The Tiniest Wish, 44

Laying on his side, contemplating the silken strands of his wife's hair as they ran through his fingertips, Severus smiled softly as he felt the soft ringing of the curfew ward that he had placed on his son's door.

Watching as the color and texture of Nymphadora's hair shifted in her slept, Severus traced Harry's slow halting progress toward their bedroom. The curl of his smile softened as he felt his son's progress pause as if Harry were considering heading down to Draco's room or even Millicent's room instead, but discard it after a moment and hesitantly moving forward again. As anxious as Harry might be about their upcoming conversation, Severus had been certain that Harry's inborn streak of Gryffindorish nobility would not allow him to avoid their confrontation for long. True to form, Harry was soon standing in front of the door to the suite that he shared with Nymphadora.

Rather than tipping his son off to the presence of the wards on his sleeping chambers, Severus waited patiently for Harry to knock, After a few moments, though, it became apparent that his son was having difficulty working up the nerve to knock, but was still sufficiently in need of his attention to continue trying. Perhaps, he mused, it would benefit Harry to know that a monitoring spell was set on him. The wretched muggles had instilled in Harry such an expectation of neglect that Harry frequently appeared startled to find himself even noticed, but whether he would take it as meant, or believe that he wasn't trusted … Severus couldn't be certain and so had refrained from sharing that small detail.

Rising from his bed to answer the door before his son lost his nerve, Severus paused to rearrange the duvet over Nymphadora's shoulders- causing her to stir.

"Sev, what is it?"

"Harry has woken."

"Oh, here then," she began to rise, "I'll get him back to bed."

"I will," he answered, laying a restraining hand on her shoulder, "I suspect his conscience has been pricked because he had not taken the opportunity to speak with me before becoming betrothed."

"What!" she sat up bolt straight, staring at him with an oddly disbelieving expression.

"I believe his..."

"No, I got that part. He didn't talk to you before?"

"Nymphadora, is my memory in error or were we not in constant company the entire day before that?"

"Yeah, no, I mean... What I mean... You hadn't talked before that? This wasn't planned?"

"No, this was not planned. In truth, I had considered the possibility, but did not feel it appropriate to suggest the possibility to Harry,"

"Oh, I'm sorry." She blushed.

"Should I ask?"

"I half thought that you and Narcissa had ..." her expression was rather telling, causing an odd warmth to run through him. He could not remember having ever been the cause of another's jealousy, and the realization that Nymphadora was inclined to feel possessive toward him was rather novel.

"We will speak of this later. If I delay overlong, Harry may talk himself back to bed."

"Would that be so bad?" Nymphadora asked with a slightly suggestive smile.

"When it means that he will huddle in his bed- allowing his guilt and insecurities plague him into a sleepless night, yes, it would be bad." Severus commented as he donned his robe and cinched the waist belt.

"Oh." she answered with a slightly sheepish expression. "You go on, then. I can wait up."

Arching a bemused eyebrow at her, Severus nodded and hurried to their suite door even as he felt Harry's retreat. The ward on Harry's door signaled his return just as Severus reached the hall, with a frustrated sigh.

Perhaps, this was for the better, though, as it would allow him to maintain the integrity and usefulness of his wards without testing Harry's insecurities.

Severus was aware that both Narcissa and Nymphadora thought that he was too lenient towards Harry's recent mood swings, but neither woman truly had a grasp on the true nature of Harry's childhood, nor had either woman been marked so could not understand the destabilizing effects of the dark mark. He had not been understating, earlier, his belief that Harry was remarkable in his response to the tribulations he had faced. For Severus, the dark mark had represented unremittent pain, foul night mares that would - for a lesser man- be describable as night terrors, and mood swings so rapid that even he had sometimes feared for his sanity.

Even Lucius, who had been on of the Dark Lord's favored and years older than Harry had been, when he was marked, had not shown the restraint that Harry had when the pain and mood swings took hold.

Thankfully, Harry had not locked the door behind him, so Severus was easily able to quietly open it and slip into Harry's room. Although not entirely intending to surprise his son, Severus had hoped to catch Harry sufficiently off guard that he did not stop to ask how his father had known he was awake. As it turned out though, it was Severus that would be startled by his son's appearance.

Rather than returning to his bed, as Severus had expected him to, Harry had wrapped himself in a dressing robe and perched himself in the odd straight-backed dressing chair that Narcissa had claimed was a necessary addition to the room so that Harry would not develop the gauche habit of sitting on his bed to put on his house slippers, nor fall in the habit of delaying his dressing once risen. Severus could not fathom why his son would choose to sit in the stiff little straight-backed, no doubt uncomfortable, chair over his warm comfortable mattress until he caught a glimpse of Harry's troubled expression.

Harry child was pale to the point of bloodless. His sleeping clothes were alarmingly disheveled, and his hair was pointing out in rather more directions than a thistle blossom. His eyes, which were only visible between nervous sweeps of his hand through his increasingly chaotic hair, were fixed on his bed with a look that was torn between longing and loathing. Clearly, he had mixed feelings about returning to sleep that Severus recognized and understood all too well.

"Harry," he asked softly, "are you being troubled by nightmares?"

