Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world are the inestimable creation of J.K. Rowling. I am a trespasser, playing for my amusement (and hopefully yours).
Chapter 2 - An Unexpected Letter
By Gateway Girl
Harry lay on his side in the dark bedroom and watched the clock display as it changed from 11:58 to 11:59. He hadn't waited so for a birthday in years, but this time it seemed vitally important to put an end to the last year and begin again.
Suddenly, something blocked his view of the red numbers. Harry pushed up from the bed in a flash of panic, only to see a thick envelope fall from its edge to lie flat on the bed.
Harry picked up the envelope. It was very thick -- thicker than his yearly missive from Hogwarts -- and closed with a pressed wax seal. The paper of the envelope was dark, but Harry could not determine, in the light that sifted in from the street lamp outside, what color it was.
Harry grabbed the torch from his bedside table. As he did so, he noticed the clock was now displaying 12:00. He felt a flash of annoyance.
I missed it! I hope that's not a bad omen. He thought about it, and decided it depended on whether or not what was in the letter was important to the year ahead.
"Finish the ritual," he muttered.
Quickly and solemnly, he said his new sentences, then worked on clearing his mind. It was harder with something to be curious about. He managed five minutes of near-stillness, then gave up, turned on the torch, and shone the beam on the mysterious missive.
In the light, the envelope was a rich, warm red. The wax seal shone gold, and sparkled slightly around the raised lines of an ornate "P". When Harry broke the seal, it glowed briefly, bathing his hands in a beautiful golden light. Awestruck, Harry slipped the folded sheets of parchment from the envelope. As he had expected from the envelope's thickness, there were a lot of them. He unfolded the lot, and looked nervously at the top sheet.
My dear son,
Harry gasped. He shut his eyes for a moment and found his heart had sped up from just those words. This can't ... A letter from my dad or mum? How? Harry opened his eyes and looked at the parchment. It seemed new. I've got someone else's mail, that's what! he thought crossly. Nonetheless, it was with considerable apprehension that he looked again at the first sheet.
My dear son,
This letter is bespelled to go to the date of your sixteenth birthday, appearing to me, if I am still alive, or you, if I am not. If I get it, you will doubtless know much of the information it contains, but I will come read it to you, to explain some of the parts that would not be appropriate for a younger child. Actually, it's bespelled to appear an instant before your sixteenth birthday, because of the blood magic -- more on that later.
First, let me tell you that I love you very much. I hope this is unnecessary sentimentality, and that I lived long enough for you to know that, heart and soul, but the assurance arm of Gringotts has doubtless made clear to you the propensity of Potters to die in messy glory at a young age.
This paragraph ended with a little smiley face, complete with messy hair. Harry could not restrain a strangled laugh. I didn't know, he thought, but I'm not surprised.
Second (and the reason this letter is necessary), I am not your biological father.
Harry stared at the words. The warmth he had felt from the previous words started to ebb away. Desperately, he went back and read them again. My dear son ... I love you very much. That was the reason for the "sentimentality," he realized. That was why it was first. Because James Potter (Harry took a quick glance at the last page to confirm the letter was indeed from James Potter) had wanted him to understand that although he was not Harry's biological father, he was still his father.
Harry ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair. It stayed flat a full two seconds before springing back into its chosen disheveled form. How could James not be his father? Everyone said he looked just like James. Perhaps his real -- Harry caught himself. Biological, he thought firmly. Perhaps his biological father was a relative of James Potter?
The whole situation got completely ballsed up. (There, see -- I'm trying to imagine you as a teenager, rather than the sweet little baby your mother is currently trying to scrape strained peas off of -- you're having none of them. You are quite certain strained peas are an artistic medium, not, as Lily believes, a food. Clever boy!) I think the best thing to do is to present you with an overview of what happened, then include separate sheets on your father (and our complicated and often painful relationships with him) ...
Your biological father is a friend of ours and an ex-lover of Lily's -- don't worry, it wasn't an affair, you were quite intentional -- named Severus Snape.
