Once Upon a Time in Cokeworth by Kyralian
Summary: Harry is thrilled that he is allowed to go on a holiday with his relatives, but quickly discovers it to be a trick. Instead of a trip to the seaside he expected, the boy is left on the doorstep of a scary stranger who claims to be his father.

A horrible father-story [at least, at the beginning], told mostly but not solely from Harry's perspective.
Categories: Parental Snape > Biological Father Snape Main Characters: .Snape and Harry (required)
Snape Flavour: Angry Snape, Cruel Snape, Stern Snape
Genres: Family
Tags: Child fic
Takes Place: 0 - Pre Hogwarts (before Harry is 11)
Warnings: Neglect, Physical Punishment Spanking, Physical Punishment Non-Spanking
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 27 Completed: No Word count: 80612 Read: 66698 Published: 27 Mar 2021 Updated: 31 Mar 2022
Story Notes:
Snape is a believer in harsh upbringing and strict discipline. You have been warned.

1. Chapter 1 Not a Holiday by Kyralian

2. Chapter 2 The Grand Tour by Kyralian

3. Chapter 3 Gardening by Kyralian

4. Chapter 4 Blood and Fever by Kyralian

5. Chapter 5 Hospital by Kyralian

6. Chapter 6 Rena Trellis’s Ward by Kyralian

7. Chapter 7 Home, Sweet Home by Kyralian

8. Chapter 8 Swingers by Kyralian

9. Chapter 9 The Trouble That Edward Bear Caused by Kyralian

10. Chapter 10 Meeting Eliot by Kyralian

11. Chapter 11 Sabbatical by Kyralian

12. Chapter 12 The Talk by Kyralian

13. Chapter 13 Shopping Spree by Kyralian

14. Chapter 14 The Worst Feeling in the World by Kyralian

15. Chapter 15 Contemporary Oliver Twist by Kyralian

16. Chapter 16 Out of Sorts by Kyralian

17. Chapter 17 Vigil by Kyralian

18. Chapter 18 Grandpa Al by Kyralian

19. Chapter 19 Of Balls and Trees by Kyralian

20. Chapter 20 The Quarantine Wards by Kyralian

21. Chapter 21 - Anger by Kyralian

22. Chapter 22 - A Reassurance, Of Sorts by Kyralian

23. Chapter 23 The Slipper by Kyralian

24. Chapter 24 New Commitment by Kyralian

25. Chapter 25 Anxiety by Kyralian

26. Chapter 26 A Game of Chess by Kyralian

27. Chapter 27 House Guest by Kyralian

Chapter 1 Not a Holiday by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
A fair warning: I am a slow writer, characters are not my property and I make no profit from this story.
Harry Potter had never been on holiday, his aunt and uncle had always prefered to leave him with an old lady from the neighbourhood when they went. This morning, however, he was told to pack all his things and come into the car as the Dursleys loaded their car from top to bottom for their holiday.

The boy was excited to be going for once, Mrs. Figg wasn’t too bad except that she talked about her cats constantly and her whole house smelled funny. He tried really hard to behave himself so that he wouldn’t be punished by staying after all.

After what seemed like an eternity, Harry was strapped in the back of the car, next to his much larger cousin, and they were speeding away. He ignored Dudley’s finger poking him insistently in the side, determined to enjoy his first ever outing, and a little scared that uncle Vernon would start yelling if the other boy complained about him.

Harry squinted out the window, trying to tell if the fuzzy images were trees or houses, but they zoomed by so fast that he couldn’t be sure. He amused himself like that until his head started pounding from the effort of forcing blurry outlines into familiar shapes, and he closed his eyes for a few minutes to rest them.

He must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew was that aunt Petunia was pulling him out of the car, dragging the stumbling boy across the broken pavement before he even had time to wake up properly.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes with a small fist.

“Don’t ask questions, boy!” Petunia Dursley snapped at her nephew, she stepped up to the green door, and pressed a thumb into a door bell. “Be quiet!”

Harry ducked his head, hoping his aunt wasn’t too upset that he was a bother again. It was hard not to be curious sometimes, he wondered if this was their holidaying place, but his uncle and cousin weren’t coming out of the car so he doubted it. The bell buzzed and buzzed, and he was sure that whoever lived here wasn’t home, but before he worked up the courage to say so, the door flew open with a bang.

“What do you want, woman?!” A man demanded angrily, Harry cringed at the furious voice, and even aunt Petunia seemed to shrink before the man.

The boy peeked up warily, and gulped fearfully at the pale face framed by curtains of black hair. He reminded Harry of a vampire he had seen on the television once, he was even dressed all in black clothes. The boy tried to step back from the vampire man, but aunt Petunia pulled him to the front of herself.

“Be still,” she hissed in his ear, before addressing the man. “It is time you took responsibility for what is yours, Severus.”

The vampire man looked down his hawk’s nose at the boy, and Harry was close enough to see his harsh features twist with disgust and dislike. He shivered, wishing for nothing so much as to be back in the car with his cousin and uncle.

“What are you blathering on about, Tuney?!” the man questioned disdainfully, transferring his impressive glower to his aunt.

Aunt Petunia opened her handbag and rummaged for a few minutes, before finding an aged envelope and thrusting it in the man’s face.

“Here,” she snapped, no longer seeming intimidated by the vampire man. She adjusted her handbag on her shoulder impatiently. “It explains everything.”

“A letter from Lily?” the man asked in a low voice, catching the envelope and staring at it in awe.

“From my mummy?” Harry inquired in wonder, but the adults ignored him, as usual. He stood on his tip-toes to better see the letter that the man drew forth. He clutched it so tightly as he read that his knuckles turned white.

Neither the boy nor the man noticed the woman stepping away from them, and returning to the car, only reacting when the loud reeving of the engine disturbed their concentration. Harry whirled about, starting to run at the hazy sight of the moving car. The vampire man was shouting for him to stop, but that only made the boy’s legs move faster. In moments, he was past the rickety gate and dashing up the street after his uncle’s car. Horns blared all around, but he paid them no mind, certain that he could catch up to his relatives if he tried hard enough.

Harry skidded to a jarring halt, suddenly quite unable to move forward, a moment later, a hand clamped painfully on his shoulder and dragged him unceremoniously to the narrow pavement.

“What do you think you are doing, foolish child?!” the vampire man screamed in his face, shaking him so hard that his teeth rattled.

Harry opened his mouth, but whatever he was going to say never emerged as he started to cry. His relatives were beyond his reach, and the furious man was much too close, his fingers cut painfully into his arm. The man growled, and started pulling the sobbing child back toward the house.

The boy had to jog all the way back to keep up with the man’s impossibly long strides, and his arm hurt abominably from his strong grasp. He only slowed when they got to the gate, and bent down to pick up a duffel bag abandoned on the curb.

“That’s mine!” Harry exclaimed in shock, recognising the bag he’d packed that morning.

“I gathered as much,” the man said sourly. “Come.”

Harry’s arm was only released when they were inside and the door was firmly closed. He gave the man a reproachful look as he rubbed the sore spot, but the adult ignored it. He was led into a dark living room.

“Stay here,” the man commanded, indicating the sofa in the middle of the room.

Harry collapsed on the sofa cushions gratefully, the exhaustion from his run catching up to him, and watched the man leave the room. After he caught his breath some, he began thinking about the situation he was in. Where did his family go? Would they come back for him soon? He shook his head, the boy didn’t understand why he was being punished like this. He had really thought he could go on holiday this year, he caught a few errand tears with his fingers, trying to shrug off the disappointment. Maybe Mrs. Figg couldn’t watch him this year, and this man would do it instead?

Sighing sadly at his conclusion, the boy looked up to see what would be his home for the next two weeks, but the room he was in was so gloomy that everything was blurred at the edges, making his head ache. He looked in the direction of the hallway, and listened carefully, but wherever the man had gone must have been a long way off as he couldn’t hear even a whisper of sound.

Cautiously, Harry stood and slowly walked around the room, peering at the furniture from up close. It was much easier this way, and he was impressed to see tall bookcases filled with so many big books. He couldn’t read the titles of course, but he fancied they were tales of adventures and magic. The boy reached out to trace one title with a fingertip, but an angry voice interrupted him.

“What did I tell you to do, boy?!” the man demanded from just behind him, making the child jump in surprise and spin around.

The vampire man stood just there, his arms folded across his chest and his black eyes blazing with fury. Harry swallowed thickly.

“T-to s-stay put?” he asked weakly.

“Indeed,” the man acknowledged mockingly.

Harry hung his head, bracing himself for a reprimand, but instead of yelling at him, the man caught his wrist and pulled him towards the sofa. Looking up warily, the boy watched as the man seated himself on the sofa, pulling the child forward until his stomach lay across the adult’s lap. A hand pressed down on his back, and Harry stiffened, suddenly very uneasy.

“What are you- Ow!” he cried out as his backside exploded with pain. “No! Stop! Oww!”

Harry tried to fight, to get away or to beg even, but it was absolutely no use, he started to cry as the burning stinging in his bum built with every blow. The man took no notice of the child’s distress as he steadily applied firm swats to the upturned posterior. The boy reckoned it went on for hours, but eventually he was helped to stand and turned to face the man.

“You will mind my word, boy,” he growled sternly. “Or I won’t be so lenient next time. Understood?”

Sobbing even harder, Harry touched his throbbing backside, wincing at how much it hurt. He couldn’t imagine an even worse punishment, the boy hurriedly nodded yes when the man made an impatient sound in his throat.

“I require a verbal response, boy,” the man directed sharply. “You may call me sir or father, as it appears I am that to you.”

Harry’s eyes grew wide at that revelation, his tears stopping in complete astonishment. Could this really be his father? He’d always been told that his parents had died in a car crash when he was only a baby. That was why he lived with the Dursleys.

“Are you really my father?” he asked softly, forgetting that asking questions was always a dangerous business.

“Evidently,” the man answered sourly, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. “And as you’ll be staying with me for the foreseeable future, I strongly advise you learn to obey me rather promptly. In fact, I’d avoid any of the 3 D’s if I were you - disobedience, disrespect and dishonesty - as each of them will get your seat sternly whipped. Is that understood, child?”

Harry’s eyes filled again, as he remembered that his backside hurt rather a lot already.

“I-I understand, father,” he whimpered, raising a hand to wipe his dripping nose, but his wrist was slapped away before he could.

“Don’t do that!” the man exclaimed with disgust. “Use this!”

Harry caught the white fabric that was tossed at his face, and blew his nose noisily into the handkerchief. The man’s face contorted with distaste as he observed the display, but he didn’t comment until the boy’s face was put to rights.

“One more thing,” the man said, his voice so ominous that Harry shivered. “If you run into the street ever again, Potter, I’ll use the cane. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy whispered, scared that whatever it meant would be much worse than today.

“Very well,” the strict man said brusquely. “Come along, I’ll show you your room.”
To be continued...
Chapter 2 The Grand Tour by Kyralian
The room was much larger than his bedroom at the Dursleys, and there was a large window over the desk, making everything much easier to see. There was also a wardrobe and a bed with a soft mattress that was long enough to stretch luxuriously on, it was very hard not to appreciate the accommodations he was given. The boy made these observations despite himself, as he wasn’t in a mood to be appreciative of anything at the moment.

He lay on his side, curled into a tight ball and blinking away insistent tears, as he thought about his aunt and uncle and how they left him here without a word of explanation. How long did they know that he had a living father? Did they know that his father would hit him like that? Uncle Vernon never hit Harry like that, only rarely slapped him across the face when he was too mouthy. The boy was usually yelled at a lot and locked in his room as punishment, he had always been scared of his uncle, but now he thought that he would prefer him.

A sharp knock on the door startled Harry out of his musings, and he stiffened fearfully as the door swung open. The man was too far away to see his face with any clarity, but he could tell his father was angry because of the way his arms were tightly folded.

“I told you to come downstairs at six, Potter,” he said severely. “Do you think I speak merely to make noise?”

Harry shook his head, sitting up and casting a frantic look at the clock on the desk, even though he couldn’t see the tiny hands to figure out the time.

“N-no, I-I’m sorry,” the boy whispered, on the verge of crying. “It won’t happen again, sir.”

“It had better not,” father warned coldly, but then he heaved a calming breath and spoke more softly. “Wash your hands and come for dinner.”

“Yes, father,” Harry told the closed door.

It wasn’t hard to locate the kitchen once he descended the stairs, he could clearly hear the banging of pots to the right of the living room. He wondered what he would be doing, he wasn’t so stupid as to expect food after a punishment, serving or cleaning probably.

Harry stopped at the threshold of the kitchen, looking around curiously. The room was quite small, with a round table and a line of cupboards in a bland grey that blurred together no matter how hard he squinted.

“Sit down and eat, Potter,” the man snapped, making him jump.

He narrowed his eyes at the table, noticing just now a second chair and a place setting opposite the man. Surprised, the boy slid into a chair and looked at the food heaped on the plate with awe. He had never eaten jacket potatoes before, with binned beans and tuna topping and cheese sprinkled over it. His mouth watered seeing this amazing offering.

“Thank you, father,” he whispered, grateful that he was allowed to eat.

Harry didn’t think he was that hungry, but as he put the first mouthful in, he realised that he was starving. Much sooner than anticipated, he was scraping the last morsels of food off an empty plate. The boy sighed, feeling heavy and lethargic, he’d never eaten so much in one go before.

“While your manners leave much to be desired,” the man observed dryly. “At least you have a good appetite.”

The boy flushed crimson in embarrassment, hanging his head.

“‘M sorry,” he mumbled.

“Here,” the man said, handing him a napkin over the table, and the boy did his best to mop up tomato sauce off his face and hands. “It is a little early for bed, I probably should give you the grand tour before you get in trouble, yes?”

Harry looked up, scrutinizing the man for any signs of mocking, but could only discern impatience in his expression when the boy didn’t answer immediately.

“Yes, sir,” he agreed carefully.

“Very well,” the man said, he drew a thin stick of wood out of his sleeve and waved it over the table. Harry’s eyes just about bugged out, when with a soft pop the dishes on the table disappeared! “Come along, but don’t expect too much excitement. There are only three rooms you haven’t seen, and you aren’t allowed in any of them.”

The boy scrambled after the retreating man, his mind whirling with thoughts. He caught up to him in the entryway, where there was a low black door next to the front door.

“Where did they go?” he demanded, unable to keep quiet a moment longer.

The man turned to face him, his forehead wrinkled in displeasure.

“Where did who go?” he asked sternly.

“The plates!” Harry exclaimed, almost bouncing in excitement. “They disappeared, did you see? Did you see they disappeared, father?”

The foreboding expression on the adult’s face melted away, and was replaced by a smirk of amusement.

“Ah, indeed,” father acknowledged, his lips curved up at one corner, as if he was fighting a smile and failing. “I believe they went to the sink to wash themselves.”

Harry frowned, not entirely certain that he wasn’t being mocked, but a little afraid to voice his doubts aloud.

“Aunt Petunia’s dishes don’t do that,” he mumbled, looking at his feet to hide how upset he was getting.

A hand caught his chin, and tilted his head back so that he was forced to meet the man’s black eyes.

“You may watch them do it tomorrow, alright?” he offered softly.

The boy nodded, sniffling.

“What’s there?” he whispered, glancing at the black door worriedly. “Is it a cupboard…?”

The man snorted and shook his head.

“Hardly,” he said indignantly. “This is my potions laboratory, and you, young man, are forbidden to enter without my permission. Do you understand, Harry?”

He nodded, brightening considerably with curiosity.

“May I see?” he pleaded.

Father didn’t answer immediately, giving the boy a stern appraisal. Harry straightened his shoulders, trying to appear responsible and trustworthy.

“I’ll show you,” he decided. “But you must hold my hand and not touch anything. Understood?”

Harry happily agreed, and they descended into the laboratory hand in hand. The room was quite dark, dampening his enthusiasm, especially when father stopped just a few steps into the room, pulling him to a halt. It was no fun to explore a laboratory when you could hardly see anything!

“Can’t we go any closer?” he whined, pulling on the man’s hand impatiently.

“Stop that,” father growled, catching the boy around the middle and delivering a stinging smack to his rear. “This is not a place for children to play, there are dangerous ingredients and potions stocked here, which is why you are not allowed entry. You’ve seen enough.”

With that stern speech, the man lifted the sniffling boy, and carried him back upstairs, shutting the black door with an ominous snap. Harry rubbed the sore spot, giving the man a hurt look.

“Be glad it was a smack, and not a spanking,” father said mercilessly when he put him to his feet. “You won’t be as lucky if you open this door alone. You may knock and call for me when I’m working, but under no circumstances are you allowed to open that door. Is that very clear, Harry?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled to his shoes.

The rest of the ‘tour’ passed with Harry feeling very sorry for himself, as his father was so angered by his sulking that he put him over his knee after all, and after several very painful swats marched the crying child to the two other doors he wasn’t allowed to open, father’s office and bedroom, promising dire punishments if he disobeyed.

By the time Harry climbed into bed that evening, he felt absolutely miserable and homesick.
To be continued...
Chapter 3 Gardening by Kyralian
"It’s time to wake up, child,” a stern voice drifted through a haze of exhausted sleep, making the boy groan in protest and press his face harder into his pillow. “Harry,” the owner of the voice persisted annoyingly, shaking his shoulder gently. “Open your eyes.”

“‘M tired,” he complained. Why was it that Dudley could laze about as long as he wanted, while he had to get up at the crack of dawn? He opened his eyes and scowled at the man seated at the edge of his bed, remembering that he had ample reason to be angry at him. “I don’t wanna get up, yet!”

“Too bad,” the man sneered, standing up and giving the child an unimpressed glare. “You may take a nap after breakfast, if you are so exhausted.”

“I don’t take naps!” Harry protested indignantly, sitting up to better convey his outrage at the horrid suggestion. “I’m not a baby!”

“Fantastic,” the man mocked, starting to walk towards the door. “Get moving, or you’ll start the day with a very sore behind.”

Harry gaped at the door for several moments in dismay, before he was able to react.

“That’s not fair,” he whispered to himself.

He dressed and washed himself in record time, scared that any tardiness would be harshly punished, and presented himself in the kitchen, a picture of humility and obedience. He was directed to the table, where a simple breakfast of toast and porridge waited.

The boy ate grudgingly, shooting dark glances at the irritating adult opposite him, which were utterly ignored. Sure, it was nice to fill his stomach with warm food in the morning, but he was too upset to really enjoy it. He pushed his half-empty bowl away and ducked his head, fighting not to cry.

“Do you want to watch the dishes scrub themselves this morning?” the man asked tersely, making Harry’s head jerk up in interest. He gave a tentative nod. “Excellent. Finish your breakfast quickly, as we don’t have time to dawdle.”

The boy wrinkled his nose in suspicion, sensing that he was being managed like a stupid child, but he did really want to see the dishes washing on their own. Sighing, he pulled his bowl closer, and resumed eating. His anticipation improved his mood and settled his stomach, so it wasn’t a struggle to finish. Like last night, with a wave of the man’s stick, a wand? the plates and cups disappeared from the table.

Eagerly, Harry skipped to the sink, whooping with amazed glee as the dishes reappeared with another soft pop. Water started filling the basin on its own, and a scrub lathered itself with dish soap, and started scrubbing the submerged dishes with vigour. When they were sparkling clean, the dishes floated up into the air, and shook themselves off, before alighting atop a drying rack above the sink.

Grinning like a little fool, the boy watched as the sink cleaned itself efficiently, the entire operation took a fraction of the time it usually took him to do the dishes by hand at the Dursleys, and with much less mess to clean up afterwards.

“That was amazing!” he enthused, jumping up and down. “How do they do that?”

“Magic,” the man smirked.

Harry looked at his father with a frown.

“Aunt Petunia says magic doesn’t exist,” he said critically.

The man snorted in derision.

“For her, it does not,” he said, something vicious burning in his black eyes. “Your aunt is not a witch.”

“And you are?” the boy scoffed, feeling offended on his aunt’s behalf.

The man’s countenance suddenly darkened with anger, and before Harry knew what was happening, he was grabbed by the arm and turned about.

“Watch your tone, boy!” he barked, smacking the child’s rear with the length of his wand, eliciting a howl of pain. “I am your father, and you will show me proper respect! Is that understood?”

Harry bobbed his head up and down frantically, clutching his searing backside with both hands and sobbing. It had only been one smack, but it hurt more than the whole spanking yesterday had, or so it felt at the moment.

“Have you got anything to say to me, Harry?” the man demanded threateningly.

“Sorry!” the boy cried desperately. “‘M sorry, father! I’ll be good, I’m sorry!”

“Better,” the man barked, not softening his harsh expression in spite of the boy’s apology. “Don’t make me remind you again as you will not like that reminder, boy.”

Harry nodded, fighting to control his sobbing and withhold his father’s scorching gaze. At last, the man heaved an exaggerated breath and released the child’s arm.

“I have work to do in the laboratory this morning,” father told him severely. “You have one minute to suggest an appropriate entertainment for yourself, before I set you an assignment of my choosing.”

The boy could feel blood draining from his face at the word ‘assignment’, it sounded an awful lot like schoolwork and that was a terrible prospect. He racked his brains for any activity, but he had no idea what would be appropriate for the man. Desperate to find anything to say, he roamed his eyes around the room.

“Outside,” he blurted out, catching sight of the blurred outline of the window. “May I go outside, father?”

Harry held his breath, while father scrutinized him with a beady stare for several long moments.

“That is acceptable, I suppose,” he finally allowed, but his voice was so strict that the boy shuddered. “You may go into the front yard, but you will not set foot beyond the gate. You are not allowed to speak to any strangers, and you will be careful. I do not want to hear of any injuries. Do you understand, Harry?”

“Yes, father,” he whispered in relief, feeling as though he had just avoided a speeding bullet.

Harry ran into the yard as soon as father opened the door for him. It was a bit chilly so early in the morning, and the wind blew strongly in his face, but the sun was strong so he didn’t care. He walked up to the gate, eager to see where he was as he hadn’t had the opportunity to look yesterday. The boy squinted in the blaze of the sun, and managed to make out a one-storey house across the narrow street. It looked old and poorly-maintained, he started walking around the perimeter of the fence and was able to pick out other buildings. Next door, on the right, there was a two-storey house very similar to his father’s. He was almost sure that he spied a pair of swings in the back garden, and he wondered if there were children living there. On the left, there was only an empty plot of land.

By the time he finished his third circuit of the property, Harry was certain he knew as much about his surroundings as it was possible to gather with his poor eyesight. This neighbourhood was much different than Privet Drive, and the boy knew what that meant, only poor folk and drunkards lived like that. Was his father poor or a drunkard? That was worrisome, uncle Vernon had always said that Harry’s father had been driving drunk, and killed himself and his wife in a car crash. His father wasn’t dead, though, so maybe he had been in prison instead, and only just came out, and that was why Harry was brought here.

Straining his eyes so much was giving him a headache, so he decided to stop his surveillance. He found a big tree in the back garden, it was a wonderful tree - gnarled and thick-limbed - ideal for climbing on, but at the moment, he only wanted to sprawl in the shade as it was getting rather hot. He sat on the grass and immediately winced as his backside gave an unpleasant twinge, but after a bit of squirming he found a reasonably comfortable position.

The boy bent forward, resting his elbows on his crossed legs and propping his chin on his hand, thinking about his earlier realisations.

If his father had come out of prison now, it was possible that he would want to keep Harry with him for good. He shook his head in dismay, staying here for two weeks would be bad enough, with how easily the man got angry with him. The boy reached a hand back to rub at the persistent sting, he didn’t want such harsh punishments on a regular basis. And if he stayed here, he would have to go to school eventually. How long would it take the man to realise that Harry was stupid, that he didn’t know how to read when even Dudley could do it?

Hot tears spilled down his cheeks as he contemplated the man’s reaction to such news, he would have to do his best to keep the truth from being discovered as long as possible, keeping his head down and memorising everything the teacher said aloud. It was going to be exhausting, he wiped the tears away angrily, that was so unfair! He just wanted to go home!

He spent several long minutes brooding about his situation, but the boy was so used to adversity that it quickly became boring. Harry needed to think creatively to survive living with his father in one piece, luckily, he had years of experience diffusing the adults’ bad mood. The boy frowned, pondering what made adults he knew happy, his aunt Petunia was best pleased with him when he did all his chores without complaining, unfortunately, father hadn’t set him any chores yet. The situation was more complicated with uncle Vernon, who never was not displeased with his nephew, but probably was happiest when he could find something to punish Harry for. He fervently hoped father wasn’t similar in that regard.

Then, there was aunt Marge, who loved criticizing him and making unfavourable comparisons with Dudley, and making suggestions about his upbringing and discipline. Harry was well-schooled to listen to it all with polite equanimity, but he was always very relieved that her suggestions were ignored. With a bitter grimace, the boy realised that aunt Marge and his father would see eye to eye on matters of discipline.

Shaking his head at that thought, Harry got to his feet and put his hands on his hips, he had been staring at that overgrown garden for a while, his irritation growing. Didn’t his father know that you had to pull the weeds out or the pretty plants would be choked to death by them? Sighing, he approached the pot of land clearly intended for growing things, and assessed it with an expert’s eye. It was a horrible mess, he could see several kinds of pretty blue flowers he hadn’t seen before, but they were so overgrown by ugly weeds that they could barely breathe! He knelt at the edge of the bed, and started pulling the sharp weeds out with his hands. His father was obviously a complete amatour in the art of gardening, and Harry was determined to help him!

Weeding was always hard work, but this time was exceptionally brutal, as these weeds seemed to be more determined to put up a fight than any he’d pulled before. He worked hard for a long time, gritting his teeth against the pain in his cut fingers. He managed to clear two long beds before he heard father calling his name from the front of the house. Jumping to his feet, Harry appraised his handiwork with satisfaction as he brushed the earth off his trousers with his palms. Wincing, he looked at his aching hands and paled, staring in horror at his bleeding fingers, father’s admonition about not getting injured ringing ominously in his mind.

Desperate to hide the evidence, the boy stuck his hands deep in his pockets, hoping that the fabric would soak up the blood. He ran back to the front of the house, and almost smacked right into the man coming in his direction. Long hands caught and steadied him before he could fall on his bum.

“Where have you been, boy?!” he demanded irritably, giving the boy a suspicious glare.

“I-,” Harry stammered, suddenly worried that doing chores without being told might not have been as good of an idea as he had thought. “I was j-just gardening, father.”

“Garden-,” the man growled, turning even paler than normal. “Where?!”

“In the-,” the boy waved a hand behind him. “The back...”

Cursing, father pushed past him and hurriedly strode in the direction he’d just come from. Harry jogged after him, blurting out an explanation in a worried voice.

“The weeds, father,” he called, suddenly short of breath. “You have to pull out the weeds, I wanted to help, father. I just-,”

The man came to an abrupt halt in front of the beds that Harry had worked so hard on, his hands rose to the sides of his head, his fists yanked at his black strands in dismayed horror.

“Ten months of careful cultivation,” he whispered harshly. “Completely ruined by an insolent brat.”

Harry hung his head, disappointed by the man’s negative reaction. How was he supposed to know that his father was cultivating ugly weeds on purpose? Most people hated weeds in their garden, his aunt certainly did!

“I’m sorry, father,” he said mournfully. “I just wanted to help.”

The boy’s soft voice brought the man out of his horrified contemplation of the destruction, he rounded on the child, his face a rictus of fury.

“Sorry?!” he hissed, and his voice was like a crack of the whip. “You destroyed half of my supply of Blood Weed, and you are sorry?!”

Harry opened his mouth, his lips were very dry, he tried to find the words to apologise further, but he couldn’t think of any appropriate ones. The man narrowed his eyes into slits at the boy’s silence, his hand shot out to clamp mercilessly around the child’s thin arm, making him cry out in pain.

“Nothing to say?!” he hissed icily. “Oh, you will be sorry, boy,” the man started to stalk towards the house, dragging the crying and stumbling child by the arm. “You will be very sorry!”

Harry panted as he ran, afraid that his arm would be wrenched out of its socket if he stumbled and fell, it burned like fire. In a blink of an eye, they were through the front door and stopping in the kitchen, and the boy sobbed in relief as the pain in his shoulder lessened.

The angry man yanked his belt free of his trousers with the hand that was not clutching the child, and deftly wrapped the strap around his fist, before plopping in the chair and bending the panicked boy over his lap.

“No!” Harry cried in utter terror, squirming to be let go. “Please! I’m sorry!”

The man held the boy down easily with one hand, while jerking his trousers and underwear down to his knees with the other, exposing bare flesh of his posterior. Harry’s hand flew back to cover his bum, but when the thick leather fell with a crack across his open palm, he instinctively pulled it back to the front, cradling it against his chest and whimpering.

Father prevented any possibility of escape by trapping his legs under his thigh, and with an angry growl brought the strap across the pale skin of the child’s backside. Harry screamed at the incredible pain, it felt as though his behind was being cut open by a flaming hatchet. The boy’s scream barely had time to reach a crescendo, when the ominous whistle of the belt sailing through the air could be heard again. With a crack and a scream, another band of fire was added next to the first, and then the third, the fourth and the next.

Harry couldn’t have said how long it lasted, but by the time the man pulled his clothes back into place, the boy was hoarse from screaming and his bottom felt as if it was a hot furnace. Father yanked him around until he was forced to face the furious man.

“You’ll learn to listen to me with both ears, brat, or, by Merlin, I’ll whip you every single day!” he shouted, and then spun the boy around and propelled him forward with a lash of the belt across his back. “Out of my sight!”

Harry fled, stumbling blindly from the room and sobbing as every movement of his body seemed to flare up the flames in his bottom. He didn’t know how he managed to find his room, but eventually he collapsed on his bed, rolling to his stomach and pressing his face into his pillow to muffle the sounds of his misery. The boy had never been in so much pain before, it seemed to radiate from the epicentrum on his buttocks until his whole body was pulsating with the throbbing ache.

Harry blinked, staring at the red mark across his palm that the belt had left on it. It burned, and he wondered how many angry red stripes had been left on his backside today. There was blood on his pillow, and he thought that the mark was bleeding, but upon closer inspection he realised that his fingers were still bleeding profusely. With a spike of dread, the boy flipped the pillow over to hide the stain, and stuck both hands underneath it. He knew he should run his hands under a stream of cold water to wash away the blood, but it hurt too much to move just now. And it was getting cold, so cold that the boy started to shiver.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Next chapter is in Snape's POV and we finally learn just how old young Harry is, but I've been wondering how old does he come across as?
Chapter 4 Blood and Fever by Kyralian
Severus Snape flitted through his house in a furious ball of energy, like a vengeful spirit, he slashed his wand about in angry, violent motions, his magic crackling as it was released. He had been doing this throughout the afternoon, putting up multi-layered repulsion wards on every item and place he wanted the pampered brat to stay away from. He had been berating himself for failing to cast them the previous night. Obviously, it had been utter foolishness to believe that a stern word and a few pats on the rear would convince the brat to mind his word, when he’d been quick enough to disregard it from the moment he’d appeared on his doorstep.

A bloody son, he snorted derisively, ever since Tuney Evans had given him that damnable letter from Lily, he’d felt as if he had been unwillingly cast in some cheap muggle soap opera. Originally, he’d been sure it was some cruel prank made by James Potter from beyond the veil. He couldn’t conceive of his childhood friend flinging such vicious accusations, despite their falling out, Severus didn’t believe she had written such hurtful things.

The little idiot had disabused him of that fanciful notion, however, when he’d sprinted onto the busy street after the departing car, and unable to think of a better way to stop his heedless flight, Severus had locked the familial wards and watched the boy smack hard into the outermost wards, unable to move farther. As far as paternity tests went, that one had been an unorthodox one, but the evidence of it couldn’t be denied. Severus was the fucking father of one Harry James Potter, and without any memory of having commited any child-producing deeds with his mother.

Gritting his teeth, the man jabbed his wand at the bookcase in the living room, finalising the last of his child-proofing spellwork. He was satisfied that the strong stinging hex intricately woven into the spells would keep the insolent brat out of his things, and if even that failed, his belt would be of some assistance, he was certain. If the fates wanted him to be a father, he was determined to be a strict one.

His empty stomach grumbled in protest, in his fury over discovering the destruction of his almost-ready-to-harvest plantation of Blood Weed, he’d completely forgotten that they were supposed to be sitting for lunch. Grimacing, he realised that he hadn’t cooked anything for dinner, and they would have to make do with sandwiches this evening. He climbed the stairs to fetch the child for the meal.

Severus rapped on the door sharply and entered without waiting for an invitation, he wouldn’t allow the impression that he could be denied entry. The child was sprawled on the bed, apparently not too old to take a nap during the day as he’d claimed.

“Up, boy,” the man called loudly, crossing his arms in impatience. “It’s dinnertime.”

The boy didn’t even give a twitch at the sound of his voice, Severus rolled his eyes and stepped up to the bed, delivering a hard smack to the prominently situated posterior, but even that ungentle treatment failed to garner any reaction whatsoever. Frowning in sudden concern, Severus scrutinized the slumbering child more closely, he appeared to be shivering, despite the sweltering heat in the room, and his face was very pale.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, the man put a hand to the boy’s forehead, his hand came away damp with perspiration. The child was running a considerable fever, deeply uneasy, Severus rolled him onto his side, and pressed two fingers to the side of his neck to check for a pulse. It was thready and very faint, as he was moved, one of the boy’s hands shifted from the awkward position over his head and to his chest. He counted the uneven heartbeats, his eyes following that limb with a furrowed brow, almost as though he instinctively knew there was something wrong with it. The rust-coloured trail on the sheet barely surprised him.

The man snatched the twig-like arm, and stared in horror at the sticky blood flowing freely from multiple shallow cuts on his fingers and palm. He pulled away the pillow, cursing at the large stain of red hidden under it.

“The Blood Weed,” Severus breathed, starting to run.

He flew down the stairs, bursting into his office and shouting Incendio at the empty hearth, throwing a handful of powder in as soon as the first tongue of flames appeared.

“Hogwarts, the headmaster’s office!” he yelled, his eyes frantically scanning labels on the first-aid potions he kept stocked in his office. “Albus! Get in here, now!”

Gathering a handful of vials, Severus spun on his heel, shouting his destination to the floating head of his employer that just appeared in the fireplace. He reached the boy mere moments later, and was prying his jaw open to administer the Blood-Replenishing Potion. He urgently massaged the child’s throat to stimulate the instinct to swallow, before repeating the process with a small Bezoar.

“What has happened?” Dumbledore’s worried voice sounded from the door.

“Blood poison,” Severus explained shortly, gathering the limp body in his arms and rising. “I’m taking him to St Mungo’s.”

“You cannot do that, Severus,” the old man shook his head categorically. “Harry Potter can’t be seen in our world, it wouldn’t be safe for either of you.”

“Are you deaf or senile, old man?!” the younger man yelled furiously, holding the unconscious boy up to be viewed more closely. “I don’t have time or supplies to treat him here, he’s already lost 1,5 litres of blood and, at this rate, will have a cardiac arrest soon. He needs hospital, immediately, so make it work, or he’ll be a dead Boy-Who-Lived! Is that clear enough for you?!”

Dumbledore stroked his beard thoughtfully, looking at the sickly child with a tender expression. Severus wanted to blast him into the next century for taking so long, when his son’s blood was dripping on the carpet, but only gritted his teeth in impatience. Finally, the headmaster looked up, his blue eyes twinkling merrily.

“You and Harry can’t be seen together at present,” he mused. “But a father with an ailing son certainly could.”

“What?!” Severus demanded suspiciously, narrowing his eyes at the other wizard. Wasn’t hiding their newly-discovered relationship the whole point of this blasted delay?

“Correct me, if I am wrong, but isn’t the Polyjuice virtually undetectable to both spell and potion?”

His eyes grew wide in comprehension, yes, that might be what they needed.

“I don’t have enough potion to last days of hospital stay,” he reported quickly.

“The potion, I can procure easily,” Dumbledore assured with a gentle smile. “A child’s hairs might be a bigger problem.”

Cursing, Severus deposited the boy back on the bed and cast a hurried Diagnostic, skimming past red reports of failing lung function and low saturation, until he spotted the line with his body weight and blood type. He flung himself past the headmaster, and out the door, shouting.

“Cast Respiro Vitae, and bring him down!”

Severus was out the door and past the gate in seconds, with his wand drawn, it wasn’t time for subtlety or clever subterfuge. He had mere minutes before the boy’s blood volume would be too low for the Blood-replenisher to be effective. The man strode hurriedly up his neighbour’s path, and pounded on the door with a fist. The moment the elderly Mrs. Wilkinson opened the door, her mouth opening to launch a tirade, he struck.

“Confundo!” he cast powerfully, causing the old crone to sway precariously. Growling, he caught her arm and lowered her into the nearest chair. “Where’s Eliot?”

“Upstairs,” she murmured, shaking her head in confusion.

The man dashed up to the upper floor, shouting urgently for the blasted boy to come out. He half-expected the cranky five-year-old to hide from him, just to be contrary, but as he stalked down the landing he caught sight of his cherubic face peering fearfully out of his room.

“Hello, Eliot,” he said softly, stopping in front of the child, he tried not to sound threatening, but the sparkling moisture in the lad’s eyes showed his failure.

Severus had managed to utterly terrify him the previous summer, when, with the use of a subtle compulsion charm, he’d convinced the boy’s doting grandmother to whip his sorry hide for his incessant tongue-sticking. Sighing, he sent a non-verbal confundus at the blond head, catching the boy before he toppled to the floor in a faint. Laying him on the bed, the man cast a hurried diagnostic to compare the children’s blood type and weight, they were close enough even though Eliot was two years Harry’s junior. He proceeded to swiftly cut Eliot’s blond locks, and stuff them in a glass container. Casting a limited hair-growing hex to cover his tracks, Severus left the room at a run.

He hadn’t stopped running until he was in his basement laboratory, completing a two dozen vials of Polyjuice with Eliot Parker’s hair. Packing everything into a bag he conjured, the man flew up the stairs and into the living room, a vial of potion held in a closed fist. His heart clenched, seeing neon blue sparks dancing over Harry’s nose and mouth, signifying the presence of pure oxygen. He didn’t waste time asking questions, jabbing his wand at the vial to send its contents straight into his son’s stomach.

Severus snatched the milk-coloured child from the headmaster even before the transformation started. He ran for the floo, grimacing as his face and the boy in his arms began to twitch and convulse simultaneously.

“Names!” Dumbledore shouted urgently, while throwing a pinch of powder into the fire.

“Him, Eliot Parker, me, Thomas Parker,” he stepped into the fireplace, shouting. “St Mungo’s hospital!”
To be continued...
Chapter 5 Hospital by Kyralian
The Reception Area

The young man of about twenty-five burst suddenly out of the floo system, making quite a ruckus in the reception area, and causing a tide of outraged grumbling from the other waiting patients as he fought his way to the front of the line.

“We need a healer!” he screamed in the desk witch’s face. “Urgently!”

Theresa McWhirr had worked at the main magical hospital in London for fifteen years, and at the front desk for the last five. She was quite used to dealing with difficult patients and panicking family members, they all seemed to think that their case was the most dire, and were only too eager to challenge her authority. She was about to send the blond man to the back of the line with scorched ears and a tail between his legs, when her bespectacled eyes dropped to the tiny boy he was clutching to his chest so desperately. The child was maybe four and he was as pale as death, his chest didn’t move. If it wasn’t for the active ventilation spell over his face, she would have taken him for dead already.

“What damage?” she questioned, lifting her wand to her empty coffee cup.

“Blood Weed poison,” he answered, and she could see that his hands holding the unconscious child were shaking.

“Portus!” she tapped the cup with the tip of her wand, and thrust it in his hand as soon as the flash of magic passed. The young man pressed the portkey against his son’s side, and she whispered the activation phrase for them. “Poisons, intensive care ward!”

Theresa watched the father and son disappear and sighed sadly, she had never seen the poisoning from the potent anticoagulant reported in so late. If the father couldn’t serve as a donor, the little one wouldn’t leave the hospital alive.

The Third Floor Poisoning Department

Healer Deacon Loyd collapsed on an empty cot in the blessedly quiet emergency room, he had been on duty for thirty-six hours straight and he was utterly exhausted. The recent outbreak of dragon-pox in Sussex was forcing them all to work triple shifts while their colleagues from the Contagion Department worked in the field, fighting to prevent the spread of the disease.

Today, especially, had been brutal, as it seemed that half of the wizarding population of Britain decided to mis-brew, mis-prepare or otherwise stumble upon some harmful substance, causing moderate to severe poisoning. The worst case by far had been Mariann Fleebeauty, whose unfortunate suitor had slipped a dose of fatally mis-brewed Amortentia to, but even she had been dispatched to the Detoxification ward with good prognosis.

He closed his eyes just for a short moment, and was jostled awake by a piercing alarm. The man nearly fell off the cot in alarm, and looked about for his newest emergency patient arriving by portkey. A young man appeared in the middle of the room, his expression frantic, he barely had time to catch his balance, when he darted toward the nearest cot, placing a small child on top of it.

Deacon’s training kicked in immediately, and he rushed forward, his wand extending in a diagnostic pattern even before his legs traversed the short distance. He summoned the neutralizing agent first, and saw the man sag with relief that they were not out of stock with the rarely used and pricey ingredient. The healer had to cancel the respiration spell that was keeping the child ventilated to stuff the black leaves of darthvaderiana plant into his mouth and cast a spell to force him to swallow the bitter remedy.

It only took a few seconds, but it was enough for the diagnostic readouts to worsen considerably. The healer re-cast the breathing spell, following it quickly with another to strengthen the heart which was fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings, trying to pomp the available blood through the circulation system. The boy needed blood, a lot of blood, and the blood-replenisher wouldn’t serve with his magic and body overtaxed as they were.

Deacon transferred his solemn gaze to the man standing next to the cot, and even before he opened his mouth to explain what was necessary, the other man was pulling up his sleeve and holding out his elbow. The healer breathed a sigh of relief, most wizards found this procedure, muggle in origin, particularly disturbing, and would vehemently insist that magic be used instead. He cut away the boy’s shirt, exposing his white chest. conjuring up a sparkling tube, and with a jab of his wand anchoring it to the child’s superior vena cava on one side and the man’s vein at the inside of his elbow.

Immediately, the man’s dark red blood filled the sparkling tube, pushing into the boy’s body. Deacon summoned a chair from the waiting area, and pushed it to the man, just in time to see him collapsing into it in sudden exhaustion. The healer began a diagnostic sheet for the donor as well, before handing him the first dose of the blood-replenishing potion.

“How long before you can try closing the wounds, healer?” the young man asked quietly after several minutes of silence.

Healer Loyd looked up from his study of his patient’s worsening health report, and lifted one of the child’s bleeding hands. The skin around the tiny cuts was dark red with inflammation, he performed a spell that broke up the child’s flowing blood into its components and shook his head sadly.

“Maybe an hour until the neutralizing agent combats the toxin in the blood,” he estimated heavily. “Another hour for the damaged blood cells to drain away completely, before that happens his oxygen carriers are useless, I cannot attempt to heal him until the contamination is gone lest the corrupted cells continue to infect healthy ones.”

The young man’s shoulders slumped, and he rested his forehead on his free palm in a clear sign of defeat. Deacon patted his arm encouragingly, not too keen on witnessing him falling apart while he was needed to keep the child’s heart beating.

“How has this happened?” he asked in morbid curiosity. “We get a lot of blood weed victims, of course, but those are caused by an overdose of blood-thinning solution. Your son, obviously, fell prey to the live plant.”

“Fell prey to it?” the boy’s father scoffed, suddenly quite animated with anger. “The little idiot fancies himself a gardener, he destroyed half of my plantation, ‘deweeding’ apparently.”

Healer Deacon blanched at hearing that, he examined the bleeding cuts on the boy’s hands again, trying not to picture the aggressive anticoagulant borrowing into the child’s soft skin, spreading toxin into his blood.

“With his bare hands? Merlin,” he breathed in disbelief, it was a miracle that the boy was hanging on. “You should have brought him straight in!”

The man grimaced and flushed, looking at the unconscious boy guiltily.

“I hadn’t noticed he was injured,” he said with disgust.

“How could you not have!” Deacon exclaimed in outrage, gesturing wildly at his small patient. “By your admission, sir, you grow the blasted plant! Don’t you know to approach it with extreme caution, with dragon-hide gloves and a face mask to avoid the backlash of the weed?! You thought the child was uninjured without it, don’t make me laugh!”

The healer gave the young father a disgusted look before stalking to his desk to find some parchment to write his report on. Such gross negligence was a matter for the aurory to take an interest in…

For the next two and a half hours, Severus Snape sat rigidly in a folding chair, bleeding out to give his unexpected son a glimmer of a chance to survive his colossal stupidity. The healer had been right, of course, he was a bloody Potions Master, and he should have immediately checked the boy for injuries caused by the ferocious blood weed. Instead, he’d flown into a fury over his destroyed plantation and whipped the insolent brat, he hadn’t spared a thought to the consequences of ‘deweeding’ of this particular plant. It was blindingly obvious that the blood weed wouldn’t take uprooting without a fight. He squeezed his eyes shut, some protector he’d been to the boy thus far.

His head was pounding, and he was certain that he’d throw up if he had to consume another dose of blood replenishing potion. The healer had already had him drink six vials of the rust-coloured brew, which meant that he roughly doubled the natural volume of blood in his body, and his magical core was groaning in exhaustion at managing it. Unfortunately, that tremendous effort was being wasted as it simply flowed through and drained out of the boy’s fingers.

After a skull-splitting third hour, and four more nausea-inducing vials of blood-replenisher, Severus was quite convinced that he wouldn’t be able to levitate a feather now, much less perform a complex conjuration necessary to transfer the polyjuice potion from one of the vials in his bag straight into his son’s stomach, and without arousing the healer’s suspicions. He’d already seen the other man run a few scans over the child’s head, and he only just managed to look appropriately horrified about as yet undiagnosed neurological symptoms that occurred approximately once per hour.

Healer Loyd triple-checked his patient’s improving blood tests before he healed the child’s cuts, and with a sigh disconnected the donation tube, freeing the suffering father from his unpleasant obligation.

“You’re done for a few hours,” he murmured softly, flicking his wand to evanesco as much of the blood soaked into the clothes and sheets as he could. “Eat and drink something, I’m moving him to Rena Trellis’s ward now.”

Severus watched the healer levitate the boy onto a stretcher, his eyes narrowing into angry slits.

“If you think I’ll leave him alone, you’re delusional, healer,” he spat, his teeth bared in a fearsome snarl.

