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Chapter One: The Gift of Tears

Harry's long, black, glossy hair was bound in a braid that fell over her left shoulder and dropped past her broomstick toward the earth. She was high over Hogwarts, leaning into her handle and abstractedly making her braid swing in little circles. Today, she'd begin temporarily coaching the Gryffindor Quidditch team due to an unfortunate incident involving Martin Finch-Fletchley--Justin's younger brother--Miranda Frazier--the first witch to be born to a family of Squibs in three generations--and several pots of improperly bespelled, bobotuber-pus-augmented butterscotch pudding that had never been intended for the use to which they had put it. Harry giggled at the memory of finding the two Seventh Years underneath the Quidditch bleachers almost done in by pudding with a mind of its own, but her mirth soon faded. For today as well, Harry would be presented as the new Head of House Gryffindor.

A tear slid down her nose, dangled for a moment from its tip, and then dropped imperceptibly to the ground far below her.

"I miss you, Professor McGonagall," Harry whispered, straightening up.

Turning to face the school, Harry was surprised to see a dark figure on an ancient FireThorn 200 gliding purposefully, albeit uneasily, toward her in the increasing light of the dawn.

"Professor Snape," greeted Harry. "What brings you out so early?"

"You, actually, Professor--or should I say, Coach--Potter?" he asked, with only the barest hint of a smirk. Frazier and Finch-Fletchley owed the continued functioning of certain of their various parts to him, as he reminded them daily during their separate detentions.

"Don't worry. I'm not planning to sabotage the field before the Slytherin team gets here."

"Did I imply that I thought you were here bent on a nefarious purpose?" Snape half-snapped, though his voice held no rancor. He pulled his broomstick up close to Harry's so that he could both face her and steady himself. Their legs brushed at the knees.

Harry mused that it felt strange to feel warmth emanating from her once-feared Potions master. She would have reached down to rub the sensation of it deeper into her knee, but the gesture seemed too intimate to perform in front of Snape; although, of late, intimate gestures seemed more interesting when coupled with thoughts of him. Down girl! Harry thought, summoning the image of Sirius' face contorted in rage in an effort to quiet the thrumming of her blood.

Harry smiled. "Of course not, Professor Snape. Forgive my implication."

Snape gave a sarcastic nod of acquiescence, and Harry noted from his unusual proximity and quick glance down at the field that he wasn't comfortable being so high off the ground. It really was unusual to see the Potions master flying.

"So, what may I do for you this morning?" Harry asked.

I can think of several happy actions you might perform for me, thought Severus, struggling not to allow his desire to reach his eyes. It had been eight years since sixteen-year-old Draco Malfoy's ill-advised, but well-intentioned, wandless magic had both saved and changed Harry. In that time, Hogwarts' current Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor had grown into her lithe limbs and developed an intriguing curve to her mouth that Severus couldn't help but want to explore. That would be . . . inappropriate, he thought, damning himself for his perpetual feelings of disappointment.


"While I am not used to playing the messenger, I am doing so as a favor." He reached into his robes and drew out a letter, handing it to Harry. "Minerva asked me to give this to you when it came time for you to succeed her."

Tentatively, Harry reached for the letter. "Why didn't she give this to me herself?"

"Perhaps that is explained in her letter. I'll leave you to your privacy."

"Professor Snape . . . Severus?" Harry called.

Severus. "Yes, Harry?" Snape asked smoothly, returning to her side, trying to ignore the disconcerting way Harry's voice made his name echo in his mind.

"Thank you for keeping this safe for me. And please--call me Ree? You're the only one who doesn't, you know." While it was impossible not to think of herself as "Harry," referring to her by the feminine form of her given name had helped most of her friends to accept the Change.

"Ree," he acknowledged, allowing the diminutive name to roll across his tongue and into the air. It felt good to say it. It felt even better to be asked to say it. "Congratulations, Ree. I know you'll make an exemplary head of house."

"Thank you, Severus. Of course, no one will ever replace Minerva McGonagall."

"As, I am certain, no one will ever replace Ree Potter," Snape said, inclining his head in a dignified salute before gliding quickly off in the direction of the castle.

Harry knew that she'd never received higher praise in all her life.

Professor McGonagall's letter was crisply written in that lady's straightforward way:

"Dear Ree,

"It will come as no surprise to you, I trust, to know that I have always felt towards you a motherly affection. You were a good boy, and then a good girl, under the most trying of circumstances. You have always made me proud. I know that Lily, and James, too, would have been proud to see into what a fine person you've grown. I take a little selfish comfort in knowing that I had a hand in your upbringing.

"As you take on new responsibilities at Hogwarts, remember that a firm hand should always be a kind one; consistency is a comfort to children and adults alike; the First Years are not growing smaller every year; and, as I told you before you stepped into your first authorized classroom, the children are more afraid of you than you are of them.

"Do not worry so very much about how the other teachers will view you now that you are a head of house. Whether you know it or not, you have earned everyone's respect. Should you ever feel the need of counsel, however, consider taking tea with Severus. Over the years, he's given me much about which to think--some of it worthwhile.

"Before I end my letter, I must burden you with a task. For years, I have been altering Albus' candy supply to prevent the man from suffering the ill-effects of excessive sugar intake. The spell you'll need to cast is Zuccarum Innocuus. It does not interfere with the flavor of sweets, despite what some may say.

"Please take care of Albus for me, dear; I know that he'll be lonely, now.

"You, of course, need not be so. I think you know what I mean. Be brave in every area of your life, young lady. I expect nothing less from you. Dating a glorified dragon-tamer, indeed! Charlie Weasley is a fine boy, but he'll never settle down properly, you understand.

"With love, and the certainty that you will do what is right,

"Minerva McGonagall"

Harry tucked the letter into her robes and began to cry. Professor McGonagall had said everything to her that she needed to hear, but, despite having had the courage to help vanquish Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Harry was yet afraid of many things.


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