That Harry attempted to compose his expression into what he colloquially called his 'Slytherin face' troubled Severus, but he elected not to address it until he had seen to more immediate concerns. After a valiant attempt, however, Harry appeared to recognize that Severus was not being fooled, and his face descended into an expression of sheer misery. His head minutely bobbled in what might have been an incredibly reluctant nod.

"May I ask why you thought to keep this from me?"

His son's shoulders lifted a fraction of a centimeter in the most timorous imitation of a shrug, before the child remembered himself and straightened, answering softly, "It's Christmas, Sir. I didn't want to bother you and...Tonks... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have knocked, but with the party, I hadn't asked Lady Malfoy and didn't want to disturb her either with Mr. Malfoy just home."

"Asked Lady Malfoy?"

Harry paled, realizing too late that his father would quickly realize what he'd meant, and then ask Lady Malfoy, and then she'd tell his father what he'd told her, and that she'd told him to talk with his father and then he'd know that he hadn't and then he'd think that Harry didn't trust him, which wasn't true at all, with what he'd done - earlier in the evening without even speaking to his father- his father was sure to think he was too much trouble for sure and want to get out of the adoption and then, where would Millicent go because Harry was fairly certain that her mom had just told her not to come back.

"I-I was sup-pos-ed to - to tell you. Lady Malfoy t-told me to tell you... when you returned from your honeymoon, but the aurors found your mum; and I didn't want to bother you and Tonks; and then everyone was getting ready for the party; and Lord Malfoy came home; and then Millie kissed me; and I asked her... well to you know... and then I asked Draco how I was supposed to ask her the right way; and he told me that I had to ask you first; but I hadn't; and I couldn't take back that I had asked her because I still meant to ask her; and it would have hurt her if I did; and I didn't want to hurt her, but I didn't want to disrespect you, either; and so Draco helped me look up how we could do it right... you know and still; and there was so much to think about that I just forgot to tell you, or ask you, or anything; and I... I'm sorry. I really am."

The child's sincere guilt and anxiety were quite nearly palpable - reminding Severus yet again that, despite a year's worth of progress, irregardless of the support and positive reinforcement that the child had received during that time, his son still carried the insidious emotional scars borne from his relatives' constant rejection, neglect, and abuse and seemed incapable of believing that he was not an unwelcome burden.

With this in mind, Severus held his patience and waited out Harry's recital of intervening events, until his son finally broke for air.

"I do believe that there may be far too many 'ands' in the statement to be strictly grammatical. First, before we move further into addressing your current difficulty, let me assure you that I quite understand why you felt compelled to act as you have, and I am not angered in the slightest. " as Severus spoke, Harry's posture straightened with surprise. He truly appeared to have expected some form of tongue lashing.

"Of course, I would have appreciated the opportunity to speak with you before hand; however, I am certainly well aware of how easily it can be to find yourself swept up in events. I neither fault your logic, nor your choice of companions, nor even your laudable solution to the dilemma... as well as future dilemmas you may not have been aware of... for instance you may not have been aware that unlike the muggle world, in the wizarding world, marriage and betrothal contracts are permitted even from birth; although such contracts are rapidly fading out in all but the oldest families, it is not uncommon for a young couple of even thirteen to find themselves betrothed."

As soon as it was clear that he had diverted Harry's attention, Severus gestured Harry out of the chair and into the bed as he pointedly moved the chair close for his own use. Although his son hesitantly climbed back in, as he settled under the covers color returned; and his breathing eased, he cocked his head again to indicate that he was ready for Severus's lecture to continue.

Only too happy to comply, Severus gestured him back into the pillows as he pulled the duvet up under Harry's outstretched arms and continued: "As a result, if you had not had the sense to settle such reasonable contract for yourself, over the next two years, it is not improbable that you would have found yourself besieged by a multitude of young ladies ranging from first through seventh years - vie-ing for you attention for your attention with nothing other than self-interest and social status on their minds. I assure you it would have been quite nuisance-some for myself, Nymphadora, and yourself included. The sheer number of teas that we would have been honor bound to accept and the accompanying small talk …. Ughhh... the mere thought of it makes me shudder." Your arrangement has quite neatly thwarted any such occurrence..." Severus continued the discussion in ever-softening, ever-more bland tones until Harry's breathing evened and slowed, his eyes fluttered then closed, and the pinched lines between his brows that Severus had only just noticed finally relaxed.

Pausing to lower the lights, Severus stared quietly at his son, wondering how deeply indebted he would be to Narcissa by the time Harry graduated. He had not even noticed Harry's sleeping issues before going on the abbreviated honeymoon with Nymphadora, and Harry clearly hadn't felt secure in sharing his troubles with Severus, no doubt worrying that either Severus. So, once again, just as she had with the ballet lessons and Harry's remarkable birthday party, Narcissa had come to the rescue again - quite likely adapting the potion that he had invented to free Lucius from his own dark mark-induced night terrors to Harry's needs.

As he was staring, thin muscular arms slid around his waist and a sharp jutting chin poked his back.

"I was beginning to think that you'd gotten lost." Nymphadora accused with a yawn.

"No, but I haven't found my way, yet, either." He responded enigmatically, ignoring the look of confusion flitted over her expression.

"I will, though," he promised Harry. "I will."