Chapter Nine: The Promise
In the dark all was confusion. There were the frantic voices of Death Eaters calling out for their master. Some sounded familiar — Harry made out Wormtail's voice and grimly aimed his wand in that direction.
But when he tried to cast the full body-locker spell his words were eaten by the angry darkness.
I say again: Who has spilled the blood of my child? Who has brought death to my home?
"Grandmother? Grandmother it was the man who has the venom of Nagini in his veins," came Snape's voice, dry and cracked. He sounded as if he were trying not to cry, but he was alive. Harry almost trembled with relief.
The night seemed to gather and refocus its attentions.
Harry blinked. He could see again. Moonlight had never seemed so bright.
The darkness had churned within itself to provide an arena. In it could be seen Chad, Solly, and Voldemort. Chad's face was the colour of whey but he managed to give Harry a weak facsimile of his normal smile. Harry tried to smile back, but wasn't sure if his face was working properly. His body felt sluggish, as if it wasn't in its proper place somehow.
Voldemort was in the centre of the arena. The three Killing Curses circled him, darting at him like angry wasps and bouncing back. Whatever was holding them back, Harry couldn't even guess at, but he thought Voldemort was just as startled at being alive as Harry was.
Solly shook his mane and yawned, unperturbed so long as Chad didn't move from the safe spot between his forelegs.
Shrunk back from Voldemort was Snape. His hair was back to hanging dispiritedly over his face. Blood dripped from his hooked nose and was spattering the snow. At first Harry thought his hands had been hurt by the way the Professor kept them tucked against his chest, but then he realised.
Oh, no. Not her, too.
The night breathed in.
It wasn't something Harry could describe, more like a prickling up the back of his neck that told him something was happening.
That, and the smell of roses.
The darkness coalesced into a tall form.
Black hair flowed down, becoming robes that were woven from the very essence of night. It travelled down and on into the shadows. It was the shadows. Harry blinked and tried to focus on the face that was crowned by a wreath of white roses.
Face and hands were visible — pale as the full moon.
Were there eyes? The night seemed to find a resting place where eyes should be. Those eyes were where the night sheltered when the sun came up and then, when it went away again, the night would return, filled with all the fears and the glories that came during the still hours of the mind and were forgotten upon waking.
The woman turned those eyes on Harry.
He winced as they saw straight into his soul. In them were none of the kindnesses Dumbledore granted when he saw you and your motives stretched out for his scrutiny. Dumbledore, for all his age and powers, was human.
This creature was not.
She could wear the form of a woman, but no human had ever had eyes like those. The closest Harry had seen to them had been Snape's blank, black eyes.
She knew the fears and the glories. They held no secrets from her. She was sister to many of them. She was the daughter of Night and Death.
All this Harry saw and understood in the split second she examined him. And he knew, too, that she had consented him this knowledge.
She looked away and her pale lips parted.
Snape bowed his head, unable to meet those eyes.
She glided over the snow as if she had no feet. She left no footprints: the snow was swept clean as if it had only just fallen. She reached down and put a delicate finger under Snape's chin.
Child. Still you hide from me.
Is it right that a child should fear his ancestress?
She tilted Snape's bloodied chin so that he faced her. Her eyes caught and held his. Harry saw the wet trails of tears and he saw Snape tremble. He did not hear Snape's whispered reply.
I am patient. I am patience. All that is lost returns to me. There was nowhere so far you could go that you could not return to me. I am only pleased that it was not death that brought you back.
Snape flinched as if she had struck him. "It was not my death." He held out the bird's body. "Is this justice?"
Harry swallowed against the hard lump in his throat. Helen. He thought he heard Chad sob and when he looked over the other boy was wiping at his face fiercely with his good hand. Solly lowered his head and blew a gust of warm air down the back of Chad's neck.
The daughter of Night and Death stroked the cooling feathers with a long, bone-white finger.
I do not concern myself with justice, she said, but not unkindly. I am Guardian. And you are of my blood through the human man I loved, and thus my conscious link with the peoples of this land. Finally you have returned. That is what concerns me. And here, with you, are creatures that have damaged you. They seduced you from your rightful place. They poisoned your thoughts. Your soul you managed to poison on your own, but they supplied you with the toxin.
They tried to claim you.
They did not know you already belonged to Me.
She drifted over to touch Voldemort's shoulder, and the green lights circling him shattered and dissolved in the snow.
Voldemort himself was trembling, those mad, red eyes rolling in terror.
