Hi dear reader and welcome back. For this chapter, I had a little help from my old beta Jasmine who already betaed for me when I last wrote this story. I hope you continue to enjoy the story. Let's see how the story develops after someone was in for a rough night...
Please Come For Me - Chapter 18 – Opportunities
Severus' face was pale and sweaty. His heart was pounding against his chest.
This was ridiculous.
The most evil wizard he had faced, lived through unspeakable tortures… and yet nothing came close to these fears inside him, stuffed down to the depth of his heart, nearly forgotten.
He had gotten over it – at least that's what he had always been telling himself – and continued with his manageable life. But since Harry had arrived at his doorstep, beaten, broken, and insecure, long forgotten memories had resurfaced.
Although, his little voice interjected, he doesn't seem to be so broken after all.
Unconsciously, Severus nodded. Harry had indeed proven to possess a quite strong character. Although they had only touched the surface of many problems as it seemed to Severus, Harry had behaved in a rather normal fashion for a child – maybe even too normal, regarding his position. He seemed to be able to adjust, willing to learn.
There was something in his eyes that was desperate to scream out to the world that he was still alive. Those eyes.
Wiping off the sweat of his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt, Severus got up. Taking a look outside his window, he realised that the moon was still standing high, illuminating the gardens in front of the manor way down to the forest where they were absorbed by constant semi-darkness.
Suddenly he turned around and headed for the door in quick strides. Opening it very silently, he walked across the hallway to Harry's bedroom. Although the walls here silenced many noises, they were still on the same floor so it couldn't hurt to check, just for good measure.
With a faint creak, the door opened. Moonlight fell onto the soft cushions of Harry's bed.
It was empty.
With long steps Severus reached the bed almost instantly. He crouched down and looked under the bed – still Harry was nowhere to be seen.
Just when Severus cast a suspicious glance at the re-built window, he heard a little sob coming from inside the wardrobe. He held his breath and there again… very faint… were a few sobs, hardly audible for anyone less attentive than Severus.
'Harry?' His voice was edgy.
'Harry?' Severus asked again, his voice still strained.
The sobs stopped, yet there was no reply.
With a sigh, Severus moved to the wardrobe and opened one door. Although it was not spacious, Harry had managed to hide beneath some longer coats hanging from the clothes rail, pressing a jumper to his face to muffle the sobs.
Severus reached for the jumper and lowered it with reassuring force until two wide eyes were looking at him fearfully.
'Harry, what's wrong?' Severus asked.
Still there was no reply.
Severus thought about yanking the boy out of his stupor but decided against it. Harry's behaviour was alarming him.
Desperate for something to do, Severus crouched down opposite Harry. It wasn't very comfortable and there was an unpleasant smell to the wardrobe, but at least their eyes were levelling now. In a way, Severus felt relieved that he could take care of Harry now, distracted from his own nightmares.
Severus realised that the floor was quite cold. He was only wearing black pyjama trousers and a black shirt. With his knees in front of him and his arms rested on his knees, Severus tempted for his most reassuring smile – if there was anything like it in Severus Snape's emotional repertoire – but the boy did still not move. Instead he started to mimic Severus' movements and hugged his knees to his chest. Then he started rocking back and forth softly.
'What's wrong?' Severus asked again, but still there was no reply.
'You know,' Severus started conversationally, 'it's a rather pleasant night. Have you seen the full moon yet?'
A small nod followed.
'I can only speak for myself, of course' Severus' voice was still very strained, 'but I rather enjoy the night-time. It is calm and peaceful, the moon…'
'I don't...' a timid voice said. He hadn't even seen Harry's lips move.
'How come you don't?' Severus asked.
'Dunno…' the boy was shifting his position now, but still didn't dare to get up.
'Why are you not sleeping, Harry? Is there something wrong with your bed?'
'No, it's fine.' Harry said miserably. 'I… it's just…'
'What is it?'
'What it is, Harry?' Severus asked again, his voice carrying a tinge of impatience now.
The boy looked up to him, still undecided.
'Look, Harry,' Severus tried once more. 'I know we have only known each other for a very short time, but I think that I have been very straightforward and honest with you. You know that you can trust my word. I won't laugh and I will not get mad. Does that sound fair?'
