Failure To Thrive

Snape Returns - Part III

Lucius and Narcissa were in the newly renovated conservatory, sitting on the settee together, quietly discussing their son's new love interest: a muggleborn witch from the United States. The young couple had only met very recently, but Lucius and Narcissa could see the strong bond that was already formed between Draco and the lovely Naomi Butler. They were just agreeing to accept the relationship without protest as long as Draco agreed to finish his education when a familiar patronus appeared before them.
Silence fell in the room. The silvery doe ducked its head and said in Severus' voice, "I am actually alive. I've returned to make peace with my past, and I'm about to apparate onto your property. Please do not hex me on site."
Lucius jumped to his feet and ran to the front door, flinging it open. "Severus?" he bellowed, his voice breaking as he charged out into the night searching for the familiar form of the man he'd considered his best friend. "Severus!"
"I am here," Severus said. He emerged from the shadows, his gait slightly less than confident.
"You bloody bastard!" Lucius rasped. "I could kill you myself for what you've put us through!"
Severus stopped in his tracks and held up his hands in surrender. "I hope you don't Lucius."
Lucius closed the distance between them stopping at arms length from his friend. "A lot of tears have been shed over you, Severus," he remarked shakily. "Some of them my own."
"I regret that."
"Bloody bastard," Lucius muttered. He placed his hands on his hips and waited to see how Severus would respond. Severus stepped closer and wrapped an arm around Lucius neck and yanked him close for a quick, hard hug. A first for them in the course of their friendship. Lucius returned the embrace, only just barely keeping a lid on his emotions. When they pulled apart the awkwardness had evaporated. "Come inside and give Narcissa a kiss hello." Lucius clapped a hand onto Severus' shoulder and led him towards the manor.
"Gods, Lucius, what happened to your haunted mansion?"
Lucius barked a laugh. "You'll see. It's a new era at Malfoy Manor."
"Severus!" Narcissa cried, opening her arms and clinging to him. "You left us heartbroken at losing you. Where have you been?"
"I left for the States as soon as I was coherent enough to cast a glamor over the snake bite," Severus told her. They pulled apart but walked arm in arm, with Lucius on Severus' other side, heading through the long passage to the back of the manor where they would see Draco.
"You look wonderful," she told him. "I hear the American wizards are far more embedded in the muggle world."
She was clearly asking about this clothing and short hair. Severus chuckled. "Yes, Cissy, I am now in the habit of dressing in muggle attire for all but formal events. I hope I don't offend the two of you?"
"Oh please, Harry has repeatedly had Lucius in denims and a leather jacket, telling him he looks beyond cool."
Now Severus let out a hearty guffaw. "I should like to hang out with you in muggle London sometime, Luci. Be sure to wear that cool jacket."
Lucius merely smiled mildly, calling out, "Draco! Are you home, son?"
The reunion with Draco was far more reserved than what had happened with Harry. No tears from the stoic blond, but he did give Severus a long hug. Lucius stood by, telling Severus that he and Narcissa greatly admired how easily Draco was embracing the more liberal definition of equality among wizards, adding that of all of them, Draco had seemed to have assimilated the most readily and had resumed old friendships and smoothed out some of the rough edges with old adversaries. Draco had muttered something about having tossed aside everything he'd been taught and setting out to define things for himself. Severus had muttered back that this had been a very good call on his part, squeezing his godson one last time before they stepped apart.
Draco was headed out for a late night rendezvous with his new girlfriend, but was only too happy to set a plan to see Severus midweek.

"So you've been keeping an eye on Potter, I hear," Severus remarked. He took a sip of the Ogden's Finest 18 year old whiskey Lucius had poured him after they'd toured the renovated rooms in the manor, settling back in the comfortable armchair in their airy new conservatory.
"We have," Lucius agreed, sitting close to his wife on the settee. "I felt I owed him as much, after he had been held prisoner here while Miss Granger was tortured. That's when I’d learned first hand how honorable he is as a wizard. He, as usual, had somehow managed get the upper hand and escape our dungeon. I was wandless - we all were at one point, except Bellatrix. He could have taken that opportunity to avenge the many, many cruel transgressions I have committed against him, but he left us unscathed..." He brought his hand up to rub the stubble of beard along his jaw. "And now he comes every Sunday for dinner, and brings a wholly different kind of life into our home. We've grown very fond of him. I'd like to think we've helped him along." He cast a look at his friend. "Have you seen him yet?"
