Slowly But Surely
By the beginning of the second week of June, Mia's face and arm were healed, and her hair was almost all grown back too. Rosie too was mostly recovered from the accident as well, and the little girl and the beagle were currently racing about Aurelia's backyard, making the two adults smile as they watched from the back door.
"It looks like your potions worked beautifully, Severus," Aurelia said, smiling as her granddaughter rolled about in the grass with Rosie. "I can't see any scars at all."
"Yes, she healed up nicely," Severus agreed. "Physically." His expression darkened. "But emotionally . . .she's still frightened of going down into my lab. Not that I blame her. But it's something we're going to have to work through."
"Can she overcome it?"
Severus nodded. "Yes. She's young, she's had a terrible scare, but she's got the Prince spirit and resilience. Slowly but surely, she'll recover, if we're patient. Harry can help me a great deal, she loves him and admires him like a big brother. And I had a similar experience once."
Aurelia stared at him in wonder. "You, Severus? But you're a Potions Master!"
He slanted a wry grin at her. "I was an apprentice before I was a Potions Master, Aunt Relia. One who didn't always follow my mother's instructions. I was nine, and I liked to experiment with different recipes. One of those little experiments went horribly wrong and I nearly ended up blind. I also had burns on the left side of my face. The Healers at St. Mungos managed to reverse the damage after two weeks, and I could see again, but for a year I wasn't able to even look at a cauldron without getting the shakes and recalling that afternoon when my cauldron exploded. I had nightmares all that year too and I was convinced I'd never go back to making a potion again."
"How did you overcome your fear then?"
"My mother was very patient with me. And so was Lily, she helped me just by being there. It was a gradual process, I even had a few sessions with a trauma counselor my mother knew at the hospital, she helped me deal with the residual fear. I can find one if I think Mia needs it, but I know most of the techniques she used. One of the things that helped me the most was determination though. You see, I refused to let my fear rule me, and I was determined to overcome it, one way or the other. And I did, as you can tell."
"I never would have guessed, Severus." Aurelia shook her head in wonder.
"Well, it was a long time ago, and I really don't like to talk about what a stupid little boy I was, making potions unsupervised that way." Severus admitted, flushing. "And that's one reason I insist on my students following directions exactly in my classroom, and any experimenting be done while I am there to supervise, because I know just how deadly a mistake can be. My students think I'm a strict bastard, and they're right, but it's to keep them safe, I can't afford to have a child die on my watch, so I make certain the potions on my syllabus aren't ones that will cause irreparable harm if made incorrectly and I always have an antidote on hand just in case as well an emergency medical kit. And I watch them like a hawk and practically breathe down their necks during class. They hate me for it, but I don't care. I got careless with Mia and look what happened."
Aurelia laid a hand upon Snape's arm. "Severus, everyone makes mistakes. You need to stop blaming yourself, son. Thank Merlin, Mia and Rosie are well now. And I have faith that you can help her overcome her fear, Severus. She trusts you, Sev. You're almost like a surrogate father to her, since you sent Devon packing all those months ago."
Severus snorted, but Aurelia fixed him with a stern look, and he subsided.
"You ought to tell Mia that story, Sev. I think it may help her a lot to know that you once were in her shoes," said his aunt wisely. "I know you think you ought to be perfect as a teacher, but sometimes a student needs to know that you can make mistakes too. That way she doesn't try and hold herself up to an impossible standard."
The professor was silent for a long moment, pondering Aurelia's words. Though a Squib, Aurelia was wise and she too had once been a teacher, and Severus respected her, she was almost like a replacement for Eileen in some ways. He had come to value her advice, she had years of experience to draw upon, both as a teacher and a parent. She had counseled him before when he had first arrived at her home with Harry over six months ago, helping him to adjust to his new role as a father and keeping him from making irreparable mistakes with his son.
He knew better than to disregard her words, Aurelia loved her granddaughter and wanted only the best for her, as she had for Melody and Severus. He was unused to admitting he was wrong, especially to a student, but Mia was a special case. He did not want the child emotionally scarred by this experience, and that could very well happen if Severus did not handle it the right way. He had promised Mel he would cure her daughter, and he intended to do just that. Healing her body was only the first step. Now he must try and heal her psyche as well.
"All right, Aunt Relia. Perhaps you're right, and if it will help her, I shall humble myself and tell her what my foolishness nearly cost me and how I eventually overcame my fear."
"Good for you, Sev!"
Severus felt an unaccustomed surge of pleasure at the praise, though a part of him scoffed that he was no longer ten years old and hungering for praise from an adult. He looked about, wondering where Harry and Aria were, and then he saw the familiar golden hawk flying and Harry chasing her on the Meteor. This was the first time since the potions accident that his son and Lupin's niece had gone flying. He supposed that was a good thing, since it showed that the two were finally beginning to let go of the guilt they had felt over Mia's accident. Harry, especially, had taken a long time to forgive himself for not watching the little girl more closely, though now it seemed he had decided he deserved to go flying on this beautiful afternoon.
Severus and Aurelia continued to watch the children playing for a few more minutes, joined by their other guest, Remus, who had been busy cooking lunch for everyone.