Healer Loyd rolled his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation, it was a phenomenon as common as wizard flu that parents of young patients summarily transformed into furious mother hens whenever it was suggested they be separated from their children.

“Alright, Mr. Parker,” he agreed with a sigh. “We’ll settle the boy down and start him on anti-inflammatory potions, but after that you’ll go upstairs for a bite to eat. Eliot is stable right now, but he’ll need his father to be strong.”

They were much too busy at the hospital right now to be dealing with unreasonable parents falling ill from exhaustion, thankfully that line worked every time.
To be continued...
Chapter 6 Rena Trellis’s Ward by Kyralian
For the longest time, Harry was drifting in the perfect blackness, unable to think or feel anything, as if he was under a heavy sleeping spell. Gradually, he began to emerge from the blackness, and the awareness of his mind and body returned with a vengeance. His veins seemed to be filled with molten lava, and he would have screamed in agony if he could, or maybe he was yelling his head off without noticing it? After an eternity of excruciating suffering, cool liquid filled his belly and he drifted in blackness again as the pain eased.

The searing pain was back as the child floated closer to consciousness, he whimpered in his slumber, his body tensing up and tears running down his hot cheeks. His ears picked up anxious voices floating over his head, and he thought he recognized one of the voices, but he had never heard it speak so softly before. Strong arms rocked the boy gently, and he calmed a little despite the persistent throbbing in his body. After a while, something cool filled his stomach and he began to relax as the pain faded and he was able to sleep.

Harry woke with a start and a soft moan, everything was hurting! He blinked his eyes open, trying to recall what was wrong with him. It was dark, clearly still nighttime, he rolled to his back and squinted in an effort to pierce the gloom. It was a surprise when the soft darkness began to reveal the shapes in the room. It was large, with high ceiling and far-away walls swallowed up by darkness, it was nothing like his cu- his room at the Dursleys.

The boy gasped as the memories of the last two days came crashing back to him, he remembered the vampire man who claimed to be his father, he recalled helping out in the garden and the horrible punishment he received for it. The boy winced, pushing his hand under the covers to touch his battered behind warily, but it didn’t really hurt any more than the rest of him. What had happened to him?

The movement at the side of the bed caught his eye, and he cried out in alarm, bolting up in bed and scrambling away until his back hit the frame of the bed. Harry’s mind was picturing images of terrible monsters that lived under children’s beds, but with a soft word light spilled out and revealed this monster to be a man seated at the side of the bed.

“Easy, child,” the man said in father’s stern voice, he swished his glowing wand and they were surrounded by a softly buzzing transparent globe. “How are you feeling, Harry? Are you in pain?”

Harry could see the man’s face with the clarity he had never been able to before, it was thin and angular, with sharp features and angry lines around his eyes and on his forehead. The boy opened his mouth to respond, but the memory of the punishment was so strong that the only thing that emerged was a frightened mewl. The man let out a loud sigh, and leaned forward, getting as scary as monsters that invaded his dreams.

Harry was panicking, the fear of another punishment was making his heart thump so crazily that he couldn’t catch his breath, and he was gasping. Suddenly, hands lifted him by the armpits, and set him on the edge of the bed. A hand patted him on the back, and father sternly commanded him to breathe slowly. He tried to calm down, scared out of his wits of disobeying, but it was incredibly hard.

“That’s it, breathe, everything is fine,” father was saying insistently, and the boy stared deep into his piercing eyes set in a face framed by curtains of long hair. He frowned in confusion, there was something wrong about that face, the eyes were blue and the hair was blond with curls like a girl’s. They didn’t fit his father at all, even his shirt was red instead of black, and the incongruity of his appearance was making his panic recede. This man looked different than the vampire man who had beaten him so cruelly, but there were enough similarities that he had no doubt that this was the same person.

“You look like a girl,” the boy blurted out, unable to quench his curiosity despite his fear of the man’s quick temper.

“Indeed?” father said dryly, a corner of his mouth twitched upwards in his almost smile. “A rather ugly one, I’d wager.”

Harry giggled, because it was so true! Father was nowhere close to a pretty girl.

“You may laugh, kid,” father snorted mockingly. “After all, you do make a pretty girl.”

“No!” the boy gasped in horror, he looked at himself to check that he still was a boy, but the white pyjamas he was wearing was pretty much unisex.

“Would you like to see, child?”

Harry gave a solemn nod, not entirely sure that he wanted to confirm that he inexplicably changed into a girl while sleeping. The man scooped the boy up, ignoring his yelp of surprise, and strolled briskly out of the dark room. The hallway outside was long and brightly lit, Harry looked around curiously, trying to determine what this place was.

They went into the nearby bathroom, and he immediately turned crimson upon realising that he desperately needed to use the loo. Harry thought he’d drop dead of mortification when he was so unsteady on his feet that the man had to help him pull down his pants and sit on the toilet. His face burned hotter than the sun throughout the embarrassing ordeal, but father didn’t comment on his weakness, and he somehow survived the two minutes it took to do his business. When he was washing his hands, the boy could at last take a look at his reflection, his shoulders sagging with relief.

“I’m not a girl at all!” he breathed, feeling much better.

“Perhaps not,” father agreed grudgingly. “You are pretty as a girl, however.”

Harry huffed indignantly, but he couldn’t truthfully refute that assertion. The boy in the mirror was awfully pretty, with round angelic face, blue eyes and a mass of blond locks on his head. He looked smaller than Harry, as well, which made him even more miniscule than usual.

“What’s wrong with me?” he asked on a whine.

Father snickered in amusement, and patted the boy on the shoulder.

“Nothing fatal. We are just incognito here, do you know what that means, Harry?”

The boy thought about it as father carried him back to his bed, he wanted to insist that he could walk on his own, but the little excursion was making him exhausted already. He yawned, before giving a small nod, his forehead creasing in confusion.

“It means we pretend to be someone else, father,” he whispered cautiously, coughing to clear his dry throat.

“Very good,” the man nodded in approval, handing the boy a glass that he filled with water from his wand. “Your name is Eliot Parker, and I am your father, Thomas. Will you remember that, child?”

Harry drank thirstily, only now realising how parched his throat was, as if he hadn’t had anything to drink in a week. He wondered why father wanted him to pretend to be this Eliot, didn’t he want Harry for a son anymore? The thought made him unexpectedly sad, the boy had always wondered what it would be like to have his own parents, and although the time with his father hadn’t been much fun, his sudden rejection was incredibly painful.

Rough fingers brushed across the boy’s cheeks, catching a few tears as the man removed the empty glass from the child’s limp hand.

“Are you hurting again, Eliot?” he asked softly, and Harry nodded miserably, remembering uncle Vernon’s often repeated opinion that the boy was a burden and a good-for-nothing.

He really shouldn’t be shocked that father didn’t want him after he’d misbehaved so atrociously, he had heard often enough from his relatives that ungrateful brats were sent to the orphanage. The boy started to sniffle at the terrible realisation that he was clearly in the dreaded institution for unwanted children, and in a moment father would go away, leaving Harry completely alone.

With a dramatic sigh, the man stood up from his chair and crouched in front of the sobbing child, his expression dire.

“Bunch over, Eliot,” he commanded darkly, but when the boy only gaped at him in bewilderment, he put one hand behind Harry’s back and the other under his knees, lifting him and placing him on the far side of the bed. He tucked the boy in under the covers, before lowering himself on the bed next to the child, his booted feet sticking out in the air. “You can’t have any more potion for pain right now,” father said softly, pulling him closer against his side. “But you can have a story, would you like that, Eliot?”

No, he wouldn’t, Harry thought bitterly, biting his lip to keep from saying it out loud. He wanted father to tell him, Harry, a story, not some Eliot who looked like a little angel. When he didn’t answer, the man squeezed him a little tighter, and started telling a story in a quiet, mesmerizing voice. He flicked his wand, and the light disappeared, leaving the boy in darkness, with a quiet story painting pictures in his head...

“Once upon a time, there lived four great friends, they were witches and wizards of incredible skill and power. They wanted to found a school of magic together, to pass on their knowledge to the next generations of witches and wizards…”

A murmur of quiet conversation roused Harry from sleep, he could hear his father speaking softly with another man. He lay very still, curiously listening to what was being said.

“-ow long are they going to keep you here?” the stranger asked in a gravelly voice, that made the boy think he was an older man.

“Normally, I’d say two more days for the last traces of my magic to be absorbed by his core,” father responded with a heavy sigh. “But the healer insists on diagnosing the muscle spasms he’s seen the boy experience, it may take a while before he runs out of all the tests he wants to perform.”

“Has he found anything?”

His father scoffed derisively.

“No, wasn’t that the whole point?” Harry was getting frustrated with the adults’ conversation, they were purposely speaking in code, and the only thing he was able to figure out was that they were in hospital, and not the orphanage. “It would be rather suspicious if I showed no concern that my son goes into convulsions with regularity, so I’ve been giving consent to everything the man comes up with.”

“And what of the boy? Will the procedure have long-lasting repercussions?”

He tensed, listening hard if he would be healthy again. Would he be so weak and achy forever now?

“There shouldn’t be, but-,” father stopped speaking abruptly, drawing in a sharp breath. “It’s rude to eavesdrop, Eliot!”

Harry jumped, his eyes flying wide open at the scolding, he cringed at the impressive glare directed his way.

“I wasn’t!” he protested quickly, pushing himself back in bed to increase the distance from the man. “I swear I wasn’t!”

Father’s face twisted with sudden anger, and the boy’s heart broke into a gallop as the man leaned over the bed imposingly.

“Do not lie to me, boy,” he spat threateningly.

“I’m not!” Harry cried, tears of terror springing into his eyes. “I’m not l-lying, father!”

“Severus, perhaps you shouldn’t-,” the older man tried to interrupt, but father raised a hand to cut him off, shooting a glare in that direction.

“Stay out of it, Albus,” he barked. “And keep in character!”

Harry was all but melded into the bed frame in terror, as the man turned back to him, his long fingers tilted the boy’s chin up, forcing him to meet the fierce blue gaze.

“Both of us know that you were listening, Eliot,” father said severely, making Harry flinch at every word. “You have one minute to tell the truth, or you will do it with a very sore bottom. Is that understood, child?”

The pulse thudded in his ears, as the seconds ticked by and the man’s angry face seemed to become even darker. The boy opened his mouth and choked out a fearful confession, he wasn’t sure how much of it was coherent as he was crying so hard.

“Alright,” father said when he got it all out, he sounded unexpectedly calm. “Spying on people is very disrespectful, and it will not happen again. Do you know what you should have done to find this all out without getting into trouble, Eliot?”

Harry shook his head, wiping his tears away with his sleeves.

“You should have asked me,” father said with all sincerity, as if he didn’t know that asking questions was the fastest way to get a punishment. “Will you do it next time, Eliot?”

Harry froze, feeling trapped and cheated, asking questions was forbidden! Father was setting him up for a punishment! The boy was suddenly lifted up into the air, and he whimpered in fear that he would be surely beaten with the belt again. Instead of putting the boy over his lap for a punishment, however, father hitched Harry onto his hip like a toddler.

“Say hello to your grandfather Al, before we go to the bathroom,” father directed dryly, smirking at the older man.

Surprised, Harry looked at the other man for the first time, he was quite old, with white hair and beard, and he had kind blue eyes twinkling behind crescent-shaped glasses. He didn’t look anything like father, and he was wearing a purple nightgown, of all things!

“Hello,” the boy whispered shyly.

“Hello, dear child,” grandfather smiled, giving him a wink. “I’m glad you’re awake, Eliot, as your daddy has been in a dour mood all the time you were sleeping.”

“Did grandfather forget to dress, father?” Harry asked quietly when they were walking to the bathroom, making father choke and advise to inquire himself later.

The bathroom was even more mortifying than last time because father insisted that after five days of sleeping [he couldn’t have slept that long, surely?], he required a proper bath. He wouldn’t have minded, except that he barely could stand without falling on his face, and the prospect of father hovering over him while he bathed was horrifying. No matter how hard he protested or pleaded that it wasn’t necessary, father was unyielding and he ended up getting a heavily assisted bath along with a stinging backside. It was wretched and embarrassing, and completely unfair!

“What happened, then?” grandfather asked back in his hospital room, tracing tear tracks on the boy’s cheek with a gnarled fingertip.

Harry shrugged dispiritedly, not at all keen on discussing the horrid experience with his grandfather. He was lying slumped on the bed, completely drained even though he had just recently woken up. He grudgingly admitted to himself that he would have drowned rather than managed bathing on his own, but father didn’t need to hit him so hard!

The boy looked away to avoid the old man’s concerned gaze, he watched the little girl on the furthest bed being fed by her fussy mother. It was amazing how well his eyes worked today, normally at that distance, he’d only be able to see a colourful blur, but right now he had no trouble at all. The girl was maybe three-years-old, and her whole face was covered with long hair like on a spaniel, and she was growling every time her mother took too long putting a spoon in her mouth.

“What happened to her?” he asked in horrified fascination.

“Oh?” grandfather mused, looking across the room and nodding genially to the hassled mother. “It looks like a partial Animagus transformation, a powerful little witch you have there, madam.”

Harry goggled as the woman grinned proudly, patting her daughter on the face and thanking grandfather for the compliment. Wasn’t she worried at all that her child would stay half-dog forever?

“Will she be alright?” he whispered in concern.

“Oh, yes,” grandfather assured him happily. “And I’d wager that by the time she goes to Hogwarts, she will have perfected her transformation into a pretty spaniel.”

The woman slumped a little at the words, as if she was already exhausted by that future perfecting, but the boy was too busy trying to remember what father had told him about Hogwarts yesterday to worry about the girl anymore.

“Still sulking, I see,” father scolded sharply a few minutes later, when he returned with a tray of breakfast for the boy.

“Just tired,” Harry sighed morosely, suddenly recalling how wretched he was feeling.

“Well, well,” father sneered, sitting in the chair next to the bed and giving the boy a shrewd look. “If you are too exhausted to eat, Eliot, then I predict a lengthy recovery, with many assisted baths, and perhaps a bedpan as well.”

The boy’s eyes popped wide open in horror, and he was sitting upright even before he was aware of the fact that he had moved.

“I can eat!” he exclaimed.

“Fantastic,” the man smirked as he placed a tray with a plate heaped high with pancakes across Harry’s lap.

The boy ate ravenously, his stomach abruptly realising that it had been fasting for five whole days, and by the time he finished, Harry practically collapsed in complete exhaustion. The doctor coming to see him woke the boy a while later.

“Good to see you awake, Eliot,” the doc- healer Loyd greeted him warmly. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Harry said sleepily, before his jaw cracked in a huge yawn. “That’s annoying.”

“I bet it is,” the healer commiserated with a smile, he started waving his wand over the boy’s body, his face screwing up in concentration. “Does anything hurt at all?”

Harry shot a furtive glance at father, who was standing nearby with his arms folded, observing silently.

“The healer doesn’t mean your bottom, Eliot,” the man drawled, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. “Does anything else hurt?”

“Mr. Parker, you shouldn’t have!” healer Loyd exclaimed in dismay, turning to glare at father.

“And why not?” father asked icily. “It is my prerogative as his father, I believe the aurors have already confirmed this to you, healer.”

“But he is ill! Surely-,”

“I should abdicate my parental responsibilities until he’s discharged, then?”

Harry ducked his head, pressing his hands against his ears in an attempt to not hear the adults’ argument. His cheeks were burning in humiliation at being discussed like that, and his heart was pounding in his chest as his mind dredged up the worst moments of uncle Vernon’s yelling, his fat face turning purple in fury and spitle flying in all directions.

He must have lost a span of time because the next thing he knew was that father was sitting beside him, tilting his chin up to look him in the eyes.

“Why are you crying, child?” he asked very softly.

The boy sniffled, only now realising that he was doing it.

“Please, don’t yell at me, father,” he pleaded in a shaky whisper.

“I wasn’t yelling at you, Eliot, don’t worry,” father responded patiently, before throwing a murderous glare at the hovering healer. “Are you hurting anywhere?”

The boy shook his head, he felt fine, even his bum didn’t sting in the slightest.

“‘M just tired,” he mumbled, suddenly too weary to hold his head up anymore.

Father raised his eyebrows at the other man in question.

“Let him rest,” the healer said decisively. “We’ll start Rejuvenation Drafts with lunch…”

The boy didn’t catch more of the adults’ conversation as his eyes closed at that point, and he drifted off. He would bitterly regret his ill-timed nap later because, as it turned out, that had been the time to run [or at least hide]!
To be continued...
End Notes:
With this we’ve reached the end of advance chapters, I’m currently working on chapter 7 so updates will get slower.
A few reviews inspired me to write this historical note: It is summer of 1987 in the story, and children are largely excluded from Human Rights laws that protect adults from assault. It has only been a year [1986] since corporal punishment in public schools was banned in the UK, and parental battery is still widely accepted and legal under ‘reasonable’ and ‘moderate’ correction defence. In fact, it won’t be until 2004 that it will be specified what is not ‘moderate’ in this regard [actual body harm], and even today, in England and Northern Ireland, smacking of children by parents/guardians which leaves ‘temporary reddening of the skin’ remains legal [although no longer so accepted]. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect Snape to make a mental leap of two decades and realise that he is causing harm [and I bet he’d be in anti-ban party anyway, don’t you?]
Chapter 7 Home, Sweet Home by Kyralian
“I don’t want it!” the boy wailed, throwing his arms over his face and shaking his head in emphatic refusal.

Harry had never been in hospital before, and he was finding the experience increasingly frustrating. Mostly, it was extremely boring, as he needed to lie on the bed, resting all day long, and afterwards it was evening, and he had to go to sleep! The first day wasn’t so bad as he kept dozing off anyway, but as his energy gradually began to return, the forced bed rest started to gnaw away at his patience.

Father was getting annoyed as well, every time the healer came over, his face would darken with a fearsome scowl, and he would fold his arms tightly across his chest, grinding short responses out through clenched teeth when necessary. They didn’t argue in front of the boy after that first time, but the tension between the two adults was so palpable, that it left him shaking with nerves. Harry instinctively knew that father would eventually snap, and take his anger out on him.

Among the myriad of small and large frustrations, the worst were the medications that the healer prescribed for him. Every four hours, a chatty medi-witch would bring a tray of four tiny vials that contained the most foul-smelling, vomit-inducing substances in existence, and he was supposed to drink them all with a smile on his face and a thank you!

Then, there was the pain that bloomed out of nowhere, making him shake and whimper as his entire body seemed to burn from the inside out. It came on mostly late in the afternoons, and father would rock him in his lap, telling the boy stories in a soft, calming voice as they waited for the healer to approve another dose of pain potion. Harry both dreaded and looked forward to these awful attacks, only when it was hurting like that, father treated him so gently and he could almost believe that he was wanted and loved.

Invariably, the throthing green potion which tasted like ice would arrive, and father would send it straight into his stomach with a spell. The boy sometimes pretended that it still hurt, just to be held for a little longer, but his body got so mellow and relaxed that the man didn’t believe his act.

“Go to sleep, Eliot,” father said sternly, tucking the covers around the child securely.

Harry sighed regretfully, he closed his eyes obediently, and listened as the man walked out of the room. This was always the same pattern, and he knew that father went to argue with the healer, and in the morning they would be even colder towards each other.

The spaniel girl was discharged after two days, good as new except that now she could do her half-transformation at will rather than accidentally. A teenage boy took her place, he was awfully dodgy, refusing to say how half of his face melted off, even when the policeman came asking questions. The boy’s father was a rotund man with narrow eyes, he reminded Harry of uncle Vernon so much that he cringed every time the man shouted at his son. Fortunately, he only stayed for a few minutes at a time, not all the time like his father did. The burned boy only stayed overnight, and went home with an ugly scar across his nose and cheek, but nobody was saying when he could go home, and he was getting frustrated by that fact!

On the fourth day, Harry was sitting against the bed frame, amusing himself by drawing figures on a piece of yellow parchment. Last time he visited, grandfather had brought him coloured pencils that were charmed so that whenever he finished drawing, the boy’s picture would become animated. Harry had already drawn the vampire man, and the moment he lifted his pencil the figure folded its hands and scowled at him, in a similar manner to the actual man. The boy really worried that he’d get in trouble for that, but father merely snorted at his likeness, and shook his head.

He was drawing grandfather, thinking how nice it was to have gotten a present, when before he’d only ever gotten anything for Christmas, and never toys but necessities like clothes or school supplies. Dudley always had piles of gifts for his birthday, but Harry’s were overlooked by everyone. Wasn’t his birthday coming soon? He started counting in his head, the Dursleys left on holiday on the 25th, so his birthday should be to-, he gasped aloud! If he had been sleeping for five straight days, then he had turned seven years old before he even woke up!

The boy’s chin wobbled in distress, every year he marked his birthday by gifting himself with a pretty rock or an unusual leaf, he couldn’t believe that he missed the special day this year! Harry was so upset by having slept through his birthday that he was cranky and irritable for the rest of the day, making his father even more snappish than usual.

“I don’t want it!” the boy wailed, throwing his arms over his face and shaking his head in emphatic refusal. He didn’t want any more stupid, disgusting concoctions, he wanted to go home! Aunt Petunia would never make him drink stupid medicine, and he didn’t need it anyways! He was perfectly fine!

“That’s enough, Eliot!” father shouted for the fifth time, grasping the boy’s wrists and pulling them away from his face. “You’ve been impossible today!”

The man held the child around the middle with one hand, and delivered a hard smack to his seat with the other.

“You’ll drink the damn potions, or so help me, boy!” he ordered harshly, a vial was pressed to his lips, and Harry almost gagged at the foul stench.

He struggled, angry tears filling his eyes, he managed to free one hand and knock the little container away from himself. It shattered on the floor, sending black sludge spraying everywhere.

“NO!” the boy raged, not caring that he was making a horrible scene, he wouldn’t drink any more nasty potions. Ever! “I won’t! You can’t make me!”

Suddenly, father took a step back from him, and Harry blinked his eyes clear, astonished that he wasn’t being punished yet. The man was pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, and his jaw was clenched so hard that the boy was sure his teeth would break.

“Father?” the boy asked in a whisper, scared that he had pushed the man too far.

The man inhaled deeply, as if he was trying to restrain his failing temper, he picked up a second vial, the yellow one for inflammation, removed the cork and wordlessly held it out to the child.

Harry swallowed, meeting the cold gaze of the man with apprehension, he had just sworn never to do it again, but as he stared into icy blue eyes of his father, any more defiance was impossible. The boy’s hand shook as he brought the vial to his lips, this potion was oily, it smelled like petrol and was so bitter that his tongue went numb as he choked it down. He set the vial down with a grimace, usually, at this point father would give him some water to clear the taste from his mouth, but today he only held out the next vial for him to take. The boy whimpered as he opened his mouth for the blood-red potion that made his body produce more blood, it made his stomach roil with nausea and he had to fight not to throw up. The last one was the throthing green potion for pain, and the boy shuddered as the icy liquid travelled into his stomach.

“Wait here,” father said coldly. “I need to fetch another dose of Cleansing Solution for you, and then we will discuss your behaviour, child.”

Harry stood rigidly next to his bed, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe, he could see in father’s expression that he was in huge trouble. The man’s words had been so frigid that they made him shiver, and his eyes filled as he realised just how horrendously rude he had been.

“Here,” father’s reappearance made him flinch, and his hand trembled so badly when he clasped the last vial that the man had to help guide it to his lips lest it be spilled.

The black potion tasted like rotten leaves, and he hunched over, needing to vomit, but father made him sit down and take a drink of water.

“That’s terrible!” he sobbed when the awful bout of nausea passed, and he could breathe.

“I know,” father said softly, sitting on the bed next to the child and putting an arm around his shoulders. “So why are you so upset this evening?”

Harry sniffled, he was surprised that father cared to ask when he was so obviously angry at him. He was feeling miserable and unhappy, he didn’t want to talk about his birthday with the man, though. It was a private matter, and nobody would care anyways, but there was something else he thought he could confide in his father to explain himself.

“I just want to go home,” he cried pitifully.

“I understand,” father sighed, slumping his shoulders a little. “I do as well, but we must stay until the pain stops coming back. It shouldn’t be much longer.”

The boy hung his head, his vivid imagination painting scenes of growing old in hospital, choking on nasty concoctions four times a day for the rest of his life.

“It does not excuse your reckless behaviour, however,” father stood to clean up the mess on the floor with a wave of his wand, and with another weary sigh started unbuckling the belt from his trousers.

Harry’s eyes grew round with horror, and he shook his head.

“No. Please, don’t,” he pleaded, tears running down his cheeks in rivulets as he realised what was about to happen. “‘M sorry, father, don’t do this...”

“I don’t have a choice, Harry,” father said in an exhausted voice as he sat back down, and the boy knew that a silencing screen must have been erected for his real name to be used. “I am your father, and it is my job to keep you safe. Refusing medical treatment is dangerous and unacceptable, and it must never happen again, child.”

“But I won’t do it again!” the boy cried desperately, beginning to tremble all over.

“I believe you, Harry,” the man murmured softly, his grim face set with determination as he wrapped the leather strap around his fist. “Your consequence for today, however, will not be changed. Come.”

Harry couldn’t move, he must have lost all feeling in his legs or something, he just perched on the edge of the bed and cried quietly, his eyes glued to that dreaded leather belt.

“I don’ wanna be whipped!” he wailed miserably, curling into a protective ball.

Father sighed impatiently, standing and crouching in front of the frightened child.

“I know you don’t, Harry,” he said solemnly. “And I don’t really want to do it, either, but I cannot allow you to think this isn’t a very serious matter.”

Harry wanted to protest that he wouldn’t think any such thing, but he couldn’t stop crying long enough to say anything coherent, as father lifted and laid him across his lap. The boy almost threw up in sheer terror as he was positioned, face-down with his posterior sticking up for punishment. He wrapped both hands tightly around father’s leg and buried his face in his trousers, trying not to think about his first horrible experience with the belt.

“Refusing medicine is utter idiocy, Harry,” father told him severely, as he slid the boy’s pyjama bottoms down to his knees. “No son of mine will be a fool, you’re seven now, so you’re getting seven licks of the belt, and applied with feeling,” he growled, and without further ado, father swung the strap down across the child’s exposed buttocks with a loud crack of leather, eliciting a howl of pain from the boy.

Harry thought he knew what to expect, but he must have forgotten how bad it had been, as it hurt much more than he remembered. The boy cried and cried, promising that he would never refuse any potions ever again! It hurt! It hurt so much that he felt sure that his backside was cut open with each lick, and he doubted he would ever be able to sit again. Father paused after each time, letting the searing pain reach its peak, before hitting him again, and the boy thought he’d prefer it to go faster! It seemed to last forever, but probably only took a few minutes before father put away the belt and gently replaced Harry’s pyjamas. His backside was burning, from his tail bone to his thighs, he seemed to be on fire!

The man rubbed the child’s back until he sobbed himself into a semblance of control, before pulling him up to talk.

“This will happen every time you put yourself in danger, Harry,” father told him sternly, his face was completely devoid of anger, but it was utterly serious. “Without exceptions, I won’t allow you to be harmed again. Is that understood, child?”

Harry was shaking, he was completely exhausted from the ordeal, and the prospect of it happening ever again was unbearable. He’d rather be spanked three times, and he must have lost his mind to even think that way!

“But it hurts so much,” the boy whispered, ducking his head to hide how frightened he really was.

“Yes, a whipping is a very painful punishment, so take care not to earn it too often, child,” father commented dryly, handing the boy a handkerchief to wipe the snot from his face. “Time for bed, I think.”

Father released him from the trap of his legs, and the boy climbed in bed, taking great care not to bump his burning rear into the mattress. Harry collapsed on his stomach, turning his head away from the man so he couldn’t see he was crying again. He winced, as the covers settled over him, but he managed not to make a noise. It wasn’t fair, whatever father wanted to believe, and alongside his battered posterior, anger at the man burned in his chest, making it very hard to fall asleep for the longest time.

To his great disappointment, Harry’s bum burned with only a little less intensity when he woke up in the morning, and sitting down was quite unbearable. His eyes actually filled with tears, when he had to sit on the bed for the healer to examine him. Healer Loyd started to shout at father for punishing Harry so harshly, and he was made to lie down, with his pants pushed down so the man could oggle the distinctive dark red stripes the belt had left on his backside.

The boy cried into his pillow, completely mortified to be exposed like that. Never in his entire life had he been as embarrassed as he was now, lying with his sore fanny bared to the air. It was a worse punishment than the whipping had been, and he wished the healer would just leave him be. Blind to his distress, the adults continued sniping at each other, and he learned that the healer had complained about his father to the police, and he had received a fine for the Blood Weed incident, but only for not securing the plants well enough, as apparently it was not anyone else’s business how father wanted to discipline him.

That last part was the most upsetting to Harry, and he barely paid attention to the rest of their shouted argument, he wasn’t in the least surprised that father withheld his consent to the offer of bruise balm for his bum.

“Eliot needs to learn his lesson,” he said in a voice like ice.

It was little wonder that for the next two days the boy drank all his nasty medicine without a word of complaint, hardly daring to grimace lest it be enough to earn him a remedial lesson. He thought a mouse must feel the way he was doing now, too afraid to make a noise in case the cat noticed and pounced on him.

The pain inside didn’t return, and on the third day father announced that they were going home. Three days ago, he would have jumped for joy that he’d finally be freed from the stupid hospital bed, but now he was extremely uneasy at the prospect of returning to that gloomy house with his father, and he fervently wished the Dursleys would hurry up coming back from their holiday.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Who said that life is fair?
Chapter 8 Swingers by Kyralian
Harry dressed, grimacing in distaste at how his clothes hung on this little boy’s body. Before he had started school, the boy had been made to wear hand-me-downs from his much larger cousin, they were always much too wide in the shoulders and waist, making him look like a war refugee. Aunt Petunia’s lips had often pinched in disgust at the sight of him, and she eventually decided that he needed his own clothes to wear at school so that he wouldn’t bring shame on the family.

“Stop dawdling, boy!” the sharp scolding, and a flare up of pain across his sore posterior brought the boy out of his reminiscence, and he quickly put on the long-sleeved shirt he had been staring at for the last minute or so.

As soon as he was ready, father grabbed his wrist and pulled Harry into the hallway, where a lot of people were bustling about today. He had to jog to keep up with the man’s long strides, his free hand trailing back to rub at his bum. They almost flew across the ward, out the huge door and down several flights of stairs, and the boy was gasping for air by the time they reached the last landing. It was a miracle that Harry didn’t tumble to his death, father’s iron grip on his wrist was probably the only reason for that, but his shoulder ached so much from being practically hoisted by one hand that his vision blurred with tears.

The boy skidded to a halt in a large hallway at the bottom of the stairs, trying to catch his breath, but father only gave him a moment to rest before tugging on his hand again. They had to walk slower through the crowded hallway, people were clamouring about, arguing loudly about their place in a line before a desk at the end of a large room. Harry gaped open-mouthed at the wide assortment of bizarre injuries they sported, one African man, dressed in an oriental nightgown, had two hands sprouting out of the back of his bald scalp, and three elderly women were dancing tango with each other, and seemed quite unable to stop.

Before he could take a closer look at the rest, they broke through the mass, and father’s hand tightened around his, pulling the boy into a trot again. They burst through the door and into a quiet street at a run, and Harry had an insane thought that they were escaping from hospital, and that healer Loyd would strap him to the bed for good if he ever caught them.

They dashed down one street and up another, and he was panting with exhaustion, hoping that they could stop soon. That was when the shoelace of his trainer got untied and he stumbled, sprawling across the hard pavement with a cry of pain.

“Are you injured?” father demanded, crouching over him like some ominous shadow, and the boy sobbed, so scared that he would be punished for falling. “Fuck…”

Father lifted Harry up, pressing him hard against his shoulder, and the next moment everything disappeared, and he couldn’t breathe! He struggled, trying to throw off the tight embrace, but then the world righted itself and he was throwing up on the grass.

He heaved and heaved, probably spewing out every meal he had ever eaten, and father knelt beside him, holding him around the middle. Eventually, the terrible nausea passed and the boy sagged in exhaustion, crying in utter misery.

The man waved his wand to vanish the mess, and picked the child up, rubbing his back comfortingly as he walked toward the nearby bench. He sat the boy down, before conjuring a glass container and filling it with water from his wand.

“Here,” father murmured, pressing the glass to his lips, and Harry drank obediently, rinsing the taste of bile and stomach acid from his mouth. “You didn’t enjoy Apparition, I take it?”

The boy looked around himself, only now realising that they were no longer in the street he’d fallen on, but in a small park with swings and a sandbox. He shuddered, no, he didn’t like how they got here at all.

“Where are you injured, Harry?”

The boy ducked his head, shrugging his shoulders as if it was nothing to bother about.

“Hiding injuries from me is a sure way to earn a taste of my belt, boy,” the man warned sternly. “Out with it.”

Harry shot him a worried glance before capitulating.

“Just my knees,” he admitted reluctantly.

“Alright,” father said, pulling his ever present shoulder bag open. “Sit back and I’ll look at them.”

Harry did as he was told, biting his lip and trying to hold himself very still on the hard wooden bench, even as his body wanted to squirm and shift to find a more comfortable position. Father pulled up the legs of his trousers, and he stared at his bloody knees queasily. It stung an awful lot as the man cleaned his scrapes, but then he put some yellow liquid on the wounds and new skin started growing over them, and in a few minutes his knees were as good as new.

“Thank you,” he whispered, grateful for the healing, but even so on the verge of tears, as it was becoming quite unbearable to remain seated on the wretched bench any longer. His chin quivered in distress, but father was looking at him and he didn’t dare stand without permission.

“What’s wrong, now?” the man barked impatiently, narrowing his eyes to examine the child’s downtrodden expression. “Oh, very well,” he huffed irritably. “Come here.”

Father pulled him to stand, sitting himself on the bench, and drew the boy over his lap into an increasingly familiar position. Harry started to cry as soon as he felt his trousers moving down, he didn’t understand why he was being punished just now. He hadn’t done anything wrong, other than falling and hurting himself. He suddenly remembered the man saying he didn’t want to see the boy injured, and he whimpered in absolute terror. Was it bad enough to be belted again?

Instead of hitting him, as the child expected would happen, father’s hand touched his sore backside very gently, spreading something cool and soothing all over it. Harry sobbed in relief, as the lingering throbbing of the last few days melted away like magic.

“Better now?” father asked, righting the boy on his feet, and Harry nodded jerkily, wiping at his eyes with a hand. “But don’t expect it to happen again; you earn the belt, you bear the consequences. Understood, child?”

“Yes, sir,” he answered meekly.

“Do you have any more complaints?”

Harry looked up in apprehension, trying to discern the man’s mood, he didn’t seem angry per se, but a frown on his forehead was so deep that it only barely differed from a scowl. He averted his eyes and shook his head, deciding that it would be safer not to say anything at all.

“Very well, Harry,” father murmured, checking his pocket watch and sighing. “You have thirty minutes to kill, so go play on the swings or something.”

“The swings?” the boy asked with uncertainty.

“Yes! The bloody swings or whatever it is brats your age do in parks,” the man snapped angrily, he was rubbing his forehead as if it pained him. “Go and don’t come back until your disguise is gone!”

Harry’s legs began moving almost of their own volition, so eager was he to get out of striking distance of the angry man. He slumped on the seat of the furthest swing, and folded his arms across his chest protectively. Being with his father was absolutely nerve-wracking, one moment he was sort of nice, even healing the boy’s scrapes and aches [at least the ones Harry told him about, he wasn’t so stupid as to mention his wrist and shoulder], and the next he got mad over something insignificant. He wished he knew how to keep the man on an even kilter.

The Dursleys had never told the boy to go play anywhere, let alone to a park, he was always doing chores or grounded in his room. The one time aunt Petunia had let Harry tug along to a park, he was made to sit on a bench beside her, while his cousin played on the swings with his mates. The boy had never been allowed near the playground equipment before, even at school Dudley made him stay away. It felt really bizarre to be practically forced on the swings now, and a little part of him worried that he would be punished for being here.

A bigger part of Harry was secretly thrilled to be finally allowed to partake in something his classmates had enjoyed for years. It had been very hard to watch other children laughing and squealing with joy as they swung incredibly high, like flying. He thought he wouldn’t mind a punishment, if only he could soar as high as they at least once. Harry gripped the chain on the sides of the seat that was attached to the horizontal bar overhead, and tried to make the swing do the acrobatics it did for other kids. Tears of frustration soon ran down the sides of his face, as he was barely able to make the swing move at all and he was panting from the effort. He should have known he was too stupid to play on the swings!

Harry slumped in misery, giving up any further attempts, and thinking how useless he was, when the oddest shivery feeling passed through his body. He tensed, afraid that it was going to hurt, like it had at hospital, but in a moment it was gone. The boy blinked, grimacing because the perfect vision he had been enjoying for the past week was replaced by the blurriness of his own eyes. Well, at least he could go back now, and leave the disappointing experience of the swings behind him.

As he walked to the bench, he began to feel very anxious. Once, when he had been maybe four, the Dursleys had gone to the mall to shop for their winter holidays, leaving Harry to wait on a bench outside. He remembered huddling in his overlarge jumper and shivering with cold for hours, until an elderly lady asked where his parents were. He somehow had communicated the Dursleys’ address, and she gave him a lift in her car. Aunt Petunia had boxed his ears and grounded him in his room for a week for wandering off, even though he swore he hadn’t moved at all.

The boy made the last meters at a run, his heart was pounding with dread seeing the seemingly empty bench. He skidded to a halt next to the bench and stared, father hadn’t disappeared as he’d feared, he had just fallen asleep on a bench like some drankard vagabond. Breathing out, Harry reached out a hand to poke the man awake, uncle Vernon would certainly have much to say about such improper behaviour. He paused, peering at father’s face in concern, he was grimacing as if in pain or maybe in the throes of a nightmare and his face looked really peaky. The man’s face was very pale and there were dark bruisers under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in a long time, and with his newly-restored black hair, he resembled a vampire more than ever before.

“Father?” he asked in a worried voice, putting his hand to the man’s forehead to check for fever. “Are you ill, father?”

As soon as he was touched, the man’s black eyes snapped open and narrowed on the child, as if he wasn’t quite sure who he was looking at. After several tense seconds, father’s eyes cleared and he relaxed, catching the boy’s hand and squeezing his fingers gently.

“No, Harry,” he sighed tiredly, rubbing his face with a hand. “I’m not ill, I just need to go to bed early today.”

“Are you sure, father?” the boy persisted, frowning at the man in concern. “You don’t look so good.”

“Very sure, child,” father confirmed as he picked himself from the bench. “Have you enjoyed your time on the swing, then?”

Harry hung his head in shame, wishing the man would forget about the stupid swings.

“What is that expression for, boy?” father demanded, folding his arms and glaring.

“I don’t know how…” Harry whispered, feeling his eyes burn with tears of humiliation.

“For the love of…!” the man exclaimed in annoyance, grabbing the boy by the arm and steering him back toward the swings. “Come, we can spare ten more minutes.”

Harry was pushed to the swing, and he sat down with his head bowed and his shoulders slumped in misery, he didn’t want father to see him be a failure.

“I need to see you try, boy,” father grumbled, putting his hands on his hips. “Stop moping, and get on with it!”

The boy finally obeyed, not stupid enough to think he would get away with a show of defiance. He tried his absolute best to make the swing move, but only succeeded in making it sway to the sides pathetically. Almost immediately, father began shaking his head at his failure, and he started to cry in shame.

“No, not like that,” the man said critically. “Stop blubbering and watch.”

Harry’s eyes grew large as saucers as father sat on the swing beside him, and began swinging himself, slowly at first so the boy could figure out what he was doing. He was pushing his legs to the front, while moving his upper body back, and then he was pulling his legs back and torso to the front. The faster he reversed the positions, the higher and faster he was swinging, until the boy was gaping in amazement, his mouth hanging open.

Eventually, father stopped moving and the swing slowly lost momentum, until he stuck out his heels to bring the swing to a standstill. He rose and turned to study the child, folding his arms across his chest.

“Your turn,” the man commanded. “Let’s see how well you’ve been paying attention.”

Harry swallowed hard, not too keen on trying with father’s stern glare fixed on him so relentlessly, but he didn’t really have any choice so he tried. It was incredibly difficult to remember which part of him went where, but with father’s sharp corrections, he was getting better. After a few minutes, he was swinging, not as high or fast as father had, but he was doing it on his own!

“Enough,” father said sternly, much too soon for the boy’s liking. “You can practise more another time.”

Harry stopped the swing reluctantly, it wasn’t anything new to him that good things ended quickly, but father left him a glimmer of hope for the future so he was grinning despite his disappointment.

“Really, father?” he checked anxiously. “I can come again?”

“Obviously,” the man said dryly, holding out a hand for the boy to take. “You need a lot more practice to become even close to competent.”

Harry grimaced, but he couldn’t argue with father’s assessment of his skills, the man was clearly very proficient at this activity, he decided to be grateful for the lesson and promised himself to practise until he got as good as his father.

“Come along,” the man pulled him into a brisk walk. “We have to get home, before I collapse on the pavement for you to carry me.”

“No!” the boy exclaimed, his eyes growing large with panic. “I don’t even know the address!”

“Indeed, that’s a valid concern,” father acknowledged, smirking at the top of the child’s messy head. “Spinner’s End 13, Cokeworth, Shroppshire, England.”

Harry spent the next few minutes murmuring the address under his breath over and over to commit it to memory, until he noticed that father was stopping in front of the second hand bookstore.

“We were supposed to go straight home!” the boy protested, pulling on father’s hand to stop him from going inside.

“Are you so keen on going to bed in the middle of the afternoon, boy?” father asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No, but you must!” Harry insisted, stomping his foot for emphasis.

“Indeed, I do,” father said sternly, applying a sharp smack to the child’s seat. “And you, Harry, must watch your tone, or you’ll get a hard spanking instead of a birthday present.”

The man ended up buying two books for children, a football and two bags of fish and chips for them to eat on the way, as Harry watched anxiously for any signs of imminent collapse. It probably took another half hour to get home, father placed the presents on the kitchen table and donned his fiercest expression. He promised Harry a very sore bottom if he went to bed any later than seven o’clock, and then he went upstairs to sleep.

Harry spent a long time just staring at his birthday presents in awe, he had never gotten even one before, and now his father gave him three at once! Toys! He felt overwhelmed, absolutely terrified that they weren’t real, that he was dreaming! The boy’s hand was trembling as he reached out to touch one of the books. It was a dog-eared copy of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, he recognised it by the picture on the front cover, Ms Summers had read a few stories to the class last school year. He hugged the little book to his chest, blinking back the frustrated tears. It was as if father had done it on purpose, to rub the boy’s stupidity in his face. Suddenly enraged, Harry flung the book against the wall and burst out crying.
To be continued...
End Notes:
I need help figuring out postal code for Cokeworth. Ideas?
Chapter 9 The Trouble That Edward Bear Caused by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
I’m providing Severus’s muggle address, just in case anyone wanted to send him a howler: 13 Spinner’s End, Cokeworth, SY13 1PO it’s just next to Whitchurch
When he got up in the morning, father was already up and about, he was sitting at the kitchen table and reading a broadsheet so large that he couldn’t be seen from behind it.

“Good morning!” the boy exclaimed in a chipper voice, feeling surprisingly cheerful today. “Are you feeling better, father?”

The man folded his newspaper and gave the child a pained look.

“I thought I did,” he muttered, wincing and rubbing his forehead. “Until you started shouting at me. Be quiet, will you?”

Harry opened his mouth to argue that he hadn’t been shouting at all, but thought better of it. He watched in silence as father moved about the kitchen, preparing scrambled eggs for breakfast, he winced every time a wooden spoon scraped against the pan, making an unpleasant noise.

“I can do it, father,” the boy offered, jumping to his feet and hurrying forward to replace the man at the stove.

“No!” father shouted, grabbing the child by the collar of his shirt and pulling him back from the hot stove. “Don’t bloody touch it!” he scolded, giving Harry a hard wack across the rear with his wooden spoon. “Sit down, and be silent!”

The boy collapsed into the chair, whimpering at how much discomfort it caused. He just wanted to help, and all he got was a painful punishment, it wasn’t fair! Harry bit his lip, hunching forward, and trying not to make a noise. A clatter of a plate being set in front of him made him flinch, and look up in fear. Father was watching him with a pensive expression, and then, quite unexpectedly, lifted a hand and ran his fingers through the child’s black tresses.

“Let’s try to stay away from hospital for a while, alright?” he said very softly. “No more touching hot surfaces.”

“I just wanted to help!” the boy sobbed, finding father’s behaviour incredibly frustrating.

“I know, Harry,” the man sighed, rubbing his temple with his free hand. “But cooking is a task for adults, so let’s leave it for me, alright?”

Harry nodded, dropping his head in dejection, aunt Petunia never minded him helping with the cooking. Making breakfast had been his chore for forever now, and he hadn’t gotten burnt for at least a few months. He didn’t understand why father treated him as if he was a baby!

“Eat, child,” father murmured, stroking his hair one more time before moving away to claim his own chair.

Breakfast was a silent affair, as the boy wasn’t quite sure whether he should be upset at father or concerned about his health. The man didn’t eat anything, only drank copious amounts of water, which was a strange turnabout as it was usually Harry who left the table hungry. He rested his chin in his palm and nibbled on a piece of toast as he considered this, in all the time with his father the boy barely had a chance to become hungry, he was allowed food even when he got in trouble. Harry probably should start worrying about getting as fat as Dudley.

He squinted at his father, the man’s eyes were closed and he was massaging his temples with his fingers, a pained grimace firmly fixed on his face. Harry suddenly recalled Mrs. Turner from Privet Drive 11, she’d always had a pinched expression on her face, and once she even threw up all over the pavement from a headache, and then, last October, an ambulance came to her house and took her away. 

“Are you going to die, father?” he cried, his eyes filling with tears as it all suddenly made perfect sense in his head.

The man’s eyes opened, his eyebrows climbing up his forehead like fat caterpillars, and he stared at the child quizzically, as if he had never heard such a stupid question before.

“Don’t be absurd,” father scoffed derisively. “I have a headache, nothing lethal.”

“But Mrs. Turner did, too!” Harry wailed, quite hysterical by then. “And she died!”

“For Christ’s sake!” the man groaned, pushing his chair from the table. “Come here, now!”

Losing all colour, the boy rose from his chair, and walked to his father on shaky legs. He didn’t mean to be such a bother, he almost didn’t blame the man for wanting to punish him. After all, he was suffering and the boy was making it worse. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop his noisy sobbing.

“Ssh, little dunderhead,” father murmured, pulling the child into his lap, and pressing his head against his shoulder. “I have half a mind to hex you with Silencio, Harry.”

