Whelp -- Chapter 27
Disclaimer: None of this is mine. Honest. She's rich, blond and British. I'm not.
The next few days passed without anything tragic or horrible happening to Harry or Draco, to the great surprise and relief of Severus, as well as Poppy, Albus and even, if she had been asked, Nelli.
By the end of the week, they had fallen into a routine of sorts, with the boys up soon after the crack of dawn, dressed and breakfasted while Severus hovered over his first cup of coffee, and then herded outside by Nelli and her assistants, for running around and loud play. Meanwhile, Severus worked on lesson plans for the upcoming year, and set up his classroom and store rooms. During lunch, the boys would describe to him in minute detail all the games they had played and the winner of each, as well as the conversations they'd had with various of the castle's denizens, including Sir Nicholas, the Bloody Baron, Peeves, and several of the more loquacious portraits. And afterwards, they were encouraged to engage in more quiet play, in Harry's room or the sitting room if necessary, while Severus attended staff meetings or prepared potions for the infirmary.
Dinner consisted of more tales of the antics of two seven-year-olds, and after that, there was time for reading and writing practice (for Harry) or a game of chess, and then showers, teeth brushing, story time, and bed. Though Severus was not the one chasing after them all day, he was still exhausted by evening's end, and marveled at the energy of House-elves. For one thing, he was unused to having so much . . . company and conversation, and the lack of solitude was sometimes rather distressing. One part of him hoped Molly Weasley was right when she said he would get used to it, and another part was almost dreading the idea that he, Severus Snape, would becomes accustomed to the inane chatter of young children.
By the weekend, Albus was no longer interested in accepting "no" for an answer when he asked for Harry and Draco to meet the rest of the staff, and so Severus relented, promising they would be present for Saturday lunch. He did, however, insist that they not be flung into the presence of all the staff at once. Small groups would be best. No more than two or three new faces. Gratified that Dumbledore acquiesced to this demand, he did not think to specify which staff he thought would be easiest for the boy to meet first. Thus Saturday at lunch found Professors McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout seated at the table, along with Albus and Hagrid.
Harry, dressed in neat, green robes, stuttered to a halt just inside the doors to the Great Hall and stared. Draco, naturally more self assured, and doubtless used to dinner parties in which he had been introduced to numerous new adults, gave him a curious look before leading Harry by the hand to the table. Severus followed behind them and ushered them into seats at one end of the long table, as opposed to putting them in the middle of the group.
"Don't be scared, Harry," Draco whispered. "They're just teachers."
"Not scared," Harry protested, but the pallor of his skin and the wideness of his eyes suggested otherwise.
Draco shrugged and looked at Severus, who shook his head slightly. "Harry, Draco, this is Professor Flitwick, who teaches Charms." He gestured to the very short man directly to his left, who was sitting on a large cushion on a chair magically raised into the air, just like Harry's.
"Pleased to meet you," Flitwick squeaked in his high voice and beamed at the two boys.
"Pleased to meet you, Professor Flitwick," Draco said with a tiny nod, and after a moment's hesitation, Harry copied him, words, intonation and the nod.
"I recall your mother," Flitwick said and leaned practically onto the table so he could catch Harry's eye, where he sat between Severus and Draco. "Very talented in Charms, Lily was. One of my best students."
"My Mum?" Harry asked, scooting forward in his seat, curiosity overcoming his inherent wariness. "Really?"
Flitwick grinned and nodded. "You have her eyes, Mr. Potter. I hear you also have a certain talent for Charms."
Harry bit his lip. "I don't think so, sir."
"But I've heard you can send a Patronus message already? And wandless, too, I might add."
Harry leaned into Severus and looked up with worried eyes. "Father?"
"He's right, Harry. The white message you send when you need help is called a Patronus. It's not a spell just anyone can learn, especially when they're young." He curled his arm around Harry's shoulders and gave him a quick squeeze. "The professor is giving you a compliment."
Harry gave the diminutive man a half smile. "Oh, er, thank you, sir."
On his other side, Draco gaped at him. "A Patronus? Is that what the bright light was when the squid attacked us?"
"I guess so," Harry admitted, even as Severus said, "Yes."
"Wow. I mean, my Father's said that's a fifth year spell."
"Indeed," said Severus.
Harry just shrugged and poked at the food on his plate, and Severus noted his shrinking posture and hunched shoulders. The boy really hated having attention drawn to him. "Draco, why don't you tell the professor about your book of logic puzzles?"
"You enjoy puzzles, young man?" Flitwick asked, and Draco perked right up and went off on a fairly in depth account of some of the brain teasers in the book he'd brought from home. Harry seemed to enjoy the puzzles as much as Draco, but Draco's chattering took the pressure off his son so he could actually eat. By the time pudding was served, Harry was eating normally -- for him, which meant he picked at small portions from a carefully guarded plate -- and listening intently to Flitwick's high pitched voice with a tiny smile.
Still, when Minerva came round to meet him a few minutes later, Harry pressed against Severus' side, trying to hide behind his robes. Severus quietly tutted his disapproval, and encouraged Harry to display proper manners after introducing her. With a wary air, Harry finally whispered, "Pleased to meet you, ma'am," to the stern looking matron, but ducked his head as he did so.
