Severus Apparates home with Maddie on his hip and Mr. Collins clasped firmly in his other arm. Her face is pale and the cat looks to be ready to have a complete meltdown, so he hurries to the door, opening it with nothing more than a twitch of his finger. After shutting the door behind them, he gently sets Maddie down. He’s overwhelmed by the smell of his laundry powder, the wax he uses on the floors, the old books that line the shelves. His hallway smells like mud and outside and woollen cloaks.
Then the cat escapes his arms with a screech and hides behind the boots and wellies under Severus’ coats. Maddie clasps his robes firmly while he takes off his outer robes. Not pausing to let himself think about anything more than the next step, Severus pushes open the door to the living room and, grasping Maddie’s hand in his, walks through to the kitchen. He lifts her into one of his chairs where she stays with her legs dangling, as he scoops a can of tuna onto a plate and fills a little bowl with water, walking back to the hallway to Mr. Collins. Back in the kitchen, he pours himself and Maddie bowls of cereal and they both attack hungrily. When the empty bowls are in the sink and they’ve each had a glass of water, Severus clears his throat.
“Maddie, I want you to know that if there is anything I’m doing you don’t like, you may tell me stop.”
She stares at him. “Do you understand? If you do not want to be touched, if the food you’re eating doesn’t taste good to you, if you’re uncomfortable in any way, simply tell me stop.” This earns him a nod, so he continues.
“I would like to take Mr. Collins and you up for a bath now, if that’s alright with you. May I pick you up now?” Another nod. Severus slides Maddie’s chair back and picks her up, settling her on his hip. She smells of poverty and malnourishment. Together they walk to the hallway, where Mr. Collins has finished all the tuna and seems much more content. Severus conjures a carrier for the cat, levitates him in and levitates the cat up the stairs, following with Maddie.
When they get to the bathroom, he sets the carrier down, sets Maddie on the lid of the toilet and turns on the taps to let the bath fill. While the water runs, he walks over to his bedroom to grab some pyjamas for Maddie. Holding them out in front of her, he transfigures them smaller, then taps them, running through different colours. Maddie hums nervously at the display.
“What colour do you like best, then?” he asks, trying to keep his voice kind and calm.
“Like this?” Another tap and she nods in approval.
Setting the pyjamas aside, he helps Maddie up and out of her old clothes, then tests the water temperature before lifting her into the bath. He casts Episkey a couple of times when he looks at her chafed and raw skin.
“Is the temperature all right?” A single nod, and Maddie carefully sits down in the water.
Severus sighs at the wounds. This is going to be very uncomfortable for her. “Maddie, you have some spots on your skin that are going to hurt a bit to clean. Let me know if you would like me to stop for a minute.”
Carefully, Severus soaps up a sponge, and starts running it along her arms first. When he gets to her neck, she winces a little, but holds her head to the side to give him better access to the sore skin. When Severus is done with her arms and back, he rinses out the sponge in the bathwater, reapplies soap to it, and hands it over to Maddie.
“Why don’t you do the rest yourself, and I will start on your hair.”
Severus picks up the showerhead and sets it to run at a comfortable temperature, before holding it over her matted hair. When he’s sure it’s all wet, Maddie has finished scrubbing herself clean, so he drains the tub and turns the tap on to fill it up with clean water. He hands Maddie a brush to clean her nails and pours out a generous amount of shampoo on top of her head. He gently works it into her hair, starting from the roots. When he’s satisfied it’s all clean, he rinses out the shampoo and works almost a whole bottle of conditioner into her hair, praying it will help with the knots.
“Can you stand in the tub for me? I’ll just rinse you off with the showerhead,” he says, while testing the temperature of the water with his hand. Soaking wet, her hair looks black and comes down to her bum. As she stands, he unplugs the tub to let it drain, and lets the water wash off the last bits of soap from all over her, taking a good look at where her skin seems to be worst off. When he’s done, he wraps her up in his largest, fluffiest towel, and sets her on the toilet lid again.
“Now about Mr. Collins.” Severus grins at Maddie, who looks at him with big eyes. “I’ll just give him a little tap with my wand to keep him calm while I wash him.”
Severus quickly stuns the cat and washes him as fast as he can, using dish soap he summoned from the kitchen. When the cat is clean, he sets him down on the bathmat gently and enervates him, before remembering to throw a drying spell all over him. The result is an angry and very fluffy cat and a giggling Maddie.
“He looks a little funny like this, doesn’t he?” Severus asks her, smiling in what he hopes is a gentle and reassuring way. She nods in response.
“Maddie, would you stand here, I have some cream to help you with your skin,” Severus holds out his hand to help her up. The towel falls down around her feet. He grabs the dittany cream and takes a big glob. “If you could hold out your hand, yes, like that,” he puts some on Maddie’s hand, “put it where your skin hurts for me please.”
Nodding as she applies the cream to her groin, where her underwear must have chafed, he scoops out some more and puts it on her hand. When she moves on from her armpits to her neck, he holds up her hair to give her better access.
“My feet,” Maddie whispers when all the angry red of her skin is covered in cream.
“Ah yes, let’s get you seated again. Shall I do it for you?” Another nod, and Severus lifts Maddie onto the toilet again, covering both her feet in cream. When she shivers, he summons some woollen socks, which he puts on her before shrinking them to fit, causing a small smile. Lifting her to her feet again, he helps her into the pyjamas.
“How do you feel about hot chocolate?” The smile she gives him answers that question well enough, so Severus picks her up again. Pausing on the landing, he turns back to the guest bedroom that no one has used in ages. He holds Maddie on his hip with one arm, and whips his wand around, sending dust flying, changing the bedsheets from pale blue to purple and sending out the books on the shelves above the small dresser and the single bed.
“This is your room now. Let me know if there’s anything you want. If you see books you like, let me know and I’ll send them up.” Maddie just stares at him, so he decides to calm it down with the overload of information and get that hot chocolate going.
When Severus walks out of the kitchen with two steaming mugs, Maddie is sitting on the rug talking softly to Mr. Collins, who is curled up in her lap. Not wanting to intrude, he sets down her mug next to her and walks upstairs to fetch his comb.
“Maddie, would you let me comb your hair?” She frowns but shifts to give him access. “Let me know if it hurts, I will be as careful as possible.”
It takes half an hour and a refill of hot chocolate to get rid of all the knots in her hair, but finally it hangs glossy and wavy, down to her waist. Now that it’s mostly dry, it’s starting to curl and the colour is a deep brown rather than true black.
“Do I plait it for you?” A blank stare. “I’ll plait it so it doesn’t get messy again.”
As Severus ties the plait with a piece of string from the kitchen, Maddie yawns, so he sets her down on the sofa, covers her with a throw, and finally panics a little. He stares at her, small and thin and clearly traumatized. What on earth did I get myself into?
Before panicking a lot however, Severus remembers that he can write things down now and there is no reason why it won’t be there still in the morning. This helps so much that he aims his wand at his gramophone which continues playing the violin concerto of Bruch he was listening to when he left the house either two days or an actual lifetime ago. With a smile, he sits himself down at his desk and pulls out scrolls of parchment and his quill.
An hour later, the gramophone clicks off, and Severus is surrounded by scrolls of lists. When he is trying to bring some order into the chaos on his desk, his doorbell rings. He is at the door in three steps and swings it open, which makes Harry step back and stare at him.
“I brought fish and chips?”
“Are you asking me?”
“No,” Harry huffs, “I’m telling you, and asking if I can come inside so we may eat together.”
Severus steps back, which Harry takes as the invite it is meant to be, and Harry walks straight through the living room to the kitchen as if he’s been here before. After dropping off the bags of food, he steps back into the living room. Severus holds out his hand and accepts Harry’s coat. He notices Harry has showered and changed at some point in the past few hours. He’s wearing a deep blue jumper over a button-down, and dark trousers. He looks surprisingly mature.
“How is she?”
“As well as can be expected, exhausted and way too thin. She has some wounds and doesn’t talk much, but only time will tell how she recovers.”
Harry nods and then nudges Severus lightly with his elbow. “Really, silk pyjamas?”
Severus blushes. “They weren’t purple before.”
“But they were silk,” Harry teases, and Severus has to swallow around the lump in his throat. They’re ok.
Without noticing Severus’ inner turmoil, Harry disappears into the kitchen again, and when Severus looks over, the table is being set around the plastic bags, so he goes to wake Maddie up. He hears the cupboards being opened and closed, and finally the clatter of plates and cutlery.
“Maddie, hey, you’re alright.” She looks as though she woke up on a different planet, so Severus lowers his voice to calm her down.
“You’re at my house,” he explains, “Harry is here, you saw him this morning, he brought some food. Would you like to join us or would you rather keep sleeping?”
Maddie blinks at him in utter confusion for a moment, then sits up and mouths ‘food’.
“Come along then.”
When he strides into the kitchen, Harry is grinning at him. Severus checks his robes, and then gives Harry his ‘what are you staring at?’ glare.
“You walk like you’re in a thousand-year-old over-dramatic castle inside your cosy understated home, robes flapping and all.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“Not at all, it’s just very you. The slimy things in jars above your worktable also add to the vibe.” Harry nods with his head to the side of the kitchen that’s used for brewing.
Severus decides to ignore the comment and helps Maddie into a chair. Harry serves Severus and himself first before eyeing Maddie. Severus notices Harry crinkles his nose when he’s thinking.
“Maddie, I’m only going to give you a small amount of food. If you’d like some more afterwards you can let us know, there is plenty.” He glances at Severus before continuing, “your stomach may hurt if you eat too much at once.”
Severus gives Harry a curious look but decides he doesn’t really have the right to ask how Harry knows what it’s like to recover from starvation. They eat together in silence, Harry and Maddie looking for all the world as if they belong in this kitchen as much as Severus does. It’s very odd and Severus wonders for a moment how this became his life.
After lunch, Maddie falls asleep on the sofa again, so Severus settles behind his desk to continue his list writing. He’s not sure what to do about Harry, who has settled into one of the armchairs as if he owns it. Thankfully, Harry does seem to know what to do with himself.
“Can you tell me what you’re working on?”
“I can.” An arched eyebrow.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, you know what I’m asking,” Harry replies, to Severus’ surprise, in an affectionate tone. Some part of his brain thinks Harry’s deep blue jumper goes stupidly well with his pale blue armchair.
“I missed being able to write down what I was working on while trapped in a series of Thursdays. I’m trying to remedy that now.”
“You came up with new potions?”
“I’ve had ideas, though some are in rather early stages due to low availability of brewing ingredients and time.” To his surprise, Severus hopes Harry will ask what he’s working on so they can keep talking.
Harry thinks for a second, then as if he’s read Severus mind, asks: “What else are you working on?”
“I created a few spells, I came to some personal epiphanies, and I have been making lists about matters concerning Maddie.”
“Are these scrolls as messy as they look or is there a method to it?” Harry leans forward, his elbows on his thighs, as if he’s genuinely interested in the answer.
“I’ve been working as ideas come for now.”
“If I irritate you, please ask me to leave. If you’d prefer I go read quietly where I can’t bother you, I don’t mind that either.”
In reply, Harry stands up and walks over. He conjures a whiteboard, complete with multi-coloured markers. He divides the whiteboard into three columns, and labels them ‘work’, ‘personal’, and ‘Maddie’. He then divides the work column into ‘spells’ and ‘potions’. Severus has been staring at him the whole time, and when he notices, he shrugs. “Hermione introduced me to whiteboards, I used them for cases, before.”
“Before you quit.”
“Yes. Do you think this might help?”
“You’re welcome, then.” Harry smiles at him. “Why don’t you go shower, I’ll keep an eye on Maddie.”
“Excuse me?” Severus suppresses the urge to check if he looks or smells dirty.
“You haven’t showered since before we met up yesterday and you don’t start every day magically clean again. I’m offering to stay here so she isn’t alone.”
“Very well.” Severus stands. “The books that don’t come off the shelf on the first try might bite.”
“I’ll take that as a feel free to help yourself to any of my books, which I appreciate very much.” Harry grins again, seemingly not offended by Severus’ lack of experience with hosting people. “Do you have any books for kids? In case she wakes up?”
“No, I emerged fully formed from a potion,” flaps out before Severus can stop himself, but the comment actually makes Harry laugh. The familiar tingle of made him laugh for the first time today fills his chest, so he smiles back.
“They’re over there.” He points and disappears upstairs.
When he comes back down, hair washed and still drying, wearing his favourite robes that he stupidly left behind before going to Diagon Alley, Harry is sitting on the sofa next to a sleeping Maddie, a heavy book in his lap. He looks cosy and comfortable, and Severus’ heart pounds in his chest. The book looks like the N.E.W.T.-level Potions book Severus wrote, but that doesn’t make sense so he decides he’ll find out what Harry is so interested in when he puts the book away again.
“How is it to be home?” Harry looks up briefly to smile at him, then focuses on the book again. Definitely not the Potions book then, if he’s this interested.
“I keep expecting to find things dusty or abandoned-looking, but even the milk wasn’t off.”
“I noticed you don’t have much in the fridge, though.”
“I used to live alone.” Severus shrugs. He was also planning on being away for a couple of days so hadn’t done groceries.
“I can do groceries while you work on your lists?”
“Oh, stop,” Harry chuckles. He closes the book and sets it down on the sofa, out of Severus’ line of sight.
“Ah.” Severus pauses to think. How to rephrase this?
“That didn’t come out the way I intended it to. I meant ‘could you’, as in, would you?”
Harry blinks at him. “I will, give me the list of groceries? I’ll walk to the nearest supermarket if you can tell me where it is.”
Severus fishes out a list from the pile and hands it over to Harry, then explains how to walk.
He gets back to work, filling in topics he needs to be working on on the whiteboard and writing things out as he has ideas on the different topics. He’s deep in thought, but notices that Harry has been gone for more than the 20 minutes it normally takes him to make a grocery trip soon enough.
It takes about an hour for him to start worrying Harry got lost, but then he decides that Harry can do as he pleases and if he’s not back by dinnertime, Severus can just go himself. Besides, he found his way to the house through Apparition once, he can probably do it again. Another fifteen minutes later, the doorbell finally rings.
“Sorry I took so long,” Harry starts, as he manoeuvres the large shopping bags into the house. “I got a little carried away, and Mrs. Bell was helping me out but she also wanted to catch me up on 80 years of neighbourhood gossip.”
“Ah,” Severus chuckles, “I should have warned you about her.” He lifts an eyebrow at Harry’s open-mouthed gaping. It looks sweet, Harry with large bags in the middle of the living room, his cheeks a little flushed from the walk over, his expression completely stunned.
“Sorry,” Harry blushes, “don’t think I ever heard you laugh like that before.”
Severus hides his own blush by taking one of the bags and setting it down on the counter. He looks through the groceries as he starts unpacking.
“Cat food? Thank you, I’m sure Mr. Collins will appreciate that.”
“Yeah, I figured that might be useful. I was thinking, you probably don’t have a litterbox, so it makes no sense to buy stuff for it,” Harry chats as he takes the food that needs to be kept cold and puts it in the fridge. “I hope he is smart enough to use the bathroom outside.”
“I’ve had a stern conversation with him about it,” Severus replies, at a tone that shows he genuinely believes Mr. Collins will listen to a stern talking-to. “Besides, the house came with a cat door that I never ended up getting rid of, so he can come and go as he pleases.”
“I found the milk powder you asked for, but it wasn’t easy,” Harry says, as he hands over the item in question. It’s all very domestic, which is strange but not unwelcome.
“My apologies, I hope Mrs. Bell was able to help you with that. I hope it will help her gain her strength without overburdening her stomach.”
“Smart, wish I’d had that when...” Harry trails off.
“Yes,” Severus replies softly, “me too.” They’re both quiet for a second before Harry takes a deep breath and changes his tone completely.
“I also found underwear and socks! And colouring books, and I got her this pink toothbrush. And Hermione always says a girl can never have enough hair ties.”
“Pink everything, I see.”
“I think all purple everything might be too much, and these socks will go lovely with her silk pyjamas.”
“Oh hush.” Severus smiles at the things laid out on the table, picking up a pack of hair ties. “Are those butterflies? Why would you need hair ties with butterflies?”
“Anyway!” Harry grins. “I bought food for a few days, stuff you can create different kinds of things with depending on what you feel like. If you’ll have me, I can cook for dinner tonight.”
“You want to stay?” Severus can’t hide the surprise in his voice.
“If I may. I got these little tomatoes and all this fruit for Maddie. Small snacks between meals will also help not stress her stomach.”
Severus can only nod, so they finish unpacking together. When they get back to the living room, Harry notices that several potions and spells have been listed on the whiteboard, and under Maddie it says ‘health’, ‘legal’, and ‘things to buy’, which has subsections of ‘room’, ‘clothes’, and ‘fun’. He stares at the items on the whiteboard for a minute, then looks over his shoulder at Severus.
“Glad you like it.” He smiles sweetly. When he smiles like this, Severus muses, his cheekbones touch his glasses.
“It is a good way to organize thoughts,” Severus concedes.
Maddie is awake and petting Mr. Collins, so Harry joins her on the sofa.
“Hey Maddie, I got you a colouring book and some pencils, but I also saw Winnie the Pooh on the shelf earlier. Would you prefer to read or draw?” She stares at him blankly, so Harry decides on reading. When he fishes the book out of the air as it comes sailing towards them. Maddie brow furrows.
