See Chapter 1 for details and disclaimer.
To relieve confusion, phone conversations will be shown as such:
"Speaker on one side"
"Speaker on other side
And my apologies for not getting this out last weekend like I'd promised. Apparently, I am not on the "must inform" list for incoming holiday plans -- my darling mother and kids decided to invite a dozen people from different parts of the country to join our Thanksgiving vacation, each having a different arrival time at the airport. And since I'm the only one who can navigate DFW safely, huh, guess what I was doing instead of writing? Bah! But the headaches are over for at least the next two weeks, so let's cross fingers, leave offerings to the Muse, sacrifice a chicken, or whatever you folks do to wish good things on distractable authors. (And if you've got anything new and different to add to my "good tidings" list, please leave it in a comment! I'm collecting them for when I get stuck and/or have writer's block.)~ * ~Chapter 3Ring. Ring. Ring.
"Hi, Jack O'Neill? My name is Harry Potter. You probably remember my mum, Lily Evans?"
"Cousin Lil? Of course I do! How's the prettiest redhead that side of the pond?
"Er, this might not be the best way to tell you... She was killed sixteen years ago."
"God, I'm so sorry. What happened? Wait. We should do this in person. I've got the weekend off, so let me check flight times-
"No need, I'm at the Radison here in Colorado Springs. If you still live here?"
"Excellent! Yeah, I've been here for a few years now. Why don't I come pick you up and we'll have dinner somewhere? Play catch-up and all that.
"Sounds like a plan. I've got a... friend with me, if that's alright? We're traveling together to meet you, and then to see if he can locate his son."
"Sure, no problem. Does that mean I can grab a friend too? Makes seating a bit less awkward at a restaurant.
" Jack's laughter was contagious, but Harry readily agreed.
"Naturally. I wouldn't mind meeting her, or him, or them."
"Great! I'll call Daniel, make him drop the dusty old books he's had his nose buried in, and we'll pick you up around 1800 hours? Sorry, that's 6 o'clock.
"Suits. We'll be waiting in the foyer then. Looking forward to it, Cousin Jack."~ * ~
Severus straightened his cuffs for the third time. He wasn't at all comfortable with muggle garments, no matter how much practice he'd recently acquired. In all honesty, however, it was the prospect of meeting Colonel Jack O'Neill that had him nervous
While Harry was worried over first impressions, Severus was more concerned with having to explain his part of Lily's demise. Regardless of his years spying, he would never feel like he'd done enough to redeem his role in the Potters' deaths.
Harry watched his mentor carefully. It was plain to see, at least for someone who'd known the Potions Master for nearly ten years, how unnerved Severus was. And it didn't take Divinations to understand why -- that thrice-damned prophecy.
"Severus," he calmly placed a hand on the older man's arm, earning a slight jerk of surprise. "Tom would've pulled it out of your memories with or without your permission. After all this time, all the things you've done to make up for it... well, for what it's worth, I forgive you. And I know Mum would too. It's time to forgive yourself, yeah?"
Before he could reply, Severus saw the hotel's front door open to admit two men, one obviously an older version of Cousin Jack.
Harry followed his friend's intent gaze, his face lighting up as he recognized the man from photos in his Mum's albums. He walked swiftly over and held out a hand in greeting.
"Jack? Hello! I'm Harry, and this is my teacher and friend, Severus Snape. Think you might've met him way back when."
The wide grin on O'Neill's face was infectious. He shook hands with the Potions Master before drawing Harry into a strong hug that had the younger man's eyes bulging.
"You look so much like Lily, but I bet you hear that all the time," Jack said in teasing tones. He didn't miss the wistful expression on Harry's face. Saving his questions for later, he introduced his companion to the Brits. "And this is my friend and co-worker, Daniel Jackson. Multiple doctorates in all fields ancient and dull."
Daniel sputtered half-heartedly, but the grin on his face told well enough that he was used to Jack's easy jibes. "Pleasure to meet you both," he said, offering his hand to shake.
The high energy levels from Harry and Jack soon dispelled Severus' feeling of being haunted, with Daniel filling in the lull with small talk.
