Author's Note: This was originally part of the Dusk Till Dawn HP/SS FQF — Wave 4 at http://www.kardasi.com/HPSS Valentine's Day First Line Challenge. ("Pregnant?"), however, it is not an MPREG.
Severus Snape stared at his uncle, Albus Dumbledore, in a mix of shock and confusion. The elderly man looked back, sternly; there was no humour in his usually jovial features.
"Severus, you are thirty years old. It is past time that you settled down and took a wife." Albus glanced over to his own wife, Minerva, before continuing. "There are nasty rumours about an unnatural relationship with your friend Lucius Malfoy…I will not have rumour and innuendo tarnish the reputation of my school and my staff."
"But Uncle Albus…"
"It is not open for discussion. Before this month is out, you will marry and she will be pregnant by year's end. If you refuse, you will resign your position and leave my school immediately."
Severus looked at his aunt for support. She smiled softly at him but offered no opposition to her overbearing husband.
"Don't what, Boy?" Albus stood up, leaning over the young Science and Physics professor. He hated to threaten Severus, but the young man had ignored all previous "suggestions" regarding matrimony. In their society, it was rare for a man not to have taken a wife by his thirtieth year; most already had a house full of children by then.
Severus' thin shoulders sank and his lank, black hair obscured his features. If he lost his position at the prestigious Hogwarts School for Boys, he had nowhere else to go. If he left without references, he would have difficulty acquiring another teaching position and that was a fact his aunt and uncle were fully aware.
"I don't know any women… unmarried women…"
Albus smiled. He had made the young professor see reason. As much as he loved his nephew, he could not risk the damage a rumour of homosexuality could cause his school.
"Narcissa Malfoy's niece, Nymphadora, has accepted your cousin Remus' proposal of marriage…"
"I must congratulate him," Severus said stiffly. Obviously the acceptance was what had triggered his uncle's tirade; Remus was twenty-nine.
"Your aunt will journey to Surrey and accompany Nymphadora back to Hogsmeade for the wedding. While she is in Surrey, Minerva will be staying with the Reverend Weasley and his family. Molly has some dowerless girls she wants your aunt to meet."
Albus left the room in high spirits and Severus' shoulders sagged even more. Minerva looked at her nephew in sympathy. Poor Severus, she thought. Too tall, too thin, too plain, too set in his ways. He unfolded his tall, sparse frame from the loveseat and straightened his long, black teaching robes.
"You know Albus means well…"
"One charity case forced on another charity case…a match made in heaven." Severus said quietly; there was no sarcasm in his voice.
Minerva patted his hand. "Don't you worry, Sevvie. I will find you the perfect wife."
Severus glared at the crumpled up telegram from his aunt and tossed it onto his bedside table. He leaned into the broad chest of his best friend and sometimes lover. "I don't want a wife…what am I going to do with a wife?"
Thinking of his own pregnant wife waiting for him at home and of the arranged marriage sprung on him two years prior, Lucius Malfoy just laughed.
Percy Weasley shifted on the carriage seat beside Lucius. In what had to be the hundredth time, he adjusted his tie. Lucius smirked at the pompous young banker and urged the team of horses on with a flick of the reins.
"Calm down, Perce, or I'll send you back to ride in your brother's wagon."
Percy looked at him in horror before nervously checking his pocket watch again. "Are you sure there will be enough room? It's raining and if anyone has to ride with Charlie, they'll get all soaking wet and filthy."
Lucius sighed. Minerva Dumbledore was arriving on the 11:00 train from London. In addition to his wife's niece, Nymphadora, Minerva was also bringing two additional young women — the intended brides of Percy Weasley and Severus Snape.
Lucius owned a large covered carriage. Since the weather was threatening snow, Albus asked him to bring Minerva and the brides back from the train station, some twenty miles from Hogsmeade. Charlie Weasley, Percy's wild older brother, was also making the trip. Charlie had several passengers and crates to pick up at the station; he offered to carry back the trunks if necessary.
On Albus' orders, Severus and Remus had remained at Hogwarts teaching their classes. The Headmaster wanted the weddings to be a quiet affair, so disruption of the course schedule was not warranted. Percy had not expected to make the trip, but decided at the last moment to join them, nervous to meet the bride his mother had chosen for him.
As they were approaching the station, the cold rain began to turn into a heavy, wet snow. Mid-February weather was always unpredictable; Lucius hoped the snow did not build up too quickly and mire the roads. The train was just pulling into the station when Lucius secured his team beside Charlie's wagon.
The train platform was a busy place; several trains had arrived on the platform within minutes of one another. Lucius searched for Minerva's recognizable red and yellow tartan plaid cloak. A commotion at the far end of a side platform caught his attention.
Amidst screaming and shouting, they saw several shabbily dressed men tugging at a young woman's carpetbag. In a flash, they realized that the men had attempted to snatch the bag and bolt from the platform into the alleyways surrounding the station, but the woman's wrist was tangled in the strap and she was being dragged across the wooden deck. A chubby teenage boy came to her defense, but was attacked by one of the young woman's assailants. The boy went down with a vicious kick to his chest.
Before Lucius, the Weasley brothers or platform constables could reach them, the tallest woman Lucius had ever seen waded into the fray, swinging an umbrella with deadly accuracy. There was surprising strength in her reed thin frame. The two assailants ceased their struggle over the carpetbag and fled from the deadly umbrella into the waiting arms of Charlie and a constable.
Minerva crouched beside the fallen young woman and the bleeding boy. Percy rushed to the young woman's side and helped her to her feet. Nymphadora and the boy's grandmother were helping the boy; thankfully he was more dazed than injured.
Lucius looked around the platform and saw the thin young woman sitting dejectedly on a luggage trolley beside several trunks and a large blanket covered birdcage. She was staring at the wooden planks, her broken umbrella in the gloved hands.
The white blond man bent beside her. "Miss, are you injured?"
She looked up, her black tresses tumbling from a severe braided coronet. Lucius found himself staring into the most startling emerald green eyes. She looked to be slightly older than twenty. It wasn't a pretty face, but it was a handsome one. She had the features that would improve with age long after beauty had faded.
"No." she answered quietly in a surprisingly husky voice. She pushed her thin gold wired spectacles up her nose. "Not physically…Oh! What Madam Dumbledore must think of me…brawling like a common hooligan…She has every right to put me back on the train…not fit to marry her nephew…"
Lucius set the damaged umbrella aside and patted her thin hand. This must be the young woman Minerva had chosen for Severus.
"Oh, don't worry about Aunt Minerva…I thought you were brilliant."
The young woman looked at him dubiously as Minerva hurried over to check on the last of her charges.
"Mercy me. Harriet…dear…are you all right?" Harriet nodded. "What ever were you thinking?"
"I think 'twas reflex, Madam. Growing up, my cousin Dudley and his friends always tormented me when Aunt and Uncle were not around." She paused, glanced toward the approaching Weasley party and whispered. "Those men looked rough. I was afraid of what they might have done to Miss Granger had they gotten her off the platform…And then when they viciously attacked young Mr. Longbottom…"
Harriet smiled a nervous but impish smile. "Aunt Pet always did say I have more courage than brains."
Lucius laughed and held his arm out for Harriet to take. Minerva took his other arm.
"Aunt Minerva, you are right…she is the perfect wife…she'll punch some wind into Sev's sails."
Severus stood uncomfortably in the Dumbledore parlor. By this time tomorrow he would be a married man. His Uncle Albus, always a romantic at heart, had decided the three couples would wed at 10:00 the next morning — February 14th, Valentine's Day.