The boy pressed his face into father’s chest, soaking his black shirt with his tears and snot. He was so miserable that he was shaking with it, but the man’s hand rubbing his back was really helping.

“Who was Mrs. Turner, then?” father asked quietly after a while.

“Our neighbour,” Harry explained in a husky voice. “She always had a headache, and one day an ambulance took her away, and she never came home again.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” father murmured in his ear. “I will not die, however, I just need to drink a lot of water, and sleep as much as possible, and I’ll be perfectly fine in a few days.”

“Promise?”

“Yes, I promise,” the man sighed, a little exasperated. “Better tell me how you managed to put yourself to bed yesterday.”

Harry looked up at his father, his eyes growing wide in dismay at this unfortunate turn in conversation.

“From your expression, I gather that you didn’t make it by seven,” the man commented dryly, giving the child a very sharp look. “How late, then?”

Harry ducked his head, slumping his shoulders, and thinking how very inconvenient it was that he was in father’s lap already. He only had to turn the boy around to spank him, and this would absolutely ruin the nice moment.

“Did a niffler get your tongue, boy?” father demanded sternly.

“I don’t know,” he mumbled with a resigned shrug.

“You don’t know if you still possess a tongue?” the man mocked. “That’s fascinating.”

“I don’t know what time it was!” Harry corrected, his voice rising in irritation with the man.

“Temper,” father snapped, smacking his bum rather hard with the hand that had been rubbing his back recently. “You’re on very thin ice. Let’s see what the door to your room has to say on the topic, shall we?”

Harry watched with apprehension as the man drew his wand and pointed it at the ceiling, muttering some gibberish words as he did so. He flinched, as fluorescent numbers appeared in front of them, they were large enough that he could make them out easily.

“9:43?! Harry!” father exclaimed, glaring. “What were you doing so late?!”

The boy began to tremble, his mind was providing unhelpful images of father reaching for his belt to whip him, and he began sniffling at that prospect.

“J-just p-playing with the b-ball,” he choked out. “In the y-yard.”

“Of course, you were,” father sighed, hugging Harry to his chest tighter until he calmed down. “There will be no ball today, I think it’ll do us both good to spend a quiet day at home. You may go upstairs and read in your room.”

The boy looked up at his father in surprise, he thought it was rather unusual for the man to send him off without the threatened ‘sore behind’. He even reckoned a whipping would be a more preferable punishment than reading. Father’s eyes were closed again, and his forehead was wrinkled, so maybe he was in too much pain to spank Harry just now.

“Go on,” the man said, letting the boy go, and pushing him a little. “I’ll call you for lunch.”

Harry was a pro at being grounded, he must have spent three quarters of his waking hours stuck in his tiny bedroom at the Dursleys gaining experience in that regard. It had always been incredibly boring, left with nothing but his thoughts to occupy him. Being grounded by his father hadn’t been so bad at the beginning, he spent half an hour looking out of his window, and another looking through the drawers of his desk. There were a lot of yellowed pages, but nothing to write or draw with, and he sighed regretfully that he misplaced the pencils his grandfather had given him.

He even refolded his clothes in his wardrobe to avoid reading, but eventually the boy ran out of things to do, and he sank into his desk chair with a grimace. Harry pulled up a book and stared at it moresely, this was the second book, as Winnie-the-Pooh was still lost on the floor somewhere, it was missing the front cover so he didn’t even have that visual aid to help him figure out what it was about. He flipped through the pages, groaning that there weren’t any pictures inside at all, probably father mistakenly bought some adult book for him.

After squinting at the tiny lines and wiggles for a while, Harry’s head began hurting and he pushed the book away with disgust, going to lie on his bed and stare at the ceiling instead. Father had also been reading that morning, so maybe headaches were a common result of reading, only people were too stubborn to admit it, and children were forced to do it at school all the time. The boy decided that he wouldn’t be a coward, and he would tell father that he wouldn’t be reading any more stupid books, ever! In fact, he wouldn’t go to school, he could find a job or something. Surely, not every child in the world had to go to school, so why should he?

He barely entertained those mutinous thoughts, when there was a sharp rap on the door, and father appeared in the doorway. Harry gasped, sitting up and watching the man’s formidable expression warily.

“Wash up and come for lunch, Harry,” father commanded, raising an eyebrow at the child’s panicked reaction.

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered meekly.

By the time he came downstairs, the boy had worked himself up into quite a state trying to dissect the man’s expression. He was obviously very annoyed, as if he somehow knew that Harry had disobeyed him about reading. He didn’t know how he could know, but as he entered the kitchen, his stomach was doing frightened flip-flops.

“Stop daydreaming and eat,” father scolded him mildly, when Harry paused with his spoon half-way to his mouth.

The boy apologised hurriedly, and continued eating his soup as his head buzzed with the frantic schemes to convince the man that he hadn’t been defiant at all!

“How did your reading go this morning?” the man asked casually, when they were almost done with their meal.

Harry’s head shot up in alarm, meeting the piercing black gaze of his father with sudden certainty that he had been found out somehow.

“Good,” he whispered, averting his eyes quickly. “I love reading!”

Harry almost choked on the outrageous lie, but was unable to admit his wrongdoing, surely there was some way to get himself out of trouble, he only needed to think of one!

“I see,” father said with a note of warning in his voice that made the boy’s stomach turn upside-down. “What did you read about, then?”

Oh-oh.

“Winnie-the-Pooh,” Harry blurted out nervously, he was already regretting letting his impetuousness control his tongue, but not knowing how to turn the tide now.

“Really, Harry?” father mocked, his face was darkening as a storm cloud with anger. “Are you quite sure of that?”

“Yes,” the boy nodded jerkily, racking his brains for any story from the book to prove he wasn’t lying. “Pooh was… visiting Rabbit… And he… He got stuck in the hole…”

“That’s very interesting,” father cut him off severely. “Especially, that the book has been on the kitchen counter since I found it on the floor this morning. Can you read through walls, boy?”

Harry ducked his head, well aware that he had been caught red-handed in a lie, and probably should have known better than to try selling the man stories the same way he did to his teachers.

“Are you going to spank me, now?” the boy asked softly.

“Do you imagine I shouldn’t?” the man demanded, shaking his head in disapproval, his eyes flashing. “Wait for me in the living room, boy, and think of an explanation for your atrocious behaviour.”

Father hadn’t been shouting or anything, but Harry suspected that wasn’t an improvement at all, it was weird to miss uncle Vernon’s loud rants, but he really did. He slunk into the living room and curled on the couch, with his knees pulled up against his chest, and mulled over some explanation. He couldn’t think of any excuse, the boy had known he was digging a grave for himself even as he was doing it, the man made it quite obvious that he wasn’t buying any of it, but he couldn’t stop. Stupid, stupid worthless freak... Harry buried his face in his knees, and waited for the executioner.

“Alright,” father said sharply after some ten minutes, making the boy flinch and peer up at the imposing figure with burning eyes. “Let’s start with this,” he held up the stupid book for Harry to see. “How did it get to the floor, three metres from the table?”

“It fell,” the boy mumbled to his knees.

“I see,” father said icily.

Several hours later, Harry was lying on his bed, curled into a miserable ball. He wasn’t crying anymore, but his eyes were very red and his backside was throbbing an awful lot from his punishment. He was glaring at the rectangular shape on the desk, it was all the stupid book’s fault! He thought he had been doing alright with his father that morning, but the moment he told that first lie, everything went downhill very fast. Father had never walloped him so hard, or for so long before, the man’s hand was as hard as a piece of wood as he gave the boy’s unclothed bum three spankings in a row; fifteen for lying, ten for disobeying and five for manhandling the book - which must have been a hundred put together, or at least it felt like that many.

Harry swallowed thickly, he had been ordered to spend an hour reading every day, and he didn’t know enough Winnie-the-Pooh stories to survive for long without the bigger lie being discovered.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Any ideas for the second book’s title? I was thinking Storm Boy by Colin Thiele
Chapter 10 Meeting Eliot by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
Date: 11 Aug, you wanted some moderation in child-rearing, so here it is.
Chapter 10 - Meeting Eliot 11 aug
The two days that followed ‘the Great Pooh Fiasco’ were fraught with endless tension for Harry, as father’s persistent headache was making him very cranky and prone to angry outbursts that invariably ended with the boy’s backside being rather tender. He walked on tiptoes around the man, never sure what could spur his easy temper. Yesterday, for instance, he had been almost late for dinner, and he ran down the stairs to avoid a reprimand. Unfortunately for him, father had just been coming out of the bathroom and saw him stumble, just a tiny bit! He had then been caught with magic, shouted at for being a reckless fool, and spanked so hard that he ate his dinner while standing.

The worst time of the day had to be breakfast though, Harry was so stressed that it was a miracle he managed to eat his allotted portion without throwing up all over the table. Father wasn’t fond of wasting food, however, and so he wasn’t allowed to leave the table without cleaning his plate. ‘Leave the table’ was only a turn of phrase in this case, as he was supposed to come right back with a book for his hour of supervised reading. The first time had been pure torture, but father didn’t tell him to read out loud, or even asked him to summarize what he’d read. The man only brought a book of his own and read alongside the boy.

Harry suspected that the reprieve was the result of father’s severe headache, and as soon as he felt better he would start asking these types of questions, but at the moment the boy was given some breathing room. Oh, his head was pounding from squinting at the blurry ants on the page for forever now, the hour was surely up already! He turned the page and sighed, squirming in discomfort on the hard chair. How could father sit so still all the time? Were his legs going numb, too? The boy started tapping his feet on the floor, just to get the feeling back in them.

“Enough,” the man snapped suddenly, looking up from his book and glaring at the child. “You’re done, go outside!”

Harry jumped to his feet immediately, his face breaking out into a toothy grin.

“Really, father?” he asked eagerly. “I may go?”

“Yes,” the man sighed. “But take the book where it belongs first, and put on a warm jumper. It’s quite chilly.”

“Okay,” the boy grabbed the Pooh book, and dashed out of the kitchen, only slowing when father’s shout reminded him that running on the stairs was forbidden. “I know!”

Harry climbed the stairs slowly, even holding the railing to be absolutely safe, his bum was feeling rather well today and he was determined to keep it that way. There was a new spell on the railing since yesterday that the boy didn’t like, it glued his fingers to the wood slowing him practically to a crawl. He was bouncing with impatience by the time he got to his room, and even the prospect of wearing his ugly yellow jumper couldn’t diminish his cheery mood.

After another snail slow descent, Harry ran out the front door, jumping up and down in joy. It had been raining buckets the last two days, and he’d been forbidden to set foot outside lest he caught a chill. The boy had never been sick from getting wet before, and he argued that point vehemently, but the only good it did him was to get a sharp slap to the seat of his trousers, and a promise of more if he even thought of setting a foot outside while it was raining. His father was getting more unreasonable by the day, fussing about his health constantly, as if the boy hadn’t taken care of himself for years and years. He wasn’t used to being babied all the time!

In any case, Harry had been stuck inside until today, he fetched his birthday ball from the porch and stared up at the sky with a frown. Dark rain clouds were hanging low in the sky, threatening rain in the afternoon, but for now he marched determinedly into the back garden. He had discovered, completely by accident, he would swear to it, that kicking the ball toward the Blood Weed plantation caused it to be thrown back. It was almost as though someone else was kicking it back to him, and the harder he kicked, the faster it sailed back.

The boy amused himself thus, chasing and kicking the ball, until he ran himself ragged and collapsed on the grass in exhaustion.

“I see I created a great toy for you in this repulsion ward,” father’s bemused voice drifted from the direction of the house, making the child startle and sit up rather abruptly. “Are you thirsty?”

Harry nodded, eyeing the man fearfully, the last time father came out to the garden, he had been whipped and ended up in hospital. His chin began to tremble and he hunched over his bent knees, trying to swallow back the overwhelming dread.

“Are you very angry?” he choked out, on the verge of crying.

The man stopped in front of him, and squatted to be on the same level with the child, he ignored the boy’s flinch when he placed a hand under his chin and tilted it upwards to look into his green eyes.

“I’m not angry at all, just… surprised,” father said with a tiny smirk. “I never thought you would use the ward as a playtoy.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry whispered, not quite believing he wouldn’t be punished for playing like that. He gasped when father did his hair stroking thing again, and he blinked rapidly.

“I don’t mind you playing with our wards, they have been made safe for you,” father said softly. “Just take care not to brush them with your body, alright?”

“Will it hurt?” the boy asked breathlessly.

“Sting, so be careful,” father corrected, magicking a glass and filling it with water for Harry. “Are you coming inside, now?”

Eyes growing wide, the boy shook his head vehemently.

“I want to stay. Please?” he pleaded, it was going to rain again soon, and he would be trapped inside then.

“Very well,” father agreed, standing and looking at him expectantly. “Drink up.”

Harry blushed in embarrassment at having forgotten about the glass in his hands, he gulped the water down thirstily. He didn’t realise just how parched he was from all the running, and the man had to refill his glass before he was sated. Eventually, father went back to the house, leaving the boy with a stern admonition to take a break from running.

Lying on the grass and staring at the clouds became boring more quickly than the boy anticipated, and so he decided to do his surveillance of the neighbourhood. He was on his third turn of the property, when he heard someone calling to him. Harry squinted, peering in the direction of the childish voice, and saw a little person bobbing blurrily up and down as it waved both hands over its head to attract his attention.

“Hey, over there! Do you wanna play?” a familiar voice called over the fence, from the next property.

Harry ran over, beginning to smile hugely as he beheld the face he had seen in the mirror during his hospital stay.

“Hello, Eliot,” he said with a grin. “Nice to finally meet you in person. My name’s Harry.”

“You know me?” the smaller boy asked shyly.

“My father told me about you,” Harry said with a nod, it was sort of true and he wasn’t sure he was allowed to speak about being incognito in hospital.

They shook hands through the hole in the chain link fence, and Harry had to bite his lip to prevent himself from crying out in pain as his hand was engulfed in flames the moment it passed on the other side. He ducked his head to hide his pained expression, as he massaged his hand, he couldn’t imagine what stung so badly.

“Mr. Snape is your father?” Eliot asked in wide-eyed horror, clearly overwhelmed by the news. “And you live with him, now?”

Harry’s head came up so fast at the comment that he got a crick in the neck.

“No, I-,” he paused, thinking how best to explain the situation he was in. “I’m on holiday… I guess.”

“Oh,” the smaller boy mumbled sadly, looking to the ground. “I do that, too, when daddy has time for me.”

The child looked so dejected and depressed that Harry expected him to burst into tears at any moment, and from long experience with his cousin, he knew he would be blamed and punished for it. Panicking, the boy looked around for approaching adults about to catch him in the act of upsetting the little one.

“I’ve seen your swings!” he burst out, forcing as much cheer into his voice as was humanly possible. “Do you like playing on them?”

Eliot looked up and there were tears on his cheeks, Harry wanted to cry as well, because now father would be so mad! Upsetting Dudley was absolutely forbidden, with the worst punishment from uncle Vernon, and no mercy from his aunt either, he could feel himself beginning to shake with the memory of being locked in the cold and the dark.

“Are you okay, Harry?” a small and worried voice asked. “Don’t be sad.”

Harry blinked a few times, and wiped his eyes with the back of a hand.

“I’m not, I just… thought about something bad,” he admitted, ashamed to be crying without good cause.

“Me, too,” Eliot sighed, and smiled weakly. “We wouldn’t have time for sad thoughts, if we played together.”

“You’re right,” he replied, returning the smile. “I would like that very much.”

“Let’s go on the swings,” Eliot suggested, brightening considerably at finding a playmate.

Harry, however, was frowning in dismay, as he stared in the direction of the swings. As much as he loved the idea, it was completely unattainable.

“I c-can’t,” he groaned, slumping his shoulders in defeat. “I’m not allowed to leave the yard without permission.”

“Ask your daddy, then,” the boy demanded impatiently, putting his small fists on his hips.

Harry winced, he couldn’t imagine ever referring to the strict man by that word, he’d probably get the belt for that. He shook his head.

“I can’t,” he whispered, dropping his eyes in shame for his cowardice.

“I’m scared of him, too,” Eliot confessed quietly, and Harry looked at him in surprise. “Wait here.”

Before he could react, the child ran towards the house, leaving him staring dejectedly at the empty stretch of lawn where his would-be friend had been. Harry slumped to the ground and buried his face in his knees to muffle his sobs, he had been so close to gaining a friend. He should have gone, Dudley would have, without even telling his parents, except that his cousin would never ever be whipped.

“Harry!” father’s irritated voice broke the silence, making the boy cringe and look at the approaching figure with trepidation. “Where in the blazes have you gone to, now?”

The man turned a corner, and the moment he caught sight of the child huddled on the wet ground by the fence, his face twisted with anger. Harry opened his mouth to apologise for whatever he might have done without knowing it, but father had him up and bent over his hand before he could say a word.

“You are to come when I call,” he chastised, smacking the child’s rear smartly once. “At once, is that understood?”

“Yes, yes, father,” the boy cried, clutching at his stinging backside with both hands. “Please, I’m sorry!”

“Good,” the man growled, drawing his wand and waving it over the child to dry his trousers. “Sitting in puddles isn’t very smart, you know.”

“I’m sorry!”

Father huffed with impatience, snatched his hand and pulled him toward the front of the house.

“Come,” he muttered darkly. “You’ve been invited to spend a day with our charming neighbours.”

“Sir?” the boy asked in confusion.

“At least it wasn’t your idea to send that harridan to harrass me,” father grumbled under his breath.

Harry had to admit he had no inkling of what father was even talking about, but as they neared the house, he could see an elderly woman with a tight bun of white hair and rectangular glasses waiting for them on the porch.

“This is my son Harry,” father introduced sourly. “Harry, say hello to Mrs. Wilkinson.”

“Hello, ma’am,” the boy whispered timidly, feeling very intimidated by the woman’s scrutiny.

“The boy’s skin and bone,” she criticized, glaring poisonously at father. “Don’t you feed him at all, boy?”

“You’re welcome to fatten him up, if you wish,” the man sneered in disgust. “I’ll pick him up before dinner.”

“Better after, at least the poor boy will go to bed with a full stomach for once,” the lady quipped.

Harry had been looking between the two adults with growing unease, understanding that he was the subject of the insulting comments. He wanted to defend his father, as he was doing the opposite of starving him, but he was wary of reminding them that he was there. They went on to argue about his unsatisfactory clothes and haircut, making the boy very self-conscious.

Father gave the lady a mocking bow as thanks for the advice, before fixing the child with a strict glare.

“If I hear any complaints about your behaviour, you’ll go to bed with a very sore behind,” he threatened severely. “Understood, Harry?”

The boy nodded, too scared to even make a noise as his hand was given over to the imposing woman’s custody.

“Now, you’ve made sure I won’t complain, you old fox,” Mrs. Wilkinson snorted with derisive laughter. “I hope he isn’t the helion you were, Severus. Come, Harry,” she added kindly to the child. “Eliot is waiting for you.”

Harry didn’t know what was happening, but suddenly his father was smirking at him, as if it all had been a grand joke. He walked in a daze beside the old woman, as she chattered amiably at him, but the boy couldn’t have said what she talked about. Eventually, they were in the yard next door, and he was instructed to join Eliot on the swings. He obeyed, wondering if he had hallucinated the last ten minutes.

“You took ages!” the boy complained, he was sitting on the swing, leaning his head on the rope in apparent boredom. “Did they argue?”

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled with a shrug, not knowing what else to say.

Eliot rolled his eyes, and suggested they see who was better on the swings. Having done this only once, Harry worried he would make a fool of himself, but he wasn’t that much worse than the younger boy. They exchanged suggestions on how to make the swing go higher, as they talked about what they liked to do. It was a completely novel experience to have another child interested in what he had to say, and Harry found himself relaxing as he confided his newly discovered love of football.

They went on to discuss their family situations, and his new friend was appalled that Harry had been left with his father whom he only just met. It was much worse than his daddy, who kept forgetting about his weekend visits with his son. Eliot had a mommy, who worked long hours at a factory, and a grandma, who was really kind, but argued incessantly with Harry’s father.

The boy felt dizzy listening to all the facts and anecdotes, and it was a relief to be called inside for lunch. Eliot’s grandma served them sandwiches with tomatoes and cucumbers, which Harry liked rather a lot. Eliot was of a different opinion, and he complained bitterly about not liking vegetables. Harry observed fearfully, expecting a strict punishment from the boy’s grandmother.

“Don’t be such a pain in the ass, Eliot,” she chastised, kissing the top of the boy’s blond head. “Eat, or there won’t be any sweets for you. Look at Harry.”

He froze with a sandwich half-way to his mouth, as their blue gazes fixed onto him. Eliot grimaced and sighed dramatically, but he lifted his sandwich and took a small bite, looking like someone who had been condemned to prolonged torture.

Sheeting rain prevented them from returning outside, and Eliot invited him upstairs to see his room. Harry fervently hoped they wouldn’t be reading any of the many books on the shelves, but the younger boy went straight to a large crate of building blocks. They sat on the carpet, and started building a fortress, arguing heatedly about how many towers were needed to make it impressive.

Unluckily, grandma brought a tray of cakes then, and caught them being rather loud. She scolded them, and put them in opposite corners of the room for five minutes, to contemplate how better to be friendly toward each other.

“And be glad I don’t put you over my knee for a slippering as well,” she reprimanded. “Bickering like a married couple, shame on you, boys.”

Harry shook in fear for his entire stay in the corner, terrified that he had given Mrs. Wilkinson a reason to complain about him to his father. He didn’t dare object to Eliot’s mad ideas afterwards, even when the fortress ended up collapsing half-way through the construction.

The younger boy collapsed in a fit of giggles on the floor, and Harry stared at him in utter bewilderment.

“Aren’t you sad that it got ruined?” he asked in confusion.

“No, silly!” Eliot laughed, his blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “That’s the best part!”

Harry looked at the demolition site in doubt, the whole floor was littered with small pieces of the fortress, making a terrible mess, and adults hated messes.

“We probably should clean it up, before grandma sees,” Eliot echoed his thoughts.

Shuddering at the imminent punishment, the boy started picking the small pieces up and throwing them back into the crate, it was his usual job at the Dursleys to clean up any messes his cousin left behind. It was a great surprise when Eliot knelt beside him to help.

“Let’s go play ball in the garden,” he suggested when they finished. “It isn’t raining anymore!”

Playing football with a friend was harder and more exhilarating than kicking it into the wards, there was a lot of yelling, and triumphant jumping up and down when one of them scored a goal. Initially, Harry tried to keep his expressions of joy silent, but when nobody came yelling at them to be quiet, he joined in with enthusiasm.

It was 8 : 5 for Eliot, when Harry’s trainer slipped on the wet grass, and he fell hard to the side. He whimpered as hot pain exploded in his left shoulder, the one that had been tender since their escape from hospital, the boy curled into a ball and tried to suppress a building sob.

“Harry! Harry, are you alright?” Eliot cried, dropping to his knees beside the other boy in a panic. “I’m gonna call grandma!”

“No!” Harry panted painfully. “Don’t tell, Eliot. Please.”

“But you’re hurt!” the younger boy sobbed, clearly frightened by the request. “Grandma can help!”

“No,” he insisted, gritting his teeth and sitting up despite the pain. “She would tell my father.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Eliot asked in a scared voice.

“He’ll beat me,” Harry whispered, averting his eyes. “Please, don’t tell her. I’ll be okay.”

There was no mention of telling the adults after that, they sat on the grass until the boy was ready to stand, and then they wiped their faces carefully until all traces of tears were gone. Both boys jumped, when a female voice called Eliot’s name.

“Mommy!” the younger boy called, running to the house. Harry followed more slowly, very carefully keeping his left hand still.

In the kitchen, a young woman with long blond curls was swinging Eliot in the air, making him giggle like a madman. Harry paused, staring at this display of motherly affection with a deep longing.

“And who’s that?” the woman asked kindly, when she caught sight of him.

“I’m Harry,” he whispered, suddenly embarrassed that he had been staring.

“He’s Severus’s boy, if you can believe it!” Mrs. Wilkinson explained with a snort.

“That bad-tempered ogre’s? No!” she burst out laughing.

The adults went on in that vein for some time, fortunately leaving the children out of the conversation. Harry exchanged anxious glances with Eliot, feeling very uncomfortable about the women making fun of his father. He ate his dinner without enthusiasm, and was genuinely relieved when father picked him up soon after.

Harry was sent upstairs straight away, as it was well past his bedtime already, and he was glad he could escape his father’s intimidating presence, before the man noticed that something was wrong. He soaked in the bath for much longer than he normally would have dared, as warm water soothed some of the pain in his shoulder. There was a large bruise, and he couldn’t lift his arm without crying.

Putting on his pyjamas was pure torture, but he eventually managed to put himself to bed. The boy tossed and turned for hours, trying to find a comfortable enough position to sleep in, but his shoulder seemed to hurt more with every passing moment. He started to cry, it got so bad that a whipping from his father began to look like a fair price for a healing.

Gasping for breath, Harry dragged himself to his feet, cradling his arm to his chest carefully, he was very afraid of going to his father, but there was no choice anymore, it just hurt too much. The landing was dark and silent as he stepped out of his room, but the pulse in his ears thundered so loudly that he barely noticed.

He was half-way down the staircase, when he heard faint voices coming from behind the sliding bookshelf downstairs. Harry froze in place, frightened that he would be punished for eavesdropping again, but unable to turn back with his shoulder blazing like that. He stood undecided for some time, when he heard his relatives’ name drifting on the air. Almost in a trance, Harry went the rest of the way down, desperate to hear about his aunt and uncle. The last step creaked loudly as he put his weight on it, and the conversation in the living room paused mid-word.

“That boy!” father shouted angrily.

With a gasp of horror, Harry bolted.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Next: Snape pov
Chapter 11 Sabbatical by Kyralian
Severus sprawled on the couch in the most undignified position, taking relaxed sips of amber liquid from a glass in his hand. He had to admit that his first child-free day in almost three weeks did wonders to his mood. Even his withdrawal migraine was finally letting up, and he swore he would never swallow another dose of Wit-Sharpening Solution in his lifetime. The exhaustion accumulated from twelve sleepless nights had been debilitating, but the inability to take the mildest headache draft was the most infuriating.

He genuinely hoped that Harry would become great friends with the Parker brat, as the respite could preserve his sanity until the headmaster found a solution to his unexpected and inconvenient fatherhood. Severus could already detect the symptoms of creeping madness, he spent hours obsessing over the child’s origins, counting backwards to the days of his possible conception and coming up empty. And if he managed to drag his thoughts from the murky past, the man was tormented by memories of the boy bleeding out in his helpless arms.

Even now, instead of relaxing with his nightcup, his mind was preoccupied recounting the protective wards he had cast, and thinking of new ones he should add to make his house more secure for his son. Not an hour prior, Severus added a Floatation Charm on the bathtub, after Harry spent twice the usual time doing his ablutions tonight. All these protective measures didn’t seem to assuage the gnawing worry that he was going to miss something, and the child would be harmed again.

He knocked back his drink and poured another, wondering if the incessant worrying was a natural state of being a parent. He didn’t remember his own parents tearing out their hair in worry every time he scraped a knee, but they had certainly made him accountable for his many misdeeds.

Severus recalled his young self picking up the strap that hung by the kitchen door, and bringing it to his father as soon as he had gotten back from his shift. He had been required to confess his own transgressions, and woe be on him if his mother managed it first. The sight of that piece of worn leather hanging innocently by the door was one of his most chilling childhood memories, but he couldn’t deny that his father’s discipline was both deserved and fair, even though he often thought it overly harsh. The worst part had been having to present that strap himself, even when it wasn’t deemed necessary in the end. It had certainly made an impression on his child self, but he couldn’t bring himself to repeat the same practice with Harry, even if it had taught him to argue his case most efficiently.

Tobias Snape would have said that punishing a child twice for the same misdeed proved that you egregiously failed in your duty to him the first time. Severus never used to reflect on his father’s work class, Presbyterian philosophy before now, but ever since his son was dumped on his doorstep like some worthless parcel, he kept asking the ghost of the man what to do with the child.

Of his two parents, his father was the more hands-on and present influence in his young years, Eileen Prince Snape was an obsessive bookworm, who squandered most of their little income on rare books of magic she rarely looked up from to see to the needs of her son. As a child, he idolized his witch mother, but lately he had only contempt for the woman for her abandonment of her responsibilities.

Severus shook his head to rid himself of the pointless contemplation, he had no idea how to be anyone’s parent, and the easiest for him would be to return the child to the muggles, but he found himself rejecting that idea more and more as days went by. He didn’t think he could give the boy up to that horse-faced cow, who so carelessly abandoned the child to her sister’s would be rapist. What assurances could there be that she wouldn’t abandon the boy to the Dark Lord’s followers as easily?

A whoosh of the Floo in the other room made him sigh and summon another tumbler from the kitchen, here came the man with the answers.

“Severus?” the old man called.

“In the living room, Albus,” he answered, filling both glasses with alcohol.

“I see you are quite recovered, my boy,” Dumbledore commented genially, accepting the offered glass.

“About bloody time,” Severus grumbled, pushing his hair from his eyes.

“I did offer to replace you at the hospital, so you could sleep,” Albus chided. “That was reckless of you.”

He narrowed his eyes at the old man in suspicion. Yes, he offered, repeatedly, but Severus hadn’t been in the right frame of mind at the time to let the child out of his sight. He drew his wand and summoned the Daily Prophet of three days prior from his office, thrusting it at the old man in annoyance.

“You did that on purpose!”

Dumbledore scanned the sensationalist article with a mirthful smile: A Deranged Father Kidnaps Dying Child From Hospital.

“I expected more subtlety from you, to be honest,” the man admitted, his eyes were twinkling madly. “But yes, it was time to go.”

“You should have brought more Polyjuice!” Severus growled angrily. “The healer said…”

“The healer was looking for an illness that wasn’t there, and you know it!” Albus cut him off sharply. “You had two days to discharge the boy properly, and yet you waited until the very last dose! I expected better from my spy!”

The younger man glared heatedly at the wall, refusing to answer the accusations. He wasn’t going to admit that he was wary of bringing the boy back, lest he bullocked something up again.

“I know you worry about him, Severus,” the old man said kindly. “You are his father, and that comes with the job, I’m afraid.”

“I suppose,” he muttered darkly.

“And how is little Harry doing?”

“Sleeping, if he knows what’s good for him,” Severus grumbled, waving a dismissive hand at the ceiling. “He spent the day playing with the Parker boy today.”

“How exciting!” the headmaster enthused with a grin. “He’s settling in well, then?”

“As well as can be expected, given the circumstances,” he admitted with a shrug. “He eats, sleeps and gets into trouble with regularity. I’d say, that’s normal.”

“Good, good,” Dumbledore mused with a calculating gleam in his eyes.

“Is there a point to all these questions,” Severus drawled, taking a sip. “Or are you merely engaging in idle gossip?”

“Indeed, I thought we should end the uncertainty for the poor boy,” Albus stated heavily.

“You located the Dursleys, then,” the young man hissed, the very mention of the name enough to shatter his previous equanimity.

“I was successful in that endeavour, yes,” the headmaster admitted sadly, the customary twinkle in his eyes was ominously absent. “It appears that Mr. Vernon Dursley received a promotion to a branch overseas, and he and his family are currently engaged in choosing a new home for themselves in Massachusetts.”

“No, absolutely not!” Severus immediately objected, standing and glaring at the interfering old coot in challenge. “I won’t allow my son to be taken-,” he cocked his head.

What was that noise? Suddenly, his eyes snapped to the bookshelf that hid the stairs, and they filled with fury.

“That boy!” he roared, already across the room and sending the bookcase door open with a bang.

How dared the brat spy on him?! He caught up to the fleeing child on the landing, grabbing his shoulder and applying a mighty slap to his posterior.

“How many times must I tell you not to eavesdrop?!” he shouted, ignoring the boy’s exaggerated howl of agony. He pulled his hand back, and brought it down even harder. “And don’t bloody run on the fucking stairs!”

He dragged the snivelling child to his room and pushed him on the bed, folding his arms to stop himself from hitting the boy again. He took a deep breath to bring his temper back under control.

“Harry, you cannot keep doing that,” Severus growled, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. The second issue was the more immediate to address. “Those stairs are very steep and dangerous, you could break a leg or worse falling. Why can’t you understand that, child?”

If he thought the boy would explain himself, as he would have done before his father, he was an utter fool. His son sat on the bed, hunched over and shaking with gasping sobs, refusing to provide any defence for his foolish behaviour. Sighing, Severus pulled a chair around and sat down, feeling like an impostor in this role.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked quietly, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at the boy. “I can’t possibly put any more wards on the stairs. Could you try to not be so reckless, Harry?”

Was he begging, now? That last question succeeded in getting his son’s attention in any case, sad green eyes rose to meet his black ones, and they were hurting.

“I’m sorry that I fell,” he whispered fearfully.

“On the stairs?!” Severus demanded, paling as he remembered tumbling down those murder stairs as a child. He raked the boy with his eyes, looking for signs of injury. The child was cradling his hand to his chest as if it pained him, the man had his wand out in a diagnostic pattern before his mind even registered that this was the hand he had grabbed on the landing. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…”

Severus strode quickly out of the room, and down the stairs, raising a hand to halt the headmaster’s anxious inquiries as he passed through to his office, to collect the medical supplies.

“You’re going to have to drink some potions, Harry,” he announced upon his return, dumping his load on the bed, next to the petrified child. He sat on his heels in front of his son and selected one tiny vial from the pile, holding it up so the green potion could be clearly seen. “You remember this one, for the pain?”

Harry gave a tiny nod, and when the man put the vial to his lips, he drank the icy concoction without a word of complaint.

“Good boy,” Severus breathed, brushing the child’s hair out of his face. “I need to look now, and cast a spell to align the bone properly. I’ll be as careful as I can, may I proceed, Harry?”

His son bit his lip and looked into the man’s eyes for a long moment, and Severus had a fanciful thought that his suitability as a father was being assessed.

“Will it hurt?” the child asked quietly.

“It might, a little,” Severus admitted honestly. “But it must be done. Are you ready?”

Harry took a bracing breath before nodding, and the man proceeded to gently remove his pyjama top, taking care not to jostle his elbow. He sucked in a startled breath upon noticing a large purple bruise covering his left shoulder, this injury couldn’t have occurred recently.

“There is inflammation here,” he mused, tracing the bruised socket with a finger. “I think it has been hurting for a few days, hasn’t it?”

The boy hung his head in admission of Severus’s guess, and he sighed, reaching for another vial.

“You know this one, too,” he commented and smirked, as Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste at the anti-inflammatory potion he had despised so much at hospital. “One dose should clear it up.”

With a face of a martyr about to be sent to a rack, his son slurped the oily concoction, managing not to gag with difficulty. Severus gave him a drink of water, before they tackled the broken collarbone. He arranged the boy’s hand carefully against his stomach, and cast a spell to make it immobile.

“Now, this shouldn’t hurt, but it’ll feel very odd as the bone moves back into place,” he explained, pointing his wand at the child’s shoulder. “Try not to move.”

“Okay,” Harry whimpered, evidently expecting the worst.

“Episky!” Severus cast quickly, not eager to prolong the tension, and when his son only let out a gasp of surprise, he allowed himself a small relieved smile. “We’re almost done.”

He pulled the pyjama top back on, leaving the left sleeve empty, and reached for one of the two vials that were left.

“This is Skele-Gro, it’s used to mend bones,” the man explained, pulling the cork out. “With this, you’ll be back to normal in the morning, but as it aches quite a bit while working, you’ll get a mild sleeping draft as well.”

“It won’t hurt?” Harry checked anxiously.

“No, you should sleep through the night,” Severus assured calmly, holding the vial to the boy’s lips. “However, if you wake and it does hurt, you may call me. Now, drink up.”

With an unhappy grimace, Harry did as he was told, and gulped down both potions in quick succession. He helped settle the boy on the pillow, and tucked him in, when the child’s worried voice made him look up.

“Will you whip me now, father?” he asked, blinking sleepily.

“Perhaps, not this time,” Severus sighed, “But we will talk about this, Harry, as it cannot happen again. If you run on the stairs, and the house isn’t crumbling behind you to excuse it, then yes, I will use the belt, and it will hurt a lot. Is that understood?”

His son answered with a huge yawn, and his eyes fluttered closed.

“Wasn’t… stairs…” he slurred.

“Oh?”

“Was… scoring… goal…” Harry sighed, and then his chest expanded with a deep inhalation as the potion took him under.

Severus stared at the child’s sleeping face as he pondered the words, his eyes roamed over the thin face, examining his features closely for the first time. When Petunia had brought him, the man only saw a James look-alike, but in actual fact he couldn’t have been more wrong. Harry’s face was longer and thinner than Potter’s, his cheekbones were sharply-defined and his chin pointier, Severus’s mouth turned upwards in recognition. The nose, the shape and colour of the eyes, the ears were his mother’s, but the high forehead was also his. The skin tone was somewhere in between his sickly pallor and Lily’s rosiness, the hair was also a joint effort; it was black as pitch like Severus’s, but wavy and frizzy, bringing to mind Lily’s endless struggle to bring her wild curls under control.

Mine, the thought resounded in his head, and what he did next wasn’t really a conscious choice, it was almost instinctual to bend forward and touch his lips to his son’s forehead. By the time Severus left the room, closing the door gently on the sleeping child, his mind was swirling with alien thoughts and emotions. Elation. Possessiveness. Fondness. Protectiveness. He was so preoccupied that he was completely unprepared for the furious wizard downstairs.

“How dare you!” Albus Dumbledore thundered, he was shaking with unbottled rage, his fists clenched at his sides. “How dare you beat that child hard enough for him to require healing!”

Severus’s mouth fell open in shock, as the headmaster’s magic crackled in the air, making the furniture shake and books topple to the floor. He stood very still in the doorway, not quite daring to move lest the unrestrained furious magic seized him and bashed his head against the wall.

“Albus, I didn’t-,”

“No, no more!” the unhinged wizard roared, a wand suddenly appeared in his hand and pointed at the younger man. “The child will not go from one cruel and unloving home to another, he has suffered enough!”

Severus’s eyes grew wide, and in an uncharacteristic display of recklessness, he lunged forward, grabbing the old man by the collar of his navy robe and shaking him.

“What do you mean by cruel home?! What has that cow done to my son?! Has she hurt him?!” he demanded angrily. “Answer me, damn it!”

The two men glared at each other for a long moment, but eventually the fury in the older man began to abate.

“What happened upstairs?”

“Little dunderhead broke his collarbone while playing with Eliot, and only now saw fit to tell me,” Severus reported irritably. “Now, tell me, has Petunia harmed my boy?”

“Not physically, but the Dursley family left deep scars in little Harry, from how they spoke of him,” Dumbledore murmured sadly. “They showed little enough concern for his well-being, leaving him with you.”

“True enough,” Severus scoffed, going to reclaim the couch. “As a rapist and death eater, I should never have been considered. Albus, I don’t want Petunia anywhere near the boy, he needs to be protected better!”

The headmaster eyed him shrewdly, before flicking his wand to restore the room to its proper appearance, he picked up a bottle of brandy that somehow survived his loss of control. He poured himself a stiff drink, and sat resplendent in an armchair, like a king about to pronounce justice.

“It seems you and Mrs. Dursley share the sentiment,” he said, taking a deep sip. “She expressed a categorical desire to terminate all contact with her nephew.”

“What?!” Severus seethed, his cheeks darkening with blood. “She left him without a fucking word, without one word, Albus! The bitch! What am I supposed to tell the boy, that she fled to another continent to escape him?!”

“Has Harry asked you about his relatives?”

“No, but he will, eventually. What then?”

“What then, indeed?” Albus mused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “It is curious to know that not three weeks ago, you demanded I bring Petunia kicking and screaming to retrieve the boy, and I quote ‘I want the brat out of my house’, and now, you seem wholly prepared to keep him with you.”

Severus opened his mouth to retort that he would be pleased to keep his boy with him, when he remembered the reality they lived in. He closed his eyes, his shoulders slumping in defeat.

“He cannot stay under my care,” he groaned. “If I bring him to Hogwarts, all hell will break loose. I won’t get custody of a son sired in a rape, especially not this one! Fuck, Albus, you must take him!”

“You cannot bring him to Hogwarts, no,” Dumbledore answered carefully. “Nor anywhere in the wizarding world, not before you can prove that Harry was conceived in a willing union. Family bonds are sacrosanct, and both the ministry and your darker compatriots would have to accept your claiming custody of a blood relative.”

“And how am I to obtain that proof?” Severus scoffed, folding his arms in ire. “The potions required to even attempt to obliterate the block in my mind take months to prepare, and the result may not be the acquittal we’re expecting.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist, my boy,” the headmaster chided, wagging a disapproving finger. “You wouldn’t hurt Lily of your own volition, and you are resistant to the Imperius. You didn’t do it.”

“Can’t be done before the start of term, though,” Severus mumbled, averting his eyes to hide how deeply the other man’s trust affected him.

“How fortunate that you’ll soon be on extended medical leave,” Dumbledore commented with a twinkle in his eyes.

“What ails me, dare I ask?” Severus drawled, narrowing his eyes in suspicion.

“Dragon Pox, I’m sorry to say,” Albus replied, his expression convincingly tragic.

“I’m on my deathbed, then,” he rolled his eyes. “Have you found a replacement for my classes?”
To be continued...
End Notes:
Some answers, but more questions. Does it read ok? I kept getting interrupted here...
Chapter 12 The Talk by Kyralian
A voice was calling him from very far away, but Harry was so warm and comfortable that he couldn’t make himself listen. He sighed contentedly, as he dreamed that he was a kitten, he stretched luxuriously in his human’s lap and purred loudly in appreciation of the gentle stroking behind an ear.

“You like that, hmm?” the voice murmured in amusement. “Maybe I should splash you with cold water instead, like my father did to me when I refused to wake up in the morning. What do you think, Harry?”

The horrid idea chased his pleasant dream away faster than a pack of dogs could, and his eyes popped open wide. Father was sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand on the side of his head, tickling his ear with the tips of his fingers.

“Did he really do that? Grandpa Al?” Harry demanded, batting father’s fingers away in embarrassment. Now that he was awake, his cat dream seemed very silly.

“No, not Albus,” father snorted, folding his arms and giving him a look of pure exasperation. “Albus, as my employer, rarely has the opportunity to wake me, my father, on the other hand, did that many times when I was a schoolboy. Perhaps, you need the same?”

“No, no, I’m awake,” the boy protested, picturing his strict father being jolted awake by cold water dumped on his head. It was incredibly hard not to giggle at the mental image.

“You are, indeed,” the man acknowledged, standing and picking up the pot of bruise balm from the bedside table. “Sit up, let me take a look at that shoulder.”

Oh-uh, Harry had completely forgotten about his accident, even though his hand had been glued to his stomach all through the night. He heaved himself to a sitting position, and watched anxiously as father undressed him and freed his hand. It was difficult to believe that a broken bone could be healed so quickly, but when father told him to move his hand every which way, it didn’t hurt at all.

“Alright,” the man muttered, putting a generous glob of bruise balm on the child’s colourful shoulder, and rubbing vigorously. “You appear to have recovered well enough.”

“Thank you, father,” the boy whispered, averting his eyes in shame. He really didn’t mean to be such a bother, requiring expensive medicine even. It really was a miracle that he hadn’t been punished, yet.

“Get ready for breakfast, now,” father commanded sternly, as if he heard Harry’s thought and quite agreed that he got away too lightly.

The boy dressed and washed slowly, instinctively delaying the inevitable conversation that father had threatened yesterday. He wondered if this would be the same sort of conversation that uncle Vernon liked to have with him, with uncle yelling that he was a waste of space, and him apologising and begging not to be sent to the orphanage. He hated these conversations, they always reminded him that he was only allowed to stay on uncle’s dubious sufferance, and if aunt Petunia got tired of defending him, he would be happily kicked to the curb. His aunt was far away, in another country now, and there was no longer any person who would defend him in the world. He didn’t want to be kicked out, but he was deeply afraid of what his father would do to him, as there was always a price to avoiding the orphanage. The boy cringed, almost wishing that they could get it over with straight away, as his stomach was so filled with acid that the thought of eating was unbearable.

Harry peered through the kitchen doorway, barely daring to breathe, but whatever he’d been expecting didn’t happen. Father was calmly transferring sausages from a steaming pot onto a platter.

“Come in, and sit,” he said impatiently, when he glanced at the door, and caught the child loitering in the corridor.

The boy took his customary seat, and stared moodily at his empty plate, it was incredible how fast regular meals had become so ordinary they were annoying. Father came over with the platters, and proceeded to pile his plate high with toast and sausages. He sighed. Was he mad that he missed going hungry?

“Stop sulking and eat before it gets cold,” father chided sharply when the boy didn’t devour the meal like a starved dog.

“Wasn’t sulking,” Harry mumbled, but he picked up his fork and began eating.

The food wasn’t bad exactly, father was a good cook, but getting so much of it, three times a day, was making him feel like a fat goose. He managed to get through half of his portion, before droopping like a spent balloon.

“I can’t anymore,” he whined, dropping his fork and folding his arms across his chest in a brief show of defiance.

“Are you sick?!” the man demanded, lowering the newspaper he’d been reading and casting a beady eye at the boy’s plate.

“No, just not hungry,” he grumbled, slumping his shoulders and glaring at the food.

“Must we rehash the discussion about eating, Harry?” father asked very sternly, and gave the boy such a disapproving glare that he shivered.

“No, sir,” he sighed, he didn’t need another lecture about healthy eating habits and starving children in developing countries who would gladly eat his breakfast. Harry wanted to say that he’d gladly share with a few of them, but he doubted being cheeky would get him anything other than a punishment.

It took an eternity to get through the rest of his breakfast, but somehow he managed it without incurring the man’s wrath. His sense of relief was short-lived, however, as father folded and put away the newspaper as soon as the boy pushed away his empty plate.

“Alright,” he said sharply, waving his wand to clear the table. “We’re going to have a talk in the living room, come.”

Harry instantly regretted eating so much, his stomach churned with nerves as he followed the man into the living room, and perched tensely on the couch. He watched warily as father sat on the armchair in front of the couch, he rested his elbows on his knees and pinned the child in place with a stare so merciless that he suddenly couldn’t breathe.

“Do you know why you are in trouble, Harry?” the man asked more patiently than the boy expected, but it didn’t help calm the rising panic he was feeling.

“B-b-because I was bad, father,” the boy answered automatically, beginning to tremble all over as he remembered that he was all alone with an adult who had a reason to be furious with him, and would surely beat him now, or send him to the orphanage which would be even worse. “‘m sorry, I won’t do it again!”