"Lunch is ready, Sev," said the werewolf. "Better call the wizardlings in."
The Potions Master nodded, but he did not follow the werewolf's request for another few minutes, giving the children an extra five minutes before opening the back door and informing that lunch was on the table.
All three young wizards halted immediately and made a mad dash for the back door.
The three adults hastily stepped backwards to avoid getting trampled.
But quick as the youngsters were, none of them could catch Rosie, who had heard the magic word 'lunch', and used her beagle agility to outmaneuver them and get to the door first, because nothing comes between a beagle and free food.
* * * * * *
After lunch, Severus took Mia, Harry, and Aria into the den and explained he wished to share a story with them. "This is a true story, it happened to me when I was only a few years older than you, Mia," he began, and then he told them of how he had attempted to make a potion unsupervised and how he had ended up almost damaging his sight permanently and how the experience had frightened him so badly that he didn't think he would ever make another potion as long as he lived.
The children gaped at him. "But you're a Potions Master, Uncle Sev!" Aria exclaimed, her gold eyes wide.
"And a professor," added Mia. "You're not afraid now, are you?"
"No, Mia. Not any longer."
He told her how he had managed to overcome his fear, with the help of his mother and Lily and a young therapist named Ashley Middleton. "It didn't happen overnight, you see, but after a year I was able to begin brewing again, and it no longer made me shiver or feel sick to go near a cauldron or handle ingredients. And if I could do that, so can you, little one."
Mia stared at him uncertainly. "You think, Severus? But . . .I'm scared to go down there."
"Why? Are you afraid another explosion will occur, Mia?" inquired Severus gently.
"Yes," she said in a small voice. "I don't want anything to catch on fire again, Severus. Or Rosie to almost die."
"I understand, child. But you know that if I am there, no cauldron will explode, yes?"
"Then will you be willing to at least let me bring you down there and sit with me while I watch Aria and Harry prepare ingredients. You won't have to go near any of the apparatus, all I want you to do is sit in my lap for a bit. Do you think you can try that for me, my brave girl?"
"I . . .don't know."
"Tell you what. We'll try for ten minutes, and if you're still scared, I'll bring you back here, and you can sit and watch TV with Rosie. But if you aren't all that scared, Mia, we'll stay for fifteen minutes."
"Okay, Severus," she agreed, but he could feel a tremor go through her even as she agreed.
He stroked her hair and summoned a vial of Calming Draught to him. "Here, I need you to take three swallows of this, Mia. It'll help you stop shaking."
She obediently drank three swallows of the blue potion and immediately felt less tense and frightened.
Then Severus scooped her up and gestured for Harry and Aria to precede him down the stairs to the lab.
He had the two teens grind some chamomile and comfrey and chop up some silverfur root while he sat casually in a conjured armchair and watched, occasionally calling out instructions, with Mia on his lap. At first, the child cuddled into his shoulder, refusing to even look at what the older kids were doing, but by the time ten minutes had passed, she had turned around and was watching, though her hand was clenched in a death grip on Severus's own.
He murmured softly to her, telling her she was all right, there was nothing to be afraid of, and he rubbed her back and her neck with his other hand while she snuggled against him. "Would you like to go back upstairs?"
Mia considered. It wasn't all that scary, just watching Harry and Aria chop things, and as long as she didn't look at the cauldron, she could bear it. "No. I can stay, Severus."
"Five more minutes, child," he reassured her.
By then the two had finished chopping and grinding were ready for the next stage, which involved lighting up the cauldron beside their workstation. Then Severus rose and took Mia back upstairs and told her she was a brave child and he was proud of her.
"I was scared, Severus, but I knew you wouldn't let me get hurt," she confided shyly as he set her down on the couch and flicked on the TV with a wave of his wand.
"Never. We'll do the same thing tomorrow, all right? I'll see you later, I have to go back and watch over Harry and Aria." He returned to the lab to observe the older children, relieved that first session had gone as well as it had.
Thus a pattern was set, and all that week Severus took Mia with him whenever he went down in the lab for fifteen minutes and had her sit with him, or occasionally Harry or Aria, observing while he harvested ingredients or demonstrated how to grind roots or other substances correctly with a mortar and pestle to his son, Aria, and Neil.
Once he even had Remus sit in on a demonstration, which made the little girl ask, "Why are you watching, Mr. Lupin? You're not a student anymore."
The blond wizard turned to look at her while she was seated on Harry's lap and grinned at her. "No, but that doesn't mean you can't learn new things, Mia. You see, I never learned how to make this type of healing potion, it wasn't one we covered in school. But I think it's one I should learn, so I don't have to depend on Sev to brew every time someone gets hurt."
"Oh. Okay." Then she gave him a small smile and said, "But you better do what Severus tells you, else he'll give you detention."
Harry started to snicker, just imagining that scenario, his father punishing his godfather.
"What's so funny, Harry?"
"Nothing," he said quickly, finding his father's eyes upon him.
Remus chuckled. "I'll be a good student, Mia. I've seen what Severus's detentions are like."
