I am so grateful for all of you patient readers who await updates. I really love working on this particular story—Harry is so much fun to write. If only there was enough time in the day to do everything I enjoy. Thank you to all the new favorites, followers, and reviews, especially guest reviews I am unable to reply to. Your words are appreciated.
Just one warning for this chapter: several spoilers for Manxmouse ahead, in case any of you haven't read the book or are looking forward to it. ;P
"Mr. Snape," Harry cried, running up to the man. "Do you have to leave today?"
"As I've told you a thousand times," Severus said as he shrunk his graded assignments and slipping them into an inner robe pocket, "I still have classes to teach. This will be no different from when you lived in my quarters."
"But I won't see you for lunch," Harry pouted up at him.
"You'll be fine, I should be able to return by dinner, and if not, I'll let you know." Severus kneeled in front of the boy. "Now, be good for Nana and Papa and do not forget to work on your writing. I gave Mother your math workbook and let her know where you're at in it. I will check on your work when I return."
"Okay," Harry said, watching his toes dig in the carpet.
"Yes, sir," Severus corrected, tilting the boy's head up.
"Yes, sir," Harry said, a small smile playing on his lips. He reached forward and wrapped his arms around Severus. "Bye, Mr. Snape."
Severus swallowed dryly but wrapped his arms around Harry and patted his back. "Behave," he reminded before standing and grabbing some floo powder. "The floo had been routed to quarters at Hogwarts, so if you ever need me, just ask Nana to floo call."
Harry nodded and watched sadly as Severus disappeared in green flames.
Severus sighed as he stepped into his quiet quarters. He knew it would be strange now not having the child in his quarters asking a thousand questions a minute. He had grown used to that, and though he would never openly admit it, he enjoyed having the child to come back to from a long day of teaching each night.
What he did not enjoy was the strange feeling still vibrating around in his chest after last night's dilemma. The boy had called him the 'd' word, and Severus did not know what to make of it. He had been so sure Harry understood the plan of finding him a new home, and while Severus had not been actively searching as he should have been, he did not think they had developed a sort of father-son relationship. There was simply no way he could be father-like—just the thought of it made him cringe. And Lily surely wouldn't want him in Harry's life after what he put the Potters through.
Yet, Harry was comfortable around him. He ran to him with every problem a seven-year-old could come up with. The boy had bonded to him, binding them with ancient magic beyond his understanding. Severus blamed the bond for the closeness he felt to Harry, for surely it was not because he was growing attached.
Last night, Severus had decided to ignore Harry's slip and took the boy down for a snack as he had promised, watching the child munch on cookies and smile at Eileen. Harry either forgot what he had called the man or simply did not know he had said it. He was back to 'Mr. Snape' once more, though he now noticed how Harry's face longed to say a different name. How had he missed it before?
Severus walked to his classroom and began preparing for his lessons that day, his mind still lost in thought. He would have to start looking for a new family soon. Yes, that was the answer. Once Harry experienced what having a real loving couple cater to him, he would forget all about Severus. For some reason, the thought of that left a hollow feeling in Severus's heart.
Harry pouted at the fireplace. He already missed Mr. Snape. The man wouldn't be back until dinner—that was so far away! Harry sighed and walked away from the fireplace, heading toward the kitchen where Eileen was cleaning dishes.
"Why don't the dishes just disappear?" Harry asked honestly. "That's what happens at Hogwarts."
"That's because the house elves take care of the dishes there," Eileen answered. "When I first lived here with Peadar, his three elves did that as well. It took a lot of convincing to let them allow me some chores. But I do not mind tending to the household duties—I find cleaning can be very relaxing."
"Me too," Harry said. "Can I help?"
Eileen smiled sadly at Harry, then nodded her head.
"Of course." She summoned a step stool and handed Harry a towel. "I'll finish washing and you can dry."
"Okay," Harry said, stepping up on the stool and reaching for the first plate. They washed and dried the dishes for a few minutes before everything was done. Harry looked up at Eileen. "Now what do we need to do?"