“Bad is a very broad term,” the man commented dryly. “Why exactly are you sorry?”

“I-,” Harry trailed off, unsure how to even attempt to explain himself, he knew he was a bad kid, uncle Vernon told him often enough. He tried so hard to behave properly, but it never seemed to work and he was always getting punished anyway. He didn’t know what to say without making the situation even more dire for himself. He ducked his head, maybe if he apologised really well, it would help, he took a shaky breath. “I am really sorry that I fell, father! Please, I’m sorry…!”

The strict man’s forehead wrinkled in a frown as he listened to the child’s frantic apologies, and the expression on his face was so tight that Harry choked off suddenly, sensing that he said something wrong.

“Harry, stop,” he snapped, his eyes flashing in annoyance. “You’re working yourself into a hysteria,” he blew out a gust of air. “Falling, while unfortunate, isn’t something you can control. Tell me what you did, that I specifically forbade you to do, child. Something I said would be punished very sternly. Come on, you’re a smart boy, I’m sure you can tell me what you did wrong when you fell.”

“I hurt myself,” Harry whispered hoarsely, cringing into the back of the couch as the words spilled out of his mouth, he didn’t want to be whipped. He began to cry, his heart racing so much that his lungs burnt for oxygen, but he couldn’t make himself stop.

The man made an impatient noise in his throat, and rose from his armchair, coming over to the couch. The boy shook in terror as father sat beside him, he put an arm behind the child’s back and squeezed him against his side.

“Remember what I told you yesterday,” father said very softly, when the boy’s sobs turned into sniffles. “I’m not going to punish you this time, we are just talking.”

“But I was bad!” Harry cried, burying his face in the man’s black shirt. “You always punish me when I’m bad!”

“I do,” father admitted calmly. “But I’m beginning to think you don’t always understand what behaviour I’m penalising. Would you like a hint about what you did wrong yesterday?”

Harry’s head bobbed in a hesitant nod, he wasn’t convinced that he wouldn’t be punished, father had said no exceptions after all, but it was definitely better to know so he could try not to do it again.

“Falling and injuring yourself can happen even when you aren’t doing anything wrong, it’s important then to tell an adult what happened straight away. Neither myself nor Mrs. Wilkinson was told about the accident, and that is why I am upset with you, Harry. I forbade you to hide injuries from me, did you forget about that?”

The boy stole a peek at the man’s face, but averted his eyes quickly, unable to bear the scrutiny. This was even worse than he expected, uncle Vernon never wanted explanations, only apologies. And what was he supposed to say anyway, that he hadn’t told to avoid a punishment? It had been a wasted effort in any case, as he decided to tell in the end.

“I told you,” he mumbled defensively, which was exactly the wrong thing to say, as the man seemed to grow tense beside him. He looked up and recoiled from the fury on his face.

“You told me?!” father hissed, a hand latched on to the back of Harry’s neck, and pulled him forward and to the side so that he was bent over the man’s knees before he had time to blink. A hand fell across his rear sharply, making the boy grunt in pain, but before he had time to panic, he was upright again, and facing the seething man. “Do not be cheeky with me, boy! You aren’t an idiot to misunderstand ‘immediately’ for ‘three hours later’, even little Eliot told you to tell his grandmother straight away, so don’t give me this bullshit!” he took a calming breath “I was very clear on what the consequence of hiding injuries would be, and yet, the first opportunity you have, you choose to disobey me. Is it some strange testing of the boundaries I set, child? I know that you fully expected to be whipped, why would you risk it?”

“I just didn’t want to be punished,” the boy whispered fearfully, not daring to avert his eyes, but the man’s piercing gaze was very difficult to bear.

“You thought I would punish you for getting injured, Harry?” the man asked incredulously. “Why would you think such a thing?”

Harry hung his head, unable to keep eye contact any longer, he obviously shouldn’t have told the truth if it was upsetting his father. The man heaved a sigh, and abruptly picked him up by his armpits. He whimpered quietly, sure that at last he would get his due, but the man only sat him on his lap, like the other day. The boy gasped in surprise as father tucked his head under his chin, and held him like that for a long moment.

“When we escaped that wretched healer, and you fell, did I punish you?” the man asked softly, his deep voice thrummed against Harry’s ear. He shook his head in the negative, but that was partly father’s fault. “Why did you think this time would be different?”

“You said, no exceptions,” the boy whispered desperately, remembering how frightened he’d been when he hurt himself. “That I get the belt, if I’m in danger.”

“Ah, I said that, and I stand by it,” father confirmed calmly. “I will whip you every time you wilfully put yourself in a dangerous situation, but perhaps we should talk about what sorts of situations qualify. Can you think of a dangerous situation, Harry?”

“Picking weeds and refusing medicine,” the boy answered timidly, listing times the dreaded belt was applied.

“Very good,” father approved, his hand tracing circles in his back. “I would add that if you ask permission, and the weeds are not dangerous, then picking them is fine. What else?”

Harry had to think about that for a moment.

“Running on the stairs, and… and onto the street,” he added carefully.

“Yes, I would also add climbing on the roof, and going somewhere with strangers, as well as hiding your injuries,” the man said seriously. “It’s impossible to list every foolish thing that children are wont to do, and I’m sure you’ll make mistakes that will get your backside sternly whipped at least a few more times before you’re grown up, but I will never punish you for getting hurt. Do you understand, Harry?”

The boy’s head bobbed absently, as he recalled the conversation he had overheard yesterday. Father wouldn’t let aunt Petunia take him to America, it probably meant he had to stay here with the man until he got tired of him, and would never see his family again. His eyes filled with tears at that terrible realisation.

“And what will you do next time you or someone else gets hurt in some fashion?”

“Tell you,” the boy mumbled, swallowing his misery for the moment to survive this conversation without further punishment.

“Or another adult, a teacher perhaps,” the man added sternly. “Or Mrs. Wilkinson, if you are at Eliot’s, and straight away. Yes?”

“Yes, father,” he whispered.

“Good boy,” the man murmured, Harry gasped when his frightening father did something inexplicable and kissed his forehead. “Go wash your face, we’re going shopping today.”
To be continued...
End Notes:
This is only half of what I planned, but it’s gotten so long and I didn’t even get to the important part yet...
Chapter 13 Shopping Spree by Kyralian
When aunt Petunia went shopping, she often took Dudley along so that he could choose some toys and sweets for himself. Harry was usually left at home to complete his chores, or serve some punishment. Even when she went to pick some clothes up for the boy, in the second hand clothes shop on the other side of town, Harry was left behind.

Truthfully, the only time he remembered being inside of a shop was a few days ago, when father took him to the bookstore. The prospect of another outing to the shops was very unsettling, his cousin was always overcome with glee at any such opportunity, but he knew not to expect anything for himself. Maybe his father just needed someone to carry his shopping for him? Yes, that made sense, as his father didn’t have a car.

The man was waiting by the front door when he returned downstairs, hands on his hips and a ferocious scowl on his face.

“There are some rules to this outing,” he said sternly to the child, who came to a jarring halt a few metres away from him. “Which you will obey religiously, or your behind will be very sore by the time I’m through with you. You will hold my hand at all times on the pavement or as we cross the street, and stay in my sight inside the shops. I will not tolerate temper tantrums or arguments, when I refuse to buy something. One complaint, and we’ll cut this shopping spree short. Is that understood, Harry?”

“Y-yes, father,” Harry stammered, his eyes going wide at the possibility of a harsh punishment.

“Repeat to me what I just told you,” the man instructed, smirking when the boy obeyed, reciting word perfect what had been said, his small voice trembling in fear. “Outstanding listening comprehension, Harry. Alright, we may go.”

Swallowing his anxiety, the boy stepped closer and took father’s outstretched hand, his grip was firm but not yet painful, but Harry suspected that would change when the man started to stretch his long legs. They walked up the path and out the rickety gate, but paused when Mrs. Wilkinson hailed them from the next property.

“Good day to you, madam,” father said politely, dipping his head in acknowledgement as the elderly woman came up to her gate. “How may we be of assistance?”

“Good day,” Mrs. Wilkinson answered sourly, nodding her chin at the silent child. “I’m merely surprised to see this one out and about, rather than nursing his sore arse, as my Eliot is doing. He deserved a hiding for lying and talking Eliot into doing the same, you need to take him in hand, Severus!”

Harry gasped, his free hand trailing to touch his bum, and his eyes filling with tears at the terrible realisation that his friend had been punished for helping him.

“I assure you that Harry has been sternly admonished for his foolish actions,” father said in his most imposing voice. “We’re out and about, as you say, to replenish the boy’s wardrobe as you advised, and I see no reason to delay the errand to allow the miscreant time to sulk.”

“Oh,” the woman’s face cleared off its previous disapproval, her sharp eyes took in the tears on the child’s cheeks and a hand on his rear, and she seemed satisfied at this evidence of stern chastisement. “Quite right, we mustn’t let them run amok.”

“Is Eliot alright?” Harry choked out before father could pull him away. “It wasn’t his fault!”

“My grandson has a mind of his own, which he should have used,” Mrs. Wilkinson scolded softly, but she patted the boy on the head, pleased to see how upset he was on her Eliot’s behalf. “He’ll be fine, you may visit him again soon.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, he felt incredibly guilty that the younger boy got in trouble because he made the wrong choice. It was unfair that Eliot had been punished, when father only lectured him about his behaviour.

“Here, wipe your nose,” father said, startling the boy out of his misery.

He took the offered handkerchief and blew his nose hard, they had been walking briskly for a while by then, and as he looked up, he realised that they were nearing a large grocery shop.

“I suppose you’d like to push the trolley, hmm?” the man mused, pulling one of the empty trolleys outside over, and relinquishing it to the astonished child. “No speeding inside, I don’t bloody believe myself…”

Harry looked at his father warily, he had never been given this chore before, and he worried he would do something wrong. The boy put his hands on the horizontal bar at the back of the trolley, and began pushing it alongside his father.

At the beginning, he couldn’t keep the unwieldy thing from going all over the place, even bumping into the man’s calf by accident. Harry froze in terror, certain that he would be punished for that, but father only put a hand on the trolley to help steer it, and told him to be more careful.

The boy was tense as a spring as they moved along the different aisles in the shop, father piled all kinds of food products into the trolley, until it became heavy. He tried not to think how much money it would cost, surely he’d be put on short rations soon to recover some of the coin that had been wasted on food he’d eaten lately.

“You’ve behaved well enough,” father suddenly broke the silence, as they walked up a new aisle. “You may choose one packet of biscuits, go on.”

Harry looked at the shelves with trepidation, they were filled with different kinds of biscuits and cakes, so much to choose from that one could get a headache trying to decide. He stared, picking out some of Dudley’s favourites with his eyes, but quite unable to move any closer. The boy wasn’t allowed to eat sweets, feeding him was quite expensive enough.

“Well?” the man demanded impatiently, gesturing toward the shelves. “Which ones do you want, boy? We don’t have all day to stare at them!”

Harry began to shake, he couldn’t touch them, he hadn’t even touched the cakes that Eliot’s grandmother brought for them. He had been too afraid, as he was too terrified now, the boy knew that something terrible would happen if he ever touched any of Dudley’s things.

A gentle finger brushed across his cheek, catching a few tears, the child whimpered, wide eyes flying to the man’s face. His father looked… rather strange.

“What is wrong, Harry?” he asked in the mildest voice the boy had ever heard directed at him, and it made him brave enough to tell the truth.

“I don’t eat sweets, father,” he said softly.

“Oh?” the man raised his eyebrows in evident surprise. “I do, on occasion, and it’s best to have some sweets on hand for when Albus visits,” father picked a packet of biscuits at random, and threw it on top of their shopping. “Will you help me pick out some fruit, Harry?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered meekly.

Harry was relieved to be leaving the sweets aisle, but helping father choose fruit turned out to be almost as frustrating. The man was completely undecided, asking the boy for advice all the time, when he had no idea what most of them even were.

“Aunt Petunia likes these,” he finally said, indicating the peaches, he was exasperated with the man changing his mind constantly.

“I wouldn’t trust her recommendation,” father muttered darkly. “What would you like?”

He had been asked this at least a hundredth time by then, at first, he had been extremely wary of giving any opinion. Usually, father chose whatever he wanted, when the boy gave no preference, but now he was stubborn on purpose! Eventually, Harry was so irritated that he marched toward the fruit boxes with a scowl, and pointed out the pretty red ones that he’d never seen at the Dursleys.

“Strawberries? Excellent choice,” the man said, as he loaded a big bag of them onto the trolley, adding apples and oranges.

“Why didn’t you say you wanted those?” the boy demanded indignantly.

“Because I wanted to see what you wanted, dunderhead,” father responded dryly, as he pushed the trolley towards the register. “Now, mind your tone before you earn yourself a sore behind.”

Harry huffed, rubbing his bottom worriedly, he didn’t dare say another word, but his face spoke volumes about his feelings. The man paid, and packed the mountain of food into a smallish shoulder bag that Harry could have sworn they hadn’t brought from home. They parked their empty trolley outside, and started walking towards the pedestrian crossing before he worked up the nerve to ask.

“Did you magic the bag, father?” the boy whispered, not entirely sure if he was in trouble or not.

“What bag?” the man inquired with a smirk.

The street lights changed, and Harry was pulled across while gaping at father’s empty shoulder, where the bag had been moments ago.

“Where did it go? I saw it, and now it’s gone!”

“I imagine it’s waiting at home for the unpacking,” the man drawled. “Now, be quiet. This topic can’t be discussed around people without special talent like ours.”

The boy frowned, trying to figure out what special talent of his father could be referring to. As far as he knew, Harry’s only talent was the ability to clean the house faster than aunt Petunia. They stopped at a vendor to buy fish and chips for lunch, and ate at a park bench. He looked around, trying to determine if this was the same park they had been at before, but he couldn’t see the swings anywhere.

“Why can’t we talk about magic?” Harry finally asked, deciding that must have been what the man meant, even though he didn’t know any.

“That’s the law,” father explained, fishing for a chip in his almost empty paper bag. “We aren’t allowed to share anything about magic with people who aren’t magical, and that includes your pal Eliot.”

“That’s unfair!” the boy protested, angry tears stinging his eyes. “You’re supposed to share secrets with friends, not hide them!”

The man laced his fingers behind his neck, leaning back against the bench’s backrest, and gazed pensively at the scowling child.

“Life is very rarely fair, Harry,” he said in a dry voice. “And breaking the rules always has unpleasant consequences. As you are a child, you’d only get a spanking from me, while I, as the adult responsible for you, could get a hefty fine from the Ministry of Magic. Little Eliot, however, would face the worst consequence of being made to forget. Do you think it’s fair to risk his sanity just for the comfort of sharing a secret?”

Harry was horrified, his chin was quivering as he listened to father’s matter-of-fact depiction of what the Ministry of Magic did to Muggles [that were people without magic] who found out that magic was real.

“That’s terrible!” the boy wailed, fat tears running down his face. “I don’t want them to hurt Eliot!”

“Indeed,” the man nodded sagely. “We are responsible for keeping our neighbours safe from the Obliviators. Do you know how we can best protect them, Harry?”

“By keeping magic secret,” he whined, wiping his face with a sleeve.

“Yes,” father murmured, pulling the boy’s hand away from his face, and drying his tears with a handkerchief. “Have you eaten enough?”

Harry glanced at a few remaining cold chips in his bag without enthusiasm, and nodded. To his surprise, the man didn’t immediately launch into a lecture about wasting food, he gathered the paper containers and deposited them in a nearby rubbish bin.

“Come, we have a Primark to visit,” father said, holding out his hand for the child to take.

The boy gave a sigh, but clasped the man’s hand without hesitation. The outing hadn’t been as bad as he expected, there were a few tense moments when he was a little scared, but mostly it was ok. They were walking along a really high curb that separated the lawn from the pavement, and on a whim he jumped on the curb, and started tip-toeing along it.

“Are you trying to spring your ankle?” father rebuked him, gripping his hand more tightly and slowing to a crawl.

The boy looked up at the scowling man, grinning from ear to ear.

“I always wanted to try it,” he explained.

“I see,” the man said dryly. “If this is a developmental milestone for you, then by all means, pretend to be a monkey.”

“Can we go faster?” he asked enthusiastically.

“Hold out your other hand to the side for balance,” the man grumbled, rolling his eyes at the heavens.

Harry did as instructed, and grinned even wider when they sped up a little. That was a lot of fun, walking like that, but much too soon they had to cross to the other side of the street again. He jumped to the pavement with a regretful sigh.

“Ankles survived in good shape?” father inquired mockingly.

Harry nodded, suddenly a bit embarrassed about behaving so childishly, he peeked up at the man’s stern face, but he didn’t seem to be angry, only impatient that they had to wait for the lights to change again. They went into a clothes shop that was simply enormous, and the merchandise was so new and colourful that the boy’s eyes almost fell out of his sockets from staring. It all looked very expensive, like nothing he had ever owned in his entire life.

Father led him towards a colourful children’s section, and his heart started to pound in anxiety at seeing all those pretty and clean things that didn’t fit a worthless brat like himself.

“I can’t have any of these things…” he said in a hushed voice.

“Excuse me?!” the man abruptly growled. “Not good enough for you, boy?”

Harry peered up at the suddenly tightening expression of his father, and gulped in fear. He didn’t understand how he managed to offend the man, when he only said that these things were too nice for him.

“These things aren’t right for me,” he tried to explain, but it only seemed to make the situation worse.

“Enough,” the man snapped, grabbing the boy’s arm with one hand, and delivering a sharp smack to his posterior with the other. “I don’t care what designer clothes you think you ought to have,” he scolded harshly. “These are adequate to your needs, so stop complaining, I’ve no intention to pay five times the price just so that you can have a fashionable tag!”

Harry ducked his head, his face flushing crimson in mortification that father misunderstood him so horribly. It was always Dudley who threw screaming fits demanding expensive presents, but Harry knew his place in the world very well. He knew he needed to explain that he didn’t deserve such pretty things, but father’s lips were pressed into such a firm line that the boy didn’t dare make another sound. Father asked a pretty shop assistant to help select all manner of clothes for him, but before she could pull Harry away, the man pushed his chin up, until he was forced to meet his angry eyes.

“You will behave yourself for Ms… Redflock,” father instructed in his strictest voice. “Or I’ll buy all your shirts and trousers in some horrible pink. Is that understood, Harry?”

The boy felt dizzy as blood drained away from his face at the horrid threat, it would be much worse than a whipping for sure. He’d have to run away and live in a forest somewhere to avoid the ridicule.

“I’ll be good,” he promised hoarsely.

The young shop assistant was grinning as she took the child by the hand, and pulled him to look at the clothes. She started by showing him all the different shirts in pink, they were all so girly and frilly that his eyes filled with tears of humiliation.

“Chill, I’m just teasing you,” she laughed. “Your dad’s a cruel bas-, er, let’s go pick up some manly clothes, right?”

After that bit of fun at his expense, Abigail [that was the girl’s name] only showed him very nice things for boys. Harry argued weekly that they were too expensive, but she didn’t seem to listen, and he was too afraid of father hearing his complaints to try very hard. He looked back towards the register, but from this distance he could only make out a dark imposing figure. Sighing, the boy pointed out a red t-shirt that he liked best.

It took ages before Abigail was satisfied that they had enough clothes, and Harry hoped that the huge pile of clothes would last him at least until he was twenty, as it was very exhausting. There were several short- and long-sleeved shirts, a few pairs of trousers and shorts, underwear and socks, and even three jumpers - so much that he doubted anyone could really afford it in one go, and he watched father’s face carefully for a reaction.

“Here, you’re set for a while,” Abigail said cheerfully, dumping her load on the counter. “Except for the shoes, you’ll have to look in the footwear department, sir.”

Harry groaned at hearing that, earning himself a critical glance from the man.

“Thank you,” he said as he pulled out his wallet. “Have you got school uniforms as well?”

The boy trailed to the window in boredom, as the girl added a school uniform to the mount Everest of clothes, and began figuring out how much it all cost. He peered with longing at the people outside who weren’t trapped in this miserable shop, when he caught sight of a familiar shade of brown hair pulled into a tight bun on the opposite side of the busy street.

“Aunt Petunia!” he breathed.
To be continued...
Chapter 14 The Worst Feeling in the World by Kyralian
What happened next wasn’t a conscious choice. It was a need, an uncontrollable desire to regain the life he was used to. He needed to be assured that he hadn’t been abandoned by the only family he knew. The boy wanted the Dursleys to come back for him, to take him home.

Harry was flying across the pavement outside, before his mind could catch up with his actions. His eyes were fixed on the brown bun bobbing up and down, as it flowed in and out of view among the traffic on the other side of the street. He was so fixated on it that he didn’t pay attention to anything else, the boy scarcely heard the horns blaring around him or his father shouting for him to come back.

Suddenly, a speeding car passed scant inches in front of him, and he froze in place, terrified to find himself in the middle of the street. Harry threw his hands over his head, as the wind from cars passing on either side buffeted him. A loud screeching of brakes, and a sickening grinding of metal made him scream. He closed his eyes, unable to do anything to help himself out of this situation. Abruptly, he was flying through the air, pressed against a warm body, and screaming in terror until he was too hoarse to continue. Only then he was able to hear an urgent voice next to his ear.

“Shh, Harry, it’s alright, you’re alright,” it was his father’s voice speaking to him, and his father’s arms holding him pressed against his body so hard that it was difficult to breathe.

The boy began sobbing then, great choking sobs of utter devastation.

“A-aunt P-pet-unia,” he cried into father’s shoulder. “It was h-her! She c-came back f-for me!”

“Shh, you’re safe, Harry,” father soothed, patting his back gently. “Calm down, it’s alright.”

Angry voices were coming from nearby, and he peered over father’s shoulder to see what was happening. On the street, two cars were stopped across the street, blocking the traffic in both directions. Both drivers were out of their cars, shouting at one another, and waving at the damaged front of their cars. People gathered around the scene of the accident to gawk, but nobody was paying any attention to Harry or his father, who stood on the pavement only a few paces distant.

“Are they hurt?” the boy choked out in horror, realising that he somehow was responsible for the two cars colliding. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to!”

The man continued to pat the child’s back, as he assessed the scene with a critical gaze.

“I think it’s only property damage,” he said softly. “But an ambulance will come in a few minutes to check them over, and you? Are you feeling faint or dizzy?”

Harry looked up at his father in surprise.

“They didn’t hit me,” he said, uncertain.

“No, you pushed them away with your magic,” the man explained, beginning to walk back towards the shop.

Although the words were seemingly calm, they were enough for the blood to drain away from the child’s face, and his body to become rigid. It wasn’t difficult to understand what that meant, he had done something freakish. Uncle Vernon’s purple face flashed in his mind, he had been five and Dudley and his friends were playing Harry hunting in the yard.

They caught him by the shed, surrounding him and pushing him around, jeering that he was a stray and they would kick him to death, like the Thompson’s boys had done to a stray dog recently. He’d fallen to the ground, curling into a ball and throwing his hands over his head protectively. Harry didn’t know how it had happened, but before his cousin’s shod foot could graze his head, Dudley was flying backwards and landing hard on his bum, screaming that Harry had attacked him.

“Poor kid,” a female voice crooned, startling the child out of the bad memory. “Is he okay?”

“Yes, the dunderhead just got a big fright,” father said brusquely. “As you can see, we have a little accident to deal with. May we use your toilet?”

“Course,” Abigail said, jumping from her stool. “This way!”

The man selected a pair of pants and trousers from the bag of clothes, before following the girl to the shop’s back. The toilet was a tiny room, with only enough space for a small sink and a lavatory, and father sighed unhappily as he closed the narrow door. He set the child on his feet.

“‘m sorry I was a freak, father!” Harry cried out, before father could punish him. “Please, I won’t do it again!”

The man’s thick eyebrows rose as he looked at the distressed child, he sat on his haunches to be on the same level with him.

“That’s not a very nice word to say, Harry,” father chastised softly, reaching out to the boy’s waistband, and lowering his trousers and underwear.

Gasping, Harry leaned back as far as was possible in the cramped space.

“I don’t want to be whipped,” he pleaded desperately, tears filling his eyes.

“I know you don’t,” the man said a little sternly, dropping his hands to his knees. “We’ll discuss your behaviour and punishment, when we get back home. Now, we need to change you out of these soiled clothes, don’t you think?”

Harry looked down at his lowered bottoms in horror, only now noticing that they were wet.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his face growing hot in shame. He hadn’t done it since… Since he had spent a week locked in the cellar.

“That’s alright,” father murmured, resuming the undressing of the boy.

Harry was so mortified that he didn’t look up from his worn trainers throughout the humiliating process, until he was decked in his brand-new jeans and feeling more unworthy of them than ever before.

“Do you want to use the toilet before we go?”

The boy shook his head, his chin wobbling in upset, he doubted he’d be able to look the man in the eyes ever again. He flinched when father gave an exasperated sigh, but rather than bending the child over his knee for immediate punishment, father lifted him up and rocked him slowly, like a baby.

“Don’t be so dramatic, Harry,” he said impatiently. “It happens even to adults, when they are very frightened. You’re changed, now, and it’s over.”

Harry buried his face in father’s shoulder to muffle his crying, as they returned to the main shop.

“I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention it was my boy on the street,” father asked the shop assistant politely. “I don’t think it would do any good for him to be interrogated by the police.”

“Sure, sure, my lips are sealed,” Abigail promised, pursing her lips out suggestively at the man. “It’ll serve those two right to have to explain themselves to bobbies for once.”

“Confundo,” father whispered so softly that it was a bare thrum of noise against Harry’s cheek. The man left the shop briskly, before the girl stopped blinking in confusion. “The things I have to do to protect your dunderheaded skin…” he muttered disgustedly.

“I’m sorry,” the boy apologised.

Father carried him all the way back home, and, even though with each step he was getting closer to being punished, Harry couldn’t help feeling very secure, with his head tucked into the crook of the man’s neck.

“Alright,” father said sternly as soon as they were through the gate on their property. “Back on your feet, boy.”

The child hunched his shoulders forward as he was set on the ground, ducking his head to avoid eye contact. He dragged his feet for the few steps it took to reach the house, but much too soon Harry was standing in the hallway, the door to the outside world firmly closed behind him.

“Are you hungry?” the man asked suddenly, surprising the boy so much that he almost made the mistake of looking up at father, only catching himself at the last moment. He averted his eyes to the linoleum floor and shook his head, his stomach knotting up at the thought of putting anything in his mouth. “Very well, we won’t delay the inevitable much longer. Here,” father held out the bag of clothes for the boy to take. “Take this to your room. I’ll deal with you, after I put away the groceries.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry whispered, taking the bag and scurrying obediently away.

In his room, he perched on the bed, hugging the bag to himself and feeling utterly miserable. Father hadn’t been furious or anything, but he made it very clear that Harry wouldn’t be spared the belt this time. His thoughts raced, searching for some way to convince the man to be lenient one more time, but persistently coming back to the conversation they’d had that morning, and his own voice listing running onto the street as behaviour bad enough to get him whipped.

Eventually, the boy couldn’t bear to just sit there, waiting for his comeuppance to arrive. He jumped up, dumping the contents of the bag onto his bed and staring. Of course, he had known that father was buying loads of things for him, but seeing them piled on his bed made him realise just how much there was. Clothes for hot weather and cool weather, for daywear and nightwear, so many clothes that they rivaled the amount that Dudley had in his wardrobe. Feeling dizzy, he started sorting the clothes into smaller piles, and putting them away in his wardrobe.

Harry closed the door to his much too full wardrobe, and barely had time to begin feeling anxious again, when there was a soft knock on the door and the man was stepping into the room, his sharp eyes taking in everything in sight.

“I see you’ve unpacked, good,” father said approvingly, moving past the child who was losing all colour already, and pulling out the desk chair. He turned it around and sat facing the bed, indicating with an imperious gesture that the boy should have a seat on the bed. “Come, it’s time to talk.”

Folding his arms tightly across his torso, Harry did as instructed, perching at the very edge of the mattress, his eyes firmly glued to the faded green carpet at his feet.

“You’ll do me the courtesy of looking at me, young man,” the man rebuked him sharply. “Or you’ll start this conversation with a very sore behind. I won’t tolerate your disrespect.”

His head whipped up so fast that he got a crick in his neck, panicked eyes fleeted over the strict face, the anger that he had expected earlier was all too visible now. Father had his vampire face on, and it was incredibly hard to withstand his steely stare.

“I’m sorry,” the boy blurted out, unable to take the disapproval in the black eyes a moment longer.

“Tell me why you are in trouble, Harry,” father demanded coldly.

Harry cringed, dropping his eyes automatically, as he considered what to say.

“B-because I ran on the s-street,” he stuttered, his voice rising in agitation. “And I d-disobeyed, and… was f-freaky.”

“Eyes up!” father snapped irritably. “Magical, wizardry, extraordinary. Show some respect for the talent that saved your reckless neck! Now, why is such behaviour unacceptable?”

Father’s eyes were scorching like molten lava, as they bore relentlessly into the boy’s, and Harry wished he could at least blink for a second, but his eyelids seemed to be frozen open.

“B-because it’s dangerous,” he answered on the verge of crying.

“Yes, very much so,” the man said harshly, holding a thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “You were this close from becoming a wet stain on the asphalt, had your magic not surged to protect you, you would have been killed. How do you think I felt watching it happen, Harry?”

The boy was flinching at every harsh word the man said, but that last question confused him. He tilted his head to the side, staring at his strict father with open curiosity. Nobody had ever asked him such a thing before, what would his aunt or uncle feel? Maybe relief that they wouldn’t have to bother with him any longer? He knew father wouldn’t feel that way, all the safety rules and precautions he gave Harry showed that he wouldn’t be happy if he was hurt. Anger? Looking at the blazing eyes, he thought it could be right, but remembering the way the man had held him, after pulling him to safety, made the boy realise that he was somehow wrong.

“I don’t know, father,” he said honestly.

The man’s forehead creased with lines, and his caterpillar eyebrows knitted together into a single black line, but, to Harry’s surprise, he didn’t get any angrier. His eyes widened, and he sighed, rubbing his temples in frustration.

“Let me ask this in a different way,” father said in his softest voice. “If it was me in the middle of the street, about to be run over by a racing car, and you stood on the pavement, watching and knowing that you couldn’t do anything fast enough to help, how would you be feeling?”

Harry’s mouth fell open in dismayed horror, his lips going dry at the terrible mental image.

“Scared,” he whispered shakily.

“Scared, terrified, hopeless,” father added, looking very unhappy. “I feared that I would lose you, Harry, and that was the worst feeling in the world. I don’t want to ever feel that way again.”

The boy’s eyes filled with tears, he never meant to be so much trouble to the man. He never thought that anyone could want him around so much to feel so deeply. He recalled father saying yesterday that he wouldn’t let his aunt take him away, but he hadn’t considered what that might mean. Harry was so used to being an unwanted burden to his relatives that it was implausible anyone could feel differently about having him around, and now his father finally understood that he wasn’t worth the bother.

“I just wanted to see Aunt Petunia!” he sniffled, lost for words to apologise for upsetting the man. “She was right there, so I had to catch her.”

The man’s eyes narrowed into slits at the words, and his lips went white.

“You did not have to do anything, other than obey the rules I set for you, boy!” he suddenly snarled, making Harry jump in fright. “If you were so desperate to see your supposed aunt, you should have told me, and we could have gone together to see if the person you saw was indeed your aunt Tuney. Instead, you chose to risk your life, got in huge trouble, and didn’t even accomplish your goal.”

The boy ducked his head, thinking of what father had said. He was right of course, all this terrifying day had gained him was to anger his father, and ensure that he would be punished. Harry shook his head, he hadn’t told father on purpose, he wanted to catch his aunt and beg her to take him back, before father could intervene, but he couldn’t really admit that to father.

“Are you going to whip me, father?” he asked in a whisper, after he couldn’t bear the uncertainty another moment.

“Yes, I will,” father said very calmly. “And after this morning, I think you knew what you were getting into from the start. Isn’t that so, Harry?”

The boy’s shoulders slumped, and he peeked up at the stern man in trepidation. He wasn’t holding the belt yet, but as their eyes met, father stood slowly, and began to unbuckle it.

“I don’t want to be beaten,” he whimpered, his whole body seizing up in fear.

Harry watched as the awful thing was readied for his punishment, he couldn’t make himself look away.

“Come, child,” father commanded sternly, resuming his seat, the leather strap wrapped around his fist. Harry swallowed hard, looking at the man pleadingly, but he only shook his head. “You aren’t getting out of it this time, Harry. You knew what would be the consequence of this foolish stunt. Now, come here.”

The boy’s legs shook as he stood, and his heart was racing fit to jump out of his chest. He didn’t know where he got the courage to lift his foot and step forward, but in just a moment he was beside his father, who was watching him with steady black eyes.

Harry drew in a frightened breath, when father unbuttoned his new jeans, and positioned him across his lap. He grabbed the man’s leg as hard as he could, trying not to allow his mind to take him to the last time he was in this situation, but he began to cry when father bared his bottom. The man put one hand over the boy’s back, holding him firmly in place, and without prolonging the tension any further, he swung the belt in the air and began the punishment.

Harry thought he remembered the whipping at the hospital really well, the way the belt left a distinctive blazing line across his bum with every painful lash. This time it was somehow worse, every lash was hard enough to knock his breath out for a moment, before he could scream at the biting pain. The man took his time applying the belt, and it seemed to take an eternity, even though the strap fell only a few times it felt like a lot more. Harry sobbed and kicked his legs, trying to survive as his buttocks were flayed open over and over.

Eventually, father stopped, and he lay across his lap, panting and shaking from pain and exhaustion. His breath wheezed in his scratched throat, and he moaned as father replaced his clothes. His backside seemed to throb worse with every beat of his heart, and Harry didn’t think he could bear to sit down ever again. After he caught his breath, the man lifted him up and pressed him against his chest so hard that he could hardly breathe.

“You have no idea how glad I am that you are safe in my arms, Harry,” he whispered in his ear. “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”
To be continued...
End Notes:
I mentioned Snape is rather harsh, yes?
Chapter 15 Contemporary Oliver Twist by Kyralian
Harry was in the middle of the street again, watching a red sports car racing straight at him. Terrified, he knew he wouldn’t be able to get out of the way in time. He lifted his hands to magic it away, but before he could do anything, a large hand clamped painfully on his arm, pulling him around. He looked up, cringing upon seeing his uncle’s purpling face towering over him.

“You worthless freak!” he shouted, his spittle hitting the boy’s face. The large man was shaking Harry so hard that his teeth rattled. “Into the cellar! Two weeks! No food!”

Before uncle Vernon could push him through the door into the cellar, someone else caught his other arm, and pulled him around the other way. It was his father, and he looked livid, his black eyes blazing like hot coals.

“Risking your life again, Harry?!” he demanded furiously. “That means the belt!”

“No, no, I wasn’t!” the boy protested desperately, glancing at the speeding car getting closer and closer.

“He was a freak again!” uncle Vernon yelled from the other side. “He needs the cellar!”

“Freak?” father hissed. “And after I told him to keep it hidden!”

His pants were pulled down, and the man raised a hand with the strap already wrapped around his fist.

“No! I’ll be good, I promise!” Harry sobbed, so scared of both punishments that he was shaking.

A stinging slap to his cheek made him gasp in surprise. He looked at the pinched face of his aunt standing right in front of him, she was clutching her handbag with one hand, her narrowed eyes glaring at the boy with disgust.

“Aunt Petunia!” he exclaimed, lurching forward as if to hug her, but stopping just short of touching. “You came back for me!”

“Silence!” she hissed, slapping his other cheek. “You ungrateful, little brat! How many times must I tell you not to make a scene for the neighbours to gossip about?!”

“I wasn’t,” the boy protested, but as he looked around he saw that all the gawkers’ faces were from Privet Drive.

“Enough!” she screeched, snatching Harry’s hand and dragging him toward an imposing stone building with many windows facing the front. He could see sad faces of children looking out at them. “You’re too much trouble to keep!”

The boy looked at his father and uncle pleadingly, but both men were nodding agreement with his aunt.

“Too much trouble!” they growled in unison.

Aunt Petunia pushed Harry through the iron gate, before slamming it shut with a metallic clang.

“Will you come back?” the boy asked tearfully.

All three adults rounded on him then, their eyes narrowed into angry slits.

“Don’t ask questions!” they shouted.

Then, they left, and Harry tugged at the gate frantically, but it wouldn’t open from the inside.

Harry awoke in the dark, crying so hard that his whole body shook with the force of his sobbing. The persistent throbbing in his rear reminded him that he had been punished recently, but he couldn’t be sure where he was exactly. The boy’s stomach churned with unpleasant thoughts that the dream was real and this was the orphanage, but he was too afraid to stand and confirm his location. He curled into a tighter ball, pushing his fist into his mouth to muffle the noise he was making. Uncle Vernon had said that snivelling brats were thrashed at the orphanage.

However, it seemed that he had been too loud, as the door was swinging open, and someone was coming in, but he couldn’t see who it was. Choking off a frightened sob, the boy pushed himself back against the headboard, wincing as the steady ache in his bum flared up in intensity when he sat.

“Don’t panic,” an exasperated voice said, and a second later a ball of light was floating above his father’s palm. “I think we need to get you a nightlight, don’t you, Harry?”

He didn’t respond in any way, only watched with wide eyes as the man came closer and sat on the bed. He was wearing a navy blue dressing gown, and the boy couldn’t be sure if there was a belt underneath or not.

“Are you going to thrash me, now?” he choked out after wondering about it became too hard to bear.

Father’s eyebrows climbed to his hairline at the question.

“I don’t know,” he admitted in surprise. “Have you engaged in anything life-threatening since going to bed?”

Tears filling his eyes, Harry shook his head so hard that he became dizzy. The man sighed, plucking the child from his retreat by the headboard, and settled him in his lap, fixing him with a stern glare.

“As the belt is only reserved for those dangerous situations,” he lectured. “I can’t administer it any time else, Harry. I would be breaking the rules, are you trying to get me in trouble?”

The boy stared at the man as if he were mad.

“But… Don’t you make the rules, father?” he asked sceptically.

“I do,” he smirked, stroking the child’s messy hair. “That’s why I cannot ever break my own edicts, otherwise there would be chaos. Do you understand?”

“Okay,” Harry sighed, putting his head to father’s chest. “So, you will never…?”

“Only when you put yourself in danger, as we already discussed,” father repeated sternly. “But it’ll be as hard as today, I’m dead serious on that, Harry.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, his lips trembling at the awful threat.

“It really hurts, father,” he whimpered quietly.

“As it was meant to do,” the man commented without sympathy. “Maybe it’ll deter you next time. Was your bottom bothering you so much that you couldn’t sleep, then?”

He wiped a hand across wet cheeks, as his bum really throbbed fiercely now, but he shook his head.

“Why were you crying, then? Did you have a bad dream, Harry?” the man prodded gently.

The boy shrugged his shoulders, unwilling to think about the stupid nightmare.

“Sorry I woke you,” he whispered, worried that father was angry about being bothered so late.

“Ah, thank you,” father mused, lowering his head to touch his lips to the boy’s forehead. Harry gasped out loud at the strange sensation. “Would you like to talk about your dream?”

He shook his head vehemently, eyes filling as all the fear and uncertainty from the dream returned at the question.

“Alright,” father reassured softly. “Are you ready to go back to bed, child?”

Harry leaned his head into father’s hand for another moment, but he knew he couldn’t be greedy about these tender moments, lest the man withheld them as punishment.

“Yes, sir,” he said a little shakily.

Father’s hands fell away, so the boy scrambled back into bed. He lay on his side, reaching one hand back to rub his throbbing backside, while tracing his forehead with the fingers of his other hand. The place where the man had kissed him felt sort of tingly, but not in a bad way.

Harry tensed as father rose to his feet, not at all eager to be left alone in the dark so soon, and father sighed at seeing the child’s unhappy expression. He pulled the blanket over the boy’s skinny frame, before turning around toward the desk. Harry had a dreadful thought that he would pull a chair around and tell him to bend over his knee for a punishment, but when he turned back, he was holding a book instead of a chair. The boy’s forehead creased in confusion at the sight. Did he want Harry to read now?

“Well? Scoot over,” the man demanded impatiently. “I’m not going to read to you from that wretched chair at two in the morning.”

Remembering the same thing happening at the hospital, the boy moved closer to the wall, giving the man plenty of space to stretch on the bed.

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” father snapped, putting the book on the bed and tugging the child back to the centre of the bed. “I’m not so elephantine to need the entire pillow for myself, boy!”

The reprimand made Harry let out a snort, because his father was anything but fat, and he almost cringed at his audacity to laugh at the man. Father gave him a stern glare, but hugged him gently with one arm, so the boy wasn’t certain if he was in trouble or not. The man directed the ball of light to float above their heads, and opened the unknown book.

“Chapter one,” father read out loud. “Treats of the place where Oliver Twist was born and of the circumstances attending his birth.”

Harry put his head on father’s shoulder and listened to the first-ever tale told especially for him. He remembered feeling like a thief when he’d overheard his cousin’s stories. Even his incognito-Eliot stories made him feel uneasy, but this story was only for Harry, and that made all the difference in the world.

That was a very strange story, with big words that he didn’t always understand very well. Harry imagined his father telling this story to students at the university, or even at the parliament, with the Queen attending. It sounded very grand, and the boy felt proud that he was the one father told it to. He had to concentrate really hard to understand it.

“What does res-ration mean?” he asked softly, forgetting that he wasn’t allowed to ask questions.

“Respiration,” the man enunciated clearly. “It means breathing,” he explained with a yawn. “The baby couldn’t breathe after it was born.”

“Was he sick?” he asked in a small voice.

“Well,” father breathed out, setting the book on his stomach. “I wouldn’t say sick exactly. The birth is a difficult process for both the mother and the child, and complications used to occur frequently even in the best circumstances, which these were decidedly not.”

“And his mummy died,” Harry whispered sadly. “Like mine did.”

“Yes, I know,” father murmured, moving his hand to the back of the boy’s head. “Would you rather I tell you another story, Harry?”

The boy shook his head absently, too busy thinking about his mummy to give the sad story any more thought. It was so unfair that everyone else had a mummy, except for him! Why did she have to die in a stupid car crash, when his father didn’t? Couldn’t he have magicked her to safety?

“I wish my mummy were here,” he suddenly burst out, raising his head and giving the man an angry glare. “Why did she have to die, and you didn’t?! She wouldn’t let you hit me!”

Harry pushed himself back to his heels, flinching as his sore bum exploded with piercing pain again. He started to shake with silent sobs, knowing that his father wouldn’t like what he had said, his sleepy face had already sharpened with a frown. The boy watched warily, his throat bobbing with panicked breaths, but the man didn’t seem inclined to move and punish him just yet.

“I wish your mother could be here with us, too,” his father said after a while in a voice so mournful that it made Harry’s heart ache. “She would know how to go about raising you better than I do, I’m certain, Harry,” his lips curved upwards into a tiny smile. “I am sure that she would be the most loving, the tenderest and the most caring mother in the whole world, but if she knew what happened today, she would be absolutely furious. Do you know why?”

Harry’s mouth had gone dry with nerves at the way father was speaking, it was almost the same as when he hugged the boy after the horrible whipping. He shook his head, praying that he wouldn’t get another, now.

Father sat up slowly on the bed, catching the child’s face between two palms. The boy stopped breathing, so terrified was he of what was happening.

“Your mother would be furious,” he said solemnly. “Because what I’m holding in my hands is the most important thing in her entire world, and she would despise me for eternity if I ever allowed harm to come to her precious boy. I don’t want her ghost to haunt me, and so I will not hesitate to tan your posterior as often as needed to keep you from putting yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily.”

The boy flinched, staring open-mouthed, his lips going quite numb. What would it be like to have a mum who cared about him so much? Would she be like aunt Petunia was to Dudley? Harry was so distracted by thoughts of his mummy that he barely noticed father settling him back on the pillow. He entertained thoughts of being loved so deeply, while father’s fingers caressed his hair gently, but such alien imaginings didn’t hold his attention for very long, and his thoughts soon strayed to a more pressing concern.

“She didn’t come today,” he whispered in distress. “Will she come for me tomorrow?”

“Your mummy can’t come back, Harry,” father answered quietly.

The child opened his blurry eyes, blinking at the man in confusion.

“Aunt Petunia,” he sighed sleepily. “When will she come for me?”

Father didn’t say anything for so long that Harry was sure he wouldn’t answer, but then he spoke softly.

“I don’t think it was your aunt in the town today,” he murmured, and when the boy opened his mouth to protest, he put a finger across his lips to stop it. “Think back to what you overheard yesterday, Harry. What were grandpa Al and myself talking about?”

His lips trembled, he had only overheard one angry sentence of his father’s before he got caught, and he was sure he’d be in a heap of trouble if he repeated all the words.

“That you wouldn’t let my aunt take me b-back,” he choked out through a tight throat, turning his face into a pillow. Of course! He should have realised that father wouldn’t let him catch up to aunt Petunia! Harry began crying, wishing the man would leave him alone!

“Yes, Harry,” father said after a pause so long that the boy was almost asleep before he said anything. “Your aunt and uncle decided to move to another country recently, and I resolved to keep you with me from now on. This will be your home permanently, now, and if your relatives come to Cokeworth in the future, it will only be for a visit. I am sorry, child.”

“No, you’re not!” Harry raged, refusing to look at the stupid man.

He had wondered about this possibility from the very beginning, fearing that aunt Petunia wouldn’t want to keep him, with someone else available to foist him on to. Having his worries confirmed made the boy want to scream, he’d lived with the Dursleys for many years, wishing that his parents could return for him many times, but nobody ever came. Harry had gotten accustomed to the life of an orphan, he knew what to do to survive and not be sent to an orphanage. He didn’t want to start over here, where the rules were all wrong, and the man kept demanding things from Harry that he didn’t understand. The boy was sure to mess something up, and end up in the dreaded institutions, where unwanted children were kept until they died. He was afraid and angry, and much too tired to consider the consequences of what he did next.

Harry kicked out with his legs furiously, catching the man’s chin with his feet, making him gasp in pain and surprise.

“I hate you!” he yelled, punching the pillow and kicking, and feeling as though his chest rent open, it hurt so much. “I hate you! I hate you!”

He thought he must have hit father on the face with his fist as well, as it began to ache quite a bit. It only lasted a minute, before the man managed to subdue his flailing limbs, pressing the boy firmly against his body. Harry screamed and raged until he grew hoarse, and then he sobbed, too overwrought to wonder at the fact that he wasn’t being punished.

