First Encounter

A/N: This is the second installment of the Snowy Encounters series, whihc began with the short story Snowflakes and Memories. Please read that first before starting this. However, this story will run for several chapters.

Pristine silver and white ice crystals hung all over the trees and off the roof of the small cottage situated on the edge of the Yorkshire moor, which Severus had decided to rent this year, having gotten fed up with all the crazed hustle and bustle of London at Christmastime. This cottage represented peace and quiet where he could brew his potions undisturbed by requests from nosy neighbors and allow his son the freedom to run around in fresh air and go skating on the pond or build a snow wizard on the front lawn. Harry had turned seven this year and seemed full of restless energy, which sometimes drove Severus crazy, for his house on Spinner's End was not made to accommodate a rambunctious boy stampeding through it. But this remote cottage seemed to satisfy Harry's craving to run about like a wild thing.

The Potions Master peered out the window, snow had drifted up and around the cottage like a cocoon, surrounding the stone walls in a blanket of purest white, and in the field beyond, his son was making snow animals. Severus squinted, for he could no longer see the blue and red outline of Harry's jacket against the gray sky and the small wood on the edge of the property.

Alarmed, he went to the back door and opened it, ignoring the sudden gust of freezing wind, and called, "Harry? Harry, where are you?"

There was no answer, and Harry was nowhere to be seen. "Harry!" He bellowed again, just as a wind sprite flittered by. The sprites were the unseen guardians of innocent children, and they had clustered about his son ever since that long ago night the boy had appeared on his porch, in fulfillment of a promise made to Lily long ago. He continued to call for his son, panic infusing his normally calm and controlled demeanor.

* * * * * * *

Tingling snowflakes drifted inside of the collar of Harry's coat, making him shiver, but he didn't dare to move. He was standing about five feet from a great silver wolf, just within the line of trees bordering the backyard of the rented cottage. The seven-year-old had never seen a real live wolf before, only ones in pictures. But pictures had never looked the way this magnificent animal did, all sinewy strength and size, with his beautiful coat sparkling with snow crystals, gazing at Harry with an odd sort of wistfulness from his brilliant golden eyes.

Harry stared and stared, unable to look away, mesmerized by the legend come to life before his eyes.

Wolves were supposed to be scary, evil monsters who ate little children, according to all the tales, but this wolf was not scary at all. Harry knew he ought to be afraid, but he wasn't. All he felt was a kind of awe. The wolf stood still as a statue before him, so close Harry could almost reach out a red mittened hand and stroke the thick pelt. The slight frosty wind kicked up spurts of snow and ruffled the wolf's thick coat, but the animal remained calmly looking at Harry, panting slightly.

Harry didn't move, hardly dared to breathe. He did not want to break the enchantment of this wonderful encounter, nor the way the big animal looked into his eyes. Like he knows me. The little wizard thought, even though that was ridiculous. Harry had never seen a wolf in his life, living as he did in London with his father.

He could feel the wolf's breath tickling his cheek, which made the frozen sensation in his limbs a bit easier to bear. So beautiful! I wish I could touch him. Just a little. But he didn't want to frighten the wolf away and so he remained very still, like his dad had told him to do if a strange dog came up to him.

He had no idea how long he had been standing there, at the forest's edge, though a part of him noted that his feet and hands were getting icy, even through his thick mittens and sheepskin lined boots. All he cared about was meeting the wolf, who with his silvery coat reminded him of a prince in a fable. A prince of the wildwood, Harry thought dreamily, for he was the sort of child who had flights of fancy easily, and had been able to see the wind sprites at an early age.

"Harry! Harry, where are you! Harry James Snape!"

Harry jumped like a startled deer at the sound of his father's voice. He had never heard that note in his father's normally soft tone, raw and . . .frightened . . . .if that were possible, for Severus had never been frightened of anything, that Harry knew, at least.

The magic moment was shattered and the wolf shook his head , scattering snow off of his coat and onto Harry's cheek.

Harry turned to go, whispering , "I gotta go. But maybe I'll see you tomorrow."

Then he ran back through the woods towards the twinkling lights and warmth of the cottage, and his father, standing on the porch, with his arms crossed.

The wolf remained where he was for a scant moment, then whirled on silent paws and vanished into the trees, leaving no sign of his passing save for a single silver guard hair.

* * * * * *

"Where on earth were you, Harry?" Severus demanded, his heart thumping in relief as his son came running up to him from the snowy verge. "I called and called, why didn't you answer?"

"Uh . . .I was playing," Harry offered, shivering violently.

"Get inside, you'll catch your death of frostbite," Severus urged, putting a hand on the small of his son's back to hurry him along.