“Do you know Winnie the Pooh?” She shakes her head.
“This is him,” Harry says, pointing at the drawing on the cover. “Come sit next to me so you can see the drawings.”
Severus goes back to work, but looks over every now and then to see Maddie crawl closer and closer to Harry until she’s sitting in his lap, wrapped up in the throw. He sighs deeply at the sight, trying to breathe through the tight feeling in his chest, and has to shake his head a little to focus on his work again. Every now and then, Harry asks Maddie a question about the book, and as she sits on his lap, she starts answering them.
“What do you think Pooh wants the honey for?”
“To eat.” It’s not much, but it’s better than this morning, so Severus decides to try the same tactic later. Maybe it only works for Harry, but it’s worth a shot.
At around 6, Harry closes the book and sets Maddie up on the rug with the colouring book and pencils. He lies down on his stomach and picks a colour, handing the purple pencil over to Maddie, who sits next to him. He starts on a picture of a dingy looking car with a grinning face, asking Maddie about what to do and what colour to use. They work on the page together until Maddie seems to get the hang of it. Harry stands up and stretches.
“I’ll just cook now,” Harry announces, and then walks off to start making loud banging noises in the kitchen that make Severus’ chest ache. It is so comforting to hear him moving around that Severus has trouble focusing on his work.
An hour later, Harry serves potatoes and veggies from the oven with steak. It looks as though nothing was broken or burned in the process. Maddie gets small bits of everything. When Harry glances over at Severus for the fourth time, he decides it’s time for another arched eyebrow.
“Just hoping you like it,” Harry mumbles to his plate.
“I do, thank you for cooking.”
The smile this gains him is so radiant that Severus feels compelled to point out how tender the meat is, and how crispy the potatoes, and how the carrots are better than at Hogwarts. Harry’s flushed face is worth all of it.
Maddie starts yawning about halfway through her meal, so Severus picks her up as soon as they’re done, and carries her upstairs, trailing a floating Winnie the Pooh after him. He helps her brush her teeth, which is surprisingly complicated. When she’s wrapped up in her duvet, he sits down next to her, leaning against the headboard, for her bedtime story. It takes a while, but eventually she answers his questions about the characters and the drawings in the book too.
When he comes back to the kitchen, it is spotless and all the dishes are done.
“Pudding? There’s berries and cream?”
“Thank you, for cleaning up. You did not need to do that.”
“It was my pleasure, now sit.”
“She demanded a full chapter of Pooh,” Severus tells him, as he sits at the table, “it seems you have created a monster.”
“It’s such good news she trusts you enough to ask that of you already.” Harry sounds a little breathless as he says it.
For someone whose life depended on being able to control his facial expressions for years, Severus is doing a terrible job at stopping the smile that’s threatening to split open his face. He can’t even begin to think of something to say to that, but from Harry’s grin he understands.
“What were you planning on doing after dinner?” Harry asks as they’re both sitting with bowls of berries in front of them.
“Brewing. I’m running low on the cream I’ve been using for Maddie’s wounds, and I have all the ingredients for a potion against scarring that might help her once the wounds have closed.”
“Can I help? You do your brewing in here, right?”
Severus’ spoon pauses halfway to his mouth. “You would want to? And yes, this house doesn’t have a basement so I do my brewing in here.”
“Absolutely, and if it’s a dittany cream I should be able to do it.”
“I should hope so, it’s third-year material and you did end up getting a N.E.W.T. in Potions.”
“I’ve been working on my potions lately, so maybe you can also talk me through the improvements in your version.”
“I won’t bore you with that.”
“I wouldn’t ask if I thought I’d be bored,” Harry answers, as he puts away the dishes and starts setting out potions ingredients on the work table along the wall. It’s big enough for two people to brew at the same time, but only just, so they step around each other a lot as they are setting up. Once or twice, Severus has to repress a shiver as they touch accidentally.
Severus talks about the Scarring Potion he developed after he noticed his scars from Nagini weren’t healing, Harry asks intelligent questions and asks to borrow the book he was reading, and then they work in silence. When Harry is done brewing and cleaning up, and Severus has to let his potion simmer, Harry sits down at the kitchen table and takes a deep breath.
“If I ask something you don’t want to answer, please just tell me to shut up.” Severus smirks and nods, leaning back against the work table.
“I was thinking, if you’ve spent a good part of the last however many Thursdays with me,” Harry starts.
“What do you know about me? What have I told you that I don’t know you know?”
“What made you think of this?” Severus fears a repeat of the ‘are you dating me without me knowing it’ situation and tries not to let the stress show on his face.
“I realized that I don’t know if I told you why I know about eating after not eating for a while.” Harry’s voice is low.
“You didn’t tell me about that.”
“Dursleys, and the year of camping.” Harry is staring at his hands, as if he’s embarrassed to be admitting it.
“Poverty,” Severus answers.
“The Dursleys aren’t...” Harry stares at Severus for a second before it clicks. “Oh.”
They’re quiet for a bit as the potion bubbles merrily. Severus looks over Harry’s head, at the bit of the garden that can be seen from the kitchen window. He tries to think of a way to avoid rattling off a whole list of things he never wants anyone to know.
“Might I ask you something before I attempt to answer your initial question?”
“Why do you respond so differently to me?”
“Because you’re different,” Harry states, looking up.
The ‘obviously’ is implied.
“We talked about this yesterday. Plus, I realized a while ago that you’re motivated largely by fear of humiliation and rejection. Explains your explosive temper and general barbiness.” He shrugs as if he didn’t just summarize a person in five words. Twice.
“Yeah, I made that up just now, do you like it?” Harry grins.
The timer on Severus’ potion goes off then. “I’m sorry, this is going to be an hour of very intense work now,” he starts.
“Don’t worry, you can just write me a list.” Harry beams at him and then does the oddest thing he’s done all day. He steps close to Severus, grabbing his elbow.
“Goodnight Severus,” he breathes, way too close, and then kisses Severus on his cheek before disappearing from the kitchen. Only the methodical stirring motions stop Severus from touching his cheek and sinking to the floor like a schoolgirl.
When the potion is done and decanted and everything is cleared away behind new child-proof locks, Severus goes to read in bed. It doesn’t take long for a creaking door and a pat-pat-pat to announce Maddie’s arrival. She stands in the doorway, Mr. Collins sitting next to hear, swishing his tail. They both look way too small and lost.
“Can’t sleep?” A nod.
“Want to sleep here?” Another nod.
“I won’t read you any more Winnie the Pooh, but I can read from my book if you’d like?”
“Alright, hop on in.”
They settle with Maddie next to the wall, curled up but facing Severus. Mr. Collins is curled up at the foot of Maddie’s side, and Severus is stretched out, leaning back against the headboard.
“Mr. Green says that in order to create a spell with a distinctive spell colour,” Severus starts, and within minutes Maddie is fast asleep. He reads until he finishes his chapter, his voice low so as not to wake her. When he has closed the book and set it aside, he shuffles down underneath the covers, listening to Maddie’s steady breathing. He goes to sleep thinking second night in a row not sleeping alone.
Severus wakes up with a gasp and sits right up before he realizes that he is home and he isn’t alone and as his heart rate settles. He gets out of bed slowly in order not to disturb Maddie. He lingers in front of his wardrobe for a moment before deciding on Muggle clothes for the day. A white shirt, a black pullover, and black trousers it is. By the time Maddie wakes up he is showered and dressed. He helps her down the stairs and sets her up in the kitchen with porridge and a glass of fortified milk. While she is still eating, he redoes her now rather fluffy plait, tying it with one of the hair ties Harry bought.
“I was thinking we could buy you some clothes today, would you like that?” Maddie nods.
“You can wear what you are wearing now, but it would be good if you could wear underwear so we may try on clothes in the store.” A wide-eyed stare.
“Here, let me help you.” Severus kneels in front of the chair Maddie is in, unpacking one of the princess-themed underwear packs Harry bought. “Stand here, now I’m going to take off your pyjama trousers, there, step out of them.”
Maddie steadies herself by placing a small hand on Severus’ shoulder. “And now step into the underwear Harry got you, and then back into the trousers. Is that ok?”
Maddie wiggles a little and then nods solemnly. “I like Harry.”
“Me too, dear. I’ll carry you, let me know if you get cold.”
Severus cleans up the kitchen and stuffs some of the socks Harry bought into the pocket of his coat, before putting it on. He lifts Maddie up and opens the front door. This makes her wriggle and squirm.
“Maddie? Are you alright?”
“What’s with Mr. Collins?”
“You are very right,” Severus tells her, setting her down in the hallway. “I’ll go give Mr. Collins his breakfast, I won’t be a second.”
Soon, Severus and Maddie are on their way to the centre of the town, to the small clothing shop. Maddie is wrapped in the edges of Severus’ coat and thankfully the weather is not too bad. When they get to the shop, he sets Maddie down and holds her hand firmly as she stares around. A woman walks up to them in the empty shop.
“How may I help you?”
“We’re looking to buy clothes for her, she has nothing currently.”
The lady takes one good look at Maddie and turns around to scream “Mum!” to the back of the store. Another lady appears, looking like Molly and Narcissa had a stylish motherly lovechild.
“Hello, dears. You may call me Rosie; how can I help?”
“She has nothing,” Severus repeats, as the daughter disappears to the back of the store.
“How about you walk around and pick some clothes you like, and I’ll put them in the changing room in the appropriate size?”
Severus nods gratefully and walks through the store with a very clearly overwhelmed Maddie, who is still in the pyjamas and woollen socks Severus Transfigured for her.
“If you see anything you like, anything at all, don’t hesitate to let me know, alright?” A blank stare.
“Do you want me to carry you?” A single nod. When he picks her up, she grabs onto him with such strength he fears for a second his clothes might tear, but as they move around together, she starts to relax a little. Severus picks some dresses, some trousers, coats, and shoes, and Rosie adds tights and t-shirts, as well as a cardigan to the pile.
“Alright, to the changing room. If you need a minute, please tell me to stop and we can sit still for a bit.”
It takes another half hour or so, but finally, they have a coat, a dress, tights, trainers and boots, jeans, some t-shirts, and the cardigan Rosie chose on the ‘yes’ pile. While they were trying on clothes, the shop got rather busy, so Severus stands in line for the check-out holding the clothes in one arm, and Maddie’s hand in the other. As he looks around the adult clothes near the check-out, he notices a red dress. Making a split-second decision he eyeballs his size and puts it on the pile. After they pay, he puts Maddie’s new coat on her, as well as her new boots, and they walk home together hand in hand.
With Maddie settled on the sofa with biscuits and hot chocolate, Severus is about to continue working when he notices Maddie shifting uneasily.
“Are you alright?” A nod.
“Would you like to ask something?” Another nod.
Severus takes off his reading glasses and sets them down on his desk, before leaning over. “Go ahead, I’m listening.”
“May I wear the new dress?”
“Of course,” Severus smiles, closing the curtains and turning on the lights with a flick of his wand, “and I would like to tell you that you are very smart for being better at understanding the difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’ than Harry does.”
She laughs as he walks over, grabbing the bag of clothes and setting it down on the sofa between them. He takes out everything they bought.
“What would you like to wear?”
“With the tights?” She nods.
“Alright, shall I help you get changed?” Another nod.
Severus helps her up and out of the pyjamas and socks, pulling on the light grey tights first. Then he helps her get the dark grey felt dress with ochre bands along the sleeves and bottom, fastening the button on her back after flicking her plait over her shoulder. When she’s dressed he picks up one of her hands and twirls her around, sending her long plait spinning. She giggles as he coos over her. “You look very beautiful, Maddie. Are you cold at all?”
Maddie thinks for a second but shakes her head, then stares at Severus. “What about your dress?”
Severus blushes deeply but decides that if they are to live together, he might as well start not-hiding now. He quickly strips down to his underwear, and pulls the dress over his head. It fits him perfectly, he notices smugly, as he smoothens the sleeves that only cover his arms down to his elbows. He spends about a second thinking about his hairy legs, the mark on his left arm that is now exposed, and the scarring on his throat, which the bateau cut of the neckline shows off. Then Maddie climbs on the sofa, picks up Severus’ right hand and twirls him around, laughing and smiling. Nothing in Severus’ life has prepared him for this, so he flicks his wand at his gramophone, which starts to play a simple waltz, and dances across the rug with Maddie until they are both tired and it is time for lunch.
After lunch Maddie falls asleep on the sofa, so Severus covers her with the throw and gets back to work.
At around 3, the doorbell rings. With some wand flicking, Severus summons his bathrobe, which he wraps around himself as tightly as possible, and then he opens the door to a radiant Harry.
“Mr. Potter,” he says, stepping back to allow Harry in. Harry’s smile falls immediately.
“Harry. I’m Harry. And you’re Severus, who has a floor-length silk bathrobe in Slytherin colours, which shouldn’t surprise me, but somehow it did.”
“Come in, Harry,” Severus corrects himself. “It was a birthday present from Lucius, I believe he called it a house coat.”
Harry beams at him again and walks straight through to the living room. “Now that really doesn’t surprise me. Let me guess, you got similar over-the-top presents every year Draco was a student?”
“Spot on, Mr...” Harry gives him a stern look. “Harry.”
They laugh together, and Harry follows Severus into the kitchen where they make a tea tray.
“I neglected to ask yesterday, but would you please tell me why I now have five different kinds of biscuits.”
“Didn’t know which ones Maddie and you would like.” Harry shrugs.
Severus wakes Maddie up, and they have tea together. When Harry finishes his tea, he sits down on the rug and fishes things from his pockets, unshrinking them as he goes.
“Now Maddie, this box is for you, I’ll help you sort through it in a minute.” He indicates it with his hand, and Maddie sits down next to it.
“This one is for you.” He hands Severus a book.
“The First Ten Years?”
“Hermione says most Wizarding books only go until Hogwarts age, which is hilarious to me and explains so much, and that this one is her favourite.”
“Will she want it back?”
“I’m sure she had it memorized within 24 hours of starting to try for a baby.”
“Where did you see her?”
“At the Burrow, for lunch.” Harry busies himself with the stuff around him.
“You told her about Maddie?”
“No, I told her one of my friends was going to be fostering a 4-year-old and if she had any books on Wizarding fostering and adoption.” His tone says I’m not stupid, you know.
“Does that mean every Weasley in the country now knows?”
Harry laughs, “Perhaps, but not because she told them. Victoire, Bill and Fleur’s eldest, overheard me talking to her about a girl that didn’t have clothes or books, so she insisted on taking me home after lunch and providing me with both.”
Severus feels a little lost, but Harry continues, “I Apparated home with Bill and Fleur after lunch, and Victoire showed me the books and clothes she’s outgrown. They gave me that box,” he waves at the box Maddie is still staring at, “for Maddie.”
Since Severus still isn’t talking, Harry turns to Maddie. “Let’s open this, then.”
They work their way through a stack of Wizarding children’s books, and Maddie admires the sparkly, extravagant clothes Victoire probably got from the French side of the family. After a few minutes of observing Harry and Maddie together on the rug, Severus decides to get back to work, so he sits back down at his desk and attempts to read through the potion he was working on before Harry arrived. He can’t help but look at Harry in worn jeans and a tatty sweater, sitting on the floor next to an eager and engaged Maddie every minute or so.
“Shall we say thank you to Victoire?” Maddie stares at Harry and nods.
“We could write her a letter, if you’d like.”
Harry summons a scroll of parchment, ink, and a quill, and writes in large, clear letters. “Dear Victoire, I’ll start with that. Victoire is almost seven, so she knows how to read already.”
Maddie crawls into his lap to get a better view, which makes Severus and Harry look at each other over her head. Severus smiles at Harry, who takes a deep breath and continues.
“Thank you very much for the books and clothes. Which dress do you like best?”
Maddie thinks for a second, looking over the piles of clothes spread around the rug. “Blue.”
“I love the blue dress,” Harry says slowly, while writing. “Which book are you most looking forward to?”
“And I am looking forward very much to reading the book about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Harry continues the letter. “Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
Maddie thinks, chewing her lip, then looks at Severus. “Maybe I can meet her.”
“I think that is a very good idea,” Severus tells her.
“If it would be alright with your parents, I would like to play together sometimes,” Harry writes. “Have you ever seen the sea, Maddie?”
She shakes her head, then adds “no” when she realizes Harry probably can’t see her.
“Victoire and her brother live by the sea with their parents. I’m sure she would take you to collect sea shells if you’d ask.”
“Ask, please,” Maddie whispers.
“Perhaps you could show me where the best sea shells are? Is that all for the letter?”
“I look forward to hearing from you. Love, Maddie.” Harry reads over the letter and then leans over to summon the pencils.
“Now Maddie, I think we wrote a very nice letter, but it looks a little boring. Do you want to make a drawing on it?”
“Well we talk about many things in the letter, you could draw a dress, or a seashell. Or maybe a drawing of Mr. Collins?”
Maddie nods resolutely and grabs a blue pencil, starting on the dress. Harry grabs an orange pencil and starts drawing a cat. When he is done, he taps the cat once with his wand, which sets it to walking around the page. Maddie collapses in a fit of giggles and starts drawing things for Harry to animate, while Harry fills up the edges of the letter with sea shells. In the end, they have a letter with loads of birds and cats, a couple of flying books, a dress that dances, and more sea shells than anyone could need.
“Do you want to show Severus what we made?” Harry asks.