"I have," Severus told them. "I didn't really know what to expect. Things had only ever been downright ugly between us, but there was a shift in that final moment when we both thought I was dying."
"He's grieved you quite extensively," Lucius said.
Severus sighed, frowning at thoughts he kept to himself.
"He told the public that you'd shared some very personal memories with him," Narcissa said. "He's never spoken of it with us in private."
"I let him see how much I had loved his mother, and my memories of discussions with Albus when he told me that Harry would have to die in order for Voldemort to be destroyed," Severus said. He was having difficulty keeping his voice steady. "I lost consciousness not knowing if he'd truly be able to sacrifice himself."
"He did just that," Lucius confirmed. "I had no idea what was behind his actions at the time, but he came into the forest where we were being kept in waiting. And… he faced the Dark Lord… Clearly, he was afraid, but he never wavered. We stood there cowering, while that boy took a killing curse, yet again-" Lucius broke off, derailed by the horrid turmoil and guilt at that memory. He brought both hands up to his face and rubbed at the emotion that threatened to escape in the form of tears. "I've never felt so impotent."
"Harry went down, and Voldemort laughed, never doubting that he'd killed him," Narcissa picked up for her husband, taking one of his hands in hers. "He told me to check to be certain, but paid me no attention as I went to Harry. Harry was breathing, and conscious, and all I could think about was Draco. I asked if Draco was still alive, and he confirmed that he was, so I told the Dark Lord that Harry was dead, having sudden hope that we could possibly change the outcome."
"My wife facilitated Harry's escape," Lucius continued. "We all returned in time to see Longbottom kill Nagini and Harry spring to action. All the while, we were helpless to contribute. Finding Draco alive was all that mattered. Those in the battle left us be. And then it was over, and the Malfoys abandoned the scene."
"Draco and I left altogether, but Lucius stayed back to see if he could aid Harry in any way," Narcissa added.
"Harry was not at all interested in my groveling, so I left as well. When I next saw him in town, he was more willing to speak with me. By then we'd decided as a family that we would denounce our former ways - completely - and atone by any means we could. I relayed as much to Harry and told him to call on me if he needed anything."
"According to him, he's been a trial," Severus told them.
"Not true," Lucius said. "We have butted heads twice in ten months, and he conceded to my authority on both occasions."
"But we are having trouble with him when we discuss his education," Narcissa supplied. "Lucius has deflected confrontation several times, but there is something unsettling about the way he shuts us out when the subject comes up."
"I cannot fathom the basis for his stubborn refusal to return to school in the autumn," Lucius confessed. "I'm tempted to use a firm hand to persuade him to reconsider…"
"I'm surprised you haven't done so yet," Severus said. "You would have with Draco."
"I haven't thought it wise with Harry," Lucius confessed.
"He reacted quite strongly to my inquiry about where he stood with his NEWTS," Severus admitted. "And I believe I know why. You should know that I had a visit with his aunt-"
"The lovely Petunia?" Lucius interjected with derision. They all remembered the horse-faced shrew that was Lily's sister.
"Yes," Severus smirked sardonically. "I dropped in on her earlier today. She's returned to Privet Drive with her husband, but not the son. He's apparently on his own now. I asked if she had spent any time with Harry recently and she could barely contain her disdain at the thought of him. I Legilimized her and saw for myself that she had never loved that boy, neither had her husband or son. Harry was their unwelcome burden and a source of shame. They cared nothing of his traumas while at school, and never praised his achievements. Worst of all, I saw a memory of her husband thrashing him with a belt for getting higher grades than his cousin in primary school. Here I'd thought I'd failed entirely at teaching him to Occlude, but he'd managed to hide the worst of their abuse from me. I dearly wish that I had known even this while I taught him. I'm afraid his resistance to finishing school has as much to do with my constant ridicule and refusal to acknowledge his successes as his aunt's and uncle's cruelty."
"Harry has shared very little about his relatives. We did run into his cousin in London last summer. The boy was civil to Harry, and they had a brief conversation. But Harry was full of doom afterward. He's skirted that subject with me as well." Lucius revealed. He thought carefully before making his next plea. "Severus, do you intend to interact with him further?" At Severus' raised eyebrow, Lucius sighed. "He's very vulnerable; his emotions right below the surface. He does not respond well to outright commands, and he will shut you out to protect himself, and that would be damaging at this point. I think he would do very well with your support."
