To New Beginnings

Severus Snape entered the Staff Room with his usual dramatic flair, dark robes swirling around his tall elegant form, long legs rapidly closing the distance between the entrance and the long mahogany table that graced the center of the room, when he stilled. He made a careful scrutiny of the streamers, balloons and assorted colorfully wrapped gifts that sat upon one end, as well as a colossal confection of chocolate and strawberry layers that constituted the guest of honor's celebratory cake.

Trelawny's birthday, he thought with an inward sniff, surely a basic fruitcake would be more apropos. However, he could not fault the choice of chocolate and strawberries, as they were his second favorite combination. Any fool knew that raspberries far better complemented the lusciousness of wizard dark chocolate, but no doubt Trelawny recently foresaw strawberries in her future and vouchsafed the prediction to one of her kinder-hearted colleagues to ensure that at least one more of her predictions would come true. Merlin knew one had to struggle to find the truth in her most reputable prediction, and if it were not for the fortuitous circumstance that Severus had been standing nearby when young Potter collapsed, his heart having stopped when Voldemort fell following their last volley of hexes, Snape seriously wondered whether anyone else would have had the sense simply to use "enervate," a spell of which any first year should have been capable. Instead, they all stood and stared, aghast at the sight of their beloved fallen hero.

In actuality, it had taken a bit more than a mere enervate, but Severus preferred to forget those panicked moments on the field of battle when he held that limp body in his arms, before he thought to commandeer Ms. Granger and between the two of them, they had managed to successfully perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, such that the Boy Who Lived once more did. Trelawney, of course, was lauded for the fulfillment of her one true prophecy...if one did not count those she helped along, such as her birthday cake. As to Riddle and Potter, and the portent that one would not live when the other died, she was considered to have been accurate even if Potter's "demise" proved a temporary condition due to a combination of magic and muggle methods. Harry was revived to a Voldemort free world, and the remains of the Dark Wizard were destroyed in a comprehensive fashion that left no possible chance for a comeback. That was three years ago. Now twenty-two, Harry had returned to his alma mater the year before to teach Charms, of all things, politely rejecting the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.

Thinking of how annoying Trelawney was on what passed for a normal day for her, Snape questioned whether he really desired cake enough to suffer his colleagues' jocularity over the passing of yet another year in the life of the old charlatan. He did have a sweet tooth, although he would suffer through cruciatus before admitting it, but there was also the matter of a gift. While neither good humor nor good wishes would compel him to observe the custom of offering one, he was a Snape, and as such, adherence to good form demanded that he observe the niceties. Lacking anything suitable, he was about to turn around. It was just as he turned around to leave that he encountered an amused green gaze.

"Leaving so soon, Professor Snape? Surely not before indulging in a piece of cake? I know it isn't raspberries and chocolate, but that will have to wait until it is your turn to choose." A slim black eyebrow cocked upward as Harry tipped his head back to look the much taller wizard in the eye. "When is your birthday, anyway? Now that I think of it, I can recall similar parties for most of the staff last year, but I don't remember yours."

Snape glared down at the boy. Well, young man, really. He would never be tall, his disreputable muggle relatives and their disgraceful neglect of his nutrition during his formative years had ensured that the son of the respectably tall James and Lily Potter would always be far below average height. But he was well built, for all his compact size. Quite nicely made, in fact, not that Severus made a point of noticing. But it was difficult to avoid observing in the muggle clothes the new young professor affected in his off hours. He thought waspishly, just how well formed that arse was and how chiseled his chest muscles were. He couldn't remember Quiddich doing such fine things for the young males of his own school days. Perhaps it was the faster brooms? He knew Black and the elder Potter never had muscles like that, while the Slytherins of his era ran to bulk, except for Lucius, who was built on the same long lean lines Severus was. Harry looked like a centerfold out of Swish and Flick. He forced his thoughts back to the present. And his own lack thereof; he relaxed his glare into a sneer.

"Ahh, Professor Potter," Severus forced himself not to enjoy the view below the neck of the Staff's youngest addition, difficult as that was since he'd taken off his robes, and his muggle shirt, a form fitting knit, was open at the neck, "I was just about to retire to my rooms. I realized that I had neglected to bring an offering suitable to this celebration of Professor Trelawney's entry into our world and would not dream of partaking...."

Potter grinned. "How fortunate for you that I happen to have a spare gift. And so suitable, too. You can easily replenish my supply." With that, coupled with an impish grin, Potter pulled one of Snape's own potion flasks from a pocket and with a flick of his wand, embellished the plain blue bottle with dark blue wrapping paper and a star and moon embossed bow. He handed it to Snape with a sly smile.

"What is it?" Snape asked suspiciously.

"Don't worry, it's got one of your potions inside, it's not just one of your bottles, so you wouldn't be giving inferior goods. I purchased it from that apothecary that you supply in Hogsmeade." Harry motioned for Snape to lean down so he could whisper in his ear. Not quite as unwillingly as he made it appear, as really, the young man did have a delightful smell to him, and wasn't Severus turning into a dirty old man, he thought, that he even noticed such things? He found himself bending down close to those delectable lips.

"It's Dreamless Draught potion, finest made. Just what the medi-witch ordered for her, is what I'm thinking. I can't wait to hear the spin she would put on getting this, can you?"

Severus couldn't help the revealing twitch his lips gave. Trelawney did tend to gush over every little token, and received them in the most positive light possible. She would no doubt read into this offering an indication that the Potions Master believed her so beset by portentous dreams that she required a potion in order to obtain rest. Of course, better a draught of one of his potions than the Fire Whiskey laced tea from which she habitually sipped, he thought sardonically.

"But if I take your gift, that will leave you empty-handed," he pointed out, tempted to take Potter up on his offer.

"Oh no, this wasn't my gift. I made her a small globe paperweight that continually shows scenes of a Grim chasing a figure of me. It is really Padfoot and me playing but her interpretation that it portends my imminent demise should please her to no end. The Dreamless Draught was for me, actually, and as I said, you can easily replace that at your convenience. I'd hate to see you miss out on the cake. It is almost your favorite, isn't it?"

As they spoke, the two wizards had been making their way over to the end of the table that held the gifts. With a grudging nod, Severus tapped his wand to the potion, thus signing his name to it, while Harry placed his wrapped package on the table next to it. Severus made a mental note to brew the younger man several bottles worth of the potion in question, telling himself that it was merely professional courtesy that he keep a colleague supplied with a needed potion and not concern for the faint lines of weariness he could see around the green eyes now that he looked for them.

Some time later, the two men sat quietly eating the delicious cake together. They'd ended up next to each other after the traditional singing of Happy Birthday, done wizard style, with no set tune, the cacophony causing Severus to cast a brief silencing bubble around him. It was an oasis of calm that Harry scooted inside, uninvited, although he at least pretended to join in the singing, mouthing the words silently, a pretense that the Slytherin disdained.

"So," Harry began, talking around a large mouthful of cake. Seven years at Hogwarts had done nothing to improve his table manners, especially since most of those years were spent around a surplus of Weasleys, Severus thought sourly. "You still didn't answer my question. When is your birthday?"

Severus took his time finishing his mouthful of cake, then very deliberately dabbed at his lips with a napkin. Harry grinned; the point was not lost on him although the young man was unembarrassed.

"I don't have a birthday," he replied levelly.

Harry stared for a moment, then continued unabashed, his trademark grin in place. "That's impossible. Everyone has a birthday, even..."

"Even greasy old git potion professors?" Snape raised an eyebrow. This time, Harry was slightly abashed. The grin was a tad lop-sided as he looked up at the taller wizard.

"Well, that wasn't quite how I wasn't going to phrase it, but if the greasy gitness fits...." Snape shot one of his more formidable glares at the Boy Who Lived, but Harry didn't get to retain that title by being faint of heart. The younger man gave a lopsided smile, a look that was twice as endearing as his cocky grin, and nodded.