He helped his son remove his snowy garments, drying them with a quick warming spell and hanging them upon a hook beside the door next to his own black great coat. "Off with your boots, son," he ordered briskly, and Harry sat down and pulled his wet boots off, setting them beside the door to dry.

The house was wonderfully warm and toasty after the chill of the winter day, and Harry sighed gratefully.

"Let me see your hands," Severus ordered, giving the boy a hand up from the floor.

Harry obediently held out his hands for Severus to inspect. They were slightly tinged with red, but the elder wizard saw no signs of frostbite.

"I'm fine, Dad. Just a little cold."

"Another few minutes and you could've been a frozen statue," Severus sighed. "Where were you? How many times do I have to tell you, stay in sight of the house? It's too easy to get lost out here, Harry."

"I could see the house, Dad. I was just . . .umm . . .by the trees a ways." Harry hedged, knowing he'd be in trouble if Severus knew he'd been in the woods.

"Next time, you come immediately when I call you, young man. Understood? Or else you won't be allowed outside without me." Severus scolded.

"Okay, sir. Sorry." Harry apologized. He peered up at his father from his fringe of dark hair.

Severus harrumphed, wanting to maintain his stern façade, but his relief at finding his son safe and unharmed made his anger flicker and die. "Come, let's have tea and hot cocoa, and then we can finish the Christmas decorations."

"Okay, Dad!" Harry said, and smiled at his father, happy the man wasn't angry with him anymore.

Over dinner that night, which was a simple meal of chicken soup with dumplings and ham sandwiches, Harry asked, "Dad, are there wolves in these woods?"

"Wolves?" Severus set down his spoon and cocked his head at his son. "Harry, wolves have been extinct over here since the Middle Ages. They were hunted down by people hundreds of years ago. There are no more wolves in Great Britain, Harry."

"Not even one?"

Severus shook his head.

Harry bit his lip, uncertain whether to tell his father about what he had encountered that afternoon. He had never kept secrets from Severus before, mostly because he'd never had anything he couldn't share with his father. But something urged him to keep silent for now, and so he asked, "Why were they all killed, Dad? Did the Muggles do it?"

"Mostly, yes, but we wizards were just as guilty. It was a shameful thing, but people were afraid of them, and sometimes, what people fear, they hurt and kill," Severus said heavily. "They thought wolves were evil, like in the tales, that they ate little children and attacked people for no reason, and were monsters."

"Like the werewolves, Dad? And in the stories like Little Red Riding Hood &Peter and the Wolf?"

Harry knew Muggle as well as wizard stories, since Severus thought it prudent to tutor the child, who was born of both a wizard and a Muggleborn witch, in both cultures, even as he himself had been.

"Yes, son. Like that. And so people hunted and killed wolves whenever they found them, until they were gone. We wizards were as guilty as the rest of those noble lords and such, for we used wolfskins in our shapechange potions and charms, or claws and teeth for a Draft of Courage. And we told ourselves it didn't matter, for what was one less wolf in the world?"

"But that was wrong," Harry objected. "Wolves aren't all bad or wicked. "

"Right. A wolf is an animal, they can be dangerous, but like most wild things, they would run away before they would harm a person." Severus agreed. "You have nothing to fear from wolves, Harry."

"I know," his son answered, smiling at the memory of the great silver wolf, and wondering if he would see it again tomorrow. "Are there any stories about good wolves, Dad?"

Severus thought for a moment. "Yes. A few. One of them is a wizard tale—A Wolf in Winter. I can read it to you tonight before bed."

Harry smiled, he loved new stories, and one good thing about having magic was that whenever you went somewhere, you could take along the whole library. Like his son, Severus loved to read, and the library from Spinner's End had been shrunk and transported here in the Potion Master's pocket.

"Sounds cool, Dad. Now can I put the star on the tree top?"

"Of course. After you wash your face, you've got cocoa all over it," Severus said, hiding a smile at his son's mustache.

Harry went over to the sink to scrub his face, then they walked into the small living area where a live evergreen stood in the corner next to the fireplace.

Harry picked up the twinkling Lumos-enchanted star and Severus levitated him to the top of the tree to set it on the top, as he did every year.

"There! Now it looks like a Christmas tree!" Harry exclaimed, same as usual.

Then he went to get some ornaments from the wooden box to hang, but his mind was filled with the image of the silver wolf with a dusting of snow upon him, standing tall and proud in the trees, a knowing look in his deep amber eyes.

Next: Harry listens to Severus tell the tale of "A Wolf in Winter" and meets the mysterious wolf yet again!