"Well, campers," Jack announced, clapping his hands together in mock glee, "I'd say it's time to fill our bellies. How does steak sound for dinner? We were thinking you might like O'Malley's -- that's where me and my team usually go for downtime. It's comfortable and cosy most nights, with quiet corners for conversation."
Harry readily agreed, dragging Jack by the arm out to his truck. Daniel waited for Severus to collect his jacket before following. The reunited pair were oblivious to all but themselves, asking questions and rattling off answers in rapid-fire motion.
Several feet behind, Daniel had to laugh at his friend's antics. A dark eyebrow raised from his side, and he offered to share his thoughts, "Jack can be like a kid at times, but I haven't seen him this carefree. Ever. It's like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders."
Severus nodded, thoroughly understanding. "Then this meeting is a good thing. Harry too has had some difficult times in the past. He was raised by his maternal aunt's family, who held little regard for him or his parents. Having any blood relative who truly wishes his presence can only be a good thing."
Daniel's steps faltered at the inference. "How bad was it?" He had to know, but this man may not have the information, or he might not wish to share confidences with a relatively unknown source. "Nevermind. That's Harry's story to tell. If he wants to. I'm sorry, I shouldn't put you in the position of-"
But Severus waved off his concerns. "Your worry does you credit, Dr. Jackson. True, it is not my tale to tell, but seeing as Harry rarely mentions them... I doubt he would volunteer the information as he doesn't see the degree of abuse and neglect as an outsider would. I will not relay the entirety of his situation, but know that he was
in a bad place for nearly fifteen years. He has almost no memories of his parents at all, and until recently, had no means of investigating their lives. This journey is serving more than one purpose."
With a resigned sigh, Daniel accepted what was given. "Thank you. I'll try to explain it to Jack later, but that'll be a minefield of its own. Jack is... very protective of children. He lost his son to an accident several years ago, but that only made it worse."
"Ah, then we have a good match." Severus smirked at his companion and co-conspirator. "Harry needs to be protected, especially from himself. And Jack needs to protect. Let us see how long it takes for them to get into mischief, shall we?"
Out of a habit he'd picked up from his team, Daniel slapped the dark man's shoulder in a friendly fashion. He noticed the flinch but let it slide. "At least we should enjoy the show."~ * ~
O'Malley's was doing a brisk business when the quartet arrived. Jack pulled the hostess aside and had a quiet word with her, ensuring that they would be seated toward the back, out of the way of other customers.
Half an hour later they were happily nibbling on appetizers while their meals were being prepared. Three votes against the 'watered down American beer' outvoted (but not by volume of protest) Jack's appreciation. Not that he minded -- Jack O'Neill was a bit of a ham, and even being the center of negative attention was better than none.
As their waitress arrived with four heavily-laden plates of steak, baked potatoes and all the trimmings, Harry's eyes grew to huge proportions. "Bloody hell," he whispered, staring at his plate in awe. "Severus, I think I've died and gone to heaven."
With the precision of years dealing with sharp implements, Severus sliced neatly into his own steak, humming in pleasure at the first bite. "Say that again after you've tasted it, Harry," he admonished before quickly digging in.
The meal passed in relative silence after that. Cutlery scraped against plates, condiments were requested, and their waitress stopped by to top off drinks, but no conversation was attempted as four hungry men did full justice to the enormous portions.
For such a small frame, Harry's plate emptied before the others. He looked longingly at Severus' half-finished steak, causing the professor to growl in warning. Jack and Daniel were kept amused by the interplay, until Daniel waved over their server to request the desert menu.
Soon enough, a seven-layer chocolate cake was brought to the table. Its time on earth was disparingly short. Between Harry and Daniel, half was gone in minutes.
Patting a very full stomach, Jack grinned in satisfaction. What more could a man want? He had beer, beef, chocolate, and great company. Someone up there must be smiling down on him -- and he prayed he hadn't just jinxed himself.
"Well kids, looks like we're down to the bones. Wanna come back to my place and watch a movie, or just talk? Or, we could meet up tomorrow..."
Seeing a grown man using the dreaded puppy-dog eyes, Harry snickered behind his napkin. He threw a quick glance at Severus, then answered, "Tonight's good. We aren't on a schedule, or not much of one. Should be back home by June at the latest for my best friends' wedding, but until then, our time is our own."