"You worry I would still be cruel to him?" Severus didn't like to think that he would still be capable of mistreating Harry.
"I'm worried that he'll fear you will," Lucius said.
"I will take care with him, Lucius," Severus assured his friend. "I've no clear idea as to how I can make amends with him, but I've every intention to."
"Perhaps you could let Harry seek you out first, Severus," Narcissa suggested softly. "I won't pretend to not feel a slight fear that he'll lose interest in us now that you've returned. If you give him some space for a short while, he'll likely come to talk things out with Lucius and I. And I think the opportunity for us to encourage him to work through his confusion over your return would go a long way towards securing our bond with him."
"Cissy," Severus said gently, "I saw for myself the respect and affection the boy clearly has for the both of you in the brief conversation I had with him. You will not lose him."
"Things have been tense, as we've said," Lucius explained. "We are nearing a confrontation with Harry over his education. The subject is causing a great deal of strain, and we both are fearful of pushing him away by insisting that he finish his Hogwarts studies. Now that I have the insight you just shared about his early grades I can see I need to take a different approach. But as an informal guardian, I cannot in good conscience let him quit his schooling."
Severus contemplated his old friend with a combination of admiration and shock at how deeply invested the senior Malfoy was in Harry Potter's well being. "Perhaps you are worrying too much. There are still several months before his seventh year would begin. We can focus on his health for now. And I can focus on atoning for some of my past wrongs with him," Severus suggested. "And in the course of these, we can find a subtle way to address the abuse he suffered for his grades and study habits, and perhaps find a way to convince him that he should take the opportunity to experience academic success."
Lucius and Narcissa glanced at each other before giving Severus their full attention. Narcissa smiled a sweet, genuine smile. "I've missed you, Severus. I'm so glad you're with us again. And I believe you are right about Harry. He needs a lot of guidance, and an opportunity to define his own state of normalcy."
"Agreed."

Severus returned to Number 12 Grimmauld Place at midnight. He felt unsettled at the thought of Harry stewing on their exchange this evening without another opportunity to speak with him. Alas, the wards still allowed him entrance. He stepped into the front hall, noticing a lamp on in the parlor. Harry sat there, staring silently into the flames in the fireplace. Severus moved closer to the door and knocked softly. The small teen turned exhausted eyes toward him and gave him a slight smile of acknowledgement.
Severus stepped further into the room. "I don't want to intrude, Potter-"
"Don't call me that. Please." Harry said, then added uncertainly, "Sir."
"My apologies, Harry," Severus said agreeably. "I won't stay." Harry jumped to his feet as Severus continued, "I just wanted to be certain you are alright?"
"Sir," Harry said quickly. "You are welcome to stay here, as long as you want. Really, there's plenty of room." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so damned rude before! I'm just really messed up, and I've tried, but I'm not getting better. I know I need help, but -" His voice broke on the last words and tears leaked out of his eyes, but he kept his face averted so that Severus couldn't see his distress.
"From what I understand, you have made progress, Harry. And I will help you as much as I can, and perhaps that will make a difference moving forward. It will take time to get you through your recovery, but we have time, do we not? Remember? We're free now." He saw the boy's hesitant nod and decided to throw caution to the wind: "Albus suggested once that it is quite likely that the depth of my animosity toward you in the past was entirely due to the fact that you were the child of my only love, to whom I'd always expected to be married, and with whom we should have conceived a son who had dark hair and her beautiful eyes."
Harry's reaction was visceral and his entire body quaked as he began to cry harsh sobs of angst that rapidly turned into all out bawling. Severus knew without asking that the boy wept as much for his mean old potions professor as for himself. He pulled the scrawny teen into his arms, squeezing him tight, kissing the top of his head, and then resting his chin on the spot he'd just kissed. He held Harry, calmed his own desire to weep, and let the boy cry for quite some time, imagining that this was a long overdue release.
It wasn't until Harry had quieted that Severus cleared his throat and said, "I understand that there are topics of discussion that are off limits with you. And I will do my best to respect that, alright?"
"Yeah," Harry whispered.
"But I won't always know when I've crossed a line, so you will have to let me know. And hopefully, in the future you will trust that I'm interested in helping, not controlling you. Who knows, perhaps we'll even grow close, as you have to the Malfoys."
