now to talk with Madame Ponsby. She may have some ideas as well. I don’t want my potions to do more harm than good. If women take the Abruptio Placentae and don’t need to, what will be the effects on their bodies and their unborn children? I worry.”

She patted his arm and reached up to kiss his cheek. “And that is why we only stock your potions in our home. I will owl you the results of my questions at St. Mungos. This may be the time to gather together a few like-minded souls to study this. I would love more grandchildren. Give Harry a kiss from me and we’ll speak later.”

Severus nodded and they split up to leave the Wizengamot chambers. The tall potion master threaded his way through the Ministry traffic, making sure he nodded and smiled to those he knew. As Harry’s daddy, he had to be much more outgoing than he’d ever thought he could be. These people were the parents of the children Harry would have as friends and classmates. It wasn’t too soon to be interacting with them in a positive way.

He gave a short sigh of relief when he apparated from the Ministry to outside Gringotts. Walking into the familiar halls, he nodded to the lobby attendants before making his way down the long corridor to Brexit’s office. Knocking once, he opened the door and stuck his head in.

“Have you got a moment, Brexit?” He asked.

“Certainly, come in.” The goblin looked up from a stack of papers five inches high. “What can I help you with today?”

“I’d like to get another permanent port key for Ravenclaw Castle. My friend Stephen Wenton is going to be going back and forth now on a research project and his lungs are still not 100%. I’d like to keep him from too much outdoor walking until it gets more summer-like than spring-like.” Severus loved the extra protections the Castle enjoyed with its wards. There were currently only five permanent port keys; he had one, the Centaur herd had one, the goblins had one, Charles Devers had one, and Remus had one. Everyone else came in by the front Gates and only with a talisman they had to get from Gringotts which was good for one use only.

Severus was still very wary of letting just anyone into the treasure trove that was the Castle. But he wasn’t a hoarder – he wasn’t, he firmly told himself. Still, he was being cautious with such a precious resource.

“Certainly, I’ll have Grimbold make one from within the Castle. It should be ready by tomorrow. Would you like me to have it delivered to you or will you be visiting tomorrow?” Brexit made a note to one side.

“Delivered, please. I’d like to spend a whole day at home for once.” Severus said wistfully.

Brexit chuckled. “I know the feeling but from the opposite side. I’m taking my wife and youngest to France this weekend for a short holiday. We haven’t left the caves for many months. My Delita has been very patient with me and I need to reward that patience with a shopping trip to Paris.”

“Do you need a place to stay? The flat is sitting empty at the moment.” Severus offered.

“Thank you but Gringott’s has a flat there as well. We’ve booked it already.” Brexit smiled.

“Excellent. Well, I need to speak to Madame Ponsby so I’ll say goodbye for now.” He rose and headed for the corridor to the healers.

***
Stephen held the foe glass to his eye and peered into the woven threads of the tapestry. It was a marvel of weaving and every spare minute he had, he was looking deep into the story it told. There were times he thought for sure he could see a path winding among the animals and figures depicted. The colors intrigued him, too.

He’d read the letter which spoke of the Hidden Realms and he’d reacted with a juvenile sense of wonder. He chuckled under his breath from his seat on the floor while moving inch by inch over the woven surface. How odd. The path appeared much closer. He leaned in a fraction of an inch more and was suddenly inside the tapestry on the dark path. His heart thumped once hard and he took a deep breath.

He wasn’t really inside the tapestry. That would be silly. The foe glass was just giving him this impression. So while he was here, he should continue on the path and see where it took him. The dark wasn’t so deep he couldn’t see and slowly, his eyes adjusted to the available light. There in the distance was a glow he could head towards. Beside him, the foliage gleamed in dark greens and grays with an occasional rustle which made him wonder what creatures might be hidden among the leaves.

It was very quiet here. His footsteps made no sound on the soft mosses beneath him. Overhead, the trees gently moved and he wondered what kind of trees they were. If he had more light, he should be able to name them. Unless the Hidden Realms had flora and fauna lost to this world. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of pure, shining white amid the foliage. A unicorn perhaps?

From the far distance, he heard a sound. What was that?

“…”

Someone calling him?

“U… …”

Who could that be?

“U… S..”

Something was poking his arm.

“Un.. St.”

A tiny finger in his ear brought him out of his trance.

“Unka Ste, is you okay?”

The foe glass dropped into his lap and he brought his dazed gaze to the little boy by his side. “Harry?”

“Youse was as’eep, sitting up, Unka Ste.”

He blinked and lightly shook his head. “I got lost in the tapestry, I think.”

