Severus prided himself on being a man fully in control of his own faculties. He was a master of the mind-arts, the Head of Slytherin, a literal spy, and yet even he had trouble keeping his mouth from falling open and staring like a loon at the man who had appeared out of nowhere.
Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, missing for a decade and now returned as a grown man somehow. Lily’s child he was vowed to protect, Potter’s spawn, unmistakably a magical user of great power. Severus wasn’t familiar with whatever kind of power Harry Potter was wielding, but he could feel it from across the room like a cold shiver running up and down his back.
Albus was working overtime to get those blasted cretins to calm down, and Severus entered the fray, whipping out his wand and releasing a few loud blasts around the hall. “Anyone who is still in this hall in two minutes instead of on their way to their dormitory will serve a month of detention with me!” he yelled over the cacophony of voices from overexcited students. That threat seemed to work on his Slytherins and a good chunk of the Ravenclaws. The Hufflepuffs seemed to all have gone mysteriously deaf to threats of detention, probably due to finally getting some recognition by having one of their own selected as champion of Hogwarts. They were soon to find out that miniscule victory would not make them immune to Severus’ wrath.
And the Gryffindors…well, the less said about the Gryffindors, the better, Severus usually found. Ah, but wait, at least Ms Granger was dragging her two usual compatriots with her out of the hall. Smart girl. How she ever ended up in the house of the intellectually challenged was anyone’s guess.
Minerva finally stepped up after she’d gotten over the shock of the spontaneous reappearance of the Potter boy and got her lions under control enough that they left the hall in as quick of a fashion as could be expected of a bunch of brainless twats.
And the Hufflepuffs were still convinced they now deserved special treatment because one of their own had been foolish enough to enter himself in a tournament that might very well kill him, all for some imaginary honour in the name of his school which he’d be leaving in a year anyway.
Severus loomed over the end of the Hufflepuff table. “To your dormitories now, or you will all be shovelling hippogriff shit for the rest of the schoolyear, mark my words!”
That threat, and a gentle urging from Pomona, finally got the badgers scurrying off to their little beds. Karkaroff and Maxime had ensured their own students had left at once, but they themselves stayed, couple of curious disaster tourists that they were.
Albus was looking at Potter the same way Hagrid was looking at Potter’s beast, with enormous doe eyes full of desire and awe. Severus rolled his eyes because honestly, it was just James Potter’s spawn, no need to roll out the red carpet or hand him the key to the castle.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Potter finally said when the quiet had returned. He stood perfectly still, his beast sitting silently beside him, while they both watched the circus around them with sharp gazes.
“Ah, I do apologize, but as you could see we had to get the students to their beds first before we could have a normal conversation,” Albus replied with his most genial expression, voice full of unwanted reassurances, eyes twinkling like mad.
Severus fought the urge to puke.
“My name is Albus Dumbledore and this is Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.” Albus waited expectantly for a few seconds. “You must have heard of Hogwarts?”
Potter gave no sign of recognition of any of the names. Instead he gazed at Albus with bright green eyes. At least the blasted things had stopped glowing like they had when he’d first arrived. “Why have you brought me here? I usually don’t answer summons, but this one was so strong even I couldn’t stop the pull.”
“Well, that is a question not easily answered. I suggest we gather in my office where we can more comfortably answer your questions and hopefully you’ll answer a few of ours in return.” Albus gestured amicably towards the doors leading to the entrance hall.
“Lead the way.” Potter returned Albus’ gesture with one of his own.
“Perhaps our gamekeeper can tend to your companion,” Albus said as they started moving out of the hall.
“Aye, I’d be happy ter look after him,” Hagrid said, sounding so eager Severus was sure he was about to drop to his knees and beg to be allowed to pet the ugly beast.
“Her,” Potter said with an amused curve of his lips, though most of that stayed hidden beneath his beard. “Her name is Keket and she prefers to remain by my side.” Then he ignored Hagrid’s obvious disappointment and turned his attention back to Albus. “She is housebroken, I assure you, and she won’t cause trouble as long as others don’t start any trouble.”
“Very well then.” Albus looked so relieved to have Potter back he probably would have let him keep the beast with him even if Potter had announced it was going to take the world’s biggest dump right in Albus’ favourite bowl of sherbet lemons.
“Now Veles is not nearly as well behaved, I’m afraid,” Potter said and at hearing his name the oversized raven descended and landed on Potter’s shoulder, while cawing, “Veles is a good bird.”
“Yes, you are,” Potter agreed with a much friendlier tone of voice than he’d used so far. “But you are also a troublemaker.”