Maddie turns around and nods enthusiastically at him, then scrambles to get up and run over to Severus with her letter. Severus lifts her into his lap and Harry looks at them while Maddie explains everything they wrote and drew. When she’s done, Severus carries her to the kitchen, and together they give it to Athena, his owl, to take away. Maddie seems drained so Severus puts her down on the sofa, where she indeed falls asleep immediately.
When he gets up from tucking her in and turns around, Harry is staring at him. He follows Harry’s gaze and notices the bathrobe is not tied as tightly as it was, and is now showing the colour and neckline of the dress. As he rushes to tuck himself away again, Harry grabs his hands.
“May I see?”
“It hides none of the things I like to hide.”
“Let me see you,” Harry whispers, his tone pleading.
To get it over with, Severus pulls open the knot and lets the bathrobe fall to the floor. He balls his fists to stop himself from hiding the scars on his throat, but Harry steps closer to meet his eyes.
“It’s a beautiful dress and it looks very nice on you,” Harry says softly. Severus just nods.
“Can I ask you something? May.” They both smile at the correction, and Severus nods again.
“Last night you asked me why I respond differently to you, so let me ask you. Why do you respond differently to me?” Severus relaxes a little, and motions with his head that they should talk in the kitchen so Maddie can sleep.
When they’re both sitting down, he starts: “I don’t have to appear to hate you anymore.”
“Couldn’t have the baby Death Eaters rat you out?”
“Baby Death Eaters,” chuckles Severus, “yes. And you were right yesterday, fear of rejection and humiliation make me lash out. I’ve had many encounters with you over the past months, and I had the luxury of being able to say and do anything I wanted to you, and start fresh the next day. I think I learned how to talk to you. You also told me once I have the emotional maturity of a child, which is probably true.”
“Have I seen you like this before?”
“Like what, Mr. Potter,” Severus drawls before he can stop himself. He holds up his hand to stop Harry from responding, and tries again.
“Apologies.” Harry smiles, so he continues, “You have; I learned how to walk in heels for the occasion and had Madame Malkin make me increasingly odd outfits. But I never gave you the chance to respond.”
“Madame Malkin?” Harry is laughing now. “How did she respond?”
“She hated my Hello Kitty tattoo.” Severus grins, finally relaxing. The confession has Harry howling, so Severus lists all the different tattoos he got while in Diagon Alley. He slowly starts to feel at ease, in his dress, in his kitchen, with Harry sodding Potter. When they’re both done laughing and they’ve recovered enough, Harry seems to remember something.
“You can tell me no if you don’t want to,” he starts.
“No good suggestion has ever started with that,” Severus replies dryly.
“Oh hush. Hermione offered to come over for dinner tonight to talk to my friend about adoption. She said it would take a few hours to do the research and she could write it out or tell you in person.”
“She doesn’t know I’m the friend?”
“What will her husband say?”
“Ron is in France to help open the shop there and Rose is staying with Molly, which is why she’s free for dinner. I could go pick her up and Apparate her in so you don’t need to tell her where you live.”
Severus thinks for a moment only before deciding a Ministry employee with a tenacious attitude to research can only be helpful to his case. “All right, I’ll start cooking the salmon. Please explain the whole situation before she comes here, I have no desire to have her gape at us.”
“Hermione is not thirteen anymore. And no raw fish or alcohol for her, please.”
“Ah,” Severus sighs, “hence the books on childcare. How far along is she?”
“Four months, not really showing yet.”
As Severus helps Harry into his coat, he realizes how he’s dressed.
“Would you be so kind as to not mention my current state of dress to Mrs. Weasley-Granger?”
“Of course, Severus, see you soon,” and with a kiss on his cheek Harry steps out the door and Apparates away.
Severus decides to wake Maddie up so she won’t be groggy when Hermione arrives, and she gets to work on improving her cat-drawing-skills. He thinks for a second before transfiguring her pink butterfly hair tie into a yellow one with a bee. She laughs as he makes the bee fly a little, dragging her plait behind, and then rushes off upstairs with Maddie’s new clothes and books. He drops her things in her room and goes to his own room. After changing back into robes, he starts dinner. About half an hour later, dinner is almost ready, and the doorbell rings. He greets Harry and Hermione at the door and waves them through into the kitchen, where he has conjured a fourth chair and moved the table away from the wall to be able to seat everyone.
“Could you set the table while I finish cooking?”
“Sure. Here ‘Mione, plates,” Harry says, opening up the proper cupboard. If Hermione is surprised, she doesn’t say. When they sit down to eat, Maddie and Harry tell Hermione about the letter they wrote for Victoire and Severus contents himself with listening and helping Maddie eat.
As Severus tries to coax Maddie intro trying one more bite of the spinach, her face suddenly falls and she starts squirming and whining.
“Maddie? What is it?” She stares at him, her eyes filling with tears, while she pushes the chair away from the table and starts clawing at her tights.
“What do you need from me?” Severus just manages to catch her as she throws herself off the chair, setting her down on the ground. He crouches down in front of her as she starts crying in earnest.
Maddiemaddiemaddiemaddie, he soothes, breathing slowly, smoothing down her hair. “Is it pain?” She nods, so he picks her up, squeezes Harry’s shoulder once, and rushes off. He doesn’t even look at Hermione.
When he comes back downstairs, Maddie’s hair is still wet from her bath, and she is wrapped up in her silk pyjamas and woollen socks again. Harry and Hermione have cleared away the leftovers and done the dishes, and Harry is stirring in a pot on the fire. The kitchen smells like cardamom and pistachio and has never felt so much like home.
“I’m making kheer.” Harry grins at Maddie and Severus. “I don’t think you have saffron but when I saw the bag of pistachios, I wanted to make it very much.”
“Harry makes the best kheer.” Hermione nods from her seat at the kitchen table. “Are you feeling better, Maddie?”
Maddie nods but hides her face in Severus’ neck again.
“Maddie has had a bath, and Harry, we put some of that cream you made yesterday on her sore spots. She informed me when we were upstairs that she wants her pudding now.”
The adults laugh, which makes Maddie blush but grin too, so Harry sets out bowls and portions out the kheer. Severus tries to put Maddie back on to her seat, but eventually settles with her on his lap when she whispers nono.
After pudding, Hermione and Harry go into the living room with Maddie and Severus cleans up and makes tea. When he walks out with a tray of tea, Hermione is standing behind the sofa, plaiting Maddie’s hair while Harry is reading The First Ten Years in one of the armchairs. Severus sets down the tray and goes to look at what Hermione is doing.
“What is that?”
“A French plait, do you want to learn?”
“If you would, yes please.”
When Maddie’s plait is done, Hermione sits on the sofa with a cup of tea. She hands Severus a hair tie and pulls out the jaw clip that is keeping her enormous bun up. “Practice on me, but please don’t try to comb it first.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes of course.”
Severus settles in behind Hermione to start plaiting, gently picking up small strands from next to her face first. Maddie is standing on the sofa next to Hermione, looking at her hair being plaited, and Harry is still reading.
“Harry, would you check if the instructions I wrote for the way to shorten the brewing time of armadillo bile based memory potions are clear? It’s on my desk, you can bring it home if you’d rather not do it now.”
“Of course, I’ll make notes in the margins.”
When Severus is almost done plaiting Hermione’s hair, Maddie walks over to Harry and tugs on his sleeve before whispering something in his ear. He smiles at her and nods, before disappearing into the kitchen. Maddie stands next to Hermione again and as Severus ties the hair tie around the end of the plait, she says: “I want to plait now.”
Hermione and Severus both look at her, but Hermione recovers first. “It’s polite to ask if someone would be alright with you touching their hair, unless they offer first.”
“Sev’rus, may I plait your hair?” Maddie asks.
Severus nods, and walks around the sofa.
“Why don’t you sit on the floor in front of the sofa, Severus,” Hermione suggests, indicating with her hand, “that way Maddie and I can easily reach.”
Maddie climbs onto her lap, and Hermione hands her the comb. They brush through Severus’ hair together, and he is grateful again that Harry made him wash his hair the day before. It feels strange, so he busies himself with trying to remember the last time someone brushed his hair. Or touched it at all, his mind supplies.
“Now Maddie, Severus has very thick hair, like me, but his hair is straight, not curly, so it will be a little easier. Do you know how to make a normal plait?” Maddie shakes no.
“Let’s practice with that first.” Hermione shows Maddie how to hold the three strands and cross them one by one. Maddie’s hands aren’t quite big enough, so Hermione helps her hold the strands. It’s starting to feel nice to have fingers gently scratching and tugging at his head and when Harry walks back in with a mug of hot chocolate for Maddie, Severus takes just a bit too long to school his expression back into neutrality rather than pure bliss. Harry sets down the mug on the side table and sits back down behind the desk.
“Do you want to try a plait like we have now?” Maddie nods, so Hermione uses her fingers to comb through Severus’ hair. “We will start at the top,” she explains, and they start working in the same way again.
“’Mione,” Harry starts when it’s been quiet for a bit, “will you tell us a story?” At the look on Severus’ face he continues, “Hermione always comes up with the best stories.”
“Oh Harry, I don’t make them up, they’re just Muggle fairy tales that I think might not have made their way into Wizarding lore.”
“I should like to hear a Muggle fairy tale,” Severus volunteers from the floor.
“Alright, do you know the story of Pinocchio?”
“Oh yes, that one is great!”
“Harry, if you know the story, keep working on my potions please.” Hermione and Harry laugh and when Harry says, “I shall, Professor,” Severus laughs, too.
Maddie falls asleep, curled up in the corner of the sofa, before Pinocchio even gets to Pleasure Island, so Hermione and Severus discuss mythology and folklore instead.
When Severus’ clock chimes at 20:30, he gets up from the armchair he moved to when his hair was done.
“I charmed it to chime for bedtime, I thought it might be useful to establish a routine for her,” he explains, as he picks Maddie up.
“That’s a very good idea, I think.” Hermione smiles, as she says goodnight to a groggy Maddie. Maddie and Harry wave at each other, and Severus carries her upstairs. As he is walking, he hears Hermione tell Harry: “I get it now, why you crave his presence so. He notices you.”
He rushes to close the bathroom door behind him before he hears any more. “Time to brush your teeth, dear.”
When Maddie has been tucked in and read to, Severus joins Hermione and Harry downstairs. Harry has found a bottle of butterbeer for Hermione somewhere and as Severus sits down, holds up a bottle of wine questioningly.
“You may, I believe I got that one from Lucius.”
“Oh, so it’s fancy.” Harry grins excitedly, pouring out glasses for himself and Severus.
When they’re all sitting and ready, Hermione pulls a pile of books with Muggle sticky notes sticking out on all sides out of her bag, setting it on the side table. She pulls some scrolls of parchment out too and sets them on top of the books.
“Harry told me you know nothing about her and that she won’t or can’t tell you anything but her own name. So, I’ve done a small amount of preliminary research in my own books, but I won’t be able to give you any definitive answers until I search for Maddie in the records. I’ll do that in the morning on Monday, but from what I can tell, it would be in your best interest if you write a letter as soon as possible declaring your intent to foster her until you find her family and adopt her if you don’t, or they are unfit to parent.”
Severus thinks for a moment, then nods. “Would you help me compose such a letter? We could do it now and send it by owl post immediately. If Athena is back from the Weasleys on time.”
“Athena?” Harry asks.
Severus hums, “I got her from Minerva.”
They laugh, and Hermione and Severus set to work. It doesn’t take Harry long to realize he’ll be more helpful if he continues working on the potions, so he does. When he finishes that, he reads more of The First Ten Years, until Severus and Hermione sign and seal the letter, and Severus goes off to find his owl.
When Severus steps back into the living room, he sees Hermione resolutely place one of her sticky notes in The First Ten Years, close the book, and smile sweetly at Harry.
“Might I use your facilities, Severus?”
“Of course, just through that door.” She is off with a nod and a smile.
“Do you regret letting me bring her over?” Harry sounds vaguely hopeful and just a little smug.
“Not at all, she was most helpful.”
“And the company wasn’t bad either,” Harry grins.
Severus only smiles, and Hermione joins them again.
“Harry, are you good to go?”
As they’re standing in the hallway, putting on their coats, Hermione looks at Severus and places a gently hand on his forearm.
“Thank you for hosting, you have a wonderful home. I will do whatever I can to help you with Maddie. If she tells you anything else, please let me know.”
“You are most welcome, thank you for your help.”
“Goodnight Severus,” Harry opens the door to let Hermione through, leans back to kiss Severus on his cheek, and Apparates Hermione away.
Severus closes the door after staring at the spot in his front garden the two disappeared from for entirely too long, and sighs deeply. Is this what having friends is like? he muses to himself, as he clears away the glasses and vanishes the empty bottles. He picks up the books Hermione left behind and carries them all up the stairs, determined to get some reading done before he falls asleep.
Maddie sleeps through the night. Severus doesn’t realize his hair is still plaited until after he’s turned off the lights. It makes him smile.
When doorbell rings at 9 am, Severus can only laugh. He opens the door, still smiling, and finds Harry beaming at him. He looks tired, his eyes red and his skin tight, but his clothes are clean and his hair is brushed, so Severus decides to ignore it.
“Do you not trust me to take care of a five-year-old without you for more than a few hours, Mr. Potter?” he drawls.
Harry laughs and steps inside. While taking off his coat, he makes eye contact with Severus and says: “I trust you more than anyone, Severus.”
Since there is nothing to say to that, Severus just nods.
“I’ll make tea then.” Harry grins, and walks through the living room, where Maddie is colouring on the floor, dressed in a plain t-shirt, her new jeans, and the cardigan. “Mornin’ Maddie!”
“Mornin’ Harry!” she answers, in the same tone.
As Harry is fixing the tea, Severus decides to get on with it.
“I noticed the page you marked yesterday.”
Harry nods, raking his fingers through his hair. “I figured it might be a good place to start. No use taking her to St Mungo’s until we find out what her full name is and if she’s had all her vaccinations, you’re working on the nutrition thing, and socially it’s all just going to take a while.”
“You’re right to mention it, it is not something that comes easily to me.” That makes Harry laugh.
“I don’t need to remind you that I was raised by Dursleys, do I? Being touch-starved was my entire childhood.”
“And you’ve seen my father.”
“I have. Was your mum no better?”
“Better, yes. Suited to be a mother? No. Affection is,” he pauses to think, “not something I am accustomed to.”
Harry nods and calls Maddie into the kitchen, setting a bowl with assorted fruits down in front of her.
“Do you mind if I fix myself something to eat?” he asks Severus, who makes a ‘go ahead’ gesture with his hand.
“I was hoping to avoid St Mungo’s, perhaps Poppy would be willing to see her.”
Harry nods. “Better to steer clear of all those people. You should owl her and ask her to come over; even if she ends up referring you to St Mungo’s, she can put you in touch with someone good.”
Severus thinks this over for a moment and scribbles out a note, handing it off to Athena.
“Maddie,” Severus starts, sitting down at the table, “if you ever want a hug or a cuddle, or just to sit in my lap, you may always ask.”
She stares at him for a second and then simply nods.
When Harry joins them with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast, Severus asks, “So Harry, what brings you here this morning?”
“Did I tell you I quit my job?”
“The Prophet did.”
“So you know. I wanted to go back to learning, so I’m starting university soon. They let me test out of some things because of my ‘extensive practical experience’, but my first classes are starting in a few weeks.”
“What will you be studying?”
“Defence and Potions.”
“Like me.” Severus smiles. “Are you here for academic help?”
“No, I’m here because soon I won’t have as much time.”
“And you’re spending one of your last free weekends off doing...” Severus pauses for a second, “what is it you’re doing?”
“Hanging out, Professor,” Harry smiles sweetly. When Severus doesn’t reply, he continues, “Nowhere I’d rather be – these past few days have been some of the best of my life.”
“That’s tragic, Potter,” Severus answers, but even Maddie can hear he’s glad.
“Would you like a chance to try and convince me the same isn’t true for you?”
Severus glares and changes the topic. “I was thinking of taking Maddie to the forest today, would you care to join us, Harry?”
“Neat side-stepping, Severus. If you’ll have me, I’d love to join. Maddie?”
“I like Harry.”
“That settles it,” Severus grins, “I believe we have all the ingredients required for a mushroom stew, apart from the mushrooms.”
“I’ve never picked mushrooms before,” Harry smiles back.
“If you take notes, it might help you with ingredient identification in your Potions classes,” Severus teases, which makes Harry grin happily at him. Something in Severus’ stomach feels odd and fluttery.
Severus takes Maddie upstairs so they can both get warm clothes, and soon they are off to the forest. It takes a while for Maddie to recover from the Apparition, so they sit on a bench to chat while she stops shaking. The forest is quiet, aside from a few people walking their dogs, so Harry doesn’t bother hiding his wand when he transfigures a pinecone into a bag. The bag still looks rather like a pinecone, so Harry also expands the insides, before giving it to Maddie.
“Is the pattern on purpose?” Severus asks, while inspecting the bag.
“You know, I’m not sure, but I do think it looks nice. If you see anything you like, you can keep it in the bag, Maddie.”
“Do you know what chestnuts look like?” Severus asks. She shakes her head. “Let’s find one.”
They walk along the trees until they find their first chestnuts and after Severus explains you can eat them, Maddie goes off to collect as many as possible.
“Clever thinking,” Harry laughs, picking up another pinecone and transfiguring it into a basket for the mushrooms.
