It seemed he’d barely closed his eyes before someone was banging on the door. It was that annoying sort of surreptitious noise that let you know that while the knocker doesn’t want to wake you up while you’re sleeping, they’re not leaving until you wake up and answer the door.
Only one person Harry had ever known could quietly knock a door loudly.
Rolling over, habit had his wand in his hand before he’d even finished turning. He knew in his gut who it was, but becoming one of the top Auror’s in the country had also taught him lessons the hard way. Paranoia was a hard habit to shake.
With a quick glance at his charge, the door opened a suspicious crack, then burst open wider as a gigantic figure shambled in, arms wide for a hug. “Harry!”
“Hullo, Hagrid.” he winced, readying himself for the squashing that was sure to follow, but it never came. It wasn’t one of Hagrid’s usual booming glad-to-see-you-pick-you-up-off-your-feet-whoops-didn’t-know-my-own-strength-there rib crunching hugs but tighter, almost desperate and quickly broken as the half-giant stepped back, big hands twisting nervously about each other like snakes.
“H-harry…” he whispered, as if afraid of the answer. “I don’t mean ter..ter be rude… I’m glad ter see you …only I know yer an’ Auror and all that now….and I know….I mean I popped down here early in for some information, you see, and Vimes downstairs said yeh were here and yeh had with you a little baby girl, with black hair and green eyes an’ all…” his hands twisted each other harder, hope warring with despair in his eyes.
“Oh, yes.” Harry blinked and touched a hand to his forehead. Turning, he carefully picked up his sleeping charge, cradling her against his shoulder. “We found her – we found her in time.” His voice was getting unsteady as the realisation hit him all over again. “The Death Eaters, they didn’t have time to do anything,” he hastily reassured as he gently turned the child’s face to the other man. “she’s all right, and I saw the blankets with the Hogwarts’ crest and I thought that – “
But Hagrid wasn’t listening, he’d sunk to his knees in front of Harry, tears welling up in his beetle-black eyes. “It’s her,” he breathed. “Oh sweet Merlin. Oh thank sweet Merlin…” he reached out and traced a finger over the tiny features. “It’s her, oh sweet Merlin it’s her, I didn’t tell the others ‘cos I weren’t sure but oh…” words failed him. Fishing in the pockets of his voluminous coat, the big man unearthed a handkerchief the size of a small bedspread. A honking noise like a lovesick moose trumpeted through the room, then Hagrid was getting to his feet and this time it was a pick-you-up- off-your-feet hug.
“Ah Harry, we don’t know how to thank yeh!” the big man gushed shamelessly into his hair. “Don’t know how to thank you and that’s the truth. Oops,” he backed off and peered down at the miraculously still sleeping child. “Didn’t squash the little one did I? Good, good, come on, lets pack your things up and get you two back and safe to Hogwarts, eh? I know some people that will be right glad to see the pair of you.”
It was dawn, Harry noticed as they made their way up High Street to the castle. Morning mist still hung in the still air, the soft light of an approaching day giving an unreal cast to the world.
“Sorry we didn’t give you a proper welcome an’ all that.” Hagrid apologised as they made their way across the little bridge over the station. “Been dark days in Hogwarts for a while now. Dark days indeed. What with all those poor little ones being taken, and the Death Eaters on the rise an’ we thought this time we were safe, but then poor minta was taken and we feared the worse…” Hagrid started to blabber again, dabbing at his eyes with his now quite-soggy handkerchief. “Still it’s right enough now, you’ve brought her back to us.” his face changed expressions so fast it should have cracked, then he gave into the feeling and threw his head back, letting loose a hoot of joy that melted earwax. “YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
“Hagrid!” Harry cringed, then winced down at the child in his arms. To his relief, although bright green eyes were open and blinking, the little features weren’t screwing into a howl, they were lifting up into a grin, the solemn little face finally breaking into a chubby smile and giggles as waving arms reached out to a familiar sight.