Regina’s voice came from behind them. “Time for tea, Stephen. The boys worked up an appetite playing outside.”

Stephen blinked again and unwound himself from his cross-legged seat, letting Harry ‘help’ him up. “That sounds excellent, Regina. What all did you do outside, Harry and Theo?”

Harry and Theo took turns telling the adults all about their adventures in gardening and bunny hunting. Stephen drank three cups of tea in quick succession, blocking out his need to examine his . . . trip? Into the tapestry. The chocolate biscuits were extremely good at keeping his senses on the here and now. He and Harry were both chocoholics and proud of it.

Although clean-up was always a must after eating. How did streaks of chocolate end up on cheeks and noses? Stephen helped Harry get clean while Regina tended to Theo. Then they all went into the study for the boys’ lessons. It was Stephen’s turn to teach while Regina took care of Severus’ correspondence. Today was writing the alphabet and the boys were getting pretty good at the first four letters. They were using pencils on wide lined paper, their little faces set in concentration. Harry had the tip of his tongue poking out while Theo was biting his lip.

An hour later, Stephen, Harry, and Theo took off for some exercise and shopping. They weren’t quite up for walking the whole distance to the village so Stephen was pushing them in the pram. He’d only been this way once with Severus and Harry but with only one road, it wasn’t hard to find their way. A robin kept following them and the boys laughed every time she got close enough for them to see her. That kept their attention until the village came into view.

Idly, Stephen noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign on the first cottage on the road. Two houses in but on the other side of the lane, he saw another sign. Four houses went by and another ‘For Sale’ sign was planted in their front garden. Odd, he thought. But just then the bakery came into view and they made their first stop.

The little boys were let out of the pram and they slowly moved along the glass fronted cases, on their best behaviour in the hopes of tasting some of the sweets on display. Severus had given him a list of what to buy with a little extra in his household shopping wallet. It was the same one Regina used when she was shopping for them. The receipts went into it as well so a budget could be kept. Griphook was in charge of the household books and the elves shopping came out of those accounts, too.

After the very important decision of what cookies and cakes were coming with them, he put the shopping in the pram and let the boys walk hand in hand beside him. The pavement wasn’t very wide so he was actually in the street while the boys stayed on the sidewalk. It wasn’t really unsafe, since he’d yet to see a car anywhere in the village. He silently wondered if all of them were away at their work during the day. Or perhaps this was the village time forgot and they hadn’t reached motor car time yet.

Their next stop was the book store to pick up an order. He left the pram outside and opened the door for the boys. Dean McGregor was behind the counter and he greeted them with a smile. The boys waved at him before heading for the front window seat where the toys were found. They immediately began to put together one of the wooden jigsaw puzzles shelved there.

“Morning, Stephen. Here for your books?” Dean reached behind him for a paper wrapped package. “I thought I’d see you today.”

“Your owl was very welcome, Dean.” Stephen got out the wallet which corresponded to the library budget line. That account was five times the size of the grocery line and elastic so it could stretch to cover a ‘must have’ book or two. Once he’d looked over the two books found for them, he paid Dean and tucked the bundle under his arm. “I’ve got a question for you. While walking into the village, I noticed several homes for sale. Is that normal to have so many for sale all at once?”

Dean sighed a little and nodded. “We’re too far from London for an easy commute for the muggles. As the owners age, their kids don’t want to live so far away from all they ‘have’ to have, like a night life and shopping. It’s a crying shame but right now there’s seven homes for sale and two of them sit empty and almost empty because of the death of both owners. My dearest wish is if we could just find enough magical buyers, in a few years, we could be like Hogsmeade and be completely magical.”

Stephen nodded slowly. “I’ll talk to Severus and see what he thinks. It would be nice to be free to ride a broom, apparate from the manor to here, or let the house elves be seen. I know the goblins do some of the real estate brokerage. Maybe they could help?”

A crash from the window brought Stephen’s eyes to the boys and the tower which had just fallen over to the delight of the builders. They were clapping their hands and congratulating each other on the highest tower yet. Stephen chuckled and helped them put the blocks away. They all waved goodbye to Dean and went outdoors. This time, they were put back into the pram with the bakery items held carefully on their laps. The books were already in Stephen’s pocket.

They counted things all the way home. Stephen remembered his mother counting things with him when he was little. She considered it a way to make sure he really looked and took note of the world around him. The thought of her made him smile and he decided to tell them one of her stories when he next had their full attention.