"Ah, extended vacation, gotta love it," Jack smiled hugely. "Think I might just ask to use some of my leave time, get to know my baby cousin a bit. If that's alright with you?" Harry sprung from his chair as if it was on fire, vaulting into his cousin's arms and hugging the older man.
Again, Daniel watched the flicker of surprise cross Severus' face. Apparently, the dark-haired man was unaccustomed to witnessing his charge offer unsolicited demonstrations of affection. Well stick around, my new friends. Jack'll turn you both into compulsive huggers inside of a week. Wish I'd had that kind of friend growing up...~ * ~
Jack's house was warm and lived-in -- a stark difference to the pretentious grooming of the Dursleys' home, or the dark heirlooms crowding Grimmauld Place. There were pictures all over the place! Across the mantle, on every table and shelf, each with different combinations of the same group of people or old pictures of Jack and a young boy. Petunia only kept the biggest and brightest (which she considered the best, even when it made Vernon and Dudley look larger than life), alternating them with each new batch of photos. And the Black house... what few portraits were left mainly housed ancestors that had been hidden for not being dark enough. The human touch of memories had Harry ignoring a thin layer of dust over nearly every surface.
Severus noticed the lack of housekeeping, however. His first thought was that Jack just didn't care, but something didn't add up with that assumption. Jack truly seemed to love his home. The second guess was perhaps more logical anyway -- Jack was in the military, therefore he probably didn't spend as much time at home as he'd need to tidy often. Whichever the case, either reason was not a mark against the older man. From what little time they'd spent together, Severus could find nothing untoward about Jack O'Neill or Daniel Jackson. Not that he wouldn't keep watch, naturally. But it was a relief not to have to shield Harry from yet another potential enemy.
As Jack handed out drinks to his guests, Daniel turned on the TV and began offering options of movies to watch. Ever since he'd heard Severus mention that Harry's upbringing wasn't a loving one, the anthropologist in him was on alert for obvious signs of neglect. It was there for those who knew what to look for -- the young man's unfamiliarity with titles that should have been seen, if not favorites; the way his face lit up at the small, casual touches from Jack; his slight giggle over the bubbles of a soda tickling as it went down his throat. Not that movies or Coke were necessary for a well-rounded childhood, but Daniel had a passing knowledge of what was popular in England during the period of Harry's childhood. Some things would just be taken for granted that a boy would experience. Eyes flickered toward Jack, catching his friend's eyes for a moment. No, Jack hadn't missed any of the clues either.
Observant by nature and habit, Jack saw everything that Daniel's look seemed to address, and more. The longing that flickered across Harry's face at his photos, for example. If the young man had been brought up in a close family, he would be accustomed to such things. His obvious hunger for family proved to Jack that his other cousin needed a whap or twenty over her treatment of Lily's son. Even as a young girl, Petunia was a bit cold toward everyone who acted or appeared outside the norm. If Harry had inherited his mother's gifts, the snotty twit had most likely made his years with them a living hell. The question was: how was Jack to approach the subject without tipping off Daniel "the human encyclopedia" Jackson to all things magical?Harry introduced Severus as his teacher... If he's magical, then the same should be true for Snape. Maybe he'll distract Danny for a bit,
Jack wondered, needing a plan. Of course, if Severus is a wizard too, then he knows better about that secrecy thing than I do. Just need to find the right topic to get them started and out of the way.You would like for me to keep Dr. Jackson occupied for a bit, Jack?
The normally cool Colonel's head jerked up at a foreign voice in his mind. His eyes locked onto the dark man's, and he gave a very slight nod. In case he'd imagined the thought, he'd rather not look like a fool.
Severus walked over to the shelves of videos, picking one up at random. "Daniel, perhaps you might tell me a bit about this film -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If memory serves, it is a poor example of archeology. Could you explain why the producers would make such glaring errors?"
Eyes widening a fraction, Jack tried to convey his thanks in a brief smile. How on earth had a new acquaintence twigged onto one of Danny's pet peeves? He'd have to remember to ask. Later. For now, he had the perfect excuse to draw Harry away for a little private talk.