Somewhere Harry found room to feel a small, vicious pleasure at Voldemort getting some of his own back.
This is the source of the blight. He has bled you and marked you, and merely destroying his body will not dispose of his malice.
She held out her hand. Dazedly, Snape tucked Helen's corpse against his chest with his right arm and held out his left hand. She pushed up his sleeve and let the moonlight show the blemish of the Dark Mark against the ghostly white of his skin.
She covered the skull and snake with her palm.
It hissed. Snape bit his lip until there was fresh blood on the snow, but he didn't cry out.
When she removed her hand his arm was unmarked.
It is done. And this time you will remember to whom you owe your loyalty, my child. You will continue the line that binds me closer with the people who live with this land. I have cleared the path for you. Her voice was stern, now. I will take your past and put it where it cannot escape to cause further mischief.
She turned and glided away. The moonlight followed her and when she floated up on the large, flat rock Harry knew at last where they were.
Grandmother Taniwha's Pool.
Was it only a trick of the moonlight, or was the pool empty? There seemed to be a yawning gulf that made the eyes ache and the mind wince.
He didn't have time to work it out. The shadows flowed around and past him, becoming part of the woman's robes before plunging in a black waterfall into the pool.
Harry saw empty masks and faces flow past like drowning men in a raging river. Some of the faces were recognisable, twisted in fear though they were.
A short, balding man with a silver hand reached out to grab at his cloak. Harry hit the silver hand with his wand. A flash of blue light and a startled yelp, and Wormtail let go and disappeared back into the river rushing into the pool.
The woman did not dive into the water, as Harry had been expecting her to. Instead, she merged with it. Only then did Harry properly understand. He had been expecting scales and teeth and claws. He hadn't been expecting Snape's great-great-great-grandmother.
She was the taniwha.
And the taniwha was the pool.
The ebony waters of her hair rippled softly at her last words:
Your past is gone, child, and love such as Helen's must be rewarded. As Death's daughter, I can give you and she this: Your future.
She was gone. The night resonated with her passing.
Harry gasped as if air was a new thing.
He knew Snape had been holding Helen's corpse. But now, in his arms?
Harry stumbled towards Snape, vaguely aware of Chad doing the same thing.
There, in Snape's arms, was the body of a naked woman. At first Harry thought she was dead. Then there was the sudden gasp for air and flutter of eyelashes.
Snape, too, seemed to come back to life. Not letting the woman go, he managed to shrug out of his cloak and wrap her in its warm folds. As he drew her close to his chest, the woman's eyes opened. They were dark brown, and hauntingly familiar.
Snape swallowed audibly. "Helen?" he croaked.
The woman smiled. One hand reached out from the cloak to stroke his hair back from his face and rub away one of the tear-tracks. "Yes," she said, and closed her eyes, still smiling, as she laid her head on his shoulder. Harry and Chad knelt in the snow. Harry put his hand on Snape's thin shoulder and looked at Chad. Chad met his gaze with one of astonished disbelief. We're alive, he mouthed. Harry nodded back, still dazed and doubting, and squeezed Snape's shoulder gently. Snape didn't notice; he hugged Helen tight and rocked her in his arms, his hair hiding his expression, his shoulders shaking beneath Harry and Chad's hands.
In big, soft flakes, the snow began to fall again. Harry and Chad huddled closer to Snape and Helen, both boys trying to shelter the grown-ups from the cold.
Solly was the first to notice when the Minister for Magic and the Aurors arrived.
"There they are!"
Fudge. Damn, thought Harry after the moment it took to register whose voice that had been. Could things really go from pathos to bathos so easily? What the hell was the Minister doing here, anyway? He looked up and scowled at the small, plump man. To think that Fudge had once seemed kindly?
"Children, get away from that Death Eater!" Fudge snapped.
It was a little disturbing how Snape didn't seem to notice. His attention was held entirely by Helen's sleeping face.
Harry and Chad exchanged a look of complete understanding. "The Death Eaters are all dead," Harry tried to snap back, but his voice wobbled annoyingly from tiredness and came out a bit squeaky. Damn, and he'd thought he'd finished with his voice breaking at least two years ago.
"Don't be a foolish child," Fudge blustered. "That's Severus Snape, and he's —"
Chad stood up. Harry was amazed at how calm he seemed; Chad was barely showing that his arm hurt. "I know exactly who he is," Chad said, his voice so frosty Harry was amazed icicles weren't coming off it. "But I don't know who you are. You — whoever you are — had better have a good reason for trespassing on my family's sacred ground."