A hesitant nod followed.
Severus thought that he was being more than fair. After all, he had previously promised Harry not to ask about his injuries and he hadn't. Well. It had been obvious anyway. But that was not the point. The point was that he had promised something and stuck to that, and Harry had no reason to believe otherwise.
The frown on the child's forehead disappeared when the boy came to the same conclusion.
Slowly, Harry leaned in on Severus, his voice conspiratorially soft.
'You will get mad.'
'I just told you that I won't,' Severus sighed. 'But you have to tell me what is bothering you, otherwise I cannot help you.'
'I wet my bed.' Embarrassed sobs accompanied this confession.
Of all things, that was probably the least Severus had expected. After all, the boy was already nine years old! Uncomfortably, Severus shifted from one foot to the other. Now able to identify the unpleasant smell, he felt disgusted.
'Well that can happen,' he said, but his voice still carried this edge.'
When big green eyes looked at him, ready to spill those unshed tears, he quickly raised his wand. 'Nothing we couldn't clean up easily, alright?'
When the boy still didn't move, Severus got up and turned to the bed. Retrieving the covers, the smell of urine stung his nose. With a small fluid movement of his wand, the smell and dampness vanished, the sheets straightened out, and the pillows shook themselves up in a comfortable, inviting position. With a nod, Severus turned around again.
'There you go Harry, good as new. You see?'
Miserably, the boy nodded.
'I imagine that you would prefer to change into other clothes, too? Unless you allow me…' he waved his wand at Harry who nodded timidly.
Again, there was a fluid wand movement and seconds later, Harry ran his fingers across clean and comfortably dry clothes.
'Would you mind getting out of that wardrobe and talk to me now, Harry?' Severus asked.
With tiny movements, Harry started to edge towards the wardrobe door and finally got up, standing in front of Severus, hanging his head miserably.
With some quick strides, Severus reached the bed and seated himself on it, gesturing to Harry to do the same.
Hesitantly, Harry followed, sitting down at the other end of the bed as if to bring as much space as possible between him and his new guardian. Almost instantly he hugged his knees to his chest again.
'What happened tonight?' Severus asked, his face not betraying a single emotion.
'I got scared.'
'What scared you?'
'I… I was dreaming … stuff… you know? And suddenly I thought I'd heard someone screaming, really loud.'
At that, Severus' expression hardened. He was relieved that it was too dark for Harry to make out his expression as he was sitting with his back against the window. It was Harry who was facing the window, moonlight falling onto his pale skin.
Severus didn't know how to reply to this. This night hadn't been particularly easy on him, either. Shifting a little bit in his seat, he slowly said
'Sometimes we all do dream scary things.'
Harry looked up but still couldn't make out his guardian's expression. Instead he said
'In my dreams, everything feels so real, you know? Like everything happens for real. But I can't do anything about it. It is just like I have to stand by and watch it happen.'
Severus felt the uncomfortable lump in his stomach again. Why was the boy always touching a nerve?
For a while, both sat and stared at each other, not betraying their thoughts. After what felt like ages, Harry spoke up once more.
'If I promise to be very quiet. And promise that I won't bother you. Or say anything at all… would it be alright if I stayed with you? Just for the night?'
A pained, fearful expression accompanied Harry's face that rivalled his guardian's expression now. For a second, Severus thought that he hadn't heard correctly.
Harry, the Potter boy, was asking to stay with him, for comfort?
Again, he looked intensely into the pale moonlit face, those dark green eyes, and wondered what the boy might do if he left him alone in this state, now. Certainly he didn't feel up to more drama this night.
After a long pause, he said with an even voice
'I can't see why not, Harry.'
Slowly, a smile spread on the little boy's face.
'Let's go then,' he said and got up from the bed. Grabbing Harry's blankets he added 'take your pillows, please' and walked to the door, followed by the small boy, hidden beneath two giant pillows.
Back in Severus' bedroom, he enlightened a fire in the small fireplace next to his bed. With another flick of his wand he conjured a mattress and several sheets right in front of the fireplace.
'Do you think that will do?' he asked the boy.
With a grateful nod, Harry placed his pillows on the mattress and lay down without another word.