The raven didn’t disagree with that, and Severus fought the urge the hex the damned bird right off Potter’s shoulder. Of course James Potter’s spawn would have special animal companions that no one else had. Severus was not in the least bit surprised that Potter already proved as spoiled as his father always had been.
The raven pecked at one of Potter’s braids, pulling on a metal trinket, and Potter raised his hand, gesturing at the bird to stop with a resigned little sigh. Perhaps the bird would shit all over Potter’s fur cloak. One could hope. As they walked through the corridors of Hogwarts, Potter quietly observed his surroundings, face giving nothing away. Severus walked a short distance behind him, observing Potter, taking in how he moved like a seasoned warrior expecting an attack from any direction, and how he subtly turned his head in all directions, looking at as many details as he could, probably to memorize what he could.
But then the ugly beast at Potter’s side decided to climb straight up the wall until it was literally walking on the ceiling upside down as though it was the most normal thing to do in the world for whatever the fuck kind of thing it even was. Severus had never seen the like of it before and he was immensely grateful for that fact.
“Oh,” Hagrid said, sounding a little bit more in love with every word that came out of his mouth. “I didna think it could do tha’. What kind of critter is she, Harry?”
Potter looked at Hagrid over his shoulder for a moment and then gave a careless shrug. “You know, I never asked her.”
And that said exactly nothing, even when Hagrid chuckled at Potter’s non-answer and Potter offered a short grin in return.
Severus was not at all pleased with having the beast of no name literally hanging over his head, seeing as her jaws were big enough to eat said head in one generous bite if she so pleased. But Severus was practised in giving not a hint of his real feelings away and he kept his features schooled while he joined in the procession through Hogwarts.
It wasn’t until they reached the gargoyle that guarded the headmaster’s office that Albus turned around and seemed to realize that every single staff member plus all their guests had followed them in the hopes of hearing Potter’s story.
“Ah,” Albus said in his most regretful voice. “I’m afraid my office isn’t big enough to hold all of us at once.”
Which was a load of crock, of course. The man was a wizard and a master of transfiguration to boot. He could enlarge his office if he wanted to. Severus had seen him do it at the end of the war, when the whole of the Order of the Phoenix, or what was left of it after plenty of casualties and some imprisonments, had gathered there. But Albus obviously wanted to keep his new favourite toy to himself for a while longer before he’d have to share it with the whole world.
“For now I think Minerva, Severus, Alastor and myself will be enough of a crowd for Mr Potter this evening.” All conveniently members of the Order of the Phoenix and loyal to Albus, of course.
Several people protested, some louder than others. Karkaroff and Maxime seemed to think they should be there since Potter had been named a champion of the tournament, but Albus brushed them off by pointing out they weren’t going to discuss the tournament that evening but that it could wait until the next day, when Karkaroff and Maxime could join them for that conversation. For now, Albus suggested, they should inform their champions of the rules of the tournament and Pomona should do the same for Diggory. At least it seemed the poor sods who were supposed to be the centre of attention that evening would at the very least get the instructions they needed to hear and they wouldn’t be left forgotten in a side-chamber off the great hall.
Barty Crouch seemed to believe he should be part of the Potter talk on behalf of the ministry, but Moody pointed out he was a ministry representative as well, and Albus buttered Barty up by asking him sweetly to go to the ministry to prepare things there for the return of Harry Potter, whatever that even meant. Severus hadn’t a clue, other than several horrifying visions of Fudge giving some sort of overblown speech about the return of their saviour or something unbearable like that.
Finally everyone who shouldn’t be there dispersed and their small group rode the stairs to Albus’ office, while the beast still used the ceiling because why not. Obviously it knew something about personal transportation the rest of them didn’t.
“Please, everyone, have a seat.” Albus conjured several comfortable chairs, the show off, while Minerva got a house-elf to serve them tea. Severus wondered if it would be too rude to tell the house-elf to bring him a bottle of whiskey instead, because by Merlin’s soggy underpants, he needed a drink right now.
Moody declined any tea and instead sipped his hipflask, the lucky bastard.
“Now that we’re all here, Harry, my boy, let me tell you how happy I am to have you back with us,” Albus said as he stirred three lumps of sugar in his tea.
“I am not yours, I assure you,” Potter said with real venom in his voice, causing Albus to blink in surprise. “I am a free man, paid for with blood and death, and I will do whatever it takes to keep it that way. Now, tell me why you brought me here because I have been patient enough, I believe.”
“Er…yes…I didn’t mean anything by it, my…I’m sorry, Harry, I will get to the point, I promise.” Albus looked like a damned blushing schoolboy on his first date, and he sounded like it, too. The great headmaster of Hogwarts, reduced to a bumbling fool, all over James Potter’s spawn.
