"Whacha doon, Unca Sev'us?"
Severus glanced up from the parchments he was marking and scowled down at the bright little face shining up at him, but received no appreciable reaction. It was disheartening how this particular child refused to be intimidated by him. Severus took note of the smear of jam to the side of the rosebud mouth currently half full of biscuit.
"How did you get in here?" Severus demanded.
The dark-haired boy crammed the last of the biscuit into his mouth as he pointed at the classroom door. A door, Severus noted, that had been warded, albeit only with a general ward. He raised an eyebrow as he considered the Weasley-Potter offspring before him.
"How old are you now?"
"M'twee," the child said, holding up first two, then three fingers sticky with sugar.
"Three?" Snape's eyebrow crawled higher. "And you entered through that door?"
"Uh huh." The boy nodded vigorously.
"Well, I shall definitely have to keep an eye on you in future. Although, considering your parentage, it's not surprising that you're already adept at breaking and entering."
The child peered at the stack of parchments littering the desk. "Thassa lot," he pronounced, nodding in an eerily solemn manner.
"Yes," Snape answered. "I should know better than to assign essays prior to the Christmas holidays. I end up spending my time working instead of relaxing."
"James?" a worried feminine voice called in the distance. "Where are you?"
Hermione Snape opened the Potions classroom door and peered inside. She put her hands on her hips and gave the child a stern look. "There you are! I've been looking all over for you. You know you're not supposed to wander away."
"Wanna talk ta Unca Sev'us," the annoying cherub cheerfully piped up.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "I have explained this to you on numerous occasions, boy. I am not your uncle. At most, we are extremely distant cousins on your mother's side of the family."
James Sirius Potter shook his head. "Aunt 'Mione." He pointed at Hermione, then he grinned mischievously and pointed at Snape. "Unca Sev'us."
Severus' eyes narrowed. He had the oddest feeling that the child was being deliberately obtuse. He gave his wife a pained look. "I thought we agreed that the children would stay out of the classrooms?"
"Yes, well, even with the house elves helping, they're quite a handful," Hermione answered. "The rest of them are playing games in the Great Hall, but this one slipped away from me. I should have known to look here immediately. He certainly seems to like you, doesn't he? He has from the very beginning."
Severus glowered at the child currently beaming up at him. James simply laughed at the sight and clapped his hands. Severus shook his head and sighed. "How quickly may we be deprived of their company?"
Hermione struggled and failed to hide her smile. "As soon as the wedding is over, their parents promised to pick them up. You know, if you had agreed to go—"
"No," Severus interrupted flatly. "I had no desire to witness the marriage of Colin Creevey and Gabriele Delacour. We sent them a gift — although I have no idea why — and that should be enough. If you had truly wanted to go, you were capable of doing so alone."
"We sent them a gift because we were invited and it's only polite. And I told you that I didn't want to go alone," Hermione said. "Besides, someone had to watch the children..."
"You're the one who volunteered for that particular duty. Your classmates did insist upon breeding like rabbits." Severus sneered slightly. "Between the Weasleys — all of the Weasleys — the Potters, the Longbottoms and the Finnegans, there are almost 20 of them. At least we've had the good sense not to propagate."
"And," Hermione continued, blithely ignoring the interruption, "it put me in the perfect bargaining position. You agreed that if we skipped the wedding, you'd go with me to the dedication next week at the Ministry of Magic."
"That mural." Severus snorted. "What a waste of canvas. Potter threw off the invisibility cloak, Voldemort jumped back in surprise, Potter cast Ava..." Snape shot a sideways glance at the disturbingly powerful little boy avidly listening to their conversation, "...that curse and Voldemort fell over dead. The rest of us just stood about twiddling our thumbs. In fact, it was probably the most boring dénouement to any war in the history of the Wizarding World."
"It wasn't quite that simple and you know it," Hermione said dryly.
Severus waved a hand dismissively. "Very nearly so."
"Arthur's also going to dedicate the bust of Albus," Hermione added gently.
Severus looked down at the parchments on his desk, his chest suddenly tight. The loss of Albus Dumbledore was something he still had difficulty accepting. Albus had been his friend, his confessor and, at times, his surrogate father. While everyone else seemed to have picked up and moved on, Albus' death continued to cut at Severus very deeply.
Albus had slipped away in his sleep nearly four years ago, but it had taken this long for Cornelius Fudge to finally be ousted as Minister of Magic and for Arthur Weasley to be elected as his replacement. The commission of the mural and the monument to Albus were two of Arthur's first official acts.
Severus' head jerked up at the pattering sound of running footsteps in the hallway accompanied by high-pitched laughter and he glared wordlessly at Hermione.
"Oh, Merlin," Hermione sighed. "I'll bet it's Fred's twins. Watch James for a minute and I'll grab them."
Hermione opened the classroom door and stepped outside. Severus heard her call out sharply, "Hold it right there, you two! Don't move." Then her voice faded as she went further down the hallway.
There was a tugging on the hem of his robes and Severus looked down at the boy.
"Don' be sad." The boy dug in pocket of his miniature robes and then pulled out a lint-covered sweet. He held it out to Severus with a disturbing twinkle in his blue eyes. "Here."
Severus looked down at the sherbet lemon in the boy's hand and then sharply up into the boy's face.
The twinkle increased and James suddenly threw his arms around Severus' leg. "See? 's okay. Don' be sad," the boy crooned. "'s okay."
Severus' expression went from surprised disbelief to shocked incredulity. Tentatively, he reached out to stroke the child's rumpled black hair.
"If I didn't know better... What's your name, boy?" Severus whispered. "What's your true name?"
The child just giggled and buried his face in Severus' robes. "Luv voo, Sev'us. Luv voo."