"Hey kiddo, Daniel's going to be yakking for hours about the errors of modern movie magic. Wanna see more of the house? I think I've still got some old scrapbooks in my office..." he let the offer trail, but noticed how Harry's eyes lit up at the prospect. "Come on, let's leave the academics to their fun."
The younger man jumped off his perch near the fireplace, literally racing to his cousin's side. He'd hoped, of course, that maybe Jack would tell him more about his mum. That there were pictures -- possibly -- was a bonus, a gift!
Jack grinned at the eagerness, feeling a small twinge of guilt that he might upset the youngster by poking around a sore subject. Still, if Petunia had been the cause of anything... traumatic. Well, Jack was prepared to take a little vacation time to straighten her out on how you treat kids.
His office was at the back of the house, far away from the others, and as secluded as he could make it from outside noise and distractions. He couldn't justify closing the door behind Harry, not if he wanted to play it cool. A closed door generally meant someone was getting interrogated, at least that's how he remembered feeling as a teenager. Flopping into his desk chair, Jack offered Harry the recliner next to the back window while he dug around in the desk drawers.
"Ahha! Here we go. It's not much, but definitely a start," he said with satisfaction, holding out a shoe box of old pictures. "There's probably some more in the attic, but let's see how many are here first."
Harry's grin was almost too big for his face as he opened to box to find the very top photo was one of Jack and Lily goofing around on swings at a park. His mum couldn't have been more than fifteen at the time, and Jack looked to be Harry's age. They were kicking their feet to push the swings higher, possibly in a competition, both laughing and smiling. A small tear formed at the edge of his eye. Here she was, his mother, alive and happy and doing something that everyone else did as a kid. She was really real!
Leaning against the recliner, Jack laid a hand on Harry's shoulder. He wasn't at the right angle to see the kid's face, but from the half-happy, half-sad sigh it was obvious how choked up Harry must be from one picture. "Pet didn't have many photos of your mom, huh?" He softly asked.
Harry just shook his head, not trusting what might come out if he started to talk.
"Harry, listen," Jack began, stroking the young man's hair, "Petunia never approved of anything that stood out, y'know? Being too happy, too sad, too wealthy, too poor, too artistic, too creative, too... anything
. It offended her. Noone could explain why she was that way, cus your grandparents weren't like that at all. She didn't learn it growing up, and she and Lily went to the same schools at the beginning." Here Jack paused, trying to think how to explain the little bit he knew. "It got worse, from what I understand, after Lily went off to a school in Scotland when she was eleven. Hogwarts, I think."
A sharp gasp and his shoulders tightening were the only signs that Harry had even heard his cousing talking. His gaze had never left the photo. "She told you about Hogwarts?" He whispered.
Jack nodded, then laughed a bit. "Oh yeah! Had a helluva time trying to convince me at first. Not being able to cast magic out of school made it difficult, but then she dragged me to Diagon Alley, surrounded by hundreds of witches and wizards all doing odd things, wearing the weirdest clothes, with goblins running the bank and house elves popping in and out doing errands for their households. She had to close my mouth a dozen times in the first half hour. It shook me up, yeah, finding out about this whole new world within a world, but it was great too."
Tearing his eyes off the picture at last, Harry looked up to see a wistful expression on Jack's face. "I remember the first time I saw Diagon. It was the same for me, everything, everywhere, magic
existed! And I was a part of it. Me, just Harry. A part of this strange and beautiful place that noone else could see -- no muggles, I mean, none of my relatives' friends or neighbors."
With a lopsided grin, Jack ruffled the young man's messy hair. "Yeah, you and Lily were lucky like that. Living in England put you on a list to maybe be invited to Hogwarts or one of the other magical schools. Here in the states, you've gotta actually know where to look for them, and not all parents want their kids to go off to some boarding school. So I always envied Lily that. She took me to the wandmaker's shop, Ollivander's, and had me try out wands. If I'd been trained, I'd be a wizard too, but my folks didn't want me to go off to school like that." Jack shrugged, long since past the missed opportunity. "Can't imagine what my life'd be like doing magic instead of being a soldier, not now anyways. But I used to dream about it."