"Then the world will surely have gone pear-shaped," Harry declared, but the sarcasm lost it's effect when said with a teary voice.
Severus acknowledged him with another squeeze. "You need to get some proper rest," he said gently. "Could you sleep now?"
"Will you stay?"
"I will, for as long as we are comfortable under the same roof. It would actually work out well for me to stay. I spent some of my time at the manor planning a complete remodel of Spinner's End with Lucius. Demolition will begin later this week."
Harry wiped his eyes and stepped back.
Severus took a stern tone, "You will sleep in tomorrow morning."
Harry nodded and ducked his head to hide a reluctantly amused smile at the fatherly tone from his former professor. "Do you want to use the room you used when you stayed here before?" he asked.
Now it was Severus' turn to be uncomfortable. "No, if it's just the same to you, I'd prefer a different room."
Harry nodded quickly. "Erm, how about on the fourth floor? There's a large suite on the far end that's been updated with all new furniture and paint." He watched Severus consider, adding, "The rooms are nice. Narcissa helped me perfect the painting charm on them."
"It sounds fine," Severus agreed. He gestured for Harry to precede him up the stairs and lead the way. At the door to the room, he conjured his bag from the spot he'd left it at Spinners End that evening. "You'll have a lie in tomorrow, correct?" He asked, as if remembering that Harry was actually an adult.
"Yes sir," Harry said. "Will you as well? We could have a late breakfast together, if you like. Kreacher will be thrilled to cook for someone who doesn't have to be blackmailed to eat."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Ten o'clock?"
"Yeah. I mean, yes sir. Goodnight, sir."
"Goodnight, Harry." He watched the boy walk back to the stairwell, before turning and entering the room that had indeed been completely refurbished, looking distinctly muggle. There was even a television. As he began to unpack his belongings, he wondered if Harry had been trying to impress him. He hoped not.
Severus reflected on the scene in the parlor and earlier in the kitchen before he'd gone to Malfoy Manor. Considering all that Harry had gone through, the fact that he had not turned hostile and bitter, as Severus had as a youth, said so much about his best friend's son. Helping Harry now would be a start at atoning for his past cruelties. And it would go a long way in helping Severus himself maintain the happier existence he hoped he'd brought back with him.
In the meantime, Severus also had a lot of healing to do. The positive reception he'd received tonight from his old friends and the Order members had been encouraging. He also had a lot of curiosity to satisfy about the events and happenings during the year preceding the final battle, both from Harry's perspective and from Miss Granger's.

When Severus left his bedroom the following morning, he was greeted by the aroma of frying bacon and eggs, and blessings to the chef, coffee. He made his way down the five flights of stairs and into the narrow kitchen. The former curmudgeonly Kreacher welcomed him without interrupting his cooking efforts.
"Kreacher is pleased to see that Master Severus has returned. Kreacher is cooking a selection of Master Harry's favorites for breakfast. Master Harry has promised to eat a large meal this morning."
Severus raised an eyebrow at Harry, who had entered in the middle of Kreacher's announcement. Harry shrugged and gave him a lopsided smile, while gesturing for Severus to be seated at the table.
"It's strange to see you dressed so casually, sir," Harry noted conversationally. They both wore jeans and jumpers. "You look healthy, and more fit. Maybe I'll take a page from your book at some point..."
Severus smirked. "And it's strange to see you, young man, in clothing that actually fits you. Who, may I ask, is responsible for that?"
Harry blushed. "I didn't always get to buy myself extra things for the new school year, you know. I had to stick with Dudley's hand me downs in fourth and fifth years," he said, trying and failing to keep the defensive tone from his voice.
"I didn't realize you had to buy your own casual wear, Harry," Severus said softly.
"I know," Harry said in a strained voice. "No one really realized it, save for Mrs. Weasley. But she couldn't always get my things for me."
Severus studied Harry silently for a few minutes as he yet again replayed memories of their bitter past.
Harry grew uncomfortable and misread the older man's train of thought. He didn't care what people knew about his upbringing any longer, so why was he so guarded about it? "I needed a lot of help, and I didn't get it most of the time," he said in a matter of fact tone.
Severus' mouth tightened. "Will you talk about that with me?" he asked.