***

Severus listened to all the stories they had to tell over lunch. The houses for sale story intrigued him, much as it had Stephen. He wrote a note to Brexit and sent it off. When the boys went down for their nap, he and Stephen wandered out to check on the signs to see what reality company or agent was listed on the ones nearest them. Only one agency was listened – the Fairbairn company. Stopping in at the bookstore, they used Dean’s phone to give a call to the realtor. An appointment was set up with their lead agent, a Mrs. Copper for an hour from now to tour three of the homes. She sounded excited to hear from them.

“Interesting, Dean, she sounded thrilled.” Severus said slowly, as he hung up the phone.

“Like I said, we’re too far for even a middling commute by car and the train station is 30 minutes away and is a local which takes a little over two hours to get to London. It’s no trouble for us but it is for the muggles.” The bookseller said with a shrug. “My brother Douglas is getting married in six months and he’s got an eye on one about five blocks from here in the other direction from Potter Manor. It’s a nice little brick with three bedrooms. I’m going to stay living over the shop.”

“I’m wondering about Sirius and Remus. They’d like to be closer to Harry and I know they want to be out of Black Manor once Regulus and Regina get married.” Severus rubbed his chin and thought about others who might want to move into a totally wizard village. “You know, this might just be something to get us another step removed from the Muggle world. Argh-h-h, I hate the word Muggle. What else can we use?”

Their debate came up with non-magical and mundane. They settled in to browsing the bookstore’s stock while waiting for the realtor to arrive. She pulled up to the bookstore exactly on time in her little red Mini-Cooper. Severus liked her immediately even though her sculpted hairdo was obviously dyed and hair sprayed into a helmet around her face. She had a smile for all of them and a firm handshake which added to his good impression of her. She asked them to call her Alysanne and asked about their current location – blinking a bit when told they were currently living in Potter Manor, just down the road. She handed them sheets printed out of all the houses currently available in Bury St. Ives.

“Could we leave your car here and walk to the houses?” Stephen asked hesitantly. He really wanted the exercise.

“Good idea, that way you see the village and all its advantages. Although you probably already know them first hand.” Alysanne said briskly and strode out in her comfortable walking shoes to the first one on her list. “The three I’m showing you today are all vacant. Two elderly owners passed within a month of each other. One died in hospital of pneumonia and the other was surfing in the Bahamas before getting eaten by a shark. Mr. Travers, the one who died in hospital, had no family and no will anyone could find so it still has all his possessions and is being sold ‘as is’ by the government. Mr. Juneau, the surfer, has a lovely family who inherited it all. They cleaned out the house but don’t want to live here. The third one is a Mrs. Milligan, who was put into a home by her son when her memory began to go.”

“And are they freehold or leasehold?” Severus remembered the discussion between his parents about the Spinner’s End house. It was leasehold, so they owned the house but not the land it sat on. He needed to remember to ask the goblins what they’d done with the house, after they moved his belongings.

Alysanne nodded approvingly at his question. “All three are freehold, in fact, I don’t have any inventory which is leasehold. They are just so much harder to sell when the land is kept back. And here we are at the Travers’ property. It’s three rooms up and three down with a lovely garden behind. The price is of course negotiable but is currently set at 23, 000 pounds.”

She used a key on the green front door and they walked into a small foyer so crowded with furniture, it was hard to move through it. “The poor man wasn’t very mobile there at the end and he didn’t want to get rid of anything. But with a good cleaning out and some paint, I think it would look very homey. The living room is through here.”

Severus felt a little claustrophobic in the small room crammed with yet more furniture. The dining room across the small hall was just the same, although he noticed Stephen touching one of the china plates displayed proudly on the side board. His smile was nostalgic and a touch sad. Severus made a mental note to do something about that later.

The kitchen was even more outdated than Spinner’s End was, with an Aga that appeared to still be running on kerosene, if the smell was anything to go by. Upstairs, were two crowded bedrooms and a small bathroom with an enormous claw foot bathtub and an old fashioned water closet. The linen closet was packed full with sheets and towels. The whole place smelled faintly musty and needed a good airing out.

The back yard was nice and was obviously where the elder gentleman had spent most of his time until he couldn’t any longer. The weeds were beginning to crowd in and Alysanne made a note in her enormous calendar to have someone come to mow the grass and do some weeding. Severus bit his tongue to prevent his urge to offer Lippit’s labors. Walking around to the front, they set off across the street to the next one. This one was a three bedroom, one bath home with a downstairs study filled with books.

Stephen immediately made a beeline for the bookcases and was lost to the rest of the conversation. Severus just smiled and asked about the missing furniture which had left obvious holes in the décor.

Alysanne sighed. “Her son took the best pieces and probably sold them. I sincerely doubt Edna will see any of the money from them or the sale of her home. Still, the house is in good condition and the furniture that’s left would be a windfall to whoever buys the home. The son is asking 45,000 pounds as-is, but there should definitely be room for negotiation. Shall we go upstairs?”

