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.