The boy must have fallen asleep in the midst of his crying, because when he next opened his eyes, it was morning. He yawned, letting his eyes roam around the room. Father was nowhere to be seen, but he immediately spotted something new on the bedside table. Harry sat up, grimacing as his bottom reminded of itself with a particularly sharp twinge. He stood, rubbing the source of the discomfort, as he stared at the glass jar on the bedside table. It was filled with light.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Was the dream dreamlike enough? The chapter was supposed to be quite mellow, but Harry decided to have a melt-down...
Chapter 16 Out of Sorts by Kyralian
He was so dead! Dead like a corpse, he just hadn’t realised it yet! Harry whimpered, pulling his knees closer to his chest and hugging them tightly. It was dark here, and even more cramped than his cupboard at the Dursleys. The boy was scared of the dark, close-fitting places like that, knowing that it was only too easy to lock him in, but he desperately needed a place to hide right now, and he didn’t know any better ones here yet.

Harry huddled in the cramped space, his pulse thundered in his ears so loudly that he was sure it could be heard downstairs, too. It must have been well past breakfast time already, and any minute now father would come seeking him out. The boy didn’t want to be found any time soon, he knew he wouldn’t survive coming face to face with the man.

A soft sound of distress escaped his lips and he clamped one hand over his mouth to muffle the noise, he couldn’t believe what he had done. In all the years with the Dursleys, he had never lashed out at them with words, not to mention with blows.Well, not on purpose, Harry knew that attacking them would be the last thing he did under their roof, uncle Vernon had been very explicit about what happened to violent freaks that time Dudley landed on his arse.

Uncle Vernon didn’t punish him like his father did, with bending the boy over his knee, and walloping his bum until he was sure it would never stop hurting there, but he had his own ways of making Harry fear for his life. That day two years prior, uncle had been livid, his face had gone dark purple with rage, and he dragged the boy home by the arm, squeezing it so cruelly that he was certain the bone would snap. The man opened the cellar door, and threw the child down the stairs, as if he was no more than a sack of potatoes. The man had brought a shovel, and ordered him to dig a grave for himself in the earthen floor. Harry remembered being more frightened in that black cellar than he had been ever before or since, convinced that he was going to be buried in the small grave he’d been forced to dig. It was difficult to say which part had been worse; digging that hole or sitting in it, waiting in the dark for his uncle to return and cover him with earth.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, he berated himself as he attempted to shake this train of thought. He knew that father had a cellar as well, but he wouldn’t make Harry dig another grave, would he? No! It was father’s laboratory, he needed it, and the boy wasn’t allowed inside at all! Father would probably give him another whipping or something, and that would be a relief, except that he knew the consequences of his turning into a violent delinquent would be more than that. He almost wished he was found already, because not knowing what to expect was making his mind relive the cellar experience over and over. His eyes burned, but Harry couldn’t cry, it was a memory that made him feel all hollowed out inside.

The steps on the landing outside his room made his whirling thoughts freeze and the breath to solidify in his lungs. There was a perfunctory knock and a creak of the door opening, and Harry’s heart began to thump so hard that his chest was about to explode.

“Time to wake up, sleepyhead,” father’s voice called softly across the room. He didn’t sound as angry as Harry expected, but it just took a moment for the voice to sharpen. “Harry! Where in the blazes are you, boy?!”

The child tried to be as still and silent as possible, but he must have made a noise, as only a second later the wardrobe door was yanked open. He cried out as the light stabbed into his eyes, throwing both hands over his face to protect them. There was a beat of ominous silence, and then-

“Are you trying to reach Narnia?” father asked, sounding rather bewildered.

Harry peered at the man through his fingers, he was holding the door with one hand, while tapping the fingers of the other on the hipbone in impatience. He wasn’t holding the belt or the shovel yet, but that did little to comfort the child. He gulped nervously, raising his eyes higher with baited breath. Father furrowed his brow when the boy didn’t reply quickly enough.

“I’m afraid there’s no magical passage through your wardrobe, Harry,” he said with a weary sigh. “Why don’t you come out, now.”

The boy cringed, he had no idea what father was even talking about, but the last part was uttered in such a tone of command that he shuddered. He was shaking his head, before he had time to consider the wisdom of disobeying.

“N-no, I c-can’t-,” he stuttered anxiously, unable to explain further.

“You can, and you will,” father snapped, narrowing his eyes into slits, not appreciating the child’s reticence in the slightest. He stepped back, giving the boy space to emerge. “There’s no pressing need for you to reside in the damn closet,” the man sneered, folding his arms. “Come. Out. Now.”

The boy shook his head harder, eyes filling and his chest heaving, the world around him seemed to shrink until the only thing he could see was his uncle’s purple face telling him he wouldn’t be coming out again. The sound of movement had him burrowing deeper into the black cellar to escape the hole. He gasped out in shock at a feather light touch on his cheek, he blinked and a horror scene in his head was replaced by his father’s frowning face scrutinizing him from only a few inches away, his hand cupped around the boy’s cheek gently.

“What is wrong, Harry?” he asked very softly.

“Don’t wanna be buried alive,” the child whispered through trembling lips.

The man’s eyebrows shot up his forehead at the peculiar comment.

“I wouldn’t either,” he responded mildly. “That’s not a very pleasant prospect, is that what your dream was about, Harry?”

The boy shrugged, it felt so real a minute ago, even though he was aware that uncle Vernon wasn’t anywhere near. His breath caught, when father’s hand moved from his cheek to his arm, slowly but firmly pulling him out of the wardrobe. He was so stressed that it was almost an out of body experience when the man’s arms enfolded him, one hand patting his back, the other holding the back of his head.

“Some dreams we have can be very frightening, but they aren’t real,” he murmured in Harry’s ear, his voice so calm and soothing that gradually he stopped shaking. “You are awake now, and safe with me. The house won’t collapse on top of us, I promise, and even if it did, our magic would protect us. You have nothing to fear, little dunderhead.”

Harry didn’t really believe it, but his body must have done a little, as it got much easier to breathe. He hadn’t considered that his freaky abilities could keep him from dying, but it made sense after what happened yesterday. Except, he knew from experience that magic didn’t stop you from starving, and he wished he didn’t have this new horrid image in his head of being trapped under the earth until he died from lack of food and water. His empty stomach grumbled unhappily at the thought.

“Alright,” father said briskly, rising to his feet at the noise and turning the boy around by the shoulders. Harry tensed, expecting an assault on his sore bottom, but the man merely waved a hand at the contents of the wardrobe. “That’s enough tardying, boy. What would you like to wear today?”

Harry didn’t know how he managed to get through the motions of washing and dressing without incurring father’s wrath, as his mind was stubbornly preoccupied by thoughts of the cellar. He remembered blisters on his palms from turning the hard earth, the bone-chilling cold inside the hole, he recalled the pungent stench of urine and fear. He shook his head, trying to concentrate on the food in front of him rather than phantom impressions from the past, but it was incredibly hard.

“I can’t eat this,” the boy whispered, he had never been allowed food after he’d been bad, and seeing the bowl of cereal and a plate of strawberries set before him was making him queasy.

“I won’t repeat the same lecture at every mealtime, child,” father said, sounding very cross. He shivered under the unforgiving glare. “Eating is not a whim, but a necessity, and so you will eat what I serve you without complaint, or you’ll do it with a much sorer posterior. Do I make myself clear, Harry?”

The boy’s eyes flitted over the man’s stern face fretfully, knowing that he deserved to be punished anyway, so maybe it would unknot his stomach to get it over with now. He stepped from one foot to the other, his backside throbbed so much already that he hadn’t been able to sit in the chair. Harry dropped his gaze to the food in defeat, he was weak and craven, and much too sore to dare defying the man. He put a spoonful of cereal in his mouth, and hoped that his stomach could cope with it.

“You may do your reading in your room today,” father instructed sharply. “When I see you next, you had better be over your sulk, as I have no more patience for it.”

Upstairs, in his room, the boy lay on his side, staring at the jar full of light and reflecting on his feelings. He didn’t bother pretending to read, preferring to concentrate on banishing his darkest thoughts to the back of his head where they couldn’t plague his waking hours. For weeks after the cellar, Harry had been barely able to function, he’d be doing chores one moment, and the next he’d freeze, suddenly convinced that he was back in the grave until a stinging slap to his cheek reminded him of his surroundings.

Today was the closest he got to those torturous days in a long while, he could barely remember the morning he’d just had, his mind only barely retained disjointed scenes. Even now, lying on a comfortable bed in bright daylight, he shivered from the chill of the grave. He thought he had only blinked, but when he opened his eyes again, father was sitting on the bed beside him. He was stroking the boy’s hair, and looking at him with a pinched expression that he didn’t recognise.

“Are you well, Harry?” the man asked in his very softest voice.

“No,” the child choked out with difficulty. “I don’t think I am, father.”

“Could you tell me what is wrong, so I can help?” father queried.

“It’s so cold and dark here,” Harry whimpered with a shiver, his eyes roaming frantically around the rough contours of the grave.

Father murmured something he couldn’t make out, and he thought it got a little warmer for a moment, but the man left then, leaving the child alone in the dark. The stabbing pain in his chest made it hard to breathe, and he panted, terrified that the air was running out. Fingers on his chin made him flinch, but he managed to inhale a gust of air at least.

“Open your mouth, Harry,” father’s voice encouraged him. “I have a potion, it’ll help you feel better.”

A part of him didn’t want to obey, but a larger part knew that father’s medicine worked like magic, and he needed help to escape this bad memory. He opened his mouth, and swallowed the liquid that tasted like dirty socks. Harry grimaced in disgust, but almost immediately the sinister surroundings began to dissipate and soften. His heartbeat slowed, and he yawned.

“Good boy,” a voice whispered, and a warm something briefly touched his forehead. He thought it must have been his father, as nobody else ever kissed him like that, but his eyelids were so heavy all of a sudden that he couldn’t see. “Sleep now, and when you wake, you’ll feel better, son.”

Harry wanted to protest that he was too big to take a nap during the day, but it required too much effort to bother saying that. He sighed contentedly as father did his stroking thing, and let himself drift away.
To be continued...
End Notes:
This chapter was rewritten 5 times as I couldn’t make up my mind about how upset Harry was going to be – next chapter Snape pov again. I’d like to thank my reviewers – especially those faithful souls who leave their thoughts on every chapter, I really appreciate that.
Chapter 17 Vigil by Kyralian
The day outside the window was sweltering, and the air seemed hazy from the accumulated summer heat. Severus had been applying cooling charms periodically to withstand the weather in his customary black attire. The child on the bed, however, was stubbornly shivering as he slept, his limbs held tightly against his body for warmth.

The man put his palm to the boy’s forehead, but that gesture told him what he already knew from the diagnostic he’d run a moment prior. Harry wasn’t running a fever, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him at all, and yet something was clearly very amiss. He pulled a thicker blanket over the child’s shoulders, wishing that he had a better idea of what was bothering his son, but he hadn’t been given much to go on.

He tucked an unruly lock of hair behind the boy’s ear, as he observed the kaleidoscope of emotions flashing across his sleeping face; fear, worry, anxiety and more fear, giving testimony to another night terror playing out behind his closed eyelids. Severus hadn’t noticed the child’s proclivity for nightmares before last night, which made him think that something he had done was to blame for the increased anxiety.

He couldn’t claim to be overtly surprised by that revelation, it wasn’t difficult to gather that the child was concerned about the discipline Severus had dished out to him the previous day. He regretted the necessity to be as harsh as he had been yesterday, but he strongly believed that a lesser punishment would only encourage such recklessness in the future. No, he pressed his lips into a firm line, better the boy was fearful of him, and relived the unpleasantness in his dreams for a few days, than disregard his safety again because Severus had been too lenient. He regretted not making a lasting impression on the boy, when he had behaved similarly at arrival.

It was obvious from Harry’s reactions that he wasn’t accustomed to adults setting boundaries for him, and taking the price for his defiance out of his hide. Severus reckoned, from how fussed the boy was about the mildest reprimand, that the muggles barely took time to discipline him at all. He rather suspected that the child was allowed to run wild, otherwise he’d have known better than to do what he had, and twice inside of three weeks. He ran his fingers through the boy’s too long hair, deep in thought. He had a feeling the little dunderhead was going to make him grey by the end of the year.

The silly thought made him smile, and he shook his head, a little disgusted with himself for the sentimentality. He wasn’t looking forward to the boy’s frequent trouble-making, but Severus couldn’t deny that watching a child he and his lost friend produced together, whatever the mysterious circumstances of the act, grow and flourish had its unquestioned appeal. Harry whimpered in his sleep, his lips moving, and he leaned forward to catch the words.

“Lemme out,” he moaned softly. “S’cold’n… Ark.”

“You may come out,” Severus murmured soothingly, wondering if this truly could be connected to the events of yesterday. “It’s a sunny day.”

The child shivered on, and he sighed, the calming draught he had given the boy should have been strong enough to ensure a few hours of dreamless sleep, but it hadn’t worked and Severus was getting desperate. He scooped the lad in his arms, and rocked him in his lap as he had been doing at the hospital, it had helped withstand the physical pain in any case. As he rocked his son, trying to ignore occasional painful twinges as his spine complained about the uncomfortable position, a memory came to him of a story Lily had told him once, long ago.

The Evans sisters had spent a few weeks each summer at their grandparents’ house in Dover. They went without parents, and found bedtime particularly troublesome without their mother to read them a story. A solution was found when their grandfather dragged a rocking chair into the girls’ bedroom, and began the ritual of reading bedtime stories while rocking both children, one on each knee.

Severus remembered being rather condescending on hearing the story, pointing out that literate people shouldn’t need a grouchy old man to do their reading for them. He had been treated to a rather lengthy tirade by Lily for so grievously insulting her grandfather, after which she refused to speak to him for a week. He recalled Petunia’s smug enjoyment at his disgrace.

Perhaps, Harry found being rocked so soothing, because it was a familiar ritual in Petunia’s house? He made a disgusted face at the notion of introducing into his home anything that unimaginative cow did, but beggars can’t be choosers. He supported the boy’s head with one arm, while drawing his wand with the other. Transfiguration had never been Severus’s best subject, but it wasn’t a difficult transformation. He pointed his wand at the chair, and murmured a few appropriate incantations, managing a sturdy-looking, if not attractive, rocking chair.

He relocated with the boy, pushing the chair to the window, resigning himself to some time being baked alive. Severus arranged his son as comfortably as possible in his lap, before casting a gimlet eye to the desk.

“If you imagine I’ll be indulging you every night, better think again,” he growled, as he selected the book of fairytales Harry had been poring over recently. A distressed mewl was the only response from the child, and he sighed, beginning to rock back and forth. “Every other night, then. You’re old enough to read by yourself some of the time, whatever your mother might have said.”

Severus couldn’t find a bookmark so he opened the book to the first chapter, and began to read, trying not to snigger too much at the idiocy of the main character. The heat of the day and the exhaustion from his interrupted night soon made him yawn, he read through the first chapter, before resting his head on the back of the chair for just a moment…

The pleasant breeze of the cooling charm made him jerk awake with a start, his eyes narrowing into a glare at an elderly wizard grinning unabashedly at him. He was holding a camera, ready to snap a picture.

“Don’t you dare!” he hissed, feeling blood suffuse his cheeks from embarrassment at being caught in a compromised state by his employer. “Put that thing away!”

Albus Dumbledore grinned even wider as he slipped the camera into a pocket, and Severus groaned, guessing that he’d already taken some embarrassing shots.

“You looked so adorable together, that it would be an unforgivable sin not to immortalise the scene,” the old coot had the gall to claim, his eyes twinkling merrily.

Severus flushed, frustrated that he couldn’t give the man a piece of his mind at a more appropriate volume. He looked down, smirking at the child who had somehow migrated to his stomach, and was now sprawled across the man’s chest, his bottom sticking up and his head cradled in the crook of Severus’s elbow. He looked completely relaxed, if slightly overheated. The man sighed, at least this had worked, he maneuvered the child carefully so that he could lift him without waking. He stepped past his employer to return the boy to his bed, and froze.

“The shop was all out of dragons and hippogriffs, I take it?” he sneered, eyeing the life-size lion toy with some disgust. He pushed the monstrosity aside so he could settle the child on his side. Harry let out a contented sigh, his fingers curling around Severus’s thumb. Ignoring the other wizard’s chuckle and unmistakable sounds of more shots being taken, Severus dragged the blasted cat closer, wrapping the child’s hand around the large head.

“Every child needs a plush toy, and this one seemed ideal,” Albus intoned with the air of aged wisdom, snapping a photo of Harry hugging the lion. “Besides, Minerva would have my head, if I got him a snake.”

Severus huffed, arranging a blanket over the child’s legs, before waving the old man out of the room. He cast an alarm spell, and left Harry to his peaceful slumber.

“I could get him a pet snake, you know,” he threatened, when he joined Dumbledore in the kitchen. “I’m sure Harry would be delighted.”

“Perhaps, he would,” Albus acknowledged, his manner turning melancholy. “You, on the other hand, would rather it be a kitten or a puppy, wouldn’t you, child?”

Severus averted his eyes, his hand brushing the sleeve which hid the hated mark.

“Yes,” he said grudgingly. “I would.”

Several moments passed in uncomfortable silence, before Severus remembered his manners and rose to get refreshments.

“Why are you here, Albus?” he questioned harshly, busying himself with the tea service. “It’s unlike you to drop by in the middle of the day.”

“Indeed not,” Dumbledore agreed easily. “However, I came to the conclusion that my usual visiting hours were less appropriate in a household with a small child.”

“And you wanted to make sure that I hadn’t murdered the boy yet,” Severus scowled, placing two cups of tea and a plate of biscuits on the table.

“I had some concerns, yes,” the headmaster admitted with a benign smile, picking up his tea and blowing on it. “Finding you as I did, however, convinced me that those concerns were unnecessary.”

Severus rolled his eyes at the ceiling in exasperation, naturally, the old dodger would see sunshine and rainbows, because he read a bloody book to his child.

“I admit to being surprised at finding you napping before noon,” Albus guffawed, shaking with mirth rather inelegantly. “If not for the picture, nobody would believe it.”

Severus glared, finding the insinuation of lazing about mightily offensive.

“We had a difficult night,” he retorted. “And you won’t be showing those photos to anyone!”

“Perhaps, not yet,” Dumbledore smiled beatifically, unruffled by the younger man’s annoyed tone. He reached for a biscuit, before posing the question. “Whatever happened, then?”

Severus narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but he proceeded to tell the entire delightful tale of near carnage and horror.

“Don’t look at me this way, old man,” he snapped at one point. “The boy deserved to be whipped, he was this close from getting killed! He’s lucky I didn’t cane him, like I told him I would!”

He went on to describe the night terror, and the child’s subsequent behaviour this morning.

“That’s concerning. Was it wise to insinuate you were the one responsible for his change of abode?” Albus queried delicately.

“What purpose would it have served to tell him the truth?” Severus demanded bitterly. “It would hardly be a consolation to the child to know his relatives abandoned him to his mother’s assailant, with no intention of ever contacting him again, would it?”

“I wish you’d stop referring to yourself as such,” the old man complained tiredly.

“I guarantee that Petunia Evans harboured no doubts about my culpability, when she left Harry at my doorstep,” he gritted out. “No, as far as she knew, she was leaving a small child to the mercy of a violent rapist, and she didn’t care! I wouldn’t let her take him back, even if she wanted to!”

Severus hadn’t realised how much contempt for the woman had built inside of him for that one thoughtless act. For all she knew, he could have been a child molester or worse, as well as a rapist, and she didn’t give a fuck, did she?

“What you described sounds more like a flashback to me, not a mere nightmare,” Dumbledore commented after a few minutes of silent contemplation.

“A flashback to what exactly?” he demanded scornfully. “I might be an atrocious parent, but surely there hadn’t been enough time to cause such trauma? And where would he be so cold, in the middle of the bloody heat wave?!”

The aged wizard sipped the remains of his tea as he considered the question, his blue eyes growing distant in thought.

“Perhaps, the trauma hasn’t occurred recently at all,” he mused slowly. “Somewhere in the cold of night, when the roof fell in, and he was very frightened?”

“No!” Severus exclaimed, blanching in horror. “He can’t possibly remember that! He was too young!”

“His subconscious may very well have retained some recollection of the event,” Dumbledore continued mercilessly. “And his close call with death yesterday could have pulled the memory to the surface, couldn’t it?”

“Fuck…” the younger man croaked, his throat was very dry, and he swallowed convulsively. “If this is true… What can I even do?”

“Maybe,” Albus suggested with a sad smile. “Reassuring him that he is safe and loved would be enough for now.”

Severus scoffed at the maudlin suggestion, he hadn’t been able to recover from the trauma of Lily’s death for six years, and he hadn’t been an eye witness to it as Harry had.

“Are you staying for lunch, old man?” he inquired, standing and sending the empty dishes to the sink with a flick of his wand.

“Yes, if I may impose on your hospitality a little while longer,” the headmaster responded, his eyes regaining some of their customary twinkle. “As a matter of fact, I am here in official capacity as a warden.”

“The quarantine wards,” Severus groaned, having completely forgotten the cover story of his supposed deathly illness. “I am so looking forward to becoming a prisoner in my own home.”

“At least, you have a valid excuse to avoid the Summer Fair at the Malfoys this year,” Dumbledore pointed out with a grin.

“Ah,” he grimaced. “There are some advantages to dying I hadn’t considered.”

Severus busied himself with preparing lunch, while the headmaster regaled him with tales of his colleagues’ reactions to the news of his supposed poor health. His lip twitched at McGonagall’s loudly shared suspicion that he was making this up to avoid his teaching duties, and getting awarded for it by receiving full sick leave.

“How well she knows me,” he sneered disdainfully.

“Indeed,” the headmaster grinned maddeningly. “Naturally, I had to find a way to appease her, therefore I arranged with Poppy to oversee your recovery, and-,”

“YOU DID WHAT?!” Severus roared in outrage, spinning around with a knife in one fist and a carrot in the other.

He opened his mouth to deliver a diatribe that would make the interfering fool’s ears fall off, when the wand in his sleeve grew warm, letting him know that his son had woken up.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Wow, this chapter basically wrote itself! A little speculation and humour for a change. Can you believe it’s almost 44k words already?
Chapter 18 Grandpa Al by Kyralian
Something was tickling his nose, and he moaned, wrinkling his face and waving a hand to shoo away the insistent fly. Harry’s hand encountered something he didn’t expect, and his eyes flew open wide in surprise. An orange blur in front of his face made him rear back, and blink rapidly, staring in awe at a huge orange lion sprawling on the bed next to him.

It looked so life-like that he would be freaking out, except he realised that he must have been hugging the lion for a while, and he hadn’t gotten eaten for it. Carefully, the boy ran his fingers through the lion’s golden mane, it was that which had tickled his nose. It was a toy, a soft toy larger than any Harry had ever seen. Not even Dudley had a toy as large as that.

“Where have you come from?” Harry asked the lion, looking around as if to find another child in the room the toy might belong to.

He squinted at the rocking chair by the window in confusion, that was new as well. Was this even the same room he’d been sleeping in? The sudden uncertainty made his heart beat faster, had father taken him to the orphanage already? No, he decided after examining every feature of the room from up close. This was the same room, with the same view out of the window, but not everything in it was as he remembered. The desk chair was missing, replaced by the rocking chair, and an open book was lying on the carpet next to it.

Harry went to pick it up, smoothing the creased pages with a hand, not keen on taking the blame for mistreating the book. Just then, there was a soft knock and the door was swinging open, revealing his father. The boy couldn’t look away from the man’s tight face, like a hare caught in the headlights of a car, he just watched as father stepped closer and closer.

“How are you feeling, Harry?” the man asked softly, raising a hand. “Did you enjoy your nap?”

Harry couldn’t suppress a flinch, when father touched his head, but he only brushed hair out of the boy’s eyes with a sigh.

“We need to get you a haircut,” he commented out of the blue.

Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste at the idea. Aunt Petunia had given him a haircut once, and it had been absolutely horrid, until his hair grew back overnight, and it got even more upsetting because his relatives were so angry at him.

“Eliot has long hair,” he protested weakly, ducking his head to hide how distressed he was becoming.

A finger pushed his chin up, forcing him to meet father’s intense gaze again.

“Do you like having an unruly mop of hair on your head, then?” the man questioned, raising one eyebrow. “I would worry some confused little bird may decide to make a nest in it, don’t you?”

The boy stared at his father with his mouth slightly parted, he was almost positive that it had been a joke, but his overactive imagination had already pictured him having to be careful with the comb in order not to dislodge baby birds hiding under his messy tresses.

“That wouldn’t be so bad,” he said quietly, his lips curving into a tiny smile despite his wariness.

“Indeed?” father smirked, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. “Perhaps, a little trim will suffice, just so your prospective bird tenants don’t tangle in it, okay?”

“Okay,” Harry agreed reluctantly. “But I don’t want to be bald, please, father…”

“That,” the man said seriously, clapping him on the shoulder lightly. “Is no danger at all, as men in our family have very strong hair until old age. Have you had a nice nap, then?”

Harry glanced at the bed, nodding a little distractedly, his thoughts still on the hair trimming and bird roosting. He jerked, eyes flying to his father, as he remembered what was there.

“There is a lion on the bed,” he told the man anxiously. “It was there when I woke up, honest!”

“Yes, I have seen it, too,” the man sighed with exasperation. “Do you like the blasted thing?”

The boy frowned, eyeing the toy with apprehension, that had to be a trick question, didn’t it? Nobody had ever asked his opinion on anything before, and he hadn’t owned any toys to know if he liked them or not. Father, however, asked him such things all the time, what food he liked, what clothes he liked. It was nerve-wracking trying to figure out what the right answer was. He opened his mouth to give the safe response that he didn’t know, what actually came out of his mouth, however, wasn’t safe. At all!

“Aunt Petunia would wash your mouth out with vinegar for speaking that way,” he blurted out before his brain caught up to his blabbing tongue.

When he realised what he’d said, Harry’s head snapped around, eyes growing wide with horror and hands clamping over his mouth to stop any more cheek from coming out. He was so dead, blood drained away to his extremities and he swayed unsteadily on his feet.

“Would she, now?” father’s dry tone pulled him from the edge of panic for long enough to notice that the man’s eyebrows were at his hairline, and his arms were tightly folded across his chest. “How fortunate for me that she hadn’t heard me, but perhaps I should exercise better manners in front of you, eh? Let me rephrase, do you like the exercable toy?”

The boy stared at the man mutely, not quite believing that the last two minutes really happened. He knew better than to show such disrespect, and after his horrendous rudeness yesterday! He really hadn’t meant to say it, he’d just been so nervous about the other thing, that it slipped out.

The man heaved an impatient sigh and plucked the book from Harry’s numb fingers, tossing it to the desk and steering him to the bed with an arm across his shoulders.

“You’re speechless, I see,” father drawled, waving a hand at the lion. “You could tell grandpa Al to take it back, if you prefer, say you’d rather have an eagle, or something. He should have asked your preference, after all.”

Harry was so wound up that he didn’t understand half of what father was saying, his slightly derisive voice reverberating in his ears.

“It isn’t for me,” he said in a hollow whisper.

“If it was for me, it would be left in my bedroom, wouldn’t it?” the man pointed out reasonably. “The only thing left to decide is whether you like it or not, so let’s hear the verdict, go on.”

The boy swallowed hard, turning his head to stare at the majestic lion in a daze, stretching his fingers to stroke the golden mane. It was a beautiful toy, the kind you only saw in shop windows, and never had enough money to buy. Certainly, Harry had never expected to be given a toy like that, but grandpa Al had given him those magic pencils at the hospital.

“It’s so grand and amazing, though,” he managed to choke out. “Could I really keep it?”

Father let out a derisive snort, raising his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation.

“Albus isn’t known for his moderation,” he commented dryly. “We should be thankful that he didn’t see fit to saddle us with a live specimen, instead. I take it you’re enamoured with the beast, yes?”

Harry gave a hesitant nod, while giving the lion a wary appraisal. He half-expected it would spring alive at any moment, and devour them for breakfast.

“Are you sure it isn’t?” he asked his father in a whisper. “Alive, just pretending?”

The man squeezed him against his side, as though he could tell that this talk of live lions was making him anxious.

“I am sure,” he huffed. “It’s just a toy, if a horrid one.”

“It’s not!” Harry protested passionately, looking at father with bright eyes. “It’s majestic, and beautiful, and kingly, and-,”

“Alright, I get it,” father cut him off with a snort. “Come on, you can gush at Albus as you thank him.”

“Grandpa Al is here?” the boy asked quietly, suddenly shy.

“Indeed,” the man admitted, pulling the child toward the door by the hand. “He’s visiting for the afternoon.”

“Is he wearing a nightgown again?” Harry asked conspiratorially as they neared the stairs.

His father was abruptly overtaken by a fit of coughing so intense that his sides shook, and he didn’t manage to get it under control when they arrived in the kitchen. Grandpa Al had been peering into the pot on the stove, but at the sound of the hacking coughs [the boy wasn’t fooled, they sounded too much like sniggering], he turned and gave Harry an inquiring look.

“Father just, er, choked on, ah, saliva,” he explained softly, trying really hard to avoid looking at the older man’s navy blue nightgown with sparkling yellow stars.

“Dear me, dear me,” grandpa mused, his blue eyes twinkling madly as father passed by them to look into the pot, studying the contents as he continued sniggering into a fist. “Do you need a potion, Severus?”

“No, no, thank you,” father managed to choke out breathlessly. “Harry!” he snapped, making the child jump. “Show grandpa around the garden! Now!”

Heart beating at a gallop, the boy snatched the old man’s gnarled hand in one of his, and tugged him toward the door. Grandpa Al didn’t resist, or anything, he followed Harry out the front door, all the while grinning like a cat who got the canary. Only when they were several steps past the porch, he started laughing.

Harry ducked his head, not entirely sure if it was appropriate for him to laugh, but he couldn’t help curving his lips upward a little. He didn’t think father was all that angry, just embarrassed that he’d been laughing at grandfather’s clothes.

“Merlin, boy, what have you told him to set him off like that?” grandpa asked between chuckles. “In fifteen years I’ve known your father, I have never seen him snigger like a schoolboy, not even when he was a schoolboy.”

The boy shrugged as nonchalantly as he could manage, thinking it would be rather rude to admit to what he’d said. After all, elderly people sometimes lose touch with reality, and it wasn’t their fault. Mr. Owens from Magnolia Crescent, for instance, had forgotten who his children were. He thought that the people he lived with were illegal tenants, and kept calling police on them. Uncle Vernon liked to rant that he should be locked up in the loony bin, but Harry didn’t think it would be at all fair. Maybe grandpa Al had a similar old man problem, only he didn’t know which clothes were for daywear, and it wasn’t right to mock him for it.

“I said I wouldn’t mind birds roosting in my hair,” the boy said softly, feeling so ashamed of himself that it was difficult to hold back tears.

“Really?” the old man murmured with interest, stroking his white beard with a thoughtful finger. “What fascinating conversations you two must have,” he took his silver spectacles off, twirling them around in his fingers as he considered the matter. “I can see the merit of the idea, but I would be concerned about inviting a magpie to share my head,” he gave the boy a meaningful look as he replaced his glasses. “Their predilection for stealing shiny objects would be very taxing, I think.”

“I considered a little sparrow, or a tit,” Harry admitted with a shy smile.

“That might work,” grandfather nodded sagely, his mouth stretching into a grin. “Only, if I understand their habits correctly, those birdies like to start chirping well before dawn. Are you an early riser, Harry?”

The boy shook his head, relieved to finally find an opportunity to insert the gift into this bizarre conversation.

“They wouldn’t dare wake me,” he explained. “They would be too scared of the lion in my bed.”

“Oh! Good point!!” the old man chuckled, patting Harry on the hand he still held. “I had a feeling you’d find a good use for it!”

“It’s the most incredible toy I have ever seen, grandpa,” the boy said earnestly, grinning so widely that his face hurt. “Thank you!”

“You’re very welcome, my boy,” grandpa said warmly, stretching his arms wide. “Do I get a hug for choosing so well?”

Harry looked into the old man’s twinkling eyes hesitantly, he’d never given anyone a hug before, and didn’t know how to go about it. The only hugs he was familiar with were the ones his father had given him, and they were bestowed when he was scared or in pain. This needed to be something different. The boy squared his shoulders, and took a steadying breath for courage, before stepping forward with determination.

He wrapped both arms around grandfather’s belly, squeezing as hard as he was able. He hoped he was doing this correctly, maybe he should try harder? The boy jumped when grandpa put his hands on Harry’s back, patting him lightly.

“That is a mighty hug,” the man said, a little breathlessly. “Thank you, my boy.”

Harry stepped back, meeting the twinkling gaze anxiously.

“Was it alright?” he had to check.

“Oh, yes,” grandpa Al assured him kindly. “Your hug was as exuberant as my good friend’s Hagrid’s. Well done!”

Harry grinned, relieved that he had managed not to mess up this grateful hugging business, but grandpa’s next question made him grimace.

“So, what have you been up to since I saw you last, Harry?”

Somehow, thinking about what happened, made his rear feel scalding again rather than just really sore.
To be continued...
End Notes:
I suppose I was in a rather silly mood this week.
Chapter 19 Of Balls and Trees by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
Sorry I took so long, I've been able to write only in short bursts [tell me if the chapter feels choppy because of that]
As it turned out, grandpa Al knew all about the trouble he’d gotten into yesterday from father, and he stood like on burning coals, expecting a smacking or worse to follow. The old man didn’t scold him, though, only told him that he had scared everyone very much, and to be more careful in the future. Harry promised that he would be, and that was all he said on the topic.

Grandfather wanted to know what the boy liked doing with and without his father, and he rolled his eyes, feeling a little testy about having to answer these types of questions all the time. It was as if all the adults conspired to make him admit to things that he wasn’t supposed to like, and take them away!

“I like playing with the ball,” he declared grumpily, eyes flashing. “Father gave it to me, so it’s not forbidden!”

“Of course not,” the old man agreed, sounding astonished that the boy would suggest such a thing. “I have a feeling your father would rather forbid you quidditch than football, even though it’s quite injurious, as I understand it.”

Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously, trying to figure out if the man disapproved of the sport or not, but his face was so placid that he couldn’t tell one way or another.

“It’s not really dangerous,” he explained, deflating. “The other day, I just fell because the grass was slippery from the rain. Father said it could happen to anyone!”

“I am sure you know better than I,” grandpa said, smiling broadly and rubbing his hands together. “How about you teach me how to play this ball?”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up in shock, but at the old man’s encouraging nod he grinned.

“Okay,” he agreed eagerly.

He ran to fetch the ball from the porch, where he was supposed to store it when not in use. There was a bounce in his step, as he returned to the back garden with the ball under one arm. Grandfather awaited the lesson with his white eyebrows raised in anticipation, and the boy suddenly felt very awkward.

“Umm,” he began hesitantly, fixing his eyes on the grass at his feet. “I don’t know all the rules yet, not the way they play football on the TV, with teams and corners,” he admitted, peeking up at the man to check if he was getting angry. “I just play at kicking into the weed ward. Is that okay?”

“Certainly, my boy,” grandpa agreed with an intrigued smile, he waved a hand to indicate the two of them. “We wouldn’t make much of a team with only the two of us, anyway.”

Harry smiled in relief and launched into a tale of how he had discovered this peculiarity about the ward, hurriedly adding that father had said he could kick the ball into it, and if he didn’t believe him, he could go ask father!

“That won’t be necessary,” grandfather soothed, studying the slight shimmer in the air with an interested gaze. “A potent hex, but not in the least harmful to inanimate objects. I hope you know not to touch it yourself, Harry?”

The boy nodded energetically, not foolish enough to risk the stinging he’d gotten when he met Eliot. He put the ball on the ground and ran back a few steps so he could kick at it with more force, he sent it hurtling through the air, and whooped with joy when it returned even faster. He didn’t chase after it, though, thinking it would be rather rude to leave the old man alone.

“I just kick it back and forth, that’s all,” Harry finished with a modest shrug.

“Let’s see how we do two against one, shall we?” grandpa suggested with a wicked grin, pulling up his navy nightgown over his knobbly knees so that it wouldn’t interfere with the game.

The fifteen minutes that followed were a little insane, the boy had to admit, with the two of them running, jumping and kicking in tandem, trying to catch every ball that the ward thrust back in their direction. There were a few tumbles, and at first Harry worried that grandpa would get injured, but the old wizard charmed the ground to be as soft as his bed upstairs.

By the time he heard father calling them for lunch, grandpa Al was bent double and wheezing, and even Harry was slightly winded, but they were grinning like mad. Father was less amused when he saw them, his forehead creased into a fearsome frown, and his hand shot up to point at the ceiling.

“Upstairs,” he ordered coldly. “You’re too filthy to eat at my table. What have you been doing, rolling in the dirt?”

Heart breaking into a gallop, Harry’s feet changed direction before his panicked brain could tell them to. The stairs passed in a blur, and he whimpered, knowing that he was making the situation worse by running, but he couldn’t slow down until he got to his room. Father had never sent him away from the table before, but he remembered to make himself scarce from the Dursleys. He knew that if he stuck around, he’d be punished, and his bottom hurt enough already.

A knock on the door made Harry flinch, his hands flying to his rear protectively.

“Are you changing, child?” grandpa’s voice floated through the door. “There’s no need, a cleaning spell will do the trick, I think.”

The boy didn’t respond, too filled with tension to breathe, let alone speak. There was a brief pause, and then the door was pushed ajar and the old man’s smiling face was looking into the room. Harry couldn’t help backing away a step, his frightened eyes flitting over grandfather’s face.

“I don’t want to be spanked,” he pleaded, close to tears.

The man’s blue eyes widened, and he came in, closing the door with a soft click. He sat on the boy’s bed, pushing the lion back to make room, and gazed at Harry with a serious expression.

“Spanking is nothing fun, I do not doubt,” he said sympathetically, patting the mattress next to himself until the boy sighed and went to sit down. “And I am sure that with Severus as your father, you had to face such unpleasantness rather more often than in your previous home. It must be a big adjustment for you, suddenly learning that you had a father, and having to live in a new place, with a stranger who isn’t always very pleasant. I am sure it isn’t much consolation, but I do not believe he does it to be cruel to you. Severus cares about you a great deal, Harry, even though it may sometimes seem he is harsh and unfeeling.”

“He’s very strict,” Harry mumbled hollowly, his shoulders slumping. “I don’t mean to disobey, really, I just forget sometimes.”

“That must be very frustrating,” grandpa acknowledged solemnly. “As you get used to being his son, Severus must learn how to be your father. I think you are both bound to make some mistakes before you settle into your life together.”

“I suppose,” he sighed, he hadn’t considered that father might be as confused and scared as he was.

“Does he do anything right, you think?” the old man asked with a soft smile.

Harry dropped his gaze, thinking about the question, he didn’t really know what was ‘right’ for a father to do. Starving your son didn’t feel like what parents should do, his father and the Dursleys agreed on that, he only hoped he wouldn’t end up as fat as his cousin because of that. Dudley had never been scolded for anything, though, while his bottom throbbed almost continuously since he was with his father. Harry was sure he didn’t want to turn out like his horrible cousin, but getting punished all the time was horrible as well.

Still, there were things he liked about living with his father, things he’d never experienced before; sitting in his father’s lap, eating fish and chips and swinging in the park together, having a friend to play with and being allowed to walk on the curb, being tickled to wake him up and read to when he had a nightmare. Harry shook his head in surprise, he hadn’t realised how many little snippets there were that he had enjoyed, that made him feel safe, but they were soured by the constant threat of a punishment.

“I guess so,” he admitted reluctantly. “He isn’t so bad, when he isn’t, you know…”

Grandpa squeezed his shoulders in encouragement.

“I’m glad to hear that. Should we go down, then?” grandpa asked gently. “I’m sure your father is wondering what we’ve been up to for so long.”

“Father doesn’t like tardiness,” the boy groaned, standing and rubbing his sore bottom worriedly. He looked at his dirt-spattered shirt and trousers with a grimace. “Can you really magic it away, grandpa?”

The old man smiled, pulling a slender wand out of his voluminous sleeve. He moved it down the child’s body, drawing all the grass and earth into a ball floating in the air. Grandpa gave Harry a mischievous wink, and tapped the dirt ball with the tip of his wand, turning it gold. Tiny white wings grew at the top of the ball, and between one eyeblink and the next, they began to move so fast that they blurred. The flying ball zoomed around the room a few times, before perching on top of the wardrobe.

Harry had to concentrate to remember how to work his face muscles, his jaw had dropped so low in astonishment.

“You made a flying ball, grandfather,” he stated incredulously. “Out of some dirt on my shirt?”

“It’s called the golden snitch,” the man explained modestly. “A little trifle to chase when you get bored with playing football. Come, I’m famished.”

The boy followed in a daze, his head swivelling to track the hummingbird ball, which took the opportunity the opening door provided and fled down the landing.

“It’s escaping!” he exclaimed anxiously, straining to hurry up after it, but grandfather had a firm hold on his hand.

“It just needs to stretch its wings,” the old man explained, leading the way into the bathroom. “And your dear father can use a distraction.”

They scrubbed their hands and face before going downstairs, and Harry couldn’t help worrying that his father wouldn’t appreciate a madly-dashing ball zooming around his kitchen. When they stepped through the door into the kitchen, the child’s knees locked at the sight of his father, the man stood with his wand raised, his face and posture conveying outrage the boy hadn’t seen yet. He let out a frightened gasp, and the blazing black eyes moved from the overhead lamp he had been glaring at, to the child’s pale face.

“Sit,” he snapped, but his gaze didn’t linger to observe Harry scrambling to obey, wincing at the hard wood under his tender bum. Father fixed a murderous glare at grandfather, who had paused at the threshold, an innocent expression on his aged face. “If you brought a racing broom for the boy to break his neck, Albus, I won’t be responsible for my actions!”

“Don’t be absurd, child,” grandpa laughed mildly, walking around the table to claim a chair. He surreptitiously touched his wand to Harry’s chair on the way past, the boy’s eyes widened and he ducked his head to hide a relieved smile as the unforgiving wood became as soft as his bed. “I wouldn’t rob you of the opportunity, Severus,” the old man went on jovially, as if he was impervious to the anger twisting father’s features. “I can think of no better way to bond with your son than by choosing a racing broom together.”

“I’ve no intention to- Bleh!” father sputtered, throwing his hands up in the air, his face darkening further. “Harry won’t be another quidditch-obsessed brat! I won’t allow it!”

“Surely, a snitch to chase around the garden won’t harm the boy,” grandpa argued with an impish grin.

Father inhaled deeply, evidently trying to bring his temper under control. He slid his wand into his sleeve, and pointed a warning finger at grandfather.

“You’ll charm the bloody nuisance to stay at Harry’s head level,” he demanded icily. “I won’t have him climbing trees to catch the bloody thing. You hear me?”

“Of course, I wouldn’t dream of putting the child in danger,” grandpa assured happily, reaching out a hand to pat Harry on the head. “Didn’t you mention food, Severus? I’ve been hoping for a bite…”

Father huffed in irritation, shooting one last poisonous look at the lamp on the ceiling before stalking to the kitchen counter to fetch a soup bowl. Harry squinted at the lamp, his lips stretching into a wide smile at the sight of the hummingbird ball grooming its wings up on the lamp. Grandpa Al had been right, father got so distracted by the toy that he never even mentioned the boy getting his new clothes dirty, or running on the stairs. That was a strange thought, father didn’t seem to like the toys, but he hadn’t actually forbidden Harry to play with them.

His stomach let out a hungry snarl as father placed a bowl of chicken soup in front of him, and Harry cringed in mortification, but the man merely smirked at him.

“Eat, Harry,” he commanded mildly, stroking the child’s hair once before filling a bowl for grandfather and himself.

The boy was sure that his face was crimson in embarrassment as he bowed his head over his meal, and started to eat. He could vividly remember the reactions his stomach misbehaving got at the Dursleys, and it had never been to simply tell him to eat. His head was so filled with comparisons between his father and his aunt and uncle that he barely took note of the adults’ conversation as he devoured his soup. A mention of a substitute teacher to cover father’s classes at Hogwarts caught his attention at last, and he looked up with a frown.

“You got fired, father?” he blurted out worriedly, uncle Vernon’s unsavory opinions on people too stupid to keep their jobs ringing in his head. “Are we going to starve in the streets, now?”

Both men looked at the child then, similar confused expressions on their faces. Father’s momentary confusion morphed into anger in just a few seconds, his nostrils flaring.

“Don’t be absurd, boy!” he rebuked him sharply, sounding very affronted. “You wouldn’t starve even had I been unemployed, which I decidedly am not!”

“Your father merely takes a leave of absence from his teaching duties,” grandfather explained calmly. “I asked him to complete a project for me which he cannot do whilst at the school?”

“And you’ll pay him?” Harry checked, eyeing his father anxiously.

“Of course, I shall. You do not need to worry, Harry,” the old man assured him, his blue eyes twinkling in amusement.

“As touching as your concern for our livelihood is,” father said with a sneer. “You had better wait for us in the garden, or it may earn you a sore behind.”

Harry’s mouth fell open in surprise, he hadn’t meant to say anything bad, but he’d managed to insult his father somehow. Frightened, he pushed away his empty plate, and stood.

“Yes, sir,” he whispered meekly, doing as he had been told.

“Don’t be so hard on him, Severus,” he heard grandpa murmur quietly as he left the kitchen. “He didn’t mean anything by it, I’m sure.”

“Hard?” father scoffed derisively. “Had I spoken to my father with such cheek, I wouldn’t be able to sit for a month. I assure you I’m anything but hard! How dare he insinuate…”

The boy ran the rest of the way to the door, not wanting to hear any more about how furious with him father was. He found the old beech tree he’d pegged as good for climbing and started scrambling up the gnarled limbs. He had loved this activity for forever, as it was the only fun thing his uncle hadn’t cared about him doing, if there weren’t any chores left in any case. He stopped at a convenient fork a few metres up, legs swinging in the air. His bum throbbed an awful lot on this hard perch, reminding him that he was in trouble already, so why should he care that father didn’t want him climbing trees? He scowled, he didn’t want to obey if the man was going to be unfair, anyway! Harry didn’t notice when he started crying, he was so miserable.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Next chapter will probably take just as long.
Chapter 20 The Quarantine Wards by Kyralian
It took a good thirty minutes before father came looking for him, and in that time Harry had cried himself dry. He curled himself into a ball, with his back against the tree trunk, pretending not to hear his name being called over and over. The voice got angrier every time, and he tried to convince himself that he was shivering because he was cold rather than frightened.