"Well, yeah. Even them. I think Hermione read it to me in "Hogwarts, A History." Once again Severus felt that twitch to his lips that in another man might blossom into a full fledged smile. Twice in the same day, astounding. Harry, who missed very little when it came to Snape's reactions after years of watching him as closely as the dour wizard was wont to watching over his own younger, more reckless self, hid his triumphant smile and continued talking in a thoughtful tone. "So, stands to reason, I thought, that if everyone has one, even greasy old git potion professors like you must have one too, but, I've been here as a faculty member an entire year and while even Binns has had a birthday party, although I had trouble understanding how they handled the whole 'how old are you now?' thing, as that to me always presumed continued life, I know I don't recall your party. So, when is your birthday?"

"Ah, but there is the flaw in your process, Professor Potter. You just laid claim, in one rather rambling sentence, to having reason, thought, understanding, knowledge and the power of recall, all faculties I do not believe you demonstrated having, much less using in conjunction with each other, during your seven years as a student here, although…" Snape looked down his long nose at the savior of the wizarding world. "I would be willing to grant you the presumption; you've never lacked that."

Since Harry merely grinned in appreciation of the insult, and continued to wait with an expectant air, Severus sighed and responded more directly. "As it happens, Professor Potter, by some miracle of either coincidence or perseverance, no doubt the same principle that permits a roomful of primates to produce a work of Shakespeare if they pound away at typewriters long enough, you are in fact correct. I was born, therefore there is a day of the Caesarean calendar that coincides with that event. The more accurate statement on my part would have been that I do not celebrate, acknowledge or in any wise make note of the anniversary of my entry into this vale of tears. Since I am not alone in failing to find it a cause for celebration, such lack has not proved to be a problem in the past and I trust the status quo will continue as that is how I prefer it. Do you understand?"

The green eyes looked up at him unflinchingly. "Would it have been so difficult simply to state a date? Like, say, October, um, I don't know, tenth, or twenty something. Not Halloween, is my guess. I see you as a Libra, not a Scorpio. And what would be the year? 1964, like Remus, I would guess."

It took all of Snape's spy training not to reveal his surprise as Potter somehow guessed almost his exact birthdate. Fortunately, if there was one thing that serving as a double agent before Lord Voldemort did prepare one for, it was hiding one's surprise no matter what revelation was made. He sneered down at the young man, who was looking at him with, could it be fond amusement? Severus firmly controlled that betraying twitch of his own lips, determined that the Potter brat would not win a third sign of amusement from him, no matter how faint, within the same hour. Defeating the Dark Lord was one thing, overcoming a dark mood that he had been nurturing for nigh on forty years could not be tolerated.

"No, it would not have been difficult to state the date. It would have been impossible."

"Why?" Damn Gryffindor persistence.

Snape took the time to finish his last bite of cake. He then gave a long suffering sigh and rolled his dark eyes, a performance marred only slightly by the smear of chocolate on the corner of his mouth. With a twinkle in his eye, Harry reached up with a finger and wiped the errant chocolate away. Snape took a step back, surprised, but masking it as affront.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Harry was quick to apologize as he put the finger into his own mouth to suck it clean. Severus tried not to stare. "I didn't think you'd want to go into your next class with chocolate on your mouth. Not at all the image you like to project, after all, your students might find you human or something. They might even suspect you of having a birthday. So, when is it?"

"A simple suggestion that I make use of my napkin would have been sufficient." Snape tried to hide the jolt of arousal the sight of Potter sucking on his finger so intently sent through his body beneath his customary sneer. Really, the boy's lips were obscene. "And it should be obvious even to one of your limited intellect that I do not choose to share the date of my birth with anyone."

"Why not?" Harry looked up at the tall wizard, his handsome face appearing genuinely perplexed. It was the genuine nature of the younger man's confusion that led Snape to swallow his irritation, and strive for a modicum of patience. He knew from their years of practicing occlumency that the first birthdays Harry was able to share with friends remained among his happiest memories. And indeed, Harry's simple joy in celebrating his own birthday was infectious even to the unsentimental Potions Master. Each year, Harry's own festivity commenced with a cake in the Hogwarts kitchens, baked by the house elves. The celebration generally ended with a huge celebration at the Burrow, with Weasleys in abundance, as well as Miss Granger there to provide some common sense. For the past several years, since just before Voldemort fell, Harry had made a point of hunting down Severus and begging him to share in his kitchen cake, along with the elves and his owl, right on the stroke of midnight. Even before he returned to join the Staff at Howarts, Harry appeared on July 30th in time for his cake in the kitchen, insisting to a joyful Dobby and Winky that their cake was his favorite one.

To Harry, birthdays now meant family, and friends, and fulfillment of many of the wishes of that abandoned, neglected boy in the cupboard. Snape was glad for that, and he knew that Harry thought that it should be a simple matter for everyone's birthday wrongs to be as easily righted. But from the chasm of his added decades of disappointment and disillusionment, he knew that wasn't the case for everyone. It certainly wasn't the case for him. It was far too late for him to leave his own cupboard, even if beckoned by an audaciously grinning young man, who was far too attractive for his own good, Severus thought sourly. He put down his empty cake plate abruptly.

"Because I do not choose to do so, Professor Potter. That should be clear enough even for you, with your limited brain capacity, to understand. Now, as you pointed out, I do have a class to teach momentarily, so I must be leaving."

Snape left in a swirl of robes before Harry had the chance to make more than a half hearted murmur of protest. He looked after his former teacher and mentor with a somewhat forlorn expression that did not escape the notice of the Headmistress.

While Minerva McGonagall was no Albus Dumbledore when it came to interfering in her professors' private lives, she did care in her own way about the happiness of her colleagues. None appealed more to her austere but kind heart than young Harry, unless it was Severus Snape. She could still recall the proud, lonely boy he'd been as a student, and she pitied the proud lonely man he'd become. None knew better than she what the wizarding world owed to Severus, the sacrifices he'd made at the behest of her predecessor, who, underneath his twinkling eyes and jovial demeanor, had an iron core and didn't hesitate to sacrifice anyone and everything to his higher cause, even his own life. If it were not for Severus' watchfulness over the years, Harry would never have survived Dumbledore's machinations in his battle against Voldemort.

But now, in peace, when everyone else was able to relax and rebuild their lives, the habits of a lifetime left both of the old wizard's tools, Harry and Severus, ill equipt to move on. However, a key difference between the two men, Minerva thought, as she watched Severus leave the room and saw the disappointment in Harry's eyes, was that the younger man had not given up hope for personal happiness. She wasn't sure Severus had ever known what it meant to hope. She walked over to Harry and handed him a fresh cup of tea. He gave her a sweet, if somewhat faint smile in thanks. She gestured for him to sit down next to her at a nearby sofa. He did so, looking at her quizzically.

"Once, a long time ago, Albus' brother Aberforth told me a story about his brother to convey a sense of Albus' somewhat unquenchable, if not always well-founded optimism. It seems that their parents were a very brilliant, but absent-minded wizard and witch. On one occasion, when young Albus had been eagerly awaiting his birthday, it seems that his parents completely forgot it. But, by coincidence, on the day in question, there was a delivery made, by a large wizarding vehicle, of a huge pile of unicorn dung, which the elder Dumbledore was going to use in potions."

"Sounds like something Severus would appreciate, at least." Harry grinned.