With an awkward feeling, Severus placed the blanket on Harry and moved towards his own bed again, before the impression of him tugging in the Potter boy would make its way to his consciousness.
'Good night, then,' Severus nodded curtly to the snoring blanket.
The boy had already fallen asleep.
x x x
Albus was facing Bathilda with a hesitant smile. He wasn't keen on reliving the recent episode, but firstly, he had placed Vernon in St. Mungo's by now, and secondly, Bathilda was looking less angry than before. At least that was what he hoped her less-than-deadly stare was supposed to communicate.
'I can only repeat what I said to you already,' he started. 'I am very sorry that things worked out this way. I thought that I was making the right decisions, but obviously I have been very wrong.'
With a neutral expression, Bathilda nodded. Then she added
'But what do you think will happen from now on? What about Harry and Severus? And Petunia, Dudley…'
'Well,' Albus pondered his thoughts for a while. He understood that he was kindly being asked an opinion, but that he didn't have much say in this anymore.
'I think Harry is placed in good care with Severus. But maybe it would help both to make this arrangement more… permanent.'
Bathilda's mood seemed to lighten up considerably upon hearing this. With a nod she replied
'That is exactly what I thought. After all, there are also the legal matters to be considered. Of course' she added, 'Severus will have to have the final say in this. And Harry's opinion should be considered too. That's the least we can do.'
Albus nodded in agreement while Bathilda pondered the unspoken question.
'If he were to become Harry's permanent guardian, he would not only be entitled to provide a permanent shelter for him, he would also be in charge of making the most basic decisions for the boy – and unless he is put in this position and guaranteed some sovereignty, I cannot see how he can fully attend to Harry's needs.'
Again, Albus nodded slowly.
'Perhaps you can speak to Severus about this matter and I could make some arrangements with the Ministry of Magic.'
Glad that Albus had understood her subtle hints, Bathilda nodded. Of course she had good relations to the Ministry too, but her ambitions had always been less political than Albus' had seemed to be. While she had been content with a purely scientific exchange of expertise amongst professionals from the Ministry and other fields, Albus always seemed to have been connected to those in power in another, more feasible way. For him, it was easy to get whatever he wanted. Yet there was one last thing…
'I am glad that you are of my opinion, Albus,' Bathilda started conversationally. 'Yet I think it would help a great deal if you spoke to Severus.'
Upon this, Albus looked up, obviously displeased. 'Dear Bathilda, I am sure that I am the last person he wishes to speak to right now…'
'Nevertheless,' Bathilda interrupted curtly, 'I think it is high time for an apology, don't you think so?'
'He won't accept it' Albus replied.
'No,' Bathilda agreed. 'I'm sure he won't. But that's not the point, is it? It's about you admitting that you have hurt his sovereignty by making decisions over his head. How could he possibly consider taking custody over Harry if he himself did not feel completely self-reliant, but always dependent on your good will? No Albus, this is not about you or your hurt pride. This is about the boy. Both boys for that matter.'
There was some finality in her voice and something told Albus that this part of the discussion was over.
'I will send an owl as soon as I can and see if he is willing to have a conversation.'
This seemed to please Bathilda.
'What about Dudley and Petunia then?' Albus asked, trying to move towards steadier grounds again.
'Well,' Bathilda was hesitant. 'For the moment, I am happy for them to stay with me. I doubt that they will be able to return to their home. It doesn't seem very safe to me now that Bellatrix has been there. I don't know if she would go looking for them back there, yet I wouldn't want to risk it. I guess we will have to look for something suitable, if Petunia wishes to do so. She doesn't seem keen on going back to her house. Or maybe her neighbourhood I should say. She is afraid of what people might say. And until we have found something more permanent to offer to her, she and her boy may stay with me in the meanwhile.'
'How are they coping?' Albus asked.
'I am not sure, Albus. Petunia seems relieved although I can tell that she is tormented by her inner struggle. After all, it is a lousy situation. As for the boy, I think he is only starting to digest what's happening now. I am not sure what to do about him, to be honest. I guess that is up to Petunia to decide. After all she will know how to handle her little boy best. At least that's what I hope', she added, a tinge of scepticism in her voice.'
After a significant pause, Bathilda continued
'Speaking of Bellatrix though, there is something else we have to consider.'