From his vantage point beside the fireplace, he could watch the giggling, chattering young women and their intended grooms.
Unlike Narcissa's demur demeanor, Nymphadora was a vivacious young woman with a wicked sense of humor. She was a perfect foil for Remus, who was known to have a bit of the prankster in him. Severus now understood why Narcissa had thought they would complement one another and why she had initiated their yearlong courtship.
The perfectionist Percy seemed to have met his match in the small, curly haired chatterbox with a slight overbite. Hermione had survived her ordeal at the train station with several bruises and a torn skirt.
Severus did not see a third bride in the room. He had heard of her adventure at the train station, but had not yet caught a glimpse of her. Charlie referred to her as an amazing Amazon. Severus had to admit his curiosity was piqued.
Albus motioned him from the doorway. "Miss Potter is feeding her bird in my study. She appears to be a little shy around strangers…perhaps you should meet her without all this distraction."
Albus disappeared as soon as they arrived at the study door. Damn him, Severus thought. He had been counting on the meddlesome old man to break the ice.
Standing beside an empty birdcage was a thin, black haired young woman. Severus guessed her height to be over six feet. Firelight glittered off the lenses of her spectacles, a pearl drop earring and a brooch at her throat the only decoration on her slim fitting black dress. Her simple wool dress was a stark contrast to the puffed, ruffled, beribboned confections gracing the parlor. Dressed in his sensible black suit, Severus approved of the garment.
A white blur glided past his head and crash landed on top of the birdcage.
"A snowy owl?" he exclaimed, the scientist in him awakening. He caught the woman off guard. "What are you doing with a snowy owl?"
"She is a bit off course, isn't she? Poor thing…ought to be in North America…"
"You've kept her as a pet? An owl is a wild creature…" There was disapproval in his voice.
"Poor Hedwig doesn't fly very well. I am not sure where he found her, but my idiot of a cousin was throwing stones at her. I tried my best, but her wing never healed properly."
"Perhaps it would be more merciful to let nature take its course," he said carefully.
The brilliant green eyes sparkled behind the lenses. "She is a very good mouser…better than any cat I've ever owned."
Severus fought a smile. "Mrs. Norris will be so disappointed."
"The school caretaker's cat. I borrow her several times a month to eliminate vermin in my kitchen." Severus straightened up. "Severus Snape, at your service."
"Harriet Jane Potter."
Severus was impressed at the firmness of her handshake.
Harriet looked up at the man who would become her husband; he had a very beautiful voice. At six feet one and one half inches, there were very few men she did not tower over; she guessed his height to be six-five or six-six. Like herself, he was very thin, but there was strength about him. It wasn't a handsome face, but it was an intelligent one. He had a large nose that looked like it had been broken once or twice, causing it to hook slightly. With the exception of his sallow skin and his white starched shirt, he was colorless — black hair, black eyes, black suit, black tie, and black boots.
She looked nervously away; it was not polite to stare. His face settled into harsh lines, but his elegant hands were gentle as they stroked Hedwig and felt the knotted bones in her damaged wing.
"Our groundskeeper is very good with animals. He has an ever-changing menagerie in his cottage. After you get settled, perhaps Hagrid can check over your owl. It is probably too late, but he might be able to do something for her."
Severus awoke on his wedding day to a raging blizzard and a raging headache. It was unfortunate he lived beside the Hogwart's Chapel in the unused parsonage. He didn't think his uncle would accept bad weather as a reason not to attend his own wedding.
He looked around his bedroom and tried to imagine what it would be like to share his bed and his house with a woman. Severus slid his suits and teaching robes to one side of his wardrobe, leaving space for Harriet to hang her clothing. He had brought a small chest of drawers and a vanity table in from another bedroom the day before at his Aunt Minerva's suggestion.
He liked the clean, simple lines of his house and hoped Harriet would not fill it with frills, although, on first impression, she did not seem the type. He still wasn't sure where the house owl was going to live; all he knew is that it would not be sharing his bedroom.
The Reverend Amos Diggory looked over the scant occupants of the pews; most of them were staff members. The three young women were secured in his office. He had joined Albus, Minerva and the brides for breakfast that morning; he would give them a legal marriage and remember them in his prayers, but he did not approve. It was a sad society that forced young women to marry absolute strangers simply because death or poverty prevented their families from providing a proper dowry or alternate protection.
It wasn't that Reverend Diggory thought badly of the grooms; they were all respectable men and would provide for their new families, but the pale creature Severus was to wed was still in mourning. No bride should have to face her wedding day dressed head to foot in black.
At ten minutes after ten, the reverend determined no one else was going to brave the storm. He called the three couples up to the altar and called for a silent prayer for their happiness. He cleared his throat.
Severus paused at the closed bedroom door as he nervously smoothed his gray flannel nightshirt. The cold wind battered against the window casements and he half wished he was out in the storm. He gave a brisk knock to the door.
"Harriet, may I come in? Are you decent?" If he had thought about it, he would have realized how ridiculous that question sounded coming from a groom on his wedding night. Tradition demanded that he deflower his virginal bride to consummate the marriage, but consummation was the farthest thing from his mind.
Harriet opened the door, her hair secured in an extremely long braid. She was wearing a thick, white flannel nightgown. Two long feet peeked from beneath the hem.
Harriet sat demurely on the edge of the bed, her hands folded in her lap. She watched as Severus closed the door and extinguished the lamp. Illuminated only by the firelight, he approached her.
"Are you frightened?" he asked, looking into her eyes. She looked so young without her spectacles.
"A little," she admitted. "I never expected to marry so I have no preconceived notion of what will happen."
Severus cupped her chin with his hand and raised her face. He planted a chaste kiss to her lips.
"Don't worry," he spoke quietly. "Nothing will happen tonight. Let us just lie side by side. We are strangers to one another and I will not take advantage of you."
Severus awoke the next morning to the brightness of the morning sun reflecting off the snow covered countryside and the most mesmerizing sight he had ever seen. Propping himself up on one arm, he watched his wife brush her hair. He had never given much thought to women before and even less about their hair, but he realized what he was watching was not a common sight.
Harriet was already dressed for the day in a simple green and silver striped shirtwaist and a deep green skirt. She was brushing out her dark hair one long lock at a time. The slightly wavy tresses spilled down her back, over the small vanity bench and into a puddle on the floor.
"Good morning, Husband," Harriet said brightly once she realized she had an audience. "Did you sleep well?"
Severus arose from the bed and pulled on his dressing robe to ward off the morning chill. "As well as can be expected…You?"
"I have never shared a bed before, but I imagine it was strange for you as well."
Severus slipped his hands beneath the sheet of hair. "It's heavy. How long is it?"
"Almost to the floor."
"Have you never cut it?" Severus asked incredulously as Harriet stood up, the veil of hair falling to her ankles.
"Not at least since I was three…Uncle Vernon does not approve of women cutting their hair. I do not remember if my mother ever cut it…I was very young when she died." Harriet's nimble fingers plaited the long tresses into a thick braid. She coiled the braid into a loose ball and slipped a crochet chignon cover over it. Many hairpins secured the heavy mass to the nape of her neck. "I have a bit of a headache this morning…too heavy to put on top of my head."
"Why don't you just cut it?"
"Aunt Petunia always said a woman's hair was her crowning glory…Uncle.." A wistful expression crossed her pale features. She shrugged it off.
"Uncle?" Severus encouraged her. "Do you miss your family?"
