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Dittany

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PROLOGUE

If there was one thing Harry Potter had learned over the years it was that in the game of life, he’d been handed a pair of loaded dice.

His life had been a kaleidoscope of good and bad, of heaven and hell - beloved son, the Boy-Who-Lived, orphan, unwanted freak, Half-Blood wizard, the youngest Seeker in a century, Parseltongue, fourth Tri-Wizard champion, the-Boy-Who-Lied, the Chosen One, and, finally, the Boy-Who-Killed. And just when he thought he could finally begin to live his life on his own terms and not that of a fickle magical world, his dream crashed in a matter of moments.

In a rare public appearance to dedicate a memorial to the war dead, Harry was accosted by a screaming witch who broke from the crowd. He tried to politely avoid the crazed woman, but she would not be deterred. A red-robed Auror caught the woman’s upper arm, but she twisted out of his grip. Raising her wand to him, she said words Harry could barely make out as a streak of light erupted from the wand tip.

“How dare you speak your empty words of sympathy…my Vinnie is dead. He will never see another day…and neither will you…Exoculare!(1)”

*~*~*~*~*~*

Hours later, Harry awoke in St. Mungo‘s Hospital to permanent darkness.

*~*~*~*~*~*

He was frightened. Being blind terrified him more than anything that had happened to him since discovering that he was a wizard. Even in his many battles with the Dark Lord, he at least had had some idea of what to expect.

For all their medical advancements, healers could correct vision, but could not restore it, and due to the extreme darkness of the spell, healers could not even offer him the use of a magical eye similar to the one Alastor Moody had worn prior to his death. When Harry inquired about re-training options for a blind wizard, the sudden silence in the room was deafening.

Harry was relieved when the last visitor left for the evening. Whispered conversations and ill-concealed pity did nothing to improve his frame of mind, and as much as he loved Mrs. Weasley, her constant hovering was exasperating. Every time he tried to perform some small task for himself, she immediately took charge of the situation. Where the hospital staff would identify the contents of his meal trays and leave him to chase his food across the plate in privacy, Mrs. Weasley would pluck the fork out of his hands and feed him as if he were an infant.

He did appreciate all that his friends and surrogate family were trying to do for him, but what he needed most of all was time to himself to think things through.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The hospital was almost silent when Harry heard his private room door open and shut. He heard a soft click as if the door was being locked and then a muttered silencing charm.

“Hello?” Harry called softly. “Is someone there?”

“You’re awake,” the male voice replied, in a tone of slight surprise. “It’s time for your bed bath.”

“Isn’t it the middle of the night?”

“There’s less chance of interruption.” The voice chuckled in a way that made Harry uneasy. “And more privacy now, don’t you think? Lumos.”

“I don’t need a bed bath,” Harry said stiffly. “I am fully capable of taking a shower on my own.”

The man ignored his protests, pulling the blankets to the foot of the bed. Harry’s hospital gown was removed and he heard the sound of something being wrung out over a pan of water. Despite his protests, large hands began to sponge bathe his chest. The warm flannel splashed into the water repeatedly, but the calloused bare hands began to caress the blind wizard’s body in a most unprofessional way. Harry jerked away from the hands.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing?”

Harry found himself pinned to the bed, his wrists restrained. The hands continued their exploration, carding through his pubic hair. Harry’s breath came in panicked gasps as he felt a warm breath on his throat followed by a sharp nip to his earlobe.

“Hush, darling,” the voice purred in his ear. “It’s a good thing you are so cute…so small…so pretty…”

“W-What?

“Didn’t they tell you? There’s only one use for a blind wizard.”

Harry’s struggles were no match against a man he could not see and the silencing charm muted his cry for help. Pulled from the bed by his hair, he found himself kneeling on the cold floor. His mouth was forced open and a thick, weeping cock was shoved down his throat.

“Suck me, pretty whore. Make me come.”

*~*~*~*~*~*

A mediwitch making her late night rounds discovered Harry curled up on the floor of the shower, tepid water cascading over him. She quickly turned off the water. Thinking that the reality of his blindness had finally hit her young charge, she gently touched his bare shoulder to offer comfort. Harry pulled back in terror, violently shaking as she dried him off. It was odd, she thought, that he had scrubbed his skin raw. She made a note in his chart to schedule a consultation with a mind healer.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Early in the morning Harry Potter Apparated from his room at St. Mungo’s Hospital and disappeared from the Wizarding world.

*~*~*~*~*~*

FOUR YEARS LATER

HARRY

His white safety cane arcing in front of him, twenty-two year old Harry Potter counted the steps from the Underground platform to the street above. He paused, listening to the traffic patterns and the beep of a changing light.

“Do you need to cross, mate?” A voice came from his left. “I can walk with you.”

“Thank you,” Harry said quietly. Although he was normally rather self sufficient, crossing the street at this time of day was hazardous even for the sighted. He stepped from the curb and walked carefully. He could feel other pedestrians rush past him, but the Good Samaritan remained by his side until he was safely deposited on the walkway.

A brisk December wind blew his hair. Harry smiled to himself. For the briefest of moments, the wind reminded him of flying a broom. Harry pushed his dark sunglasses up his nose and stopped to get his bearings. The jingle of a bell signaled a shop entrance to his immediate left.

Regina Morris looked up from neatly stacking the produce; her favorite customer stepped into her small shop. Reaching out with his white cane, he located the row of empty trolleys. As he wrapped his hands around the handle of one, she realized how much confidence he had acquired in the three years she had known him.

“Hello, Love. How are you this evening? Feels a bit like snow, doesn’t it?”

Regina watched as the slender young man unwrapped a bright, hand knitted red and gold striped scarf from around his neck. The bit of bright color was a pleasant surprise. For as long as she had known Harry, he always dressed totally in black.

Harry laughed softly. “Early Christmas present from a friend… not too gaudy, I hope.”

She ruffled his thick rat’s nest of hair. “It’s nice to see you wearing a bit of color. What can I get you today? How about a dozen Spanish clementines? They’re nice and sweet.”

*~*~*~*~*~*

Harry unlocked the door to his third floor flat, setting his reusable shopping bag on a small table before stepping back to lock the door securely behind him. No matter that the rooms were protected by wards, the Muggle-raised wizard always felt more secure with the bolts drawn. He reached up to feel for the row of hooks just inside the door, hanging first his scarf, and then his overcoat.

The tiniest crack of Apparation drew his attention back towards the table. The vinyl lining of the shopping bag crinkled as his groceries were being emptied from the bag. He had purchased only the bare minimum – a pint of milk, a loaf of bread, butter, jam, clementines, carrots, apples, and a block of aged cheddar. Harry heard a discontented grunt.

“Nasty Muggles taking advantage of my poor, blind master.”

Harry turned to face where he thought the house elf was standing. He was perplexed by Kreacher’s comment. Mrs. Morris had hand selected his groceries herself.

“Master should leave the shopping to Kreacher.”

“No one takes better care of me than you do, Kreacher. You’re absolutely brilliant.” Harry rested his hand on the surface of the table, hoping his words would mollify his grumpy house elf. “But this is a Muggle neighborhood. They would find it odd if they never saw me buying food of any sort…and other than an occasional stir-fry or curry, I can’t stomach the local take-away. Besides, what’s the matter with what I bought?”

“The carrots are firm…they’ll do in a pinch.” Kreacher finally muttered.

Harry tried to hide a smile.

*~*~*~*~*~*

“Seven quid.”

Harry handed the cab driver a folded ten pound note and stepped from the vehicle. Snow stung his cheeks as his cane searched for the curb. Muffled music and the smell of cigarette smoke permeated the air. He could hear the faint buzz of neon lights above his head; even though he had never seen it, he knew the sign read Moondance – Piano Bar and Grill.

Mindful of the slick pavement, Harry edged toward the steps leading down to the entrance of Moondance. Holding his cane in his left hand and feeling for the edge of the step, he searched for the railing with his right hand.

“Hold up, kiddo,” a deep voice rumbled from the base of the steps below him. He recognized the voice as that of Mike, one of the club’s bouncers. “I’ll get you. The steps are slicker than snot tonight.”

Once Harry was inside the bar, he listened to the hum of voices. The bar was pretty full for this early on a Friday night, but he would rather play for a crowd than a few strays; the tips were better. After leaving his overcoat with the hat check girl, the blind wizard slowly made his way to one of the reserved tables to wait for his shift to begin. A mug of hot tea laced with honey and lemon was placed in front of him; he wrapped his cold hands around the mug to warm them as he conversed with the owner.

After fifteen minutes, Harry stood up and took several steps to his left. His cane contacted the wooden leg of a baby grand piano. He eased himself onto the padded bench and stretched the kinks out of his shoulders. His fingers lightly travelled along the edge of the keys, mapping his position on the keyboard. He adjusted the microphones and waited.