“Our school is hosting a magical tournament and during the selection process for the champions your name came out of the goblet that’s enchanted to select the best possible champion, thus binding you to a magical contract,” Albus explained patiently, thankfully having regained much of his composure.
There was a bit of a ruckus behind them as the beast chased across the wall of paintings of the previous headmasters, batting at their faces like the worlds ugliest, most overgrown housecat. The headmasters complained loudly, probably because the beast kept them from peacefully pretending to be asleep while they eavesdropped on everything that was said.
“Keket, here,” Potter said, patting his thigh. The beast gave a few more headmasters a few bats of an enormous paw before slinking down the wall and coming to a halt at Potter’s feet.
“Why was my name considered as a champion in the first place?” Potter asked once the beast settled down.
“Cause someone entered it,” Moody said, his magical eye focussed on Potter entirely. “Anyone could have done it, because the only security around the goblet was designed to keep underage students from entering themselves.”
“It might even have been a misguided prank,” Minerva said, mouth pinched in a tight line. She was obviously considering who might have played such a tasteless prank but didn’t have to think long. Severus knew exactly what conclusion she reached: that the pranksters in question were identical and had red hair.
“Whatever the reason, it has brought you back home,” Albus concluded with a jovial clap of his hands. Potter seemed to not share that sentiment in the slightest. “Now, my…Harry, could you tell us where you’ve been for the last decade?”
“And how you’re suddenly an adult while you should be fourteen,” Moody added with a suspicious glance up and down the man.
“Where I have been? In Santika. And why I’m an adult? Because time is a funny thing that has a tendency to move differently in different dimensions. You say I’m supposed to be fourteen? Well, I’m easily twice that so that means time moves twice as fast in Santika as it does here,” Potter said with the air of a scholar who’d spent decades studying the subject he’d just described.
“Fascinating,” Albus said, and he genuinely seemed to find whatever Potter was sprouting interesting. Severus wasn’t sure what to think. He’d certainly never considered the question of whether or not other dimensions even existed very important when he was busy keeping himself alive in a war and later guiding hundreds of students through seven years of higher education. “What is Santika exactly?” Albus asked, and they all seemed to lean a little closer to Potter in anticipation of the answer to that question.
“Santika is a world, just a different one than this world.”
Severus had to admit that Potter had a real talent for answering every question yet saying very little at all.
“And how did you end up there?” Albus folded his hands in his lap, probably to stop them from trembling with eagerness at finally being able to solve this decade-old mystery that had kept them all awake at night more often than not.
“Master Karakas, the owner and operator of the Misty Springs school for sorcery summoned me across worlds,” Potter said calm as you please even though he just described what amounted to his own kidnapping. “That is how he gathered new students. He put out magical feelers across the multiverse for unwanted children nobody would miss with strong magical potential and then he’d pull them into Santika.”
Albus blinked a time or two, probably not having expected that answer. “And you never tried to return home?”
Severus couldn’t hold back a snort at the absurdity of that question, and Minerva stared at Albus like she’d never seen the man before.
Potter’s expression could only be described as incredulous. “Why on earth would I want to come back to a dark closet and starvation? Master Karakas was a harsh taskmaster and he firmly believed that one should not spare the rod, but he taught us and trained us and we got three meals a day and had warm beds to sleep in and clothes that fit and there were many natural springs to bathe in at the end of the day. The Dursleys certainly never provided me with any of that.”
Albus was blinking again and Severus wanted to roll his eyes so badly it physically hurt to stop himself from doing so. “Ah, yes, my…Harry, you have my deepest sympathies for how your family treated you. I had no idea Petunia would not accept you into her family when I placed you there.”
Potter’s green eyes started glowing just the tiniest smidge but other than that he didn’t give any reaction to the news that it was Albus who had placed him with his abusers. Even though Severus didn’t want to, he could at least sympathise with Potter over their shared miserable childhoods.
“I’m not sure if you know this, Harry, but your relatives passed away in a fire the night of your disappearance,” Albus said, voice full of sympathy that was about as sincere as Rita Skeeter’s desire to tell the truth.
Potter gave no reaction, just sat still as a statue as he stared at Albus, tea in front of him cold and ignored. On his shoulder, the oversized raven cawed a few times but Severus couldn’t make out any words.
Finally Albus seemed to understand that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Potter if he kept bringing up his dreadful relatives, so he cleared his throat and not so smoothly changed topics. “Now we have to decide what to do with you, Harry, since you will need to participate in the upcoming tournament.”
“And if I don’t participate?” Potter asked with not a single emotion in his voice.