"No. Only Aunt Pet and she's dead. Uncle has never wanted me. Not when I was three and certainly not when I became another woman on the shelf."
"On the shelf?" The term perplexed him.
"Without dowry…without prospects…an old maid…The only time I was of use to him was when Aunt Pet got sick…"
"Certainly your uncle could have offered a dowry. Aunt Minerva told me he was a successful businessman."
Harriet looked Severus straight in the eye. There was no sadness there, only resignation.
"I have always been a burden to Vernon Dursley and he has never let me forget it. When Aunt Petunia first brought me home after Mummy and Daddy died…he never said 'hello', he never said 'I am sorry for your loss', he never said 'welcome to the family'. He said 'it was a good thing I was a girl…a boy as scrawny as me would have been drowned at birth'."
Severus decided he didn't like Harriet's Uncle Vernon at all.
As the days and weeks followed, Severus and Harriet became acquainted with one another. Severus was pleased to discover that his wife was an avid reader and a quiet intellectual. Where many men would feel threatened by such an intelligent woman, Severus was stimulated by their conversations.
They still had not consummated the marriage and Severus wondered how to tell her that they probably never would. Harriet didn't seem to mind; she enjoyed his company and returned the gentle affections he was capable of providing.
Severus loved brushing out Harriet's hair and they used the time to talk about anything that struck them. It was an odd intimacy; but it was one that threatened neither one of them. Each night Severus continued to give his wife a chaste kiss and snuggled up in bed beside her. Occasionally he would awaken to find his arms around her and his erection hard against her backside; knowing it embarrassed him, but not understanding why, she would pretend to still be asleep until he collected himself.
Harriet lay awake beside the gently snoring professor. They had spent a pleasant evening at the Malfoy home, celebrating the birth of their first-born son, Draco. When the men excused themselves for an after dinner drink and smoke, Narcissa had drawn Harriet aside.
Narcissa Malfoy was a very kind woman and Harriet trusted her almost immediately. To spare the newlywed bride the shock of hearing it from someone with a malicious intent, the blond woman told her about the nasty, unfounded rumor that Lucius and Severus were having an intimate relationship. The wellborn woman admitted being occasionally jealous of the close friendship, but she believed not one word of the rumor and Harriet should dismiss it as well.
Severus shifted in his sleep and wrapped his arms around her slender frame. She tried to relax and will herself to sleep, but she could not. Returning from dinner that evening, she could smell cologne on Severus' dinner jacket. Severus did not wear cologne.
Harriet threw herself into deep cleaning the small house. Severus had kept it neat and uncluttered but had not gone further than the most basic of maintenance. She was amused to discover he had, in the past, assigned the cleaning of his house as detention. Worried that she was wearing herself out trying to move the heavy furniture, he assigned detentions to help her. It didn't take him long to realize a few boys were deliberately trying to get assigned detention. Harriet was too lenient a taskmaster to be of much use for punishment. That and she made wonderful gingersnap cookies.
As spring settled on Hogwarts, both Nymphadora and Hermione were with child. Harriet could feel Albus' kindly eyes settle on her stick thin figure. She wondered how long she could continue to deceive the old man. She and Severus were good friends, but he had never touched her as a man to his wife. Minerva's glances were more calculating and she often wore a strange little smile, almost as if she knew the marriage was strictly platonic.
Severus sipped his tea and looked out his office window. He had a perfect view of his house. He could see Charlie Weasley's wagon beside it. He began to wonder what Charlie was doing at his house alone with his wife when he saw the stocky red head step off the porch with a piece of paper in his hands. Of course, Harriet's shopping list, Severus thought as he made his way to his last class of the day. Charlie delivered the food for the Hogwarts school kitchens; Minerva had always sent him with a private list of her own. Charlie must have extended the courtesy to Harriet as well.
Charlie always made a point to talk to Harriet whenever they met. He could make her laugh with his made up stories about friendly dragons. She always told him he should write down his tales, that children would be amused by his fantastic imagination. So he started to weave stories about an amazing Amazon named Harriet who saved a baby dragon from an evil wizard.
Severus found himself looking at his house every time he had a break from classes. He wasn't sure if his imagination was running wild or not, but he seemed to see the red haired man at his house more than necessary.
It was obvious to Severus that Charlie liked his wife more than what was proper. He knew Harriet must be desperate for a man's affection, no matter how much she denied it. Charlie could give her the affection she needed. Severus wondered if Harriet returned Charlie's affections.
The tall professor buried his head in his hands. Damn Albus for getting him into this situation.
Severus brushed Harriet's hair, but instead of their usual free flowing conversations, the dark man was distant and preoccupied. The green eyes watched him. Something was bothering him and had been for several days.
"Severus," she asked quietly. "Is something the matter?"
He tried to brush the question aside, but the issue kept eating at him from the inside. Usually so in control of his emotions, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Are you having an affair with Charlie Weasley?"
Harriet spun on her seat, shock evident on her face.
"What are you talking about?" she demanded. "How could you think such a thing?"
Severus caught her hands in his, his dark eyes meeting hers. "I can see the back porch from my office at the school…I keep seeing Charlie visiting you…I'm not blind, Harriet…and he worships you…any fool can see that. You deserve someone who can love you….give you children…You deserve someone better than me."
A soft smile played at her lips. She leaned in and kissed the tip of his large nose. "Severus, you are an idiot. How long have you been tormenting yourself with these foolish notions?"
"Having an affair with Charlie?" Harriet's laugh was deep like her voice. "You know how he is always telling me his stories and I kept telling him to write them down?"
Severus nodded slowly wondering what dragons and Amazon princesses had to do with marital infidelity.
"I wish you had told me he was illiterate."
Severus sputtered. "Charlie Weasley is illiterate? But Percy…"
"Percy Weasley is an overachieving fop and is ashamed of his brother…who is more of a man than he will ever be."
Severus laughed at her accurate description of the young banker. A sense of relief was settling in his veins, but he was still incredibly confused.
"I should have told you…but I never dreamed you would jump to such a conclusion…I will stop if you want me to."
Stop what, Harriet?"
"I am attempting to teach Charlie how to read and write."
Albus Dumbledore joined his nephew at the teacher's table in the Hogwarts Dining Hall. Over the din of the lunchtime meal, Albus cleared his throat.
"I have decided that your Aunt Minerva and I will take over Mr. Weasley's lessons."
"You knew about that?"
"I learned of it only this morning. I noticed Charlie seemed to be spending too much unchaperoned time with your wife and I confronted him. I discovered that Harriet has been teaching him to read. The Dursley's kept your wife very sheltered. It never occurred to her that her act of kindness could be misconstrued by a wagging tongue."
"Charlie should have known better."
"Yes. He should have," Albus agreed. "But his actions were innocent as well. It has been getting harder for him to hide his secret and Harriet posed no threat to him. She didn't laugh or think less of him like that damnable brother of his. He was too embarrassed to approach any members of the Hogwarts teaching staff…
"I do think, however, that it might be best if Harriet left her shopping list with Minerva for the next little while. Charlie has assured me that he views Harriet much as a little sister…but there is no reason to ask for trouble."
Harriet washed her face and tucked herself into bed. Severus was still at a School Board meeting. Concerned it would run quite late, he told her not to wait up.
She breathed in his scent on the sheets and tried to get comfortable in the large, cold bed. It was funny how quickly one became accustomed to another's presence. Almost asleep, she heard the front door open and footsteps in the foyer.
"Do you have time to stay for a drink?" She heard Severus ask.