"Need to do?" Eileen smiled down at Harry as she removed her gloves. "Absolutely nothing. Except for your writing and math, but we can work on that later. Why don't you run along and play in the gardens or something? The horses should be out in the pastures."
"The dogs are outside," Harry reminded Eileen.
"True," Eileen nodded, glancing out the window. "But they should be working with Peadar right now. I think they'll be so distracted; they won't even notice you."
After some persuading, Harry finally walked outside into the gardens, keeping an eye open for any red-furred dogs. When none came running, Harry allowed himself to relax and explore the gardens as he had the first day, splashing in the large fountain in bare feet after Eileen gave him permission. The gardens circled the house and a little pathway behind the house weaved through flowers and shrubs, circling the fountain, continuing in an endless loop. The paved path turned to gravel that led to the barn, but Harry kept off that. As much as he wanted to see the horses again, the thought of running into the dogs kept him from doing so.
Harry brought Mr. Trifle out for some fresh air, allowing the rabbit to sniff at plants and lay in the sun. When Eileen told him lunch was ready, Harry took Mr. Trifle back to his room and returned to the dining table.
"Why don't you eat outside?" Eileen suggested. "After lunch, you'll be inside, and I'll help you work on your math pages before you start writing your sentences. Mr. Snape will want those complete, you know."
Harry happily took his plate out to the gardens, sitting at the outdoor table and seating. Eileen joined him briefly before Kieran flew over to her with a rolled parchment. He kekked at her and held out the letter.
"You finish up, Harry," Eileen said, standing as she accepted the letter. "I'll be right back."
Harry nodded as he took a bite of his green beans, then picked up his chicken leg. Eileen disappeared inside the house, Kieran gliding behind her. Harry took a bite of his chicken leg, then his eyes widened, and he gasped as one of the terriers walked down one of the paths, passing the fountain as he sniffed around, heading straight for the table.
"Nana," Harry called softly, hoping Eileen hadn't gone too far away. He wanted to run for the door, but he couldn't make himself move.
The dog paused and tilted his head at Harry, the gold tag jingling on his red collar. He licked his lips and took a few cautious steps forward.
"No," Harry said firmly at the dog.
The dog paused, his ears perking up.
"Sit!" Harry demanded, pointing at the dog.
Slowly, the terrier sat down, his tail wagging behind him.
"Lie down," Harry said, feeling a bit more confident. "Down."
With a bark that startled Harry, the terrier shuffled his front legs down until he was lying flat, his head on the paved ground and his tail still wagging away. The dog licked his lips, eyeing Harry's plate. Harry looked down at the chicken in his hands. He pulled off a piece of meat and threw it at the dog. It landed inches in front of the dog's nose, and he stretched his neck to take the chicken. Harry smiled, then threw another piece of chicken.
It landed a bit further away, so the dog crawled forward to take it, then backed up once more, letting out a happy bark.
Harry jumped again at the noise, but less so than the first time. He smiled.
"Shandy?" Peadar's voice sounded, coming around the fountain. He glanced between the dog and Harry. "What's going on here?"
"Nothing," Harry said, taking a bite of his chicken.
Peadar looked at Shandy, who made a low, guttural noise as he looked off in the distance. Peadar narrowed his eyes at the dog before saying, "Get back to work, you lazy mutt."
Shandy barked a couple times at Peadar before running off to the barn, his tail wagging.
"How can you tell them apart?" Harry asked. "They look exactly the same."
"They have different faces, ears, personalities . . ." Peadar explained as he sat across from Harry. When the boy blinked at him, he snorted and said, "Shandy wears a red collar. Finn has a blue one. It looks like Shandy's taken a liking to ya."
"He wanted my food," Harry said.
"Food will win them over," Peadar winked at Harry.
"Why did you tell him to get back to work? What kind of work do they do?"