Harry dropped the letter and the torch. The latter hit him on the knee, and he yelped and grabbed it. Severus Snape? Professor Snape? But I don't look anything like him! And everyone says I'm just like James. Harry worked on steadying his breathing. They made a mistake, then. That must be it. Gingerly, he picked up the letter again, and resumed reading.
...Severus Snape. He's most likely dead by your "now" -- I don't expect him to last more than a year or two, at this rate. He has a very dangerous life, and has had a death wish since -- well, see the sheet titled "Severus and the Marauders: or, What the Hell Were We Thinking?" (My first draft said something other than "Hell," but Lily objected. Despite my arguments as to the daily language of sixteen year old boys, she says that as your father, I must set you a good example. I think that would require you never meeting anyone who knew me as a teenager!)
Anyway, Severus. The full history is on that sheet, but in brief: Severus and I were bitter enemies, and Lily and I were friends. Severus and Lily became friends, I learned to be civil to him, and then Lily dated him. He became a Death Eater and broke up with Lily. Lily and I were enemies of Severus. Lily started going out with me. Severus left the Death Eaters. Lily and I began to work with him. Lily and I got married. Lily and I became friends with Sev again. (Oh, if he is alive, don't call him "Sev." He hates that. Forewarned is forearmed.) (It is my earnest wish that by your time, "Death Eater" is an historical term. Suffice to say that Severus was certainly not the only one in our Hogwarts class. Contrary to popular belief, not all of them were in Slytherin, either.)
Shortly after we married, Lily became pregnant. She miscarried. Several months later, she became pregnant again, but we decided not to tell anybody until she was showing. It was at that time that Severus came to see us. He was, by that point, working for Dumbledore in a very dangerous capacity. (I don't expect any of the political information I include will be sensitive in fifteen years, but if I am wrong, please safeguard it and contact Dumbledore immediately. It is all relevant to your position.) He said there was a major Death Eater offensive in the works, and he was not sure he would survive it. As he was without issue, he asked my permission to perform Herem with Lily, my wife.
I don't know if you are familiar with Herem. It is a moderately complicated spell by which a man may ... er ... (If I'm still alive, I need to remember to have "the talk" with you before reading you this. On the other hand, considering what I was up to my fifth year, if I don't do it before then, you could have much worse problems than embarrassment. Anyway -- a warning, in case you are not as precocious: The following paragraph is about s e x.)
Using Herem, a man has sex with a woman, but time-locks his seed, so that she may release it later. This is generally used by men leaving for war. In the most common variant (which we used) the woman may not end the time lock unless the man is dead or near death. It is most commonly used between a man and his wife, but, traditionally, an unmarried man with no heirs may ask a close friend for his wife or kin for this purpose.
Harry paused at the bottom of the second page. Perhaps Lily had miscarried again, then got pregnant, and they had somehow mistakenly believed it was from this?
As you might expect, this sort of request is not granted or refused lightly. Lily was willing, if I would not be hurt by it. My deepest misgiving was that I knew they still loved each other -- they do even now -- and while I knew she loved me as deeply, I was afraid to increase her sadness at the losses of her past. What decided me was this: Severus had broken off his engagement with Lily because she was Muggle-born, and, in his view at the time, not suitable to bear children to a pureblood man. That he asked for Lily, rather than going to one of his Death Eater companions for a pureblood broodmare of a woman (Lucius Malfoy, I believe, had two cousins who qualified nicely) was the most sincere apology he could ever have made to her, and we both wanted her to accept this gesture from him, to finalize the peace between us. Of course, we all hoped it was a needless precaution.
Severus left. A few days later, Lily miscarried again. This time, a mediwitch analyzed the miscarriage, and both of us, and told me that Lily would be unable to carry most pregnancies by me. If we were willing to continue trying, we might eventually have a child. We wanted a child, but I did not want to put her through that again. Neither of us wanted to go through that again.