"It's not too late, Jack! Severus has been a teacher for years, and I've done some teaching too for a club we had at Hogwarts," Harry said, quickly and with great enthusiasm. "You never stop being capable of magic, no matter when you start learning. We can teach you, if you want," he trailed off, thinking he'd got it all wrong at the wistful expression on the older man's face.
Jack managed a sad smile, but his mind was back in time. Without realizing when he'd started talking, he began telling Harry about Charlie. "I had a son, Charlie. He'd be a year or so off your age, I guess. He used to bring home these projects from school, and if I said I didn't know how to do something, he'd say the same thing as you did. I can teach you, if you want.
And I'd like that, Harry. It's never too late to learn something new, right?"
Jack barely had time to stand up and brace himself before Harry crashed into him for a crushing hug. Small shudders turned into soft sobs, and Jack realized the young man was crying as quietly as he could. His arms closed around Harry, bringing him into a firm, comforting embrace. "Let it out, kiddo. You're ok, you're not abnormal or whatever Pet used to call you, not a weirdo or freak," he paused as the last word made Harry hide deeper into his chest, "You're NOT a freak, Harry. Magic is everywhere, even without a wand to make it happen. People who deny it are just sad, unimaginative little shits who are afraid of anything they don't undertand."
Harry nodded, staying silent. He never spoke about the Dursleys if it could be helped. But Jack seemed to know what Aunt Petunia was like, even when she was a kid. That much prejudice for so long, he just couldn't understand what would make her so afraid, so angry
at magic specifically.
"Dunno who decided to leave you with Pet and her whale of a husband, but they definitely didn't do their homework," Jack went on, rambling while he let Harry calm down some. "Worst place to stick a kid, any kid, is with people that close-minded. But to leave a child who is probably going to turn into one of their prime targets, that's just stupid. Cruel even. Wanna tell me what dumbass left you there? I'll bet my shorts that Lily left instructions somewhere about what to do if she died. She was always looking at things from every angle, preparing for every last eventuality. No way would she want to leave you with her sister, even if you weren't a wizard."
Jack shifted until one arm was free, and Harry tried to pull away. He was held closer, but offered a tissue. Laughing at himself, Harry wiped his eyes and blew his nose before curling back into the solid frame of his new favorite person. How long had he wished for someone to accept him like this? To stand up for him and comfort him when things were bad, to make him laugh or laugh with him when things were good?
"Dumbledore's orders, but he's dead so don't bother," he mumbled into Jack's shirt. "I can teach you a few hexes though, so you can scare the piss out of Aunt Petunia if you like."
With a hearty laugh, Jack landed a hard kiss to the messy hair at his face. "Might just do that. She's got a lot to answer for, in my opinion."
Harry snuffled back some snot and nodded. His mind was warm and fuzzy with the relief of having one relative alive that didn't hate him, did in fact understand and like
him. Worn out emotionally, he opened up more than he'd done with anyone about what his childhood was like.
Jack's teeth ground together as he listened to the disjointed tale of his little cousin's life. From as early as three or four years old, Petunia and her kin had made Harry's life hell. No child should be refused the basic necessities of clothes, food, and comforting. He wished he'd made the decision to spend more time with Lily before starting officer training, have a crash course in magic like she'd suggested. Maybe then he'd have been around when she died, and he could've taken Harry in, raised him with Charlie. Maybe his son wouldn't have --
That line of thinking would kill him. Forcibly changing the direction of his thoughts, Jack plopped sideways into the recliner, dragging Harry into his lap with a laugh and a grunt. When the teen joined him in both, his mind and body relaxed. "Wish I'd known when your mom and dad were killed, Harry. No way would I have let Pet keep you, no matter who tried to stick you with her."
And that was all Harry needed to hear. One person, one family member, really wanted him. Not the Boy Who Lived. Not a convenient servant. Not Harry-bloody-Potter. Just Harry -- cousin to Jack O'Neill, son of Lily Evans and James Potter. A knot of something dark and bitter, long buried, abruptly loosened and unraveled, and Harry felt a wonderfully new sensation. He suspected it was what people called peace.Author's post-it-note: It's my AU and I can do whatever I want with it, so for those of you who might wanna complain about Jack being magical..... pthpthpthpth! Who says the Ancient gene isn't the same as the magical one? That's my story and I'm sticking to it.