"They're mostly watchdogs. While the wards on this property keep out magical folk with ill intent, it doesn't keep out muggles with ill intent. They alert me to any strangers sneaking around my property. They also keep the rats out of the feed. They're very helpful."
"They won't hurt Mr. Trifle, will they?" Harry's eyes widened and watered.
"No, no. As long as they don't meet, but that won't happen." Peadar cleared his throat as he saw Harry becoming more distressed at the idea. "How about I put some protective charms on Mr. Trifle so the dogs can't touch him at all."
Harry nodded his head. "Yes, please, please."
"Will do." Peadar reached over and ruffled Harry's hair.
A brown speckled hen harrier flew down to the two, circling Peadar before deciding to land on the table, holding out a package to Peadar. Harry marveled at the bird, smiling as he watched Peadar accept the package.
"Thank you, Fia," Peadar said, opening the package to reveal a manual. Peadar opened it and looked through the scrolls, frowning and shaking his head. "Looks like they're changing the curriculum again. I'll review the new lesson plans, I suppose." Peadar muttered under his breath as he scribbled a reply to the package's sender. "They couldn't even wait for the school year to end. Here Fia."
Fia gladly accepted the parchment.
"Is she yours like Kieran is Nana's?" Harry asked.
Peadar smirked at Harry.
"Technically, they belong to the MacAuley Estate," he said, stroking Fia's chin. "But the fire ghosts do bond to some people just like any other familiar. Fia bonded to me when I was a young boy, just a bit older than you, actually. She was barely a year old."
"That's what they are," Peadar explained. "You see, hundreds of years ago, when the first MacAuley built this land, he had a phoenix as a familiar. Loyal bird, it was. One day, the phoenix fell in love with a common hen harrier, and that is how the fire ghosts were born."
"Why are they called that?"
"Well, hen harriers are also known as grey ghosts of the sky. Phoenix's are known for their fire. So these guys have earned the name fire ghosts."
"That's so cool!" Harry said, reaching out a hand to pet Fia, who reluctantly allowed the kid to pet her back. "Can they catch on fire like a phoenix?"
"I'm afraid not," Peadar smiled. "But they are very smart birds with exceptional life spans. They also have a little magic of their own."
Peadar said a strange name and Fia whistled before flapping her wings and soaring for the sky. Harry watched in awe as the bird flew high up in the sky before diving down at an incredible speed, disappearing in a cloud of gold dust that slowly cascaded down from the sky.
"Wow," Harry said.
Peadar ruffled Harry's hair and motioned for the boy to follow him, waving his hand to get rid of the boy's finished lunch. Harry skipped after Peadar, following the man into the house and climbing up two flights of stairs. Peadar led Harry down a dark hall and opened the door at the end of the hall. They climbed one last flight of stairs, ending up in a tower that overlooked the entire estate.
Harry oohed at the sight, looking over the ledge at the horses in the fields, rolling countryside with green, lush farm fields. Past the estate, he could see cows in the distance, sheep even further away, their white coats standing out on the hills. Birds flew high above it all, cawing and chirping. Peadar stood next to Harry, pointing down at the pastures.
"You see that yellow fence in the far pasture?" Peadar asked.
"That is the boundary of our estate. You can play in all the fields, but do not go past that fence. The neighbor has a mean bull on the other side."
Harry ran to the other side of the tower, looking in the other direction. He could see the tips of the tallest building from the nearby town mixed in with trees.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Peadar said.
"This is where the fire ghosts live, where they make their nests and raise their young. Look up."
Harry looked up and gasped once more, awing at the many nests on several ledges where the harriers were resting, all staring down at the newcomer. He spun as he stared up, eyeing every bird until he was staring way up at the bell several feet above him.
"They never leave?"
"Some do. Some of the fledglings each year will fly away, and we'll never see them again. Sometimes, the older birds will take off to live out the last few days of their lives free in the sky. And some of the most dedicated never leave the estate. They are here to protect and serve until their dying breath, as they have for generations."
"That's brilliant," Harry said, reaching up to pet a white and black harrier. "Do they have any babies now?"