"Perhaps." Minerva permitted herself a small smile. "At least the Severus of today would no doubt appreciate the worth of such a delivery. But to most small boys, awaiting birthday largesse, this would be quite a letdown. Not to Albus, however. According to Aberforth, he dove right into it, digging eagerly through the pile of manure, and, incidentally, contaminating it beyond any salvage. To their credit, his parents, belatedly realizing their omission, were less concerned over the ruin of the valuable unicorn feces than over their own failure to remember their son's birthday. After watching him for a few moments in shocked dismay, his mother reportedly called him over and gently asked him what he was doing. His brother, being much more blunt, interjected and asked why he was so ridiculously happy with a pile of, um," Harry was hard pressed not to laugh as the prim Headmistress struggled for yet another euphemism for excrement. "Well, you know. Albus reportedly turned to them, with those bright eyes of his twinkling away, and said, 'with all this shit, I just know there has to be quite a pony buried in here somewhere.'"

Harry laughed as Minerva smiled in bittersweet reminiscence. Harry could clearly see in his mind's eye a young Albus (although it was hard to picture him as anything other than a small child with a long white beard and flowing white hair, rather like a muggle concept of a gnome), clambering over and into a huge pile of manure looking for the hidden prize. The older witch couldn't help but think how that quality translated to her friend's ability with people. No matter how unappealing they might seem on the outside, Albus was always willing to look beneath the surface, positive that there was a treasure hidden beneath the most off-putting exterior.

"He always was one for finding the good in any situation," Minerva observed. As she looked around the staff room, which included a centaur, a giant, a werewolf and a ghost, she added, "and in any person. Be patient with Severus. Merlin knows, he was patient with you often enough during your time here as a student."

Harry snorted. As the Headmistress quirked a eyebrow at him, he said placatingly, "Minerva, no one values Severus more than I do...Gods, don't let him know I called him by his first name. He still insists we address each other by our last names you know...and I know he saved my life like, practically every other day, but patience was not something he ever had with me!"

Minerva smiled. "Harry, what would you call it if you had to save a headstrong child's life 'like, practically every other day' and still that child rushed headlong into the next danger seemingly without a thought for his own safety or the safety of others?" Hearing his colloquial words spoken in his former Head of House's proper Scottish accent almost set off Harry's laughter again but for the seriousness underlying the question that triggered his own ever healthy sense of guilt. Minerva's stern expression relented.

"I don't mention it to make you feel bad, Harry, and I know that you are fully aware, as too few are, of what we all owe Severus. I merely suggest that his harsh demeanor towards you, both in the past, and now, does not reveal his true feelings. Perseverance has long been a hallmark of the Gryffindor spirit, as much as courage, and I urge you to use it now."

Harry looked at the older witch quizzically.

"I don't suppose you know his birthday, do you?"

The Headmistress started to answer, then wrinkled her brow. "It is the oddest thing. I know that I know it, but whenever I specifically try to recall it, it slips from my mind. Oddest thing, that."

Harry frowned. He'd had the same conversation with Remus, Flitwick and Sprout. Each of them had a vague recollection of having known when Severus' birthday was, but when pressed for the date, they honestly could not recall. It was as though each one had been spot obliviated of that one recollection. He had narrowed it down to an October date by luck, having resorted to talking to Filch, a man he normally avoided at all costs. But after a good hour spent in listening to tales of the "good old days" when corporal punishment was permitted during detentions, and the younger Professor Snape provided him with ample students upon which to vent his spleen, the nasty squib was just about flattered into revealing the birthdate that surely such a close colleague of the Slytherin Head of House as himself knew, when the Potion Master came upon the scene. Filch had no sooner gotten the first syllable out when he was struck dumb. Literally and figuratively, Harry recalled now. Sinking so low as to cast legilimens against poor Filch, he met with nothing but visions of cleaning products and some images of Mrs. Norris that he had to cast obliviate on himself to remove.

There had to be some way to find out Snape's birthday. Harry was determined to make the wizard learn to enjoy life, it seemed to him that the first step was to learn to celebrate the fact that he was born in the first place.


"You really are potty, Potter, if you think that streamers and balloons and cake is all it will take to make a new man out of Severus Snape." Draco leaned back on the elegant chaise in his spacious London apartment and admired the play of lights in the crystal goblet he held up to the firelight. His loving wife smacked his silvery head...lovingly, of course.

"Ow, Hermione, what did you do that for? Bondmate abuse! You saw it, Potter, I am one of those wizards trapped with an abusive witch. The shame of it. Rita Skeeter did an expose on it just the other week."

"You love to be abused, you just don't like your hair messed up," Hermione informed him. Harry just shook his head at the odd couple. Never in a million years would he have imagined that Hermione Granger, muggle-born, pure-hearted champion of house elf rights and the side of the Light, and Draco Malfoy, narcissistic pure-blooded scion of the wizarding world's most well-connected family, and heir to the Dark Lord's second in command, would have fallen passionately in love. They shared quick wits, thirsts for knowledge, and, as far as Harry could tell, a shamelessly active, varied and imaginative sex life.

He envied them tremendously. Even as Draco pretended to pout and rubbed his head, Hermione was settling into his lap, levitating his wine glass over to a nearby table after taking a sip, and leaning back to kiss the afflicted head better. Draco glanced over at their guest.

"Better cool it, love. We don't want poor Potter pining any worse than he already is. It's bad enough having Weasley over here every so often, looking at one or the other of us so weirdly, just hoping that we'll offer a threesome. I really don't want to have to fight Potter off too."

"You just say that because you know that if you finish that wine you'll be the one offering the threesome. You don't fool anyone, Draco. All it would take is a few sentences in Parseltongue and you'd be all over Harry," Herminone observed in her matter of fact way.

Harry found himself blushing, and hoping to Merlin there were no pictures of snakes anywhere near. One never knew with the Malfoy-Grangers when they were teasing and when they were serious. He'd had just enough to drink himself that the thought of.... No, he pushed the thought away and returned to the purpose of his visit, ignoring the smirk on Draco's face and the smile Hermione turned away to hide.

"I don't need you to agree with me. I just need you to tell me when his birthday is. Surely you know? He's your bloody godfather! Don't you send him a card or anything?"

Draco looked at Harry calmly. "No, I do not. Severus does not want his birthday acknowledged, so I respect that. I think that you should do the same."

Hermione, of course, disagreed. "But Harry has a point. Professor Snape doesn't celebrate his birthday because of his low self esteem, and surely it would be a...." Hermione stopped speaking to glare at her husband and best friend, who were laughing so hard tears were rolling down their cheeks. She pulled out her wand but Harry disarmed her with a quick expellilarmus. He gave her an apologetic look as she stared at him indignantly. Draco, on the other hand, was looking at him gratefully.

"Sorry, 'Mione, but it's a reflex action when I see a wand pulled on me. Snape drilled it into me so many times through painful example I don't stop to think, I react."

"For good reason, don't think for a second she wasn't going to hex the two of us, Potter, wicked temper the woman has. I sleep with my wand under my pillow still. Never know when I'll find myself under attack for something," Draco drawled, looking proudly at his wife, who rolled her eyes.

"You two are crazy. And you," she said, poking Draco with her finger, "are going to have Harry convinced that all I ever do is abuse you. Which is far from the case. Now give me back my wand and tell me why you two so rudely laughed when I know I'm right. Poor Professor Snape lacks a sense of self worth."

Harry bit his lip to stop from laughing again while Draco snickered before replying.

"Hermione, I love you madly, and recognize that you have the most brilliant mind ever to be found in a muggle born witch or wizard, but the idea that Severus Snape is anything less than the most arrogant, self-assured, misanthropic bastard in all creation, who is all too aware of his own worth and considers himself plagued by the failure of most mere mortals to live up to his own standards of intelligence and performance is an amusing one. I value Severus as few people do, but face it, the man is, to put it in the vernacular so Potter here will understand, a git."

"Gee, thanks, Malfoy. I won't have to cast a thesaurus spell after all," Harry said dryly. Draco raised his retrieved wine glass in a toast. Harry merely rolled his eyes and turned back to Hermione. "I do have to admit, 'Mione, that it is a bit hard to imagine Severus as suffering from low self esteem. He always struck me as a carrier of that condition. Still, I can't help but feel there is something behind his refusal to celebrate his birthday. After all, he's been pretty decent about sharing my birthday cakes with me."