“I believe you heard me saying not to climb infernal trees, boy!” father growled just below, startling the boy so badly that he almost toppled off the branch. “Come down, carefully!”

Harry looked at the man’s upturned face and gulped, he didn’t want to come down only to be punished! He wouldn’t come down at all if he could manage it, he turned away and started climbing up instead of down, blinking the moisture out of his eyes and ignoring the man cursing below.

“Stop! Moliare, moliare, don’t bloody move, you little idiot!” the man ranted, spurring the boy to climb faster, only stopping when he couldn’t see anymore.

The man stopped shouting, he was grunting and puffing with effort now. The strange sounds made Harry curious enough that he wiped his eyes and looked over the branch he was standing on. The man was clumsily clambering up the tree after him, clinging desperately to the first horizontal limb with both arms, legs slipping because of how tense he was.

“You need to relax your arms a bit, and swing one leg over the branch,” he advised in a lecturing tone, it couldn’t be more obvious that father knew nothing about climbing trees.

“I am fucking trying not to fall!” he snarled, tensing up even more, his legs searching for purchase ineffectually.

“Well, you’re going to!” Harry retorted, annoyed. “Just as soon as your hands start cramping!”

The man turned his head slightly, and the boy could see that his face was completely white, even his lips were bloodless.

“Are you scared, father?” the boy blurted out in surprise, leaning over the side of the branch to see better.

“How can you tell?” the man mocked, but the voice was too breathless to convey a sneer properly.

“You must loosen your shoulders a bit,” Harry repeated in exasperation. “Swing your legs back and forth, and over the branch. Come on, you can do it, father.”

With an angry growl, the man finally did as he instructed, swinging his legs so powerfully that he almost dislodged himself from the branch altogether. He eventually managed to hook a toe of one boot over the branch, and clung to it with arms and legs wrapped around the limb, panting.

“Are you okay, father?” Harry asked in concern after the silence stretched a while.

“I don’t think I’ll be climbing any more today,” father groaned. “Can you come down by yourself?”

“Okay,” the boy agreed with a sigh.

Adults were afraid of the oddest things, he thought as he swiftly retracted his steps down the tree, jumping from one branch to another fearlessly. He stepped onto the lowest branch, smiling at father, who had sat up with his back against the tree trunk, gripping his wand in a white-knuckled grip.

“Idiot boy,” he snarled, catching the boy by the shoulders as soon as he was close enough, and giving him a shake. “Are you trying to break your foolish neck?!”

“I wasn’t going to fall!” Harry declared indignantly. “I’ve never fallen before! I’m good at climbing!”

The man stared at him in dismay, as if the boy had announced that he liked quartering cats for entertainment.

“Merlin, give me strength,” father moaned, closing his eyes. “I’m going to have a heart attack with you. Must I blister your bottom to stop this sort of shenanigans, Harry?”

“That’s not fair!” Harry objected, angry tears filling his eyes. He pulled against his father’s hold, intending to go to the very top of the tree and stay there, but the man didn’t let go. “I haven’t done anything wrong! All the boys climb trees, but you want to take it away just to make me miserable!”

Probably, he should be afraid of losing his temper in front of the adult who didn’t hesitate to punish him for much less, but he felt as if he was a steaming teapot, unable to stop anger pouring out of his mouth. Father looked taken aback more than angry as Harry shouted at him, and that incongruous picture made him finally trail off in the middle of announcing that he would climb all the trees in the world, if he wanted to.

“As I recall, some girls also engage in that insane pastime,” father said wryly, sighing as if he had a weight of the world on his shoulders. “Making their friends sweat as they watched from the ground, imagining broken bones or worse.”

Harry blinked, his anger dissipating in his bewilderment at the turn in conversation.

“I don’t know any girls like that,” he said with a frown.

The man’s shoulders shook with mirthless laughter as he stared at the child, and he started to grow concerned that father had suffered a nervous breakdown from his fear of heights, or something.

“Your mother was one,” father said with a grimace. “I probably deserve a child with the same predilection as punishment for my past sins.”

Harry was feeling pulled in two directions; excited to find out a detail about his mother’s life that made him connect with her, to learn that she climbed trees when she was little was amazing, but he was also filled with sadness that he was such a burden to his father already. It seemed to be like that every time that one good thing came with four bad ones!

“I’m sorry!” he cried miserably, rubbing his burning eyes with his fists. “I know I’m a bother and a fr- Oh!”

The boy was suddenly airborne, his eyes flew open wide and he squawked like a duck in distress, thinking that father had pushed him off the branch, but he was only plopped on the branch in front of the man, his long arms wrapping loosely around the child’s torso. He looked up at his father, anticipating some dreadful punishment to befall his bottom at any moment, but the man only stared into space pensively.

“So dramatic all the time,” he mused to himself. “I barely know whether you need a hug or a spanking most of the time, or maybe both to make you settle better…”

“No, I don’t!” the boy objected quietly, one hand flying to cover his bum, while the other wiped across wet cheeks. “But you said I’m like a punishment!”

The man gave him a startled look, twisting his lips into a grimace.

“I meant I wouldn’t relish worrying about you falling as I did with your mother,” father explained, leaning forward to kiss the top of the child’s head. “I don’t want you to get hurt, Harry.”

“I won’t climb anymore, father,” he said meekly, pushing his head against the man’s shoulder to hide how upset he was by saying it, but the anger of before was gone, and he didn’t want father to be worried about him.

“I think you will,” father disagreed, rubbing the child’s back very gently. “I think you like it too much to stop on my account,” Harry wanted to protest, to say that he would be good, but the words just wouldn’t come. “If I forbid it, and you disobey, I will have to punish you harshly, Harry, you already know that I don’t tolerate defiance of any kind. No, I think it’s better to find a suitable compromise that will satisfy both your desire to be a monkey, and my desire to keep you safe.”

“You really mean it?” Harry asked anxiously, not entirely sure whether he should be elated about the promised concession, or horrified at the implied whipping. Had he earned it already? He’d known he was disobeying after all.

“Yes, with restrictions,” father said in his strictest voice. “And if you disregard any safety measures I come up with, you will not sit for a very long time. Am I understood, child?”

Harry’s head bobbed up and down, his chin wobbling with upset, the man couldn’t have been any clearer than that.

“Now, that is settled,” father groaned, glancing to the side and losing all colour he had regained in the course of the conversation. “Have you an idea how we may get to the ground? Preferably without falling?”

The boy looked at the grass, mere three metres below, thinking that father would have to try very hard to fall the short distance, but he decided not to voice that thought aloud. After some suggestions, rejected by the increasingly nauseated man, Harry finally got him to try climbing down by threatening that he would fetch grandpa Al to help magic him down. It worked, but with a price.

When father’s feet reached the ground, he inhaled deeply a few times, but as soon as his face lost its greenish tinge he turned his scorching gaze on the child. Before Harry had time to do more than say “Oh-oh,” father’s hand snaked around the boy’s waist, holding him in place as he delivered a sharp slap to the boy’s posterior with the other one.

“Ow!” he whimpered.

“That’s enough insolence for one afternoon, boy,” father said warningly, completely ignoring Harry’s betrayed look as he rubbed his sore bum. “Be glad I’m not putting you over my knee for a proper session for these foolish acrobatics up the tree,” he growled, catching the child by the hand and starting to walk to the front yard. “Get off the ground before I set the safety wards, and I won’t be as lenient, I promise. Come on, hopefully, Albus hasn’t locked us inside the wards yet.”

Harry thought it monstrously unfair to be punished, when he had only been trying to distract his father from his fear of heights, but he didn’t want another smack so he didn’t state his opinion out loud. He rather thought the man had been embarrassed to be so scared by a little climb, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. He wondered if father’s obsession with the stairs stemmed from his fear of heights as well...

Grandfather Al was chatting with Mrs. Wilkinson over the fence, outrageously complimenting her flowerbeds, only the way he spoke made Harry think he didn’t mean the flowers at all. In any case, Mrs. Wilkinson was deeply blushing when they came up, and father had another coughing fit that he suspected was a disguised snort.

“Severus, my boy,” grandpa exclaimed happily, when he saw them. “You must seek help about that cough of yours, it is rather worrying, especially with Harry just out of hospital.”

Mrs. Wilkinson’s eyes had begun to narrow in suspicion, but at that declaration they popped back open in curiosity. She opened her mouth, obviously eager to interrogate father about the boy’s condition, but the man flung his arm around grandfather’s shoulder to steer him away.

“Thank you for entertaining our guest, Mrs. Wilkinson,” he said smoothly, giving her a courtly bow. “However, I need to reclaim him urgently. Good afternoon.”

The old lady puckered her lips in disappointment at father’s skillful retreat from the conversation, but before they could escape beyond the reach of her strong teaching voice, she struck.

“Harry is invited to visit with Eliot tomorrow afternoon,” she called out to them.

The man paused mid-stride, looking at the old lady over his shoulder, his eyebrows arched.

“Perhaps,” father murmured sceptically, dropping his gaze to scrutinize the child at his side. Harry stood like on tenterhooks, hardly daring to breathe as he awaited the end of that sentence. “If the boy manages to stay out of trouble until then, I’ll consider it.”

“I’ll be good, father,” Harry promised earnestly. “Please?”

“We shall see,” father only said, and when the boy opened his mouth to plead his case more, he fixed him with a frigid stare. “I’ll consider it then. Thank you for the invitation and good afternoon, Mrs. Wilkinson.”

Feeling thoroughly reprimanded, Harry ducked his head as father pulled him toward the house, his hand trailing to his bottom instinctively. It didn’t throb any worse than a minute ago, but it almost seemed like it should have been a lot worse, with how annoyed the man had sounded.

“Have you lost the remains of the brain you once possessed?!” father hissed so threateningly that Harry flinched and looked up, eyes widening with terror and the hand on his behind clasping convulsively. “What possessed you to flirt with that old crone like that?!”

The boy blinked in bewilderment, clearly, he hadn’t done any such thing, as the only thing he did say to Eliot’s grandma was a quiet ‘good afternoon’. He swivelled his eyes to the old man’s face, was that what grandpa had been doing?

“Why, Severus,” grandpa murmured, grinning mischievously and stroking his beard. “One must never pass up the opportunity to compliment beauty, when one encounters it.”

"Don't give me that codswallop, Albus!" Father snapped, his voice dripping with scorn. "We both know that you play for the other team!"

Harry had been listening to the exchange with an open mouth and very little comprehension, but that last bit made him jump up and down in excitement.

"What team?" He piped up eagerly. "May I come watch you playing, grandpa?"

Both adults turned to him with similar flummoxed expressions, and he watched with interest as his father went pale as a ghost, while grandfather became healthily flustered.

“Is it a very dangerous sport?” the boy asked in confusion.

Father glared at the old man in annoyance for a moment, before answering the child’s question.

“Not dangerous, usually,” he said wryly. “But it includes a lot of flirting and even kissing, do you think you’d be interested in that, Harry?”

The boy made a disgusted face, no, he’d seen enough of older kids playing at dating, and it was very gross. He shook his head emphatically, giving grandpa a wary glance, but the man didn’t seem offended, or anything. His lips were pressed into a firm line in an attempt not to laugh.

“We should get started on the wards,” father said with a groan. “How exactly do you want to bypass the containment enchantments? Leaving me a key with your magical signature would be risky, but I require a way through nonetheless.”

“Indeed, you do,” grandfather agreed happily, his eyes twinkling merrily as they travelled from father to son. “Young Harry’s blood will provide an undetectable master key for you.”

The discussion about the warding had flown over the boy’s head, as he was still trying to figure out if grandpa Al went on dates with scores of people at once, and whether they all had to play a particular sport. However, a mention of his blood being used in a magical ritual had his head snapping up in alarm, and paying close attention.

“No!” father refused categorically, his hand holding the child’s tightening painfully. “He’s too young! I won’t allow him to participate in a spell of this magnitude!”

“Harry is a strong wizard, as evidenced by his accidental magic,” the old man went on, pretending not to hear father’s objections. “Your magical signatures are already so closely melded after the sharing of blood, and yet he’s a completely unknown factor in the equation. The joint blood wards would let you slip past without the Ministry knowing, but also should the boy ever be threatened by magic again, his link to you will protect him, Severus.”

Harry understood only one word in three of what was being said, but he could tell at which point father lost his resolve. His painful grip loosened, and his angry features went blank for an instant, before donning a look of grim determination. The boy’s eyes filled with tears, his lips trembling at the knowledge that whatever was about to happen would be something unpleasant.

Father squatted down, and looked him straight in the eyes, putting his hands on Harry’s shoulders.

“At the hospital you had to drink all those nasty potions,” he said seriously. “You didn’t want to do it, but you did it because it was necessary. Do you remember why it was necessary, Harry?”

The boy’s hand was trembling as he touched his rear, a memory of the whipping very fresh in his mind.

“I had to get healthy again,” he whimpered, his eyes overflowing.

“Yes, Harry,” father said softly. “This warding is supposed to keep me safe at present, but grandfather is unfortunately right. In a few years, you’ll go to Hogwarts, and inclusion in this enchantment will protect you should anyone magical mean you harm. It is incredibly important to give you that protection, child.”

“Will it hurt?” Harry asked, although the expression on the man’s face told him enough already.

Sighing, father rose to his feet, picking the boy up as he went, and pressing his head against his shoulder.

“As our blood merges to form the enchantment, we’ll both be in a considerable amount of discomfort,” he admitted tightly. “We’ll go through this together, and it won’t take very long.”

“Please, don't make me do this, father," Harry pleaded, his tears soaking into the man's black shirt, but father didn't acknowledge him other than to tighten his embrace.

"Let's go!" The man growled furiously at grandfather. "The sooner you begin, the better."

“This is for the best, you know that as well as I do, Severus,” grandpa murmured soothingly.

“Shut up and move!” father shouted, stalking out of the house.

Grandfather began by the gate, running his wand over the gate posts, until he seemed to gather a ball of swirling energies, like a miniature storm cloud. It floated over the gate, waiting, and Harry’s stomach twisted in anxiety at what it wanted.

Father shifted the boy to one hip, and held out his hand palm up to the old wizard. Harry watched in horror as grandfather drew his wand across the outstretched palm, making a deep gash. He flinched in sympathy at the sight of blood, but his father didn’t even wince. He turned his bleeding hand over the swirling ball, letting his blood drip onto it for a few seconds before pulling it back for grandpa to heal the cut with another spell.

Harry had a brief observation that the cloud of magic seemed to like being fed blood, as it grew considerably, blood red thunderbolts striking the earth around the gatepost, making father wince with each tiny thunderclap. It was very interesting, only now father was reaching for the boy’s hand wrapped around his neck, and pulling it back and palm up for grandpa to make an incision on.

The boy cried out at the sharp pain in his pain, struggling to no avail because father’s fingers seemed to be made of iron.

“Brace yourself now, Harry,” the man warned urgently, before turning his hand to drip blood onto the spell.

The boy screamed, his body convulsing violently as the moment his blood touched the swirling mist of the spell, he was engulfed in flames. His father held him in that excruciating position for seeming eternity, and he was sure he would die from the pain. At some point, they must have moved on, as the next thing he was aware of was sobbing into the man’s neck, his hand healed and the pain lessened by half.

Any feeling of relief he might have felt was swept away when the old man stopped at the next post, at the corner of the property, repeating the same long incantation until he conjured another ball of swirling mists. Father’s hand shook as he brought it forth for grandfather to cut again, and Harry remembered the man had said they would both feel the pain of the spell. He watched as the muscles of his hand spasmed as his blood was fed to the ward, and father’s lips were pressed into a firm line, but he didn’t make a sound. The same couldn’t be said about the child, when it was his turn to bleed and burn.

They repeated the same horrid ritual at each corner of the property, and again at the gate, and by the time it was all over Harry was hoarse from screaming, and father’s hands were shaking so badly that he barely could hold the boy up anymore. On completion of the boundary, the swirling mists coalesced to form a pulsing red wall all around the fence, it hung in the air for a moment, before fading completely. As one, the boy and the man drew in a shuddering breath as the pain disappeared in the same instant as the bloody wall.

Harry lay limply against father’s shoulder, too exhausted to cry anymore, only barely aware of the man’s quiet words giving encouragement and praise for how brave he had been, and how proud father was to have a son like that. It made him feel better to hear those words, even though he was too tired to understand what they meant.

Father pressing a vial of red potion to his lips brought the boy out of his exhausted stupor, and he groaned in recognition and disgust. They were in the living room, and he was in father’s lap, on the armchair opposite the sofa. Grandfather was on the sofa, sipping tea from a blue teacup, and watching them with twinkling eyes.

“I don’t like it,” he whined, turning his face away and hiding in father’s shirt. “I’m not even sick!”

Harry remembered the horrible punishment for refusing medicine, and he was about to cry some more at the unfairness of it all, when the man pulled the vial back a little, his free hand cupped the side of the boy’s face, stroking his cheek with a gentle thumb.

“No, you and I aren’t sick, but we need a pick-me-up after that horrible spell,” father explained softly. “We can make it a toast, we’ll drink to staying healthy and safe, and never having to do anything so dreadful again.”

Harry peeked up at his father, and sure enough the man was now holding two identical vials of the red potion. Sighing, he sat straighter, and took one of the vials.

“Okay,” the boy agreed with a put upon sigh.

Smirking, father clinked his vial against Harry’s, and put it to his lips. He copied the man, watching closely to make sure he wasn’t cheating, but when half the contents of the container disappeared inside the man’s mouth, he poured the red liquid in and swallowed as fast as he could, trying not to taste it.

“Bleh!” he groaned in disgust, and he was grateful when father replaced the vial in his hand with a cup of warm tea. He drank deeply, but the taste of blood in his mouth was overpowering!

“Here,” father murmured, reaching for a plate on the coffee table. “Have a biscuit.”

Father put a chocolate soaked cake in his hand, and he stared at it as if it was a viper.

“I’m not allowed to eat sweets,” he objected, his heart about to burst from anxiety.

“Don’t be such a little dunderhead,” father rebuked him sharply. “I’m the only one allowed to say what you’re forbidden to do, and I say you may have one biscuit after a difficult day.”

Frightened more than he had been while burning outside, Harry felt his breath catching on a sob.

“I don’t wanna be punished!” he cried miserably.

The man blew out an exasperated breath.

“I’m not going to smack you for eating a blasted biscuit, Harry,” he said in a voice of fraying patience.

“Promise?”

“Yes, I promise,” father sighed, he bent forward, touching his lips to the child’s forehead. “Eat your treat, and don’t worry.”

Harry finally did, taking the smallest possible bite in case the man changed his mind, but father only rubbed little circles on the boy’s back, while resuming his conversation with grandfather. The boy sat in a daze as the heavenly flavour of chocolate filled his mouth; he had never dreamed that he would be so thoroughly ignored as he did the one thing Dudley would hate most in the world - Harry eating sweets.

He gradually relaxed, taking as long as he could to eat the precious cake, and ending up with chocolate all over his hands, his shirt, and some on father’s shirt as well.

“A waste of perfectly good chocolate,” the man said with a sneer, but before Harry could start panicking, father ran his wand over their shirts, making them look as if they had been scrubbed. “I suggest you lick your fingers clean before touching anything else, yes?”

Grinning, the boy did exactly that.
To be continued...
End Notes:
A long chapter this time, and I end on a positive note before my holiday – I’ll update when I can. Note to readers who share Harry’s hobby: I’ve never climbed a tree in my life, and I’ve no clue if the mechanics here are correct…
Chapter 21 - Anger by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
After a long break, I’m back with a chapter that refused to be a pleasant one, it had three versions [initially it was supposed to be playful, but I must be in a mood or something…]
The morning dawned bright and sunny, promising another beautiful summer’s day, but the boy on the bed was anything but eager for it to start. The night had been awful, filled with nightmares about men with twisted faces pushing the child towards the gate which pulsed with ominous red magic, despite his frantic pleas not to be hurt. Harry tossed and turned, caught in the grip of the nightmare, and when he finally woke up it felt as if he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all.

He groaned, eyes roaming around the familiar room. It was weird how quickly he got used to waking up here, gone was the momentary confusion when he expected the cramped dark space of his cupboard around him. He could tell it was very early still, too early for breakfast, but the thought of closing his eyes again was unbearable. His stomach was bubbling with the emotions he wasn’t able to identify at first, but it made him feel sort of queasy. Harry squeezed the giant plushie tighter to himself, and rolled onto his back, wincing as his backside throbbed ferociously in the new position.

Harry’s eyes pricked with tears, he’d almost forgotten he’d gotten the belt mere two days ago, but his bum was determined to remind him at every opportunity. He shook his head to banish the memory of the cruel punishment and the fierce, possessive hug he’d received afterwards. The sharp twinge helped him realise what sort of bug churned in his belly, though. He was feeling angry. And betrayed.

The boy was slowly getting to know his father, and figuring out what he could expect from the man. The gnawing worry about getting fed, which had been a constant concern at the Dursleys, didn’t seem so urgent anymore, with father hardly allowing him time to become hungry. In its absence, Harry’s mind had the energy to try to be a child, learning to play and laugh, and cry. He hadn’t realised how much turmoil in his understanding of the world father caused. He was a strict man, unbending and cruel in his discipline, but the undivided attention he gave Harry made him feel like a different person, someone who wasn’t a freak.

There was a lot of fear and weariness, yes, sometimes much more than he had experienced at his aunt and uncle’s, but he was learning to recognise what sort of things would get him into trouble, and why. He knew why he had been whipped, and that helped him move past the horrible ordeal. At his relatives’, he’d often been paralysed by uncertainty, a thing that had been allowed previously, might bring the worst punishment the next time. He didn’t miss the constant stomach ache that uncertainty caused. That was what made him so upset, he had been punished, and he didn’t understand what he had done to deserve it. Father always explained why he was punishing Harry, but yesterday it had been enough that grandpa Al wanted to hurt him, and father didn’t fight for him. He swiped an angry fist across his eyes and kicked the blanket away. When did he start believing that any adult would fight for him?!

He sat up, and flung the lion toy across the room, it was too unwieldy to go very far. It fell to the floor on its side, big brown eyes seeming to question the boy’s assault.

“He’s a liar!” the boy declared, eyes flashing.

He wasn’t certain which of the two adults he meant. Grandpa Al had seemed so nice and sympathetic, disapproving even of father’s fondness of spanking, that Harry began to like him straight away. It was a bitter pill to swallow to realise that he had been duped again, that the man would hurt him for no reason, and drink tea afterwards, as if nothing had happened!

Grudgingly, he dragged the lion to the rocking chair, grimacing at the memory of father rocking him in his lap yesterday, reading another chapter of Oliver Twist. It had been nice, soothing his nerves after the horrifying experience of punishing magic, but he wasn’t in a mood to give the man any slack today. Harry picked some clothes at random, and left the room, his face a storm cloud.

The boy didn’t fancy getting caught by his father though, so he took great care not to make a noise, stepping over the squeaky step and pausing to listen at the sliding bookcase which separated the staircase from the living room. Harry emerged into the empty room with a sigh of relief, the room had that feel of sleepy abandonment that every house acquired during nighttime. He walked through the empty house with a little more spring in his step, confident that father was still ensconced in his bed upstairs. Snatching a piece of bread from the kitchen, he felt at home taking care of his needs again. Adults were unreliable at the best of times, and he had been a fool to start trusting them.

The boy took a bite and stepped into the hallway, deciding that an hour or two of climbing sounded perfect, whatever the stupid man might think on the subject. He pushed down the handle, and snatched his fingers away with a pained hiss a moment later. Eyes blurring with tears, he shook out the hand that seemed to have been doused in hot water, it wouldn’t open for him. The boy was locked in!

Between one second and the next, he was transported into a place he knew all too well, the musty smell of the cellar choking him. With a scream of terror, Harry launched himself at the door, kicking and pounding it with his fists.

“Let me out! Let me fucking out!” he screamed as he assaulted the piece of wood barring his way repeatedly. He needed out, how long had he been here this time? He didn’t remember.

In his distress, he didn’t hear the door down the hall slamming open, nor the angry demands for him to stop. He yelled as an arm came around his chest, and dragged him away from the door. He fought, limbs flailing wildly in desperation not to be pulled downstairs again, sure some monster of the dark had a hold of him. His hands were caught and held at his sides by cruel manacles, as the monster was shouting in his ear.

“Enough, stop it, Harry!” his name shifted something in the boy’s mind, and the dark nightmare crumbled around him. He wasn’t in that terrible place, this was his father’s house, and Harry started sobbing in relief.

“Let me out,” he pleaded, tears running down his cheeks in rivulets.

“No, I don’t think I will,” father said in his sternest voice, his narrowed eyes scrutinizing him in a way that made the boy shiver. “Are you calmed down enough that I can stop restraining you?”

“Y-yes, sir,” the boy whispered in a scratchy voice, although his insides tied themselves into knots with dread.

The man released his hands, and he pulled them close to his chest, wincing at his sore knuckles.

“Come,” the man called, turning on his heels and heading for the open doorway.

Harry stood frozen for a moment, hardly able to draw breath into his constricted lungs, the anger of a few minutes before was completely gone, replaced by a choking feeling in his chest. He only moved when father looked back at him with a severe expression.

“Now, boy!”

His feet dragged, stopping altogether at the threshold of the room he had been forbidden to enter at the very beginning, his panicked gaze flitted around father’s study until it returned to the formidable man, who was holding the door open for him.

“I’m not allowed here,” the boy said tremulously, his heart breaking into a gallop at the man’s ploy to get him in trouble.

“How very obedient of you,” father scoffed wryly. “You have my permission to enter, Harry.”

Hunching his shoulders around his ears, he stepped into the room, taking care to keep his eyes firmly fixed on the floor, it was the same aged wood as in the living room. A click of the door closing made him flinch, and he came to a halt in front of the sprawling desk that took up most of the width of the room.

“Give me your hands,” the man said, much closer than Harry expected him to be.

His head jerked up, his eyes growing wide at the sight his father presented, perched on the edge of the desk like some great bird of prey, his expression grim and his hand outstretched in expectation.

“Why?!” he croaked, cradling his sore hands to his chest protectively. He eyed father’s wand warily, he didn’t want any more magic used on himself.

“Because I said so!” the man snapped, his eyes flashing with anger. He snatched the boy’s left hand and pulled it close, but as he raised the wand, Harry tested the grip, trying to pull free. “Stop this foolishness, boy,” father’s fingers dug deeper into his wrist. “You’re overdue for a hard spanking, if you think it appropriate to defy me thus, whatever Albus’s thoughts on the matter!”

Harry listened to father’s angry rant with rising unease, wide eyes tracking the wand warily. It slashed through the air with angry, jerky movements, making him cringe every time he felt the wind of its passing on his fingers. He had been afraid of the man cursing his hands off, but a smacking with the rigid thing seemed more likely just now.

“The other one!” Father snapped, letting go of the hand he had been holding, and Harry gasped in surprise that none of his dark imaginings became reality. In actual fact, his knuckles were much less sore than a minute ago, wide green eyes flitted around the hard panes of the man’s face, questioning. “What did you expect me to do, idiot child? Cut off your fingers?!”

The boy flinched, remembering uncle Vernon making that very threat, if he was caught stealing from them one more time. He gave up his right hand for father’s inspection, hanging his head in shame for believing he would be cursed, when grandpa Al wasn’t there to talk him into it. No, his father had never used his magic in that way, it was grandpa’s wand that was doing the hurting. Father would spank or belt him, if he disapproved of something he did…

OH! His heart jumped into his throat as he remembered the piece of bread he’d pilfered from father’s kitchen. He had been so fixated on what happened yesterday, so angry at the man for allowing it that he hadn’t been thinking straight at all!

“Well, at least you haven’t broken anything,” father growled in annoyance. “What possessed you to assault the door like that?!”

“I just wanted out,” Harry mumbled evasively, pulling his hand back and examining his healed knuckles. “It wouldn’t open for me.”

“Oh, I see. And what gave you the idea you should be allowed outside at all hours of day and night?" Father continued in a voice that was getting more frosty with every word. "Why, I seem to recall telling you in very firm terms that you were to remain in your room at night. Are you so eager to test my patience, boy? Perhaps, I’ve let you get away with too much lately.”

Harry’s face went chalky white at the reminder, his hands falling back to cover his posterior. It had been on the very first evening, after the disastrous tour of the house, that father led the sobbing child into his bedroom, warning that if he put a toe out of it before 7 the next morning, he’d not sit comfortably for a week. The boy hadn’t even risked visiting the toilet at night after that, the only time he left his bedroom after bedtime was when his hand had been broken, and he fully expected a whipping then. He bit his lip, father hadn’t punished him on that occasion, but it had been the exception, hadn’t it? And he didn’t have as good a reason for disobeying now.

“No,” he whispered, ducking his head and blinking furiously. He should have known he couldn’t evade his father, not when he forgot to be quiet, anyway. He swallowed hard, why did he have to keep getting so confused all the time? Was he really touched in the mind, as uncle Vernon claimed?

The man observed the wretched child for a silent moment, folding his arms in consideration.

“Sneaking out after hours, shouting, cursing and attacking my furniture like a thing possessed,” he enumerated with a slight sneer. “It’s a hefty list of misdeeds to have committed before breakfast. I admit I didn’t expect such disruptive behaviour from you. I suggest you explain yourself, Harry, while I’m still in the mood to listen.”

The boy slumped his shoulders, dropping his hands at his sides in defeat, he didn’t realise he’d been swearing as well. At least, father didn’t know about the stealing yet, he felt sick with dread thinking about the punishment in store for him. Harry pressed his lips into an angry line, adults couldn’t be trusted, so why had this betrayal felt so much worse than all the others? Even now, with the punishment imminent, he couldn’t make himself stop thinking about it. The ball of resentment in his gut made him want to punch the stupid man’s grim face, his fingers curled into fists at his sides. What right did he have to demand answers from him?

“Nothing to say?!” father mocked, with menace dripping from every syllable. “I can guess well enough why you would be sneaking out at 5 in the morning, after I’d forbidden that blasted hobby of yours!” He growled angrily, rising from his perch and rounding the desk to rummage in a drawer.

“Bend over the desk, boy,” the man ordered harshly, retrieving a long wooden ruler from the top drawer. “If you require a sharper lesson in obedience, I’ll oblige you.”

Harry’s head snapped up suddenly, red-rimmed eyes blazing with fury, meeting the adult’s fearsome countenance with a scowl of his own.

“I hate you!” he screamed venomously, his rage so strong that he was shaking with the intensity of the emotion. “You’re a filthy liar, and I hate you!”

Clearly taken aback by the child’s outburst, the man paused in his approach, his eyebrows climbing up his forehead, and his head cocking to one side, as if he was trying to understand the accusation. Oddly enough, the anger marring his face a few moments prior was gone, replaced by a calculating frown, but Harry’s eyes rounded with terror, unable to perceive the difference in his state of upset, and he spun around and ran for the door.

No, no, no! What had he done?! His heart was going to burst, but he needed to get away, before… before... he didn’t really know what would happen, but the echo of the cellar was so strong in his mind that he had to flee. The sound of a key turning in the lock froze him in his tracks, his breath catching in his throat and vision blurring. He raised his fists to pound on the door, but he was so wrung out already that he didn’t fight when strong hands caught his wrists, and pulled them away firmly.

“No more pounding!” the man’s strict admonition sounded straight into his ear, and Harry started to cry, his muscles going soft as jelly.

He would have crumpled to the floor, but father supported him easily. He must have turned the boy around at some point, because Harry found himself sobbing noisily into the man’s black shirt. He couldn’t restrain himself as the rage morthed into crushing disappointment and grief. Unlike on other occasions, being held like that didn’t seem to calm his spiking panic any.

“‘M sorry,” he sobbed, his throat seeming to be filled with shards of glass. “‘M sorry, didn’t mean it, won’t say it again, ‘m sorry!”

The child repeated the same message until he became quite hoarse, and father held him in silence, patting his back gently every now and again. He waited until the boy was too exhausted to continue before he spoke.

“I think you did mean those things,” he said seriously, holding the child tighter against his chest when he tried to protest. “I think you are very cross with me right now, and that’s why you chose to disobey me and go outside.”

With a defeated sigh, the boy bobbed his head in a slight affirmative.

“Would you tell me why you are angry with me, Harry?” father asked in his very softest voice, loosening his hold so the boy could step away if he wanted to.

Harry whimpered softly, father only spoke like that very rarely, when he wasn’t angry and wanted the boy to know that. It was like a stab to the heart to hear it now, because he’d begun trusting that voice, but it was as much a lie as all the rest. A hand on his back made him flinch, and he stepped out of reach, managing a weak glare.

“You let him hurt me,” he croaked in a scratchy voice, his throat aching. “It hurt and hurt, and you didn’t tell him to stop!”

The man sat back on his heels in surprise, his face losing all expression for a few moments, as if he didn’t know what to say.

“You mean Albus, and that wretched spell,” father said with a heavy sigh. “I thought you took it too much in stride, yesterday,” he shook his head, groaning a bit as he pulled himself to his feet. “I and grandpa did what we thought necessary to provide you with protection which you wouldn’t otherwise have. I don’t intend to apologise for fulfilling my obligation towards you, Harry.”

The man looked at the angry child with an implacable expression, and he knew that there was nothing he could say to make father understand how he was feeling. The boy averted his eyes, choosing to glare at the floor, rather than the man who had been holding him so patiently through his breakdown.

“You said it’s your job to protect me,” he whispered, needing to reiterate the source of his disappointment.

“And so I do,” father said with some exasperation. “I protect you when I hold your hand on the street, but also as I strap your bottom. It’s not always possible to keep you safe without causing pain.”

“Aunt Petunia never used to do that,” Harry mumbled sadly, not entirely sure whether he meant no hitting or general lack of interest in his well-being, the latter somehow felt more upsetting.

Sighing, father ran his hands through his hair, for once it didn’t hang in sleek curtains to his shoulders, but was as ill-behaved as the boy’s, as if he’d spent a good portion of the night pulling at it.

“I’m well aware of her shortcomings,” he said with a grimace. “I know it must be very confusing to be dumped with me, who has such different expectations of you than your relatives used to. I’m a different person and a stricter parent, and you must learn to accept that, Harry. You may be angry with me for the decisions I make on your behalf, but if your temper leads you out of bounds, you will be strictly admonished. I have been as patient with you as I can, but I’ll not tolerate direct defiance.”

Unwilling, but not really able to help himself, Harry’s eyes were first drawn to father’s empty hands, and then to the top of the desk where the ruler still lay. He swallowed hard, it wasn’t really unexpected that father would discipline him for his disobedience. He didn’t even have the energy to feel angry about it, he wished he could just return to bed and forget about the last thirty minutes.

“Do you have to do it, sir?” he asked softly.

Father raised an eyebrow, folding his arms.

“Tell me truthfully, Harry,” he asked calmly. “Were you going to climb that infernal tree?”

The boy averted his eyes, he didn’t think it would do him any good to lie, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit to anything out loud. There was a minute of loaded silence, and then he heard the man sigh loudly.

“Yes, I do, son,” father answered.
To be continued...
Chapter 22 - A Reassurance, Of Sorts by Kyralian
A feather-light touch on his face startled Harry out of a nap, and he blinked at the man standing by his bed. His breath caught at recognising his father, sudden unease twisting his stomach into a painful knot.

“Sir?” he asked fearfully, biting his lip to prevent it trembling. He had to squash the urge to rear back to get out of striking distance of the man, instead his muscles seemed to lock themselves in place so hard that it was hard to breathe. Harry hadn’t done anything to deserve another punishment so soon after the last.

“It is nine o’clock,” father said almost placidly. “Are you ready to get up, child?”

The boy cast a wild glance about the brightly-lit room, before almost falling out of bed in his haste to get up. He couldn’t believe he’d overslept so badly!

“Yes, sir,” he said in a panicky voice, eyes flashing to father’s face before falling to the carpet at his feet in misery. “I’m sorry for lazing about in bed for so long, sir. It won’t happen again, honest.”

The man sighed, catching the boy’s arm to steady him on his feet. He ran a hand through the messy mop of hair, ignoring the flinch Harry didn’t manage to suppress entirely. He didn’t know why he had expected a cuff on the head, that was more uncle Vernon’s thing than his father’s, but his head was so muddled with thoughts and feelings that it was difficult to differentiate between the two men. 

“If I wanted you to be up sooner, I’d have woken you, Harry,” he pointed out in exasperation. “What do you fancy for breakfast?“

Harry looked up so fast that his neck cracked loudly. He knew questions of this type were tricky, but he had years of experience avoiding such pitfalls both at home and at school.

“I’m not hungry, sir,” he mumbled, praying that his stomach wouldn’t betray him and grumble. It wasn’t safe to admit to any greed at home, especially when he didn’t deserve any favours after that morning, but his tummy was getting so uncomfortable that he doubted he could eat anything despite the hollowness inside.

“Nevertheless, you will eat,” the man corrected, sounding more severe in that moment than he had while disciplining Harry earlier. “Is scrambled eggs on bacon acceptable or would you prefer something else?”

A brick-sized lump suddenly rose in the boy’s throat. He had made a mistake, but they were at home! Tears of frustration filled his eyes, a school answer wouldn’t work as well, would it?

“Thank you, but I’ve just eaten,” he whispered huskily, but that attempt only earned a derisive snort from the man. 

“You’ve eaten,” father mimicked, his voice dripping with scorn. He folded his arms across his chest, and fixed the child with a stern glare. “Would that be a grand feast consisting of a piece of toast I found crumbling away by the door? That must have been filling, indeed! Why, I am sure you’ve put on a few pounds already!”

The boy seemed to shrink with every scathing comment the man made, his glassy eyes stared hauntingly out of a bloodless face. Father knew he had stolen from him! Harry should have found a way to sneak back downstairs and hide every evidence of his thievery, instead he had fallen asleep, like some moon-addled loon! Swallowing convulsively, he berated himself for taking the stupid bread, he hadn’t been starving or anything! Instinctively, his hands trailed back to rub at his bottom, wincing slightly. The spanking hadn’t been as bad as it could have been, at least he’d gotten a lesser sentence because he hadn’t lied, but father’s hand was hard enough on its own, and he didn’t want to feel it again so soon. Stealing was so much worse than disobeying.

Noticing the child’s anxious movement, the man blew out an irritated breath, cutting his tirade short, and Harry was all braced for him to start unbuckling his belt. He didn’t realise his gaze had dropped to the awful item until long fingers curled around his chin, and tilted his head up so that he was looking into the steely black eyes of his father.

“I’m sorry I stole,” he managed to choke out, averting his eyes as much as was possible with his head held in a vice-like grip.

“You did not steal,” father corrected, rolling his eyes. “I do not mind you getting a snack to eat, at least not during the day,” he said precisely. “I would recommend a fruit to tie you over until a proper meal, rather than a piece of plain bread. I would also appreciate not finding your snacks littering the floor in the future. Is that understood, Harry?”

No, not really. He wasn’t allowed to help himself to father’s food whenever he pleased, of course not. It must be one of those things aunt Petunia would say around neighbours, but which he knew didn’t apply to him ‘my boys adored those cakes from you, honey’. Only, why would the man say such a thing, with nobody there to listen? The other part was easier to understand, and he knew the proper response.

“Sorry I made a mess,” he apologised hurriedly, meeting the man’s eyes briefly. “I’ll clean it up, father.” 

“No need, I have already done so,” the man stated impatiently. “I think an appropriate consequence for your argumentative mood this morning is to lose the privilege of choosing your breakfast. Next time, you’ll know better than to argue with me. Now, stop sulking and dress, or do you need a smack on the rear to hurry you along?”
 
Harry cringed, never before has anyone cleaned up his messes for him. He didn’t mean to argue with father, especially not when he was already getting so annoyed to threaten a punishment, but as the man let go of his face, dismissing him to get moving, his stomach clenched even more tightly.

“No, but… I’m really not hungry,” he insisted, folding his arms across his aching belly, his voice becoming more breathless and strained with every word. “I don’t need so much food all the time,” he babbled, saying whatever popped into his mind that would get him out of eating anything. His vision was swimming, he needed to lie down for a minute, but father was looking at him so strangely that he didn’t dare stop speaking even though his insides were about to explode. “I’m really small... honest... and food is expensive... I really should earn my keep anyway…" he was crying by the end, breaths coming in shallow gasps.

“Enough, Harry. What-,” father barked, but before he could demand what was wrong, the child’s legs folded and he crumpled to the floor. Arms caught him, but he was barely conscious of that fact, his insides tightened with every breath he managed to drag in, and he was certain that he was going to die. Angry words drifted at the edge of his hearing, and he was almost glad that he would be dead before father could punish him. An excruciating minute passed, and then his mouth was filled with something foul. A hand clamped over his mouth and nose, and he was suffocating! He struggled feebly, remembering to swallow after a moment. The obstruction over his mouth went away, and Harry dragged in a rattling breath.

Father was speaking to him, but it took a while before he could understand the soft words. He didn’t know how he’d gotten there, but he was laying sideways, with his head nestled in the man’s lap. Long fingers on his bare belly deftly massaged the hard stomach, making the boy whimper and groan in turns, as the tightness inside began to slowly lessen, the other hand was warm on his forehead, smoothing his fringe out of his eyes.

“Breathe, Harry, it’ll pass soon, just take another breath. Yes, like that, good boy, just one more,” the words swam over his head, calming and quiet, as his stomach slowly uncurled. “That’s it, child, relax, breathe. Is the pain gone, Harry?”

The boy took a shuddering breath, he was drenched in sweat and exhausted from the attack, but his stomach wasn’t killing him anymore. In fact, he was mortified to hear it rumbling softly. Harry turned his head, shooting a worried look at the man, but father merely smirked at him.

“I imagine you won’t give me any more trouble about breakfast, hmm?” Father asked, raising an eyebrow. “I wish you had told me straight away what was wrong, that was a very bad cramp.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered, his lips trembling with the beginning of a sob, but the man smoothed his expression with a gentle finger.

“Apologising for being sick is very foolish, child,” he said, a tad acerbic, resuming his massage. “Do you have such pains often, when you’re worried about something, or scared, Harry?”

The boy flinched, the question was asked softly, so gently that the voice was almost unrecognisable as his stern father’s, but it did little to reassure him very much.

“Sometimes,” he mumbled, burying his face in the man’s thigh. It usually happened when he had eaten something after a long punishment, but this time wasn’t like that at all. His stomach tied itself into a painful knot the moment he opened his eyes, so tense as if something terrible was about to happen, something he couldn’t bear to even think about consciously. He bit his lip, fighting the urge to cry.

“Will you tell me what is worrying you, Harry?” Father asked very softly, and the boy shuddered, the tension in his gut becoming unbearable. He opened his mouth to cry out in pain, but what came out was a question of his own.

“Are you going to send me away now?” he whispered so quietly that it was a mere breath of air, but the man heard him. His hands tightened on the child’s head and stomach, almost painfully.

“No, never,” the words were so cold, thrumming in the air like the toll of a bell, even though the volume wasn’t much higher than Harry’s question had been. Fingers curled around his arm, and pulled him up as easily as a ragdoll, and the boy cried out in fear more than pain. 

Instead of bending him over his knee as punishment for asking, father sat Harry on his lap, holding him by the arms away from himself.  The boy gasped, staring at the severe  and  merciless features of his father’s face, there was nothing soft or soothing on it right now. 

“You are mine,” he said angrily, black eyes burning with something Harry hadn’t seen before, but might have been a strong resolve. “My flesh and blood, my child, and I intend to keep you. Had I known you were my son, I’d have taken you the day your mother passed away. Your aunt had cheated me out of six years with you, and that I will not forgive. No, I won’t send you away, not to her or anyone else. Not ever.”

Harry’s eyes were large as saucers, and he had stopped breathing again. He wasn’t sure he even remembered how, to be honest. He opened his mouth, licking his dry lips nervously, as father’s words rang in his ears.

“I’m sorry,” he said timidly, not at all certain that what father was saying boded well for him. The man sounded so angry, as he claimed his desire to keep him, that the boy wanted to cringe, except his arms were holding so tight that he couldn’t move.

Father’s eyes narrowed into angry slits.

“Are you apologising for worrying that I would do to you the same foolish thing that hideous aunt of yours did?” he demanded incredulously.

That made Harry scowl.

“Aunt Petunia isn’t hideous!” he protested hotly, the anxiety of a moment ago melted away in a feat of temper. He would have stomped his foot, had he been standing.

The man snorted, pulling the child close against his shoulder, rubbing his back soothingly.

“I must have your eyesight checked,” he murmured, with a hint of mockery in his dry voice. “As you don’t see very clearly at all, Harry.”

“She just isn’t!” The boy insisted, folding his arms in imitation of his father’s irate posture. “She’s pretty and nice!”

“Alright,” the man coughed into a fist, making him suspicious at the sudden acquiescence. “Your aunt’s virtues aside, how is your stomach feeling, now?”

Harry rolled his eyes, he could recognise an avoidance tactic when he saw one.

“You’re changing the subject on purpose,” he accused in a grumbling voice.

“Yes, well, we must agree to disagree on the matter of your aunt,” father said dryly. “There is no accounting for tastes. How about light porridge for breakfast, with some of those strawberries?”

“Okay,” the boy agreed grudgingly, sighing like someone put-upon. His father was like a dog with a bone.
To be continued...
End Notes:
A/N: A short chapter, and again it took several versions before I was more or less satisfied, but it wasn’t two months at least.
Chapter 23 The Slipper by Kyralian
Harry glared gloomily at his empty plate, he had stupidly shovelled the food into his mouth at top speed, unknowing that in just a moment he’d wish he could prolong the meal indefinitely.

“I don’t want it!” he whined, folding his arms across his chest in irritation, mirroring the posture of the man across the table from him. This was so unfair! Father knew how to ruin the best meal in days with one sentence! Wasn’t it enough that he had to drink the horrid blue sludge at the beginning of lunch?

He’d almost burst into tears when the man had announced half an hour ago that until his stomach anxiety was under better control, the boy would be required to take potions to increase appetite and digestion at every mealtime, but somehow he misunderstood the crucial point that there would be one for appetite and another for digestion. Harry bitterly regretted admitting to father how often his stomach felt uneasy about eating, but he didn’t see a way out of it with the man asking questions like some rabid inquisitor.

“The potions are not optional, Harry,” father said seriously, fixing the child with a grim stare. “You’ll take them without a fuss and skip away to play with your friend, or you’ll stay at home with a very sore behind. In either case, you’ll not avoid the potion, so stop being a stubborn dunderhead and drink it.”