"That's a first, Moony," teased his friend. Remus glared at him. "Observe, this is what finely ground calendula flower should look like," he showed the mortar around to all the students. "In order to get the right consistency, you need to grind it using a firm circular motion, like so." He picked up the pestle and demonstrated. "That is critical, because if the consistency of the flowers is off, so will the potency of your potion be off . . ."
By the end of two weeks, Mia could sit and watch the others at work for twenty minutes before requesting to go back upstairs. Severus was careful to gauge the time she spent in the lab, he did not want to push her, and he always made sure to tell her how well she was coming along. He did not let her watch when they started brewing, however, he knew seeing fire at this stage would terrify her.
He did ask her to show him the book where she had found the Hair Color Change potion, which she did, and then he asked her what ingredients she had gotten.
"What's written there, Severus," she pointed to the recipe list.
"Can you read them for me?"
She gave him an odd look, then complied.
"Stop," he ordered when she read one rather smudged word as 'ginger'. "That's not ginger, Mia, that's goldenbroom. That's where you went wrong. Ginger should never be mixed together with chameleon scales, it reacts violently, makes your solution too agitated. When you stir it vigorously, it causes it to react even more violently and that's why your potion exploded."
He turned to look at Harry, Neil, and Aria, who were standing at their workstation, listening. "Remember that. Never ever mix ginger with any reptile skin, it causes any mixture you are brewing to explode. Also, if you can't understand or read a recipe, you should stop immediately and ask your teacher before brewing, since a misread recipe can cause unexpected and unpleasant results as well." He leveled a stern look at the older wizards. "Understood?"
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
Harry vowed to remember that bit of information forever, he had a feeling it would come in handy someday, and not just when brewing potions.
"That is why I stress exact measurements and consistency when you make potions," Severus elaborated. "Because the slightest miscalculation could throw off your entire solution, and then you could end with a disaster. Precision is a prime requirement in a good potion maker."
Little by little, Mia was slowly overcoming her fear, though she shivered at first upon entering the lab, and she insisted upon being carried there and sitting on someone's lap while there. Severus had reduced the dose of Calming Draught to two swallows after three weeks and was pleased at Mia's progress. Mel told him she occasionally had nightmares about fire and being trapped in the lab, and Severus gave her a bottle of Dreamless Sleep, though he cautioned Mel to not give it to her unless she was absolutely unable to fall asleep any other way, since it could be addictive.
"Her nightmares are normal for one who has been through what she has, Mel. Eventually, she'll stop having them, as time goes on and she forgets some of the terror. But if she has them too many nights in a row, give her the Dreamless Sleep. One teaspoonful only should ensure a decent night's rest."
"Thank you, Sev. You've been so wonderful with her." Mel said, smiling at her older cousin.
"I didn't do anything you couldn't have," he began, embarrassed.
"Oh, yes, you did. Don't sell yourself short, Sev. I would never have known what to say to her to make her forget what happened, or had the patience to keep bringing her back down there day after day, knowing damn well how scared she was."
"It was the only thing I could think of," he admitted softly. "And she's far from cured, Mel, but it's a start. We'll work some more on it after I return from New Orleans."
"That's right. You leave on Friday, right?"
"Yes. We'll be gone for two weeks. Once I return, I can work some more with Mia until I have to return to Hogwarts." Severus informed her. "You won't mind watching Rosie until I come home, will you?"
Mel shook her head. "You kidding? Mia can't wait to take her home. You know how much she's always wanted a puppy of her own. Now she can pretend she has one for a little while. Until I get her one for her birthday, that is."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Finally giving in, are you?"
"Oh, it was never me who didn't want a dog. That was always Devon, he claimed he was allergic. I think it was just a convenient excuse not to get a puppy, because he never showed any symptoms of allergies when a dog came near him. But now that he's hit the road, I can do what I like and get Mia a puppy for her birthday."
"Just beware if you get a beagle puppy. They're jaws with brains until they grow up," Severus warned. He ruffled Rosie's ears, she was napping on his lap while he and Mel talked in the den. "Right, Miss Destruction? I nearly made you into potions ingredients several times for chewing everything in creation, and only the fact that Harry loved you saved your sorry hide."
Rosie opened one eye and yawned, then licked Severus's hand.
Mel laughed. "But who can resist those eyes, Sev? Not even you."
The Potions Master did not answer, instead concentrating on stroking the beagle's satiny ears. Melody was right, even though he would rather be skewered than admit that the snarky dungeon bat had a soft spot for beagles and little girls with huge pleading eyes. I must be losing it. I really need this vacation to New Orleans if I'm starting to go all soft over a dog, by Merlin's starry robe! Yes, a nice relaxing two weeks down South is just what I need.
Little did he know that a relaxing vacation wouldn't be all he was getting.
Were you surprised at Sev's revelation?
Next: The Snapes and Lupins hit New Orleans and discover a whole new world of magic . . .and menace.
A/N: I apologize for the delay in updating this, but I realized that I needed to do some mega research on New Orleans before sending them there, which I have not beem able to do yet due to some deaths in my family and the fact that I have 3 other fics I am working on as well. So . . .consider this on HIATUS until further notice. Please note that I WILL eventually complete this--it is not abandoned!!! Thank you!