Albus looked up from his fingertips. 'And what would that be?'
'They may be hidden under the Fidelius Charm, but I don't think that they can stay on their own. It is simply not fair. They don't know what's happening, there is nobody to answer their questions. And after all I have learnt by now, the boy seems to have built a relationship to this Doctor. It might be a beneficial situation to bring them together.'
'Bring them together?' Albus raised his brows.
'Yes,' Bathilda nodded curtly, unwilling to make it too easy for Albus. 'Bring them together.'
'So,' Albus said slowly, 'you want the Connor's to stay at Severus' place?'
'At least that thought came to my mind,' Bathilda replied. 'Of course, Severus will have a final say in this and if he objects, there will be other options, but personally I think it would be a profitable situation for everyone.'
'But wouldn't Severus feel like his authority is being put on stake?' Albus asked.
'Tell me you care,' Bathilda snorted, but regretted her outburst instantly. With a softer voice, she added 'this is the point, Albus. You don't simply decide, but you talk to Severus, explain the thoughts behind the suggestion, and then it is up to him to decide, fully informed with all the information on the table. That's the difference.'
'I talk to Severus?' Albus repeated.
Again, Bathilda nodded, a smile on her face now.
'There is still a serious talk coming up anyway, so why don't you take the opportunity and start to amend.'
Slowly, Albus looked at her, then back to his long fingers that were folded in front of his chest.
'I,' Bathilda added, 'have some more talk coming up myself.'
When Albus looked surprised, she added in a conversational tone
'Of course I understand that Petunia is a victim here, too,' Bathilda begun. 'But nevertheless, I think she stepped aside too easily and let her husband do whatever he liked to the boy. And, although she may not have been as physically violent as her husband was, I believe that more than often she has been quite cruel to the boy. I do plan to have her leave again unless this issue is sorted.'
With a small nod, Albus signalled his agreement.
x x x
The boy had been whimpering in his sleep. Severus Snape lay in his bed, facing the ceiling, a book resting on his stomach. The fire had burnt down by now. All that was left were the embers radiating pleasant warmth from the fireplace.
Severus had tried to go back to sleep. Possibly he had closed his eyes for a couple of times in the last hours, yet it felt like he hadn't slept at all.
Interrupted by occasional whimpers and mumblings of the boy, which sounded like 'please' and 'don't', he had listened to his irregular breathing. When he hadn't been able to go back to sleep, he had ultimately conjured a book from the 'Muggle Studies' section of his library which was considerably well equipped and started on a book about child psychology.
It couldn't hurt to understand a couple of things, he had thought.
For purely professional reasons, of course.
A feeling had manifested itself in his stomach that a neutral bystander would possibly have labelled as protective or caring. To Severus, this still felt very bewildering, he liked to think of himself as merely monitoring the boy's behaviour in order to act appropriately.
The boy shifted from one side to the other once more, now facing away from the fireplace and towards Severus' bed. Automatically Severus lifted his head a little bit and turned right to look at Harry. Apparently, the boy was still asleep.
Turning back to his book, he took it up and turned the page. The psychologist who had written this book suggested that traumatized children needed to voice their terrors in order to avoid serious psychological illnesses later on. Mentally, Severus ticked off a list of behaviourisms Harry had sported – at least as far as he could tell by now. But how was he – of all – supposed to provide Harry with a safe environment to face his fears and voice his thoughts?
Somehow, this was difficult. Severus was a proficient autodidact and used to learn anything he needed to know from a book, usually within days. But whether it was the way in which the book was written, the matter of subject, or simply his own hesitation to dive too deeply into the subject, it didn't seem to be working this time.
'Confront his fears,' Severus mumbled slowly and stared at the page.
It seemed like it was all there. The boy just needed to put it into words.
Severus thought about letting Harry write a journal, but dismissed the idea quickly. That was not the point after all. Whether the boy kept his thoughts all to himself or wrote them down in a journal wouldn't do the trick, Severus was sure. The boy had to voice them, somehow confront them. But how?
With another flick of his hand, Severus turned the next page, and the next after that, and the next one, but there were no helpful suggestions. Apparently, it seemed so clear to the psychologist that she hadn't considered spending a single sentence on how the confrontation should proceed.