“I will accept this as proof that you did not cheat on your transfiguration exam.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry grins. After about an hour of picking mushrooms and having Maddie alternate between clutching Severus’ hand as if he’s going to leave her behind and running around collecting chestnuts, they reach a clearing.
“Lunch time!” Harry cheers. He takes the picnic basket he packed out of his pocket and sets it down on the grass, growing it back to its original size with a flick of his wand. He folds out the picnic blanket and sets out a pitcher of pumpkin juice and a pile of sandwiches while Maddie and Severus stare. He casts a mild warming charm on the blanket and starts eating, prompting the others to join him and dig in, too.
“When did you do all this?”
“While you were upstairs.” Harry shrugs. He points at one of the piles of sandwiches. “Those are bacon.”
Severus stares at him.
“I know you don’t like bacon, so I made some without, and now I’m telling you which ones to avoid,” Harry explains. Severus nods and starts eating a tomato and cheese sandwich. When did Harry figure that out?
Maddie manages one sandwich only before falling asleep, curled up on the blanket around her pinecone purse. When he’s done eating, Harry yawns and stretches out next to her, which causes her to wriggle closer to his body heat. Smiling, he wraps an arm around her. Severus crosses his legs and looks at them fondly.
Harry looks up at him as if he’s expecting Severus to say something, so Severus whispers.
“I’m afraid I have a bit of a confession to make.”
“Is that so?” Harry asks, his tone light.
“I overheard something Hermione told you yesterday.”
“That I crave your presence?”
“And what she said after.”
“Are you telling me to clear your conscience or because you’re curious?” Harry chuckles, careful not to wake Maddie.
Severus feels his cheeks heat a little as he looks down at Harry. “Not the former, I assure you.”
“I assume you understand what she meant with me craving your presence, since I’ve been quite the barnacle these last few days.”
Severus hums as if he isn’t paying very close attention to every word.
“You know how Hermione is like, top three smartest people you’ve ever met, and Ron is...”
“You could say that,” Harry chuckles. “He’s grown up now, of course, but Hermione gets asked a lot why she’s with him, since he’s not smart or rich or even interested in being either.”
Severus stares at Harry now, taking in everything from the way the light plays on his face, to how his arm is wrapped protectively around Maddie. His chest rises and falls as he breathes, and Severus imagines Maddie must be able to feel the vibrations as he speaks.
“She always says that it’s because he notices her. He was always aware of where she was, what she was up to, how she was doing. He cares for her and takes care of her and he saw her before anyone else did.”
Severus leans back to think on the information. So Harry adds, “It’s high praise, coming from her.”
They’re quiet for a while, both watching Maddie sleep. High praise indeed, Severus thinks, infatuated like a Weasley.
“Why do you live in a Muggle house?”
“Many reasons. They were cheaper when I was buying, this forest is very near and has many interesting potential potions ingredients but no Wizarding towns, wizards aren’t very fond of Death Eaters these days, I happen to like electric light and shower heads. Do I continue?”
“No, I was just wondering.” Harry’s tone is earnest. “Thank you for telling me.”
“The house came with the greenhouse,” Severus volunteers after a minute. “That’s what sold me on it.”
“It’s a lovely house, I love what you’ve done with it. I love the rug you have in the living room.”
“You haven’t been upstairs yet, but I have another one like it there. I keep the piano on it to stop the noise a bit.” Harry gasps as he stares at Severus.
“Now how many people know that about you?”
“That I have a rug upstairs? Or that I play the piano?”
“The piano of course,” Harry stumbles.
“No one, I think, unless Maddie has seen it.”
Harry puts his hand on Severus’ knee to give it a little squeeze, and then, oddly, leaves it there. They stare at the forest together, long and quiet enough that a squirrel dares show itself, and later a family of rabbits. All Severus can think about is the spot of warmth on his knee.
A little squeeze draws his attention back to the moment. “Tell me something that you wrote on my list?”
Severus thinks for a bit. “You are really awful at defending yourself. You only ever counter about a third of my hexes.”
Surprisingly, Harry giggles. “Is that hexes that other people know too, or only the ones you made up?”
Severus doesn’t know the answer to that, so leans back and breathes in the clean forest air. Harry starts absent-mindedly stroking his thumb back and forth, causing Severus’ whole leg to feel tingly.
“Did your parents teach you about chestnuts and mushrooms?”
Severus nods, looking around. “My mother took me sometimes, when she was in a good mood, though never here. This is a national park so it’s quite large, I grew up a little further south, near a smaller forest.”
“Did my mum like it?”
“Mmm,” Severus hums, nodding.
“No one ever talks about her, they only want to talk about my dad.”
Severus nods again. “She was wonderful, and she saw right through me until even she got tired of the general barbiness, as you put it.”
“Do you think she could’ve gotten past being called a Mudblood, eventually?”
“Enough.” Severus stands, brushing the crumbs off his coat. The tightness in his chest is painful now. He picks Maddie up and when Harry gets up too, he flicks his wand to pack up the picnic basket again. They continue walking. Maddie stays nestled in his arms for a bit until she wakes up fully and wants to be put down again. As Maddie runs around looking at pretty leaves and mushrooms she’s been taught not to touch, Harry grabs Severus hand.
“I try not to think about it,” Severus whispers, and Harry squeezes his hand in response.
They walk a bit further, until the paths start getting busier. Maddie sidles close to Severus and grabs his hand firmly. Sensing her disquiet, Harry decides to lighten the mood by casting a wordless, wandless, tickling hex at Severus. He counters it after no more than a second, but Maddie is thoroughly distracted from her mood by the noises Severus was making. Severus counters with a whispered Tarantallegra, and Maddie laughs as Harry dances. Harry shakes off the dancing and gets back with a soft Anteoculatia which stops Severus dead in his tracks. Maddie clasps a hand over her mouth as she laughs at Severus’ antlers and Harry looks proud until he tries to walk again and finds himself stuck to the forest ground. The abrupt movement makes him fall backwards and land on his butt. While he is recovering, leeks start growing from his ears, which makes Maddie laugh so hard she starts wheezing. Harry is howling with laughter now too, and Severus just looks smug.
“I surrender!” Harry laughs, so Severus banishes the leeks with a wave of his hand. When they’ve all calmed down a little, Severus holds out his hand to help Harry up, and they continue on the path.
As they get closer to a small settlement, Severus starts trying to pull his hand out of Harry’s.
“Harry,” he hisses.
Severus wriggles his fingers. “Let go.”
“They’ll think we’re...”
“What? A family?” Harry stops walking and stares at him. “It’s not their opinions that matter to me, Severus; I will only let go if it’s what you prefer.”
Severus bites his lip but shakes his head. They walk a bit further before they find what he was looking for: a small information centre.
“There’s some magic in this forest, and a Muggle wrote a book about it,” Severus whispers to Maddie and Harry.
Harry grins, and lets himself be steered into the information centre, where Severus buys a book called, The Gruffalo. Harry peeks over his shoulder.
“It doesn’t look much like a grindylow,” he comments, “more like a baby sasquatch.”
“That’s what I always thought,” Severus laughs, “but the story is rather charming from what I remember.”
As they walk away from the clutter of houses, Severus pick up a very grumpy Maddie, who promptly falls asleep on his shoulder. When Harry grabs his hand again, he stares at Harry in surprise before recovering with a shake of his head.
“Harry, you should know that I...” he starts, swallows, then continues, “that I have never been attracted to women.”
“Wait.” Harry stops walking, but doesn’t let go of his hand. He tilts his head as he looks at Severus.
“Did you think that would make me uncomfortable?” Severus shakes his head.
“What is that tone for, then? You know I’m...” Harry blinks. “Do you know?”
Harry takes a deep breath. “I think it’s time I see that list now.”
Severus nods and dares to squeeze Harry’s hand gently. “Let’s go home.”
They hide behind some trees and Severus Apparates them into the front yard. Maddie wakes up from the Apparition and is extra grumpy until Severus gives her the colouring book and promises her chocolate milk. Harry gets pushed into an armchair and handed one of the scrolls that are now truly threatening to take over Severus’ desk, and Severus stalks into the kitchen. It takes Harry a few minutes, but when Severus returns with Maddie’s hot chocolate, Harry pushes him back to the kitchen. He closes the door carefully as Severus gets back to cleaning the mushrooms they picked.
Harry sits down heavily on one of the kitchen chairs, and sighs, “Severus this isn’t a list, this is a love letter.”
“It is, isn’t it.” Severus keeps his back turned to Harry and viciously chops mushrooms. “I apologise if I’ve made you uncomfortable.”
“Let’s start at the top.”
“Let’s not,” Severus pleads, setting down his knife and grasping onto the countertop, his head hanging down.
Harry moves to stand behind Severus and gently places a hand on his lower back.
“Alright, we won’t. When did I tell you about Gringotts?”
“I tried to make you break in again.”
Harry snickers at this, and Severus tries to laugh too, but it sounds wet and sob-like.
“Severus,” Harry whispers as he leans his forehead down on Severus’ back, between his shoulder blades, “you have months on me, let me get to know you.”
Severus nods, and Harry can feel it through his back. He wraps his arms around Severus’ waist. They stand together quietly for a few deep breaths. Severus slowly releases his death grip on the countertop, and eventually stops shaking.
“Can I ask you one more thing?” Another nod.
“What did you mean with the bait thing?”
Severus hums for a second to clear his throat. His voice isn’t exactly steady when he answers, but it’ll do. “I know you got to know the downside of being famous very early on, so I used to bait you at school. It still works, as does mentioning your parents. I realized, however, that I feel the need to provoke anger most when you’ve asked something I don’t want to answer, but I also learned that, no matter how awful the method I use to deflect your question, you forgive me the instant I tell you the truth.”
“Gryffindor curiosity?” Harry’s voice sounds as though he’s smiling. Severus nods one last time, then shoos Harry out of the kitchen so he can compose himself. When he finishes cleaning the mushroom and carving x’s into the edible things Maddie collected, he walks into the living room with a tray of tea and a bowl of chestnuts. Maddie is sitting on the sofa, her legs dangling, and Harry is sitting in front of her on the floor, holding one of her feet.
“What is happening?”
“I’m painting her toenails,” Harry mumbles, clearly focused on his task. “I brought some varnish from home this morning.”
“You have nail varnish at home?”
“Yes.” Harry looks honestly surprised. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know.”
“I did not know,” Severus says, sitting down next to Maddie, admiring her sparkly pink fingernails as she shows them off.
Harry shakes his head. “All of 8th year, all of us painted our toenails. How did you not notice?”
“I was recovering from a rather intense encounter with a snake,” Severus counters.
“Calls himself a spy,” Harry mumbles, shaking his head. “We all had to live in that 8th year dorm right, and so when we were hanging out in the common room, we would paint each other’s nails. It doesn’t require thinking like chess does, so you can talk while you do it, and it definitely helped us bond. I got pretty good at lions, but Maddie’s toes are a bit small for that.”
“I will transfigure you into a snake before I let you paint lions on her nails,” Severus says archly, leaning back and taking a sip of his tea.
“Yes, yes, house spirit,” Harry laughs, finishing Maddie’s toes and blowing on them until she’s squirming and laughing. “Shall I do yours now? I brought black and dark green for you.”
“Dark green,” Maddie decides resolutely, so Severus doesn’t bother arguing and bends down to take off his boots and socks instead. She scrambles onto the sofa, causing Harry to cast a quick drying spell before she scratches the varnish.
“May I sit in your lap?” she asks politely, standing next to Severus on the sofa. He nods, and she makes herself comfortable, curled up in his arms. Harry carefully and gently runs something foul-smelling over Severus’ nails, before shaking a bottle of a beautiful deep green a few times. He picks up Severus left foot first, and starts painting the nails. The gentle hold on his foot makes something in his stomach feel very tight. Every now and then, Harry’s thumb sweeps across lightly, and his skin feels on fire.
“Maddie asked me this morning if I know how the story of the wooden boy ends, but I had to admit I don’t. Do you?”
“I do. Would you like to hear it, Maddie?” She nods eagerly.
“Where did we leave off, then?”
“His nose gets big when he lies,” she mumbles, then glances at Severus, narrowing her eyes. Harry giggles helplessly at the look on her face.
“It doesn’t work that way in other people, only in Pinocchio,” he starts, and continues the story as he heard it from Hermione.
When he has finished all ten toes, Severus looks at them, a little disappointed at the colour. As if he read his mind, Harry interrupts his story to say, “I’ll do another layer now, so the colour will come out better.”
When the story of Pinocchio is done, and Severus’ toenails are a nice Slytherin green. Harry catches him staring and says, “Actually bought that colour for Malfoy, only used it once before he started transfiguring random things into nail varnish. Said he had to get the colour just right.”
Severus laughs, and herds everyone into the kitchen. While they’re eating, Harry suddenly looks up.
“Why don’t you know Pinocchio?”
“The movie came out in like 1940; even if you didn’t have a TV, surely you must’ve heard of it.”
“Heard of it, yes, but never actually read the full story or saw the movie.”
“I’ll ask Hermione about it, I’m sure she has all the Disney movies on VHS. Do you have a TV now?”
When Severus shakes his head, Harry shrugs. “I’ll give you mine, not like I ever use it.”
“I don’t need charity,” Severus says, sharper than he intended to.
“I know,” Harry smiles, “I’ll want it back at some point, but we can use it to watch Disney movies with Maddie here.” Then the brat pats his hand, and Severus doesn’t even mind.
After dinner and dishes, Harry goes to check over the potions recipes Severus wrote up, while Severus reads The First Ten Years. Maddie sits on the sofa with Mr. Collins and pretends to read The Gruffalo, trailing her fingers along the pictures.
As Maddie starts getting antsy, Harry stands up and stretches. “I’m bored. Maddie, shall I read a bit to you?”
She nods eagerly and races upstairs to get a book. Severus laughs at her speed. “Her feet are healing well.”
When Maddie comes back down, she is holding Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“Ah,” Harry says, as he sees her choice, “the book about chocolate, very good.”
They settle down onto the sofa together under a throw, and Harry starts reading to her. The sound and sight distract Severus from Chapter 5, ‘Nutrition for the growing child’, so he conjures a pan for the fire and pours the chestnuts into it. He kneels in front of the fireplace, holding the pan between the flames and shuffling it to move the chestnuts around. Maddie comes to check out what he’s doing, and stands next to him with a hand on his shoulder as he moves the pan around and floats the chestnuts that are getting too crispy into the bowl on the floor. He can feel Harry’s eyes on him. When he’s about halfway through, he summons another bowl and starts floating the chestnuts at risk of burning in there instead. When he’s done, he vanishes the pan and hands the first bowl over to Maddie.
“Be very careful with those, they’re hot. If you go sit with Harry, he’ll help you while he continues the story.” She nods solemnly and holds the bowl with both hands as she walks back to the sofa. Harry holds the bowl for her as she crawls into his lap again. He levitates the book in front of them so he can keep reading while using both hands to peel chestnuts, passing bits to Maddie to nibble on as he goes. It doesn’t take long for her to grow drowsy, so Harry closes the book and puts it down on the side table while gently stroking her back as she sleeps and finishing the chestnuts by himself. Severus doesn’t notice he’s being stared at until his clock chimes and he meets Harry’s gaze.
Severus picks up Maddie, who whines a little at being disturbed, and carries her up the stairs. She whines about having to take a bath, then whines about wanting to read more Winnie the Pooh even though they did two chapters already, and finally falls asleep while grumpily petting Mr. Collins. When Severus comes back down, Harry is leaning back against an armrest on the sofa, making notes on one of his potions.
“She is in such a mood today,” Severus groans, rubbing his temples to stave off the headache. “Grumpy children, always grumpy children.”
“Poor Severus,” Harry grins. Then, looking at the ceiling, recites: “So concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.”
“Poetry, Potter?” Severus drawls, but grins at Harry.
“Sit.” Harry gestures at his feet, so Severus joins him on the sofa. “What are these potions for?”
“I went to Diagon Alley to buy a store, but since I have changed my mind, I will need to find another way to earn money again.”
“How have you been doing that since you left Hogwarts?” Harry asks, not looking up from the parchment he’s scratching on.
“I rewrote all the textbooks for Potions and Defence, I publish potions techniques and patent potions ideas and I do some freelance brewing. My main source of income is royalties and very rich people that are embarrassed about needing fertility potions.”
“Can’t have been much work to rewrite the Potions books,” Harry grins.
“If you’re referring to my sixth-year text, that was hardly fit for publication,” Severus tosses his hair over his shoulder, “but I did spend a lot of time while I was a teacher considering improvements to the curriculum. I’m lucky Minerva agreed with most of my suggestions.”
Harry laughs and scribbles a few more things down, before sending the scroll back to the desk with a blasé flick of his wrist. They stare at each other for a moment, while Harry wriggles his toes closer and under Severus’ thigh. The movement sends tingles all through Severus and he struggles to keep his breathing even.
Severus leans back into the sofa, staring at his hands. “What do you want from me?” he whispers finally.
Harry thinks for a long moment, his eyes sharp and intelligent. “I’m going to unpack that question into two others, if you don’t mind.”
He doesn’t wait for a response before continuing, “First, what do I want. I want to be liked, rather desperately for someone who is supposed to be a mature and centred adult. I want a career that fulfils me. I want to be loved, both romantically and as a friend. I want a family, as is the way of orphans, a family that isn’t Ron’s or Petunia’s, but mine.”