While we were still reeling from this, we heard the news of the Death Eater attack. Hundreds of people were dead, and scores missing. We waited for news from Severus. A month later, the investigating committee declared they expected no further survivors to be located. We waited another month. At the next time Lily was fertile, she released the time lock of the Herem. She conceived, strengthening our belief that Severus was dead.
We kept the pregnancy quiet, in case there was some additional reason for Lily's miscarriages. Then, Severus returned. He must have been very near death for the release to work, but, by his later account, he had been near death for several weeks. We invited him over for a private dinner, planning to tell him that Lily was pregnant with his child, but when he arrived, everything changed.
He broke down almost as soon as he saw her. He told her he had met with a French lover (not even in serious intent) a few times, and that Voldemort had found the woman unacceptable. He had ordered her kidnapped, then presented her to Severus and demanded Severus kill her. Severus had done so.
(This is a way in which Severus is very different from me. He can, in this situation, do his sums, evaluate the deaths that would be caused by his failure, and murder a single innocent to save others. I could never do this. I can't comprehend how anyone with feelings can turn his soul to steel and do the mathematically reasonable thing, when the mathematically reasonable thing is so repugnant.)
Severus was damaged by the action, or perhaps by one of the other things he had done or observed during the massacre. His bitterness had grown and hardened. After he pulled back from Lily, that evening, I never saw him touch anyone in affection again Nor did I ever again see him express any regret.
Lily and I decided we must not tell him. We were not afraid he would kill his own child (even our obsidian blade, as we sometimes called him, has his limits), but it was clear he could not protect you from Voldemort. When Lily reached the fourth month of her pregnancy, we began the spells that would overlay any physical characteristics you gained from him with ones from me. (See the "Paternity Charm" sheet for details.)
Harry put down the letter again and rubbed at his temples. Perhaps they were not mistaken, then. He was glad it was late at night, and that he had eaten very little during the day. It helped make all of this seem a little less real. He had a feeling the letter would seem more frightfully real in the bright light of day. Then, fortunately, he would not be reading it for the first time. Severus Snape? Because he and my dad -- James -- were both traditional enough for some weird pureblood custom involving loaning out one's wife as a breeding prospect?
He looked over the remaining sheets. There was only one more page to the main letter, and the Paternity Charm explanation was a single page. "Severus and the Marauders" was as long as the main letter. Harry hugged his knees into his chest. Well, he had wanted more details on what happened between Snape and James. Now he could have James's own account of why Snape hated his dad -- Harry shook his head. "Why my father hates my dad so much," he said aloud, and laughed hysterically. He muffled the sound with his hands, afraid his uncle would wake, but the house was silent when he finished.
Harry felt cold. He wrapped his blanket around his shoulders and returned to the letter.
We were not as close to him, after that -- no one was. Lily's pregnancy, and your birth, kept us occupied. Now you are sleeping through the night (usually), and we are not. Someone near us is a spy.
Sev is convinced it is Sirius. His hate and distrust of Sirius is, unfortunately, not unfounded (See SvtM:WtHWWT?), but it has nothing to do with me. I am certain Padfoot would never betray me. However, the arguments with Severus have become longer and more acrimonious. He rails against my arrogant trust -- without that, would I talk to him? I retorted, and that pulled the bulk of his guilt between us. He will not visit for long, because he cannot stand to see you in Lily's arms -- in one picture, demonstrating everything he can no longer obtain. Oddly, he now talks to me more than her, but only of politics and strategy. I'm rambling -- sorry. So many parts of this are such a waste. If I could go back to first year and be kind to him.... Don't indulge yourself in the joy of retaliation. It's not worth it. There -- that's my fatherly advice for you.
Severus is probably dead, and if he is alive, may not be safe for you to approach. Please ask Albus Dumbledore, or, if Dumbledore is no longer alive, Molly or Arthur Weasley, if Severus is alive and approachable. Severus will find out about you -- Lily has written a similar letter (obviously much shorter, as little needs to be explained) to him, and three days from when you receive this, it will appear to him, if she is dead, or, if he is also dead, to you. If you have not heard of Severus Snape, you must be prepared by then, as you could be in danger if he has returned to Voldemort's fold.
