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.
“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.