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Please give a warm Moondance welcome to our very own piano man, Mr. Evan James.”

There was a smattering of applause. The temperature suddenly rose, so Harry knew the spotlight was now trained on him. Fingers flowed across the keys as he played the opening notes to the song he always opened with.

“Well it’s a marvelous night for a moondance(2)…”

*~*~*~*~*~*

SEVERUS

A sharp rap to his office door broke Severus Snape’s concentration.

“Are you ready, Sebastian? We have reservations at half-past and can’t leave McNeil waiting.”

Severus acknowledged the elderly scholar with a brief nod. Softly sighing, he saved his notes, closed out of the document, and powered down his computer.

“Now, remember to be pleasant this evening. Keep your sparkling personality in check…”

Severus exhaled sharply and Dr. John King laughed. “I know, my boy. Alexander McNeil is a pain in everyone’s arse, but his corporation has deep pockets - and Lord knows we need whatever additional funding we can get right now. We’re so close to a breakthrough and the university stipend just doesn’t cover it.”

The pair walked through the busy university campus toward the closest Underground station as twilight fell. Severus would have preferred a solitary evening, but when your department head insisted you join him for a “casual” dinner with important guests, you had no choice but to comply. The heavy snow that was beginning to fall did nothing to improve his disposition.

After becoming the youngest Potions Master in centuries, Severus secretly attended the School of Pharmacy, University College of London, eventually acquiring doctorates in Pharmaceutical and Biological Chemistry under the alias of Sebastian Prince. By merging his skill in potion brewing with the mundane world of pharmacology - as Prince - he had made himself a respected expert in the use of plant-based materials in the making of modern pharmaceuticals.

Severus listened to Dr. King’s one-sided conversation as they made their way to the restaurant. The elder man was not offended. Severus, for all his academic brilliance, was not a very social person, and King took pride in forcing him out of his comfort zone.

They paused at the entrance of the restaurant, waiting for their guests, who had just arrived by taxi. Severus couldn’t control the involuntary shudder that ran through him as they stood beneath the sign for Moondance Piano Bar and Grill, complete with a wolf baying at the moon. He glanced up into the snow-laden sky to make sure the moon was not full.

Idiot, he thought as he followed the others down the stairs.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Severus slowly chewed a bite of grilled salmon, his taste buds enjoying the delicate seasoning. He had wondered why Dr. King had chosen a bar to hold their preliminary meeting with McNeil and his group, but one taste of the food answered the unspoken question.

Their conversation lightly touched on Severus’ research, but moved into casual conversation as dinner progressed. A few of the questions were directed at Severus, but most of them were fielded by Dr. King. McNeil would be expecting a written report with greater detail if he decided they were interested enough to make an on-site visit to the research laboratories. During a lull in the conversation, Severus noticed activity on the small stage and half-listened to the owner, Samuel Moon’s, introduction.

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Please give a warm Moondance welcome to our very own piano man, Mr. Evan James.”

There was light applause as the spotlight was trained on a young man at the piano. Fingers flowed across the keys as he played the opening notes to a Van Morrison song Severus remembered from his childhood.

“Well it’s a marvelous night for a moondance(2)…”

Severus returned to his meal, thankful that they were seated far enough away that the music was not overpowering. The musician’s repertoire was varied, alternating between eras from the 1950’s to present day and back to classic 1970’s rock. He didn’t always sing, but when he did, the voice was pleasing to the ear. The pianist laughed as a woman whispered a song request in his ear. For the first time, he addressed the audience directly.

“I’m not too sure I’m the one to sing this, but I’ll give it a go. If you’re a fan of Eartha Kitt, I apologize in advance.”

The Potions Master paused, a glass of wine halfway to his lips. The young man’s voice sounded familiar. Severus tried to identify the person, but his face was at an angle and partially hidden by dark sunglasses and dark hair.

Excusing himself to use the facilities, Severus examined the piano player as he made his way across the room. The young man bore a strong resemblance to Harry Potter, he decided.

Where was his mind tonight, he thought. First he imagined werewolves on a full moon and now that the Boy-Who-Lived was singing in a Muggle bar. Idiot.

“Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree, for me. Been an awful good girl, Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.”(3)

Laughter and applause followed the end of the song. Without missing a beat, music segued into Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” as the spotlights dimmed, signaling the last song of the set. In the semidarkness of the unlit stage, the pianist turned off the microphones and bent down, picking up a white cane from the floor beneath the bench.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Severus washed his hands in the men’s room sink. The outer door opened, revealing first a white cane and then the pianist. The blind man maneuvered himself into the single stall, closing the door behind him. A second man using the urinal approached the sink, so Severus stepped aside but did not leave the room. The outer door banged shut as the second man left. The toilet flushed and the musician exited the stall, the cane in an arc before him.

Leaning the cane against the edge of a sink, the young man washed his hands. As he reached for a disposable hand towel, the cane clattered to the floor.

“Damn it,” the man cursed. He felt around with one of his feet for the elusive cane without success. Crouching, he felt around the dirty tile floor, his nose wrinkled in distaste. From his vantage point in the corner, Severus could make out three heavy signet rings that seemed too large for the slender fingers.

“Hello,” the blind man called out. “Is anyone here?”

Severus remained silent. The pianist straightened up, listening intently for a moment before holding out his left hand.

“Accio cane,” he said.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Severus added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood. He had no current use for the Draught of Living Death, but found brewing helped clear his mind.

He pondered on Evan James. The pianist was obviously a wizard, and the three rings suggested he was heir to at least one Pureblood House. Given his general appearance, he was possibly Harry Potter, but that made no sense at all. Harry Potter was the savior; he should be married to the Weasley chit by now and creating the next round of redheaded menaces, not masquerading as a blind piano man in a London bar.

And that opened another issue. If Evan James was Harry Potter, when and how had Potter been blinded? As far as Severus knew, the younger wizard survived the war relatively unscathed. He was Harry James Potter, one of the richest men in the Wizarding world. What was he doing playing piano for tips at Moondance? And if he was indeed blind, what in Merlin’s name was he doing alone and defenseless in the Muggle world?

His potion turning the correct shade of emerald green, Severus returned his attentions to his draught. The texture and scent perfect, the Potions Master poured a handful of unprepared slugs into the concoction, deliberately destroying the perfectly brewed Draught of Living Death. He disposed of the congealing contents of the cauldron and cleaned his workroom.

Although he had effectively vanished from the magical world during the Battle of Hogwarts, he was still a world-renowned Potions Master and the Potions Guild respected his knowledge, even if individual members did not respect him. Was there a way to discreetly contact one of his fellow potion brewers for information on Potter? No, he decided, that was too risky.

He debated whether to make inquiries about Potter by contacting the Gringotts goblins. No. Even though Harry Potter had fought the Ministry and public opinion to exonerate him of guilt for war crimes based upon Pensieve memories, any interest on his part could easily be misconstrued as a threat to the younger man.

Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater, he mused.

He would have to observe Evan James on his own. Decision made, he downed a dose of Dreamless Sleep and made himself ready for bed.

*~*~*~*~*~*

HARRY

“Do you know ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer’?” asked a voice to Harry’s left as he played “What Child Is This.” With a slight dip of his head in acknowledgement and an internal groan, he paused to flex his fingers before beginning the opening notes to the questionable North American Christmas classic. What could you say about a song written by people named Elmo and Patsy? At least here at the Holiday Tea for UCL faculty members he did not have to sing the infernal song as well.

He could tell the tea was winding down from the drop in the volume of conversation around him. It was nice to play background music and be able to disappear rather than performing at Moondance, where he not only had to sing but interact with the audience as well.

A spicy scent drifted from the right.

“What is the piece you are playing? I’ve never heard it before.” The voice was male and rather hoarse.

“It’s a fairly obscure piece from the twelfth century called ‘Wexford Carol’.”

“I came to tell you it’s time to wrap up.”

“Do you have a final request?” Harry asked politely.

“I think something traditional would be a nice ending.” There was a short pause. “There is still a selection of sandwiches at the buffet. Would you like me to make you a plate?”

Harry smiled in the direction of the man’s voice. “I am a little peckish.”

Harry played “The Holly and the Ivy” and then stopped. He felt for his cane and rose from the bench. Uncertain where to go, he waited beside the piano.

“There is a table four or five steps to your left.” The rough voice called out. Harry moved as he was directed and stopped when the cane made contact with either the table or chair legs. Reaching out with his empty hand, he felt the rounded back of the chair. Making certain it was not occupied, he pulled it out and seated himself. Several dishes were placed on the table in front of him. Slowly moving his hand across the tablecloth, he felt the rim of a plate.