Eliot. That had been the man’s leverage from the beginning, Mrs. Wilkinson’s invitation from yesterday. Harry folded his arms on the table, burying his face in them in abject misery. He wanted to go see his friend, but the thought of swallowing another gross medicine was just unbearable!

“But I don’t feel sick anymore!” he wailed unhappily.

“Indeed, you’ve cleaned your plate without my cajoling or threats for the first time since we’ve met,” father said with the air of smug satisfaction. “Let’s make sure there are no pains as your stomach handles your better appetite, shall we? It would be a shame if you had to come back early because of a stomach ache.”

The boy looked up, wiping his tears with a hand. His father was smirking at him in amusement, and he had to admit that after choking down the blue sludge, his tummy had become very eager for the mushroom soup with sandwiches, not giving even a twinge of complaint as he gorged himself. Sighing in resignation, Harry picked up the tiny vial, there was no more than a soup spoonful of the muddy liquid inside.

“And I can see Eliot, if only I drink this?” he checked.

“No,” the man’s face hardened, until it seemed chiseled from ice. “I am not offering you a bribe, Harry. I have no intention of buying your compliance with trinkets or entertainment.”

Father’s nostrils flared, eyes flashing with ire the boy had seen only once in all this time. He shrank back until the backrest of the chair jabbed into his spine uncomfortably, as the man seemed to loom over him, although he hadn’t really moved.

“I have indulged your pouting for long enough, child,” he went on in a dire voice. “You will do as you are told, or your defiance will have consequences.”

Harry ducked his head, fingers on the vial tightening convulsively, he hated it when father cut him off at the knees like that.

“That’s not fair,” he whispered.

“Isn’t it?” the man mused coldly. “You know very well what will happen, if you refuse to take medicine. Must I indulge your foolish whim to be a martyr, Harry? My father used to say that a boy who needs reminders, had not howled for nearly long enough the first time. I didn’t need very many of them while growing up. Do you require a reminder now, child?”

Harry shook his head jerkily, not daring to look at the man, he sounded so matter-of-fact, as though it was a certainty that the boy would receive such reminders, eventually.

“No, sir,” he said in a voice more meek than he had ever used in his whole life. It was a wonder, if he would ever have the courage to speak less timidly again.

Father folded his hands on the table, and watched the boy soberly, waiting. Harry’s hands shook as he uncorked the tiny vial, and gulped the contents hastily. He coughed at the strong minty flavour, but to his considerable surprise it wasn’t bad. Eyes widening, he saw the man give a nod of acknowledgement.

“You and I may debate and negotiate many things, Harry,” father said gravely. “Even argue, and you’ll not incur serious consequences, but your health and well-being will never be one of them. You will take the medicine without a word of complaint for as long as necessary, or I will administer a strapping. I shall not warn you again.”

“I understand, sir,” the boy whispered, thinking that without the potion he’d be curling on the floor with more cramps, he was so tense.

“Good,” father said calmly. “Go to your room, I’ll be with you in ten minutes.”

Harry’s eyes filled with tears of betrayal, he had obeyed in the end, but father was going to punish him anyway! He pushed away from the chair, swaying as he trotted from the kitchen, he was blinded by tears by the time he collapsed on his bed. That wasn’t fair! He wasn’t really going to refuse the stupid potion, he wasn’t a complete idiot! Father had no reason to be cross with him!

The boy was so consumed by his misery that he didn’t notice the door sliding open, and the source of his upset coming in.

“What is the matter with you, now?” the man demanded impatiently.

He looked around, but he was crying so hard that father was only a black blur in the doorway. Harry’s breath hitched for a moment, before he was out of bed and pressed into the furthest corner of the room, watching.

“Have you learned your favourite cat died, or something?” father inquired wearily, stalking closer and giving the child a narrow-eyed look. “Something hurts? Speak up, boy!”

“You’re horrible!”

The man stopped in surprise, his eyebrows shooting up at the child’s outburst.

“Why does that make you cry?” he asked, sounding completely baffled. “I don’t recall claiming to be goodness personified.”

Harry blinked, tears stopping in mid-sob at the peculiar answer. The man heaved a sigh, putting a palm to the child’s forehead and cheeks, as if checking for fever.

“You’re a little warm,” he concluded with a frown. “Are you feeling unwell?”

The boy shook his head automatically, feeling as if he was lost in a sea of uncertainty and confusion. What was going on?

“Are you sure?” father insisted, scrutinising the child from head to toe. “Very well. Come, I’m sure you don’t want to be late.”

It was almost an out of body experience, when the man steered him to the wardrobe, and instructed the stunned boy to choose a change of clothes and pack for his visit. Harry did as he was told, picking out a pair of shorts, pants and a shirt with numb fingers. Father brought a bath towel from the bathroom, and had him pack it all into a small bag.

The boy’s chest ached strangely, heart hammering erratically as father took him by the hand, and led him out of the house. With every step, a heavy weight in his gut seemed to get more uncomfortable. It didn’t hurt, the potion he’d drunk stopped his stomach from twisting into a knot, but he wanted to heave up everything he’d eaten nonetheless. Harry didn’t understand it, it didn’t look like he’d be getting a whipping after all, so why was he feeling unhappy all of a sudden? He loved playing with Eliot, but the sight of Mrs. Wilkinson coming over to greet them almost made him burst into a fit of weeping.

“You look peaky today,” she told him, peering into his eyes with concern. “Have you eaten?”

“He has,” father said exasperatedly, rolling his eyes at their neighbour. “But we had some trouble with stomach aches.”

“Oh, you poor dear,” she crooned, patting his cheek with a wrinkled hand, and nodding attentively to the man’s explanation about the medicine he needed to take before and after food.

Harry ducked his head to hide a grimace, when father pulled two small bottles out of a pocket, and handed them to the woman. They looked like the bottle of syrup aunt Petunia used to give Dudley for coughing.

“He’ll be fine,” she assured father, patting his cheek in the same way she’d just done the boy’s. “Don’t you worry, Severus.”

“Very well,” the man pulled his head out of reach, as if stung by a bothersome fly. “Behave yourself, young man!”

“Yes, sir,” Harry whispered sadly, and just like that father was walking away, doing what he’d avowed never to do!

The boy jumped and looked up with wide, frightened eyes, as Mrs. Wilkinson’s hand smacked his rear unexpectedly. It didn’t exactly hurt, but even so tears stung his eyes.

“Run along, Harry,” she said, pointing towards the back garden. “Eliot’s been driving me crazy waiting for you.”

Harry did as he was told, rubbing his bottom as he went, keeping tears at bay with difficulty. It wasn’t hard to locate his friend, Eliot sat in a plastic chair, swinging his legs impatiently, his face aglow with eagerness to spring from his perch at last.

“You came!” the smaller boy exclaimed in relief. “I thought your daddy wouldn’t let you, grandma wasn’t sure, and she wouldn’t let me go in before you came!”

Harry blinked at the barrage of words, eyebrows raising at Eliot’s state of undress.

“Sorry,” he muttered automatically. “Are you sunbathing?”

Eliot looked at him as if he were mad, before grinning from ear to ear.

“We’re going swimming!” he announced gleefully, jumping up and down in enthusiasm.

Forehead wrinkling in confusion, Harry glanced around, mouth falling open at the sight of a bright orange blown up swimming pool stretched on the lawn. He’d seen things like that on television sometimes, but never anyone having one in real life. Even Dudley didn’t have a pool of his own, and he had everything he wanted that money could buy.

“Where has it come from?” he asked, staring at the sparkling water in awe.

“Daddy brought it yesterday,” Eliot answered excitedly, bending over the wall of the pool and running fingers through the water. “For my birthday.”

“It was your birthday, yesterday?” Harry asked, but the other boy was shaking his head.

“Not in weeks, yet,” he said sadly, grimacing. “Daddy is going away, again.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered, the ache in his chest getting even worse in sympathy for his friend.

Eliot shrugged his shoulders as nonchalantly as he could manage, despite his long face.

“At least we can play in the pool,” he sighed, stretching a hand out to reach the bottom.

“Must I warm your bottom to improve your hearing, Eliot?!” Mrs. Wilkinson scolded, approaching with fists on her hips and eyes flashing lighting.

His friend jumped away from the pool as if he were burnt, folding his hands behind his back to hide that they were wet.

“I’m staying away, grandma! I am!” the boy promised innocently, an impish grin on his face making the effort futile.

“Cheeky brat,” the woman snorted, flicking Eliot on the ear before planting a kiss on his temple. “I’m much too lenient with you.”

“May we go in now, grandma? Please?” he pleaded.

“In a minute,” Mrs. Wilkinson replied, shooting a critical glance at Harry, who stood rigidly at Eliot’s side, his head bowed and white-knuckled fists clenched at his sides. “You, Harry, can go in your panties. Your father brought things to change into later. I’m going for something to read and a cup of tea, you’ll get ready and wait for me, boys, or you’ll get the slipper instead of the pool, and that’s a promise.”

Harry watched the old lady walk away warily, not daring to move yet. Father had him pack a change of clothes, could that be only to get in the pool? He shook his head, he didn’t need a shirt or shorts for that. Under his friend’s demanding stare, Harry started to undress, folding his clothes neatly on an empty chair.

“What does it mean?” he asked softly, keeping his eyes carefully fixed on the worn trainers he set on top of his blue shorts. “The slipper?”

Eliot snorted, rolling his eyes, as if it was nothing to be concerned about.

“That’s just talk,” he shrugged nonchalantly, but his hand trailed to touch his bum, seemingly of its own accord. “She doesn’t do it very often.”

Harry understood, his mood getting even gloomier. He remembered Mrs. Wilkinson saying how she had punished Eliot the other day.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “For getting you into trouble.”

He wanted to say more, to explain himself somehow, but Mrs. Wilkinson returned with a cup of tea and a magazine, and the lump in his throat made even whispering impossible.

“Alright,” the woman said briskly, sitting down in a plastic chair. “You may go in, but no fooling around, or you’ll be out faster than you can say sorry.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry mumbled to his bare toes, but Eliot’s excited shriek drowned his soft words completely. The younger boy snatched his hand, and pulled him around the pool to the small ladder and a slide.

Before he quite knew what was happening, Harry was splashing into the ice cold water, spluttering as he stood up in the middle of the pool. He looked at Mrs. Wilkinson, worried that was too much fooling around to be tolerated, but the woman had her nose in her magazine, paying the children no mind.

“Let’s do it again!” Eliot shrieked with laughter, and Harry’s nervousness gradually melted away over the next minutes, as the boys competed with each other over who could slide the fastest, or make the biggest splash.

The boys spent the next several hours splashing about in the shallow pool, making up different games and giggling like a pair of fools. Harry loved the wild abandon of playing in the water, managing to stop worrying about the adult watching them, even if not very attentively.

About mid-afternoon, Eliot’s grandmother called them out of the pool for tea. She was very particular about no foolish urchins dripping water onto her clean floor, and they ate their cake with tea while sitting on the grass [Harry choked down his potions as prescribed, Mrs. Wilkinson’s grey eyes were as hard as his father’s, and he didn’t dare even grimace].

They were about to return to the pool, when Eliot announced that he absolutely needed his boats and fishes, or they couldn’t possibly play properly. Eliot’s grandmother rolled her eyes, and walked toward the house to fetch the toys, shouting over her shoulder that they were to stay out of the pool, or else.

Harry certainly had no notions of disobeying, but the same couldn’t be said of his friend. The moment Mrs. Wilkinson disappeared behind the wall of the house, Eliot turned a mischievous grin to him.

“Now, we can go diving!”

In hindsight, the boy knew he should have protested more, he was older, wiser and more experienced, wasn’t he? He should have said no, but the truth was that he had been too intimidated by the younger boy’s insistence, too afraid of upsetting his only friend. Once Eliot’s face tightened with stubborness, Harry capitulated with poor grace, he didn’t much like being called a coward. Surely, trying just once wouldn’t hurt anybody, right? He regretted his acquiescence the moment Mrs. Wilkinson returned with the bath toys Eliot wanted.

“So,” she said disapprovingly, when the boys came up spitting and coughing from their latest dip underwater. “Your hearing has gotten worse instead of better. That’s enough pool, get out.”

Harry was moving before the last syllable was out of her mouth, his heart breaking into a gallop and his insides writhing with fear. Eliot didn’t show the same obedience, however, he folded his arms, glaring petulantly.

“I won’t! I want to play in the pool!” the smaller boy declared angrily. “I didn’t do anything!”

Harry flinched, all the times his cousin said those words flashing through his mind in one instant. He opened his mouth to defend himself, but his friend didn’t go on to blame him as Dudley would have done.

“Dry yourself and dress, Harry,” Mrs. Wilkinson told him sharply, pointing to a chair where his bag and clothes lay. “Eliot, come out, now!”

“Y-yes, ma’am,” Harry whispered, stumbling to gather his towel and clothes as fast as possible, wincing as Eliot began to cry in protest.

Mrs. Wilkinson helped her crying grandson dress himself, and then ordered both boys to watch as she began dismantling the pool. Eliot cried harder, protesting that it was a present from his daddy, but his grandmother only grumbled that it was the same story each year.

“Alright,” she sighed, after they watched water pouring out of the pool onto the lawn for a few minutes. “Harry and I are going upstairs, and you will fetch the slipper for me, Eliot.”

The stern command made a breath catch in Harry’s throat, and he wanted to cry, too.

“We were only playing, grandma,” Eliot whined, folding his arms stubbornly. “You didn’t have to spoil the pool!”

“You were playing at defying me,” Mrs. Wilkinson returned sourly. “You will do as I ask, child, and be glad it’s only the slipper.”

Harry’s frantic eyes met the younger boy’s blue gaze fearfully.

“It was my idea, grandma,” Eliot abruptly confessed, bravely trying to protect his friend, who was as pale as death.

The woman smiled slightly, patting the boy on the cheek fondly.

“I know, Eliot, but you both disobeyed me. Now, go.”

For Harry, the walk to Eliot’s room was horrifying, he knew he was breathing too fast, but he couldn’t stop. He wanted to go home so badly, but father wouldn’t want him back after he’d behaved so shamefully, not if he begged on bended knees.

“Sit next to Harry, Eliot,” Mrs. Wilkinson said suddenly, making the boy flinch and blink rapidly, his wide eyes focusing on the single adult-sized gym shoe she was holding. “Have you anything to say for yourselves, boys?”

“Sorry, grandma,” Eliot apologised nonchalantly.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he choked out through his constricted throat. “I won’t disobey again.”

“Don’t make promises you cannot keep, boy,” the woman huffed disapprovingly. “Apologies accepted, but you’re getting the slipper as promised. Bend over the bed, both of you. Side by side, quickly now, you knew what you were doing, so don’t give me that look, Eliot.”

Harry was shaking with stress by the time Mrs. Wilkinson stopped berating them, Eliot stood with a resigned sigh, turned around and lay himself, belly-down, across the mattress. The older boy watched with dry lips for a minute, before forcing himself to assume the same position. He wanted to go home, even father’s belt would be better than this! The sound of the shoe striking something close by made him whimper, but it was Eliot who cried out in pain first.

Harry was sobbing into the bed even before the slipper fell across his bottom, and it seemed to get worse with every following strike, no matter whose posterior was assaulted at the time.

“Alright, ten apiece is enough, I think,” Mrs. Wilkinson announced after an epoch, giving them a pat on the back each. “You may rise. Do you want a hug, now?”

Harry backed away as far as the little room allowed, watching through red-rimmed eyes as Eliot melted against his grandmother, letting her rock him in her lap.

“Are you going to tell mummy?” the boy sniffled.

“You will tell her,” his grandma replied. “You deserve the discomfort after getting Harry into trouble.”

Eliot looked across the room at the older boy with a wan smile.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” he whispered.

“Do you want a hug, child?” Mrs. Wilkinson asked again.

The boy shook his head, melding his body into the corner even more closely.

“I want to go home,” he pleaded, his voice cracking with strain on the last word.

Lines on the woman’s forehead deepened into a frown of concern, she kissed her grandson’s head and lifted the boy to sit by himself.

“I’m going to give your father a call, alright?” she offered kindly.

Harry nodded mutely, wiping his tears with both hands. He tracked Mrs. Wilkinson with his eyes until the closing door cut his view of her.

“Can’t you stay a while?” Eliot complained. “It’s not like grandma got really mad, it was just ten smacks! I got thirty for lying about your hand, and on the bare, even! Come on, we could play with blocks again!”

He wanted to go home so badly that his stomach ached from anxiety. He sat on his heels, hugging his knees and trying to control his sudden nausea. The fresh sting in his bottom was almost gone, certainly nothing like after his father had spanked him that morning, but something about the punishment terrified him. The wait for his father was impossibly long, and his stomach filled with the terrible conviction that the man would leave him here forever.

When Harry heard his father calling his name from downstairs, he felt as though his heart would burst. He flew down the stairs, barely remembering to say goodbye to his disappointed friend, and threw himself at the glowering man, hugging his middle and crying in tremendous relief.

"What has happened?" The man seethed, but Harry's only reaction to the angry tone was to squeeze him even tighter, burying his head in the man's stomach.

"I want to go home!" He cried, his father stiffened in surprise, but next moment he was lifting the boy up and pressing his head to his shoulder.

"What has happened?!" He demanded, directing his question to Mrs. Wilkinson this time.

Eliot's grandmother huffed in indignation at father's tone, but she recounted the events readily enough, except she told it completely wrong! He could feel father getting furious at poor Eliot and himself, and he cried harder, foreseeing pain in his future, but he was going home and only that mattered!

“Had I known how upset Harry would be, I’d have left his discipline to you, Severus,” Mrs. Wilkinson sighed. “I warned them, though, and both of them must know that I mean what I say, if I’m to mind the two of them again.”

The man paused on his way to the door, piercing the old woman with a scornful eye.

“Don’t be absurd, Marlene,” he scoffed. “You can be sure I wouldn’t hesitate if the roles were reversed, and I wouldn’t be so lenient either. Good evening.”

The boy grew tense as a board as father strode briskly up the path, his relief at going home mingled with fear of the inevitable punishment from the man.

“What possessed you to defy her so, Harry?” father demanded in a growl.

He sucked in a frightened breath, mumbling into the man’s shoulder unwillingly, as quiet as it was, father somehow heard him, snorting derisively.

“That wasn’t very smart,” he said wryly, pushing the gate to their property open with one hand. “Next time Eliot has a brainless idea, you’d better find a way to convince him otherwise, or Mrs. Wilkinson’s slipper won’t be the worst that happens to you, and that’s for certain.”

The boy’s ears perked up at the words, and he raised his head to look at the man, loosening his choke-hold on his neck.

“But not today?” Harry asked cautiously.

Father sighed, pausing to perch on the bench by the door, settling the child in his lap.

“Not today,” he acknowledged. “But you’ll have to learn to be a friend to Eliot, not a sycophant. Do you know what the difference is, Harry?”

The boy shook his head, dropping his eyes to the sun-lit porch. He’d never had a friend before, and didn’t know how to go about keeping one.

“A true friend sometimes says no,” father explained gravely. “He argues for what he believes is right. He can’t be bullied into doing what he thinks is wrong, but he’ll help you even if you’re foolish.”

“Really?” Harry asked doubtfully, he couldn’t imagine Eliot responding well to any of that, but the younger boy had tried to get him out of the spanking, hadn’t he?

“Yes,” the man murmured, bending his neck to kiss the top of the child’s head. “Are you ready to tell me why the spanking upset you so much?”

The boy buried his face in father’s shoulder, tears filling his eyes and shoulders beginning to shake with renewed sobs. He didn’t want to answer, but as the man’s arm wrapped around him tightly, garbled words spilled out of his mouth, seemingly of their own volition.

“I thought… I thought…” he practically wailed. “You w-wouldn’t come b-back!”

“I… See…” father said hesitantly. There was a tense pause, and then he added: “Do you want to help me prepare dinner, Harry?”
To be continued...
Chapter 24 New Commitment by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
Enter - a determined medi-witch...
The last weeks of summer holidays were always busy for Poppy, filled with mountains of paperwork she had neglected over the course of the school year. There were health histories for every student and faculty member under her care to fill out. She did her best to stay up to date with the children at least, but she was so busy healing broken bones, burns and what not, that the work just piled up.

Today, she decided to tackle the adults’ paperwork. While the little ones sometimes were difficult about coming to see her, their teachers avoided her domain like the plague. Poppy had to practically drag them by the scruff of the neck from their offices to complete mandatory check-ups on them, before the Ministry lackeys descended on them with fines. She snorted, thinking about the oldest and the youngest of her adult patients, those two competing against each other to find new and creative ways to elude her.

The corners of her eyes crinkled in a predatory grin as her gaze settled on the latest edition of the Daily Prophet delivered just that morning, the sensational heading ‘Dragon Pox Strikes at Hogwarts’ screamed  out of the front page of the periodical, the foreboding face of her young colleague glaring up at her out of the picture underneath. If she didn’t know faking that diagnosis was impossible, Poppy would have suspected the man of using the quarantine as a ploy to avoid his required start-of-term visit.

A knock on the office door startled her out of her musings, Poppy looked up, wondering who would seek her out so late at night.

“Come in,” she called, raising her eyebrows in astonishment when her midnight guest turned out to be the last person she might have expected, one of two anyway. “Headmaster, what a pleasant surprise.”

The old man’s mouth widened into a pleasant smile, the customary twinkle in his eyes brightened his lined face, telling her that the headmaster didn’t come with a social visit.

“Forgive my late call, my dear Poppy,” he began pontificating, but his hands were empty, raised in supplication, and she didn’t hesitate.

Her disarming and locking spells were quick, and she grinned as the man’s wand flew out of his gown sleeve and snapped into her outstretched hand. Albus looked at her with injured blue eyes, as if her attack was unprovoked.

“Was that really necessary, my dear?” he demanded mildly.

“I’m sure you want your privacy assured for the examination, headmaster,” she replied sweetly, blinking at the man innocently.

Dumbledore flinched as Poppy sent the papers on her desk sailing into the corner of the room, she transfigured her desk into a small examination table. She may not be a master of transfiguration, as her elusive patient, but she was competent on a small scale.

“Surely, tomorrow would be more appropriate,” the man protested. “I’m sure you are too busy and it’s quite late…”

“Nonsense! That would be silly to force you to return,” she cut him off with a smile, there was the possibility that the old fox could put her in her place even without a wand, but Poppy thought it would be too childish even for him. “Let’s get it out of the way, shall we?”

“As you wish,” Albus said in a disgruntled voice, beginning to unbutton his red nightgown with leaping lions patterned around the hem. “I should be glad you don’t apply the paddle to my aged backside, I suppose.”

Poppy’s eyebrows shot up to her hairline in astonishment at the comment.

“He complained about that, did he?” she murmured in satisfaction. “Good!”

“Poppy, you can’t attack your colleagues for missing appointments,” the headmaster shook his head disapprovingly. “Severus might be difficult, but he is an adult, and has a right to decide how much healing he would accept and when.”

“Difficult!” she huffed incredulously, stabbing her wand at the old man’s bare chest. “The man is impossible! I practically must tie him hand and foot to make him stand still for a ten minute medical, because he’s too busy! He’s even worse than you, and Merlin knows what I have to do to get you here! No, Albus, he deserved a taste of his own medicine, I just wish I knew how to make that spell work without being so furious! Take a deep breath.”

Poppy listened to the rhythmical pounding of the headmaster’s heart for a few moments, studying the diagnostic parchment at her side. She instructed the man to lie on his back so she could run deeper scans over his abdominal region. 

“Your cholesterol is elevated,” she informed him afterwards, summoning a sugar-free lollipop and awarding it to her surprisingly well-behaved patient. “I’ll have an elf deliver your potions as well as new dietary instructions in the morning.”

Dumbledore made a face, reminiscent to the one a child who had been denied sweets might don, very satisfying.

“You know they won’t let me have it, before studying it thoroughly,” he complained in disgruntlement.

Poppy ignored the comment, leaving her employer to dress as she returned her desk to its original shape and function. She laid the man’s wand on the desk, and busied herself straightening her paperwork.

“I’ll set your optical and dental checkups for Monday,” she informed the man distractedly, as she read through his diagnostic parchment again.

The medi-witch expected that the headmaster would flee her domain without delay, after reclaiming his property, but a rustle of paper told her otherwise. She looked up, narrowing her eyes at the newspaper the man seemed to be perusing attentively.

“Young Snape found an innovative way to evade me this year,” she muttered sourly, referring to the article. “Have you found a replacement for his classes yet?”

“What?” he glanced at her with shuttered eyes. “Ah, no, not yet, but I will approach our previous colleague about returning for the year.”

“The year?” Poppy exclaimed in dismay. “Surely, not nearly so long! Severus is a strong and  healthy man, even Dragon Pox shouldn’t hold him down for more than a few months. Who’s the healer in charge of his case?”

Dumbledore pursed his lips, his lined face became tight and fox-like, giving her a shrewd look.

“If I remember correctly, it is you in the paperwork,” he said blithely.

Poppy’s eyes just about bugged out of her face in outrage.

“Me?! I’m not even certified for such cases! And I certainly never agreed to any such absurdity!” she ranted quite vocally, prompting the old madman to cast a privacy shield over them. “What are you playing at, Albus?! Severus needs specialist care that I’m not qualified to provide!”

“As it happens,” the headmaster stated mildly when she ran out of oxygen. “Your credentials include home care for Dragon Pox patients, and Severus requested it be you. There is no danger of spreading the contagion, I assure you.”

Poppy gaped at him, she certainly knew nothing of any such certificate with her name on it, and the suggestion that the slippery Slytherin would welcome her involvement in the case was preposterous at the very least. She eyed the newspaper that Albus was still holding, and gasped as the realisation struck.

“He IS faking it, and you’re helping him!” she hissed through gritted teeth, narrowing her eyes into furious slits. “Falsifying my credentials, and who knows what else to cover your tracks! I should summon the Aurors this instant!”

That was an empty threat, and both of them knew that. The stronger wizard would have plenty of time to memory charm her before she reached the Floo. She leaned back in her chair, considering the situation. There had to be a reason why her secretive employer had admitted to as much as he did, and the only one she could see was that he needed her aid in keeping this deception going.

“Why should I take part in this… this farce?” Poppy demanded disgustedly, hardly believing that she was even considering covering up the younger man’s no doubt illicit doings. The war was over and done with.

The old codger had the effrontery to smile broadly at her, he summoned a chair for himself, transfiguring it into a luxurious armchair with a simple dip of his wand.

“To protect the innocent, my dear woman,” Albus said serenely, sitting down and pulling something out of a pocket. He glanced at the item with a soft expression, before handing it to her.

It was a photograph. The first thing Poppy took note of was Severus’s face, unblemished by pox and more relaxed than she had ever seen it. His head tilted back, resting against the high backrest of the rocking chair, his lips parted slightly as he snored. The second thing was the small child curled in the man’s lap, his face nestled in the crook of Severus’s arm, hidden behind a curtain of messy black curls.

“I don’t understand,” she breathed.




Poppy felt very out of place standing on this run-down muggle street, she felt self-conscious in the strange suit that the headmaster transfigured for her. The outfit was very peculiar, and from the odd looks she was getting from passing muggles, she was sure they shared her opinion about the strangeness of the clothes. She found it quite upsetting, she had very carefully chosen the outfit from the old Muggle Studies book she had from her school days, but none of the muggle women she saw wore anything remotely similar.

It wasn’t difficult to find the right street in the industrial town, and the correct house was pulsing with magic strongly enough that she would have to be blind to miss it. Poppy took several minutes to examine the quarantine ward that Dumbledore erected, she was aware there was a key magicked into the framework of spells that enabled the ‘patient’ to escape his confinement, but she couldn’t trace a sign of it. 

An insidious voice in her head began whispering that she had been taken in by a skillful manipulation, and that the touching fable about a small boy in need of care and protection was exactly that; a fable. She very much feared that once she passed through that ward, she would be committing herself to look after a very ill man who was too stubborn to consent to professional help. Although why Severus Snape would consent to her assistance, when he treated her like a leper since he was eleven years old. Maybe she should step back, summon a Dragon Pox specialist from St. Mungo’s and be done with this sham of a home visit, but the images of the child stopped her. Albus had never told her the boy’s name, but he had shown her a photograph where a lighting-bolt scar was clearly visible on his forehead.

Casting a surreptitious Notice-Me-Not charm on herself, Poppy began the strenuous task of adding her magical signature to the ward, wondering if her fabricated credentials would be accepted by the magic. She was winded by the time the ward flashed green briefly, and she entered through the rickety gate, with the confidence she didn’t feel. The front yard was empty, and the poorly-maintained house didn’t seem like the best place for raising children. Doubts crept in again, but a peal of childish laughter from behind the house dispelled them instantly.

The corners of her mouth curled upwards in an excited smile, and her legs changed direction for the back garden, eager to meet the boy hero who had been hidden away for the past six years. The sight of the little boy hanging upside-down from a tree limb ten metres high was totally unexpected, and the surprise made her voice turn rather shrill.

“Get down this instant, boy!” she shouted in outrage, fists on her hips in disapproval. “Are you trying to break your foolish neck?!”

The impact of her words was far from what she wanted to achieve, the child in the tree jerked in surprise at her shout, and suddenly he was falling. Poppy fumbled for her wand, knowing she wouldn’t be fast enough to save the boy from a serious injury, but well before he crashed into the ground the most ingenious spell caught him, flipped him the right side up, and gently deposited him on the lawn.

Poppy’s legs went weak with relief, and she was dumped much less carefully on her bum.

“What a nice…” she gasped breathlessly, blinking at the child in front of her. “Spell.”

The boy just stared at her with a wary expression, giving her the opportunity to study his face. There was the famous scar she had been expecting, almost hidden behind messy long hair, and large emerald eyes he inherited from his mother, but his other features were completely different from what the Daily Prophet’s artists imagined them to be. That shouldn’t be a surprise, with half of his genetic pool differing from the expectations, but it was still a huge shock to recognise pieces of her grouchy colleague in the boy. The child’s face was an equal melding of both his parents’ characteristics, softened and smoothed into a fragile young person.

“I apologise for startling you,” Poppy said with a smile. “Are you alright?”

The boy opened his mouth to respond, but then he changed his mind, he pursed his lips, staring at her with narrowed, considering eyes. She almost laughed in delight, seeing Severus’s thinking face copied almost exactly by his son.

“I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” he finally said in a quiet, hesitant voice.

“That is very wise of you,” Poppy applauded kindly, she pulled herself to her feet, stretching out a hand for the child to shake. “I am Poppy Pomfrey, and I came to see you.”

Far from reassuring the boy, her words seemed to have the opposite effect. Green eyes grew wide with fright, and between one moment and the next the boy bolted for the house, leaving her alone and completely bewildered. She followed at a more sedate pace, catching the sight of the boy flying through the door that just swung open. He smacked bodily into one Severus Snape, and Poppy gasped, expecting the man’s explosive temper to show itself. 

She hurried her steps, wondering what she could do to stop the man from lashing out at the child, but rather than raising his hand to strike, as students under his care were all too familiar with, his arm shot out to steady the boy. Poppy watched with baited breath as her irascible colleague scooped his son up, patting him gently on the back, comforting the child who clung to his neck so hard that she was certain it hurt.

“What is it, little monkey?” Snape murmured in a voice so alien that Poppy blinked, not believing that the soft-spoken man before her was the same person whose rages were legendary throughout Hogwarts. “I said I would be coming out to watch you, didn’t I?  Sshh, calm down.”

“But it’s her!” the boy wailed into Severus’s ear, making him wince in pain. “It’s Mrs. Mann! Don’t let her take me away, father! Don’t!”

“Foolish dunderhead,” the man muttered, rolling his eyes at Poppy, letting her know that she had been noticed at last. “It’s Madam Pompfrey, and we were expecting her visit.”

“She looks like Mrs. Mann,” the boy insisted miserably.

Poppy had no idea who the dreaded woman was, but the comparison made her feel sullied even so, she wasn’t used to children quaking in fear at the sight of her.

“Who is Mrs. Mann?” she asked in a morbid curiosity once they were settled in the living room with tea and biscuits, Harry perching in his father’s lap, shooting mistrustful looks at her from behind his long lashes.

“A character in a movie Harry and I watched last night,” Severus explained, nodding at the large box standing on a small table in the middle of the room. “The superintendent of the orphanage that Oliver Twist was raised in.”

“And she’s horrid to the children,” the boy piped up disgustedly. “Beating them, and starving even!”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Poppy said sympathetically, throwing a wary glance at the box. It didn’t appear the horrible woman was inside the box any longer, but why Severus would allow someone like that near his son, she had no idea.

“And you look just like her!” Harry accused angrily, giving her such a glare that she recoiled.

Poppy was about to chastise her colleague about imprinting his dislikes on the boy, but before she could say a word the man spoke quite sharply.

“Mind your tone, boy,” Severus scolded his son, lifting the child slightly by the armpits, and delivering a hard smack to the seat of his trousers with his free hand, making Harry grunt with pain. “Madam Pompfrey is your elder, and you will show her proper respect, Harry, if you don’t want me to administer a spanking you won’t soon forget, with our guest watching. Is that understood?”

She was appalled by the threat, but the boy’s mortified look told her that the child was more dismayed by the idea of an audience than the harsh punishment itself. That told her enough about how strict Severus was with his own flesh and blood, her blood boiled with irritation, remembering how much care Slytherin students often took when sitting. 

“I’m very sorry, miss,” she heard the child’s timid voice, and she saw his shoulders tensing warily. “I meant no offence, please, forgive me.”

Ignoring the irritating man for the moment, Poppy concentrated on the suddenly very polite boy.

“There is nothing to forgive, child,” she said kindly. “How about we start over? I am Poppy Pompfrey, and I am very happy to make your acquaintance.”

“I’m Harry,” the lad said to the wall behind her, clearly holding to his politeness with fingernails. “I’m happy to meet you, too.”

Severus snorted at the poor performance of manners from the boy, but rather than get angry again, he hugged the lad to his shoulder and patted his back gently.

“Madam Pompfrey isn’t going to take you anywhere, Harry,” he said tiredly. “You don’t need to worry.”

With a start, Poppy realised that the boy’s shoulders were shaking with silent sobs.

“Of course not!” she exclaimed in dismay. “Dear child, I am not taking you away, I promise. I am a medi-witch at the school your father works at, and I need to speak to him.”

The boy turned his head to look at her, his eyes were wide and frightened, his cheeks were wet but he wasn’t crying, now.

“Is my father sick?!” he demanded in sudden concern.

“No, no, he just missed his last appointment with me,” Poppy reassured the lad hurriedly, trying to pretend she couldn’t feel the scorching glare Severus was directing at her. The foolish man had to see the necessity of making the boy more at ease with her presence, didn’t he?! Lowering her voice, she added: “I think he’s a little scared of being examined, you see.”

The sound of teeth grinding together was quite jarring in her ears, but at least the man had sense enough to remain quiet as his son gasped in surprise at the suggestion. He straightened his spine, a determined look on his little face.

“Don’t be afraid, father,” the boy said earnestly. “I will stay with you the whole time, I swear!”

Poppy looked at her colleague with what she hoped was a professional demeanour, but she was doubtful her eyes were anything other than mirthful. The man’s face was completely blank, letting her know he was furious.

“Thank you, Harry,” he drawled, eyes flashing  angrily. “That would be very… Welcome.”

The child slid to the floor, and took his seat next to Severus on the sofa, grasping the man’s larger hand in his own. He met Poppy’s eyes expectantly.

“Can you make it so father doesn’t have headaches anymore?” he asked worriedly.

The man exhaled in exasperation, but waved a hand for her to get on with it.

“I’ll do my best, Harry,” she assured the lad, smiling broadly as she continued. “Don’t be frightened, Severus. It won’t hurt at all, I promise.”

The wry look on the sour man’s face almost made her laugh, Poppy managed to keep a straight face only because she was afraid Severus would curse her with something nasty if she let her hilarity show. She concentrated on running the mandatory scans, taking her time to explain to the boy what she was doing and why. Harry was thrilled when she lingered on cardiac diagnostics, letting him listen to the magnified beats of his father’s heart.

Severus sat through the tests with patient dignity at first, but as she moved to the scans she wanted to run, but didn’t have his consent for, her patient’s eyes filled with the desire to commit murder, even as the hand his son held remained relaxed. Poppy cocked her head to the side in thought, as she ran through all the paediatric scans she would need to perform on Harry next time she came. She had her doubts about the ferocious man’s ability to raise children, but from what she could see Severus was mild and calm with his son, more so than she had ever seen him with even the favourite students.

“Did it hurt, father?” the boy asked as soon as she finished the last scan and started rolling up the readout parchment.

“No, Harry, it didn’t hurt one bit,” Severus answered softly, squeezing the child’s hand before extricating himself in order to dress.

“Your father was very brave,” Poppy praised with a broad smile, going as far as to conjure a sticker with colourful frolicking birds she hoped the lad would enjoy. “Here you go, Harry. That’s for you, for being so helpful.”

“Oh, thank you, miss,” he grinned widely, staring with wonder at the animated birds. “It’s amazing!”

“Why don’t you go upstairs and find some place to stick it in your room?” Severus suggested mildly.

“Really?” the boy asked shyly, his green eyes sparkling in excitement. “Where can I put it, father?”

“Wherever you fancy, Harry,” the man sighed, running a hand through the child’s messy mop, making it worse. “Go on.”

The boy skipped for the stairs, but climbed slowly, one hand on the railing. As excited as he was, Poppy would expect him to fly upstairs, but the boy didn’t hurry his sedate pace until he reached the top of the dark staircase. 

“If you make me your guinea pig ever again,” Severus hissed in a low threatening voice, bringing her attention to the glowering man in front of her. “I’ll curse you with that paddling hex you enjoyed so much, only I’ll make it permanent!”

Poppy rolled her eyes, not impressed by the man’s anger or his ridiculous threat, both of them knew that the misfortunate event was her magic running amok in fury, she doubted either of them could replicate the effect at will.

“It was necessary, and you know it,” she snapped impatiently. “The boy needed to relax, and forget his fear of me.”

Severus made a disgusted face, but thankfully ceased his angry comments, which was more wisdom than she was used to seeing from the irritable man. She tapped her chin with a forefinger in thought.

“Harry seems very attached to you already,” she mused aloud. “I didn’t expect to see that.”

Rather than appear pleased by Poppy’s compliment, her colleague closed his eyes, tilting his head back in exhaustion.

“Not attached,” he sighed. “Clingy, anxious, and frightened that I’ll abandon him at the first opportunity. There was an incident a few days ago, and since then he doesn’t let me out of his sight for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s exhausting, he’s been following me around like a little shadow, and nothing I say or do seems to be helping.”

Poppy’s forehead creased in concern, Albus had told her how the boy came to be with Severus, and some anxiety was only to be expected after the tumult of changes he was experiencing. Unfortunately, there was no easy solution, no potion that would instantly cure the child’s fear of another seperation.

“You must be patient with him,” she said encouragingly, but received only a glare in return.

A shuffling of little feet let them know that the object of their concern was in earshot again, the boy was nervously peering at the adults from the bottom of the stairs. Severus heaved a deep breath, before calling to the lad.

“Come here, Harry,” he called softly.

“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” the boy hurried to assure them fearfully, his eyes flickering between the two adults watching him. “I didn’t mean to!”

With another sigh, her colleague reached out for his son’s hand, and pulled him into his lap.

“How about showing us those crazy acrobatics now, monkey?” Severus suggested mildly, touching Harry’s hair with his lips briefly. “If I get a heart attack, Madam Pompfrey will revive me.”

“Okay,” the boy whispered meekly.


Watching the timid child jump from one branch to the next without hesitation, despite the staggering height, was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The boy was absolutely fearless, the fearsome Severus Snape, on the other hand, stood white-faced clutching his wand with a death grip.

“Stop worrying, Severus,” she said in amusement. “He’ll be fine, those wards are wonderful, the boy is quite safe.”

The man looked at her out of the corner of his eyes, so she explained about the child falling out of the tree when she had startled him. Severus’s face darkened into a grim mask with the telling, and she decided to change the subject.

“How do I resemble the woman from the box?” she asked. “Perhaps, I should endeavour not to be so similar next time I come.”

That made the man turn to face her fully, a sneer on his face reminding her that Severus Snape was the same condescending brat she was familiar with, only softened at the edges.

“The woman from the box?” he scoffed, his lips stretching into an unpleasant smile. “I imagine getting rid of those bulky skirts would be sufficient, you look like a Victorian matron.”

“They are muggle clothes!” Poppy protested in indignation.

The man chuckled darkly, and when he finally deigned to explain his mirth, she blushed. Really, how was she supposed to know that muggle fashions changed yearly? Apparently, her ensemble had been out of fashion for some 150 years...
To be continued...
Chapter 25 Anxiety by Kyralian
Author's Notes:
6 months, wasn’t it? I hate it when it happens to my favourite stories. Sorry.
Chapter 25 - Anxiety
Over the next few days, Harry settled into a kind of routine with his father. After breakfast, he had his mandatory hour of reading at the kitchen table, and it was unchangeably stressful. Miraculously, father hadn’t yet asked him to read anything aloud, he constantly was busy researching something, taking copious notes from some old grimoires and barely paying attention to the boy’s pretence.

Harry was still pretending to be reading Winnie the Pooh book, even mentioning the animals’ antics from the stories he remembered from school. He knew it couldn’t last, and with every passing day bringing them closer to September his fear of discovery grew. The boy’s thoughts tortured him endlessly, imaging father’s explosive reaction to learning he had been lied to for so long. He had to blink his eyes clear to even see the incomprehensible scribbles on the page.

His head was pounding by the time he was set free, and he was allowed to escape to his tree. Harry’s stomach churned with dread, and he let the desperate tears fall down his cheeks as he curled on his favourite branch.

Before lunch, the boy was supposed to occupy himself and stay out of trouble, as the man spent that time in his mysterious laboratory, and wanted no interruptions. Harry was well used to pretending he didn’t exist from his life at the Dursleys, and it shouldn’t be any kind of struggle to stay out of the man’s way for a few hours. Somehow, it was impossible, a kind of tension grew in his chest, making his heart hammer and hands sweaty in anxiety, and he was knocking on the black door with some made up excuse.

Father wasn’t impressed with constant interruptions, and each time he came up to answer Harry’s knock, the veneer of patience was a bit thinner, and the risk of punishment greater.

“What is it this time?!” The man had exploded once, thrusting the door open with a bang, making the boy jump a foot in the air. “Is your behind itching so much for a spanking already?! If so, I can certainly oblige!”

Harry shook his head, eyes filling at the harsh tone.

“I just, I-, I-,” he stammered desperately, but he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to be needing just then. His mind had gone completely blank.

Father heaved a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose between the thumb and forefinger as he considered the child. The angry lines were etched deeply into his harsh face, and when he reached out for the boy, he couldn’t quite suppress a gasp of terror.

“I’m brewing an important and rather volatile potion right now,” he growled irritably, even as he pulled the boy against his torso in a one-armed hug, rubbing gentle circles into his back with his palm. “I am not going anywhere, and even if I were so inclined, you’d see me leaving through the gate.”

“Okay,” Harry sighed into the rough fabric of father’s work attire, breathing in the sharp odours that were not altogether pleasant, reminding him of his hated medicines. Even so, it had the power to slow his racing heart.

“If I have to come up again just to assure you that I haven’t melted away,” the man warned in his strictest voice. “I’ll put you over my knee, and you’ll have a very sore bottom to remind you of my continued existence. Is that understood, Harry?”

“Yes, father,” the boy whispered, ducking his head in embarrassment.

A brush of father’s lips on the top of his head was startling and reassuring.

“Go play some football, Harry,” he said very softly. “I’ll be here, and I’ll call you when it’s time for lunch.”

It was mortifying to know that father understood exactly what prompted Harry to keep making a nuisance of himself in that way. He probably understood it better than the boy did, he certainly had never felt a deep anxiety that his aunt or uncle might go out somewhere without him. It happened all the time, and Harry would feel relieved rather than frightened at the prospect of being left alone, uncle Vernon couldn’t punish him when he wasn’t there. Shouldn’t he be overjoyed that father spent hours in his laboratory, leaving the boy to play?

Apparently not, there was a gnawing, gut-wrenching feeling that rose and expanded in his chest like an ache that became unbearable, if he couldn’t see the man for a while. Intellectually, Harry knew that father hadn’t left, but he could only distract himself for up to thirty minutes before he had to check.

Some days, father was less patient with those interruptions, but even the knowledge of certain punishment didn’t dissuade the boy from going back. The first time the man had talked to him severely about not disturbing him, Harry had really tried to stay away, but the fear of being abandoned soon had him gasping for breath, stabbing pains shooting through his chest, and he was sure he was dying.

Black spots swam in his vision as he hammered on the black door with his fists. The door swung open, and there was his father, a frown of displeasure on his face. Harry wanted to say something, to apologise, anything, but he couldn’t speak. He couldn’t even breathe as the man scrutinised him from head to toe.

Father inhaled a calming breath, before taking the boy by the elbow, and pulling him toward the kitchen, to the chair. Harry’s fear changed then, because he didn’t want to be punished. He gasped in a lungful of air, his body becoming rigid with another kind of terror.

Father didn’t scold him, only bent the boy over his lap, and brought his hand down on his trouser-clad rear without comment. Harry grunted in surprise, the smack hadn’t been as painful as others he remembered, but as they multiplied, the stinging in his bum grew until it became akin to an ache. With this new sensation, his anxiety transformed into a more normal feeling of sadness, and he started to cry. The moment he did, the man stopped the spanking, and pulled Harry into a tight hug.

“I’m not going to leave you, little dunderhead,” an exasperated growl in his ear was very reassuring. “Now, upstairs, before I give you a real spanking!”

It was very strange, Harry reflected, rubbing his stinging bottom afterwards in his room. It didn’t hurt all that much, not precisely, but the sensation lingered for quite a bit, and as long as it remained he felt sort of relaxed. The boy didn’t understand why he should respond to a spanking in that way, didn’t he hate and fear father’s punishments? Harry was sure that he did, except this spanking was somehow different. The man only rarely punished him with his bottom covered, and every swat was scalding hot, making sitting down a punishment of its own. Even if Harry got a hug at the end, the sharpest memories were of the pain and fear, and anger. It never made him relaxed.

The lunch couldn’t come fast enough.

The afternoon was Harry’s favourite time of day. If the weather permitted, father took him to the park, and the park in the afternoon was a completely different environment than the park in the morning. It was crowded in the park at this time of day, there were other children, squealing and running, and playing on the equipment. The noise level was so elevated that it was like stepping into a new world.

