Chapter Fourteen: The Cat Book
Sunday passed by in a rainy haze. Harry's mum had received another letter from her friend, Remus, and they had decided he would visit Tuesday, meaning a deep cleaning of the house was in order.
His mum made one long list of everything that needed to be done, including a small list of chores for Harry. It was things like dusting and helping to clean the rugs. Harry didn't mind. He was stuck in the house anyway, and was used to doing housework.
After supper was over and the dishes had been washed, Snape had Harry retrieve his library books from upstairs.
Harry shuffled into the kitchen. He wasn't sure he could stand another homework session like the one he had the other night. Homework was tough enough but having Snape stand over him for two hours was unbearable. He'd gone to bed with a headache, and no matter how hard he squeezed his eyes shut letters in reds and blues and kept dancing around in his head, taunting him.
Snape insisted they work again, claiming they weren't going to be writing essays tonight. They were just going to be reading, but Harry hated reading almost as much as he hated writing.
Snape was waiting at the kitchen table. He had a piece of parchment next to him and from the looks of it the Robin Hood book from the old trunk.
"Did you bring your books?" Snape asked when Harry dropped down into a chair.
"Have you started one?"
"No." He hadn't even cracked them open.
Harry dropped the two books onto the table. They weren't as thick as Robin Hood, but the slight smacking sound as they hit the table was menacing. He stared at them, wishing his mother would intervene, but she had excused herself to the sitting room, saying she didn't want to distract Harry.
"Well?" Snape urged.
Harry glanced up at the man.
"I'm offering you a choice here." Snape waved a hand at the books. "There are three books here, and you are going to be reading from one this evening. If you don't choose one, I will select one for you."
Harry didn't care. It didn't make any difference to him which book he read. Every book he'd ever read was the same. Boring stories with words that were too hard about stupid characters that put him to sleep.
Snape reached across the table and pulled the library books closer. "What do we have here?" He picked up the first book, a thin, blue one and turned it over. "Ah, 'The Purple Picnic'. That sounds thrilling."
Harry shot him a glare.
Snape ignored him, picking up the second book. "And a story about a very large cat and his friend, the clever mouse. That sounds equally exciting. Which enthralling tale should we indulge in first?"
"It was your idea." Harry crossed his arms over his chest. So what if the books were stupid? He'd gotten them because they were short, not because they were exciting.
"This one then." Snape put down the library books and reached for the Robin Hood one.
Harry groaned. "No, not that one. It's too big."
"Why does that matter?"
"I'll never finish it!"
"You won't have to finish it tonight."
"I don't care." Harry snatched the cat book back. "I want to read a smaller one."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Fine."
Harry opened the book and stared at the first page. Pictures coloured every page, but they weren't very interesting.
"Out loud." Snape sat back in his chair.
"What?" Harry looked up with a start. "Why?"
"Because I told you to. Read the story, please."
Reading out loud was something Harry had always disliked. In primary school, Harry tried sitting as far back as possible, preferably behind a larger kid in hopes the teacher wouldn't see him. For the most part, the plan worked. No one ever noticed Harry or asked him to read, and that was the way he preferred it.
Scowling, Harry looked back down at the page, already tempted to throw the book across the room. "'There... was once a fat cat... a fat cat...'"
"Named," Snape prodded.
"'...cat named Sam. He saw white bla-'"
Snape pointed to a word. "'He was white with black spots."
Agitated, Harry nodded. This was why he hated reading. He got things wrong all the time, and everyone had to correct him. He couldn't even read a dumb little kid's book without messing up.
He pulled his feet up into the chair. "'He had a... a very fluffy tail. He lo... lo...'"
"'...loved to eat... fish... from his pl...'"
"'from his bowl', Harry."
Harry dropped the book onto the table with huff. Slipping his hands under his glasses, he pressed his fingers into his eyes.
"Leave me alone."
"Keep going. You're doing fine."
"No, I'm not." Harry looked back up. "I hate reading."
Snape looked frustrated, not angry. He drummed his fingers on the table as he studied Harry with a critical eye. "What do you hate about it?"
"It's too hard! I can't do it."
"You can. You've already proved that much."
"But not very well, and it takes so long." Harry shoved the book across the table. "Why do we have to do this? It's just a stupid story about a cat. It doesn't have anything to do with school."
"Books aren't only for educational purposes. They can be quite enjoyable."
"Yeah." Harry rolled his eyes. "Right."
"Not this particular book, perhaps." Snape gestured to the discarded cat book. "But I happen to know of a few others that may suit you."