Harry bit back a grin. Maman seemed to have rubbed off on Chad at some point.
"I — of all the — you — what the Dickens?!"
Under the moonlight Fudge seemed to be turning purple.
Something broke inside Harry. He could feel tears building up behind his eyes and threatening to overflow.
Maybe it was the end of all the tension. Maybe it was the fact that the creature who had killed his parents and hated him all his life was trapped in the netherworld of Hine Nui Te Po. Maybe it was the realisation that, for the first time in his life, he, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived under other people's orders, was free.
Maybe it was the sight of Cornelius Fudge, putative Head of the magical world, insecure and incompetent head-in-the-sand man that he was, gaping and gasping like a blowfish out of water.
Harry fell backwards — flop! — into the snow. "A-ha ha ha ha haaaaaa!" His laughter was so loud it must have rung from the skies.
He subsided into giggles and sat up again, taking off his glasses so that he could wipe tears and snow from his face.
Fudge was muttering something about "clearly unhinged by the stress..."
"You okay there, mate?" asked Chad.
Harry looked around.
There were the Aurors in their golden robes. There was Fudge, blowing out his cheeks in indignation. There was Chad, concern in his dark eyes as he stood protectively over his uncle. Harry sobered immediately at the sight.
There was Snape, cradling Helen and stroking her face tenderly as if there was nothing else in the world.
And there, beyond them all in so many ways, was the midnight pool of Grandmother Taniwha.
If Fudge tried to touch Snape he would find out for himself just what had happened to Voldemort.
Harry smiled a little at the thought. It was good to know that even though incompetence and mediocrity would try to trip up the people who wanted to get on with doing the correct thing, at the end of the day there were larger forces at work.
He rested his eyes on Snape.
And, Harry thought in his most private heart, the place where he kept his mother's memory alive, sometimes all it took was love to vanquish evil.
Well, love and a pissed-off grandmother protecting her family.
On the other hand, the Aurors probably hadn't done anything other than support Fudge. No reason why he should stand by and let them get eaten by a taniwha. A wise course of action might be to calm things down before primordial forces got stirred up again. Maybe he should do something?"
He decided to play a hunch.
"How can you prove Professor Snape is a Death Eater?" Harry asked, secretly proud of how calm he sounded.
"He has the Mark on his left forearm," Fudge said, his eyes darting back and forth between Snape and Harry. "As you well know, Mr Potter — you saw it only a few months ago, as did I."
Harry had to repeat himself twice before Snape replied with a drowsy "Hmm?"
"Professor Snape, can I just see your left hand for a minute, please?"
Chad's glare said to Harry: I hope you know what you're doing.
Harry bit his lip. I hope I know, too.
It was awkward. Snape didn't want to move his arm from holding Helen. Chad managed to resettle the sleeping woman and took Snape's left hand, pushing back the sleeve.
The moon shone down on clear, unblemished skin.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "As you can see, Minister, there is no Dark Mark."
"It's a trick!"
"Now, now, Cornelius. I think young Harry here has made his point." This voice was amused with a healthy amount of pride thrown in for good measure.
"Headmaster?" Harry couldn't believe it. "Headmaster Dumbledore?"
He didn't wait for a reply; he shot to his feet and raced across the clearing to the tall figure who stepped out from the shadowy trees.
And then he tripped.
Harry would have sprawled flat on his face, but Dumbledore caught him. "Well, Mr Potter. It's not everyday I get such an exuberant reaction from my students." Even in the moonlight Harry could see how his blue eyes twinkled with pride. "Well done, Harry," he breathed. "That was well played." He lifted his head. "I believe I have acted within the terms of our agreement, Cornelius. Severus Snape, as I have been telling you all these years, is not and never will be a Death Eater. Now please be so good as to stop slandering my staff."
Fudge went so purple Harry thought he was having an aneurysm. Cool. He'd never seen anyone have an aneurysm before. The Minister rammed his bowler hat down firmly on his head, tried to say something, failed, and Disapparated with a sharp pop!
Dumbledore brushed some snow out of Harry's hair. "Voldemort is dead," he said mildly, apparently to no-one, but the Aurors were listening so intently the air fairly prickled. "And I'm sure there is a good story behind it. One that involves, unless I am mistaken, the sudden appearance of ladies without much in the way of clothing. Severus, child, do you really think this is the right time of year to be camping without a tent? Severus? Severus?"
