Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world are the inestimable creation of J.K. Rowling. I am a trespasser, playing for my amusement (and hopefully yours).
Chapter 4 - An Unexpected Letter, II
By Gateway Girl
Severus Snape watched the burbling grey mass intently, waiting to see what the addition of powdered amethyst would do to the mass. If he was correct, it would clarify the potion and add the attribute of clear-headedness to the shielding draught, and possibly guard against brain-damage from the necessary quantity of lead. Even so, he reflected, the lead must be drawn out at the end. It will be a painful draught, at best. Of course, if he were incorrect, the goo might simply explode from the incompatibility of elements.
While he was watching, something materialized in the air to his side and fell into his arm. Severus recognized the object was an envelope and snorted. Someone is a bit of a show-off, aren't they? he thought contemptuously, and continued to watch the potion. Slowly, a fringed circle of deep purple appeared in the center. Millimeter by millimeter it spread, until the entire potion was a rich, dark violet. Not a trace of opacity remained. With a fierce smile, Severus levitated the cauldron from the fire to a cooling stand.
It was then he turned his attention to the envelope, and nearly fell over from shock. That rich, red parchment and golden "P" seal had not been used for fifteen years.
"James?" he breathed.
At the sound of the name leaving his lips, with such affectionate softness yet, he cursed. "Someone has stolen your stationary, ghost," he sneered. The taunt made him feel a bit better, but not much. He felt betrayed by how his heart had sped up at the sight. A letter from James -- or James and Lily.... Even if such a thing were possible, he should not want it.
Deliberately, he slid a long-nailed finger under the flap of the envelope and broke the seal. He was unprepared for the brief golden glow that enveloped the letter and his hand and briefly superimposed the Potter family crest on the raised "P". The stationary was easy to duplicate. That charm should be impossible for anyone not of Potter blood.
"And did it well," he breathed, but his voice was not mocking, now. His mouth was too dry for that.
My dear Severus,
This letter is bespelled to go to you three days after Harry's sixteenth birthday, if I am dead. If you are also dead, it will go to Harry. He will have received a letter from James on his birthday....
Harry? James? Severus flipped over the letter and looked at the signature. "Lily" the letter ended, in her exuberant swooping signature, complete with the free sketch of a daylily at its end. He had seen her make that little picture in under five seconds. It was probably harder to duplicate than her script.
Snape let his hands, still gripping the letter, sink to the table top. He closed his eyes. Lily.... A letter from Lily....
"Which makes her none the less dead," he forced out fiercely. Dead girls are not supposed to write me, dearest ghost, he thought. And why about Harry? I won't let your precious son be killed -- don't ask any more of me.
He almost set the letter down and walked away.
He almost threw it on the fire he had not yet extinguished.
The first lines came back to him. James has already written to Harry. About what? I need to know what James told Potter about me. "Potter." That used to mean James. Damn them both.
He opened his eyes and resumed reading.
My dear Severus,
This letter is bespelled to go to you three days after Harry's sixteenth birthday, if I am dead. If you are also dead, it will go to Harry. He will have received a letter from James on his birthday.
In brief, Harry is your son.
"He is not!" Severus snapped out loud. "All gods, Lily, when did you become delusional?! The brat is the image of your arrogant husband."
With distaste, he forced himself to resume reading.
When you did not return, I completed the Herem ritual, and conceived. Do you recall the dinner we invited you to when you returned? We had intended to tell you that evening, but your story about your French lover convinced us it would be unsafe for him, and you, were anyone to know. We used a Paternity Charm, started prenatally to increase potency, so the child would look like James. Considering how much Harry looks like James, I think it likely he will be recognizably yours when that wears off, which it will have started to do three days ago, if my charm modifications were successful.
"Of course they were successful!" Severus raged. "When did any charm of yours ever fail?" He shuddered. That ... spoiled, self-centered, arrogant boy is mine? The implications of a previous statement struck him. And he knows?
We told no one of this, not even Professor Dumbledore. However, we thought it important that you and Harry both know before the charm wears off enough to make your kinship apparent. We told him earlier, in case you had returned to Voldemort, or gone mad, or otherwise become unsafe for him to approach. He has instructions to request advice from Dumbledore if he has never heard of you.
I request two things: first, do not separate him from his godfather, if they are now fond of each other. I know you do not approve of Sirius, but we chose him, in part, to be your balance. Second, I earnestly hope you do not regret a half-blood child, but if you do, send him from you quickly rather than subjecting him to the slow poison of your bile. Our Harry does not deserve that for your choice of women.
Farewell, my beloved. It hurt to deceive you in this, which should have been my greatest gift to you. Cherish our son, and hold none of what I spun with James against him.
I love you always, my obsidian blade, my shadow prince, my first love. If you love me still, treat Harry kindly.
Severus closed his eyes.