"What?!" Both Malfoy-Grangers voiced their shock. By the simple expedient of covering Draco's open mouth with her hand, Hermione was able to jump in with her eager questions first.

"But Harry, when did you ever share your birthday cakes with Professor Snape? I've never seen him at any of the Ministry functions held in honor of your birthday, and he certainly has never attended any of the parties the Weasleys hold for you each year, and Draco has never mentioned him attending any of your birthday lunches that you've had with him and Blaise and some of the other guys..."

Draco, freeing his mouth finally from his wife's restraining hand, used it in turn to silence her by kissing her soundly. Harry petted Crookshanks as he waited for Draco to work his own brand of magic on the excitable witch. He couldn't help the wave of wistfulness that washed over him as he wished that he had someone to share the type of closeness Draco and Hermione had found. For so long, he'd thought that Ron and Hermione would end up together, but as the war dragged on, and Draco proved himself, first as a spy, and then battling in the open for the Light, his sharp mind and sharper wit keeping them all on their toes, it became clear that he was a far better match for the brilliant young woman. Ron was a great guy, but he never overcame his demon of jealousy, and his multitude of insecurities. Just as he resented Harry's fame, he grew to hate the acclaim that rightfully came to Hermione for her genius and hard work. She would never have Harry or Draco's sheer magical power, but her ability to grasp what was needed in any situation and find a solution was unmatched. They could cast the spells, but more often than not, it was Hermione who told them which spell would prove most effective when.

Draco was confident enough of his own power and intelligence to admire Hermione's abilities; Ron wanted her to hide her light under a bushel so he would look better. When Ron broke her heart by cheating on her with Lavender Brown, it was Draco who picked up the pieces. When Ron came back, begging for her forgiveness, Hermione gave it, and offered her friendship, but calmly informed him that her future was with the blond Slytherin Prince. Harry listened to his friend's drunken complaints for all of one evening before quietly telling his first and formerly best friend that in his opinion Hermione had made the right choice, and Ron was lucky she was willing to forgive him for hurting her so, because Harry didn't think he could. The birthday parties at the Weasleys had continued after that; Molly and Arthur were too dear to Harry for him ever to slight them, even if he had disappointed them by being gay and not marrying their only daughter. Other than that, however, Ron stayed clear of Harry.

It was funny how things had a way of working out for the best, Harry thought now, as he looked at Hermione's flushed face, which Draco had just finished snogging thoroughly. The cool grey eyes glanced over at him and the blond winked at him. "Sorry, but there was no other solution, Harry. If we waited while she listed all the various acknowledgments of your nativity that take place each year, another one would be upon us and we'd still not know how it is that Severus shares one of your many birthday cakes with you each year, yet we, the closest things you have to friends, you scar-faced freak, don't know about it."

"Draco!" Hermione protested but Harry laughed. In a world bent on treating him as a hero on a pedestal, he knew he could always count on Draco to cut him down to size. "It's no problem, 'Mione, I never mind what 'ferret face' says, and he's right, you two are my best friends. Sad thought that, but there it is. No wonder I am reduced to sharing birthday cake with house elves and Severus, and before you say anything, either of you, my midnight birthday cake is an old tradition and a favorite one. I know I get a million cakes and presents and whatnot for my birthday, but my midnight cake keeps me grounded and reminds me of what my life used to be like. So, I used to do it alone, but Dobby couldn't stand that, so I let him and Winky share it with me. And for several years now, Severus has been part of our little gathering in the kitchen. It's kind of nice. Much nicer than the faculty gatherings, which he usually avoids like the plague unless the cake is a type he really likes."

Draco and Hermione stared at Harry in mute astonishment; it was such an uncommon condition for that very verbal couple that it began to make him nervous after a few minutes. He shrugged impatiently. "Come on, you two, this isn't proving very helpful. I have birthday cake with Severus Snape every July 31st, big deal. What I need to know...."

"Harry Potter, you really like Severus!" Draco exclaimed in delight. "Just wait until I tell Mother, she's been trying to fix Severus up for ages!"

"No! I mean, yes, I do, but don't tell your mother!" Harry's face was Gryffindor red. Hermione looked at him thoughtfully.

"Actually, Harry, Draco's idea has merit. Narcissa and Severus have been friends since they were young. She told me so. She trusts him as she trusts no one else. That is why she turned to him to save Draco, and why she always looked to him to protect both of them from Lucius, and Voldemort. I think she sees him as the big brother she never had, and he looks upon her much the same. If anyone would know his birthday, it is Narcissa."

"Hermione, you're brilliant!" Harry leaned down to kiss the curly haired witch. (Since she'd married Draco and was subjected to his hair care regimen, Hermione's hair no longer looked bushy, it was full, shiny and luxurious). She accepted his tribute smugly while Draco tipped his pointy chin up at him expectantly.

"Hey, it was my idea first! I'm brilliant too! Where's my kiss?"

"No," his wife informed him, "you just wanted to tell your mother so as to taunt Harry. I want to talk to her about it to help Harry...and Professor Snape, too. Firecall her, Draco, and see if we can stop by the Mansion tonight."

It was only a matter of minutes to reach the lovely Widow Malfoy and receive an invitation to floo over for a late tea. Since the end of the war and the demise of her evil husband and his maniacal overlord, Narcissa had regained much of the ethereal beauty of her youth. She spent much of her time now tending to her gardens and riding her beloved horses. She also worked with several charitable organizations, many of which balked at first at having as a member the wife of one of the most notorious Death Eaters, even if she was also the mother of one of the heroes of the Order of the Phoenix. The nasty resistance that only really "good women" are capable of ended when quiet Remus Lupin made it known that he considered an insult to Mrs. Malfoy an insult to the memory of her cousin Sirius Black, and an insult to him. Harry joined him in this stand, as did several other of the Order men, including Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt, but it was the ever observant Remus who noticed that the slighting was being done in the first place.

As Snape noted to Alastor Moody, even the most self righteous Gryffindor biddy, and by that he did mean that overly fertile Weasley woman, did not have the nerve to face down the normally placid werewolf when his protective instincts were triggered.

"Something about that frail, silvery blonde Narcissa brings out the best in Remus," Moody had agreed, with unusual romanticism.

"Don't you mean to say, brings out the beast in him?" had been Snape's rejoinder.

The new trio of Harry, Hermione and Draco flooed over to one of the lesser known Malfoy properties, which Draco had successfully petitioned the Ministry to retain as his mother's dowager estate. It had been part of her dowry, and was originally one of the many Black properties. As such, it was as well warded as anything that had belonged to the Malfoys, but was not as well known to those followers of the Dark Lord who remained at large. Since the most recent incarceration of his mad Aunt Bellatrix, Draco felt much more comfortable that his mother's new life was likely to last. The fact that she seemed to have picked up a new beau who was one of the leading experts in Defending Against the Dark Arts didn't hurt, and did much to reconcile Draco, who loved his mother very much, to the presence of his formerly feared professor in his mother's life. As long as Professor Lupin kept her safe, and happy, he could manage to ignore a little thing like the fact that the man was a Dark Creature.

Besides, as Blaise cheerfully reminded him over a three martini lunch, compared to Lucius, a werewolf was practically pastel in the pantheon of dark creatures. And should Narcissa and Remus ever get bonded, there wouldn't be any little werebabies coming along to take part of his inheritance, as werewolves were sterile. Draco gritted his teeth and reminded himself of these "bright sides" when they arrived at his mother's residence to find a comfortably dressed Remus Lupin relaxing over a glass of wine in the study. Hermione squeezed one arm comfortingly while Harry grabbed the other, ostensibly to steady himself as he stepped out of the floo, but he too pressed the blond man's arm and rubbed his back before stepping over to greet their old teacher and mentor.