"You mean like Robin Hood?" Harry eyed the larger book.
Snape nodded. "Yes, among others. Have you ever read King Arthur or The Wizard of Oz? What about Peter Pan?"
Harry ignored the stream of titles. He had heard of those before, but couldn't say he knew all that much about them. He thought they were movies. Harry avoided Snape's careful gaze, ducking his head and rubbing at his eyes again.
After a quiet pause, Snape asked, "Do you have a headache?"
Harry swallowed and nodded. He felt like his head was going to explode all over the kitchen.
"Accio headache draught." Snape waved his wand.
A tiny bottle of clear, pinkish liquid flew from the open cellar door into the kitchen, and Snape caught it in his free hand. He pulled the cork out and held the bottle out to Harry. "Take this. It will help."
Harry took the bottle and put his nose to the opening, sniffing it. It didn't seem to smell like much of anything at all.
"Honestly, if I wanted to poison you, I would have done so already. Drink it quickly," Snape warned, "before it loses its potency."
Feeling the throbbing in his head grow stronger, Harry downed the liquid in one quick gulp. It left a sour taste in his mouth, and he grimaced.
Snape ignored this and picked up the cat book. He held it out. "You may continue."
Harry stared at the book, hoping it would disappear. Snape's easy mood was quickly vanishing, so Harry took the book and opened it back up. He scanned the page, trying to find where he left off.
Snape placed his finger at the beginning of a sentence.
Harry nodded. "'But his fa...favourite thing to do was to... sleep... um..."
"Beside," Snape murmured.
"Right. '...sleep beside the,' uh..." Harry glanced quickly at the picture. "'Beside the window, where... some... sometimes... he would see..."
After a little longer, Harry's mum came into the room. She, too, had a book in her hands. How had Harry gotten stuck in a house full of books and people that liked to read them? The only one of the Dursleys that ever read any books was Aunt Petunia, and she never cared that Harry didn't like to read.
"How's it going in here?" His mum put her book down on the table. "Is this homework?"
"We're reading." Snape glanced up.
Harry shook his head and shut his book. "No, we're not."
"He's struggling," Snape said.
"And I've got a headache." Harry leaned forward and rested his head on his arms. "Can we please stop now?"
Snape frowned, but Harry's mum put her hand on Harry's back and gave it a comforting rub.
"It's after seven, Severus, and he still needs to get cleaned up for bed and unwind. Why don't you two call it a night?"
Harry raised his head. Having a mum was just wonderful. Someone to take care of you and know when you had been reading for far too long.
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Fine."
But when Harry jumped up from his chair, Snape raised a hand and stood up.
"Not so fast. You can 'unwind' in the sitting room with your book."
"Wait." His mum pointed to the stairs. "Take a break and go take your shower, Harry. Then you need to come back downstairs, okay?"
Harry grimaced, but agreed.
His mum turned back to Snape. "You two have been stuck in this house together all day. You need a break from each other. Come sit and relax for a while. You're getting too uptight."
Snape said something, softly, in response, but Harry didn't hear what it was. He was already bounding halfway up the stairs, all too eager to rid himself of those stupid library books.
He came back downstairs a little bit later, his pajamas sticking to him and water dripping from his hair. He'd taken as long as he could, trying to put off having to sit and read again, but a bath could only take so long before his mum and Snape started to wonder if he had drowned.
Harry's mum was curled up with her book, and Snape was in his usual spot in the other chair. He didn't look up when Harry came into the room. His head rested against his hand, his elbow propped up on the armrest, engrossed in the book he was holding, which Harry recognized as Robin Hood.
Cat book in hand, Harry climbed onto the sofa. The clock on the wall read twenty past seven. Harry hoped that didn't mean Snape would make him read until bed. He'd rather go to bed early.
"How is your book, Harry?" His mum looked up.
Harry glanced away from the fat cat peeping into a small hole in the wall. "Boring."
She leaned forward. "Do you want to read something else then? Severus has quite a few books upstairs."
He frowned. "They're too long. And they'll be boring, too."
"Why don't you try out Robin Hood? Do you know that story?"
Harry shook his head.
"I think you'd like it. See," she gestured to Snape, who was ignoring the conversation, "it's so good, Severus still reads it."
"Have you read it before?"
She nodded. "When I was about your age, I did. It was full of adventures, and I remember it was quite funny at times."
Harry looked at the old book in Snape's lap. It didn't look like a very funny book.
"Are you sure about that?"
