Harry bit his lip. "Is... is there anything I can do?"
Severus shook his head and grimaced as another wave of pain apparently shot through his mark. Looking at Severus, Harry felt his scar burn fiercely, suddenly.
"Ah," he hissed, pressing his hand to it.
Severus looked up in horror but Harry waved him off. "It's fine. I'm fine."
All at once, the pain eased, lessening to a dull throb. Harry blinked his vision clear and saw Severus release his arm, knuckles white. They sat in silence for a moment, recovering as best they could. Harry could still feel the stark anger that had, for a split second, pulsed through his scar. This time, it didn't feel like the anger was his.
After a minute, Harry said, "Well, that was fun."
"Understatement of the year," Severus said, his voice rough.
Another silence fell. At last, Harry could hold it in no longer.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly.
Severus gave him a look like they had had this conversation before. Just to be certain, he asked, "Whatever for?"
"It's my fault. That you're being hurt; it's my fault," Harry said unsteadily.
"Harry, it is certainly not your fault that Voldemort is cruel to his servants and former servants. Whether I had adopted you or not, I would still have been called right now."
"But you could've gone. You wouldn't have had to resist for me," Harry protested.
"Would you have wanted me to go?" Severus asked, raising a brow. "Would you have me return to that life?"
"Then it is fine." Severus raised a hand to cut Harry off as he began to protest. "It is. I would be going through worse pain if I had gone, had you not been here, had I not had someone to fight for. I can handle this, Harry, trust me."
Harry frowned deeply. "And there's no way to remove the Dark Mark?" he asked finally.
"Not unless you are the Dark Lord," Severus said with a hint of dark humor. He pushed himself up on the wrong arm and winced at the pain.
Harry grimaced. "Isn't there something you can brew to help that?"
Severus thought for a moment. "I have never faced this situation but there are a few things we could try. Would you be open to returning to Spinner's End to do some brewing?" Severus hesitated. "Or you could always stay here, with your friends."
"I'll go," Harry replied immediately. "I want to help. But I thought you said it wasn't safe?"
"Not without me there," Severus clarified. "Not for you alone."
"Oh," Harry said simply. "Dinner's probably ready by now," he commented absentmindedly.
"Then we ought to head down," Severus said, straightening. "Mrs. Weasley has probably gone to much effort."
"Are you sure you're alright?" Harry asked worriedly. "You could always stay up here, I'd bring you something."
"I am fine."
"Harry," Severus scolded lightly. "You know full well that I will be able to appear as if nothing is amiss. No one will notice."
"I will," Harry protested quietly.
"Come," Severus said in reply. "We should not leave them waiting."
Back straight, head high, Severus strode from the room. Despite himself, Harry felt a twinge of guilt. He followed Severus down the stairs, noticing that he held his left arm at his side, carful not to bump it on the railing or against his leg. Everyone was already gathered in the kitchen and the twins were reluctantly helping to set the table.
"Heya, Harry, where're you sitting?" Fred asked, carrying a plate Cornish pasties that looked absolutely delicious.
Harry looked around, seeing that Severus had chosen a seat and was sitting already. "There, next to Severus."
"Alright, these are going right next to you, then," Fred said, waving the plate beneath Harry's nose.
"Anything else you fancy?" George asked.
"Treacle tart?" Harry asked hopefully.
"You got it," George said with a wink, disappearing into the kitchen.
Harry grinned, taking his seat between Severus and Hermione. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't gotten a chance to tell Severus about the prize leaned over to his guardian.
"Just thought I'd let you know that I gave my thousand galleons prize money to Fred and George to open a joke shop. Okay? Okay," Harry said quickly in a low voice, passing it off in his tone as trivial. He then turned to Hermione. "So, Hermio-"
"Harry," Severus said darkly. "You are not getting out of explaining that easily."
Hermione looked between the two of them. Harry shot her a look, begging for help. "You're on your own for this one, Harry. I'm still not clear on why you did it," she said.
Harry turned dramatically back to Severus. "What's there to explain?"
"Hm, let us start with why," Severus replied, equally as dramatic. "What in Merlin's name would make a small fortune in funding for the twins seem like a good idea?"
Harry glanced nervously at Mrs. Weasley but she was out of hearing range and Severus was talking low. Harry shrugged. "At least this way we know where their start up money came from," Harry pointed out. "I mean, they're bound to get it either way, it might as well be legitimate."
"That is hardly reason enough to-" Severus cut himself off as Mrs. Weasley came bustling over with a bowl of potatoes. "We will address this later," he told Harry sternly. Harry nodded obediently.
"Uh oh, that doesn't sound good. That's the last thing you want to hear from Snape," a feminine voice said from behind Harry.
Harry twisted in his seat to look at the woman with purple hair who had just entered the room.
Her eyes grew wide and her hair flashed to pink. "And to Harry Potter, even?" she continued. "Good luck with that one, Harry." She offered her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, I've heard a lot."
"Thanks," Harry replied, shaking her hand. "You are..."
The woman's hair turned red to match her blush. "Sorry, I didn't introduce myself. I'm Tonks."
"Just Tonks?" Harry asked, liking her already.
"Nymphadora Tonks," Severus supplied helpfully.
Tonks glared at him. "I hate that name and you know it."
"I like it," Harry offered. "How do you do that with your hair?"
"Hm?" she asked, turning her attention back to Harry and losing the glare. "Oh, I'm a metamorphagus. I can change my appearance, see?"
Her hair grew longer, darker and her face shrunk a bit until looking out at Harry was a perfect likeness of Hermione.
"Wicked!" Harry exclaimed, mood lifting. "Hermione, look."