"Remus, what a nice surprise! We didn't expect to see you here." Harry hugged the last surviving Marauder tightly, before turning to Narcissa, who was being hugged by Draco and Hermione.

"Mrs. Malfoy, thank you so much for agreeing to see us this late. I hope you've been well?" Now that he was here, Harry was unsure of how to introduce the purpose for their visit.

"Welcome, Harry, and thank you, yes, very well. But please, don't you think you can bring yourself to call me Narcissa after all these years? I do hope I can help, as anything that brings my son and daughter-in-law for a visit is a pleasant diversion, while seeing you is a rare treat. And while Remus gets to see you at Hogwarts, it is always nice to relax with friends away from the workplace. I wish Severus could be convinced to come by more often."

Narcissa turned to direct the house elves with the placement of the tea items while Hermione made a meaningful face at Harry. Here, clearly, was his opening to ask about Professor Snape's birthday. Now that it came down to it, he found that he was embarrassed. What if Draco's mother asked him why it was so important to him to know? He could feel his cheeks growing red again.

Draco saw his difficulty and for once didn't take the opportunity to humiliate him, perhaps remembering that supportive hand at the floo. Instead, he accepted a cup of tea from his mother, and started commenting in his nonchalant drawl. "Speaking of Severus, Mother, it occurred to me the other day, when I was using the potion gloves that he gave me for my last birthday, that he has never once missed my birthday, and yet I'm forced to admit that until this week, it never once occurred to me to give him a gift for his. I would like to remedy that this year but I am ashamed to admit that I haven't a clue when it is. Do you know?"

Narcissa sipped from her teacup slowly as Remus shook his head perplexed. He looked at the trio of former students.

"How odd. You know, as you said that Draco, I started to think that of course I knew when his birthday was, and that quickly, it was gone. It was almost as though..."

"You were charmed not to remember," Narcissa finished his sentence for him. He looked at her in surprise. Harry leaned forward in his seat eagerly.

"Well, yes," Remus confessed sheepishly. "It did feel like that, which is silly, because of course, I..."

"Were." Narcissa smiled serenely at the startled werewolf. His amber eyes narrowed suspiciously and her laugh rang out. Draco surreptitiously moved his hand closer to his wand.

"Don't be ridiculous, Remmie, I'm not the one who did it, and Draco, get that hand of yours away from your wand. Really. Harry has such better manners. But then, you don't really need a wand, do you, dear? Hermione, now that you can be sure that no one is going to hex anyone else, would you pass Remus this piece of chocolate cake. It is his favorite." Narcissa managed to abash all three men easily and equally, while just as skillfully putting her daughter-in-law, who was as ready as always to intervene, in her place. The older witch sat back in her seat with a cool smile and a hot cup of tea on her lips.

"Now, as I was saying, Remus, you no doubt were subjected to a spell that prevents you from recalling Severus' birthday, and it was probably cast by Severus himself. He really is quite good at that type of thing. He is not fond of birthdays, for good reason, the poor man. His nasty grandfather did everything he could to make Severus' an unpleasant experience when he was just a boy, and also made him participate in the festivities of other, more comfortably circumstanced families. That is how we first met, at one of Lucius' birthday parties, in fact. Lucius was eight, Severus was seven, and I was five. Bella was six. Sirius and Regulus were there too, as I recall, although I was very young. Among his many presents, Lucius had received a pony for his birthday, a lovely creature. All of us girls, and not a few of the boys loved this animal, which had the sweetest temperament you'd ever wish to find in an animal. I was too small to reach it to feed it a treat as the other children did, and your father was not one to notice a baby such as myself, Draco, not when there were other boys around to impress. But this tall, dark haired boy saw me trying to reach up to give the pony a sugar cube and he picked me up so that I could. Of course, he was only a little boy as well, but Severus was always very old for his years."

Harry's green eyes were shining as Narcissa told her story. He could see in his mind's eye the image of the ethereally pretty little girl being swept up by the tall, dark youngster, old beyond his tender years, with the same fall of ebony hair and somber face. Narcissa looked over at Harry and her face and voice softened even more.

"What was particularly bittersweet about the gesture was that the pony was the Prince family's gift to Lucius, and the pony was one that Severus had raised from birth. He loved that pony dearly, but it was valuable, and he had to watch it given away to another child who valued it not at all. For his own birthday that followed not long after, he was given a Quidditch broom, something he disdained as much for what it was, as for what it wasn't. Until Lucius told him that riding the broom would be almost as good as riding the pony, that is."

There was a moment of silence. Finally, knowing that someone had to ask, Hermione spoke up. "What happened to the pony?"

Narcissa sighed. "Lucius rode it too hard. He really should have had a horse by that age, but the pony made such a lovely gift that the Princes couldn't resist taking advantage of it. It had certain magical qualities, you see, that made it more valuable, so for purposes of impressing the Malfoys...."

"Mother!" Draco spoke a bit more sharply than he normally did when addressing his mother, but the tension was getting to everyone, most of all him. Whenever another past wrong by his father came to light, he felt as though it was another weight landing on his shoulders. Even something as seemingly innocuous as callousness about a childhood birthday presented untold opportunities for evil revelations if one was a Malfoy. Draco's teacup shook slightly and he put it down impatiently, angry at himself for revealing weakness. Once more he felt the comforting pressure of hands stroking his arm and back from either side, reminding him that he wasn't alone in facing the demons of his heritage any longer. He looked up and caught the understanding gaze of Remus Lupin. For once, he felt a kinship with the other wizard, who knew what it was like to have a darkness inside your blood that you could do nothing to hide. Draco took a deep breath and spoke more calmly. "Mother, would you please simply tell us what happened to the pony, what did Father do, and how did it make Severus hate his own birthday since then? If that is indeed the point of this story?"

Silver eyes met silver eyes.

"But of course it is, dear. You see, your father tried jumping with poor Silver, and being too heavy for such a fragile animal, he caused it to fall. He was so angry, he cast crucio at the animal, over and over again until the poor thing had to be destroyed. Then, your grandfather, in a macabre touch of humor, having heard from Lucius that Severus had been very fond of the animal, decided to transform the pony's mane and tail to form part of the Quidditch broom that they gave to Severus for his birthday gift. The Malfoys and the Blacks found it very amusing."

Hermione excused herself to rush to the bathroom. Draco sat quietly, his eyes covered. Remus walked over to Narcissa and took her hands in his. He knew that the bright, matter of fact way she'd told the cruel story signaled that the frail woman had retreated into her dream world. Sometimes it took him hours to coax her out again. The mechanisms were her safety valve, and her only means of surviving the horror that had been her life with Lucius and Voldemort. She retreated from the world, and allowed the empty facade of Narcissa Malfoy to function for her. Narcissa Black, the little girl who loved ponies and was a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts, shuddered at the sights at which Narcissa Malfoy didn't blink an eye. Harry watched, quietly, as Remus tried to draw the slender woman back into the room, back into their presence from whatever sanctuary she'd retreated to. Harry was reminded of the quiet, calm manner that so comforted him the first time he encountered Dementors. When one was faced with the worst horrors of one's own mind, there was no one better than Remus Lupin at providing comfort....and strength. Unless it was Severus Snape, his wayward mind thought, picturing the uncompromising visage of the stern Potions Master. No two men were more dissimilar on the surface, yet Harry had plenty of reason to know that when faced with unspeakable evil and terrible odds, they were two men of unflinching courage that you wanted at your side.

"Cissa, come back, that was long ago. You're safe now. No one will harm you, and no one will harm those you love. Look, Draco is here and he wants to see you smile again. Please love, come back to us."

Draco looked up at that. Harry reached out a steadying hand once more, concerned that the pureblood heir would object to the familiar tone and words used by the werewolf, but instead Draco stood tall and walked over to his mother's chair.