He looks at Severus until Severus looks back and nods. “Second part, what can you give me?”
He leans over to grab Severus’ hand, squeezing it once. “I want what you want to give, Severus, nothing more. A date, maybe. If you would like that too, some kissing. If you prefer what we have now, me coming over and hanging out with Maddie and you, I would love to count you among my friends.”
“I’m not a nice person, Harry.”
“I know, but you’re brave and you’re good. You’re smart, and funny, and gorgeous.” Severus jerks his hand back.
“I don’t need nice, I need family. Loyalty,” Harry finishes.
Severus stands up to start pacing. The light of the fireplace reflects harshly on his face. Suddenly he stops, glaring at Harry.
“I’m too old for flattery, I don’t need your false reassurance.”
When Harry opens his mouth to reply, he holds up his hand. “I might have a child now.”
“What do you want, Severus?”
Severus starts pacing again. What does he want? He doesn’t look at Harry because he knows it will distract him. He knows what the firelight does to Harry’s skin, and hair, and eyes. How it lights up his features. How he’s curled up under a throw and looks good enough to eat. Good enough to lock up and keep safe and never let him out of his sight.
“I couldn’t begin to tell you. Thinking about what I want and what I hope for are things I don’t generally indulge in.” It’s the truth, but not all of it.
Harry gets up at that, untangling himself from the throw, and walks over to the whiteboard. He picks up one of the markers and scribbles ‘what I want’ under the header for ‘personal’.
“Make a list. Tell me what’s on it if you want, hide it or burn it if you prefer, but make a list.”
Severus stares at him and nods. He leans back against the desk and looks into the fire.
“I can’t help but think I don’t deserve any of this,” he whispers, waving his hand around.
“I should have called it,” Harry quotes. “Something you somehow don't deserve.”
He steps closer. “This is your home, Severus, you get to fill it with what you love.”
With Harry so close to the fire, it stands out how terribly tired he looks, and Severus remembers how his eyes looked when he arrived. How he looked spread out on the picnic blanket in the forest. He doesn’t want to talk about home or love. He doesn’t just want to fill his home with what he loves, he wants to keep it there, safe and pretty. Like a golden cage.
“Nightmares?” he asks simply, tilting his head.
Harry stares at him. “You do notice me.” He blinks, then attempts to joke: “Nightmares and no one to play late night Quidditch with.”
“Now that I did hear of, the midnight matches during your 8th year. Were they specifically against nightmares?”
Harry nods. “We all had them, after.”
“Playing the piano helps me, it’s why it has a whole room.”
“Can I,” Harry starts, then looks up to meet Severus’ eyes, “can I hear you play?”
Severus nods and turns on his heels, muttering some cleaning spells as he swoops out of the room and up the stairs. Harry follows him up the stairs and into the small room that overlooks the street. When he closes the door, Severus whispers a silencing spell.
“Is that how you developed Muffliato?”
“It is; I found a piano in one of the empty classrooms once and played around with silencing spells so I could play it and not get caught. The one I used now just decreases the volume to those outside this room. I want Maddie to be able to find us, but not wake up from the noise.”
“Is this the same piano?”
“No, I left that one at Hogwarts; this one I bought when I came into my Prince inheritance. I kept it at Spinner’s End until I moved here.”
Harry conjures a comfortable chair and curls up, watching Severus run his hands over the piano lovingly, opening the lid before sitting down and opening the fallboard. He rests his hands for a moment, before straightening his back and starting to play. From where he’s sitting, Harry can only see one of Severus’ hands, and a part of his face, but he can tell Severus is completely absorbed in the music. Severus starts with something that sounds vaguely familiar and very hopeful, then when that piece is done, switches to something slow and soft and gentle, which makes Harry snuggle into his chair and close his eyes. He wakes up when Severus gently brushes his knuckles across his cheekbones. Harry blinks twice before he looks Severus in the eyes.
“Don’t make me leave, please,” he begs, leaning his head into Severus’ hand. Severus opens his hand and lays his palm against the cheek. He nods.
“Maddie stays in what used to be the guest bedroom, I only have my own bed to offer.”
Harry grabs Severus’ hand and gently kisses the palm. “I would like to stay in your bed, with you, but if you would prefer not to, I can take the sofa or Apparate home.”
Severus nods again, and shows Harry where the bathroom is, before disappearing into his bedroom to change into his pyjamas. He sets out another pair for Harry on his bed, then goes to check on Maddie, who is fast asleep, curled around Mr. Collins. He gently closes the door when he leaves, then shows Harry to his bedroom before going to brush his teeth. When he comes back into the bedroom, Harry is standing in front of one of the bookcases, dressed in the pyjamas that are way too big for him. Harry turns around with a wide grin when he hears Severus enter.
“Of course, your bedroom is stuffed to the brim with books, too.”
“The stacks of books on the floor are from Maddie’s room; I had to make space on the shelves for her things.”
“I’m amused, that’s all. Where will you build your next shelves? Above the bathtub?”
Severus gasps in mock alarm, “They would get humid!”
They both chuckle and Severus pokes Harry in the stomach with his wand, making Harry laugh, and shrinks the pyjamas to fit. He makes them flicker through a few colours before settling on bright green, which Harry changes to deep red. Severus pushes Harry towards the bed. “I intend to extend all the shelves in the living room to the ceiling; that should do for now. After that, I was thinking of utilising the wall space around the staircase.”
“I don’t like sleeping by the wall,” Harry protests, but he climbs into the bed and shuffles in regardless.
“We both prefer to sleep close to the door.”
“What do you normally say to get your way?” Harry asks, as he hands his glasses over so Severus can put them on the nightstand.
“I tell you I’ve had PTSD as long as you’ve been alive,” Severus smiles. “It has worked every time so far.”
“Did I ever pull the ‘watched my parents die’ card?” Harry asks, settling under the covers.
“You did not, but you have asked me multiple times if you ever have,” Severus answers, which makes both of them laugh. Severus turns off the light and lies down on his side, facing Harry.
“Tell me a secret,” Harry whispers across the dark.
“It’s tradition; I’ll tell you one in return if you want?”
“That’s alright, I’ve gathered a few over the last one hundred or so Thursdays.”
Severus thinks for a moment, then whispers, “I’m very worried about Maddie. I feel possessive over her, I want to keep her, but what if she has family? What if I can’t?”
“Do you want advice or just to vent?”
“No, please, tell me what you think.”
“Treat it as a holiday. Set aside an amount of time you can afford and do no other work than writing up what you thought of at Diagon Alley, spend every day with her doing nice things, and if she has to go, you’ve both had a wonderful time together.”
“What if I harm her?”
“How could you harm her? You’re so careful with her.”
“I have no experience with such young children. I don’t know if she doesn’t want a bath because she’s a child, or if there is something I’m not aware of. I don’t know if she cries and gets grumpy because that is what children do, or if she is deeply traumatised in ways I cannot imagine.”
“I shudder at the thought of what things could exist that you can’t imagine,” Harry whispers. “And that is what you spend time with other people for. I know young children from spending time with Teddy and the Weasley babies. When she meets Victoire, you can talk to Bill and Fleur about her moods. Let your village help.”
Severus snorts, “That is your village, Harry.”
“Well, you’re welcome to consider my village yours. But fine, be that way,” Harry laughs, “ask Draco, doesn’t he have a kid now?”
“The day I take parenting advice from a Malfoy, Harry...” Severus laughs. They’re both quiet for a bit before Harry shuffles a little closer.
“What did you play, earlier?”
“First Chopin, then Brahms.”
“You play beautifully,” Harry sighs; it’s evident from his tone that he is smiling. “I’ll tell you a secret, too. Since Thursday night, I haven’t slept as well as I did just now while you were playing.”
It’s terrifying to have Harry Potter in his bed, to be vulnerable in ways he has never allowed himself to be before in front of this man, and it feels like flying. Exhilarating, awful, breathtaking.
“I played Brahms four times just to give you a few more minutes of sleep.”
“Two secrets in one night, I’m a lucky man.”
Severus wakes up at 6 am when Maddie stands next to his bed and taps him gently on his head.
“Good morning, dear,” he smiles. “Let’s go downstairs before we wake Harry.”
He sets Maddie up with breakfast and makes batter for pancakes, setting it in the fridge so it’ll be ready for when Harry wakes up. He practices colours and shapes with Maddie by laying out a large stretch of parchment on the floor and drawing different things with her. By the time it’s 8, they’re both bored with colouring, and Harry has slept nine hours, so Severus and Maddie go upstairs together. He peeks in to find Harry still fast asleep and leaves the door open, before tiptoeing with a giggling Maddie to the room with the piano. He sits down on the stool and she climbs into his lap, and he starts playing Beatles songs. It’s a little hard to operate the pedals with Maddie on his lap but they’re both having such a good time, they don’t even notice when Harry shows up in the doorway and smiles at the sight. All three of them are now wearing Severus’ pyjamas: purple, red and black. Severus plays and Maddie hums and laughs until they get to ‘Hey Jude’, and Harry starts singing along. He sounds rough and sleepy, but he knows all the words and his voice only cracks twice, which has the added benefit of making Maddie and Severus laugh. When the song is over, Harry claps.
“A very appropriate song to end with, I think,” he says, kissing Severus on the cheek and Maddie on her hair. “Are you ready for breakfast yet?”
“Maddie ate two hours ago, but I’ve been waiting for you.”
“That probably means Maddie could eat again,” Harry says, then laughs as Maddie smiles and nods at him. He picks her up and swings her around once before walking downstairs with her clinging to him tightly. Harry sets Maddie down on her seat and goes to make tea while Severus starts on the pancakes. While they wait for the pancakes to be done, Harry pours tea and cleans fruit for Maddie.
“What are the plans for today?”
“Nothing as of yet, did you have something in mind?”
“Well, I was thinking of picking up the TV, and owling Hermione to ask for the videos. She’ll probably want to come by tonight to tell us what she found out. We could go into town and see if there’s an arts and crafts store to buy some more colouring material for Maddie.”
“The TV is at Grimmauld place?” Severus asks, setting out plates filled with pancakes for himself and Harry, and giving Maddie one, too.
“It is; I know you haven’t been back but I cleaned it up a lot. I don’t live there alone, either, I rent out rooms.”
“Six bedrooms was too many for you?” Severus drawls, stabbing his pancake a little forcefully.
“Yes,” Harry laughs. “Hermione and Ron lived with me until they bought the cottage, and while we were training, some other recruits needed rooms too. We’re eight people living there right now, but they’ll all be away if we decide to go.”
Severus thinks for a second longer, then nods. “We should be practicing with crowds, anyway.”
After Harry and Severus each have a quick shower, they are on their way. London is quieting down after the morning rush as they walk from the alley they Apparated into to Grimmauld place. Severus holds Maddie’s hand firmly and Harry wraps his arm around Severus’ waist when they get closer.
“My home is at number 12, Grimmauld Place,” Harry tells Maddie. As the house pops out from between 11 and 13, Maddie gasps. Harry smiles at her and fishes out his keys, swinging the door open to let Severus and Maddie through. He leads them upstairs to Sirius’ old bedroom, pointing out all the things that have changed left and right. He sees Severus stare longingly at the library door, so when Maddie bounces onto his bed, he winks at Severus.
“Just go, and you may borrow any you like, just stuff them in a bag.” Severus nods eagerly and leaves the room again. “Oh, wait.” Harry stands in the door opening; Severus looks at him from down the hall. “I don’t have any clever charms on the ones that bite.”
Severus laughs. “I will be most careful,” he promises.
Harry hands Maddie a Quidditch magazine, which she leafs through eagerly, staring at the pictures of Quidditch players zooming past. When he has shrunk the TV, he grabs some clean clothes and goes to the bathroom to change. Back in his room, Maddie is still staring at the Quidditch magazine.
“I want to go find Severus, will you come with? You may keep the magazine.” Maddie looks up at him and nods, following him down the stairs.
“You know,” Harry tells her as they are walking to the library, “I know the one with red hair, in yellow clothes.”
Maddie blinks at him. “Really?”
Harry nods solemnly. “Her name is Ginny and she is my friend.”
Maddie’s full attention is on Harry now. “I even kissed her a few times,” Harry confides in her, then laughs as Maddie pulls a face.
When they arrive at the library, Maddie curls up in one of the chairs with the magazine, while Harry goes to stand next to Severus, who is staring at something very old and very dusty. He wraps an arm around Severus’ waist and leans his head against his shoulder.
“Thank you for letting me stay over, I really needed the sleep.”
“You’re very welcome, Harry.”
“Did you sleep ok?”
“Could I,” Harry hides his face, “stay over again sometime?”
“Absolutely, go pack your toothbrush,” Severus mumbles absentmindedly. Harry stiffens, which makes Severus realise what he just said. “Unless you have plans, of course,” he adds, rushing.
After a deep breath in and out he adds, “I simply meant to say, anytime.”
Harry breathes out slowly, obviously relieved. “Thank you, it’s been awful lately.”
“Holiday nightmares, they happen when you’re not exhausted enough.” Severus nods. “I know them well.”
Harry plants a kiss on Severus’ shoulder and leans his head back down.
“You’re very good at this,” Severus begins.
“Begging someone to hold me while I sleep so I don’t wake up screaming?” Harry laughs; it’s not a happy sound.
“I meant the touching.”
“Oh, Hermione and Ron helped me with that, and you’ve probably noticed I came up with some tricks to do more touching.”
“The nail varnish?”
“Yeah, and reading to kids, they always want to sit in your lap.”
Severus nods, then indicates a pile of books on the table. “Would you let me borrow these?”
“Of course, I’ll just grab a bag and my things upstairs, and then we can go.”
When they’re done collecting everything they need from Grimmauld place and are walking down to leave, Kreacher appears.
“Master Harry,” he says, with a deep bow, eyeing Severus and Maddie suspiciously.
“Hello, Kreacher, let us get off the stairs and I’ll introduce you.” Kreacher pops away again and is standing in the hallway when they come down.
“Kreacher, you remember Severus Snape.” Kreacher offers a little head bob. “And this is Maddie.” Maddie hides behind Severus’ legs so Kreacher bobs his head again.
“You are to treat them as you do Ron and Hermione.”
“Yes, Master Harry.” Kreacher hands Harry a note and pops away again.
“He’s really getting old now, isn’t he?” Severus asks, feeling oddly worried for the wellbeing of the world’s worst house-elf.
“He is, and he kind of stopped talking after I blasted Walburga off the wall.”
Severus laughs as Harry opens the note, reads it, and hands it off to Severus.
“She must’ve Flooed it here.”
“Can you call her office?” Severus asks after reading the note.
Severus steps into the living room, which he notices has become very nice indeed, with some new wallpaper and re-covered furniture. It’s the first time Severus hasn’t been afraid to be bitten by anything in the house. He grabs a handful of powder from the mantelpiece, throws it in the fire, and kneels down after saying, “Hermione Granger-Weasley’s office.”
It only takes a minute or so, during which Harry shoves things from around the living room into his bag. As Severus stands up and brushes off his clothes, he states curtly, “She will meet us at the house for lunch, I propose we do our shopping now,” then dashes out of the room.
Harry helps Maddie back into her coat, then puts on his own, and when they get outside, they each take one of Severus’ hands.
Severus smiles gratefully at both of them, and Harry leads them to the art store near Grimmauld place. Maddie is completely overwhelmed with the choice, so Severus picks her up and shows her around while Harry talks to the clerk about supplies that are appropriate for a five-year-old.
When Harry has a neat little pile of paint, pencils, paper, and glitter, as well as child-friendly scissors and some glue, Severus adds some whiteboard markers and felt-tipped pens to the pile, and Harry pays.
Back at the house, Harry and Maddie go upstairs to put away her new art supplies, and Severus sits down heavily at his desk, trying to concentrate on one of the books he got from the Black library. Harry and Maddie join him after a bit and Harry pats the sofa to make it deeper, then settles next to Severus, with Maddie on his lap.
“What shall I read for you, Maddie?”
Maddie thinks for a bit, before answering: “Charlie, please.”
“Of course,” Harry smiles, “what happened to Charlie before we stopped reading?”
“He bought chocolate.”
Harry summons the book, but doesn’t open it yet. “What else do you remember?”
“His birthday, and the bed with four people.”
“Very good,” Harry praises her, and he opens the book where it’s marked. Severus closes his book and puts it away, leaning into Harry, and Harry begins reading.
Hermione finds them like that when she steps out of the Floo, Severus leaning on Harry’s shoulder, Maddie curled up in his lap, Harry telling them about the golden ticket. She smiles and goes straight to the kitchen, coming out a few minutes later with a tray of tea and stacks of sandwiches.
“I only have an hour for lunch,” she explains, tapping the tray to grow legs and setting it in front of the sofa. She grabs a chair and moves it close enough so she can pour everyone a cup of tea. “So I’ll get right into it. I went through the known homeless people record at the Ministry and found a Nanda Collins, who was admitted three weeks ago to St Mungo’s. She’s written down as having a cat for a familiar.”
“That would explain a lot,” Severus mumbles around his sandwich. “Do you have any pictures of Ms Collins?”
“Not yet, but I’ve requested her files, so I should have them by tonight.”
“Do we think Ms Collins is her mother?” Harry asks.