“There is a chicken salad croissant at twelve o’clock, a roast beef sandwich at four o’clock and a vegetarian concoction at eight o’clock. There are some tarts to the left of the plate and a mug of tea to the right. I made the tea a little milky, but if you’d prefer it black or with lemon I can get you another.”

“No, this will be just fine. You’ve been very kind.” Harry took a tentative bite of the vegetarian sandwich, discovering it was cucumber. “I was to find a Dr. King…”

“John had to leave early. He asked me to take care of you. I am Sebastian Prince, Acting Head of Research in the Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy Centre.”

“Pleased to meet you, Dr. Prince. Pharmacognosy – that’s the study of herbs and microbes, isn’t it?”

“In a broad sense, yes. I am rather impressed you knew that.”

Harry laughed. “It’s not that impressive. When Dr. King hired me to play at the Holiday Tea, I asked a few questions. I also asked his input on the musical selections as well. I know that a large percentage of your staff do not celebrate Christmas nor are they Christians. I did not want to be offensive.”

“I appreciated the selection. It was a pleasing mix of traditional holiday music with Celtic and classical mixed in. I was expecting an afternoon of typical Christmas dreck, although one or two of those did slip in.”

“’Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,’” Harry sighed, setting down his mug. “And that was a request.”

“You could have told him you didn’t know it.”

“No, Dr. Prince. My job is to play what makes people happy, and if hearing that song made him happy, then I succeeded.”

“Call me Sebastian.”

“You’re head of your department. Addressing you by anything but your title would be rude of me.”

“Do you attend UCL?”

“No.”

“Do you plan to pursue a career in Pharmacology?”

“No.”

“Then it’s a fair assumption we will not interact academically, correct?”

“I do not see a future as a chemist, no.”

“Then there is no reason you can not call me Sebastian. May I call you Evan?”

“Of course.”

“It appears that just about everyone has left, so we better clear off so the cleaning staff can get started.” Harry heard the crinkle of paper. “John asked me to give you this envelope and to thank you for filling in at the last moment.”

Harry closed his fingers around the corner of the envelope. It felt thicker than a single sheet of paper, so Dr. King hadn’t paid him by cheque. He would need to ask Kreacher to help him determine the denomination of the notes.

“May I call you a cab?”

“That’s not necessary. If you could just direct me to the nearest Underground…”

“I insist. I’ll need to call one for myself, so I can just have him drop you on the way.”

Harry wanted to protest, but Sebastian did not seem easy to sway. “Consider it a thank you for not subjecting me to an afternoon of ‘Last Christmas,’ ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and all the other …modern…holiday delights. They started playing those at the grocers just after All Hallows Eve.”

Even though Harry had planned to Apparate himself back to his flat and not use the Underground at all, he decided to let Sebastian escort him home without argument. Retrieving his overcoat from the cloakroom, Harry walked beside the professor. From the location of the man’s voice, Sebastian was taller than he was, but not freakishly tall.

“So, Evan, are you a professional musician or do you attend class at another university?”

“A little of both, actually. I hire out for weddings and other small social functions, but I have a steady gig playing and singing three nights a week at a piano bar for thirty quid a night plus tips. I have a tutor for my music and I am learning the violin as well. I hope to attend University one day but for now I have classes at the R.L.S.B.”

“R.L.S.B?”

“Royal London Society for the Blind. I was not born blind, so I am still adjusting to my new circumstances. They’ve taught me how to live independently. Right now I am learning how to use a computer as well as become more proficient reading Braille.”

Harry didn’t know why he was speaking so freely with Sebastian, but he did not feel threatened by the man’s curiosity. It felt almost as if he were reconnecting with an acquaintance he had not seen for years, but that was not the case. They were simply two strangers filling an afternoon with idle chatter. He doubted they would ever meet again.

And because Harry was not a fool, he gave the cab driver directions to the shop owned by Mrs. Morris, telling Sebastian he lived in a flat above it. Once he heard the cab pull away, he ducked into a narrow alley beside the grocer’s and Apparated home.

*~*~*~*~*~*

SEVERUS

With the university on holiday break, Severus finally had time to catch up on his potions research. He sorted through the order his owl brought from Slug and Jiggers Apothecary in Diagon Alley. He was disappointed in the quality of some of the items. It was times like this he missed the little things he had always taken for granted as a wizard. He missed wandering through the shop selecting his own potion ingredients. He certainly never would have accepted this vial of inferior bat spleens.

He pushed the vial and his thoughts aside. He did not miss the hatred and distrust that had swirled around him as Potions Master Severus Snape. If he was honest with himself, he enjoyed the respect given to him as Sebastian Prince. And as Prince, he was able to walk the streets in absolute anonymity.

Anonymity, he thought. Was that the reason Harry Potter masqueraded as Evan James? That was assuming that Potter was Evan James. Severus needed to get a closer look at those rings.

Severus Accioed the telephone directory and looked up the telephone number for Moondance. After asking a few questions to the woman who answered the telephone, Severus determined that Evan was not scheduled to work until the next evening.

The Potions Master settled into a comfortable chair and began reading through his backlog of potion journals. He kept a notebook on the table beside him in case any of the articles held information relevant in either of his worlds of research. Sweet wormwood’s use in healing fever caused by intestinal parasites might have practical application to his Muggle research, if he could get the graduate students past the notion that Absinthe was the only use for wormwood.

His mind drifted back to the young pianist. Evan seemed to be at peace with himself and that should be reason enough to leave him alone, but Severus had spent years protecting Lily’s son, and something deep inside wasn’t ready to end the task.

*~*~*~*~*~*

HARRY

Harry sipped from a mug of hot chocolate as he listened to an audio recording of A Christmas Carol. In three days he would Apparate to Andromeda Tonks’ home to spend the holiday with Teddy and her. He was both excited and uncertain about the visit. With any luck, he would be there and gone before anyone even knew he had returned to the Wizarding world.

Unlike Mrs. Weasley, Teddy’s grandmother encouraged Harry’s struggle for independence. She knew the prejudice he would face at the hands of British wizards, but also knew he was not a coward and would one day feel secure enough in his abilities to return to claim his heritage. In the meantime, she would raise Teddy and act as proxy for both the House of Black and the House of Potter in the Wizengamot.

Setting the mug aside, he listened to the Charles Dickens classic. Although he was becoming more proficient at Braille, he couldn’t imagine trying to read an entire book with his fingertips anytime soon. He drifted off to sleep just as Ebenezer’s sister Fan lay dying.

*~*~*~*~*~*

SEVERUS

Severus sat at the bar, nursing a glass of single malt scotch. His eyes were on Evan, who was in the middle of a flirty version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Two days before Christmas, nearly every song requested was a Christmas song. As the night wore on, more and more of the patrons began to sing along with the music selections. After accompanying a drunken patron’s version of “Walking in the Air,” Evan announced he was going on break for twenty minutes.

Severus watched as Evan settled alone at a small table by the kitchen door. One of the waiters brought him a mug of tea, a bowl of stew and a few slices of bread. The older man approached the table as taped music replaced the live piano.

“Good evening, Evan.” He waited for the young man to look up. “I must say this is certainly much livelier than the Holiday Tea.”

Candlelight glittered across the opaque black lenses of Evan’s sunglasses. “Sebastian?”

“You’ve a good ear for voices. You sing very well.”

“Thank you. I’d rather just play, but the tips are better if I sing.”

“May I sit with you?”

“I have another set in a few minutes.” He gestured toward an empty chair. “Can I order you a drink?”

“Thank you, no. I brought one from the bar.” Severus took a sip of the scotch. “You obviously can’t read sheet music, so how do you remember all these songs?”

“If I hear them a few times, I can remember them.”

“You play by ear?”

“Not exactly. The doctor called it eidetic memory.”

“Eidetic memory is rare. You must have been a top student with the ability of almost total recall.”

Evan snorted. “Hardly. It’s kind of selectively eidetic, if there is such a thing. It’s mostly music and sounds. The doctor thinks I could possibly pick up languages fairly easily as well.”

“That’s strange.”

“What’s stranger is that I didn’t always have it. A few months before I lost my sight I had foreign matter removed from my head.” Evan rubbed his forehead and Severus could see a faded lightening bolt scar and the Black Heir ring. “Once it was excised, my mind began to process information differently. I noticed I could play a song once I heard it a few times. I figured it would be useful as a parlor trick if nothing else, but once I was blinded, I found a use for the skill. Weird, right?”

The waiter brought over a slip of paper with songs listed on it.

“Thank you, Niles. I’ll have Sebastian read it to me. You’re too busy with the holiday crowd tonight.”

Severus looked at the page, noting it was a request list, almost all of them popular holiday tunes.

“I’ll be glad once the holidays are over. I can go back to playing the Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Elvis.”

“Speaking of Elvis,” Severus said dryly. “’Blue Christmas’ is the first song on your list.”