"Yes," Harry said, "but I was really wanting to hear about what you went through after we left you in the Shrieking Shack. Will you tell me about that? Like, who burned the place down? I can tell you about the Dursleys any old time."
"Kreacher is serving both Masters their breakfasts. It is time to eat." Kreacher said sternly, as if he doubted Harry's promise.
"Yes, Kreacher," Harry grinned at the little elf.
Severus watched the way the elf's face softened with affection for Harry as he nodded his approval at them both. "Is there anyone that doesn't adore you?" he teased.
"I think there are a lot of people who have been less than pleased with me over the past year," Harry admitted. "I refused to let anyone fawn over me, and in doing so pushed a lot of my friends away."
"Like whom?" Severus asked, cutting into his eggs with his fork and taking a bite.
Harry took a bite of bacon as he contemplated his answer. "Like the Weasleys, especially Ginny. She let the Harpies recruit her for their second string Seeker. She only comes around once in a while now. I missed seeing her last night. But that's complicated because she was supposed to be my girlfriend, except that she's not a pedophile." He gestured at his body as if to illustrate his point. "That's an incredibly involved story, so I'll move on. I've made it hard for a lot of my friends to know me, including Neville, and Luna, although Luna never gets cross with anyone. Definitely Dean and Seamus. Hagrid..." he trailed off.
"What about your Golden Trio counterparts?" Severus asked.
Harry narrowed his eyes at Severus. "You were the one that coined that phrase, you know. No one called us that until you started to." He was unimpressed by Severus' responding smirk, but he thought carefully about his answer. "Things were really hard on us while we were on the run. We had a lot of really tough times, and it took a toll in a lot of ways. But we will always be the best of friends. Ron and Hermione know I'm struggling with things they can't help me with. Ron is having to balance his grief over Fred with his concern for George and Percy, and his parents. Hermione had hell to pay for blocking her parents' memories and sending them away to Australia. They came around, but decided to stay there, so she's on her own without family if she wants to live in London. But of the three of us, I think she's doing the best."
"Where is she residing these days?" Severus asked. "I would have expected to find her living here. Ronald as well."
"Well, she lived with the Weasleys for the first several weeks after the Final Battle. Then she and Ron tried to live together. That lasted about three months, before they realized they were better as friends. Ron is just too used to having tons of family around, and Hermione prefers to have her own space." Harry took another bite, chewing slowly and swallowing before continuing, "She's got a small flat in London right now. She knows she can move in here any time, and we both know we could live together again. But I think she really wants to define Hermione Granger as an individual outside of the Golden Trio."
Severus studied Harry again, eventually allowing a small smile to grace his lips. "You're not as young as you look, are you?"
Harry laughed. "Was that what they call a backhanded compliment?" he asked.
"It was me making a mental note to myself not to underestimate your wisdom and sensitivity," Severus replied. He watched Harry duck his head to hide the blush creeping up his neck. A phrase that had become his mantra while he was away, learning to be open to happiness, surfaced now as he watched the teen work at eating his breakfast. A positive, plus a positive, equals a positive. It visibly did with this boy.
"I will make my way over to the Ministry and see Kingsley Shacklebolt," Severus told Harry as they finished eating.
"You can collect your Order of Merlin, First Class," Harry said excitedly.
"I'll be happy not to be taken into custody," Severus murmured.
"No way," Harry declared. "Kingsley is the only one I showed your memories to, and I pulled out the bad one with my dad. I did it so that there would be no doubt of where you stood. I'm sure he knows that you're back by now, anyway. If you were headed to Azkaban, you'd have already been sought out. He has access to this house." Harry watched him for a moment. "Are you angry that I showed him your private memories?"
"No. You did just fine. I'm sorry I left you with that burden, Harry."
"S'alright, sir. I wanted to do it. I felt a lot better after it was all set."
Severus nodded. "If there's time, I'll see you over at Hogwarts. I want to brew you my best stomach remedy."
Harry slowly wiped his mouth on his napkin and spoke in a low voice. "Sir, I do want you to help me, but..."
Severus gave him his full attention, waiting for Harry to finish.
"I won't pretend not to feel a lot of dread for what could easily go wrong. It's just that… I don't think there'd be much hope for me truly getting my life on track without help… and I know how brilliant you are, so I just hope I don't bungle it all to hell."
Severus responded with an ironic smile. "Harry, it's a two-way street. We'll both have to guard against bungling it all to hell."
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