“You risk losing your magic.” Albus nodded sagely, and Severus could tell that it pained the headmaster to be faced with a version of their lost saviour who simply didn’t seem to give a damn about much of anything. “You can stay here at Hogwarts during the duration of the tournament. We can also teach you magic during that time.”
“I already know magic,” Potter replied with a roll of his eyes. “And I have housing. I just need some land to put it on.”
“Housing?” Moody asked, confused.
Potter patted the satchel attached to his belt. “I have my abode stored away in here. I can put it up anywhere.”
“We can look for a place for that on the grounds perhaps,” Albus suggested at once, obviously scared to lose the man as soon as he’d found him. “For tonight, I would be honoured to have you stay in this castle, the same one your parents called home for seven years.”
No reaction. Severus had a suspicion and he decided to put it to the test. “Potter, what do you know of your parents?”
Potter frowned for a moment. “That they were a whore and a lazy drunk who got themselves killed in a car crash.”
“Mr Potter!” Minerva said, aghast, clutching a hand to her chest. “Your parents were no such thing. They were kind,” here Severus coughed in protest as he remembered James Potter’s kindness, “and smart people, who fought against the dark and who gave their life for you.”
Potter gave another one of his careless shrugs. “That’s not what the Dursleys told me. And I never gave them much thought after I moved to Santika.”
“Well, I happen to know two gentlemen who would be more than happy to tell you all about your parents,” Albus said, and Severus wanted to groan at the idea of having Black and Lupin underfoot in the castle in the near future, all so they could tell Potter stories about James Potter’s kindness and sacrifice while forgetting to mention the man was a violent bully in his youth. “I’ll make arrangements for you to meet them. One of them is your godfather and he was most distraught to learn of your disappearance.”
Potter quirked a single eyebrow in response. Well, it was something at least instead of the stoic mask they’d been looking at so far. “What is this word? Godfather. I do not know it.”
Before Albus could answer, Moody raised a hand and gestured roughly towards Potter. “Look, it’s obvious Potter knows nothing about this world and his own life in it, so maybe we should make a more organized effort to educate him instead of trading questions back and forth.”
“That is not a bad idea,” Minerva agreed at once. “We can each take a section and write down whatever information we believe Mr Potter should learn.”
“Do you even know how to read?” Severus asked a very unimpressed looking Potter, but he was damned if he was going to spend a few hours writing things down for a man who might very well turn out illiterate.
Potter ignored Minerva’s outraged harrumph at Severus bluntness and answered with a simple, “Yes. And write too.”
“Excellent!” Albus got up from his chair and everyone else did the same. The beast used this as an excuse to go hunt dead headmasters up and down the wall again. “Minerva can show you to one of our most comfortable guest quarters for the night, Harry. And tomorrow Severus can escort you to Diagon Alley to at least visit Gringotts so you can sort out your inheritance. Oh, and so you can buy your wand, of course.”
Oh joy, now Severus was being volunteered to be Potter’s personal shopper. Just what he’d always wanted. There was not enough alcohol in the world to deal with this disaster of an evening.
“Certainly,” Potter said, sounding about as enthusiastic as he’d done the whole time. “Is there anywhere here where I can get a hot bath? Being pulled forcibly through dimensions wreaks havoc on your joints as it turns out.”
“You’ll find comfortable bathing facilities in your quarters, and a house-elf will serve you a late dinner,” Minerva assured him while gesturing for Potter to follow her.
Severus, Albus and Moody watched Potter and his animal side-kicks follow Minerva out the door and the moment it closed all three of them seemed to release deep, tired breaths.
“Well,” Albus said, running a slow hand down his beard. “Well.”
“You can say that again,” Moody agreed with a grimace. “I can’t get a reading on that boy and I haven’t a clue what kind of magic he is using. Never felt the like before.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Severus said, done for the day with polite manners. “I have an early start tomorrow if I’m to babysit the brat.” Translation: I have a hot date with a full bottle of whiskey in my quarters and no one better dare disturb me for the rest of the night. Without waiting for a reply, Severus rushed out of the room.
Harry let Minerva give him a short tour of the guest quarters, which were indeed very comfortable, while a house-elf placed a bowl of soup and some sandwiches under a preservation charm on the dining table. The moment Minerva wished him a good night and closed the door, Harry waved his staff around, casting the strongest privacy spells he knew.
Then he plucked a necklace holding an intricate golden amulet from under his shirt and rubbed his thumb over it, concentrating on the people he wanted to see.
Two shimmering figures appeared in front of him, faces familiar and beloved.
Harry’s stoic face broke out in a wide grin while Veles cawed a soft greeting. “Mum, Dad, you’ll never guess where I am!”