To complicate (or perhaps simplify) matters, the Paternity Charm is not permanent. In the usual cases (covert adoption, etc.) it would be renewed every ten years, but it must be renewed with the blood of both fathers, or by the mother with the blood of the adoptive father (me, in this case). Obviously, this is not possible if Lily and Severus are dead, or if I am dead. Lily and I extended the spell as much as we felt possible. In the most significant change, she added in some arithmancy elements, and she believes they will maintain the charm fully until your sixteenth birthday. At that time, the imposition of my physical characteristics will start to leave you. Since the spell is blood-based, it will not happen overnight. (Massive blood loss will speed the change. I recommend avoiding that. Not fun, believe me.)
Harry shivered. Does that mean I'm going to start looking like Snape? he wondered. Eeuch!
I wish I could say everything I want to say. The longer I work on this, the more certain I am I will die, and soon. I want you to know me. I want you to know I love you. I want you to know how I walked with you and sang to you when you could not sleep. I want you to be mine, but it hurts me to have stolen you from him. My stolen child. Be his, as well, if you can.
Your loving home-father,
Harry rubbed at an uncomfortable wetness in his eyes. He put the letter down and stood up. Unsteadily, he paced between the window and the bed.
Why Snape? I wouldn't mind if it was Sirius or Remus. Even.... Harry thought about people who had known his father. Peter, he decided would be worse than Snape. That was about it. Snape hated him; he hated Snape. Snape had been gleefully cruel to him from the first moment they met, and.... Harry gritted his teeth and admitted it: he had responded by being nearly as unfair. Only his relative lack of power kept him from being nearly as awful to Snape as Snape was to him. (Don't indulge yourself in the joy of retaliation.)
He wanted desperately to go look in a mirror, to see if his face had changed, but his door was padlocked from the outside. He felt his nose carefully. It felt like a nose. He realized he wasn't quite certain what his nose felt like normally. He smoothed his hair down. Had it stayed that way, briefly?
I suppose it doesn't matter that much to me, he thought. Not in any real way. James obviously loved me, so it's like finding out I was adopted. Actually, I sort of was, I guess.
I wonder what Snape will do, though?! He'll probably kill me, or kill somebody, anyway! The last thing he'd want is to be associated with me.
Harry turned back to his parchment and quill. He really needed to send two quick letters, to Ron and Hermione, saying enough that they could help, but not too much. Composing them took hours, and during that time it occurred to Harry that the entire thing could be an elaborate joke. After all, what proof did he have that his letter was from James Potter and not Fred and George Weasley? That thought required a complete rewrite of his letter to Ron, and to drop the subject completely from his letter to Hermione. A line of pale light edged the eastern sky by the time Harry had finished the notes:
My birthday is only a few hours along, and it's already the second weirdest in my life! Tell Fred and George they had me going for a bit. The gold seal was an especially nice touch. Is there really a Paternity Charm?
Happy Birthday to me!
I've been thinking a lot about what you said. You were right, and I'm sorry I was so rude about it. I suppose I rather proved your point, didn't I? I want you to know I have been working on my exercises, and doing all the homework I can (I can't get materials for the practical Potions assignment). I have sent a letter apologizing to Professor Snape, and when school starts, I will ask Dumbledore if he or Snape will teach me. If you see me being an idiot again, you have my permission to tell me that I owe it to Sirius to be reasonable.
Harry rubbed at his eyes. He wondered if he would ever be able to mention Sirius again without feeling abandoned and guilty and stupid. Hedwig returned, to his relief, without an answer, and Harry occupied himself with stroking her soft feathers and telling her how beautiful and smart and fast she was. It occurred to him that apologizing to Snape might be more complicated, now. He was glad he had already sent the letter; he wouldn't want Snape to think he was apologizing just because they were related, if they actually were.
Harry gave the new letters to Hedwig, before he lost his nerve, but told her to rest at the Burrow. A few hours later, he would regret that decision.
Return to Archive | next | previous