"I'll stay for a drink, but I'd much rather stay for something else." Lucius' voice was almost flirtatious.
She heard Severus climb the stairs and crack the bedroom door open. She closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.
"Harriet?" He called softly, but she did not respond. The footsteps moved away. "She's asleep…now, about that drink…"
Harriet clutched the pillow to her chest and wondered why it hurt so much. She heard a muffled groan from the study below and buried her head under the covers.
When had her friendship with Severus turned into love, she wondered. She kept hearing Aunt Minerva tell her she was the perfect wife for Severus and wondered if he would ever see her that way.
Harriet shook the soil from her garden gloves as she watched the carriages arrive to take the Hogwarts' boys home for the summer. It would feel strange to have the grounds devoid of all the mayhem only two hundred plus boys could cause.
Charlie tipped his hat to her in greeting as he drove a trunk-filled wagon past her herb and flower garden. Aunt Minerva kept her apprised of his progress with his lessons; his repertoire of stories now included a spectacle wearing tabby cat named Minerva.
Severus carefully brushed out an especially nasty knot in the long black hair. Harriet had been subdued lately, but he thought perhaps it was the uncharacteristically hot summer they were having. He couldn't imagine how warm it must be with all those layers women were forced to wear.
Harriet received an unexpected letter from Dudley's wife earlier that day. Edna was a pale mouse of a woman, easily intimidated by the Dursley men, but she and Harriet had always gotten on well. It was a long, chatty letter of little consequence. She had enclosed a family portrait of Dudley, Edna, and their nearly two-year-old daughter, Drusilla. Harriet could see Edna's telltale bulge of pregnancy and hoped for her sake that this child was male; Vernon had been livid when the first grandchild proved to be female.
Mention of the letter had triggered a conversation about Dudley and what a bully he and his friends had been. She told him about "Harriet Hunting" and being home schooled because Uncle Vernon refused to pay tuition to even the local day school. Of course, Dudley had the best education money could buy.
Severus brushed back the hair from her face. "Did Dudley give you that scar?"
Harriet touched the jagged scar on her forehead. "No. I received that the day my parents were murdered."
Severus gave an especially hard yank at a tangle of hair in shock. He had also been orphaned at a young age due to an Influenza epidemic and had assumed illness had taken her parents as well.
"My father and mother ran a small mercantile, but my father wasn't a very good businessman. He was over his head in debt to a man named Thomas Riddle. When he continued to fall behind on his loan payments, Mr. Riddle sent several men to break up the shop. Mother and I were alone when they first came in — pulling things off the shelves, breaking glass. Father arrived and things escalated. There were gunshots and screaming and blood…Mother picked me up and tried to escape, but one of the men shot her in the back. Aunt Pet said she was dead before she fell into the display case. I was cut by the broken glass."
"It must have been horrible for you…Do you remember it…or just what you've been told?"
"A little of each," she admitted. "But I remember everything was so confusing…Aunt Pet came for me and I had never met her before. Uncle Vernon hated my father and barely tolerated my mother…Aunt Pet was only permitted to take a few things from my parent's house…a few photographs, a quilt and one of my toys. Riddle demanded everything else in payment of the debt…even my clothing. He…"
Harriet's voice caught and she looked away.
"He…he what? What did this man do?"
" He demanded Aunt Petunia hand me over to him as compensation…one of my father's friends began shouting at him and another friend took us away in the confusion.
"I didn't understand Mummy and Daddy weren't coming back for me…I was only three…and then Aunt Petunia was so different from Mummy. She dressed me in these stiff odd clothes and told me I couldn't call myself Harry any more — that my name was Harriet Jane. Uncle Vernon terrified me but Aunt Pet was so kind…she always wanted a little girl of her own." Harriet's eyes were bright. She took the hairbrush from Severus and set it on the vanity table. "I have photographs of my parents…would you like to see them?" Severus knew she had a photograph album, but he had never looked at it. Harriet
retrieved her album from the bottom dresser drawer and sat beside him on the bed. Their own wedding photograph was tucked in between the pages, waiting to be properly mounted and framed.
He could see immediately where Harriet had gotten her height. In the wedding photograph, her parents were both tall and thin. Severus saw another photograph of Harriet in a christening gown, of Harriet in a nightgown pulling a wheeled horse on a string, and of Harriet, her father and another young man building a snowman.
"Aunt Pet always said that was an improper photograph because my father had dressed me in trousers to play in the snow…but it is the only photograph I have of Uncle Sirius. Uncle Sirius wasn't really my uncle; he was my father's best friend." Harriet paused, running her finger over the image of the laughing man. "He was so distraught after my parents' murders that he tracked down the men responsible and executed them…The constables wouldn't do anything…Thomas Riddle was a very powerful man…and the Potters were insignificant…Sirius eventually killed Riddle, too. The courts convicted him of murder…said there was no place in polite society for vigilante justice…"
Harriet closed the photograph album and curled into Severus' embrace. In a voice barely a whisper, she continued, "They hung him."
A cooling breeze wafted through the window, the white curtains floating like ghosts. Harriet propped herself on one elbow and watched Severus sleep.
Tentatively, she kissed the thin lips and then kissed them again. Without waking, Severus pulled her into an embrace and returned the kisses. He teased her bottom lip until she opened her mouth slightly. He rolled her thin frame on top of his and devoured her mouth. His hands roamed down her back and he paused, realizing the body was unfamiliar.
"Lucius?" he asked and opened his eyes when he heard a gasp. Horrified green eyes looked back at him.
"Harriet!" he exclaimed, releasing her. "I'm so sorry…I didn't…"
Harriet bolted out of the bed and slammed the door on the guest bedroom across the hall. Severus tried the doorknob, but she had locked it. He softly called her name, tried to apologize, but stopped when she did not reply. Dejectedly he crawled back into bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
Severus awoke the next morning to a silent house. The guest room door was opened and the bed was made. He descended the staircase and saw Hedwig asleep on her perch. There was no sound from the kitchen and no aroma of breakfast being made. In the middle of the kitchen table was an envelope with his name on it. He picked it up and a wedding band clattered to the table.
Everyone says that I am the perfect wife for you, but you cannot see it. I can no longer share my heart, my life and my bed with someone who wishes I were another.
You are too busy wanting someone you should not have to even consider someone you already have.
Please take care of Hedwig. I do not know where I am going so I cannot take her with me. If you do not want her ask Mr. Filch. Mrs. Norris might need help de-mousing the dairy barn.
I hope you can one day find the happiness you seek.
All my love,
Severus halted mid-step as Hedwig swooped unsteadily across the room. A small squeak and a crunch soon followed. The snowy owl searched the entire house several times before joining Severus in the study. Her amber eyes seemed to accuse him; he shook off the ridiculous notion. She was just a dumb animal looking for the person who always fed her.
Harriet had been gone for two days. He searched the house and determined she had taken almost nothing with her. Most of her clothes were still in their wardrobe; her photographs and keepsakes remained as well. It appeared only her jewelry and a change of clothing was missing.
Severus had no idea where she may have gone. Hogwarts was miles from anywhere. He borrowed a horse and searched the countryside, but no one had seen a lone woman. He penned a note to the Reverend Weasley to let him know if Harriet made her way to Surrey —either to the parsonage or to the Dursleys. Severus could not imagine any scenario that she would return to her uncle's home; they had forced her into an unwanted marriage to a total stranger.
Uncle Albus was going to kill him. The old man was visiting his brother in Wales and didn't know what was happening, but Aunt Minerva remained behind, and she was more than livid with him.