"Just ask Severus. He's read it plenty of times."
This time Snape did look up. "If you like adventure and humour, you might enjoy this."
"It looks boring." Harry wrinkled his nose up.
"Ah, well, looks can be deceiving. Does this sound boring to you?" Snape began to read. "'And did you, Little John,' said Robin in a sad voice, 'call his lordship a fat priest?' 'Ay,' said Little John sorrowfully. 'And a man-eating bishop? 'Ay,' said Little John, more sorrowfully than before.'"
Harry laughed. "It doesn't say that."
"It most certainly does." Snape raised an eyebrow. "Come, see for yourself."
Harry looked over at his mum, who was sitting there with a smile. She nodded towards Snape, so Harry put down his book and stood beside the man's chair. Snape pointed to a passage towards the bottom of a page, and Harry leaned over the armrest to get a better look. Sure enough, there were the exact words Snape had just read.
"It does!" Harry's eyes widened.
A small smile crept onto Snape's face.
"Why'd they say that?" Harry straightened up.
"It was all in good fun, however, the Bishop didn't have a sense of humour," Snape explained, "but Robin and his men thought it quite funny."
Harry grinned. "I do, too. Do you think it's funny, Mum?"
She smiled at him over her book. "So long as you know better."
With a careful look, Harry turned back to Snape. "Is the whole book like that?"
"Much of it, yes."
"Do you... well... could you, I mean..." Harry bit down on his lip.
Snape cocked his head to one side. "Would you like me to read you this chapter?"
Harry sucked in a breath. "Would you?"
"Of course. Let's move somewhere more comfortable." The man moved over to the sofa. He tossed Harry's library book onto the coffee table and beckoned the boy to come closer.
Harry sat beside Snape. He wanted to see the pages of the book, just in case there were any good pictures.
"Let's start back at the beginning of this chapter, shall we?" Snape flipped back a few pages. "Ah, yes. Here we go. 'Robin Hood Aids a Sorrowful Knight'."
Snape started to read, his baritone voice articulate, yet soft, and Harry was soon engrossed in the story of Robin Hood and his merry men. As Robin trekked through the forest, looking for a guest, Harry imagined that Sherwood Forest looked a lot like the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts.
When they reached the part where Little John called the Bishop a "man-eating bishop," Harry laughed again.
By the time they neared the end of the chapter, Harry was even more engrossed than before, but his eyes began to tire. He'd been holding back a yawn for the last two pages because he hadn't wanted to remind anyone of his bedtime.
Snape, however, showed no signs of weariness. His voice was just as clear and strong as it had been when he started. "'But, as the Bishop rode away, he vowed within himself that he would sometime make Robin rue the day that he stopped him in Sherwood. But now we shall follow Sir Richard; so listen, and you shall hear what befell him, and how he paid his debts at Emmet Priory, and likewise in due season to Robin Hood."
With these words, Snape shut the book and looked at Harry. "So what did you think?"
"Robin Hood is way better than that stupid cat book." Harry smiled. "Will you read more?"
"Not tonight. You were supposed to be in bed fifteen minutes ago."
"But I want to know what happened to Sir Richard. How's he going to pay Robin Hood back?"
His mum got up from her chair. "You can read some more tomorrow, Harry. The book isn't going anywhere."
"Will you read the rest?" Harry asked Snape.
Snape studied him. "I will make a deal with you. If you like Robin Hood, if you want to read it-"
"I want you to read it," Harry interjected.
"Yes, yes, that's what I'm getting to. If you want me to read you this book, then I'm certainly not going to discourage that. However, you are going to do your part as well. You and I will read a bit of this book every evening, and for every page you read, I will read a few more. Does that sound agreeable?"
Harry tugged at his sleeve.
"The terms are non-negotiable." Snape's voice was firm. "Take it or leave it."
Harry didn't particularly like the part of the deal where he had to read, but he did want Snape to read him the story. He'd never finish it by himself, and Snape was a very good storyteller, he'd found.
Somewhat reluctant, he nodded.
"And now it's time for you to get to sleep." His mum held out her arms.
Harry hugged her.
She planted a quick kiss on the top of his head, then tousled his hair. "I'm very proud of you," she whispered into his ear.
Harry nodded and hugged her tighter. "G'night, Mum."
"Good night, sweetheart."
Harry started to leave the room, but paused in the doorway. He turned around to face Snape, who was still sitting on the sofa, book in hand. "Thanks for reading to me."
Snape hesitated before saying, "Sleep well, Harry."