"Mother, Remus is right. I'm a man now but I do need you. I'll always need you, as will your grandchild. So give me a hug now to show me that you're okay, please, and call Hermione back into the room so we can tell you our news."

Narcissa Malfoy, the beautiful widow of one of the age's most deadly and feared wizards, and sister to one of its most evilly insane witches, looked up at her son and returned his faint smile with a glowing one that made Remus and Harry catch their breaths. As mother and son hugged each other tightly, Hermione sidled up to Harry and wrapped her arms around his waist. He put his arm around her shoulder and gave a squeeze.

"You know," he whispered in a conversational tone, so as not to spoil Draco's moment with his mother, and not oblivious to the tears of happiness in the Marauder's amber eyes either, "I kind of thought it was strange that a little pony torture would send your stomach into flip flops when you've seen me crucio'ed without flinching."

"Don't exaggerate, Harry. I may not have puked, but I'm sure I must have flinched."


Harry apparated into Hogsmeade alone. He'd left Hermione and Draco at Narcissa's home; she insisted on the young couple spending the night after the happy news had been toasted. She'd invited Harry to spend the night as well, but he regretfully declined. He had an early Sunday Quidditch practice to supervise. Remus had offered then to return to Hogwarts with him but Harry had assured him that he was fine making the trip alone. Indeed, Harry welcomed the alone time to think. Narcissa had pulled him aside before he left and given him the date he sought, October 20th, but warned him that the school was charmed to prevent anyone from remembering it once they stepped inside the castle. She'd seen through Draco's story and realized that it was Harry who wanted to know their former professor's birthday so much. She respected her old friend's wishes too much to announce it to the room at large, but looking closely at the young man, she told him that she thought it was time for her old companion to make the new beginning that she and Draco had found. Narcissa gave Harry the endearing smile that was so much like Draco's when he was genuinely amused, a far cry from the smirk that had haunted Harry's school years. She told him that if he had inherited his mother's skill with charms to the same degree that he had her lovely eyes, he should be able to circumvent even Severus' clever spellwork. She hugged him then and sent him on his way with a motherly kiss.

As he walked through the quiet streets of the wizard village, Harry pondered how he was to accomplish his task. Narcissa told him Snape had won Dumbledore's cooperation and assistance in setting up such a powerful charm in the first place because there were certain Dark Spells that required knowledge of a wizard's birthdate in order to cast them. During the long years of Severus' service as a double agent, it made sense for as much information about him to be shrouded in secrecy as was possible. So, to overcome it, Harry would need the skill and power to outdo not just Snape, but Snape plus Dumbledore. He sighed heavily. Giving Severus a happy birthday was beginning to make killing Voldemort look easy by comparison.

Harry's walk took him near the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He debated going by Hagrid's place for a glass of mead; the quality of refreshments had greatly improved since Olympe had moved in to take care of the badly injured half giant after the war. Just then, however, he heard a piercing whinny. He raised his wand and went into a fighting stance just as an extremely small pony stumbled out of the woods, followed closely by a Grebile, a nasty carnivorous beast that looked like a fluffy gerbil by day, but grew to one hundred times its normal size at night, and spit a venomous bile at its prey. Harry quickly stunned it, then moved forward to the pony, which had fallen to its knees.

"Poor thing. You're exhausted, aren't you?" He spoke soothingly to the small pony. It was far smaller than a normal size pony, except that it seemed to have a distended belly. Casting a calming charm over the frightened animal, he tried to check it for injuries. He was dismayed to realize that it-she- was in the latter stages of labor, and yet was too badly injured from several bile burns to stand in order to drop her foal. Harry had no clue how to deliver a pony foal, especially with an injured mare, yet he wasn't sure how he could get the animal to Hagrid's place safely. He debated running to Hagrid's; since the former hut was on Hogwart's ground, he couldn't apparate there. He didn't want to leave the poor defenseless animal behind, however, and small as she was, she would be heavy to carry in her present condition. Shrinking her was out of the question since he didn't know if that would harm the foal.

The pony looked at him with large brown eyes that seemed to plead for help.

"Think, Harry! If you don't do something, the poor thing will die here. What would you do for a person? Better yet, what would a smart person do?" As if in answer, he had a vision of Severus casting mobilicorpus on multiple occasions when a student needed to be transported quickly to the infirmary. He let out the breath he didn't even realize he was holding and cast the spell quickly, then moved as quickly as he could to Hagrid's, speaking to the suffering pony as comfortingly as he could, something he was fairly sure the dour potions instructor had never done to any hapless victim of a potions mishap, he thought with an inward grin.

The incredibly tall Frenchwoman answered his knock right away, despite the lateness of the hour.

"I'm sorry, Madame Hagrid, but is Rubeus awake? I need him. An injured animal..."

The giant woman took the situation in at a glance and held the door wide for Harry to enter, leading the floating pony.

"Ma Cher, wake up, it ees young 'Arry, and he needs you." Madame Olympe` shook Hagrid gently by the shoulder. The large man sat dozing in his chair by the fireplace, Fang by his foot. Harry tried not to stare at the empty pants leg, where once Hagrid's massive left leg would have been. It had been cruelly hexed away, at the same time that Bellatrix Lestrange had also removed his left arm and his left eye. Before she had time to start on his right side, Draco had arrived and rescued the man he once despised by confronting the Aunt he once admired. He successfully cast a healing bubble around the half giant before proceeding to hold the powerful witch at bay with specially crafted dark hexes he learned from his deatheater father until the Order could arrive. (Lucius had never trusted his insane sister-in-law and developed spells especially designed to work against her magical signature).

Hagrid's wide smile was still as full as ever as he awoke and saw Harry. As always, seeing the big man who first introduced him to his wizarding heritage, brought a tight feeling to Harry's throat. But it wasn't pity that made Harry swallow hard and blink back tears. Rubeus Hagrid was a happy man, and as he looked around the humble abode, Harry couldn't help feeling envious of that happiness. Just as Fleur had been undaunted by Bill Weasley's scars after he was attacked by Fenir Greyback, the Headmistress of Beaubaxons resigned her position and returned to Hogwarts to take over Hagrid's care. It was clear to one and all that the stately witch was proud of her man's battle scars. Harry was grateful that so many of his friends, Hermione and Draco, Hagrid and Madame Olympe`, and now even Remus and Narcissa Malfoy, had found happiness and love after the war. He just wished that he weren't so alone. Hagrid's hearty voice brought him back to the present.

"What 'ave we 'ere, 'Arry?"

"It is miniature pony, in labor, Rubeus. I found her fleeing a Grebile, which reminds me, I left it stunned by the edge of the Forbidden Forest. She took several bile burns, I'm afraid, and she's in a good deal of pain. I didn't know what to do."

Hagrid looked serious. He motioned for Harry to place the pony on a low table in front of him, which Olympe` had already cleared and sterilized with a quick spell. He placed his big hand on the pony's belly and lowered his head down to listen to her heart.

"Do ye recall what I taught ye about the bile of a Grebile, 'Arry?" Hagrid looked up sadly. "It is fatal within minutes. You did what you could but this poor little beauty was already a goner by the time she got to you. Shame too. The bile doesn't move through to the foal, the placenta protects it, so the poor thing is fine in there, but the mother won't live long enough to birth her from the looks of things. Poor critters." A large tear splashed down onto the pony, which looked up at the gentle half giant, seemingly soothed by his voice and his large rough hand stroking her side. The brown eyes turned to Harry. He thought back to Narcissa's story from earlier in the evening, and the pony that died from being tortured so many years earlier.

"Hagrid, if the foal is okay inside, and she is already in labor, can't we perform a caesarean delivery, like they do on human babies?"

"Like who does?" Hagrid looked perplexed.

"It is a Muggle delivery method, Cher, very barbaric, they cut the mother open with a knife."