"...is in shock." Dumbledore shook his head and continued slowly, as if talking to a backward child. "Severus. I got your message. It's thanks to you that we got here, although a little too late for the fun and games, it would seem. Why don't you bring your new friend back to Hogwarts? I have a Portkey with me that —"
Well, that was a definite reaction, decided Harry, startled into stepping back by Snape's fierce snarl. "Professor, Helen will catch her death of cold if you stay out here."
Snape seemed to notice Harry for the first time. "Potter? What are you doing here? I specifically told you to stay at the house."
"Yes, sir," Harry replied with great patience, considering how tired and frozen he was. "But that won't stop Helen freezing."
Snape blinked at him owlishly, and Harry wondered how many bouts of the Cruciatis he had sustained, and how many the Longbottoms had had before they went insane? Funny, he didn't have that anger thinking about them that he'd had just this morning. Voldemort was dead.
"He's gone. It's time to get on with living."
Harry didn't realise he'd spoken until he noticed that Snape was looking at him with a more focussed gaze. It took even longer to realise that Snape's expression was a smile.
"You sound just like Rona," Snape said softly.
That idea seemed to bring the Potions master completely back to reality. He looked down at Helen and frowned. "She can't stay out here," he said decisively. "And what in Hades are Aurors doing standing around in this, of all places? Want to take up swimming?" he added nastily.
There was some foot-shuffling amongst the gold robes. "We came with the Minister," one said. Apparently monsters weren't as scary as Snape in a foul mood. Harry could sympathise, but didn't. The Aurors had been too late to do anything except cause trouble. And he couldn't help thinking about what Chad had told him about Snape and the Longbottoms...
"I don't see him. If he's buggered off then maybe you should, too."
"Really, Snape! We came to help!"
Snape snarled one of his patented snarls. It wasn't made any the less effective by him being on his knees and with his face covered with his own blood. Maybe it was the inky blackness of the pond that never froze, but the atmosphere of the clearing took a sudden chill that had nothing to do with winter. There was a mist rising off the black water that swirled towards the Aurors.
"Like you've ever been any damn' help." He clutched Helen tighter; the former kea frowned slightly before yawning and rubbing her face against his chest. Snape spared her a look of concern that was all the more startling by the way the gentle expression abruptly turned malicious as he turned his attention back to the Aurors. "Where were you when this boy's parents were killed?" Snape barked, tossing his head towards Harry.
Oh oh, thought Harry. The brakes were off now.
Snape's eyes were feverish with old grudges. "Oh, that's right. You were standing around watching while I was being tortured and ignoring the real reason I'd come to you. Checking with Dumbledore would have been the work of a minute, but no, you had to play your little games. In the meantime Voldemort waltzed in to Godric Hollow and AK'd anyone within range."
"Now that's a—"
"A little too accurate? A little too honest? A little too real? The only person in that room who was capable of rationality was tied to a chair and bleeding while the imbeciles stood around and patted each other on the back and congratulated themselves on capturing a jolly tricky chap, and wasn't it a job well done? Did you go down to the pub later for a few butterbeers and a bit of extra-smug back-slapping? Oh, Deacons." He shook his head mock-sadly at one on the Aurors. "By the way your feet are shuffling it seems you did. Tsk, tsk. I seem to recall you betting five Galleons on when I would break," he added mildly. "You never were able to collect on that, were you." Then, like a silk tearing, his voice roughened with hatred.
"Pray to whatever deity you hold dear that I don't publish my memoirs," he hissed. "Because if I ever do you'll be going down further and faster than Voldemort did five minutes ago."
There was utter silence.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Well," he managed. "Now that we all know where we stand, why don't we go and stand somewhere else warmer that has hot cocoa and marshmallows. Come back to Hogwarts, Severus."
Snape staggered to his feet, still holding Helen. Her bare feet dangled from the folds of his robes. He staggered a little, but stayed on his feet, angry, defiant and proud.
"We're going home," he said simply. "Come, Solly."
The pony went and lay down at his feet.
Snape sat astride the grey back. "Chad? What's wrong with your arm?"
"Nothing Uncle Wiri can't fix. I've got to get back to Mum. She'll be worried sick about what happened. I'll tell her you're okay."
"I'll see him safely home," Dumbledore promised.
"Yes," Snape said, his voice back to bland. "You will. Or his mother will be unhappy with you."
Dumbledore, in his wisdom, did not answer this beyond a nod. "Harry can come back to Hogwarts with me."
"—Or stay here, as he chooses," Dumbledore added, not missing a beat.