“No. Ms Collins was described as an elderly witch, plus the records would have shown if she’d had a child for years.” Hermione passes the plate of sandwiches around again.
“The only homeless person with a child on record was known as Violet; she was recorded a few months ago, but then not seen again.” Hermione swallows. “And this is where it gets harder. A Violet Bullstrode died in St Mungo’s of starvation and pneumonia after being brought in unconscious from Diagon Alley two months ago. She never regained consciousness. I have requested her files, they should come in tomorrow.”
Severus lifts Maddie into his arms and whispers something to her. She stares at him and nods. He presses a kiss against her temples and eases his hold on her.
“Maddie, do you remember where you were when we met?”
“Yes, in the alley.”
“Did you live there?” She nods at him.
“Did you always live there?” She shakes her head, biting her lip.
“Where did you live before?”
“The other alley, with Ms Collins, and before that with Mum before they took her.”
“Why did you leave the alley you lived in with Ms Collins?”
“A man yelled at me.” Her lip starts to tremble.
“Thank you for telling us that, Maddie.” Severus wraps her up in his arms and she leans her head against his shoulder.
“What is Ms Collins in St Mungo’s for?” Harry asks softly, settling a hand on Severus’ lower back.
“Ah,” Hermione smiles sadly, “paranoia.”
“So Violet Bullstrode, is that Millicent’s sister?”
“Yes,” Severus cuts in.
“Wasn’t she...” Harry crinkles his nose.
“A third year when you graduated. Yes.”
“That makes her...”
“Barely out of Hogwarts when she had Maddie.”
“So,” Hermione says, setting down her empty cup, “I have to go back in about five minutes, but here is what I propose. Obviously feel free to tell me if you don’t like the plan.”
Harry and Severus nod, Maddie keeps playing with the collar of Severus’ Muggle shirt.
“Millicent is training to be an Unspeakable; I will pop by her office and invite her over for dinner tonight. We eat, get as much of the story as she knows from her, then decide what happens next. We can meet here or at the cottage, and if you don’t want me to be there I’ll just pass on the message for you. I can request a visit with Ms Collins so we can tell her Mr. Collins and Maddie are safe.”
Severus stares at Maddie and thinks for a long moment. Then he nods. “Apparate Ms Bullstrode over after work, tell her as much as you can before coming here, we will have dinner with the five of us. Ask if Ms Collins would be able to handle a visit from Maddie; it might help both of them to see each other.”
Harry smiles. “I’ll make lasagne.”
Hermione laughs at that. “We’ll be needing it, I think. I’ll see you all tonight, then.”
She disappears into the fire with a flare of green and a wave of her hand. When she’s gone, Severus slumps back. Maddie is clearly about to fall asleep, so Harry picks up Severus’ legs by the ankles and manoeuvers them so he’s stretched out along the sofa. Harry covers both of them with a throw, and Severus flicks his wand at the gramophone, which starts playing something low and sweet. Maddie snuggles closer with a deep sigh, already mostly asleep, and Harry smooths down Severus hair.
“Sleep, I’ll do the groceries for dinner. Is there anything you’re running low on?”
Severus sticks out his hand and a roll of parchment flies into it. He hands it off to Harry, who smiles fondly at them. Severus sticks out his hand again and a set of keys flies into it. He hands them off to Harry and falls asleep. Harry closes the curtains and grabs a bag, before quietly leaving the house. When he comes back, Severus and Maddie are still asleep, so he unpacks the groceries and makes an apple crumble. While the crumble is in the oven, he checks on Maddie and Severus, who are still sleeping on the sofa, so he prepares the lasagne and sets it in the fridge so it only needs to be put in the oven before they can eat. When he’s done with that, he decides they’ve slept enough, so he makes hot chocolate to wake them up with. Severus is awake immediately, and stretches out slowly as he sits up. Maddie takes a little longer, but loses her grogginess as she sees the mug of hot chocolate dance in front of her.
“Severus,” Harry asks, sitting down next to them on the sofa, “do you have any games here besides chess?”
Severus shakes his head and Harry smiles. “Thought so,” he says, and summons his bag.
He pulls out a stack of Muggle and Wizarding board games, piling them next to the sofa as Maddie watches him. “I think Maddie might be a real talent at Hungry Hippo, and I have one with a bell that I like, but Severus might prefer Connect 4.”
He takes out the clothes and toiletries he brought as well, and sends them upstairs with a flick of his wand. Then he takes out a large wooden box and hands it to Severus.
“It’s jars of slimy things, from the potions lab at Grimmauld place. I have no idea what any of them contain; all the regular stuff I actually use.”
Severus grins at Harry. “I will help you identify them.”
“You can keep them.” Harry smiles at him, and touches his arm gently.
Then, he grabs the box of Connect 4 and sets up the game. Severus teams up with Maddie and together they defeat Harry quickly, three times in a row. They play some of the other games too, with Harry as the undefeated champion of Go Fish. When it’s almost 5, Harry takes Maddie and the games upstairs, and sets her up in her room with her pens and pencils. When he comes back down, Severus is sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands.
Severus nods, and shivers as Harry leans into him. “Millicent knows you, this is good.”
Severus nods again, then stands as the doorbell rings. “I hope so.”
After greeting Hermione and Millicent at the door, he leads them into the living room and sits them on the sofa. Harry walks in with tea and greets the girls after setting down the tray. He takes the armchair Severus isn’t sitting in. They’re quiet for a moment, the atmosphere heavy and awkward, before Millicent sets down her cup with a clank.
“Professor Snape, Hermione has explained the situation a bit and I have many questions, but let me say first that if you’re as willing to adopt her as she says you are, I will help you do so.”
Severus folds in half, leaning his head on his knees, which makes Harry lean over and stroke his back gently. After a few deep breaths, Severus sits up again. “Thank you, Miss Bullstrode. I would like nothing more.”
“Millicent. We’re going to be family, I think.”
“Very well,” Severus smiles, “please call me Severus.”
“I hope you don’t think I’m abandoning her, but I am in no position to raise a child. We make 40-hour workdays at the department sometimes; I’ve had to get a second cat so mine wouldn’t be lonely.”
Harry takes a second longer than everyone else to process how a day could be 40 hours, but eventually he, too, remembers Unspeakables don’t follow the rules of physics.
“I wouldn’t dare to. That you are here now speaks of your concern for her. If it’s not too much to ask, could you tell us what you know of Violet’s fate?”
Millicent smiles sadly at him and sighs. “I was expecting that,” she says, “I honestly don’t know much besides she ran away after finishing school, and then nothing until I got called in to St Mungo’s.”
“Were your parents in touch with her at all?” Harry asks, and to his surprise this makes Millicent laugh.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “there’s no way you could’ve known, of course. My parents went to Azkaban after the war, so I became her legal guardian. She resented me for trying to parent her and she couldn’t reconcile what she knew of our parents with what everyone was saying about them. When they died during her last year at Hogwarts, it really hurt her.”
“Is that why she didn’t reach out to you even as she got ill?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Millicent sighs again, “but I think maybe she couldn’t find me. I sold the house, she had no idea I work at the Ministry, maybe she was waiting to find me or a friendly face.”
As she’s saying this, Maddie steps off the stairs, takes one look at Millicent, and bursts into tears. Severus is with her in two steps and wraps her up in his arms, walking around with her while singing in her ear until she calms down. Millicent stood up when she first saw Maddie and is now staring at them. Hermione slaps Harry on the arm and they go to the kitchen together. Hermione makes tea to collect herself while muttering about ‘stupid pregnancy hormones’ and Harry puts the lasagne in the oven. When the lasagne is set on a timer, Harry makes hot chocolate for Maddie. As Harry and Hermione step into the living room again, Maddie is sitting on Severus’ lap on the sofa, and Millicent is sitting next to them, looking very lost.
“Maddie,” Severus prompts, “I’m going to sit back now, you can stay on my lap, but please shake Millicent’s hand for me.”
Maddie nods and sniffles, shuffling around so she can see Millicent. Millicent holds out a hand to Maddie in greeting and Maddie shakes it shyly.
“Hello Maddie, my name is Millicent. I was your mother’s sister.”
Maddie nods, then sniffles again. “You sound like her but you don’t look like her.”
“You’re very right, your mum had curls and I am much taller. You look just like her.”
“Is she gone?” Maddie asks bravely. Millicent nods at her.
“Is Ms Collins gone too?” Maddie continues.
Hermione answers, “No, I found Ms Collins. She is very worried about you, and we can go see her tomorrow if you want.”
Maddie nods again and focuses her attention on the hot chocolate Harry hands her.
“My middle name is Madeleine,” Millicent sniffles. “Millicent Madeleine and Violet Victoria. Can’t believe it’s just the two of us now, little one.”
“Mum always calls me that,” Maddie tells her hot chocolate.
“I always called your mum that, too.”
When the oven beeps, Harry gets up to set the table, and Millicent turns to Severus. “If you adopt her, when you adopt her, give her your name. She doesn’t need to be a Bullstrode.”
“If that is what you wish,” Severus smiles, “then that is what we’ll do.”
They sit down at the table that Harry has grown to fit five for the occasion.
“Maybe it’s time for an actual dinner table in the living room,” Harry jokes.
“Where would I work, then?”
“We could build you a ‘leave dad alone’ shed in the garden?” Harry jokes, “I hear they’re all the rage.”
Severus nearly chokes on the bite he just took, and they all laugh as he coughs and Harry pats him on the back.
“Going to have to get used to that, are you?” Millicent laughs. “Being Auntie Millicent will also take some time to adjust to.”
Millicent gasps, and they all look up at her. “Oh, Merlin, when Draco finds out I’ve technically been a grandmother all this time, he is going to have a field day.”
Severus laughs, for the first time actually relaxed.
“I have been teasing him mercilessly for having a kid before he was done becoming a healer,” Millicent explains, but she’s smiling.
After dinner, they move back into the living room, where Hermione rummages around in her bag before pulling out a stack of movies.
“You remembered!” Harry smiles at Severus.
“Obviously,” he smiles back.
“Wonderful, thank you, Hermione.” Harry kisses her on the cheek and places the stack on top of the TV they pushed into the corner of the living room.
Maddie crawls onto Severus’ lap. “What do you need from me, Maddie?” he asks gently. She whispers in his ear. He negotiates for a minute with her about something, and when they seem to be in agreement, he addresses Hermione.
“She asked me to ask you if you would plait her hair again, but this time, with two plaits. She saw a girl in town today that had her hair done like that. I said it would be better if she would have her bath first, so we agreed she would take her bath now, if you would agree to plait her hair after.”
Hermione is smiling from ear to ear. “Of course, I would love to plait your hair again.”
Maddie smiles and runs upstairs; Severus follows her after shrugging at the laughing adults.
After the bath, which is much easier post-negotiations, Maddie sits on the sofa in her pyjamas and Hermione stands behind to plait her hair for her. Millicent and Maddie are chatting about their favourite birds, and Harry smiles at Severus as though he has never been happier in his life. They get up and walk to the kitchen together when Harry makes a little head movement that way.
“Help me serve pudding? I made apple crumble, and there’s ice cream for those who want it.”
Severus takes out five bowls and scoops ice cream into four of them, handing them off to Harry so he can add apple crumble.
“Thank you for bringing Hermione in on this, I don’t think anyone else would’ve been as helpful or kind.”
“Thank her,” Harry laughs, but he kisses Severus on the cheek, before grabbing two of the bowls and five spoons and leaving the kitchen.
They hand everyone their pudding and chat until it’s almost time for Maddie to go to bed.
When Hermione and Millicent are leaving, Severus tries to talk to Hermione about hiring her as his solicitor, but she only laughs. “You’re family now, Severus, be prepared to brew me something for my ankles if this pregnancy is anything like the last. I’ll come by this weekend with the paperwork.”
As Severus closes the door behind them, the clock chimes. Maddie knows what that means, so she gives Harry a hug and waits for Severus to walk upstairs with her. Severus and Harry smile at each other. When Maddie has brushed her teeth and is sitting in bed, ready for her story, Severus turns to her.
“Maddie?” She looks at him, so he continues, “Remember before I took Mr. Collins and you here, I told you that if you wanted to go back to the alley, you could?”
Maddie nods again.
“I would like for you to stay here, both of you, forever. What do you think?”
Maddie thinks for a long moment. “What about Harry?”
“We will have to ask Harry if he wants to stay too, but I would be ok with that. Would you
like for Harry to stay?”
Maddie nods. “I like Harry.”
“Me, too,” Severus sighs. “Do you understand what happened today?”
Maddie stares at him, so he rephrases. “Do you understand who Millicent is?”
“Yes, indeed. Millicent is your mum’s sister. Normally, that means you would live with her. Do you understand that?”
“I want to live here,” Maddie says, her eyes wide and scared.
“That’s good.” Severus smiles at her. “That is what I want, too, and your aunt Millicent thinks it is a good idea, as well. She will come visit you, but she will live in her house, and you will live here.”
Maddie nods solemnly, then pats the book Severus is holding. “Winnie the Pooh, please.”
Severus laughs and kisses her hair, and opens the book to where they left off. Maddie is asleep before they even reach the end of the page, but Severus reads a few more to be sure. He tucks her in, makes sure the lights are off but the door is a little open so Mr. Collins can come and go, and walks downstairs. He finds Harry behind his desk, marking his potions.
“Please tell me you actually enjoy doing that.”
“I do, honestly, I promise I’d be asking for something in return if I didn’t.”
Severus walks over and Harry wraps his arms around Severus’ waist, burying his face against his stomach. Severus stiffens for a second, then wraps his arms around Harry. They stand like that for a long moment, until Harry mumbles something.
“I said that went about as well as it could have,” Harry says, leaning back.
“I agree. Maddie asked if you’ll be staying here too, I think it might be time for us to have this conversation.”
“I can’t give up Grimmauld place,” Harry starts.
“Oh, I see,” Severus mumbles, untangling himself and moving around the room to clean up the cups and bowls that are still everywhere.
“No, I mean,” Harry sighs and gets up, “I physically cannot, Grimmauld place cannot be sold, only passed down to the next generation.”
Harry takes the cups from Severus’ hands and gently pushes him onto the sofa before curling up next to him and summoning a bottle of wine and some glasses.
“What do you think of when you summon these?”
“‘Gently wine, please’, why?”
“Because they’re behind a locked door, and the bottles you pick are always gifts from Lucius, even though most of the bottles in there are bottles I got from other people or bought myself.”
“You’re surprised your cupboard gives me your nicest bottles? That’s why I think ‘please’, it makes furniture like you.”
“While I’m not surprised that works at Grimmauld place, these cupboards came with the house, they are as Muggle as Petunia.”
“Interesting, maybe you can write your next paper on polite spells,” Harry says cheekily, as Severus begins to laugh. “Really, you should try it sometimes.”
That makes Severus laugh harder, so Harry pours them each a glass of wine.
“Lucius has good taste,” he comments after his first sip.
“Lucius has money.”
“That he does.” They both enjoy the wine and Harry shuffles closer to Severus.
“I make reasonable money renting out all those rooms, even if I do it below market value. I could rent out the room I’m staying in now, too.”
“Why do you do it below market value?”
“Well,” Harry thinks for a second, “most of them end up with me because they can’t afford to live anywhere else, so it seems rude to ask for more, especially since they’re also all friends or friends of friends.”
Severus nods, but Harry continues, “There’s also the cranky house-elf, senile furniture, and occasional doxy infestation.”
Severus laughs at that. “Hazard pay?”
“I suppose!” Harry says happily.
“So,” Severus says, taking a large sip of wine, “what of the other question?”
“I don’t know if you’re asking me to move in with you, or if you’re asking if I want to be in Maddie’s life, but the answer is yes.”
“Yes I want to live here, yes I want to be a parent to Maddie with you.”
Severus takes a deep, shuddering breath, and Harry places a hand on his knee. It almost hurts.
“The question remains,” Harry says earnestly, “what do you want?”
Severus hold up his hand, and a scroll sails into it.
“Now, when did you write that?” Harry laughs softly, holding up the scroll so he can read it.
“I woke up to use the bathroom around 2 in the morning and felt inspired.”
“No wonder you slept this afternoon, then.”
When Harry is done reading, he hands the scroll back to Severus, sits up on his knees and grabs Severus’ face firmly with both hands. Severus’ breath comes in ragged and raspy as he drops the scroll.
“Who’d have known you’re a romantic.” Harry says fondly, kissing a cheekbone. “Two love letters and we haven’t even kissed yet.” He kisses the other cheekbone. Severus whines softly, closing his eyes as the light becomes too much for his blown pupils.
“I will help you do all of that, in whatever way I can,” Harry promises, learning closer still, and he closes the gap between their lips.
He places a couple more pecks on Severus’ lips for good measure, then leans his forehead down against Severus’ collarbone. He sighs, then giggles.
“Never gonna know what I taste like if you don’t kiss me back,” he teases. That unfreezes Severus, who turns around, grabs Harry’s shoulders, pushes him back into the sofa, swings over his leg so he’s straddling Harry’s lap, and kisses him thoroughly. It doesn’t take long before they get interrupted.
Harry snorts, then wraps his arms tighter around Severus’ waist to keep him in place. “You deal with this,” he whispers against Severus’ lips.
“Maddie, are you alright?” Severus turns to look at her. She is standing at the bottom of the stairs, Mr. Collins sitting next to her.
“You weren’t in bed,” she accuses him, frowning deeply.