Madame Olympe` looked at Harry like he suggested something out of the dark ages. Of course, given how advanced Wizard medicine was over Muggle medicine, Harry couldn't really blame her. Recalling how it was a Muggle medical method that saved his own life at the final battle, Harry gathered the courage to proceed with his idea despite the very apparent disapproval of Hagrid's spouse.

"I know it may seem cruel, but in a case like this, where the mother is dying anyway, it seems worth the risk. I feel like she is asking us to save her foal any way we can."

Hagrid looked at him with his one good eye, squinting it slightly; the other, magical prosthetic eye looked down at the mother pony. He nodded. "Right then. Use your wand, 'Arry, to sterilize the belly. You want to cast an x-ray spell if you can to see exactly where the foal is, you don't want to go cutting too deep. And you want to cast another spell, to numb the area, I would think. Olympe`, c'mere and help 'Arry do this."

"No, I think I can do this, Hagrid. Madame Olympe` doesn't have to...."

"What is with this 'Madame'? Of course I will 'elp and you will call me Olympe`. Don't be a foolish boy. Here, put this over your robes, there will be a good deal of blood." The giantess was back with white robes to cover all three of them. They worked quickly. Harry followed the instructions softly spoken by Hagrid, who seemed to know instinctively what to do, once the concept had been explained. Within moments, Harry lifted the tiny black foal from its mother. As Hagrid wiped it down, removing the excess fluids, Harry held the small pony's head close to the mother. She weakly nuzzled her foal, then with one last look at the humans who had aided her, she closed her brown eyes for the last time. The small pony whinnied, a frail sound in the silent house.

Hagrid cleared his throat, and struggled to compose himself. His soft heart was overcome by the tender scene. Harry tried to find comfort in the fact that at least the foal had survived.

"Well, now 'Arry, that worked just fine, as well as could be expected I suppose, though I do hate to lose the mother. But 'ere is the tricky part. I can give the little darling some sugar water for right now. But we need to get her some mother's milk. And I don't know where to locate another magical miniature pony. I didn't even know this one was around. They have the ability to apparate, you know," actually, Harry didn't know, but he didn't want to interrupt Hagrid at this point, "so she could have come from practically anywhere. What I think you'd best do is..."

"Accio mother's milk." Olympe`'s cool accent could be heard casting the spell as she held up one of the couple's large cups. Harry turned away as the milk streamed from the dead pony into the cup. Hagrid looked at it doubtfully even as his wife held up the full cup proudly.

"That was right clever of you, Olympe`, but I don't know if the milk is safe. The poison what killed the mother may have moved into her milk. The barriers that protect the foal aren't there for the milk."

Harry stroked the black hair of the foal. It was slick with the fluids of birth still and something about the shiny dark strands reminded him of Severus. He looked up at the cup of milk, which Olympe` was about to discard.

"Wait! Don't throw it away. You said you can get by tonight with sugar water, right?" Hagrid nodded. "Well, I have an idea. Would you watch over our little lady is a lady isn't it, Hagrid?" At another nod from the bewildered half giant, Harry gave a blinding smile. "I think I have a solution to her problem, and she has given me a solution to one of mine. Little October Vingtieme here will wait and grow; I will be back with some more formula for her, once I get the finest potions master in all of the wizarding world to determine the chemical composition of mother's milk of magical miniature ponies, minus the poison of Grebiles."

"Brilliant, Harry! Whoever would have thought of making up a potion for mother's milk?" Hagrid marveled. Harry paused for a moment and considered telling him that the Muggles had, but thought perhaps he'd had enough revelations for one night. He offered to handle the burial of the mother pony, but Hagrid assured him that as gamekeeper for Hogwarts, that was one of his jobs, as was taking care of the stunned Grebile. Leaning heavily on his magical cane, the large man stood up and hoisted his shovel to his shoulder. Madame Olympe` nodded at Harry to go on, assuring him silently that she would be watching out for her man as he went about his duties. Harry thanked them both fervently. Neither of them questioned him on the odd name he gave the pony foal. As Harry left, his friends were too entranced staring at the little creature's beautiful green eyes and the irregular white marking on its forehead.


"Professor Snape, are you in? Professor Snape!!" Harry stood outside the Head of Slytherin's private rooms. Knocking on the heavy door had not elicited a response so Harry resorted to yelling. He hoped he hadn't woken up any of Severus' little snakes before he'd remembered to cast a silencing charm around the hallway. He raised his arm to pound on the door again when it suddenly opened and he stumbled forward into the broad chest of the tall wizard before him. The tall, angry, wizard standing before him.

"What in Merlin's name?" Snape exclaimed as he managed to hold Harry upright with one arm while snatching the cup that Harry released from his grasp as he fell against the older man.

"Thank the Gods you caught that! I'm sorry to bother you, Severus, but I need your help," Harry explained, looking up from where he still rested against the other man's chest. He was suddenly quite conscious of how comfortable he was there and considered not moving until made to do so. He was exhausted, and it somehow felt right to be resting his head beneath Severus' chin. He closed his eyes for a moment and inhaled the fragrance that was so much a part of the other man, the blend of exotic ingredients that went into the potions.

"Professor Potter, did you come down to the dungeons at this hour of night in order to cuddle against me?" the deep, mellifluous voice inquired casually. "Or was it perhaps to spill whatever it is you have in this tin cup all over my person?"

Startled out of his contented reverie, Harry stood up, embarrassed. Severus was looking down at him, one dark eyebrow raised as he sniffed cautiously at the contents of the tin cup held in his long tapered fingers.

"Is this...?"

"It's the milk from a dying magical pony, a miniature one, but we were able to save the foal. The mother was attacked by a Grebile, I got there too late, and the poison had gone too far. Madame Olympe` thought to preserve the milk but Hagrid says it may be contaminated, and we don't quite know what to feed the poor little foal, as without a mother and no other magical ponies known to be in the area, especially none that have given birth, well, I thought perhaps, you might be able to ...." Harry realized he was babbling and stopped abruptly, biting his lip.

"Distill the milk from the poison, and discern the composition, then reproduce its nutritional qualities, much as muggles do with their baby formula," Snape finished for him, looking at the liquid with his usual impenetrable gaze. Harry smiled sheepishly.

"Well, I doubt I would have worded it quite so succinctly, but yeah, is that possible?"

"Certainly. You have a good sized sample here, and it is the foal's own mother's milk, which is even better. I don't suppose it occurred to you to obtain a sample of the bile from the Grebile as well? That would make the separation process faster."

Harry hit his head. He never thought of that, but of course it would help to have a sample of both components. He pushed aside thoughts of his fatigue and volunteered to go back and get a sample of the bile. He didn't mind the extra trip, he was just happy to see that Severus had thrown himself into the project so willingly.

"May I use your fireplace to call Madame Olympe` and ask her to let Hagrid know I will be coming? He should still be burying the mother. I don't think he would have had time to get to the Grebile yet."

By the time Harry returned, the sample in hand, the night was half over. He'd spent some time helping Hagrid with the Grebile, and then had the pleasure of giving the baby pony a bottle of sugar water, using a special nursing bottle that Hagrid had made up for the many animals he'd brought into the world and nursed over the years. Harry thought back to Norbert, and wondered if Hagrid had once fed even a baby dragon from the bottle. It had been a comforting reminder of how life at Hogwarts went on, through wars and peace, life and death. Despite sometimes cruel endings, like that of the mother pony, there were new beginnings all the time. It was in that reflective mood that Harry handed the sample to Snape.

The dark eyed man looked at the tired young wizard.

"You look exhausted, Harry. Go to your rooms now. I'll bring you the formula in the morning. Your little pony will be fine."

"Wouldn't you like to come see her with me, Severus?" Harry wished he could lean against that broad chest again. But Snape was already turning away.