*~*~*~*~*~*
CHRISTMAS EVE

HARRY

Harry’s heart was racing. He pressed himself against the cold brick wall, trying to get out of the path of frenzied last minute holiday shoppers. What in Merlin’s name had possessed him to accept Sebastian’s invitation to brunch on Christmas Eve? If the man did not show up soon, Harry was not sure what he would do. He had been jostled so much he wasn’t even certain what direction he was facing.

“There you are,” Sebastian’s hoarse voice called out. “What a madhouse.”

Harry took a calming breath and his heart slowly returned to a normal rhythm.

“May I?” Sebastian asked as he gently took Harry’s left hand and rested it on his arm. An oddly familiar odor clung to the professor’s clothing. He smelled of lemongrass and wood smoke with an undercurrent of dittany. Harry sneezed; dittany always made him sneeze.

“I wish I’d remembered today was Christmas Eve. I never should have subjected you to this.”

Sebastian wove them through the shopping district, stopping at a small restaurant down a less congested side street. The scent of coffee, cinnamon, and bacon greeted them as the older man held the door open for Harry. They could hear snatches of conversation as they were led to their table tucked into a back corner.

“Do you have plans for the holiday?”

“I don’t really celebrate Christmas and I have no close family, so I will probably just catch up on my reading. Acting as Department Head has left me with no time to myself. What are your plans?”

“I’m leaving this afternoon to spend a week in the country. I’ll be staying with my godson and his grandmother. He’s almost five so he still believes in Father Christmas.” Harry smiled, but there was an undercurrent of sadness as well. “I wish I knew what he looks like. He was only a few months old when I lost my sight.”

They were quiet for several moments as the waitress brought coffee and took their order.

“When will you be back?”

“I have to be back by New Year’s Eve because I’m working, but I don’t know exactly when. I suppose it all depends on how stressful it becomes. I’m an orphan, so I’ve sort of hobbled together a surrogate family. Most of them don’t understand why I won’t stay with them and let them take care of me. I’m not an infant and I refuse to be made into one just because I’m blind. I’m twenty-two years old; I certainly don’t appreciate someone cutting up my food and trying to feed me.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

Harry turned toward his companion, and scowled.

“You’re not?” Sebastian’s voice was incredulous. “You aren’t staying with these idiots, are you?”

“No. Teddy…that’s my godson’s name. Teddy’s grandmother is in my court. She wants me to come home, certainly, but on my terms, not theirs.”

“Sometimes,” Sebastian said slowly. “I am glad I have no one to question my actions.”

“But it makes for a lonely existence. I enjoy my solitude, but I don’t like feeling lonely. A bit of a double edge, wouldn’t you say?”

Sebastian made a sound that may have been a laugh. They fell silent, letting other conversations wash over them. Harry did not feel nervous about the silence; he had never been one to talk just to fill space.

There was something about Sebastian that seemed to comfort him and he wasn’t sure what to think about that. This was the third conversation he had had with the man and they were virtual strangers, but something about Sebastian eased the layer of uncertainty that had plagued Harry since he fled to the Muggle world.

“I received a bit of news this morning.”

Harry tilted his head to let the other man know he was listening.

“Dr. King called me. As of next term, I will be stepping down from the Acting Head position and resume my classes.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Honestly, I’m pleased. As Department Head I had negligible time for research and that’s why I pursued the field in the first place. Teaching is just a necessary evil.”

“So it’s not a demotion?”

“No. Singh had a triple bypass and was forced to retire. I only stepped up until they found a replacement. To be honest with you, I rather miss teaching the little dunderheads.”

Dunderheads. Harry’s heart skipped a beat. His mind wandered back to his very first Potions class at Hogwarts. Professor Snape’s opening lecture had left an indelible mark. He’d even memorized the damn thing.

"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potionmaking. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death -- if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."(4)

Harry jolted back to the present. “Have you always taught at the university level?”

“No. I spent several years teaching Chemistry at a prep school, but it wasn’t a very good fit. I prefer to teach upper level and graduate students. By the time they cross my path only the truly dedicated remain. Those not suited for Pharmacognosy or Phytotherapy have transferred to another specialty or dropped out altogether.”

“Here you go,” the waitresses’ voice broke into their conversation. “Be careful, the plates are hot. Just let me know if you or your son need anything else.”

Harry picked up his fork and prodded the contents of the plate trying to identify the location of the contents. He licked his lower lip and then turned in Sebastian’s direction.

“Do we look that much alike?”

“We both have dark hair. Past that, I do not notice much of a resemblance.”

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be forty-three in January. Does that bother you?”

“Not really. I’ve never had much in common with people my own age.” And especially nothing in common with Muggles his own age, Harry thought. “I actually thought you might be older. A department head at forty-two is pretty damn impressive.”

*~*~*~*~*~*

NEW YEAR’S EVE

SEVERUS

Severus stepped up to the crowded bar and asked the bartender for a Glenlivet.

“You’re mates with Evan, aren’t you?” The bartender leaned close so Severus could hear him over the noise of the New Year’s crowd. Severus turned to watch Evan at the piano singing a song he did not recognize.

“Why?” he asked.

“He’s been knocking back shots tonight and I have never seen him drink so much as a beer before. I’m not serving him because he’s working, but he’s drinking whatever someone puts in front of him. Make sure he gets home safe tonight.” The bartender did not wait for his reply; he just turned to the next person in line.

Severus looked over the crowded room and finally located the owner of Moondance. The man was watching Evan play with a concerned expression on his face. The dark wizard wound his way through the tables until he was next to Samuel.

“When is Evan’s break?” he asked abruptly.

“Are you his Da?”

“No, just a friend.” Severus met the man’s eyes. “I wanted to walk him around the block – try to sober him up a little.”

“Niles just put on a pot of coffee.”

Severus shook his head. “Coffee will just make him a wide-awake drunk. Juice or water would be better.”

“I’ll give him the signal to wind down. Never seen him drink before. Being blind, he’s always been careful to stay in control.”

“Something must have set him off. Any idea what it may have been?”

“He was quiet when he came in tonight. I know he saw family over the hols…” Samuel shrugged and then made his way toward the piano, rapping twice on the lid as he passed.

Evan started to play ‘White Christmas’ before giving up halfway through. The audience laughed as he threw his hands up and smiled.

Evan lost his balance as he reached for his cane and it was only Severus’ quick reflexes that prevented his face from hitting the floor. He wrapped an arm around the inebriated man’s waist to steady him as they left the stage.
“Steady, Evan. I have you.”

“S’bastian,” Evan chirped. “I missed you!”

“I missed you too, you little idiot. Let’s take a walk and get some air.”

Samuel slipped onto the bench and began to play.

“Well it’s a marvelous night for a moondance(2)…”

Mike, the bouncer, eyed them warily as Severus led Evan through the door. He handed the burly man Evan’s white cane. “Can you hold on to this for a few minutes? Evan needs some fresh air.”

Mike shook his head as Severus slowly climbed the cement stairs dragging the pianist with him.

Evan leaned against a decorative railing and inhaled the cold night air. Severus took his arm.

“Let’s walk a bit.”

“Okay…fuck! I’ve lost my cane.”

“We gave it to the bouncer for safe keeping. Here, take my arm. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“It’s a little too late for that.” He took a step and Severus followed, steering him away from the edge of the sidewalk.

“What brought this on?”

“You mean getting drunk? I don’t know.” Evan was quiet for a moment and then let out a harsh laugh. “Yeah, I do know. My life. It’s pretty fucked up now.”

Severus waited for the other man to speak, but when he didn’t, he prompted. “I take it your visit home didn’t go too well.”

“Teddy and his grandmother were great. She’d taught him how to play piano to surprise me. He plays three songs. ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, ‘Long, Long Ago’, and ‘Jingle Bells’ – beginner stuff but he was really good for five.”

“So why is your life…fucked.” Severus disapproved of the use of that obscenity.

Evan stopped and tilted his head toward Severus.

“Look, I know who you really are, Sebastian.”

“What do you mean, who I am?” Severus asked sharply.

“I know you’re a wizard…look, don’t worry about the Statutes of Secrecy shite…I’m one, too.”

“What are you on about?” Severus was taken aback.

“When I met you, there was something about you. When I’m with you…there’s this…for lack of a better word…thrum against my skin.” Evan’s hands rubbed along his arms. “I couldn’t figure out what it was until I went back and I felt the same thrum there.”

“I don’t…”

“I’ve been among Muggles for four years and I don’t feel it from them. You’re in exile too, right?”

“Yes,” he replied cautiously.

“Don’t you see? My magic is calling out to yours.”

“Okay, I’ll concede. I’m a Half-Blood. But what does that have to do with your life falling apart?”

Evan took several deep breaths. “Have you ever met a blind wizard?”