The wooden benches were occupied by young women dressed in their best Sunday dresses, gossiping with one another as they supervised their offspring. The first time father took him to the park in the middle of the day, the women fixed them with a hostile glare, as if they were entering an enemy kingdom. Petrified by the negative attention, Harry gripped father’s hand so tightly that his knuckles had gone white, but the man only sneered at the female disapproval, his nose wrinkling in disgust, as he pulled the boy to a stretch of lawn whereupon he laid a blanket he retrieved from his shoulder bag of all things. He seated himself cross-legged on the blanket, a book in one hand.

“Well?” he demanded, fixing the child with a direct stare. “Weren’t you looking for opportunities to improve your swinging technique?”

Harry swallowed, shooting a reluctant glance over the crowded playground, he couldn’t imagine joining those noisy strangers. Frankly, he was terrified of the idea.

“No, I mean,” he said, his voice cracking with stress. “The swings are busy right now. I can… can wait a bit.”

He sat next to the man, hugging his knees to his chest, and trying to settle his rattled emotions. Harry wanted to go home right away, but he was afraid to ask, seeing as father opened the book in his lap.

“If the swings are busy, you could go play in the sandbox or on the merry-go-round,” the man suggested dryly. “I’m sure you know these things better than I, go.”

“But-,” Harry protested weakly, his eyes burning with tears.

“No ‘buts’,” father interrupted gently. “I’m going to sit here and read my book, you’ll be able to see me all the time. Now, go.”

The last words were said in such a tone of command that Harry didn’t dare disobey, but he knew that this time he wasn’t so much worried about father disappearing. As he stepped among the rambunctious and loud gathering, it was like entering a world inhabited by many Dudleys. He hunched his shoulders protectively, bracing himself for the cruel comments, for punches and kicks, for jeering pronouncements that freaks had no place in the playground. The boy was so stressed out that he hardly remembered that one hour in the park, and the sound of father’s sharp voice calling his name was an incredible relief. He squinted toward the stretch of lawn at the dark figure standing there, and he hesitated, unable to recognise the man from that distance.

“Come here this instant!” Father called again, a hint of annoyance clear in his voice.

Harry’s heart clenched for a second, and he sprinted, a more familiar fear stirring in his gut as he took in the man’s displeased expression. Father caught him by the arm, and spun him around fluidly. His other hand rose and fell sharply across the child’s bottom eliciting a soft whimper.

“I’m not going to wait five minutes until you deign to respond, boy,” he scolded severely, snatching one of Harry’s hands and pulling him into a walk. “You are to come at once when I call, I told you before.”

The boy hung his head, better to hide the tears on his face. It wasn’t fair, he decided, rubbing his sore bottom with one hand. The swat had really hurt, it did, and he’d come back straight away, almost! It wasn’t fair and it hurt, and he wanted a hug.

“Nothing to say?” father inquired mildly. “You won’t get any ice cream with this attitude, I’m afraid.”

Harry looked up, wide-eyed in confusion, and watched as the man’s eyebrows climbed expectantly.

“Sorry,” he tried, uncertain. “For… for not listening?”

“That’s better,” father smirked. “My favourite is chocolate-flavoured ice cream. How about you, Harry?”

They went back to the park the next day, and the next. It was on the third day that he finally braved conversation with another child. The little girl pulled on his sleeve to catch his attention, she was probably close to his age and she frowned at him in disapproval.

“Why are you standing here like a stick?!” she demanded in a bossy tone. “Are you playing at Bobbies, or something?”

Harry opened his mouth to apologise for coming to the playground, before realising it wouldn’t be appropriate in this situation. In fact, he had no idea how to respond, so he just shrugged to hide his ignorance.

“I suppose,” he mumbled to the ground.

She pursed her fat lips at him, pushing her red hair out of her face.

“You’re doing it wrong,” she declared confidently, and proceeded to correct him.

Harry wasn’t sure how it came about, but that day he ended up patrolling the playground with DC Abigail ‘not Abby’ Darcy, handing out tickets for speeding and loitering, and once, at his partner’s insistence, arresting a giggling four-year-old with a pistol for assault with a weapon. Somehow, playing in the park with children he barely knew became less daunting after that.

When they got home after the park, Harry was usually exhausted. Father would give him a glass of juice, and send him upstairs to rest in his room, while he retired to his office to do more work. The man seemed to work an awful lot, and the boy often felt guilty for adding to his workload by his presence, but whenever he suggested he could help with more chores, father stated that he had his room to keep tidy and that was enough.

Harry had been told all his life how expensive keeping him around was, and father’s insistence not to worry about it was incredibly frustrating. Once, he couldn’t help arguing that he didn’t have to eat anything if he didn’t want to, and he must have gone too far, because the man’s face grew dark like a thunder cloud, and the boy’s backside was paddled with that terrible wooden ruler. Eating wasn’t optional, and he’d better not forget that.

Harry didn’t, and he avoided mentioning any chores or realities from his life at the Dursleys from then on, as father was very sensitive about being poor, and he wasn’t very keen on another punishment like that.

The only help he was allowed was preparing vegetables for dinner, but Harry wasn’t even sure it could be called a proper chore, because father didn’t expect him to do it. The boy had to ask each time if he could help, he would be given then his special charmed knife that couldn’t cut skin. Father made cooking dinner into a sort of game, he was teaching Harry all kinds of techniques for cutting, slicing, dicing, peeling and powdering. He had been very nervous at the beginning, fearing a punishment when he made a mistake, but the man was a surprisingly patient teacher, adjusting Harry’s grip on the tiny knife and showing him again how to cut a certain way. It was sort of fun, with the two of them standing side by side, cutting carrots into cubes exactly one inch high, or cucumbers carved into cats.

Father was amazing in how easily he could change boring vegetables into intriguing specimens. Harry didn’t believe his puny attempts were really helping any, but the man didn’t seem to mind the twenty minutes he spent letting the boy play at Master Cook.

Lately, Harry dreaded the approach of bedtime, becoming nervous and cranky by dinnertime. Father usually didn’t put up with any signs of the boy’s petulance, responding to them with swift and painful efficiency, but in the evenings he was unexpectedly forgiving of Harry’s behaviour. He would often pull the angry child into his lap on the sofa, and they would watch some silly kids’ program on television together. Father would hold him in a cage of his arms until rage went out of him.

The television was an unexpected treat for Harry, at the Dursleys he had never been allowed to watch, not even to pause for a moment in the living room when the TV was on. His father didn’t have a television, so he didn’t think anything would change in that regard. Then, out of the blue, on Saturday after the fiasco of his visit at Eliot’s the man climbed into the attic and brought back an old TV set, installing it in the living room. The boy wished he could watch from closer up, but the one time he tried watching from the floor just in front of the television, father made it clear that either he stayed on the sofa, or the TV would go right back in the attic and stay there.

The thirty minute allotment of his allowed TV time passed much too quickly, and father was flicking his wand to switch off the screen.

“I don’t want to go,” Harry pleaded desperately, despite knowing that the man wouldn’t let him stay a minute longer.

“It is time for bed,” father said firmly, pulling the child gently to stand. “Take a bath, and I’ll come and read to you for a while.”

Energy was a strange thing, at the Dursleys Harry was often so exhausted when he went to bed that he collapsed into unconsciousness rather than sleep, and his mind rarely had enough power remaining to torment him. Now, however, with three filling meals, and hardly any way to spend the energy provided, his mind seemed to be running amok, twisting his anxieties into night terrors, making the boy fear closing his eyes, despite father’s deep reassuring voice.
To be continued...
Chapter 26 A Game of Chess by Kyralian
Chapter 26 A Game of Chess

The house was eerily silent, the only sound made by the boy’s quiet footsteps as he walked from room to room. The air was dusty and thick as he opened the heavy doors, peering into the empty spaces, searching. How long had he been searching? The boy’s breathing picked up anxiously, there should be someone in here, but the rooms he had checked radiated the sense of long abandonment, as if nothing living had crossed their threshold in many years. The boy walked faster, he needed to find someone, somebody important, but he couldn’t remember who or why.

The hallways were dark and gloomy, making the boy’s skin crawl with invisible ants, and his chest constricted, breath growing short, the house was so bare, lifeless. It was not supposed to be like that!

He descended the steep staircase, the stone stairs crumbling away under his feet as if from a great age. The boy squinted through the murky shadows, he needed to find someone! It wasn’t safe to be alone here, he was so scared…

There was a black door at the end of the ground floor hallway, he pulled on the handle, but it wouldn’t open for him. He knocked on the door.

“Is someone in there?” The boy called urgently, but his voice was snuffed out by the gloom, emerging as a ghostly whisper.

He knocked harder, calling, straining his vocal chords, but each time his shout came out as a mere echo of sound, as if he was calling up from a very deep well.

As soon as the thought crossed his mind, the house around him began to change. It shrank, walls closing in, stone becoming cold earth, trapping him in a narrow grave.

“No!” the boy gasped in frantic terror, hammering on the black door with bloody fists. “Are you there?!”

The ceiling came closer, a crashing weight on his head, and he fell to his knees, feeling the air thicken around him.

“Please, don’t leave me here,” he cried, suddenly able to recall who it was he had been searching for so urgently. “Don’t leave me alone here, father!”

Only silence answered him…

Harry’s eyes snapped open, a keening cry coming from his mouth. He blinked in the dim light of early morning, flinching away from a hand coming to choke him, to punish him for making a racket in the middle of the night. His throat constricted, terror blocking his windpipe as the bulbous eyes of his uncle seemed to glare melavolently at him out of the greyness. The hand touched his face, lightly brushing the hair out of his face, the sensation was so dissimilar to his past experiences that it startled a confused whimper out of his constricted throat.

“Ssh, everything is fine, Harry, you’re safe,” a tired voice murmured quietly, and he blinked rapidly, trying to bring a face above him into better focus. “That was only a bad dream. You are safe in your bed, see?”

His father. That was his father’s voice and face, and Harry’s face crumpled, his eyes filling with tears, because he remembered the man always appearing when he woke up, saying that everything was fine. But it wasn’t fine when he slept, it was terrible!

“I don’t wanna sleep anymore!” he wept, he couldn’t possibly bear to close his eyes again so soon.

Father breathed a heavy sigh, perching on the edge of the boy’s bed. He brushed Harry’s cheeks with gentle fingers, wiping away his tears.

“It’s much too early to get up yet,” he said softly, reaching for the plush lion which had fallen to the floor earlier. “You should sleep a few more hours. Come on, give your lion a hug now, and I’ll tell you a story to help you sleep. How does it sound?”

Harry shook his head, pushing himself into a sitting position with his elbows. The man’s story voice would make him drowsy very soon, and he wasn’t having it!

“Terrible! I don’t want a story!” he retorted, suddenly annoyed. “I wanna get up now!”

The man leaned back, folding his arms across his chest forbiddingly, fixing the child with a quelling look. Normally, Harry would have cringed from that potent glare, but now he met it with a glare of his own.

“You are being quite rude,” father stated in an unimpressed drawl. “I should put you over my knee for that attitude, boy. Maybe a hard spanking would help you sleep better.”

Harry swallowed the lump in his throat. He hated it when father said those things so casually, as though a spanking was somehow inevitable. He didn’t want to be spanked by the man, but he stubbornly didn’t lower his eyes in defeat. He’d rather be punished than go back to sleep.

Father watched him for several long minutes, pinching the bridge of his nose between the thumb and a forefinger. The boy couldn’t see any signs of sympathy in the hard planes of his face, only cold consideration as his black eyes seemed to drill right through him.

“If I were to allow this… exception,” the man began in a thoughtful tone, and Harry’s eyes went wide with hope. “You would need a nap during the day, and an early bedtime-,”

“I don’t take naps,” he protested loudly, eyes flashing in anger at the man’s cheating.

“You will and you’ll go quietly when I tell you to,” father cut him off harshly. “I don’t care to see any more of your defiant streak now. I understand that you’re upset after the night you’ve had, but enough is enough. Any more disrespect, and you’ll start the day with a stinging behind. Understood?”

Harry hung his head, it wasn’t like that at all, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He just didn’t want to have another horrible nightmare, and now father was cross with him. 

“I wasn’t disrespectful,” he argued weakly, despite knowing that he could only get into deeper trouble by doing so. Sometimes, father didn’t mind him disagreeing, but there was always a point when he said to stop it, and he could tell he was past that.

Harry flinched at the touch of fingers curling around his chin, forcing his head up. His eyes flew to the man’s face in fear, lips going dry at the expression there. He gasped, feeling father’s thumb rubbing his cheek.

“You remind me of myself as a child,” he said in a tone of surprising gentleness. “I never knew when to quit arguing with my father either. He wasn’t very impressed with my tenacity as I recall.”

“Did he hit you?” Harry asked in a strained whisper, before clamping his mouth shut in absolute terror. He didn’t ask that aloud, had he? He could feel blood draining from his face, congealing in his stomach and making it ache.

Father raised his eyebrows at the direct inquiry, and the boy braced himself for the inevitable explosion. Uncle Vernon hated questions, and it was the type of question that was sure to earn him a hard slap across the face. It was both nosy and impertinent.

“He did,” father admitted with a sigh, meeting the child’s frightened gaze steadily. “More often than I thought he should have, he was very difficult to please, my father. I imagine that’s how you feel about me, too, isn’t it?”

The boy froze, completely freaked out by the question. Was he supposed to answer it, honestly? The man grimaced, but then he let his chin go, running a hand through the boy’s messy mop.

“That’s fine, Harry,” he murmured. “You’re entitled to an opinion. It would be rather hypocritical of me, if I got cross after what I’d just said. Come, if we have to start the day at this unholy hour, let’s not dawdle about it.”

Harry breathed easier, he didn’t really believe father would let him get up after his rudeness, and he didn’t have the gumption to continue pushing it. The man wouldn’t put up with any more of it, and he knew it. Not wasting another moment, Harry slid to the floor and rushed to find some clothes for the day.

“I’ll be in the kitchen, you may join me when you’re ready,” father said, heading for the door.

“Why do you do it,” the child asked very softly, staring at the brand-new shirt his father had bought for him. “If you didn’t like it happening to you?”

Father paused at the door, but Harry didn’t dare look at him. He could feel the man’s eyes on him, his fists tightened, creasing the shirt hopelessly as he fought the urge to run from the conversation.

“I suppose,” the man mused after a silent moment, his tone very wry. “I came to appreciate the method in later life.”

Harry couldn’t ignore that outrageous statement, and turned to glare at the man.

“But it hurts so much!” he exclaimed in disbelief.

Father crossed his arms, fixing his son with a piercing gaze.

“Tell me, Harry,” he asked seriously. “Which do you remember better; my belt or the corner Mrs Wilkinson put you in?”

The boy flushed in embarrassment.

“You know about that?”

The man smirked.

“It’s my job to know what you get up to,” he said, and that wasn’t very encouraging at all. “Answer my question, now. Be honest.”

As if he’d dare lie, Harry thought with a bitter grimace. He averted his eyes, unable to hold eye contact as he answered.

“Belt,” he whispered reluctantly.

“Exactly,” father sighed, tapping his chin with his fingers thoughtfully as he considered the child. “And I am certain that a year from today you’ll have forgotten why you stood in that silly corner, but you will remember the reason I applied the belt even when many years have passed. Speaking plainly, Harry, painful consequences stick in our memory for much longer, and we learn from them faster. I don’t particularly enjoy putting you over my knee, spanking and making your bottom sting, but I cannot deny that doing so is effective, and you have to learn to live with that possibility. Spanking hurts, yes, I remember, but what we do in life always has a price, our mistakes hurt, too, some more than others. It is better to learn now, when the price is only a throbbing behind, rather than something more difficult to heal from,” he paused, regarding the boy with something unbearably heavy in his gaze. “I understand your aunt and uncle may have raised you differently, but I will not sugar-coat reality for you, Harry. Punishment isn’t meant to be pleasant and easy.”

The boy swallowed hard, unsure what he thought about this explanation. Being punished was undeniably awful, but he had to admit it was a relief that father didn’t do it out of malice. He certainly didn’t want to go back to how things were at the Dursleys, even if uncle Vernon’s punishments weren’t painful in the same sense. And wasn’t that strange? Not long ago Harry was sure he wished for nothing more than going back to his relatives, but lately he couldn’t imagine that. He wasn’t so stupid to misunderstand what his reccurring nightmare meant, odd as it was, Harry was growing attached to his father, and he was terrified the man would abandon him the same way the Dursleys did.

“I still don’t like it,” he muttered under his breath.

The man snorted in amusement, he stepped closer, leaning down to touch his lips to the boy’s forehead.

“I’m counting on it,” he murmured. “Now, get dressed.” 

The strange conversation left him unbalanced for several minutes. The serious topic was somehow well-suited to the pre-dawn dimness. Harry supposed he was glad he had asked the question, at least he knew father understood how hard it was for a child to get spanked. He wondered if he would hit his kids as well, when he was grown up. He didn’t believe he ever would, but what if his perspective changed, too?

It took him some twenty minutes to get downstairs, his stomach roiling in unease, not knowing what to expect from this unconventional morning. Father met his gaze the moment Harry stepped into the kitchen. He was dressed in his customary black, leaning against the counter with his arms folded across his chest, and a stern expression.

“Do you want breakfast, now?” he asked, making the boy tense in wariness. The man didn’t sound angry or anything, but after the talk upstairs he kept searching for signs that he would be punished for asking something so personal. He ran his eyes over father’s face, before shaking his head. He couldn’t imagine anything less appealing than food at that moment. Father pursed his lips. “Just tea, then.”

Father turned to the counter, picking out the dishes from the cupboards. Harry watched him choose two chipped mugs that would have never been allowed in aunt Petunia’s pristine kitchen, and smiled a tiny bit. They were homey and welcoming, and he was comfortable handling them. He had always been terrified of damaging his aunt’s expensive china, knowing all hell would break loose if he did. Somehow, he didn’t think breaking one of these would be such a big deal, not enough for the belt, surely? Harry dropped his eyes, thinking. He wasn’t altogether certain about it, but he didn’t think father cared overly much about his mugs. He sometimes wanted to break one on purpose, just to see what would happen, but he always chickened out, remembering that time he’d thrown the book to the floor…

“Come along,” father said, making him jump.

 He looked up, following the filled tray with his eyes. It floated in the air, bobbing up and down as the man directed it with his wand. The boy trailed after the floating tray into the corridor, endlessly fascinated by every sign of magic.

“Where are we going?” he asked softly.

The answer became obvious when father stopped in front of the door to his forbidden study. Harry sucked in a frightened breath, freezing in the corridor, remembering all too well the last time he was allowed in there. The man looked back over his shoulder, raising his eyebrows at the stark fear on the child’s pale face.

“Do you play chess, Harry?” he asked in his very softest voice, the one he used when reading a bedtime story.

The boy’s chest relaxed, his eyes darting to father’s face, but there was no sign of displeasure on it, only curiosity. He shook his head.

“I don’t know how,” he said with an apologetic shrug. “I’m sorry.”

“Come in,” father said, turning back to open the door. “I’ll teach you, no son of mine can be so ignorant.”

Harry let out a hysterical laugh, the man had no idea how extensive his ignorance really was. He made his legs move before the sudden hilarity turned into sobbing.

“I had no idea I was so vastly amusing,” the man muttered darkly, sending the floating tray to settle on the desk.

The boy paused, scrutinising every inch of the wooden surface, heart hammering fit to burst. There were books and piles of documents filled with spidery script on one side, an inkpot, quills and pens littered the entire space. There was no ruler, he wasn’t even sure why he expected to see it there. 

“Haven’t you heard that curiosity killed the cat, boy?” father scolded him sharply. “Sit down.”

Harry’s legs folded under him, and he plopped hard into the wooden chair. He winced, glad that he hadn’t been spanked very rigorously lately, he looked up warily, meeting father’s disapproving eyes. The man pointed his wand at the desk, stocking the books into a neat pile, and with another flick folding the documents into scrolls, leaving the middle of the desk bare.

“I wasn’t-,” he tried to explain.

“Spying?” the man suggested in a hard voice, rounding the desk and depositing a wooden box on it. “That’s fortunate, otherwise you’d be in very deep trouble now.”

Harry hunched his shoulders, he couldn’t defend himself without confessing his stupidity about the written word. Unable to come up with a story that could excuse his apparent nosiness, he decided to remain silent and hope father wouldn’t punish him this time.

The man huffed in annoyance, and sat down behind the desk, pushing one of the steaming mugs towards the boy.

“Drink,” he snapped, and Harry rushed to obey, curling his fingers around the hot mug. He took a tiny sip, enjoying the strong taste. He wasn’t allowed tea very often, and he was treating every opportunity with this reverence, like he was sharing something special. He looked up, meeting father’s eyes over his mug. The man set his tea down, raising an eyebrow. “Are we playing?”

Harry lowered his tea and nodded, eyeing the wooden box with wary curiosity. Father opened the box and started jabbing the game pieces with his wand.

“Move, you lazy louts,” he grumbled, and to Harry’s complete astonishment, they did!

At first glance, they seemed to be people-shaped wooden carvings, but the jab from the wand made them alive. They began to stretch and move, separating into two groups; one in white cloaks, the other in black. They proceeded to form ranks on the chessboard, glaring at one another and drawing weapons.

“They’re alive?!” the boy demanded, finally managing to retract his gaping jaw.

“They’re wizard chess,” father replied with a derisive snort. “They’re animated wood, pretty annoying especially when allowed to talk.”

Harry watched wide-eyed as the line of hallabardiers at the front began thumping the butts of their weapons into the board, their mouths moving, probably shouting insults at the other side.

“I can’t hear anything,” he wondered.

“Easier to avoid a headache that way, trust me,” father said wryly. “Can you find the king? That piece must be protected at all costs.”

And so it went. Father had him identify all the pieces, before explaining how each of them moved and fought. There was the king, the queen, two bishops, knights and towers, and eight pawns [though the boy insisted they should be called hallabardiers, as they had hallabards].

“That makes no sense!” he grumbled, after he arranged the pieces correctly on the board for the third time. “Why doesn’t the king have a sword, when even his wife has one?”

The man put a fist to his mouth to stifle a yawn.

“Because she is his general, too,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “Your move, Harry. White begins.”

Harry’s eyes went wide with excitement, finally they could play! He was beginning to despair that the lesson would never end.

“Knight, forward!” he commanded in a firm voice, only to flush in embarrassment when his knights raised their eyebrows at him, as if to ask ‘Who, me?’. “Er… You, you’re John. Sir John, forward!”

Father put a hand over his eyes, evidently not wanting to watch the boy’s disgrace. Harry was glaring at the stupid knight as he pointed to two places forward and one to the right, only then he mounted his horse and jumped over the line of hallabardiers.

“Done?” the man sighed. “Pawn, from C7 to C5.”

The first game didn’t last very long, as father trapped his king in four moves, and Harry had to watch him drop his crown in surrender. The second game wasn’t much better. It wasn’t until the fourth that he had a moment of triumph when queen Elisabeth [by that time all his pieces had names] decapitated one of father’s pawns. Harry jumped to his feet in excitement, watching as two hallabardiers dragged the body off the board. His glee was short-lived, however, as the queen was stabbed the next moment by a hallabard.

“Stop pouting, and pay attention,” father chided him. “You can’t attack blindly, the point of the game isn’t to decimate my army, but to encircle my king.”

Harry scowled, but told Richard the bishop to move. He lost again, and when they started another game, his ranks entered the battlefield with shoulders slumped in defeat, and resentful faces. Father didn’t go easy on him, mercilessly attacking his army until their morale was non-existent. The boy managed to win small skirmishes, his best showing was to take a knight, a bishop and two pawns in one game, but the overall battle was depressingly one-sided. He yawned, fighting a war was exhausting.

“We’ll finish this game, and have breakfast,” father suggested, and he nodded wearily.

“Will I ever beat you?” Harry asked morosely as they packed the game.

“Perhaps,” the man smirked. “When you have a lot more experience with the game. For now, try Eliot as an opponent.”

He made a face, Eliot and he hadn’t played together since his last visit. Harry was afraid of going back, and father hadn’t forced him to accept the younger boy’s invitations yet. He missed his friend, though.

“Couldn’t,” Harry began in a meek voice. “Couldn’t I invite Eliot… here?”

The man paused in his breakfast preparation to fix the child with a discerning look. Harry squirmed in his chair, wanting to avert his eyes under the scrutiny, but unable to. He shouldn’t have asked, now he was in for it!

“I’ll consider the possibility,” father responded after a long moment. “We’d need to hide all the magic, somehow.”

The boy could feel his face relax with a smile. That was something he couldn’t quite get used to, Harry was allowed to ask for things, now. Father wasn’t often keen on indulging the child’s whims, but he wasn’t yelled at or beaten just for asking. That chance was something he’d never had before. Father didn’t say no, and Harry hoped.

Breakfast today was boiled eggs and sausages with toast, Harry picked at his food without much enthusiasm. That didn’t happen very often these days, the potion he still took before every meal usually made him ravenous, but at the moment he didn’t seem to have the energy to chew and swallow. His jaw cracked with a huge yawn, and he rested his head on a hand. Between one bite and the next, Harry blinked, and his eyes didn’t open until he felt himself being lifted in the air. He whimpered, trying to dislodge the fluffy cloud that was filling his head. He blinked again, his eyelids were incredibly sticky for some reason.

“Quiet, little monkey,” father murmured in his ear, one of his hands rubbing his back in soothing circles. “Everything is alright. Relax.”

Harry’s head lay on father’s shoulder, it was heavy, and the sensation of swaying was making it even more so.

“Don’t wanna sleep,” he mumbled drowsily, but the motion of waves was pulling him inexorably under.

Father was telling a story. There was a girl with red curls in it, and she was playing on the swings with her sister. She let go of the swing, and went soaring over the playground like a circus performer. Harry sighed contentedly, as the scene unfolded in his mind’s eye, his friend’s Abigail’s face lighting up with excitement as she launched herself into empty air. The soft voice trailed slowly off, but not before he was settled comfortably in bed, tucked in, a hand loosely wrapped around a plush lion. The boy was too deeply asleep to notice.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Must I explain that views of the author are not necessarily the same as the characters’? In this chapter I tried to explore what makes parents mimic the way they themselves were raised. I don’t believe all the parents who were victims to corporal punishment and pass it on to their children are necessarily pathological, bad parents. There are many examples of bad parents who never hit their child, and vice versa, I think.
Chapter 27 House Guest by Kyralian
Text blurred in front of his eyes, and Severus groaned, rubbing his tired eyes. He was exhausted, in the two weeks since Harry’s panic attack while visiting the neighbours, they didn’t have one peaceful night. The boy was plagued by nightmares several times a night, giving them, at most, two hours of uninterrupted sleep, before his sleep-o-metre over the child would wake him again.

It was getting worse instead of better, as the boy developed a terror of approaching bedtime. Severus was at his wits end, Harry was becoming an insolent brat near dinnertime, and had the circumstances been different, he’d have strapped the defiant urchin black and blue by now, and been done with it. Harry screamed, argued and made a nuisance of himself, between fits of sobbing and pleading that he wasn’t tired, his eyes wide with desperation, and the man found himself unable to employ his usual brand of discipline to keep the boy in line.

The exhaustion was making him soft, so instead of a proper spanking, he was rocking his son in his lap, telling him stories, and doing anything he could think of to settle the lad for the night. It wasn’t working, and he spent hours browsing through books and journals on potions and medi-wizardry, looking for something to remedy the situation. It wasn’t doing much good, as the one thing the texts unequivocally agreed upon was that a child's subconscious and his magical core were so tightly interwoven, that altering the one had untold consequences for the other. That dependability diminished as the mind and magical core matured, but that happy occurrence didn’t happen until a child was old enough to wield a wand. The grim consensus was that any mind- and even mood-altering substances applied before that milestone was reached inevitably led to damage to a child’s magical core.

He put his head in his hands, thinking with longing of a few ready-made doses of Wit-Sharpening Solution in his study. If not for his overindulgence early that month, he wouldn’t hesitate, instead Severus pushed himself to his feet, and went to make more coffee. Meanwhile, Harry seemed to be enjoying his first nightmare-free rest in a long time, and Severus wondered if he managed to do something right this morning. He grimaced, he had been exceptionally lenient in agreeing to get up at 4 in the morning, but it had seemed pointless to insist on going back to sleep with the boy in hysterics. Could he duplicate this unexpected success at bedtime? He couldn’t very well allow the child to stay up until he dropped.

He poured himself a tall mug of the bitter concoction, determined to dredge up some concentration and find a way to at least tweak the anti-anxiety draft he was giving Harry to help with digestion. It wasn’t near potent enough to stand in for the Calming Draft he couldn’t use, but Severus was convinced he would be able to mimic some of the calming properties without mood-altering effects of a calming draft.

He was compiling a list of ingredients that could affect the adrenal glands, without wrecking havoc on the brain at the same time, when the doorbell rang loudly. Severus jerked, spilling hot liquid down his hand. Cursing, he set the mug down, raising his wand to muffle the damnable contraption. If the imbecile at the door woke his child, he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions!

He stalked into the corridor, pulling the door open with a bang.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Severus shouted, temper fraying at the sight of the neighbour’s brat.

The boy on the porch stepped back with a startled yelp, wide blue eyes staring up at him with fright. Severus glared at the insolent child for a moment, before looking around for the boy’s keeper and finding no one.

“Did you come here as a lark?!” the man growled, suddenly furious, imagining Harry doing the same foolish thing. His hand shot out, latching to the boy’s shoulder, spinning him about and applying a mighty smack to his rear. “You aren’t going to get away with sneaking out, I’ll make sure of that, idiot child!”

Eliot Parker was too shocked by the harsh reprimand to respond at first, his hand trailing back to touch the place he had been smacked, but as the man started pulling him down the path to return him to his grandmother’s perview, he dug in his heels and struggled.

“Wait, wait, Mr. Snape,” he pleaded. “You have to listen to me!”

“I’m not interested in listening to a spoiled brat who runs away from home,” Severus snarled, giving the boy a shake to get him moving again. “You can save your excuses for your grandmother!”

“You have to call for an ambulance!” Eliot shouted, finally fed up by the scolding.

The man rocked to a stop, surprised.

“What did you say?!” he demanded sharply.

The child’s lip trembled, his blue eyes filling with tears.

“Grandma’s fallen and she isn’t waking up,” he sobbed, shaking in Severus’s grasp. “I can’t wake her up, Mr. Snape!”

“Alright,” the man breathed, changing direction and pulling the distraught child into the house. “I’ll go to her. You can wait with Harry, he’s upstairs, second door on the left,” he released the boy, hurrying into the living room to push back the sliding bookcase. “No snooping, or I’ll be putting you over my knee for a hard spanking, Eliot,” he warned, as he left the muggle child to find his own way.

He picked up his first-aid kit from his office, before rushing outside, wondering if there was something dangerous the nosy brat could trigger on the way. At the gate, Severus cast a cursory glance around the empty street, and spun around, apparating straight into his neighbour’s messy living room. The woman wasn’t there, so he proceeded to check the other rooms. He found the old crone on the kitchen floor, her chest unmoving, lips blue.

Severus cursed, his wand slashing through the air in a diagnostic pattern. Next was the blue breathing spell his son had needed recently, coupled with the charm substituting heartbeat. Falling to his knees beside the prone body, he started browsing through his assortment of potions, looking for something to help the muggle. He hesitated, not feeling up to dosing her for cardiac arrest, his muggle father didn’t suffer from coronary disease so he didn’t know what would be appropriate in the circumstances. In the end, Severus gave her half a dose of the Calming Draft, as adrenaline in the bloodstream couldn’t be helpful, and went to call for an ambulance.

The paramedics arrived after fifteen minutes, in that time Severus managed to become quite bored watching his first-aid spells at work. His neighbour’s condition seemed to be improving by small degrees, the oxygen levels in her brain were rising and her wrinkled lips were pink. He wasn’t a healer, but at least he thought he could keep her from dying. He waited until the paramedics were through the front door, before he cancelled the spells and ineptly pretended to be doing the chest compressions the muggle way.

The paramedics held him up for questioning, as if he had the slightest idea what medications she was on, or where her meds could be located in the house. One of them had the temerity to demand he fetch Eliot for collaboration.

“What do you expect a preschool whelp to know about such matters?!” Severus sneered, his lips twisting with scorn. “I may ask him, and call the hospital, but under no circumstances am I bringing the child back to be traumatised further.”

That made them leave, at last. He waited until the ambulance turned the corner, before summoning the medications with magic. The man felt ridiculous as, not five minutes later, he called the local hospital, and recited the names of the different products. It couldn’t be helped, it was too easy to detect magic cast around muggles. Severus was supposed to be locked up on his property under the quarantine wards, and he’d rather not send out any suspicious signals.

He returned home, and climbed the stairs to check on the boys. Severus pushed open the door to Harry’s bedroom and entered, meeting two pairs of frightened eyes. They were sitting side by side on Harry’s bed, his son had a supportive arm around his friend’s shoulders. The children were completely silent as they watched him make his way across the room.

Severus breathed out, relieved that he didn’t have to deal with hysteria or tears. He crouched in front of the younger boy, clasping his hands together.

“Your grandmother had to go to hospital to get better, Eliot,” he explained seriously. “You did well coming to tell me, good boy.”

The child’s lip trembled, his hand trailing to his backside where the man had smacked him earlier, his small face very forlorn.

“I am sorry I did that,” Severus said, smirking at the absurdity of having to apologise for one measly slap. “I should have let you explain first. Are you going to be alright?”

The boy gave a tiny nod, but the next instant his eyes filled with tears. The man almost groaned, reaching out to pull the child into a brief hug in an attempt to contain the rising flood, but as was often the case with Harry, it only seemed to push the floodgates wider.

“I forgot the number for the ambulance,” the lad sobbed into his shoulder, making him grimace in distaste. It felt like most of his clothes ended up covered with snot lately. “Mummy taught me and I didn’t remember!”

“That’s alright,” Severus sighed, patting the boy on the back a few times. “You came to get me, and that was smart.”

He glanced over at his son to check how he was taking the tense situation, and was surprised to see a fierce scowl marring Harry’s delicate features, as he watched his father hug someone else. Severus sighed, pushing Eliot slightly away, and handing him a handkerchief.

“Here, wipe your face,” he said, standing to put more distance between himself and the child that his son was eyeing with such possessiveness. “Come along, we’ll have some brunch before your mother can pick you up. What would you like, Harry?”

Of course, life rarely was as accommodating as one would hope, as Severus learned half an hour later. Eliot sheepishly explained that his mother was currently out of town, visiting a friend in Birmingham or Brighton, or maybe Brixton, and he didn’t know how to contact her. Severus didn’t bother asking about the boy’s father, as there was no doubt the man would weasel out of his responsibilities anyway, Mrs. Parker still lived in sweet ignorance about Eliot’s paternity, he believed.

“You’ll have to stay with us until she returns,” he announced, managing to hide his lack of enthusiasm about it.

“But where is he going to sleep?!” Harry demanded peevishly, pointing an angry finger at the younger boy.

Severus pressed his lips into a disapproving line, leaning forward to slap the boy’s hand down sharply.

“It’s rude to point,” he rebuked, giving his son a warning glare. “Your bed is wide enough for the both of you, and I don’t see what issue you can have with it.”

Harry muttered something angrily, too quietly for him to make out, and his eyes flashed at the insolence.

“Watch your tone, boy,” he snapped, his nostrils flaring. “Take Eliot and go upstairs, before you earn yourself a spanking!”

Severus was glaring at his hands on the table for some ten minutes after the children scampered from his presence. He was too exhausted to deal with Harry’s misbehaviour intelligently, the child was clearly unsettled by the sudden appearance of the younger boy, despite his earlier pleas to invite the lad. He wished it was closer to bedtime.

The man proceeded to muggle-protect all the magic in the house, before going to check on the boys. They weren’t arguing, but the moment he came in, Harry’s face clouded over.

“Why don’t you go play outside?” he suggested mildly, deciding that the best way to keep the peace between the children was to stay out of sight.

He was quite bemused by Harry’s obvious animosity toward him whenever he paid the slightest attention to the other boy, behaving like a dog whose territory had been infringed upon. Never in his life had he expected to be an object of such envy, that was exhausting to prevaricate between keeping his interactions strictly formal with one child and reassuring with the other, without upsetting the younger boy.

In the end, Severus barricaded himself in his study, swallowing a Migraine Relief Serum and trying to work. Periodical outbursts of laughter and shouting through the window made it hard to concentrate, it was incredible how much more noise two children produced in comparison to one.

Shortly before dinner, the man escorted the boys next door, to enable Eliot to pack some necessities for the night and the next day.

“Why can’t he stay in his own house?” Harry whined as they waited for the younger boy in the kitchen.

Severus’s patience snapped at that moment, he was tired of answering comments like that throughout the day.

“Enough,” he growled, bending the boy across one arm, and smacking his rear with the other. “I’ve had enough of this attitude of yours. You know perfectly well why Eliot is staying with us, and I’d think you’d be more welcoming towards a friend in need!”

Harry started sniffling, and Severus released him after only a few swats. He didn’t apologise, and the man didn’t really expect him to. It felt good to release some of his frustration with the boy’s behaviour, but he didn’t fool himself that a spanking would solve any of the child’s insecurities.

The boy decided to fume silently, pouting unattractively all through dinner and glaring at his food. Severus shook his head, wondering where his meek child had gone. At least, Eliot had no complaints, he had brought some of his toys from home, and was chattering excitedly about them, paying no mind to Harry’s sour mood. The man was pleasantly surprised, he had expected the boy to be a nightmare guest, his mother spoiled him horribly, and he rather envisaged much carrying on and impertinence. Instead, the child was faultlessly polite and obedient, while his own son was earning a strict chastisement with every minute that passed.

His positive assessment of Parker boy’s maturity was soon nullified, as the brat started arguing with him the moment he announced that it was time to get ready for bed.

“But it’s only 7 o’clock!” he whined, throwing his hands up in the air. “I don’t go to bed until 9!”

Oh, how Severus despised this defiant tone! He could feel his teeth grinding together, his fingers curling into angry claws.

“Harry goes to bed at 7, and you’ll do as well,” he spat, if he had a moment to calm down, he’d realise that his exhaustion was making him more angry than the situation warranted, but the children didn’t give him that chance.

“I want to play with my toys!” Eliot shouted, jumping to his feet and putting angry fists on his hips.

“I don’t want to go!” Harry followed suit, standing next to his friend and giving his father a defiant glare.

“I don’t have to listen to you!” one of them roared.

Severus didn’t bother paying attention to whom the last outrageous comment belonged, as he crossed the room, and grabbed one boy by the arm and the other by the neck. He dragged his son to the nearest corner, snarling for him to stay there, as he pulled the younger child over his knee and proceeded to administer a hard spanking. Eliot made a terrible fuss, screaming and kicking out, and carrying on like a spoiled brat he suspected from the beginning.

Finally, he pulled him up to fix him with a hard stare.

“In my home, children do as they’re told, or they go to bed with a very sore bottom,” he told him severely. “Is that understood?”

Eliot nodded, unable to reply verbally because of the racking sobs that shook him. Severus sighed, suddenly feeling empty.

“Get ready for bed, Eliot,” he said more softly. “Harry will join you soon.”

Severus watched the child escape the kitchen with tightness in his gut, and he wondered if his father felt similarly on those days he thrashed him. He wouldn’t use the belt, but the man knew he couldn’t let his son get away with a minor spanking. With a heavy sigh, Severus raised his wand and summoned the ruler.

“Come here, Harry,” he said firmly, glancing toward the corner and meeting his child’s frightened eyes. He wasn’t really surprised the boy had been watching.

“‘M sorry,” he whispered pitifully.

Severus sighed.

“I know,” he said softly. “Now, come.”

“But Eliot didn’t-,” Harry protested, his eyes filling with tears.

“Stop,” Severus cut him off sharply. “Eliot Parker isn’t my son. You are, and you really should have known better, especially after what we talked about this morning. Come here.”

The boy reluctantly obeyed, stopping beside him and eyeing the ruler with terror.

“Drop your trousers and bend over my knees, Harry,” he instructed calmly, and waited for the boy to do as he had been told. Severus knew he was making the ordeal harder for the child by making him submit to the paddling, but he thought it was important to acknowledge his responsibility for breaking his word. His boy gave him a desperate look, but he shook his head, letting the lad know there was no getting out of it. Finally, Harry obeyed, fumbling fingers pushed his pants to his knees, and laid himself across his lap, his little body trembling. “Are you ready, child?”

“No!” his son sobbed.

“On the count of three, then,” he warned softly, hating himself for raising that ruler and bringing it down with a hard twack, and continuing the punishment until there were ten distinct pink lines across the pale posterior.

Was it hypocritical of him to rock his little boy in his lap, afterwards? Perhaps, it was, but he couldn’t bear to see his child crying so desperately after a hard paddling. It was a strange feeling, a clenching in his chest that didn’t ease until Harry calmed down.

“Time to get ready for bed, Harry,” the man said after a few minutes.

“You’ll come and read a story for us?” the boy pleaded.

“Of course, I will,” Severus answered softly, kissing the ugly scar on his child’s forehead.

That night Severus dreamed about his father. He was maybe twelve, and he didn’t remember exactly what the point of contention was, but he knew he had been furious that the man had refused him. He remembered his father standing with his hands clasped behind his back, his face perfectly calm and unruffled as he listened to young Severus shouting and swearing at the man, pointing his wand threateningly, trying to scare him. He had never been able to make his father lose his temper in any way, he would let his son scream himself hoarse, staring down at his armed son unflinchingly, reacting only when the emotions were cooler.

“Bring me the belt, Sev,” he had commanded coolly.

Throughout his childhood, Severus hated his father’s perfect equanimity, seeing it as a sign of weakness rather than strength. He had watched the man endure his wife’s verbal and magical abuse in silence, never reacting to defend himself, almost goading in his humility. Severus had loathed him for it, had taken his mother’s side time and again, ashamed that he shared that weak blood.

“Do you know why I’m goin’ to whip you now?” his father had calmly asked that day long ago.

“Coz I’m better than you and that makes you mad,” Severus had gritted out, bent over the back of the couch, his bare behind sticking out for the lashing.

“No,” father had disagreed softly. “Because you lost control. Letting your anger guide you will harm you, Sev. Don’t let it.”

Severus hadn’t learned that lesson soon enough. He was staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, bitter anger pooling in his stomach. As a child, he hadn’t understood why the man stuck around, stubbornly trying to teach the boy his naive morality, even though they both despised him for it. He hadn’t known the addictive nature of the curses his mother revelled in flinging about, nor the fact that sans the muggle husband to revile, a halfblood son would do as well.

He couldn’t sleep, deciding he needed a stiff drink to settle his mind after that dream. Severus looked in to check on the boys before going downstairs. At first sight, everything appeared to be fine, two small figures lying peacefully on the bed, but as he peered closer in the dim illumination of Harry’s tiny nightlight, he could make out a pair of eyes watching him.

“Did you have a nightmare, Harry?” he asked in a bare whisper, careful not to wake the other boy.

A tiny nod of the head, Severus sighed, he leaned forward, lifting the child out delicately, with barely any disturbance to the bed covers. He could feel him shaking with quiet sobs, as he held him close, and he cursed himself for being a wretched fool, failing to adjust the sleep monitor with two children sleeping in the room, instead of one.

“It’s alright, Harry,” Severus murmured once they were safely out in the dark corridor. “I’m here.”

“Are we going to play chess?” the boy asked almost hopefully.

Severus laughed softly, but didn’t take the child downstairs.

“Chess at two in the morning,” he groaned, pushing the door to his bedroom open. “I cannot imagine a less desirable enterprise.”

“I can’t come in here!” Harry objected as soon as he noticed the double bed Severus was heading for. “I’m not allowed!”

“You didn’t come in, though,” the man snorted, setting the child in the middle of the bed. “I carried you.”

“But I don’t want to sleep anymore,” Harry cried, tears running down his cheeks in rivulets.

“Alright,” Severus agreed easily, fluffing up the pillows, and getting up in bed beside the boy. “What would you like to do, then?”

Harry scowled at him, as he stretched his legs out and threw the covers over them both. He lay back on the pillow, raising a questioning eyebrow at the silent child.

“I don’t want to sleep,” the boy grumbled, thoroughly unamused.

“We could chat for a bit,” Severus suggested innocently, shrugging. “Plan what to do in the morning, for example.”

Harry frowned in adorable suspicion, but nodded. Smirking, the man pulled the boy to lie beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and holding him close against his side. With a click of his fingers, he dimmed the light in the room.

“How about pancakes for breakfast?” he mused quietly.

“I can’t have sweets until dessert,” the boy reminded him disapprovingly.

“There would be only fruit for dessert, of course,” Severus clarified, his jaw cracking in a huge yawn.

“You’re falling asleep,” Harry accused crossly, struggling to get up, but Severus tightened his arm to stop him.

“It’s hard not to,” he muttered, beginning to rub the boy’s stubborn back in an attempt to relax him. “In all likelihood, Eliot will be with us tomorrow as well, what would you like to do?”

“Why can’t his mummy come now?” the boy complained, burying his face in his father’s shoulder.

“She doesn’t know what happened yet,” Severus responded drowsily. “We can do something special tomorrow. Did you know me and your mother went fishing in the river once?”

He started telling the boy the story of his birthday fishing trips his father arranged since he had been maybe four. They had been miserable excursions in bitter January cold, trying to tempt enough fish under the ice to bite so they could go home with a decent catch, avoiding his mother’s haughty derision. One year, however, his first ever friend insisted she accompany them to Severus’s birthday outing, and nothing he’d said would dissuade her. His strict father had agreed with uncommon enthusiasm, despite his long-standing assertion that fishing was strictly male activity. Severus now suspected the man’s insistence had more to do with keeping his wife’s vitriol distant on that day, rather than imparting some masculine wisdom to his son.

He remembered watching with incredulity as his father and his best friend stood on the snowy riverbank, singing happy birthday to him over a small chocolate cake Lily had brought, both of them grinning like schoolchildren. Severus’s life experience hadn’t prepared him to see happiness on his father’s solemn face, but that day the man had been happy. He told Harry about how his mother and him had engaged in a snowball fight, or how she had bullied his father into releasing the poor fish back to the river. He skipped the story of how they’d both been paddled with his father’s fishing rod after they’d run onto the thin ice to skate, mostly because Lily had made him swear never to tell a soul about the indignity.

Severus wasn’t sure at what point he fell asleep, but he remembered feeling regretful that they never managed to bring back the atmosphere of contentment from that fishing trip. He had started Hogwarts that September, and there were no more opportunities to escape his mother’s indoctrination.
To be continued...
End Notes:
Some answers here... War anxiety is making it difficult to write :(((((


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