"No, I'm sure Hagrid has things well in hand. She'll need to feed every four hours for the first couple of weeks, and then, well, as I said, I'm sure he'll know what to do, and if he doesn't, I'm sure Ms. Granger-Malfoy will be able to direct you to a book,"

"Thank you, Severus."

"Hmm." He merely grunted as Harry quietly let himself out. Harry's heavy heart would have been encouraged had he seen how the tall wizard turned and stared at the door after he left.


October flourished under the care of her adoptive father and with the excellent formula provided by the finest potions master in all the wizarding world. Indeed, if a few nutritional deficiencies of the original mother's milk were made up in the formula, October never complained and the potions master never confessed. Following Snape's advice, Harry did call upon Hermione for help in learning about magical miniature ponies, and was thrilled by all that he discovered.

Miniature ponies were almost extinct in the magical world, but they made wonderful familiars, much as cats, owls or toads, but with more powers. They bonded with a wizard or witch when they were between three to ten weeks old, and preferred to stay with one owner for life, although their ownership could be transferred by a spell. Along with the power to apparate, they were skilled at detecting poisons, curses and otherwise served as an extremely protective pet. They were known to understand humans to a certain degree, much as owls did, and carried messages well. At full size they grew to only the size of a small dog, but had the ability to be transformed for short periods at need, and could at such times bear a rider when they apparated. They were considered to be a valuable gift, valued even more highly than the more common magical pony.

Harry visited the pony every day after his classes to feed her and play with her. He found that as he took her out to play, he talked to her much as he would a person. The beautiful green eyes looked at him and he swore that the animal understood him, both what he said and what he left unsaid. And what he talked to her about most was Severus.

On one particularly lovely Autumn afternoon in mid-October, Harry sat by the lake with the pony by his side. She was growing very nicely and already was eating some of the grain Severus had given Harry for her to supplement the formula. Her black coat gleamed in the sunlight as Harry brushed it.

"The thing is, I don't know if he wants to have anything to do with me, October. Sometimes I think I'm making headway with him, you know? I can get him to smile, well, almost smile, and he makes those snarky comments that really crack me up. I used to hate it but somewhere along the way, I came to really appreciate them. It's like everyone else is bland sugar, and Severus is some spice, tumeric or something, you know? Cardamon, maybe. And all of a sudden, you think, why would I ever want something like sugar when there is this sexy spice around? Trouble is, I'm not cardamon. I'm not even cinnamon. I'm plain old sugar at best."

October nudged Harry with her head, then pushed her nose into the pocket of his robes.

He laughed. "Yeah, I know. You like sugar. You'll be lucky if your teeth don't rot. But I do think you would love cardamon too, October. You know, I do think you have a special purpose. I've told you about Severus' birthday coming up, and how I can never remember it when I get into the castle. He won't admit it, but I know he wants to see you. He just won't let himself admit it. I suspect that he is your special wizard." The green eyes looked at him soulfully. Harry hugged the pony tightly. "I know. I love you, too, but Severus needs you even more than I do. And to tell you the truth, if things were to work out the way I want, we'd all end up together. But this is something I know I have to do for him. He's done a lot for me and he's never asked for anything in return. Everyone has had a new beginning except for him. I have had one, not as much of one as I might want, but more than he has. So, I think that you were meant to replace the pony he lost, and to be his. If you can help me out with him while you're at it, all the better. So, what I need is for you to arrive in his rooms on his birthday, which is your name, October Vingtieme, the 20th of October, is when it is. I know you are young, but you are so smart, I can count on you to do this."

Harry talked to the small pony a while longer, discussing his plans. Indeed, there was no worry that the clever pony would forget to arrive as scheduled. Harry simply forgot that he had no way of assuring his remembering the birthday surprise once he entered the castle.


Snape finished his third year potions class by four o'clock on October 20th, and gave thanks to whatever gods were listening that he was done with the brats for the day. He really owed Neville Longbottom an apology, not that he would ever give it, but the boy was not the most incompetent creature ever to enter his potions classroom as it turned out. Far more incompetent students did exist. Who would have thought? Snape gave an inward smirk as he pushed open the heavy door to his private rooms, noting automatically that the wards had permitted the entry of a magical creature deemed safe. House elf, he assumed. He wondered what Minerva sent, thinking of the food the Scotswoman sometimes sent to him, positive as her gender often was that every naturally ectomorphic male needed "fattening up." Yet her own frame was far from plump, he reflected almost fondly. He did far prefer the Headmistress' habit of merely sending some fattening snacks to his chambers than Dumbledore's practice of commanding his presence at those interminable faculty teas where he would have to put up with the inane chatter of his colleagues. Meals provided more than enough of their company.

The potions master looked aghast at the shambles of his once well ordered study. The small table that customarily held his evening reading material was overturned, along with his reading glasses and the prior evening's books, papers were shredded along the floor, crockery that had held his afternoon tea was broken, and, Snape's long nose twitched. Was that the smell of animal feces?

Curled up in his favorite chair was a small animal. He found himself the subject of a green eyed gaze, which looked at him from beneath a white lightning bolt shaped marking on the animal's forehead.

"Merlin, the Potter brat has turned himself into an Animagus. And of course his first instinct was to trash my quarters."

That was Severus' first thought. But, after he evanescoed the worst of the mess, and did a reparo on the dishes, it occurred to him that even Potter should have trouble turning himself into a magical animal, and the wards would only have permitted in a magical pony that they recognized as safe to himself.

"So, you must be the pony Potter saved, aren't you, little lady?"

'Yes. But now we are together. I am yours, if you will have me.'

To his wonder, Severus could "hear" the answer in his mind. He sat down gingerly next to the pony, allowing her to rest her head on his thigh. She looked up at him timidly. He reached out and touched the soft head where the lightening bolt marking was.

"Haven't you bonded to Potter? You were brought to him; he saved you." Severus was well aware of the properties of magical ponies, the breeding of same having been a specialty of his family for generations.

'We don't mind talk.' October said simply. 'You were the one I was sent to be with. And it was you who made my milk and kept me alive, although I do love Harry, he is very special. He loves you. My mother knew she would not live to feed me and that she needed to find a Snape. She knew that this mark on my head would bring you to me somehow.'

Severus thought about that for a moment. The magical pony mother had been clever. With the foresight her kind often had to know she was fated not to be with her foal, she must also have known that Severus Snape was bound to watch over a child with markings like those she gave to her child. He thought back to Lily Evans' love and how it led to that mark being on her young son even as she left him behind, and the continuity pleased him since it left all traces of evil out of the equation. He would have to discuss it with Harry. His Harry, who loved him according to this magical creature. Severus didn't quite know how to react to that news, as he had long ago given up on this type of happiness ever coming into his life.

'You haven't asked me my name yet,' the pony nudged him impatiently. He reminded himself that it was, after all, for all its mystical powers, still little more than a baby. Indeed, it should be ready for another feeding soon. Which probably meant that Potter could be expected... Another nudge came to his shoulder. He pulled the pony completely onto his lap.

"Well, you are correct. I have been remiss. As you know, I am Severus Snape, last living member of the Snape family, formerly experts in the breeding and raising of magical ponies, including the very special miniature variety. May I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance?" Severus bowed as formally as he could with a spaniel sized pony in his lap.

October whinnied approvingly. 'October Vingtieme, Severus Snape, and may I wish you a very Happy Birthday, for myself and from Harry Potter as well? Now would you please call him down here and remind him that I am arriving today? Thanks to your spell, I'm afraid he has completely forgotten. This is a new beginning for all of us. He really doesn't want to miss it."

Impressed by how Potter managed to overcome the prohibition on his birthday being acknowledged in the Castle, and wondering who told him the date, Severus walked over to the fireplace to do exactly that, with the first genuine smile on his face that it had worn in years.


Return to Fourth Anniversary Challenges