An hour later, Severus slipped into Dumbledore's office like a storm cloud sliding over the sun.
"We have," he said, "an urgent problem."
Dumbledore looked at him curiously. "Yes, Severus? Pixies in the Charms storeroom, again?"
"Be serious!" Severus snapped. He thrust Lily's letter at Dumbledore. "Read this!" He hesitated. "Just the first side," he added, with a trace of awkwardness.
Dumbledore lifted his eyebrows in amusement, then lowered his gaze to the paper. His amusement faded quickly as he read.
After he had read the first side of the paper several times, he handed it back to Severus and folded his hands on the desk.
"I can see that it has worrisome ramifications, Severus, but might you, perhaps, be allowing your personal feelings to exaggerate the more far-reaching ones?
"I killed that woman, Dumbledore! Killed her because my lord told me to. I cannot do that to Harry Potter -- as much as I sometimes might want to. And you know the strength of blood magic -- you have used it to keep the boy safe these sixteen years. Now I can be used against him, as soon as anyone knows." Severus began to pace. "What do you do now? Do you kill me to save him? Do I stop spying and hide from the Dark Lord to save him? My arm burning constantly? I don't even like the boy!"
"We will do the second, if it becomes necessary," Dumbledore said firmly. "However, the Paternity Charm wears off very slowly -- it is blood based, and some of it becomes embedded in organs of the body. It may be six months or more before his changes become obviously unnatural. You and James were both tall, skinny, and dark-haired -- that works in our favor."
Severus closed his eyes, trying to picture Harry as accurately as possible. To his surprise, his clearest image was of a small first-year boy, staring at him in angry defiance. Beyond that, he kept seeing James, instead.
"He has Lily's nose, I think," he said, still detached in trying to picture an older Harry Potter. Surely he ought to be able to picture Harry Potter! The boy was a thorn in his side.
"Yes. That's helpful," Dumbledore agreed. "He's always had James's mouth and facial shape, however, though the eyes are clearly Lily's. That's what makes his expressions so like those of James. When he scowls, I recall James's fiery anger, though Harry's is much darker. When he laughs, I remember James's jokes, though Harry is much more reserved."
"Don't start confusing him with memories of me."
"There is no need to worry, Severus. I cannot avoid these associations, but I am skilled at remaining aware of the individuality of my students -- better than many of their professors."
Snape gritted his teeth at the subtle barb. Dumbledore knew exactly who was worst at it, he was sure.
"So, you believe we have several months."
"Were our only concern Harry's appearance, we would have several months."
Severus waited. "But?" he asked finally.
"I heard from Molly Weasley, today. She had been rather shocked to have Ron ask her about the Paternity Charm. She said he said that Harry had asked him --"
"That brainless simpleton!"
Dumbledore looked at him in silent reproof. When Severus eased his glare, the headmaster continued mildly:
"According to Ron, Harry did not mention why he was asking. If we explain the problem to him, I'm sure he can find some alternative explanation to provide to his friend."
Severus ground his teeth. "Lies very well for a noble Gryffindor, does he not?
Dumbledore sighed, but his mouth curved in an unmistakable smile as he turned from Severus to Fawkes. He stroked the phoenix's brilliant plumage.
"With how many Gryffindors were you involved, Severus?"
"Just the two," Severus answered irritably. "Unless, of course, you are asking how many --"
Dumbledore held up a hand for silence. "No, Severus. I am merely interested in romantic involvements."
"And at least two more were friends. Yet you hate the house."
"The first relationship ended badly, and the second --" Severus stopped suddenly. "That ended badly too, but by my hand, my words. She is dead, and I hate him. James is dead by the Dark Lord's hand, and Augustus in his service. What from that house did not turn bitter at my lips?" He turned and sneered at Dumbledore. "Very fair on the outside, your lot are, but it makes the inner bite but more galling." He picked up the letter. For a moment, he hesitated. "I will speak to him."
"Are you certain?" Dumbledore asked.
"Don't you trust me?" Severus mocked. "I hate the boy; I will not deny it. But this is my problem as much as his, and I need to talk to him, eventually. Before school starts would be preferable." A savage flash of pleasure shot through him. "And if anyone can terrify the brat into silence, it is I."
"Of course I trust you, Severus," Dumbledore returned, with aggravating mildness, as if Severus had been perfectly pleasant. "If you wish to bring him back here to live with you, I have no objection, provided he consents."
Severus goggled at the headmaster.
"Did you hear me? I hate the boy."
"As you wish." Dumbledore smiled. "Please don't harm him in your zeal to protect him, then."
"I will do what is effective," Severus hissed through clenched teeth.
"Very well. Good night, Severus."
Severus whirled, taking comfort in the sound and feel of his robes swirling about him. He was halfway to the dungeons before he realized he had forgotten to return the headmaster's good wishes.
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