“It’s not bedtime for me yet,” Severus replies.
“You’re kissing,” she says, in the same accusatory tone.
“We are; time between children’s bedtime and grown-up bedtime is for kissing,” he tells her, getting up from Harry’s lap and walking over to kneel in front of her.
“Unless you’d rather we kiss during the day?” Harry chimes in.
Maddie wrinkles her face comically and whines, “Nooooooo!”
“Well then,” Severus shrugs, “I’ll put you back to bed, and Harry and I will do some more kissing.”
She seems satisfied enough by the prospect of another story, so he grabs her by the hand and starts walking up the stairs. When he looks over his shoulder, his eyes meet Harry’s, who, bizarrely, winks.
When Maddie has been placated (yes, Harry will be staying here, no, he will not stay in your room, yes, we can get you more books if you finish the ones we have here) and is asleep once more, Severus walks downstairs again. Harry is curled up on the sofa, snoring softly into the book he’s still holding. Severus is overwhelmed for a long moment with feelings of yes and perfect and what kind of spell would make him never leave again? He cleans up the living room, turns off the lights, sets the book onto the side table, and picks Harry up after casting a Feather-Light Charm on him. Cradled against his chest, Harry smacks his lips and mumbles something Severus can’t hear. As soon as he is set down on the bed, he wandlessly transfigures his clothes into a very good approximation of the silk pyjamas Severus let him wear. Severus touches his forehead gently, then takes off his glasses and sets them to the side.
A couple of minutes later, Severus joins Harry in the bedroom, having brushed his teeth and changed into his own pyjamas, only to find Harry sitting up and looking around wildly.
“I thought you’d left,” he complains.
Severus chuckles mildly. “And where would I have gone?”
“Dunno,” Harry mumbles. “Come here. Lie down.”
“No need to call me sir, Professor.” Harry smiles at him, looking stupidly gorgeous with his hair spread out on the pillow and his cheeks flushed from sleep.
Laughing, Severus slides in next to him, they tangle themselves together and end up with Severus’ arm around Harry, fingers interlaced on his chest, the other arm wrapped around his waist. With a sigh, Severus buries his face into Harry’s hair, then realizes that maybe that’s not allowed.
“What did you just unrelax for?”
“That’s not a word.”
“Answer the question.” Harry sounds both sleepy and stern somehow.
“Is this alright? Are you comfortable?”
“Yes, of course, I promise I’ll let you know if I’m not.”
Severus feels himself relax, and Harry turns to look at him. “Really? That’s what you were worried about?”
He nods, glad for the darkness.
“Well don’t be, this is the most comfortable I’ve been in years, and what you were doing to my hair made my whole skin tingle. In a good way.”
Severus nods. “Goodnight, Harry.”
“Goodnight, Severus.” Harry smiles at him and pecks the tip of his nose. “Sweet dreams.”
Severus wakes up from sleeping so deep he is seriously afraid he was in a coma again. But he is warm, and everything around him smells like home and Harry, and his neck doesn’t hurt at all. He is so disoriented that he lies on his back staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out what happened the last five years or so, what his name is, and what country he’s in. Then he hears banging noises coming from his kitchen and realizes at the same time that he’s alone in bed. None of this helps his mood. He stomps downstairs, for once not caring about his wrinkled pyjamas, his frizzy hair, his morning breath, and stops cold when he swings open the kitchen door.
Maddie is sitting at the kitchen table, very focused on her colouring book, and Harry is standing in deep red pyjamas by the stove. Both of them are humming along with the radio, which is playing something dumb and noisy. Harry is noisily cooking, Maddie is noisily scratching, but at least there’s coffee. Without a word, he stalks over to the French press and pours himself a mug. Harry swirls around and beams at him. Even his smile is somehow noisy.
“Good morning!” He leans over and kisses Severus firmly on the cheek.
“I’m making eggs; do you want yours scrambled?” He babbles on, “I also made bacon, but I did it in the little pan, and I did the mushrooms in butter, and I plucked your sage, hope you don’t mind.”
Maddie chimes in, “I’m making a very fast car.”
When Harry looks at Severus, his face does something odd, then settles on mild amusement.
“Maddie-dear, I think Severus is having a bit of a rough morning. Would you mind putting your colouring things away so we can have breakfast?”
“Sure!” She skips off, her plaits bouncing on her back.
Harry comes very close to Severus and for a moment Severus feels panicky and awful. Then a hand grabs his and squeezes gently, which helps a little.
“I was thinking of going to the zoo today after St Mungo’s, but perhaps you would rather get some work done?”
No matter how grateful Severus is for the out, he is still in an awful mood. “Now, what makes you think that I’d rather enjoy the peace and quiet of my home than have my senses assaulted by fetid animals and riotous children?”
Harry chuckles, which Severus privately thinks is a ridiculous response to what he just said. “Ok, Severus, sit down and eat something before you bite my head off, please.”
Grumbling, Severus does as he’s told and manages not to blow up all throughout breakfast. He gets Maddie dressed in jeans and boots and a shirt as Harry showers and dresses, then cleans up the kitchen. He’s just putting away the last of the dishes when Maddie and Harry come to say goodbye. He walks them to the front door, kisses Maddie on her forehead, suppresses the sudden urge to tell her she looks adorable in her boots with her plaits, kisses Harry properly, doesn’t tell Harry he looks beautiful with his scarf and his hair, and sighs happily when they’re gone. About four seconds later he misses them, but he knows Harry was right. He needs time to himself.
The rest of the morning, Severus showers slowly, plaits his own hair, wears his new dress, makes potions and listens to very loud Wagner. He has toast with butter and sugar over the sink for lunch, writes lists and letters, and feels lighter and brighter by the time a bang announces the return of his family. His family. He is still a little stunned by his own thought as he opens the door to Harry and Maddie, who burst in, tear off their jackets and talk a mile a minute about all the animals they saw.
“Stop,” he says after listening to the racket for longer than he ever thought his patience would allow. “Take off your muddy shoes, sit down on the sofa, and tell me what you saw today.”
Harry and Maddie smile at each other and quickly hang their coats and take off their shoes. Severus makes hot chocolate and tea and, when they’re all sitting on the sofa, they prompt Maddie to tell him about the zoo. Her favourite animals were the bears, and the giraffes, and also the monkeys. Harry looks at Severus several times throughout Maddie’s excited storytelling and smiles warmly every time they make eye contact.
When Maddie is done rattling off things she learned about animals and has shown Severus the colouring book Harry bought her, she promptly falls asleep. Severus tucks her in with the throw, grabs Harry’s hand, drags him into the kitchen, and kisses him against the door until they’re both gasping for air.
“What did I do to deserve that?” Harry asks when he can speak again; his eyes are bright, his arms wrapped around Severus’ neck.
“Taking care of Maddie. Giving me space. Getting her to open up. Providing a wonderful experience.”
“Let’s go on a date tomorrow. We can get Hermione to watch Maddie. She works from home on Wednesdays.” Severus shivers at the feeling of Harry talking so close to his neck as much as at the words.
Talking is a little hard, so Severus nods, and Harry licks his ear, which causes another shiver. There’s something Severus needs to say, but it’s hard to remember. Then Athena taps on the window and it comes back.
“Poppy is coming over for dinner so she can have a look at Maddie.” He rests his hands on Harry’s hips and squeezes briefly.
“If that’s alright with you,” Severus whispers, kissing Harry’s neck. Harry leans his head to the side to allow better access and whines softly.
“Do you think Maddie would like curry?” Harry’s voice catches as Severus licks his Adam’s apple.
“If it’s not too spicy, I don’t see why not.” Severus mumbles, before undoing the top button of Harry’s shirt.
“I’ll keep the okra separate.”
“Good idea.” Severus bites Harry’s collarbone gently. “Not everyone likes okra and it can get a little slimy.”
“My okra is not...” Harry groans as Severus continues to nibble at his collarbone, “slimy.”
They kiss in the kitchen, slowly exploring ears and necks and mouths as the afternoon sun bathes everything in gold.
“Were you always this sensitive,” Severus asks mildly between licking and sucking, “at the point where your clavicles meet your sternum?”
“Nngh,” is all Harry can say, so Severus leans back a little to give him space to talk, which has the unfortunate effect of pushing their hips closer together. They both gasp and stare at each other, flushed and panting and aroused.
“It’s not just what you were doing with your tongue,” Harry answers finally, clearly torn between embarrassment and Gryffindor bravery, “your nose was pushing.” He struggles for words, and grabs Severus’ hand instead. He guides Severus’s index finger to his neck, and pushes it against the side, where his heartbeat can be felt.
“There,” he whispers.
“Harry,” Severus complains, “if we don’t stop now I’m not sure I’ll be able to.”
Harry laughs softly, then grabs Severus face with both hands as Severus starts to pull away, unsure if he’s being made fun of.
“Severus,” Harry sings his name, kisses him firmly, pulls him back in, “me, too.”
Severus relaxes again and kisses back. No tongue this time, just heat and softness and Harry.
“Let’s start with the curry,” Harry says finally; he waits for Severus to agree before pushing him off. “Can you cut the onions?”
Severus grabs a cutting board, his favourite onion knife, and the basket he keeps his onions in. “How many?”
“Two big ones, or three if they’re not so big.”
Severus fishes out two of the biggest onions, returns the basket to its rightful place, and starts peeling. Harry briefly leans his head against Severus’ shoulder, then grabs another cutting board and two small tomatoes. He picks a knife, but it’s not the tomato knife, so Severus silently takes the knife back and provides the proper one.
“Should’ve known you’d care about knives,” Harry teases.
“It might not destroy a potion, but one should always use the most appropriate knife for the task at hand,” Severus replies arrogantly. Harry just laughs and pours oil into the cast iron pan. Severus tosses in the onions and gets started on the chicken. When the onions are getting soft, Harry grates ginger and garlic straight into the pan, before adding curry powder, turmeric, coriander, cumin and just a pinch of chili. The kitchen door creaks open.
“Smells nice,” Maddie mumbles.
“Hello, dear, would you like to help?” Harry asks and Severus shoots him a patented ‘are you daft’ look. He gets a ‘watch me’ look back.
Maddie nods, so Harry provides her with a cutting board, a table knife and a colander of washed okra. He sets her up at the kitchen table, where she kneels on one of the chairs to be able to reach, and shows her how to slice the okra. She’s very slow and fully absorbed in her task and looks so unbearably cute that Severus summons his camera. He’s never used it for anything but Potions documentation before, but everything else in his life has already changed so it’ll just have to do. When he’s done taking the picture, he notices Harry is staring at him while stirring in the tomatoes, beaming and ruffled, so he takes a picture of Harry, too.
“What time is Poppy coming?”
Severus looks at the clock. “She said 6, so she could be here any minute.”
Harry steps closer, wraps an arm around his waist, kisses him gently and whispers, “If you want to change, I can keep an eye on things here.”
He forgot. He’s wearing a dress and a plait and his toenails are painted and he forgot about all of it. Severus turns on his heels and storms up the stairs. He combs out his hair, puts on some trousers and a shirt and socks and is stepping off the stairs as the Floo roars.
“Hello Poppy,” he greets her, grabbing her hand as she stumbles a little.
“Hello, Severus.” She smiles warmly and squeezes his hand briefly, before following Severus into the kitchen. Harry has added the chicken and coconut and is turning down the flame to let it all simmer as they enter. It smells amazing.
“Poppy!” He hugs her and she laughs. As Severus requested, she isn’t wearing her uniform, which is always an odd sight. Poppy introduces herself to Maddie and shakes her hand before sitting down at the kitchen table. Severus pours three glasses of wine and one of water and hands them out, then joins her at the table at Harry’s request. They chat about mutual acquaintances and what has changed in Severus’ house since she was last there. Harry cooks the okra when Maddie finishes slicing them, sets up the rice to cook and lets Maddie help set the table.
When they’re all sitting down, heaps of steaming food on their plates, Poppy turns to Maddie.
“Maddie, I heard you went to the zoo today?”
Maddie sits up straighter, and nods.
“What was the most fun part of the day?”
Maddie thinks for a moment then looks at Harry. “Is it a secret for them, too?”
“No, you may tell them.”
Maddie nods, then blurts out, “Harry can talk to snakes!”
Poppy smiles indulgently as Maddie launches into the story of how Harry once helped a snake escape a zoo and how one of the snakes was very pretty and nice and did you know snakes eat mice?
Severus lets his hand creep onto Harry’s thigh. They look at each other and smile. Harry leans over and pushes Severus’ hair behind his ear and it makes everything bright and shiny and tingly.
After dinner, Harry volunteers to do the cleanup and Severus takes Poppy and Maddie into the living room. He has explained in his letter about Maddie’s situation and is pleased when Poppy asks before touching her, explains everything she does, and manages to make Maddie laugh. When Harry steps out of the kitchen, Maddie is balancing on one leg in her underwear. He mimics her pose, which makes her laugh and fall over.
Poppy smiles at them both. “You may put your clothes back on, Maddie.”
She does and settles into Severus’ lap. Harry pours everyone another glass and sits next to Poppy on the sofa.
“Maddie is malnourished, but not dangerously so,” Poppy starts her report. “I can recommend some Healers that don’t operate out of St Mungo’s, so you can avoid the crowds. I would suggest you choose one and start as soon as possible on a vaccination schedule as well as regular check-ups to monitor her development. Everything I have found seems normal; her speech as well as her fine motor skills are what I would expect for her age. She is not as strong or as flexible as I’d like, perhaps something like dancing lessons would help her.”
Maddie perks up at the idea of dancing lessons and Harry walks over to the white board to add it.
“There is a small ballet school in town,” Severus tells Maddie. “We can go there and have a chat with the teacher if you’d like.”
“Alright.” Severus settles back, wrapping her up in his arms, and listens to the conversation between Poppy and Harry. They’re talking about Ms Collins and long-term care options.
“Was it nice to see Ms Collins this morning?” Severus whispers to Maddie. She looks up at him and nods. “Was Hermione there?” She nods again, then settles back down.
“I’m glad to hear that,” he whispers, and kisses her head.
At 8 o’clock, Poppy gets up and brushes down her skirt. “I must be off.”
She stops Severus from trying to get up with a hand on his shoulder. “Let her sleep, it’s been a long day.”
Harry helps her into her cloak and, as she fastens the clasp, she turns to Severus again. “You’ve done very well, Severus, you and your young man. She’s lucky to have you.”
With a last pat on Harry’s shoulder and a ‘goodnight’, she tosses in some Floo powder. “Hogwarts infirmary!”
Harry sighs and sinks down onto the carpet in front of Severus’ armchair, in between his legs. He rests his head on Severus’ thigh and makes a satisfied noise when Severus starts playing with his hair. They stare at the fire for a while, the popping and crackling providing the only noise. Severus feels all kinds of warm and content, Maddie sleeping on his lap with her head against his shoulder, Harry stroking a bit of skin just above his socks.
“I asked Hermione this morning about tomorrow. We can drop Maddie off and she can catch us up on what she’s found. If we pick Maddie up around 5 we can have dinner together at home.”
Harry seems to realize what he’s said, and he turns his head slowly to look at Severus. Severus can’t help but smile at him, then schools his features again.
“Where do you want to go?”
“On our date? Is it ok if it’s a surprise?”
Severus thinks for a moment, then nods. He has to work to not grin stupidly. Date. Home.
When the clock chimes bedtime, Harry and Severus both get up, and together they get Maddie ready for bed. The three of them, and Mr. Collins, sit on the bed while Severus reads a bedtime story. Harry tucks Maddie in when she falls asleep, they each kiss her goodnight, and as Severus closes the door behind him, Harry wards it to warn them when it opens. When Severus turns to ask him why, the positively filthy grin on Harry’s face is all the answer he needs. His stomach clenches, somewhere between awful and wonderful or both.
Harry places his hand against Severus’ cheek gently and swipes his thumb over a cheekbone.
Severus nods, even though he’s not sure it’s alright. He decides he can pretend until he figures it out.
“Let’s go, then.” Harry grabs his hand, and pulls him into the bedroom. He closes the door behind them, spells it locked, and pushes Severus on.
“I’m...” Severus says helplessly. The backs of his calves touch the bed.
Harry stands in front of him, placing his hand carefully on Severus’ hips. His head is tilted a little and his eyes are doing the squinty thing he does when he’s thinking. He crawls onto the bed and pats the spot next to him. Severus carefully sits down, swinging his legs up, leaning back against the headboard. He folds his hands in his lap and Harry puts one of his on top of them.
“Talk to me?”
“I’d rather not. Talk, that is,” Severus croaks. He hates the way his voice cracks, the way his shoulders tense, the way he curves his back as if bracing for impact.
Harry stares at him for a long moment, then tugs at him until he lies down. He’s on his back, his ankles crossed, but Harry wriggles an arm under his neck, wraps his other arm around Severus’ waist, and snuggles closer. Severus consciously relaxes his muscles and tries to stop his mind racing by breathing in and out slowly.
“Severus?” Harry’s voice cuts through thoughts of ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ and ‘what if he laughs?’ and ‘how do I make sure he never ever leaves?’
He hums yes.
“Did I ever not believe you when you told me you were stuck in a time loop?”
“Why do you think that was?”
“Because you’re naïve and foolishly gullible,” deep breaths, focus on his voice, don’t think about him leaving.
Harry smiles, somehow Severus can hear that he smiles. “Alternatively?”