"They'll be laying their eggs soon enough. And maybe one of the babies will take a liking to you."
"That would be amazing! Do I get to keep it? Can I name it? Will it like Mr. Trifle?"
"I'm sure it'll respect everything you love. They learn fast. Come, I think Nana wanted you to start on your lessons."
Harry waved goodbye to all the birds before he followed Peadar back down to the living room, where Eileen was waiting at the coffee table with stacks of muggle papers. Harry glanced at one of the papers.
"What's that?" Harry pointed at the front page.
"That is Saint Dalua's Primary School," Eileen said, glancing at what Harry was pointing to.
"A new school?"
"Yes." Eileen smiled. "I thought I might show Mr. Snape this. It's right past town, and I think you would enjoy the company of other children your age, hmm?"
Harry shrugged, looking through the paper about the school. The idea made him more nervous than anything else.
"Think about it. It's never too late, you know. It's a small school, but I bet you'd make some fast friends."
Harry shrugged again, setting the paper down and pulling his math book closer and opening it to the page he needed to work on. Eileen sighed but scooted closer to Harry to watch his work, aiding him when he needed it. Peadar settled in a chair across from them, reviewing the new lesson plans he would be required to teach his students.
At dinner that night, after Harry completed his math and writing sentences using words from a list, the boy was sitting alone as he finished his food, listening to Peadar and Eileen's voice in the kitchen.
"He said he was running late is all," Eileen said.
"He used to say that a lot when he lived here before," Peadar said. "He was always running late. He promised the boy he would be here by dinner—"
"And that he would let Harry know if he could not make it. Things happen that we cannot control in a day. Like your change in the curriculum this year."
"This isn't about my work. We cannot allow him to bring his problems to us and expect us to take care of everything without issue. Harry needs stability, and Severus is the last person who can offer that."
Harry frowned. Did Papa mean that he didn't want Harry staying with Mr. Snape? He scraped his fork on his plate mindlessly as he listened to the adults in the kitchen.
"I think Harry will help bring stability into Severus's life. This could be a good thing for all of us."
"He's still angry with you. With us."
"I don't like the way he snaps at you."
"He's still recovering from what I did to him. He just needs time."
"He's had nearly eleven years to make up—honestly, that man can hold a grudge. He's stubborn and hard-headed."
"He takes after his father. He wasn't really like that when he was Harry's age. He was a good boy. He changed, and his behavior is as much my fault—"
"You are not the reason he refuses to forgive you. What else could you have done for him homeless and hungry on the streets? You did the right thing leaving him where he had a bed and food in my opinion."
"Maybe . . ."
"Look, the past is behind us. Right now, he needs help getting out of yet another situation. He kidnapped the Boy-Who-Lived! Are we really just going to allow this to go on as if it's completely okay?"
"You heard what Severus said about Harry's relatives."
"I know, and they sound awful, but there are authorities who take care of that kind of problem."
"Harry needs our help. Harry and Severus. I have an idea, but we're going to need more time. Please, work with me, Peadar. For me. For Harry."
Peadar sighed loudly, and Harry heard no more. He tried to listen hard, but no more sounds came out of the kitchen. Harry sighed and ate more of his food, wondering what all that was about? Did Nana and Papa not want him there? But they had seemed so happy earlier. But their conversation was mostly about Mr. Snape, and Harry remembered the man saying that his relationship with Eileen was tense. Was this what the man had meant? What about Mr. Snape's relationship with Peadar? Where did that stand?
"Harry," Eileen said, ripping the boy away from his thoughts. She was staring at him with a concerned look."Yes, Nana?"
"Are you all right?"
"I'm okay," Harry said. "I was really hoping Mr. Snape would join us for dinner."
"Welcome to the disappointment club," Peadar muttered as he walked out of the kitchen. He held his hands up apologetically when Eileen shot him a glare.
"I know, dear," Eileen said. "But I'm sure he had a very good reason for not being able to make it. Did he say anything to you when he floo-called?"
