Ducks and Vultures
That was the third one this week. Severus Snape watched in satisfaction the feathers and ribbons of fabric settle on the floor after the hat exploded.
Blast Lupin and his Boggart. Ever since that lesson, the story had spread and many people apparently thought it would be amusing to send him anonymous gifts of red handbags and witch’s hats topped with stuffed vultures. Each and every one of them had met its end violently.
If only he could catch the perpetrators, he would make them pay dearly—but the problem was, there were just too many suspects in the castle. The reality was, most of the Hogwarts population loathed him; and even the few that didn’t couldn’t be ruled out, as they could still be labouring under the delusion that he might see the funny side. He certainly didn’t.
Severus was a laughing stock. He couldn’t set foot outside his rooms without encountering sniggers from everyone he passed; not even his customary glare helped, if anything it caused them to laugh harder. It was no wonder he had taken to staying in his rooms except for taking classes, which were even more torturous than usual.
He sighed, and sent the remains of the hat into the fire. A second later it turned green, and Albus entered.
Severus frowned. Normally he got on very well with the Headmaster, but knowing the man’s sense of humour all too well, he wasn’t sure he could eradicate him from the list of potential gift-senders. “What do you want, Albus?”
Albus raised his eyebrows. “Is everything all right, Severus?”
“I’m surprised you have to ask. You must be the only person in Hogwarts who hasn’t heard about my public humiliation.”
“Oh, that,” Albus said with a chuckle. “I suppose that explains why I’ve hardly seen you in days.”
“Please tell me Lupin got reprimanded for it. How are the students supposed to learn to respect their elders when he insists on making them into complete spectacles?”
“Now, Severus. Remus didn’t do anything wrong. May I point out that if you didn’t terrify Mister Longbottom so much, you would not have been a viable target.” Severus scowled. “Anyhow, I came over to see if you had finished with my book?”
Severus, surprised, looked over at the title on blood magic on his bookshelf. “You don’t need it back already, do you?”
“You’re free to borrow it again in a couple of months, but I’m afraid the wards on Harry Potter’s home will need renewal in a matter of weeks, and it takes a lot of preparation.”
“All right, fine.” Severus picked up the book, and paused as a thought struck him. A knot had formed in his insides. “Er—Albus?”
“The … the Potter wards are blood magic?”
“Yes,” Albus said patiently. “Why do you ask?”
“Lily’s. The wards enable the protection her sacrifice gave Harry to exist through her sister. Severus, what’s wrong?”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Severus half-snapped. “Like twelve years ago?”
“You never asked. Why, what’s the matter?”
“The matter, Albus, is the wards cannot work. There is no blood link between Lily and Petunia. They weren’t really sisters.”
Albus’ eyes widened in horror. “What? Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I didn’t know I needed to! Lily told me when we were children, but she swore me to secrecy. If I had realised it was what you based the wards on …”
Albus sat down, his head in his hands. “This is … terrible. I can’t believe … all those years, unprotected …”
Severus hesitated before putting a hand on Albus’ shoulder. “I suppose it could be worse. Better to find out now, than the hard way when he’s attacked. Right?”
“Yes … I suppose you’re right. But what do I do now? If the wards don’t work, he can’t go back there.”
Severus shrugged. “Not that it’s my business, but … I guess you should talk to the boy about it.”
“Yes. Yes, I shall.” Albus sighed. “I suppose this serves as a lesson to us both about communication, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Severus said quietly. “I suppose it does.”
“You wanted to see me, Professor?”
Dumbledore smiled at Harry from behind his desk. “Yes, I did. Don’t look so worried, Harry, you’re not in trouble.”
Harry came in and sat down, wondering what this meeting was about. Professor McGonagall had declined to give a reason when she had told him about it. Sirius Black spotted nearby, fainting on the train, and Buckbeak were all possible subjects.
“Some information has recently come my way,” Dumbledore said, his tone calm but Harry could see there was some uncertainty in his eyes. He stayed quiet, intrigued. “It seems your aunt … is not really your aunt.”
Harry frowned. “Sorry?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know details; all I know is that Lily and Petunia were not blood sisters.”
“But …” Harry couldn’t believe it. “Are you sure?”
“I have it from one of your mother’s closest friends. Unfortunately she swore him to secrecy.”
“Er—so why’s he told you now?”
“Because of the implications for your safety,” Dumbledore said, now sounding slightly grave. “I am very sorry, Harry; if I had known, you would never have been placed in your aunt’s care. The protection I placed around the house was built on the assumption that you were living with Lily’s biological sister—which means that the wards have never worked. You have been, to use an intriguing Muggle phrase, a sitting duck for twelve years.”
Harry remained silent, digesting this. If he had to be honest, he had never thought about the possibility of there being any form of magical protection at Privet Drive. Now the subject was raised, he realised that he was stupid to think Dumbledore would have let him be—well—a sitting duck; after all, he knew there was always a chance Voldemort could come back.
The fact that he hadn’t had this protection that he had never considered a possibility was less of a shock than it should be. What he was struggling to process was the very thought of his aunt not being a blood relative.
On the one hand, he was quite glad to find out he was not related to the Dursleys after all. But something didn’t quite feel right. Surely, Harry reasoned, if Lily hadn’t been Petunia’s sister, Aunt Petunia would have made this fact very clear to him? Surely she would have rubbed his nose in it rather than act ashamed of her witch sister? Surely, she would have refused point blank to take him in, in the first place?
“Professor,” Harry said slowly, “not that I’m second-guessing … er … whoever it was that told you this; but—I don’t think it’s true. It doesn’t add up. My aunt would have made sure I knew.”
“The thought that he was wrong did occur,” Dumbledore assured him. “And I made sure to check it out before I said anything to you, by way of a DNA spell. There is no blood link at all.”
“Which means,” Dumbledore continued, “that you cannot return to her house next summer—or, in fact, ever again.”
The mystery forgotten, Harry sat up straighter in his chair, now grinning broadly, hardly daring to believe it. “Really?”
Dumbledore looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be pleased, or saddened, by Harry’s reaction. “Really,” he said, in a slightly strangled tone. He cleared his throat and continued normally, “Which of course raises the question of where you can go. I admit that at present, I do not know the answer to this. But there is plenty of time to figure that out; rest assured, Harry, I will find you a new home.”
“Th-thank you, sir,” Harry stammered, hardly able to contain his joy. A large part of him didn’t care where he went; anywhere was better than Privet Drive.
The bell rang, and Dumbledore glanced at his clock. “You had better run along, or you’ll be late to your next class.”
As Harry stood up and picked up his bag, a thought occurred to him. “Professor Dumbledore?”
“Who was the close friend of my mum’s who told you this?”
Dumbledore hesitated, before to Harry horror replying, “Professor Snape.”