Severus cleaned up his office, disposing of extraneous paper and returning texts to their proper shelves. He filed his papers and course guides. When Uncle Albus dismissed him, as he was sure to do upon his return, Severus wanted his office ready for his successor.
Heavy boot shod footsteps echoed in the empty hallways. They grew louder as they grew closer. The steps stopped outside his open door. Severus looked up and barely registered an irate Charlie Weasley before he found himself slammed into the wall.
"What in the nine hells did you do to her?" Charlie's well-known Weasley temper was barely in check. He spun the much taller man around and pinned him to the wall. "It's a good thing I found her before someone hurt her."
"You found Harriet?" Relief was evident in Severus' voice. "Where was she?"
Charlie threw a thick, black rope at him. Instinctively Severus caught it and nearly dropped it when he realized what it was. It was Harriet's braid.
"I found her in a wigmaker's shop. She was selling her hair for food and train fare."
Severus held the braid up to his face and inhaled her scent. "Where is she? Did you bring her back?"
"I left her with your Aunt Minerva…If I find you've raised your hand against her…"
"Unlike other professors, I have never caned a student and I have never hit my wife. Violence solves nothing and I do not approve of those who use it."
Charlie shoved him hard against the wall and stalked to the door. He paused. "Just so you know…if you can't work things out…I told Harriet I'd take her anywhere she wants to go…anywhere."
Minerva poured Severus a cup of tea. He tried to push it aside but she ordered him to sit.
"We need to talk, Severus," she said sternly. "I have sent Harriet home with her promise not to run away again. I told her that after a week, if she is still unhappy, I would take her back to Reverend Weasley and he would use his connections to find her a suitable position.
"I do not know what happened between you, but what she did was very foolish and dangerous. It was by pure miracle Charlie Weasley was even in Knockturn Alley. It's not a place he usually frequents, but Mr. Filch needed a special cleaning solvent found only at Burkes."
Severus fingered the braid as he drank his tea.
"Aunt Minerva, what made you decide Harriet was the perfect wife for me? Unlike Uncle Albus, you know the rumors about Lucius and me are true…and you know women hold no attraction to me…did you pick her because she was too tall for any of the other prospective grooms?"
"Of course not. Did you know I knew James and Lily Potter? And that until her death, I corresponded with Lily?" Severus shook his head, wondering at the shift in conversation. "The Potters only had one child…a beautiful little boy named Harry James. For some inexplicable reason, Petunia Dursley boarded a London train with Harry James and arrived in Surrey with Harriet Jane. She raised that boy as a girl for nineteen years."
Severus knew he should be more shocked than he was by his aunt's revelation, but the photographs in Harriet's album and certain statements she had made clicked into place. And the body he had held briefly to his chest possessed no feminine curves.
"Aunt Minerva, you knew Harriet was a man before you brought her…him…home to marry me? Does Uncle Albus know?"
"Of course not. He wanted you married to prevent a scandal not cause another one. I did what I thought was best. I didn't mean to harm either one of you."
"How could you have thought this was best? Have me marry a man? That won't just add flames to the scandal, it will make it combust."
Minerva held up her hand. "I met Vernon Dursley. He is a big brute of a man…and he was determined to have Harriet out of his home. Love for his wife protected the child, but with Petunia's death, there was no profit to keep her.
"Her. Yes, her. Physically Harriet is a male but she has spent most of her life thinking she was a girl…how does she fit in society without Petunia Dursley shielding her? She doesn't know the first thing about being a man."
Severus found Harry in the bedroom, sitting at his vanity table, idly toying with his hairpins. He did not acknowledge Severus' presence and closed his eyes as he approached.
Severus stood behind him and, one by one, removed the hairpins holding together a ragged topknot.
"Let me see the damage I have caused," he said quietly.
Strands of hair tumbled down Harriet's shoulders; the thin figure made no movement. When all the pins were removed, Severus picked up the hairbrush and began to brush out the black tresses; they ended just past the shoulder blades.
"I am so sorry," Severus set down the hairbrush. "I am such a fool."
Hedwig careened around the kitchen, hooting happily before perching on the back of a kitchen chair. She hungrily devoured the small chunks of cold pork Harry sent her way. Severus watched from the doorway, the scientist in him was still saddened to see such a magnificent creature reduced to being a house pet.
"Hagrid has added a couple of injured owls to his menagerie," Severus commented conversationally. They were both uncomfortable with one another and kept dancing around their conflicts. "He asked if perhaps we could bring Hedwig for a visit…keep them company…"
Harry wiped his wet hands on his apron. He watched his snowy companion preen her feathers. "Hedwig might like that. I am sure she gets lonely with no one to talk to."
The green eyes flickered toward the tall man at the door. "Husband?"
"Do you hate me for ruining your life?"
Severus beckoned him toward the study. If they were going to have this conversation, he wanted to be comfortable and close to his whisky.
"Depends on what?"
"It depends upon exactly how long it is you've known you were male."
Harry nibbled on his lower lip and something in Severus jumped at the sight. He smoothed the apron nervously.
"I've always felt different, odd. When the young girls at church grew curves and got softer, I grew taller and my voice deepened. I asked Aunt Pet, because I was worried, and she showed me pictures of my mother and herself when they were young girls. Both my mother and my aunt were tall and skinny; not too many curves on the Evans women." Harry gave a sad smile.
"I didn't look at all like the girls in Dudley's hidden French postcards, but I thought maybe I was just deformed…" Harry looked Severus straight in the eye. "My aunt was neither vicious nor was she crazy, so I believed her when she said I was just a late bloomer. At first she kept up the deception for fear of what my uncle might do, but later, I truly think she grew to believe her own lie.
"I feel really foolish for not knowing what I was, but I had no one to compare myself to…Aunt Pet always kept me covered from neck to ankle even as a child…and Uncle Vernon never stepped foot in the nursery. I have always bathed in the dark and I certainly never would have seen Uncle Vernon or Dudley without their clothes on…
"Do you know that it wasn't until April that I truly knew I wasn't female?"
"What happened in April?"
"Don't you remember? Late-April the fever struck the First Year dormitory…I helped Aunt Minerva, Uncle Albus and Mr. Hagrid bathe the boys in ice water to bring their fevers down. The little boys weren't wearing their nightshirts in the bathtub."
Severus remembered the fever epidemic. After days on her feet, Harriet had come home exhausted and withdrawn. She curled up in a ball and just cried. Severus finally put her to bed with a sleeping draught. Hagrid told him three of the little boys had died, one of them the little Creevy boy who had a fondness for Harriet's gingersnaps. It had taken her several weeks to return to her normal humor and Severus had always attributed her depression to the children's deaths coming so close to that of her beloved Aunt Petunia. Now he wasn't so sure.
He realized Harry was still talking.
"Do you have any idea how traumatic that was? I have always wanted children…I thought that even though you had never touched me that way…maybe someday you would…and suddenly it didn't matter…I was now a man…married to a man…who was in love with a married man."
"I don't love Lucius." Severus said abruptly.
"You don't? But…" Confusion clouded his eyes.
"Lucius had I have been friends for longer than I can remember…we're comfortable with one another…What we have…what we do…it's not love…it's just sex — nothing more and nothing less."
"And me? How do you feel about me?"
"I had and still have a great affection for you. I don't love you, Harriet, and I don't know if I ever will…I am not sure I am even capable of love."
Harry caught Severus' hand and brought it to his mouth kissing the wrist. "God help me, Sev, but I do love you. If affection is all that you can give, then it will have to be enough."