Oh. “You trust me.”
“Mmm,” Harry hums against Severus’ jaw. “I have, for a long time.”
They breathe together for a moment. Severus turns onto his side, slowly sliding an arm across Harry’s waist, resting his palm flat on Harry’s lower back. He buries his face in Harry’s neck, where it smells warm and safe and just a little sweaty.
“You looked beautiful today, in your dress,” Harry soothes, his voice low. “Your hair is so nice long, the plait really showed how thick and black and glossy it is.”
Severus snorts, but lets the rumbles of the warm voice calm him down.
“I hope you don’t think I wanted you to change. I just wanted you to have the choice.”
Severus knows that, so he nods. He thinks of several cruel, cold things to say that would protect him, and decides against speaking.
“I brought you tiger poo from the zoo; it’s supposed to be a good fertilizer.”
Severus leans back to see if Harry is joking. He isn’t, he looks nervous, as if Severus wouldn’t appreciate a good fertilizer for the garden. As if he’d turn down anything that proves Harry thinks of him. He can’t help but laugh. The relief on Harry’s face when he gets out a ‘thank you’ makes him laugh harder. Harry joins him and together they relax. The knot in Severus’ stomach loosens, enough for him to take charge. He pushes Harry onto his back, and kisses his brows, his cheekbones, his nose, his lips. Their legs tangle as they kiss, and Harry sneaks a hand under Severus’ shirt after pulling it free from his trousers. The contact makes both of them shiver, and they kiss more eagerly.
“Is my hallway going to smell like faeces in the morning?” Severus asks Harry as he pulls free a button for better access.
Harry laughs, bright and happy, “I made sure to spell the box imperturbable before shrinking it.”
“I’m glad,” Severus kisses his way down Harry’s sternum, “that I at least managed to teach you how to deal with noxious fumes.”
He pauses when he reaches a scar. It looks like a burn and sits oddly on Harry’s chest.
“The locket,” Harry explains, arching his back when Severus trails his fingers lower. His shirt is all the way open now. Severus kisses the scar gently, then licks it a few times to be sure.
“Look.” Harry sits up a little; he looks thoroughly kissed but managed to sound serious. “I have a lot of scars, from the war, from being an Auror. If that’s going to be an issue, I’d like to know now.”
Severus blinks at him, his hand still on Harry’s stomach. He sits up, unbuttons his own shirt, and takes it off. Harry gasps softly and trails his fingers over the scars at his neck, the ones across his chest, the burn marks above his hipbone. The Dark Mark.
“Is that what you were worried about?” Harry asks softly.
Severus shrugs. “You already knew I’m not beautiful or young.” Like you, he doesn’t add, but they both hear it. Harry lies back down, shifting out of his jeans. He throws them off the bed carelessly and lies in front of Severus in just his pants. His pants hide nothing, but Severus is distracted by Harry’s right thigh. It is a mess of angry scars. Severus touches them gently.
“You should have told me,” he whispers. “I have the scar cream, let me help you.”
“After,” Harry promises, and places a hand on Severus’ thigh. He trails it up, then hooks two fingers behind the waistband of his trousers. Severus lies down next to Harry and lets him undo the button, open the zip, pull down trousers and pants in one go as Severus lifts his hips. Harry takes off his own pants, too, after tossing Severus’ trousers and pants and socks off the bed. They kiss hungrily, grinding their hips together until Harry lifts his hips. Severus mewls for contact and pushes Harry onto his back. He kisses his mouth, then down his sternum, across his fluttering stomach, and wraps his mouth eagerly around Harry’s cock. It takes no time at all for Harry to come, growling and grabbing at the duvet. Hissing a warning and moaning when Severus shakes his head no, I’m going to stay here. Severus licks him clean, wanting everything, anything he can have, and is a little surprised when Harry pulls him up, kisses him thoroughly and pushes him onto his back.
“Tell me if you don’t want this,” Harry tells him, as he sits on Severus stomach, whispers some spells and trails his hand down. The sight of Harry preparing himself is so much, almost too much, and Severus grabs him by the neck for more kissing. Before long, Harry sits back up, and guides Severus in. It takes all of his willpower to keep his hips still until Harry has sunk all the way down, but the feeling of Harry all around, on top, is heady and worth it.
“Oh,” Harry sighs finally, “move. Now.”
Severus grabs Harry’s hips and starts slowly thrusting in and out. Harry is hard again and touching himself, which makes Severus lose his rhythm. He flips them both over, pushes a pillow under Harry’s lower back, and gets back to slow thrusting. Harry urges him on, panting, grabbing at his arms, moving his hips, and Severus picks up his pace. It’s exhausting and exhilarating and finally Harry tells him, “Close.”
He lets himself go as Harry does the same and promptly collapses. He tries to move, but Harry wraps his arms around him tight. They’re both grasping for breath and they try to kiss but they need air so they laugh and smooch until Severus is all the way soft.
“I think we need a shower,” Harry mumbles, gently biting where Severus’ neck meets his shoulder. Levator scapulae, his mind supplies.
“Did you bring your Invisibility Cloak?” Severus groans, arching into the contact.
Harry laughs, “Or we could just wear our bathrobes?”
When they’re clean and still a little damp and both wearing pyjamas, Harry slides into the bed, holding it open so Severus can join. As soon as Severus lies down, Harry snuggles in next to him, and much as he tries, he can’t stop himself from freezing.
“Oh sorry,” Harry starts to move away, “it’s ok if you don’t want to cuddle.”
Severus grabs Harry’s wrist to stop him from moving back to his side of the bed. His side of the bed, after only two nights. The words won’t come, so he turns off the lights by waving his hand in the general direction of the door, and in the dark, curls himself up next to Harry. His face on Harry’s chest. His arm around Harry’s waist. He waits to be pushed away, his heartbeat loud in his ears, then relaxes as Harry pulls him in closer.
When Maddie’s door chimes at 4 am, they are still in the same position. She opens the door carefully, then pads across the bedroom to check if Harry and Severus are still sleeping. When she finds that they are, she kicks off her slippers, slips in under the blanket, curling up around Severus’ back, and falls back asleep.
Severus wakes up at 7 because there’s a foot in his face. He assesses the situation without moving, checks the time by looking over his shoulder to the bedside table, and slowly reaches out with his hand to grab the ankle the foot is attached to. Within seconds, Harry and Maddie are awake and Severus has enlisted Maddie’s help in tickling Harry.
“Stop! Please Stop!” Harry laughs, “I’ll do anything!”
To their great surprise, Maddie stops immediately.
“Anything, you say?” she says, her tone devious. Severus has never felt love or pride like this in his life. Who knew a child could be a Slytherin before learning how to read?
Harry nods. “Please, just tell me.”
Maddie and Severus exchange an evil smirk, and whisper at each other for a few minutes, before coming to an agreement.
“You have to teach me how to bake pancakes,” Maddie says. Harry looks as though he’s going to protest, so Severus pretends he’s going to tickle him again, and all of them laugh. With a giggling child and a chuckling man on top of him, Severus thinks, Is this what having a family is like?
When they are done laughing, Harry takes Maddie downstairs to start breakfast. As they leave the bedroom, he casually tells Severus, “Wear something that can get dirty, and don’t bother showering before we leave.”
At breakfast, over torn and wobbly pancakes, they explain to Maddie that she will be visiting Hermione and that Severus and Harry will leave for a bit. She seems unsure but helps Harry pack her pinecone bag full of colouring books, pencils, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
At the Weasley cottage, Maddie is happy to chat with Hermione, play with Rosie, and drink her hot chocolate, until Severus and Harry get up to leave. Severus feels his stomach muscles clench as her lips start to quiver. He settles her on his lap.
“Maddie, we’ll be back soon.”
“Yes, I promise.”
She nods. “What if I hurt?”
“The cream is in the bag, you should tell Hermione if you need it.”
“Maddie,” Harry starts, “what are you worried about?”
“That you won’t come back,” she whispers finally.
Hermione looks as if she’s about to cry for a minute, then gets up resolutely and walks to the kitchen. Not a minute later, she’s back with three teaspoons, that she sets on the table. Carefully tapping the spoons, she whispers at them until they glow. When the light fades, the spoons each have a letter at the end of the handle, an H, an S, and an M. Hermione hands out the spoons.
“Now Maddie,” she says. Maddie grabs her spoon tight and nods to show she’s listening.
“When you miss Harry or Severus, just grab on to the spoon, and they will let you know they are thinking of you.”
Maddie grabs the spoon with both hands, and Severus’ and Harry’s spoons light up. When Severus and Harry grab their spoons, Maddie’s spoon lights up. Maddie is delighted.
“What did you use?” Severus asks, still grabbing his spoon.
“Protean Charm.” Hermione shrugs, standing up and straightening her back.
Severus nods slowly, then holds out his hand for Harry and Maddie to give him their spoons. He taps all three with his wand.
“Now,” he says, handing them back, “if you’re in danger Maddie, put the spoon in your mouth and we will know to look for you.”
She nods solemnly.
“May we leave now?” Harry asks her. She looks at her spoon, then at Harry and Severus, and nods again.
They kiss her goodbye and step into the garden to Apparate, Severus clutching Harry’s arm.
Before Severus opens his eyes, he knows where they are. The way the pop echoes, the smell of grass and forest and biting cold give it away immediately. Hogwarts.
“What are we doing here?” he asks, his tone a little sharper than intended.
“We’re here for our date.” Harry smiles, but he looks nervous enough that Severus relaxes. He wants this to go well. With a deep breath, Severus turns to walk to the gate.
“Can we even get in?”
“Of course we can – Hogwarts is home.” Harry looks more relaxed, too.
“Hogwarts hasn’t been home for either of us in years.”
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Harry looks at him, his expression solemn and serious. “Severus, Hogwarts will always be home. For both of us.”
Severus nods, and together they pass through the gates. When they get closer to the castle, Harry pulls something out of his pocket and flaps it around in the wind. Severus stops breathing for a second when he realizes this is the cloak.
“Is it a secret that we are here?” he asks mildly.
“No,” Harry grins at him, “but I don’t really want to talk to anyone, so I figured I could show you how I managed to evade capture all the times I snuck out.”
Severus grins, then accepts Harry hanging the cloak on him, and pulls the hood over his head. As always, it’s very odd to be invisible. The cloak tingles for a second, then stills.
“Ah, perfect,” Harry smiles, looking just to the left of where Severus’ face is. “The cloak adapts itself to the height of the wearer and, since you’re taller, it’ll be easier to fit both of us now.”
Severus contemplates running away in Death’s own cloak for just a second, but steps closer to Harry instead, wrapping the cloak around them both. It’s not perfect and they’ll have to move slowly, but it’ll do. With an arm wrapped around Severus’ waist, Harry leads them to the castle, and in the entrance hall, they step to the side as one.
“We’ve good timing. It’s about half an hour until the first class runs out, so we shouldn’t bump into too many people,” Harry whispers, fumbling about in his pocket.
“Ah, here it is,” he grins, and pulls forth a ragged piece of parchment. It looks familiar, but Severus can’t place it until Harry taps it with his wand.
“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
The parchment unfolds itself and Severus has brief flashbacks to Harry’s third year, before he thinks, He’s sharing this with me, and somewhere in his chest, something relaxes.
“Alright,” Harry looks at him, smiling widely, “seems our path is clear.”
With a ‘mischief managed’ he folds the map away again, and leads Severus up the stairs, to the second floor.
“Where are you taking me?” Severus whispers as they wait for a gaggle of girls to pass.
“Your birthright,” Harry whispers back, before pushing them into the bathroom.
“The Chamber of Secrets,” Severus says reverently, as it finally clicks. They get out from under the cloak and Harry laughs.
“I’m so relieved, I was worried you’d think it a terrible idea.” He runs his hands through his hair.
“I think it’s very exciting,” Severus tells him.
“Good!” Harry stuffs away the cloak. “I was thinking we could go down and explore a little, maybe see if there are more rooms or other entrances, and if you want to hack up the basilisk for parts, I brought some tools.”
“What will you do while I ‘hack up the basilisk’?” Severus can’t hide the surprise in his voice.
“Fly without a broomstick?” Harry looks so hopeful that he can’t help but laugh.
“I’ll teach you,” Severus promises.
Harry hisses at the sink, revealing the passage beyond, then hops down the pipe. It takes longer than Severus expected to hear a ‘come on down’ but he follows without hesitating. It is fascinating, the bones of small animals, the shed skin of the basilisk. Together, Harry and Severus fix the corridor, using the construction spells everyone that was at Hogwarts after the battle now knows. They’re sweating and panting by the time they get to the doors, which open when Harry hisses again.
The space beyond exceeds Severus’ wildest dreams. He remembers the horrors that Harry lived through and turns to check on him, but Harry isn’t looking at the chamber. His eyes are fixed on Severus; he is smiling fondly. Severus could not stop himself from kissing Harry if he tried.
“What was that for?” Harry pants, when they come up for air.
“I can’t wait to explore.” Severus shrugs; he can feel himself smiling, feel his eyes shine with excitement, and for once, he really doesn’t care about hiding what he’s feeling.
They explore for hours. Harry spends a good 20 minutes hissing at a snake underneath the statue of Slytherin, translating Severus’ increasingly wild suggestions. They’re both laughing when they get to ‘please, oh great Salazar, allow me entry’, and Harry can barely speak when Severus suggests ‘prithee, almighty lord of the snakes’. In the end, ‘reveal your secrets’ (not show not display not uncover) makes snakes all around the room light up. Harry goes to have a chat with the large snakehead that has appeared on the far wall of the chamber, while Severus starts attacking the basilisk’s corpse with the tools Harry brought.
When Severus is sweaty and grimy and Harry has discovered that Parseltongue has puns and Slytherin loves puns, Harry decides it’s time for lunch.
“Eat here or go out?” he asks.
“I’m alright eating here; did you bring another picnic basket I did not notice you packing?” Severus asks, while casting cleaning spells on himself and an area of the chamber that isn’t too close to the dead basilisk.
“No,” Harry laughs. “I was going to ask a house-elf.”
“Interesting idea, though most will only come if you call their name.”
Harry grins. He calls for ‘Bobby’, and an elf appears. They ask for some sandwiches and tea and not two minutes later a beautifully set table appears, covered in sandwiches, fruit, tea, and cakes. At Severus’ surprised expression Harry shrugs.
“I was friends with his dad,” he says, which is the weirdest thing he’s said all day, but Severus decides to let it slide in favour of lunch.
“What other secrets do you think exist around here?” Harry asks, after they’ve eaten some sandwiches. “We’ve found two more exits, loads of pipes, and that room you say was used for target practice.”
“Maybe a library,” Severus muses.
“Perhaps; for all we know, he had some truly fascinating hobbies.”
Harry laughs at that. “Synchronized swimming.”
“Collecting novelty tea cosies.” They both laugh.
“There is one hobby we can be sure he had,” Severus laughs, waving his arm in the direction of the enormous remains on the other side of the chamber.
Harry spends a good few minutes hissing suggestions, which has both of them laughing again, but finally a door appears out of what used to be solid wall. It slides open and Harry stares at the door in surprise.
“Which one did it?” Severus asks.
“Could you please just tell me where the books are,” Harry snickers.
“Maybe ‘where the books are’ is the trigger?”
“Or maybe Slytherin had a terrible sense of humour?”
“Do you think that the Sorting Hat doesn’t test for bravery or cunning, but rather for ability to cope with truly horrifying numbers of puns?”
“Could be,” Harry says, frowning deeply.
“The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin and I’m just trying to work out if anything he said could be interpreted as a pun,” Harry grins. “I’m not sure, but that might be exactly what landed me in Gryffindor.”
They explore the library for a while, until their spoons light up.
“Time to go back?” Harry asks, as they both clutch it in response.
“I think so.”
At the Weasley cottage, Maddie is sitting on Fleur’s lap. They’re reading a book together about a girl that is somehow adopted by many dwarves. Maddie grins and waves happily when they walk in but urges Fleur to keep reading.
“How was it?” Harry asks Hermione when they’re standing in the kitchen.
“It was good,” Hermione says as she sets up a tea tray. “She’s very polite and didn’t have any problems playing with Rosie.”
“What’s Mrs. Weasley doing here?” Severus asks.
“There’s loads of those now, Severus, first names really are easier. Fleur came over to ask for help with a Pain Potion, I told her to ask you when you came back.”
Hermione steps into the living room and hands out mugs of tea and a glass of water for Maddie. Fleur reads to the end of the chapter, then tells Maddie gently that if she wants to know how it ends she should ask Hermione to borrow the book. Maddie climbs onto Severus’ lap and listens to the adults talk about the Chamber, about stirring clockwise for spreading out the effect of potions.
“They don’t heal the body, they just suppress the pain, which is of course no issue if the cause of the pain is being otherwise addressed.”
“And never tap the stirring rod on the side,” Harry adds, “porcupine quills don’t do well with tapping.”
Fleur nods. “You should come over next weekend. Victoire would love to meet Maddie and has been working on a reply to your letter for days.”
“I think that sounds like a nice idea,” Severus says, chuckling when Hermione and Harry stare at him.
“The village, Harry,” Severus says, patting Harry’s knee. Harry beams at him, and he leans back into the armchair. Maddie snuggles closer, Hermione laughs happily at something Fleur said, placing her hand on her stomach. This just might work, Severus thinks, and wouldn’t that be nice.