The three bedrooms were on the small side but Severus could see where a little extra room could be added in with wizard space and make them very comfortable. The bathroom was old fashioned but in much better condition than the Travers’ property. Severus wondered if this was the one Doug wanted but remembered his was brick and this house was timber and frame.

They collected Stephen, who’d been reading one of the books off the shelf, and headed for the third home. It was the one closest to Potter Manor and it set back further from the road than the other two. The front garden was nice with roses on lattices framing the downstairs windows. The door was a fading red with a brass kick-plate and a shark’s head for a door knocker.

Alice chuckled. “His door knocker is completely ironic, considering a shark ate him. They’ve taken everything out so you’ll see the bare bones of the house but they are lovely bones. This two story has four bedrooms, two bathrooms up and four rooms with another bath and kitchen downstairs. They’re asking 50,000 pounds and that is a very fair price for the house and land of one acre.”

Severus smiled while looking around the house. For some reason, he could see Remus and Sirius living here. There was room for a child or two if they decided to grow their family. Everything was up-to-date for a Muggle home. Drat it, he thought, a non-magical home. There was even wine storage in the cellar and the back yard was walled in, much like Potter Manor so it would be safe when Harry wanted to come over to play.

Walking slowly back to the realtor’s car, they discussed prices and timelines. Severus told her he had someone in mind for the Juneau house and he would have them call her to set up a time for viewing. “Alysanne, how many properties are there in Bury St. Ives?”

“112,” she said calmly. “That question comes ups more often than you would think. The grocers and bakers are settled in for now but that may not always be the case. Then there would be travel to and fro for little things like a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. The streets are narrow and there’s no way to widen them without taking out properties so the cars of the future will be a problem if they get any wider. But it’s the aging of the population that is only going to get worse as the World War 2 generation begins to age out. I don’t know what will come of these small villages as they die off. Perhaps a business or two might come in? Technology is beginning to speed up. I know my electric typewriter is a god-send ever my old manual.”

Severus made himself a promise he wouldn’t let that happen. “I wonder if we could see the other four which you have available? Perhaps tomorrow when I could get my friends to come and see the Juneau house?”

She pulled out the giant calendar book from her oversized bag. “Tomorrow, I can come at 2 pm. How is that?”

“Perfect, if we can meet at the bookstore?” He asked. “We don’t currently have a working phone so Dean, the bookstore owner, has suggested we use his for now.”

“Lovely, I already have his contact information.” She made a note and slid it away. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Severus and Stephen. I look forward to doing business with you.”

They waved goodbye as she drove away and went in to give Dean their news. He chuckled and told them he’d be glad to take their messages if he could use one of their house elves. Severus offered him one of his own if he was willing to bond with one. He got a thoughtful look on his face and said he’d think about it. Severus made a mental note to see if there were any more house elves for sale. He’d given away about a third of the ones he had acquired over the last few months and it looked like he could use a few more.

They walked back to Potter Manor in silence, both of them thinking about what it would take to turn the village completely magical. Severus was definitely going to get with Gringott’s to see if his friends could help. Glancing over at Stephen, he wondered if he’d like to have his own place instead of living with Harry and him.

“Aside from the books, did you like any of the houses, Stephen?” He asked.

“The first house had the same china, my mother loved. If they have a sale of the contents, maybe I could get a few pieces to remind me of dinners with her when things were better.” Stephen shrugged. “I don’t really need them though.”

“Do you mind living with us or would you like your own place?”

Stephen’s look was a little panicked and Severus rushed into speech. “We like you living with us, Stephen. You’ve become part of our family and you always will be but a young man might need or want his own space once he’s out of school like you are now.”

Stephen shook his head. “I like having people around me to remind me I’m not alone anymore. If I was going to move out, it would be into Ravenclaw Castle where you’d never see me again, except in the book stacks occasionally.”

“Not going to happen, we’d miss you too much, but Ragnok is sending your own personal port-key for the Castle tomorrow. Maybe I should go in and see him instead to tell him about our musings on Bury St. Ives.” Severus thought about it and decided to floo him. Now he was home, he didn’t really want to leave again any time soon. “Oh, I’d better floo Sirius and tell him I’ve set up an appointment for him and Remus to look at a house.”

Arriving at home, he pushed the gate closed behind them and just looked for a moment at Potter Manor. It was good to have a home to come back to. He was a very lucky man. The front door swung open and Harry came darting out to greet them with hugs. A very lucky man indeed.