Hermione turned and gave Tonks a look. Tonks mimicked it. "Real mature, Tonks."
"How's this one then?" she asked. Her face grew wider, paler and her hair shortened. Harry chucked as she became the mirror image of Snape. "Mature enough?"
"Quite," Severus said dryly.
"You haven't got the voice down though," Harry told her.
Tonks scowled at him, quite like Snape, before squeezing her eyes shut and turning back into herself. "Anyways, that's how I passed the concealment and disguise part of the Auror exams."
"You're an auror?" Harry asked excitedly as she pulled out a chair across from him. He remembered the Durmstrang boys talking about Aurors one day. Granted, they were badmouthing them for their apparent incompetence, but even so.
"Wanna see my badge?" she asked rhetorically, rolling her eyes.
"That's brilliant," Harry said happily. "How many dark wizards have you caught?"
Tonks shrugged nonchalantly. "I lost count after my first year. It's a group effort, really."
"Sounds like fun," Harry said earnestly.
"Thinking of joining?" Tonks asked lightly, her tone lilting.
"No," Severus answered for Harry. Harry shot him a look. "It is quite possibly the most dangerous job you could choose."
Harry rolled his eyes but caught Tonks's wink at him the moment Severus looked away. He grinned.
"Hello, Harry, good to see you whole," Lupin said, sauntering into the room. He took a seat next to Tonks and they struck up a conversation.
"Thanks, Lupin," Harry replied casually. Leaning over to Severus, he asked, "How many people are in the Order?"
"A good many."
"Will I get to meet them all?" Harry asked, wondering how many more like TOnks he could expect. He liked her.
"Yes, I am sure you will. There is a meeting tomorrow with Dumbledore, most should be here at Headquarters," Severus replied.
"Can I come?"
"To the meeting?" Severus asked. "Absolutely not."
"Why?" Harry demanded, working hard to keep his voice neutral so as not to attract attention from those conversing around him.
"You are not of age. We have been over this," Severus pointed out.
"But there's no reason I can't see what's going on," Harry replied petulantly.
"Yes, there is," Severus replied. "It is not safe."
"Says who?" Harry asked in a difficult tone."I," Severus replied. "And Dumbledore."
"I'd like to have a talk with Dumbledore," Harry grumbled.
Severus warned, "Harry..."
Harry rolled his eyes again and joined Hermione's conversation with Ron. She had her bushy brown hair tied back in a ponytail that came inches from hitting Harry's face every time she whipped around at a comment of Ron's."I am not as stuck up as Percy!" she was saying, face flushed with anger.
Ron slunk down in his seat and scoffed. "Oh, then why were you reading the dictionary the other day? That was Percy's favorite bedtime story."
Hermione huffed, "I'm sorry I like to look up things I don't know. Maybe you should try it sometime. Unless you know what 'incorrigible' means?"
Harry, who did, chuckled. Ron was the very definition of incorrigible; no matter how hard Hermione tried, she just couldn't get him to listen. Frustrated, Hermione turned on Harry. "And you..."
"What did I do?" Harry asked defensively. "I just joined this conversation!"
Unable to think of anything, Hermione turned in her chair so that she wasn't facing either one of them.
"She's nutters," Ron mouthed to Harry who nodded fervently.
Hermione shot them both a scowl. She rolled her eyes and faced away.
Harry shrugged at Ron, who grinned. Though he was still a bit annoyed, Harry was glad to have his friends back once more.
Severus watched Harry laugh with his friends in an odd, sort of detached way. His dark mark still throbbed painfully but he had pulled up his well practiced mask so that not even Harry could see.
Harry. He was causing Severus more pain than his arm, not that he would ever admit that to his son. And it certainly was not intentional. Severus wanted so badly to tell Harry everything, to warn him of what was quite possibly to come. If only Dumbledore would let him... But Dumbledore's reasons were valid, Severus agreed. Harry didn't realize that if Voldemort could really access his mind through his scar, he might unknowingly compromise the entire Order. Knowing Harry's predisposition to generally misplaced and all consuming guilt, Severus was not about to inform him of this. And yet, it was hard not to give him a reason for remaining in the dark.
Most of all, Severus wanted to tell Harry about the prophecy. At the same time, he dreaded the day that Harry found out, for he could very well find out how the prophecy came to light at the same time. Severus could only imagine what would happen if Harry turned away from him after that revelation, not that he wouldn't deserve it. Severus would rather resist being called a thousand times than feel that sort of pain all over again.
"What do you think, Severus?" Sirius asked from where he stood, palms on the table, leaning down to talk to Lupin.
"What about?" Severus asked, coming back to himself.
Sirius gave him a look and lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper. "I think we should tell Harry."
"He deserves that much, Severus," Sirius insisted.
"Look at him, Sirius," Severus said with a tinge of raw emotion in his equally quiet voice. "Would you destroy the boy who sits there laughing with his friends? You know that is what would happen if we tell him."
Sirius looked torn. "I'm afraid that's what will happen if we don't," he said with an odd graveness. "He needs to be prepared, Severus."
"We will speak about it with Dumbledore tomorrow," Severus compromised. "But I am loathe to destroy his innocence."
Sirius, for once, looked serious. "I don't know where you got that impression, Severus, because his innocence was taken a long time ago."
"What is left of it, then," Severus corrected flatly.
"It will happen eventually," Sirius reminded him.
"I wish I did not have to be."
Lupin looked at Severus, finally speaking after observing the rest of the conversation. "You really have changed, Severus. I doubted what Sirius said but... he was right."
Severus scowled but he couldn't bring himself to regret or even resent his change. It had been for the better, he was sure.