Severus towel dried his hair as he padded toward the bedroom. Harry was already in the bed, lying on his back. Severus had agreed to continue the façade, to accept Harry as his wife, but no one was ever to know Harriet had not been born a woman. All the trappings of Harriet Jane would remain; Harry James Potter died with his parents at the age of three and he would have to stay dead.
Severus extinguished the lamp and climbed into bed, delivering his usual chaste kiss. Harry leaned over and returned the kiss. When Severus did not respond, Harry kissed him again.
"Harriet, what are you doing?"
Harry nibbled on his lower lip and Severus thought it enticing.
"I want you to do with me what you would do with Lucius."
Severus stared at him in surprise. "Do you have any idea what you are asking for?"
"Not exactly," Harry admitted. "But you seem to derive enjoyment from it."
Severus looked at his companion in confusion. Harry met his stare, sadness reflected in the brilliant eyes. "I have not always been asleep when Lucius has made his late night visits…Please…teach me how to give you pleasure."
Harry licked his kiss-swollen lips to moisten them as he straddled Severus' hips, the nightgown high up his thighs. Severus teased open the buttons securing the garment. Harry shivered when hands crept beneath the cotton and caressed warm skin.
"Let me see you, Love."
Severus pulled the nightgown over Harry's head; candlelight illuminated the pale, angular figure. Severus smiled; he could tell Harry was fighting the desire to conceal himself. Due to his bizarre upbringing, he was very shy about his body.
Making love to Harry was much different than sex with Lucius. Severus' hands caressed the slender body as if committing it to memory. Harry was so receptive to his touch, so innocently unprepared for the sensations that overwhelmed his body. There was so much he could teach Harry about the pleasures of sexual exploration, but Severus wanted to take it slow. He was gratified to discover the young man was a quick study.
Harry tugged at Severus' nightshirt, but it was trapped in the tangle of their bodies. Severus rolled Harry to his side, quickly divesting himself of the unwanted clothing. He allowed himself to be pulled down beside his bride and leaned into the inexperienced kisses and explorations.
Harry let out a startled gasp as Severus rocked against him, their erections meeting. Severus chuckled at the expressive green eyes, snaking his hand between them and wrapping his hand around both of their cocks. Slowly he pumped.
"Have you ever touched yourself, Harriet?" Harry buried his face in Severus' neck. He bit back a moan as Severus teased the head of his cock.
"N-no. Aunt Petunia always said good girls.."
"D-didn't act wanton…must remain pure for their wedding night."
Severus captured Harry's lips in a bruising kiss. He ceased touching himself and focused on his virgin bride; Harry stiffened as the older man brought him to orgasm. Harry's breath came in shuddering gasps. " Sev…wh…?"
Severus wiped Harry's stomach off with his damp bath towel. He cradled him in his arms as the tremors subsided. "Did you enjoy that, Love?"
Harry smiled a crooked smile. Severus had called him "Love" twice in the past fifteen minutes. And the orgasm - no wonder books referred to it as "the little death". His entire world had exploded into pleasure; had Aunt Petunia ever experienced anything so wonderful, he wondered.
Realizing his husband was still hard, Harry's hand ghosted over the hair on his chest and stroked the heavier black trail beneath his naval.
"Show me how to please you," Harry whispered as his fingers loosely wrapped around Severus' erection. "Tell me what you like."
Severus' hands skimmed the pale body and rested on his hips. He knew he should wait, but he wanted Harry, all of Harry. He nibbled on Harry's earlobe. "I want to be in you…would you like that?"
"In me?" Harry asked in confusion. "Won't that hurt?"
"It will be a little uncomfortable to start," Severus admitted. "But I will make you feel wonderful."
Severus returned to the bedroom with a small jar of clear liquid; Harry recognized it as oil he had discovered in the bathroom cabinet, but had never asked its purpose. He had always assumed it was bath oil or hair pomade.
Setting the open jar within reach on the bedside table, Severus returned to the bed. He lit another candle to replenish the almost spent nub; he wanted to be able to see the handsome young man. Long legs, slightly knobby knees, protruding hipbones, ridges of the ribcage, and even thinner than he had imagined without all the clothing layers to add bulk — but Harry was not emaciated. He curled his fingers into the wild black hair and nibbled on Harry's exposed throat. He missed the sensual weight of the waterfall of hair, but the shortened length was more practical and just as satisfying.
His hands caressed the slender form and rested on his buttocks, one hand nestled between the cleavage. Harry gasped as a finger circled the puckered opening.
"Do you want this, Harriet? Once we start, there is no going back."
"Make me yours, Severus," Harry replied and began to nip at an especially sensitive spot on Severus' neck. He wasn't too sure what his husband was about to do to him, but it didn't matter. If this was what Severus did with Lucius Malfoy, then Severus would do it with Harry. He had not had many things he could call his own while growing up. Uncle Vernon and Dudley had seen to that, but he was determined to do anything to hold onto Severus and he did not want to share him with the blond.
Harry found himself on his stomach with the bed pillows beneath his hips, raising them. He spread his legs wide at Severus' urging and hands at his inner thighs spread him wider. Severus kissed his back and nipped at each protrusion of his spine. One finger, cold and slippery, teased at his entrance before slowly working its way through the tight band of muscle. Harry did his best to relax against the intrusion; it burned a little but was not unbearable. As his channel relaxed, Severus would add more oil and more fingers. He stroked Harry's sensitized skin as a mild distraction.
"Roll over." Severus' voice was thick with arousal. Harry obeyed, pushing the pillows aside. Severus kneeled between his legs, coating his erection liberally in the oil. Harry tried to mask his apprehension; oil or not, Severus' cock looked too large to fit into him without tearing him apart.
"Are you ready, Harriet?" Severus asked. He knew Harry was frightened, but wasn't sure how to reassure him. He had never been with a virgin before.
"We've been married almost six months…its past time for you to deflower your virgin bride." Harry's nervous but flippant reply amused Severus. Harry ran his fingertips over Severus' lips. "I trust you."
Severus grasped Harry's hips firmly and lifted him slightly. He nudged the oil slicked tip against Harry's stretched opening.
"Bear down and relax," he whispered as he pushed himself past the tight ring of muscle. Harry closed his eyes, his jaw tightening as he tried to bite back the pain. He wrapped his arms around Severus' shoulders and held on. Inch by burning inch, Severus buried himself into the tight channel. He could feel Harry shake beneath him, trying to hold back a whimper of pain.
"Let it out Harry," Severus breathed into his ear. "I know it hurts, but it will be over soon."
Severus pulled out and then thrust himself in to the hilt. He paused for Harry to adjust, caressing his face, kissing him, calming him.
"You're beautiful," he said and began a slow rhythm, adjusting the speed and angle of his thrusts as Harry began to respond favorably to the intrusion. Harry cried out as Severus hit a spot inside him that felt wonderful. Severus pulled out and pushed the long legs toward Harry's chest before entering his bride. Each time he thrust, he brushed Harry's prostate. Harry could not string a coherent phrase together.
"Touch yourself," Severus ordered and Harry wrapped his hand around his own erection, pumping it to Severus' increased rhythm. Severus felt Harry's body arch off the mattress and stiffen; he knew Harry had climaxed before the young man cried out and the warm ejaculate coated his stomach.
Severus found his release moments later as he emptied himself deep within his wife. Not even bothering to clean themselves off, Severus gathered Harry into his arms and fell into a deep sleep, the candle burning itself out, unnoticed on the bedside table.