"No." Harry looked down at his half-eaten food, picking through it. "Should I be disappointed?"
"Oh, no-no. I'm sure Severus is very disappointed in himself for not making it, he wouldn't want you to feel the same way. How about some dessert? I have a chocolate trifle in the fridge."
Eileen walked back into the kitchen while Peadar sat next to Harry.
"Tell me, laddie," Peadar said, using his wand to refill Harry's pumpkin juice, much to the boy's delight. "How did you like living with, uh, Mr. Snape."
"I like him," Harry said. He took a long drink from his pumpkin juice. "He's funny, but he also doesn't make me do all the chores. He only makes me make my bed and pick up my toys. He also doesn't like certain words."
Harry leaned closer to Peadar and whispered, "He says 'freak' is a bad word."
"Is that so?"
"My relatives said it all the time."
"So did Mr. Snape's father," Peadar said sadly, more to himself than to Harry.
"Is that why he doesn't like it? Cause his dad used to call him that, too?"
"Hmm. Let's get back on subject. Is Mr. Snape good with you?"
"He's the best."
"Why do you call him 'Mr. Snape?'"
"It's polite to call someone mister or misses unless they tell you to call them something else. Mr. Snape said I could call him Severus if I wanted to, but I feel weird calling him by his first name. And he doesn't want me to call him professor cause I'm not his student yet. So I just call him Mister."
"I see," Peadar had an amused smile, as did Eileen as she stepped out of the kitchen with a generous slice of chocolate trifle.
Harry licked his lips and picked up his fork. "Mr. Snape never lets me have that much trifle!"
"It'll be our secret," Eileen said, winking at Harry, who ate away at the dessert.
For the rest of the evening, Harry had never felt so giddy before.
He played several games of gobstones with Eileen, too excited to call it quits even when the queen of gobstones had grown tired. The house elves drew a warm bath for him, and he splashed and played for nearly an hour before Eileen had reminded him to wash up and scrub behind his ears. Once he was dressed for bed, he heard the floo downstairs and ran out of his room at full speed, nearly tripping over Mr. Trifle on his way.
"Mr. Snape!" Harry cried as he ran into the man, wrapping his arms around the man's waist.
Mr. Snape was surprised at first, then returned the hug, kneeling slightly to better hold the bouncing child.
"Hey, settle down," Severus said, fixing Harry's pajama top. "What's gotten into you?"
"I missed you," Harry said, still bouncing on his feet.
"And you're that excited to see me?"
"Yeah. Do you want to see my homework now? I did really good—Nana helped me. And I played in the gardens and Papa showed me the fire ghosts. Oh, I even took Mr. Trifle outside and played with him. And I got two glasses of pumpkin juice and a trifle for dessert."
"I see," Mr. Snape said, looking up at a guilty looking Eileen.
"In my defense," Eileen said, "I had no idea he's never had this much sugar before."
"In that case," Mr Snape said, picking up a giggling Harry and holding him out to Eileen, "you can put him to bed."
Eileen gave Severus an annoyed look as she took Harry, setting the boy down on his feet.
"What about my homework?" Harry asked. "Can I show you?"
"I'll look it over tonight and give it back in the morning. Now, you head upstairs and get in bed for Nana and I'll be up in a moment to say goodnight. All right?"
"Yes, Mr. Snape."
Harry took Eileen's hand and led the woman upstairs.
"Can you read me a book?" Harry asked, running over to the bookshelf in the room, looking over all his books. "You can read Manxmouse—that's my favorite."
"Now whatever is a manxmouse?" Eileen raised an eyebrow at that.
Harry gasped dramatically as he spun around and looked at Eileen.
"You don't know Manxmouse?"
"I bet someone could tell me all about manxmouse, but whoever could do such a thing?"