Hagrid beamed even wider if it was possible, crouching down to chuck the bouncing infant under the chin. “That’s right, you’re a clever one aren’t you ‘Minta?” He lifted her easily up into the air, chuckling as she grabbed at his beard. “And we’re right glad to see you safe and sound. We’ve all been darn near beside ourselves with worry, and poor Professor…”
He fell silent for a long moment, then forced a grin, fishing for his handkerchief again. “Still. Things’ll be better now Araminta’s back safe and sound.” He patted Harry’s uninjured shoulder in an absently reassuring way as they set off again. “That’s the little one’s name by the way. Araminta. Distinguished, don’t you think?” He tilted his head down to the desperately happy toddler who was currently swinging off two chubby handfuls of his beard.
“Um…yes…” Harry blinked and asked the question he’d been trying to work out for himself since seeing the Hogwarts blanket. “So…the little girl….she’s…your daughter?”
“Mine? Naw, she’s Professor Snape’s little one.” Hagrid patted through his pockets one-handed, searching for something.
Harry blinked again, then looked up at the child in the giant’s arms. Snapes.
So…he’d found someone else.
Why hadn’t it been him?
Tied around the feeling was an odd mixture of pride, shame and relief. If there was only one child he could save….he was glad it could be Snape’s. Some way to apologise, to make up for the way it had ended between them, almost like he was holding the little girl up to say “see? I can do good too…” like a shameful dog trying to appease its master.
His own thoughts horrified him sometimes.
Shaking his head a little, he brought his hand up to knead at the bridge of his nose as Hagrid found whatever it was he was fishing for. Brushing a few errant dog-biscuit crumbs from a silver whistle, he placed it to his lips and gave a single, long note.
In response to the summons, a little boat drifted out from the pre-dawn mist towards them. He recognised it as one of the ones that carried the first years to the castle, but there was something odd about the way it carried itself. Not with the smooth glide he remembered them moving with from his years at Hogwarts, this one was almost stalking through the water, looking rather pissed off, in a boaty sort of way.
It rocked unnecessarily when they clambered aboard and Hagrid gave it a sharp smack across the prow before handing the chortling toddler over to the other man. “Here Harry, you take little ‘Minta for a bit. I’ll need both hands to steer the boat, they get real cranky when you wake them up outside of first years.”
The boat creaked rebelliously at them and Hagrid shook a warning finger at it before gathering up a little paddle and pushing them away from the shore. “Didn’t have any horses yeh see,” he explained as they made their way across the placid lake. “Was just me out for my walk and t’ain’t much of a walk at that for me so I didn’t bother. Still, the boats are fine enough, provided they behave themselves,” this last was followed by another slap on the side of the boat as it shuddered on becalmed waters. It creaked mutinously and rocked harder in a sullen sort of way before settling down and Harry surreptitiously reached out to clutch the edge. “Sorry about that. Nearly there…”
Araminta twisted in his lap and subjected Harry to another one of those damnable stares. They were even more unnerving now he knew who they reminded him of. The face was chubby and rosy, not lean and pale, and the eyes emerald green instead of jet-black, but the look was still the same. The look that said: “You may be beneath my notice. You may be of worth. At the moment it appears you are leaning towards the former, but perhaps you may surprise me, although given your current predilection for stupidity I sincerely doubt it.”
Receiving it from her father had been bad enough. Getting it from someone not even old enough to be able to pronounce the full alphabet with clarity was surreal.
Lord, he’d have to face Snape now. He wasn’t sure if he could. He was wondering if he could back out of it now, leaving Hagrid to take the child home but the prospect of a pre-dawn splash in the Great Lake wasn’t that inviting. To top it off, as if sensing his thoughts, the little girl reached up and firmly wrapped a hand in the front of his robes, anchoring him in place before turning her gaze back to the front of the boat, where a curtain of ivy draped over them for an instant, then they were docking at the little harbour near the base of the castle proper.
Too late now...
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