Severus awoke the next morning to find himself sprawled across the bed, feeling more relaxed than he had for years. Opening his eyes, he realized the sun was just rising, but he was alone. He startled for a moment, thinking he had dreamed of Harriet's return.
A soft metallic clatter across the bedroom drew his attention to the vanity table. Harry was making his finishing touches to the neat twist he had managed to fashion his severed hair into. With a quiet sigh, Harry added still another hairpin to anchor a loose end.
Dressed only in a white cotton camisole and pantaloons, his pale skin glowed in the early light. Harry had been up for some time and had already bathed, the light scent of the vanilla soap tickled at Severus' nostrils. In amusement, he realized Harry was sitting on both bed pillows.
"Good morning, Husband. Did I wake you?" Severus noticed a slight wince when Harry shifted in the vanity bench and faced him.
"No, you didn't wake me. Have you been up long? It's early."
He could see the blush overtake the pale figure. The green eyes peered over spectacle lenses. "I was sticky…and uncomfortable. It feels better after a good, long soak."
Severus was out of the bed and beside Harry in an instant. "Did I hurt you last night? I'm sorry…I shouldn't have…"
Harry silenced him with a kiss to his shoulder, a little embarrassed to realize that Severus was still totally nude and, like his own body, small, dark bruises littered his throat and shoulder.
"You didn't hurt me…well, not in a bad way." Harry touched one of the larger bruises on Severus' throat. "I didn't realize I was leaving marks…Anyway…thank you."
Severus liked the ghost like touches to his overheated flesh and tried to will his morning erection away. He mentally kicked himself for pushing his bride away for all those months, but realized that had he discovered his Aunt Minerva's deception earlier, he might have rejected Harriet without ever getting to know Harry.
"Thank you for what?" he asked, a smirk playing at his lips.
An impish smile returned his smirk. "For having such soft pillows."
Albus stopped Severus on his way to the school chemistry laboratories. The tall man adjusted the sheaf of papers in his hands and waited for his uncle to speak. Albus returned from his extended visit with his brother the night before and Severus was dreading this first encounter.
"Good morning, Uncle Albus. I see you arrived safely. Uncle Alberforth is well?"
"Yes. Yes," Albus brushed the pleasantries aside. "Minerva told me the sad news. How is Harriet feeling?"
"Sir?" Severus responded. He had no idea what Aunt Minerva would have told his uncle.
"Well, she's young…in a few months you can try for another…I hadn't realized the pressure I was putting on her…and to run away…thank goodness Mr. Weasley found her before she came to harm…it is a terrible shame about that beautiful hair, though…women in mourning do the damnest things sometimes…"
Severus stood in the polished hallway, still clutching his papers as the elderly man wandered off toward his offices. Severus had no idea what his uncle was rambling on about, but knew he desperately needed to talk to Harriet and Aunt Minerva.
Laboratory forgotten, Severus headed for his Aunt Minerva's house where he discovered Nymphadora and Harriet helping her with various piles of school correspondence. Almost six months pregnant, Nymphadora had forsaken her corseted fashions and was wearing a simple Mother Hubbard. Remus had mentioned the midwife thought she might be carrying twins.
Severus drew his aunt aside when she prepared a tea tray in the kitchen. Ultimately, he didn't know whether to kiss his aunt or kill her.
Thanks to his meddlesome aunt, Albus was under the impression that Harriet had been several months pregnant and had miscarried. So distraught and afraid Albus would think her unsuitable, she had run away with no money, no possessions and no place to go. While Severus frantically scoured the countryside on horseback, Charlie searched the roads and villages. Rescued distressed and hungry, but unharmed two days later, she was returned to the protective arms of her family.
Harry removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. He was checking and rechecking the course schedules to the class rosters. He had already double-checked the bed assignments against the school roster. School would resume in a few days time and Aunt Minerva wanted assurance the semester would begin smoothly and with the minimum of mishaps.
It was late and Severus still had not retuned from a School Board meeting. What those men discussed late into the night on a semi-weekly basis he did not know.
With names and numbers swimming before his tired eyes, Harry set the piles aside, each pile indicating a different grade. He heard a carriage pull up outside the house and then voices in the foyer.
Severus entered the house, with Lucius close behind. Noting the lights were still on in the study, Severus called out. Harry stuck his head out of the doorway and greeted the two men.
"You're up late…you weren't waiting for me, were you?"
"No. I've been double-checking the course schedules by year and time just got away from me…Are you hungry? I can bring you something before I turn in."
"No, we're fine. You head up to bed. I'll be up shortly. Lucius just stopped by to borrow a book."
Harry stopped several steps up the staircase and waited for Severus to enter the study. Slowly, blatantly, Harry's eyes roamed over the elegant blond. When Lucius' eyebrow arched in puzzlement, Harry smiled and bid him good night.
Severus returned to find Lucius staring up the empty staircase with an odd expression on his usually reserved face.
"Luce? Is something the matter?"
"Your wife is acting very peculiar…has she recovered from losing the baby?"
Severus fought back a smile. In a close-knit community, there were few secrets and Harriet's flight had not escaped notice. Much to his relief, the gossips latched onto the Albus Dumbledore version of the truth and sympathy, rather than scorn, had visited the Snapes. In an interesting twist, the story of Severus and Lucius had lost its bite as both men were obviously sleeping with their own wives.
"She knows about us, Lucius. She has known for months."
"To put it in her words — 'I have not always been asleep when Lucius has made his late evening visits'…Perhaps it would be best if you head on home to your own wife."
Lucius ran a manicured finger down Severus' jaw line. "Are you all right with this?"
"Yes, Luce, I am. I think I would like to give monogamy a try…"
Hidden in the shadows at the top of the stairs, Harry smiled and quietly crept to the bedroom.
Harry looked up from the corner table in the Hogwarts Library to see Argus Filch, the grizzled caretaker, approach her with an envelope in his hands. Several hours each day, Harry tutored students in remedial reading, basic grammar and spelling. He occasionally helped with basic mathematics as well.
"Mrs. Snape," Filch bowed his head slightly. "You've received an urgent wire from the Hogsmeade Telegraph. The boy is waiting in the kitchens for a reply."
Harry opened the envelope with trepidation. He had never received a telegram before and they usually bore bad news. Happy news could always wait for a letter through the regular post. Harry read the short message and dismissed the two first year students at the table. Edna, Dudley's wife was dead. She had died in premature labor; the baby boy was stillborn. Uncle Vernon needed someone to care for the house, at least through the funeral.
"Mr. Filch, please tell the boy there will be a reply…ask Cook if she can give him a cup of tea while he waits."
Harry stepped from the train onto the platform of the Surrey train station, clutching Severus' arm for support. Severus was not about to send his wife back to the Dursley household alone; he had heard too many unfavorable things about the Dursley men. His head turned upon hearing his wife's name barked across the platform.
"That's my Uncle Vernon," Harry said quietly. "I am rather surprised he didn't just send a driver."
Vernon Dursley examined the tall man escorting his niece and, noticing the man's severe clothing and severe expression, approved. He was a no nonsense sort of man; just the perfect sort to keep his dreaded niece in check.
Severus sat in the shadows of the Dursley parlor as visitors came to pay their respects throughout the afternoon and early evening. Harry was kept busy keeping the buffet table stocked and the tea and coffee urns filled. Even when he was in the room, he was nearly invisible. Rarely, someone would exchange pleasantries, but for the most part, was ignored or ordered about.