"I know all about Manxmouse, Nana!" Harry grabbed the book and ran over to Eileen, jumping up on his bed and opening the book to a page where an illustration of the creature was. "Manxmouse was made by this guy who makes mice figures, but Manxmouse is different because he comes to life. He looks like a possum thing with kangaroo legs and monkey hands and rabbit ears like Mr. Trifle. Oh, and he doesn't have a tail."
"That is something, isn't it?" Eileen said as she pulled back the blankets and fluffed Harry's pillow.
"Yeah, and he runs away from his creator but then a Clutterbumph jumps on him!"
"A clutterbumph!" Eileen gasped as she dimmed the lights in Harry's room.
"It's a monster that turns into your worst fear when you see it, but Manxmouse doesn't have any fear, so it didn't even scare him. It told him to beware the Manx Cat because it's destined to eat him!"
And so, Harry told the entire story of Manxmouse as Eileen helped the boy brush out his hair, listening to the child chatter away about all the adventures Manxmouse had with stray cats, hawks, and evil pet shop owners.
"And der was dis fox, Joe Reynard," Harry kept talking even as he brushed his teeth under Eileen's watchful eye. His mouth was frothing, but it did not end his tale. "He was bein' chased by deese hunting dogs, but he gets away from dem and tells Manxmouse dat he belongs to da Manx Cat . . ."
Eileen tucked the blanket around Harry once the child was in bed and sat on the edge while the boy kept talking about the book, smiling down at him.
"So Manxmouse goes to the Isle of Man to meet Manx Cat cause it's his destiny, and Manx Cat tells him it's a thousand-year-old prophesy for him to eat Manxmouse."
"Oh my," Eileen said.
"I know! So now they're at this stadium where everyone from the whole story is going to watch Manx Cat eat Manxmouse. But instead, Manxmouse stands up to Manxcat and fights back. And they decide not to eat Manxmouse and instead he becomes best friends with Manx Cat and they live together forever!"
"Wow," Eileen shook her head. "What an incredible story."
"I know. Sometimes, I feel like Manxmouse. And one day, Mr. Snape and I will live together forever." Harry yawned.
"I think you two have your own destiny to fulfill," Eileen whispered.
As Harry's eyes were closing, he saw Mr. Snape walking into the bedroom.
"Mr. Snape," Harry smiled. "I was telling Nana about Manxmouse."
"I could hear you down the hall," Severus smiled softly. "And now Nana will never have to read the book."
"I think she still should," Harry said, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"Perhaps," Mr. Snape reached down and ruffled Harry's hair. "Goodnight, Harry."
"Night," Harry said, his eyes closing.
Eileen kissed Harry's temple before following Severus out of the boy's bedroom.
"Really?" Severus asked once Eileen shut Harry's bedroom door. "A quarter slice of a trifle and two glasses of pumpkin juice before bed?"
"After the life he's had, he deserves some spoiling. Now, what really kept you away from dinner? Harry was very upset you couldn't make it. He hadn't seen you all day."
"I got held back. I had a lot of work to catch up on and without Harry, it was easier to focus. I called when I knew I wouldn't make it."
"My house is not a daycare center where you can leave Harry here and pretend he doesn't exist."
"I know that. And I'm not doing that. There should be no further problems this week. I'm all caught up on work this week and now I need to focus on Harry. I need to search for a good home for the boy."
"And enroll him in school," Eileen summoned the papers on the school near town. "It would give him more to do during the day and help teach him social skills. Those are just as important as a good family. This school is close, and I would not mind taking him there each morning and picking him up."
"I'll think about it," Severus decided, looking down at the papers.
"Don't put it off," Eileen said. "He could start school next week."
"If he's even here that long," Severus argued.
"Right." Eileen smiled before heading off to her bedroom.
Severus sighed and looked down at the papers.
"Saint Dalua's Primary School," Severus read. "Maybe."
For a split second, Severus felt guilt creeping up his chest. He had not meant to avoid dinner with Harry, he had simply wanted to get more work down without distractions. He sighed, pushing the feeling down. He would make it up to Harry. Tomorrow, for sure.
Thanks for reading!