"I'd like to go back to Chad's. Si- My godfather—" Harry looked around, but all the Aurors had vanished. Fat lot of good they had done, he thought savagely. "Um, I'm sure he'd like to see you again, sir."
Dumbledore's smile was pure sunshine. "It's mutual, my boy. Severus ... will you be safe?"
Snape ignored the question as Solly carefully gathered his hooves under him and stood, being more concerned with not sliding off the rear of the pooka.
Snape nestled Helen more securely against him and replied, "Solomon will take us home. Make sure the boys are safe."
The pony walked off into the night. Harry fancied he saw the silver tail swish once like a victory flag before the falling snow swallowed them.
Dumbledore strode over to Chad, who was watching the pond ripple. The mist had died away after the Aurors had left. He looked up when Dumbledore put his hand on his shoulder.
"Is it really over?" Chad asked.
Yes, wondered Harry. That was my question. Its been all my life. Is it really over?
Dumbledore stared for a while into the pool before he answered them and the rest of the wizarding world.
"Yes," he said. "There is no return for Voldemort."
"Good. Let's go home."
The snowstorm was inexplicable, unexpected and lasted for two days. What was so very odd about it was that forces beyond normal (normal by the standards of witches and wizards, that was) prevented Apparating. It was, Dumbledore said during one of his long conversations with Maman, akin to the anti-Apparating wards set up around Hogwarts. Maman had replied that she remembered a storm like this just after Grindelwald had been defeated, as if the natural world were somehow re-asserting itself; shaking out the Dark Magic like a dog shaking rainwater out of its coat. Dumbledore agreed, and that had led to a lengthy competition of Who Lived Through the Worst Storm (AKA "I remember the winter of eighteen ninety-three when the chickens laid frozen eggs"). It made a change to their more technical discussions once Dumbledore found out it was Maman and her late husband who had done the ground-breaking work on linguistic development in abandoned children of the wizarding world. Maman (who thought Muggles made better parents than wizards simply because the social pressure to raise children within acceptable parameters was so much stronger for Muggle parents) was a great proponent of specialist magical toys that helped re-establish neural links in the brains of children whose development was impaired due to...
Harry tuned out at that point. A conversation about children who were so badly neglected they couldn't grasp basic grammar made him uncomfortable. It reminded him too much of the Dursleys. It was also a subtle dig at the back of his mind, an awareness of that brief loss of control he'd had when Fudge had shown up after the taniwha took Voldemort. Clearly unhinged by the stress, Fudge had said. But Harry refused to give credence to any opinion Fudge might have, and tucked that memory away in a deep place and distracted himself by talking with Chad about the differences in what they'd learned about magic. That was much more interesting than thinking about Cornelius Fudge.
By the end of it Harry was getting a severe case of cabin-fever. He, Chad and the recovering Eru (who seemed to have forgotten all his clairvoyant fever-dreams) had played Hide and Seek until Rona became annoyed with Eru for hiding up in one of the kitchen cupboards and breaking her favourite plates; they had played Wizard Monopoly one too many-times ("Portkey straight to Azkaban, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 Galleons"), and were sick to death of playing chess with the regular, Muggle chess-set.
Harry was watching Rona and Sirius play chess when Dumbledore tapped him on the shoulder. Harry almost didn't notice. He was feeling drowsy from the fire, and it was pleasant how Sirius and Rona had focussed their mutual dislike (Well, okay, he thought: mutual loathing) into something a bit more formal. Rona won most of the times, which meant Sirius had had to do most of the dishes without magic, which in turn meant more broken plates for Wiri to mend.
"Mr Potter. I believe the storm is letting up. We should be able to return home within a few hours."
"Home?" Harry's heart faltered. He'd come so far — the other side of the world, a lessening of the Mutual Revulsion Society he and Snape shared, Voldemort's death ... He'd seen a pooka moult. He'd seen a taniwha lose her temper. He'd seen a dead parrot turned into a live woman. He'd even — and no-one outside of this strange country would believe him, he didn't doubt — he'd even seen Severus Snape smile. So why did returning to the Dursleys' seem so horrific?
Dumbledore eyes as they looked over his half-moon spectacles at Harry were very blue. "Yes, Harry. Home. Hogwarts. You'll be safe there now."
"Yes, Harry. Hogwarts is your home now, if you want it to be, of course. You'll be safe there — no more Voldemort. And I can divert the Rita Skeeters of the world from the gates," he added with a smile.