Severus paused. “I’m sure I must have…at least once or twice.”

“And were they old or young?”

“They were old. They kind of doddered around on someone’s arm or were relegated to a corner.”

“I woke up in St. Mungo’s and no one would give me a straight answer. They’d go real quiet when I asked about my options. Did you know there is no re-training available in the Wizarding world for a blinded witch or wizard?” Evan wrapped his arms around himself, projecting distress. “And then one night a man came into my room and proceeded to…forcefully…show me the only career open to a blind wizard.”

“He raped you.” Severus felt sick.

“Yes.” Evan stopped walking.

“I miss the stars.” Evan turned his face up to the sky. “Anyway, I Apparated out of St. Mungo’s that morning. I had no destination in mind so I landed somewhere in Sheffield. I was taken to St. Dunstan’s. They were very kind and did what they could for me, but I couldn’t stay there because I was not a veteran. Eventually I ended up with the R.L.S.B.”

“You said your visit with your godson went well. Did something else happen?”

“I accepted an invitation to spend Boxing Day with my best friend’s family. I had communicated by letter with them over the past few years, but this was the first time they saw me. I had taken Teddy with me so he could play with other children – after losing her daughter, his grandmother is overprotective of him.

“At first it was awkward and then it seemed to calm for a bit as we caught up. Then they started question my decisions. I tried to tell them about my retraining and my ability to function independently, but my best friend kept twisting what I was saying so that it was no longer positive. After awhile, a few more people began to agree with him. Why should I learn how to cook when a house elf could do it for me? Braille. Why couldn’t I just use a spell and not bother with the raised dot nonsense. No matter what I said, I was an idiot for trying to be normal.”

“I thought these were your friends.”

“They’re bigots, that’s what they are. Thing is, my other best friend is a Muggleborn and she could have possibly diffused their attack with logic. But she’s abroad visiting her parents in Australia.”

“Is there more?”

“I was so upset I Apparated out of there. I totally forgot Teddy, which was irresponsible. Neville and George brought Teddy back to his grandmother’s house a few minutes after I left. They’d been playing with the children so weren’t part of my interrogation.

“And that’s when Neville told me what was really going on. It seems that my…best…friend is planning to petition the Wizengamont to make me his ward. Poor blind little Harry is delusional and can’t be trusted to wipe his own arse and therefore can’t be trusted to handle his vaults all by himself.”

“Can he do that?” Severus was astounded at the level Ron Weasley had fallen to. He was so indignant on Evan’s behalf he didn’t realize Evan had accidentally outed himself as Harry.

“We contacted the Gringotts goblins and they’ve put their lawyers on it. If it all goes to smash, Neville’s volunteered to claim ‘ownership’ over me.”

“He volunteered to own you? He would do that?”

“Hell, yes. He’s from an Ancient and Noble House. He trumps the sixth son in a family many consider to be Blood Traitors.”

“And you would accept living under his control?”

“He plays a mean cello,” Harry replied flippantly.

“Evan,” Severus growled.

“I don’t want to be under anyone’s control, but Neville’s never been jealous of me. I trust Neville a hell of a lot more than I do Ron Weasley.”

“When is this Weasley going to make his move?”

“The next meeting of the Wizengamont is January nineteenth. He can bring it before them then, but they can’t vote on it until February or much later if the goblin lawyers twist it in knots.”

“We should head back to Moondance. It’s not midnight yet so you’re supposed to be working.” Severus turned them around and headed back up the block toward the illuminated wolf. “I must say, you’re a fairly coherent drunk.”

“I’m a wizard. I can handle Muggle spirits fairly well. It’s Firewhisky and that lot that knocks me on my arse.”

*~*~*~*~*~*

Harry finished the last notes of “Auld Lang Syne” and the crowd began to count down the seconds to the New Year.

“10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…Happy New Year!”

In the mayhem that followed, Harry found himself pushed into Severus. He wrapped his arms around the smaller man to keep their balance. Harry planted a chaste kiss on Severus’ cheek.

“Thank you for listening to me and being my friend.”

Severus hugged him once and then released him. Harry returned to the piano and began to play Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” He played whatever struck his fancy as the festive crowd dwindled. Finally, the bartender announced “Last Call.”

Harry ended the set as he always ended his night, playing “Piano Man.” He collected both his cane and his tip jar and made his way to a side table. Severus joined him as he smoothed flat the crumpled notes from the jar. With the exception of a twenty pound note and three ten pound notes, the rest were five pound denomination. Severus sorted out the one and two pound coins, setting aside a few stray pence.

“You didn’t have to stay, you know. I am perfectly capable of getting myself home.”

“I promised the bartender I’d see you safely home.”

“Does that mean I’ll get a good night kiss at the door?” Harry asked playfully.

“Do you want one?”

The owner approached the table, so Severus never heard Harry’s reply, if he’d even given one. Samuel did a quick calculation of the tip total, added thirty pounds in wages, and exchanged the coins and several of the notes with higher denominations.

“So how much are we claiming in tips for the taxman tonight, Evan? Forty-five? Fifty?”

The pianist thought for a moment. “Put it down as fifty-three and throw in the odd number of pee.”

Harry compared the sizes of the different notes, verified with Severus the denominations, and began to fold each note in a predetermined manner.

“What are you doing?”

“If I have the notes lined up, I can usually tell what denomination they are by size. An individual note is harder to identify. By consistently folding all my fives one way and my tens another, I can differentiate them.”

“Clever.”

“Lifeskill training. You know, one of those…useless…classes I took.” Harry slipped the folded currency into his wallet and stood up. “Are you ready to leave?”

“Let me get the coats.”

“I’ll wait outside for you. I’m a bit warm.”

Harry picked up his cane and maneuvered his way toward the main exit. Severus shook his head, bemused by the man’s independent streak.

*~*~*~*~*~*

HARRY

Harry waited at the top of the stairs for Sebastian to bring their coats. The cold night air chased the remaining cobwebs from his brain. He felt better now; just sharing Ron’s treachery with Sebastian eased some of the overwhelming tension that had crippled him since Boxing Day.

So focused on his thoughts, Harry was not paying attention to his surroundings. He was startled when his elbow was caught roughly in a strong grip. He had not heard anyone approach.

“Well if it isn’t the Piano Man himself.” The unfamiliar male voice hissed in his ear. The grip on his arm tightened painfully, causing the cane to slip from Harry’s fingers. It clattered to the pavement, and the unknown man kicked it out of reach.

“You’re hurting me,” Harry said as the man pulled him down the sidewalk. He struggled and stumbled as he was dragged half off his feet. He tried to pry the fingers from his arm and was backhanded for his effort.

“If you keep fighting me, I’ll do more than hurt you. I’ll kill you.”

“Sebastian,” Harry called out. A heavy hand was clasped over his mouth, knocking the sunglasses from his face.

“Give me all your money.” A cold metal blade was laid against his cheek. “Give me your wallet or I’ll slit your throat.”

Shaking, Harry reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. It was plucked from his hand; several folded bills fell to the ground.

“Empty your pockets.”

A key ring and loose coins were knocked from his hands. “I don’t want that shite. Give me your rings.”

Where was Sebastian, Harry thought.

The man tugged violently on the Black Heir ring worn on his right hand, but the ring would not budge. Harry bit down hard on the hand held against his mouth. The man released his grip.

“Sebastian, help me!” Harry yelled as he stumbled blindly, trying to evade his unseen assailant. He was slammed into a wall. Once again the man pulled forcefully on the Black ring.

“Give me your fucking rings!” The man grabbed Harry’s left hand and pulled the Peverell ring he wore on his index finger. It too, did not come off. The Potter ring was twisted as it was pulled but it would not leave his finger.

“They don’t come off,” Harry cried out as the man crushed his left wrist. He felt the cold blade against his palm.

“You won’t be able to play the piano too well with no fingers.”

“Severus,” Harry screamed as the sharp blade cut deeply across the fingers of his left hand.

*~*~*~*~*~*

SEVERUS

After discovering that the hat check girl had left for the evening, Severus was forced to sort through the last few coats hung in the coatroom; Severus finally located one with a red and gold scarf tucked into the sleeve. Hanging it over his arm, he made his way toward the main exit. Mike held the door open for him, intending to lock up behind him.

“Sebastian, help me!”

They heard Evan’s panicked voice call out. Severus tossed the overcoat back through the doorway and sprinted up the steps. He stumbled when his foot landed on the discarded cane. He would have fallen backward down the stairs if Mike hadn’t steadied him.

Frantically Severus looked around. It was dark beyond the halo of light generated by the Moondance sign. Where the hell was Evan? No, he corrected himself. Where the hell was Harry?

“Can you see him?” Mike demanded, his fingers tightening on the bat he kept by the door.