Minerva smiled benignly in response. "Not quite as extroverted as his father, is he?"
Severus frowned, but this was neither the time nor place to let the staff know that Harry was his true son, as well as his adopted heir. He still had not revealed that particular truth to Harry!
"No," he agreed instead, for it was true that Harry was not even as outgoing as Severus was. Not with adults, at least, he thought, having watched the boy with Draco -- as well as Ron and Charlie -- the past week. He gave the boy a little wink as he continued, "But he's quite capable of answering questions about himself, if they are directed to him."With a disapproving twist to her lips, Minerva sniffed sharply, and Harry hid his face again. This time, Severus could feel the boy's silent giggles muffled by his robe, and he was glad for them. The more he found this experience amusing, instead of terrifying, the easier he would find life at Hogwarts after the students arrived. At least, he hoped so.
Pomona Sprout stopped only briefly, saying she had to get back to the greenhouses and harvest the Banethistles before they went to seed and infested the entire school grounds. But she gave both boys a nod and a friendly if rather distracted smile, and Harry seemed to find her enough less threatening than Minerva that he managed to return both, with only a sidelong glance at Severus.
The next day it was time for Draco to go home, and once the blond boy had gone through the Floo to his waiting parents, Harry was beside himself with disappointment and worry, asking over and over when his friend could return. "Not till well after school starts, at least," Severus told him, every time. "It will take both of us some time to become adjusted to the new schedule, and as I have not taught before, I'm not sure yet how much free time I will have once classes start."
"But we have Nelli and Bitti and Fran!" the boy insisted. "They can take care of us."
"During the day, yes, and they will continue to do so when classes are in session, but the evenings will be busy enough with papers to grade and lessons to prepare, as well as making sure you are proceeding in your studies. I don't expect to have time to devote time to your friends, too."
Harry had pouted then, for the first time in Severus' memory, and he was surprised enough that he'd sent the boy to his room until they both cooled off.
Later in the evening, Harry had been repentant, begging for his father's forgiveness for being rude and insolent. Severus had grave doubts that the boy even knew what insolent meant, but he reassured Harry that he was forgiven and that he was not angry, not really. To prove it, he held Harry on his lap for a long time, letting the boy cling to him as he hugged him close. Reassurance, Molly had told him, was of the utmost importance to their relationship, reassuring Harry that he was loved and cared for, and that Severus would be there for him no matter what.
She'd also said that Harry, especially given his background, needed to be frequently shown physical signs of affection. Although Severus had never found physical contact reassuring, and oftimes rather distressing, he understood Harry's need for it, and had become more attentive to Harry's non-verbal requests for hugs and a reassuringly gentle touch. It was something they would both grow used to, Molly promised.
This time, his words and touch seemed to work, and though Severus thought the nightmares might be worse Sunday night, they were not. Harry was, once again, able to clear his mind enough to keep the worst of them away.
On Tuesday, Molly Weasley returned with Ron and Charlie. They were ensconced in guest quarters on the second floor, letting Harry get used to having his own room again. While Charlie kept the boys busy during the morning, Molly and Severus discussed parenting styles and she answered many of the questions he had about taking care of Harry, usually without him actually needing to voice the question. In the afternoons, they watched the boys play, and he often took cues from her on when to intervene and when to let the boys sort their own issues out, as well as when to insist on rules being followed, and when standards might be relaxed.
It was rather a grueling week.
The biggest test of his new role as father and protector of Harry came when Charlie wanted to give the two younger boys a chance to play Quidditch. Severus, at first, said, "No. Absolutely not," but Molly eventually bargained him down (though not in front of the children) to, "Only under strict adult supervision."
His fears -- that the boy would be hurt by Bludgers or falling or worse, as well that he might become quite as Quidditch obsessed as James -- were completely realized when Harry's face almost literally glowed after being on a real broom for the first time. The boy seemed to live for flying, and his skill and grace in the air were astounding, for one so young and so new to the experience. When they touched ground again, Charlie complimented Harry, and the boy was all smiles for hours afterwards. And thus, Severus could hardly say no to his repeated pleas to play again. Even he had to admit that Harry had a gift for Seeking out the snitch, but he still watched his son carefully, whenever his feet left the ground.
Harry seemed to get along well enough with Ron, though the red head was a bit more volatile than Draco, and louder as well. As long as they were outside, Severus didn't mind, but he could not abide shouting in his quarters. Aside from his screaming nightmares, Harry was really a very quiet child. Severus supposed it was yet another result of his upbringing, and a desire to go unnoticed. Severus couldn't bring himself to mind that particular trait, though he often had to cajole his son into making his needs known.
What was a surprise to Severus, was how completely Harry took to Charlie, tagging along after him whenever possible like a duckling following its mother. He looked more and more to Charlie for approval or praise when they played Quidditch, or even "Esploden Snap" and accepted the older boy's opinions as if they were inviolate.
Seemingly aware of the admiration he'd inspired, Charlie doled out praise and approval whenever possible, and Severus spoke to him about it over hot cocoa one evening after the two younger boys had gone to bed.