Harry couldn't speak for relief. He looked over at the couch where Chad and Eru had fallen asleep. Maman was sitting by the fire knitting and pretending not to notice Rona and Sirius bickering. Wiri was out in the kitchen mixing up some unspeakable goo in the sink. This, homey as it was, was not his home. After several long moments, he said, "There's someone I have to see before I go."
Dumbledore nodded and patted Harry on the back. "In your own time then, Harry."
Harry smiled back gratefully. Now he just had to think up a good excuse to see Snape again...
"Um. I brought a present up for Helen."
Snape arched an eyebrow. "Chocolate."
He was standing blocking the door into the cottage, his arms folded, but his usual stern manner spoiled slightly by the faint air of concussion he still carried. Harry tried to look solemn. "Yes, sir. I know how much she likes it ... and caffeine."
"It's a big bar."
"Yes, sir. And it's energy chocolate."
Snape's expression was a blank. "That was very ... thoughtful of you. In a strange and twisted way."
"Thank you. I did put a lot of thought into it."
"I seem to have been a beneficial role model for you after all."
Harry winced. "Is that revenge for the chocolate?"
Snape smiled an inscrutable smile but chose not to answer the question.
From inside a female voice called out, "Severus? Is that Harry?"
Snape sighed and stood aside to let Harry in. Harry blinked to accustom his eyes after the harsh sun-on-snow of outside. There, sitting at the table drinking a cup of tea, was Helen. It could be no other. Her eyes were the same colour as they had been when she was a kea, but her short hair was a dark reddish-brown. She looked over at him and smiled, her face lighting up in a way that turned her looks from the passably pleasing into more than passably pretty. She stood as Harry kicked off his boots and walked in. She opened her arms and Harry grinned as she laughed and hugged him, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her back until he lifted her off the floor. She felt warm and vital and very, very much alive. She was everything Voldemort was not. He stepped back and looked down at her. "Hello, Helen."
She patted his cheek affectionately. "Harry-chick. It's good to see you safe. Severus said you would be, but I always like to see these things for myself." She smiled again, which set off a dimple in her cheek. "Sit down and let me show you how much easier it is for me to make tea."
Harry laughed. "I'm glad you haven't changed too much."
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Helen said as she put the kettle on the stove. She muttered something and the quiet murmur of the flames grew louder. Harry raised his eyebrows and looked at Snape, who ignored the unspoken question.
Helen held out her hand to Snape and drew him over to sit at the table, kissing his hand once before she let it go. "Will you be staying with us again?" she asked hopefully. "I like having children around. It makes me feel like part of a family."
"Uh..." Harry looked sideways at Snape, whose eyes were black and cold and definitely not welcoming. Me in Snape's family...!? "—I really have to get back to Hogwarts."
Snape relaxed marginally.
"Oh, but it would be lovely to have you a little longer..."
"Helen," interrupted Snape, "the boy has places to go, people to see. It's a busy world out there."
"So why don't we go with him?"
Harry bit the inside of his cheek at the way Snape's eyes widened in horror.
"Oh, all right, all right," Helen grumbled, rolling her eyes. The kettle was boiling and she poured hot water into a mug. "But don't expect I'll be wanting to spend all my life on the side of a mountain, Husband Mine."
"Far from it," Snape replied smoothly. "But you've only been human for a few days. Grandmother gave you what human information she could but there's still so much you need to become comfortable with."
Helen eyed him slyly then winked. "I'm becoming comfortable with certain aspects of human behaviour."
Snape actually blushed.
Harry bit his cheek again. It would have been suicide to laugh.
Helen, apparently, was still not well enough to tramp about through the snow, but Snape walked Harry down to the river and levitated both of them to the far bank. Unspoken but there like the morning mist was the impression that Harry was being moved onto someone else's territory and, by inference, was to be someone else's problem.
Snape looked over Harry's shoulder and frowned. "Either there is a mangy cur that is overdue for a bullet between the ears wandering up the road, or your godfather is getting worried that I've dissected you for potions ingredients."
"Um. I think he's getting worried. Um." How in Merlin's name did one get out of an awkward situation like this? Snape was absolutely not the hugging type. "Um, I just wanted to say thanks."
Snape raised his head and narrowed his eyes, but in speculation rather than malice. "Live your life. Get on with things, as Rona would say."
"Yes, Professor." Harry smiled. "You too."
Instead of waiting to hear Snape's reply, he turned and jogged back down the road to meet Sirius.
Voldemort was dead.
He was alive and going home to Hogwarts.
It was going to be a beautiful day.
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