“Severus!”

As Harry’s scream tore from his throat, a bolt of bright light erupted between the struggling men. The attacker was flung backward into several rubbish bins and Harry collapsed as quickly as a marionette without strings.

Severus dropped to his knees beside Harry’s crumpled form. There was a growing puddle of blood. He felt for a pulse and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt one. Quickly he tried to determine where the blood was coming from, but it was difficult to see in the dark.

Behind him, he could hear Harry’s attacker try to climb out from beneath the rubbish bins that had tumbled over him. There was a sharp thwack sound and a pained groan as Mike’s bat made contact with the man’s skull.

“Fucking Hell,” cursed Samuel as he skidded to a stop in front of Severus. The beam from his torch flickered on the bloody scene. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Keep the light on Evan,” Severus barked. “I can’t see where the blood is coming from.”

“Oh Sweet Merlin,” Severus hissed under his breath when he finally located the source of the bleeding. The knife blade had sliced along the crease at the top of Harry’s left palm, nearly severing three fingers. There also appeared to be a severe burn radiating from the Peverell ring and the finger containing the Potter ring was twisted at an unnatural angle. A quick check of the right hand revealed additional twisted digits.

“Is he breathing?”

“Yes.” Severus pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it around the damaged fingers in an attempt to stanch the blood. “I think he’s going into shock.”

“Why the hell didn’t Evan just give him his rings? Looks like he gave the bastard his wallet and keys.” The owner grimaced. “I better call this in to the police. I’ll tell them to send an ambulance.”

Samuel began jogging back to Moondance. Severus called out to him. “It’s a holiday and it will take too long to get here. His fingers are almost severed. I can…drive him faster than the police can get here.”

When Samuel ducked back into the bar, Severus turned toward Mike. The bouncer’s attention was on the prone thief. Quickly Severus flicked his wand and tucked it back up his sleeve. “Rennervate.”

Harry’s eyelids fluttered but they did not open. Consciousness slowly overtook him. Severus wrapped him into his arms as the younger wizard began to shake.

“No!” Harry cried out, struggling.

“Calm down, Evan. It’s Sebastian.”

“I gave him my wallet but he wanted the rings too. I told him they wouldn’t come off…” Harry began to hyperventilate. “My fingers…are they gone?”

“They are damaged, but your fingers are still attached. I need to get you to St. Mungos.”

“No!” Harry’s panic was escalating. “I can’t…they’ll…”

“I won’t leave your side, I promise.” Severus pulled Harry to his feet, wrapping his arm beneath Harry’s armpits to help keep him vertical as he began to sway.

“I’m so tired.”

“Maybe you better lay him back down,” Mike said, concern evident in his voice. “He’s barely conscious.”

“I can’t wait for help. He’s losing too much blood.”

“Mike, did you see who robbed me? Did you catch him?”

“I caught him. He’s not going anywhere right now.”

“Do you recognize him? He knew I played piano.”

Severus shone the torch into the assailant’s bloodied face. Mike studied the features a moment or two and nodded.

“Looks sort of familiar…Bob…Rob…used to wash dishes at Moondance, but Sam fired him when he discovered the kid was a thief and a junkie.” Mike’s eyes flickered. “You better get him to hospital, Professor. Kid’s not looking so good.”

*~*~*~*~*~*

ST. MUNGO’S

SEVERUS

Harry collapsed into unconsciousness as Severus side-along Apparated him to the entrance of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies.

“Mobilcorpus.”

Severus Levitated Harry’s still form beside him so that he could keep the left arm elevated to slow the bleeding. He blinked at the bright lights and the chaos within. It appeared that several celebrations of the New Year had gone awry.

He searched the main lobby, looking for someone in charge, and finally located a harried witch manning an Information Desk. There were at least twelve witches and wizards surrounding her desk, all talking at once. Obviously that was not the route to take.

The Potions Master then looked at the signs mounted on the wall and decided that, while the Spell Damage Ward wasn’t exactly what he was looking for, it was both the closest and well equipped to deal with serious injuries. He steered Harry’s body down the corridor toward the ward.

“Sir!” He heard the clatter of feet come up behind him. “Sir, stop! You can’t just head off on your own. You have to wait your turn.”

Severus turned, straightened to his full height and glared down his nose at the plump witch wearing apprentice mediwitch robes.

“Mr. Peverell was viciously attacked by a Muggle fifteen minutes ago. He is bleeding out and is comatose. I refuse to wait an indeterminate amount of time behind a group of drunken idiots who have managed to charm unicorn horns on their foreheads and tails on their arses while he bleeds out in your lobby.”

The apprentice took in his blood-stained Muggle suit and looked down at Harry. She squealed. “But that’s Harry P…”

“Mr. Peverell,” Severus interrupted sharply.

The mediwich’s mouth opened and then snapped shut. She seemed to come to her senses, realizing shouting Harry Potter in a room full of people was the easiest way to start a riot.

“Follow me, sir.” The apprentice scurried down the hallway and directed them into a triage room.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Hippocrates Smethwyck drew his wand slowly up Harry’s body. A spelled quill and parchment hovered beside the mediwizard, quickly filling with words. Severus heard Smethwyck click his tongue a few times as the wand paused over certain areas of Harry’s anatomy. The healer’s scan stopped at the damaged left hand. He looked coldly into the Potions Master’s eyes.

“There is an abundance of alcohol in his system.”

“There is alcohol in mine as well. It’s New Year’s Eve, Smethwyck. We had a few drinks in the bar he works at. I was taking him home.”

“Apprentice Adams stated you were attacked by Muggles.”

“Harry was attacked by a Muggle. He went outside to clear his head while I secured our overcoats. I was leaving the bar when he cried out for help. I heard him scream. There was a flash of light which flung back his attacker, and Harry collapsed. He must have tried to protect himself using wandless magic.”

“Tippy,” Smethwyck barked and a house elf in an immaculate red-and-white-striped pillowcase popped in. “Bring me three vials of Blood Replenisher, two Skele-Gro, a vial of dittany, and a Dreamless Sleep.”

Smethwyck wrinkled his nose at Harry’s blood-covered clothing. He raised his wand and began an incantation, but was stopped by Severus.

“You can’t vanish his garments and you can’t clean them. They need to be collected in a bag.”

“What are you on about, Snape?”

“I Apparated him out of the middle of a Muggle crime scene. I would imagine the Muggle police may need it as evidence.”

“You performed magic in front of Muggles? Are you daft? I’ll need to contact the Magic Reversal Squad.”

“No. The Muggle Harry blasted into a row of bins was insensible. The bar owner had already left to call the police. No one saw me.” Severus deliberately did not mention Mike.

Tippy popped into the examining room with a basket of vials. She handed them to Smethwyck and disappeared.

“You need to leave now so that I can treat Mr. Potter. I will make certain that his clothing is preserved as is.”

“I’m not leaving him. He was terrified about coming back to St. Mungo’s. I promised him he’d never be left alone.

“What could possibly happen to him at St. Mungo’s? All healers have taken an oath to do no harm.”

“Perhaps when that oath is extended to all persons on your staff, I would feel comfortable, but until then I stay with Mr. Potter-Peverell-Black.”

“I don’t…”

“I would suggest that once you have stabilized and healed him, you read Harry’s medical file from four years ago. I’ll discuss the fine points of trust with you then if you so wish, but for now…heal him or move aside so I can do so.”

Smethwyck spelled a vial of Blood Replenisher directly into Harry’s system. His pale cheeks began to pinken and the sluggish bleeding of his wound began to intensify once again. The healer’s eyes narrowed at the young wizard’s clothing. With several flicks of his wand, Harry’s shoes untied themselves and floated neatly to an empty chair, his trousers unbuttoned and unzipped, shimmying down his legs, folding neatly on top of the shoes. His remaining clothing soon joined the pile.

“Please stay out of my way while I tend to his injuries.”

The mediwizard sterilized the deep gash and slowly began repairing the underlying damage. He snapped each joint of the fingers back into place, knowing Skele-Gro would fine tune the repairs. When he reached the finger containing the Peverell ring, Smethwyck paused. The magic of the ancient ring pulsed angrily. A burn circled the finger beneath the gold band and ran the entire length of the index finger.

“You said the Muggle was blasted away from him?”

“Yes.”

“Is he dead?”

“No. It stunned him though, why?”

“Take a look at this.” Smethwyck turned Harry’s left hand. Severus could see purplish-black bruising on the wrist as well as the fingers.

“His wrist is broken.”

“No. It’s sprained, but that’s not what I wanted you to see. You said the Muggle tried to steal his rings? What would a Muggle do with Heir rings?

“He wouldn’t know or care that they were Heir rings. He knew only that they were gold and worth something in a pawn shop. The Muggle was a junkie, a drug addict so desperate for his next fix he would have done anything for money.”

