An Act of Kindness
K – General – HP, SS – Complete
Summary: A simple act of kindness can make someone's day. Or, What goes around, comes around.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: Response to the snowball challenge on Potions and Snitches; written for the P&S Winter Fic Fest (which was a little weird since it was the middle of a hot, dry summer down here!).
DH compliant (I hope). Unbetaed, so advice welcome. Harry's probably five or six in this story.
Harry rolled the sleeves of his jacket back up as he trotted along the street towards the park. It was Dudley's old jacket so of course it was too big, but that was okay because that made it warmer since it covered more of him. He waved cheerfully to Mrs Figg, who was sweeping her front doorstep clean of snow, and kept going. Aunt Petunia had told him to stay out of the house for a few hours and so he was going to enjoy the freedom.
Kicking a drift of snow, he laughed as it sprayed up into his face, drawing a smile from a passerby. It was a pity that it was Christmas holidays, because Aunt Petunia always got more cross with him when he was under her feet all the time and he didn't want her to be cross. He just wished he knew how to keep out of her way better and let her be happy. The thought dimmed the smile on his face briefly, because he was always doing things wrong and he could never figure out how to stop being so stupid.
But then he reached the park and forgot such gloomy thoughts in the delight of playing in the fresh snow. He wasn't silly enough to try and play with the other children because he knew he wasn't like them and his Aunt and Uncle said he shouldn't try to pretend. Anyway, most of them were too big to want to play with him and Dudley had scared the rest off ages ago. But there were heaps of things that a boy could do by himself, playing in a lonely corner of the park and pretending that he wasn't different and he had lots of friends.
How could he be sad when he was going to get his first real Christmas present? (He didn't think Uncle Vernon's socks counted as a real present.) Well, maybe it wasn't exactly a Christmas present, but next year he was going to get glasses, all of his own and not a Dudley hand-me-down, and then he would be able to see properly and maybe he'd be able to stop making Aunt Petunia so cross at his clumsiness.
The idea made him so happy he spun around and around and around until he fell over into the snow, laughing. While lying with his eyes closed, waiting for the world to stop spinning, he imagined he had a twin brother, another boy who looked just like him, small and skinny with happy green eyes and messy hair. Someone who was his friend and didn't mind that he was stupid and clumsy and who played with him all day long.
Opening his eyes, Harry held onto the imagining until he almost thought he could see the other boy running around like a ghost and jumped to his feet. With a laugh he chased after his twin, pelting him with snowballs, happy to have someone to play with even if it was just pretend.
But he didn't notice that he'd gotten to the edge of the park and he didn't see the man walking along the footpath until one of his snowballs was already hitting the man in the back of the head. Harry's twin vanished with a pop and Harry stared up at the man in horror.
Oh no oh no oh no oh no...
Severus strode through the Muggle town, hands buried deep in the warmth of a magically-insulated jacket, and sneered at the Christmas decorations twinkling in far too many windows. He despised Christmas. Or at least he despised what Christmas had become: a commercialised venture that allowed retailers to guilt people into spending ridiculous amounts of money and told squalling brats that it was their right to demand toys and sweets.
Not that Severus's Christmases had ever been like that. For him Christmas had always been a time of tension, the Muggle and wizarding sides of his family coming into conflict while messages of peace and goodwill were subsumed below the aching love-hates that had played tug-of-war over his head. As far as the boy Severus had been concerned, a good Christmas was one without too much shouting. And, once, a present shyly offered to him by a not-quite-friend.
It was a great pity that the wizarding world had been seduced into copying this crass, sentimental version of Yule, a time that should have been revered for its magical puissance and the midwinter solstice. Severus might be Muggle enough that he was not at all out of place in their world, but there were many aspects of Muggle society he felt should be pruned away. However, he felt the same about the wizarding world and no doubt would find no satisfaction in any society. Society, in Severus's experience, was too full of fools and sentimentalists who far outnumbered the sensible and the practical.
What could have been a very eloquent and pointed diatribe on the subject was cut short by an impact on the back of his head. He spun furiously, shaking snow from his hair, to round on the perpetrator, but the boy was already stumbling forward before he could even open his mouth, burbling apologies. "I'm so sorry, sir, I didn't see you, I didn't mean to, I'm sorry, it was an accident, I wouldn't have done it if I knew you were there, sir, I—"
The boy stopped immediately, trying to look up at him without actually looking at him, more like a cowed dog than a boy. Severus caught a glimpse of startlingly green eyes, though, that brought back memories that made his biting words wither on his tongue. Similar eyes had once looked at him with affection and it was at times like this, when the world was celebrating ties of family and friendship that he no longer had, that the memories haunted him the most.
Genuinely apologetic – and Severus had been around students long enough to tell – the boy twisted his hands nervously in his jacket, his fingers blue with cold.
"Where are your gloves?" he demanded instead of the scalding words he should have said. Still not looking up, the boy tugged a pair out of his pocket and meekly held them up for inspection. "And why don't you wear them, you dunderhead?"
"They're too big," the boy whispered. "They fall off."
"Surely you're capable of obtaining some that actually fit," he sneered, but the boy's chin went up defiantly even as he still wouldn't meet Severus's eyes.
"That costs money, sir." And we can't afford it, was the unspoken rider.
Severus narrowed his eyes, because it was undoubtedly a lie. But he remembered lying because it was better than admitting the truth and he had seen that same defiance, weak and breaking, in his own reflection – and a girl with eyes almost that exact shade of green had befriended him anyway.
Almost without his conscious volition, he reached into his own pocket. "Here." He shoved his gloves at the boy.
Who shrank back. "No, sir!"
"Take them!" he snarled, angry that his rare act of compassion should be refused, angry because he didn't want these memories, he didn't want to recall any of those revolting times of fear and misery.
"But – but they won't fit, will they?" the boy whispered as he obeyed. But he slipped them onto his blue fingers anyway and when they fit as snugly as if they'd been tailored for him his eyes widened in delight and he looked up at Severus, his mouth hanging open stupidly. "Thank you!" he breathed.
Feeling no need to explain fitting charms to a Muggle child, Severus harrumphed and turned away. He wanted to get out of here and forget again. Forget, until another Christmas brought back more unwanted memories.
The stupid brat persisted, trotting after him. "Sir! Thank you! And I'm real sorry about the snow. I wouldn't have done it if I knew you were there."
"Fine!" Severus said shortly and shook him off. He had things to do.
And aside from a later regret that he had been foolish enough to give away a perfectly good pair of gloves, he gave the troublesome boy no further thought and had indeed soon forgotten his very existence.
But Harry didn't forget his stranger. He loved his new gloves; they were his best possession in the whole world and he didn't question how they kept fitting him year after year. He could even wear Dudley's too-big gloves over top for extra warmth and to keep his precious gloves secret from his family (though Aunt Petunia finally found them when he was nine and threw them out immediately, much to his horror).
He wished he knew who the kind man had been so he could give him a proper thank you, but he wouldn't even recognise him if he saw him again because he hadn't looked at him much and his eyesight had been so blurry back then before he had his glasses. Although he had never been taught to pray, every night after a day wearing his warm, fitting gloves, he lay in his cupboard and said (quietly, so his Aunt and Uncle couldn't hear him), "Thank you, Mr Stranger. I hope you're well and very very happy."
Strange to relate, every night there was snow in Surrey, by some unexplained and unnoticed coincidence, Severus slept without his usual nightmares.