Only slightly less ignored was Drusilla Dursley, a tiny girl tucked into a corner, clutching a battered rag baby as if life depended on it. Once or twice a guest would draw her out and treat her with saccharine kindness, but the Dursleys ignored her.
Harriet's cousin Dudley had to be the fattest, most obnoxious man Severus had ever met. The man did not even pretend to mourn his wife and stillborn son. When Drusilla approached him, he walked away. What kind of father pushed away a two-year old who had just lost her mother?
Harry collapsed onto the couch as the last of the visitors left. Edna would be buried in the morning and the house would be full tomorrow as well.
Drusilla retreated from her corner and approached a heavyset woman who resembled Vernon — Aunt Marge. Trying to get the woman's attention, Drusilla tugged at her skirt and was ignored. She tugged harder trying to get the woman's attention. Finally, Aunt Marge looked down in time to see Drusilla standing in a puddle of urine. Violently she shook the child and ordered her to clean herself up. Drusilla's face crumpled and she bolted up the staircase leaving wet footprints.
Without a word, Harry brought a bucket from the kitchen and cleaned up the puddle. When it became apparent that Aunt Marge was not going to help Drusilla change her clothing, Harry slipped up the stairs. Severus followed moments later.
Drusilla was huddled on the floor of the bathroom trying to unbutton her shoes with a buttonhook. She was only two and lacked the motor skills to accomplish the task. She tried to pry the ankle high shoes off with little success.
Harry knelt beside her and wiped up her tears. Drusilla had not only wet herself, she had soiled herself as well. Calmly, Harry unbuttoned the shoes, undressed the toddler and dropped her into the bathtub.
"Do you remember who I am?"
Drusilla shook her head. "I am your Daddy's cousin Harriet. I was a friend of your Mummy. Do they call you Drusilla or something else?"
"Bad Baby." Harry's jaw stiffened.
"Oh, Lovey, you're not a bad baby. You just had an accident. It's very hard when you're first learning to take care of yourself." Drusilla giggled when Harry washed her toes. "What does your daddy call you?"
Harry's eyes drifted up to Severus, who was leaning against the doorjamb, his black eyes unreadable. Harry tickled Drusilla's tummy as he washed her shoulders. He was careful to avoid the bright red marks Aunt Marge's heavy hands had left on the tender skin.
"What did your Mummy call you?"
Drusilla smiled. "Precious."
Severus poured himself a shot of whisky and casually perused the meager collection of books on the Dursley bookshelves. He was trying to delay socializing with the family; he hated this house and could not imagine how Harriet had survived nineteen years in it.
He heard Marge Dursley's sharp voice carry down the hallway. "Vernon, where is that useless girl? She still hasn't cleaned the kitchen."
Severus strode into the room. He did not hold back his sarcasm. "If the useless girl you are referring to is my wife, she is upstairs giving the baby a bath and putting her to bed. May I ask which one of you is supposed to be taking care of Drusilla? At the age of two she is hardly to be expected to care for herself."
Severus caressed Harry's shoulder; they were entwined in the cramped iron bed of Harry's childhood. Exhausted from a day of being the Dursley's servant, Harry had fallen asleep almost as soon as they settled in the bed.
The professor could not sleep. His thoughts drifted to the toddler asleep in the nursery down the hall; had Harriet been exposed to the same callous disregard his entire childhood? Drusilla…what a horrible name for such a frail little child. He and Harriet would be returning to Hogwarts the morning after Edna's funeral. What would happen to the tiny girl after they had gone?
Drusilla carefully chased a bit of scrambled egg with her spoon as the adults joined her at the breakfast table. It was a strained meal, no one looking forward to the funeral occurring in a few hours time. Covered dishes were already beginning to arrive from the ladies of the church parish. Severus was gratified to see many of the women treated Harry with courtesy, respect and friendship.
On reflex, Severus straightened a precariously tilting mug of milk and cut a piece of sausage into tiny pieces. Vernon cleared his throat, gaining the attention of the diners.
"Dudders and I couldn't help but notice that you and Harriet seem to have formed an attachment to the baby."
Severus set his fork down, a cold feeling in his stomach. Harry glanced at Drusilla, but she was watching a bird out the window and eating a piece of toast. The room fell so silent the ticking of the clock in the hallway echoed in the room. Vernon continued, his mustache twitching.
"Marge will be catching the afternoon train to Bristol and…well…Dudley and I will both be bachelors again…totally unsuitable to care for a baby…"
"You wish for me to interview for a nursemaid?"
"Err, no." Dudley began.
Harry's cold green eyes fixed on his cousin, who paled slightly. "What exactly are you proposing, Cousin?"
"Those sodding bastards…"
"Harriet!" Severus said sharply admonishing the language while at the same time thinking of even fouler descriptions to describe the Dursley clan.
"We need to talk to a lawyer…there is no doubt in my mind Drusilla can not stay here…but if we agree to take her…I want every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed on adoption papers. We will not have your family come back at us in a few years and try to reclaim her. If she goes with us, she goes as a Snape."
"Drusilla Snape." Harry grimaced. He tried again. " 'Silla Snape…Silly Snape…Heavens no."
Severus pulled on the jacket to his mourning suit and made sure his tie was not askew. "I think Drusilla is a perfectly dreadful name."
Harry adjusted the black mesh veil on his hat, being careful not to snag the pearl drop earrings.
"What was your mother's name?"
"That's a pretty name. My mother's name was Lily…What do you think of Moria Lillian Snape?"
Severus paused on the landing and looked at the photograph that hung there. It had been taken only a few weeks before and he couldn't help wondering what his future ancestors might think of it.
The photographer had posed the Snape family in the study. Moria sat stiffly on an ottoman, overpowered by her starched pinafore, a tabby kitten peeking out from one of the oversized pockets. Harriet sat in his best silk dress, not a hair out of place with Hedwig perched regally on his shoulder. Behind them, Severus stood in his ceremonial teaching robes, his face set in its usual impassive expression.
He turned down the gas light on the landing and climbed the remaining stairs. A quick check revealed Moria sound asleep in her bed, a calico stuffed bunny joining the beloved rag baby clutched in her arms. Being careful not to jostle the sleeping tabby — a gift from Hagrid — Severus kissed his daughter's forehead and pulled the quilts up around her shoulders.
As he stepped back into the hallway, he half expected to see Hedwig skitter by, but she no longer resided in the house. She now lived with the groundskeeper. Even though Hedwig had shown no jealousy or aggressiveness toward Moria and quite liked to nip at her curls, it was not safe to have those enormous talons and sharp beak near a small child on a permanent basis.
Severus watched Harry, asleep in their bed. The clock in the hallway chimed twelve times and Severus cursed his uncle once again for his late meetings.
Quickly disrobing, Severus slipped his nightshirt over his head and slid under the covers. Harry's eyes opened. The thin arms wrapped around him and Severus was pleasantly surprised by the absence of sleepwear. The smooth skin was warm and inviting.
"You're over dressed, Sev."
Quickly divesting himself of the nightshirt, Severus sank back into the mattress, aroused by the sensual play of bare skin on bare skin. Harry nibbled on his earlobe and breathed huskily into his ear.
"Happy Anniversary, Love."
Severus rolled, pinning Harry beneath him. They had come so far in a year and, as Severus admired the marvelous creature beneath him, he realized perhaps Aunt Minerva had truly known what was best.
"I love you, Severus," Harry whispered.
"And I love you, too." Severus replied with a conviction that surprised him.
Perfect wife, he thought, perfect wife, indeed.
Back to Lin W. aka Nesting Hedwig's Page