“And the young man’s fingers were in the way…” The healer gently coated the injured digit in burn cream and felt the ring’s angry pulse fade. “I’m surprised the Muggle wasn’t incinerated.”

What an odd thing to say, Severus thought and then reconsidered. His mind whirled, going over his knowledge of obscure magiks, and then it clicked. Harry hadn’t protected himself with a wild burst of magic, the Peverell ring had siphoned off Harry’s magic to protect its heir.

Smethwyck rechecked the alignment of the bones in Harry’s hands, making a few additional adjustments. He scanned the hands once again and closed the open knife wound. Unstoppering the vial of dittany, he proceeded to slowly drip a fine line of liquid the length of the incision.

Harry sneezed.

*~*~*~*~*~*

HARRY

Harry felt tired, so very tired. He felt as if his body had been turned inside out. In a distance he could hear murmurs of conversation, but he couldn’t distinguish the words. He identified the thrum of magic he associated with Sebastian Prince, with Severus Snape, and he felt safe. His mind drifted, touching on many thoughts and unable to focus on any of them. Was he dying?

Words began to slide into focus and Harry tried to understand them through the pounding of a migraine headache.

“I’m surprised the Muggle wasn’t incinerated.”

What? Harry thought, before a wave of pain slammed into him. He felt something tickle the lining of his nose and he sneezed. Dittany.

“Welcome back, Mr. Potter,” said a voice he did not recognize. “How do you feel?”

“Tired…hurts.” Harry licked his dry lips. A glass of cool water was placed at his lips and he swallowed, coating his dry throat. “Fingers?”

“They are all attached.”

Harry noticed the man did not say that they were healed, only that he had not lost any of them. He vaguely heard the word Skele-gro before the nasty potion was placed at his lips. Grimacing, he swallowed the dosage, was offered water to clear his palate before a second, coppery smelling potion was offered. Blood Replenisher.

“I’ll need to run another diagnostic scan to make sure I did not miss anything. But first, is there anyone you want me to notify that you are here?”

“Andromeda Tonks…Neville Longbottom.”

“Kingsley Shacklebolt.” Severus’ voice broke in. “He needs immediate notification.”

“Kingsley Shacklebolt is the Minister of Magic. I will not wake him up in the middle of the night to tell him…”

The unknown healer’s voice drifted off. Harry could only imagine the withering glare Severus had focused on him.

“And who better to notify that, after a four-year hiatus, The Chosen One and the Bastard-Who-Murdered-Dumbledore have re-surfaced in the Emergency Surgery of St. Mungo’s? I managed to get him in undetected, but I highly doubt I can get him out the same way. How many Galleons do you want to wager on the discretion of your apprentice healer?”

*~*~*~*~*~*

SEVERUS

Smethwyck began to heal minor injuries as he ran another diagnostic scan. Bruise cream was slathered over battered knees and handprint-shaped bruises on his arms. The mediwizard’s wand hovered over Harry’s face.

“Fascinating,” he murmured nearly under his breath, but both Harry and Severus heard him. “It’s not a glamour.”

Harry’s eyelids opened and, for the first time, Severus could see Harry’s sightless eyes. He had expected to see cloudy white orbs or blown pupils, but two perfectly normal looking turquoise eyes stared back at him. The pupils did not dilate. They were hauntingly beautiful and completely dead.

“They’re not green,” Severus finally said.

“They’re prosthetic,” Harry replied.

“And the Muggles did this?” Smethwyck’s voice was excited. “They rebuilt the orbital structure so that the face doesn’t collapse. Absolutely fascinating…What are the eyes built out of? I thought it was glass, but it isn’t.”

“Medical grade plastic acrylic. They haven’t been made out of glass for years.” Harry closed his eyelids and tried to ignore the pain in his hands as the Skele-Gro reformed and reshaped the delicate bones. “I’m sure I can send you a book or two about it if you’re really interested. Can I leave now?”

“Leave? Of course not. You’ll need to remain at St. Mungo’s for several days under observation.”

“No! I can’t…I won’t…”

“Calm yourself, Evan.” Severus deliberately used the alias. “I promised you I wouldn’t leave you here alone, and I won’t.”

Harry looked so vulnerable, propped up in the hospital bed. The ill-fitting hospital nightshirt made him look frail. Harry tensed as Severus rested his hand on the thin shoulder.

“Have I ever lied to you?”

“No. Not even when you were the evil dungeon bat,” Harry replied wryly.

“Idiot.”

A sharp rap and a booming voice drew their attention to the opening doorway of the examination room. The imposing figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt strode into the room.

“All right Healer Smethwyck. I am here. Care to tell me what was so important I had to leave my bed in the middle of the…Harry? Severus? You’re alive?”

*~*~*~*~*~*

ST. MUNGO’S – Private Room 420

HARRY

Harry slowly squeezed a rubber ball five times with his left hand. The fingers were still stiff, but the strength was slowly coming back. It would take time, but he was hopeful he could regain the manual dexterity necessary to play the piano.

Teddy was curled up next to him, taking a nap, his soft breathing a comfort for his godfather. Andromeda’s knitting needles clacked quietly in the background. Harry reached over the sleeping child and located his sunglasses on the bedside table.

Andromeda had charmed the turquoise irises to more closely match the emerald green he had been born with, but Harry knew many of the witches and wizards found his prosthetic eyes unnerving. She assured him that, at quick glance, the orbs looked natural; it was only after a few minutes one realized that they were immobile. Severus viewed them as a tactical asset. While the blackened lenses made him seem helpless and the dead eyes were disquieting, both operated as masks to his true emotions.

News of their return to Wizarding Britain had been leaked as Severus had predicted, but no one was permitted to enter the room without pre-approved permission.

Severus was somewhere speaking with Smethwyck. Harry was going to be released the next day, so he assumed the wizards were discussing his care regimen. Harry knew once he left St. Mungo’s, he would have to face questioning by the Muggle police, so he was certain they were discussing how to apply the necessary glamours that would have to show post surgical reconstruction on his hands. Muggle medical procedures would have been much slower to heal. Harry wasn’t looking forward to having to pretend his hands were useless.

The smell of flowers punctuated Neville’s entrance.

“’lo, Harry.”

“Nev.”

“Flowers are from Hermione. Forget-Me-Nots. Just got off an international Floo call with her. Says to give you a hug and a kiss.” Neville paused. “No offense, mate. I’ll give you the hug but I draw the line at the kiss.”

“How is Hermione?”

“Angry. She’s broken off her engagement with Ron. Said something about emotions and a teaspoon. She said to let you know her flight comes in late tomorrow and not to disappear without letting her know where you’ve gone. Remind me not to get on her bad side. And she’s already compiled a list of Muggle hand surgeons if you need one.” Neville took a breath. “Isn’t she brilliant?”

“Longbottom.” Severus had approached so stealthily that Harry hadn’t heard him until he was steps away. “Has Kingsley sent an owl?”

“Not that we’ve seen,” Andromeda said. “But Kreacher is sorting through the latest basket of letters that have arrived for Harry.”

“You asked Kreacher to sort my post? He could get hurt doing that.”

“He was very insistent. No one was going to hurt his ‘poor blind master’ again. And he’s a Black house elf. If anyone would know curses, it would be a Black.”

Harry had to agree.

*~*~*~*~*~*

SEVERUS

Severus opened the hospital room door at the sound of a brisk knock. He held his wand firmly in his hand as a precaution.

“Good Evening, Kingsley.”

Kingsley strode into the room and seemed to fill the space with his presence. He cleared his throat. “Robert Paxton is recovering from his concussion.”

Severus looked at Harry who seemed perplexed.

“Sorry?”

“Robert Paxton is the name of the man who maimed you. He is claiming that you attacked him and he acted in self defense. Given his extensive criminal record, the Muggles suspect he is not telling the truth.”

“Did my magic give him the concussion?”

“Your magic?”

“When he tried to cut off my fingers, I blasted him into a row of bins.”

“That probably explains the bruising on his abdomen and groin. They believe the concussion came from the Muggle doorman’s cricket bat.” Kingsley glanced at Severus. “You forgot to tell us Quentin Michaels was on the scene.”

“Did you Oblivate Mike?” Harry asked.

“We didn’t need to. He insists Paxton fell into the bins when you kneed him in the bullocks trying to protect yourself. And he verifies that the Professor drove you to hospital.” The Minister smirked. “Nice Memory Charm, Snape.”

“Are they going to charge him?”

“Paxton has been arrested. He also had an outstanding warrant out for his capture.”

“I meant Mike.”

“He didn’t kill the man, so it will probably slide with a recommendation not to carry a bat. Given the nature of Paxton’s attack, they’re more likely to pin a medal on Michaels as arrest him.”