"Well, I have four younger brothers, sir," Charlie said. "So I'm kind of used to it."
"Still," Severus told him, "I appreciate how kindly you've interacted with Harry. He needs people . . ."
"To trust?" Charlie guessed.
"Indeed." Severus peered at the fourteen-year-old shrewdly. "How much has your mother told you about Harry's background?"
Charlie shrugged. "Not much. I mean, everyone knows Harry Potter . . . er, well, Snape now, but Potter before you adopted him, but she didn't say anything except that he'd had a rough time of it. I could tell that on my own, just watching him."
"Yeah, well, he watches a lot, doesn't he, before he'll enter into a game or even take food from the table, like he's checking to make sure he's doing the right thing or that he'll be accepted. And the looks he gets sometimes . . . Ron snuck up behind him once when we were playing outside, and tickled him, and I thought he was going to faint dead away, he looked so scared."
Severus nodded. "Thank you for helping out with him this week. We both owe you a debt."
Charlie grinned. "No way, sir. I liked being here, and Harry's a lot of fun to be around, even for a little kid. He even introduced me proper to Hagrid, and we had the best chats about dragons. I mean, Harry's shy and stuff, but he's a really good kid."
"He is indeed," Severus agreed, and was gladdened again that Molly had brought the boy with her.
Once the Weasleys had gone home, there were only a few days left before term started. Severus was all nerves, and found himself being rather more short with Harry than he would have liked. To try and mitigate any trouble, he pressed Nelli, Bitti and Fran into taking the boy almost around the clock, while he dealt with his pre-teaching jitteriness on his own.
After two days of this, however, Nelli alerted him to the fact that he couldn't just abandon Harry to the care of House-elves without facing repercussions.
Harry was distraught at not being able to spend time with his father, she reported, though the words Nelli used were, "Master Harry's sobbing bad now, Master Snape. He's crying that youse don't want him no more."
"Show me," Severus said, and Nelli brought him to a little used bathroom on the second floor. The bathroom's wooden cubicles were worn and ill-maintained, and even the stone sinks were pitted and chipped. Harry was tucked under one of the sinks in the row under a cracked mirror, scrunched into a tiny ball, his thin frame shaking silently.
Severus crouched beside him, but did not touch the boy, as he knew doing so was likely to frighten Harry more than comfort him, at least at first. "Harry," he said gently. "Please come out from under there."
The boy's shoulders tightened when Severus said his name, but he didn't look up. Into his arms he mumbled something that Severus couldn't catch.
"Harry," he said again, with a pained expression. "I don't speak Mumbelese. You'll have to tell me again in English."
"'M'sorry," Harry said, but only a little louder, lifting his head from his arms and swiping his tears away with his forearm. "'M'sorry, Father."
"What are you doing under there?"
Harry bit his lip and avoided looking at him. "Stayin' outta the way. Don't wanna be noose ants."
Severus frowned, and then understood. He'd used the word last evening, when he'd been trying desperately to finish up the lesson plans he had to turn in to Dumbledore this morning, while Harry had been chattering on about his most recent visit with Hagrid. "If you'd quit being such a nuisance," he'd snapped, "I could get this done and then we could have a proper talk."
Harry had been quiet after that, and he should have realized the boy was being too quiet. He hadn't spoken at all at breakfast today, for instance.
"I'm the one who's sorry, Harry," he said now. "You are not a nuisance. I was busy last night, and annoyed, and rather than ask you politely to come back later, when I was finished, I was rude."
"'S'okay," Harry said, still looking away. He rubbed his arm over his face again. "I shouldn't'a bothered you."
"Oh, my child." Severus reached out hesitantly and smoothed a hand over his son's back. Harry flinched a little, but did not jerk away, and finally looked up, his green eyes still wet with tears. "I've been under some stress lately, but it's not your fault, not at all. Come out from under there, please."
With a little more coaxing, Harry came into his arms, and Severus promised to make time every day for just the two of them, even when he was very, very busy. Remembering something that Molly had told him about honesty and directness, he said, "This is new to both of us, you know." Harry, still holding himself very still, risk a glance a glance at his face and Severus smiled faintly. "I've never had a son before, Harry. It's rather an adjustment."
Another glance, brow furrowed in confusion. "I have to get used to it," Severus clarified, and Harry's frown smoothed out as he nodded, just a little. "Don't ever think I don't want you," Severus told him, and kissed the boy's fine, dark hair. "You're my son. Always."
At last, Harry seemed to relax enough to be hugged and his tears abated. A moment later, he'd squirmed around so he could snake his arms around Severus' neck and hug him back. "Forever?" the boy whispered in his ear.
"Forever," Severus agreed.
A/N: ZOMG, looka here! Whelp is a finished story! This tale, of Harry and Snape becoming a family and starting to figure out how to get along together, is now complete. I will begin a sequel soon, honest, that will start up with the first days of Severus teaching school and Harry getting used to students, etc.; I just have to think of a title.
Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed through out Whelp's development! Celebratory double dutch chocolate mocchachinos for everyone!