Again, Severus' mind drifted off, his glance locked at the fireplace. The small bits of ash that flew into the air occasionally had a hypnotising effect, made him relax somehow. And suddenly, an idea struck Severus' mind and with a smile he lay the book aside, rolled to his back and fell asleep.
x x x
The rest of the night had gone well. Although Severus had only slept for a couple of hours, he had been awake just before Harry was. When the boy woke up, Severus already sat on his bed, fully dressed and watched his ward intently. With a flick of his wand, Severus had made the mattress, blanket, and pillows disappear – the disappointed look on Harry's face did not go unnoticed – and announced that it was high time for breakfast.
As soon as they had arrived in the kitchen Severus had noticed a letter on the kitchen shelf, next to an opened window. An elegant handwritten note was attached to it.
'Dear Severus. I know that I am the least person you wish to speak to right now, but I kindly ask you to hear me whenever you find the time. I think there are a few things that still need to be discussed and some others, which should not pass unsaid, either.
With a silent nod, Severus had read through the notice. Although he hadn't planned it like this, it would work out equally well.
'Have you finished your breakfast yet, Harry?' Severus asked now, noticing that Harry had started to stir his cereals unenthusiastically.
With an anxious look that carefully tried to measure Severus' mood, Harry put the spoon aside and crossed his hands in his lap, looking down, properly ashamed of his behaviour.
'Sorry,' he mumbled. Uncle Vernon had never dismissed him, playing with his food, being ungrateful, without a punishment.
Severus sighed, but decided not to comment. He knew that such habits were hard to shake off.
'Do you have anything in mind you would like to do today?' Severus asked conversationally.
Harry looked up in surprise.
'What do you mean?'
Sometimes the boy was really slow on the uptake, Severus thought with a smile hidden underneath his schooled features.
'Well, some activity you enjoy.'
Harry thought about this for a while.
He had always enjoyed visiting the playground back in Little Whinging. But here there didn't appear to be one close by, let alone other kids to play with.
Then, a furrowed brow betrayed Harry's thoughts.
'What is it, Harry?' Severus asked.
'You have been telling me all this stuff about Hogwarts and I was wondering if you would be able to take me there at some point. It would be nice to see what it is like, you know?'
Just what it's like to be normal for once, Harry added mentally.
He was desperate to meet some other kids who were supposed to be like him. He couldn't quite imagine yet that all his freakishness was supposed to be something regarded normal by the magical world.
Severus was pleased about the sudden opportunity that had presented itself to him and with a smile he nodded.
'I will let the Headmaster know that we will be visiting in the afternoon, until then there are some preparations I have to make.'
A genuine smile appeared on Harry's face and Severus noticed that he managed to look into the child's eyes without any of the resentment he had preserved for the Potter Boy all this time.
'I think it would do you well to accompany me to the library, then you can continue reading the book I gave to you and I will be able to make my preparations.'
With that, Severus turned around sharply and moved towards the library with quick strides.
Constant shuffling noises that trailed his steps asserted him that the boy was indeed following.
In the library, he motioned towards the desk Harry had been studying at and the boy resumed his place at once. With a flick of his wand, A History Of Magic hovered towards the desk until it fell down in front of Harry with a thud.
Immediately, the boy began reading.
With a curt nod, Severus moved towards another desk standing next to another high window in the room where parchment and quills lay prepared for someone who did a lot of writing.
Severus decided that another letter sent by owl would take too long to be delivered. After all his idea had been quite spontaneous after all. He moved into a different section of his library to a fireplace from which he could contact the Headmaster.
Taking a pinch of floo powder from a bag resting on the mantelpiece, he threw it into the fireplace. Then he said 'Albus Dumbledore's Office' to the green flames very clearly.
Only seconds later, Albus' head appeared in the flames, looking rather pleased, much to the annoyance of Severus.
'Dear Severus. You have received my letter,' the Headmaster began.
'Yes', Severus replied curtly. 'And I wish to speak to you about something we need to arrange. It concerns Harry's wellbeing and it of utmost importance.'
Without giving Albus a chance to say a word, Severus continued, the Headmaster listening very attentively.
x x x