“I don’t understand…”

"The Daily Prophet" has nothing on the Muggle Press. Defenseless blind boy robbed at knifepoint of the few pounds he earned playing a piano at a bar. Gives up his valuables without a fight, but hesitates when the scumbag assailant demands a ring his dead father had given him, so said scumbag tries to cut off his fingers. Add in Healer Smethwyck’s Mugglized medical report filled with severed tendons, metacarpals, phalanges, and all sorts of medical gibberish…You end up with a blind musical prodigy who has had his career tragically cut short by a long-term junkie out for a fix. Not only are donations pouring in for Evan James, the Muggle public is out for Paxton’s blood.

“You’re still going to have to make a statement when they release you tomorrow and you are going to have to appear suitably injured. I am sorry, Harry, but you’re going to have to stop playing music in the Muggle world.”

Harry’s shoulders sagged and Severus rubbed his back. Kingsley’s eyebrow rose at the sign of casual comfort. Harry pulled his knees to his chest and laid his cheek upon one of the knees. “I’ll have to quit my classes at the R.L.S.B., too. If my hands are supposed to be useless, I can’t learn Braille or the computer either. Fuck!”

“Harry…”

“No! You don’t understand. This plays right into Ron’s hands. He’ll go before the Wizengamot and prove I’m incompetent. I hate my fucking life and I hate Robert Paxton.”

“What the hell is he talking about, Severus? I thought Ronald Weasley was his best friend.”

Severus looked at Harry’s dejected form and made a decision.

“Harry, call Kreacher.”

“Why?”

“Because I need to leave for awhile and won’t leave you alone.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does, you little dunderhead. Now call Kreacher. Kingsley, take a walk with me.”

*~*~*~*~*~*

HARRY

Smethwyck held a Calming Draught to Harry’s lips and Harry swallowed without argument. Severus was still gone, but Kreacher was hovering in the room, playing close attention to the healer’s movements.

“Flex the ball and let me scan the movements to make certain all the bones are in alignment.”

Harry squeezed the rubber ball several times with both hands. The joints still ached, but finally he was no longer ingesting small doses of Skele-Gro, so he hoped the pain and stiffness would ease soon.

“I reviewed your medical records.”

Harry froze.

“They led you to believe something that isn’t true.”

“You mean that my only career option was to be someone’s consort or everyone’s whore?” His voice was brittle.

Harry heard Smethwyck’s sharp intake of breath. “I was horrified to hear of your ordeal while a patient of St. Mungo’s by the hand of a sexual predator. However, that was not what I was referring to.”

Harry tilted his head, indicating he was listening.

“The healers were incorrect when they told you there was no re-training available for a blinded wizard. Specifically, there is no re-training available at St. Mungo’s. There are healers and tutors that specialize in the field, but there are few in England. You would have had to go to France or the Americas.”

“Then why did they lie to me?”

“For one, your family did not seem to be terribly receptive to the possibility of lessons.”

“I’m an orphan. I have no family.” Damn Mrs. Weasley’s coddling, he thought.

“Then I mean the people who acted as if they were your family. The honest truth is that re-training is a struggle for many and witches and wizards are intrinsically lazy. It is easier to use a magical solution to a problem than it is to educate themselves, so few wizards pursue the re-training option. They are happy to sit back and become invalids, therefore, many healers don’t think to offer the choice.”

“They can’t all want to be useless.”

“No. Unfortunately, Mind Healing is not always offered either. Some fall into deep depressions and find a solution to end their lives.”

“And no one has considered that if they were offered a chance, they wouldn’t succumb to suicide? The older I get, the more I realize that wizards are idiots.”

Harry heard slow clapping at the door. “Perhaps you are not a lost cause after all.”

Smethwyck left after he completed a final scan of Harry’s body and arranged a date and time for a follow-up visit.

“Are you feeling better?”

“I suppose, although that could be the results of the Calming Draught.”

“Shacklebolt and I were planning strategies for dealing with the Muggles. You are to stay in my London townhouse for a few days. Since it is not under Fidelius, we can insist the officers interview you there because you are still recovering from your surgeries. Miss Granger will be back in London, so she can visit with you there and perhaps take on the task of contacting your school, music tutor, and anything else you want her to do. She loves to micromanage, so that will make her happy.

“We can then transfer you to Andromeda’s house in the country. She is still visible in the Muggle world, so if anyone needs to locate you, they can find you there. While you’re there, you could take over Teddy’s piano lessons. His little beginner songs would probably be good exercise for your fingers.”

“Why can’t I just go home to my own flat?”

“You’re blind. You live alone. You’ve sustained injury to both of your hands. Unless you want to explain Kreacher to the Muggle Police…”

“All right. I’m an idiot.”

“No, you’ve fought too hard for your independence and don’t want to lose it. I understand that. Just keep in mind, this is temporary.”

“What do I do about Ron?”

“I have a few ideas on that. How would you feel about rejoining the Wizarding world on a part-time basis?”

“What?” Harry’s voice was incredulous.

“Oh, I plan to join you part-time as well. However, I am much too fond of Sebastian Prince and my research in the Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy Centre to totally give that up. We need to be seen out and about, we need to attend an important function or two, and we really need to go shopping in Diagon Alley.”

“You’re either daft or diabolical.”

“Let me ask you a question. You said that no one could remove your heir rings, but can YOU take them off yourself?”

Harry scowled in Severus’ direction but pulled on the Peverell Heir ring. He could twist it, but not remove it, nor could he remove the Potter Heir ring. The Black signet ring lifted to the first knuckle and would go no further. Harry’s forehead wrinkled as he tugged once again on the Black ring.

“It’s as I thought. Weasley can make no claim of ownership on you and neither can Longbottom, for that matter. All you need to do is prove to members of the Wizengamont that you cannot remove the rings.” Severus’ pleased voice almost purred. “You don’t understand, do you?”

“Not really.”

“It’s Olde Magik. The ambient magic that rules the Houses has declared you Heir. Magic does not care that you are blind.”

“And the Black ring?”

“You have Black blood in your veins, but it is generations removed. Although the ring accepts you as heir, it would also readily accept Andromeda, Narcissa, Draco, or Teddy. They have a more direct connection to the blood.”

“I’ve named Teddy as Heir-Apparent.”

“When Teddy reaches his majority, he may well be able to remove it, but for now, you control it.”

Harry was silent for several minutes.

“And what is this important function we need to attend?”

“You are going to reclaim the Potter, Peverell and Black Seats in the Wizengamont.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

“I really wish you wouldn’t use that word.” Severus’ voice was serious. “You are an adult and it is time you step up to your adult responsibilities. I will stand beside you and claim the Prince Seat as well.”

“Okay,” Harry sighed. “I really wonder what’s going to happen once this Calming Draught wears off.”

“I can give you another one.”

“You do realize that if we’re seen out and about, as you said, people are going to think I am your catamite.”

“I don’t have a problem with that.”

“It doesn’t bother you that I’m a male? That people will think you’re gay?”

“You’re thinking like a Muggle. Many wizards are bi-sexual. All people will think is that I have good taste.”

“I’m not my mother, you know,” Harry said quietly.

“And you’re not your father, either. Took me years to work that out.”

“We need to go to Gringotts. I have a box of memories to return to you. Thank you for sharing your memories of my mother.”

Severus was quiet. He had shared memories of betrayal as well.

“So, why do we really need to go shopping in Diagon Alley? Can’t we just owl order anything we need?”

“Some things you need to touch and see before you purchase them.”

“What things? I’ve always hated crowds and now they terrify me. You could just go without me.”

“We could go early in the morning.” Severus tried to ignore Harry’s sigh and snapped, “I need to go to Slug and Jiggers to pick out my own bat spleens.”

Harry couldn’t contain the laughter that bubbled up.

“You’re an idiot, Severus.”

“You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How did you figure out who Sebastian really was? You mentioned the feel of my magic, was that it?”

“That made me realize you were a wizard. There were two things that made me eventually realize the truth.”

“Only two things?”

“You are the only person I have ever heard use the word dunderhead in a sentence.”

“It’s a perfectly appropriate word. And the other thing?”

“It was something wizards use medically, but Muggles don’t.”

“There’s an entire list of things. You want to narrow it down?”

“Dittany. It always makes me sneeze.”

_______________________
(1) Exoculate Ex-oc-u-late transitive verb [Latin exoculatus , past participle of exoculare to exoculate; ex out + oculus an eye.]
To deprive of eyes. [ R.] W. C. Hazlitt. – Webster’s Revised Dictionary

(2) “Moondance” – ©Van Morrison (1970)

(3) “Santa Baby” – ©Joan Javitts and Phillip Springer (Originally sung by Eartha Kitt in 1953, it has been covered by many artists over the years.)

(4) Quote taken verbatim from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling