Six year old Harry Potter-Harry Snape, as of the previous night-awoke with a heaving gasp, and clutched his tiny hands into fists under his blankets. Outside, the sky shuddered and flashed, swollen with a summer storm, and Harry fought the urge to cry. Big boys didn't cry, and he was no baby. Not anymore. Not to mention that Mr. Sir would probably be angry if he did. Nobody liked a crybaby. Wide, frightened green eyes scanned the room cautiously, and when a particularly strong gust of wind shoved against the window with a low moan, Harry pulled the blankets over his head and whimpered.
Dudley always said the 'Lenderman would get him someday, and he wondered if maybe the 'Lenderman had been watching him all this time, just like Dudley said. The 'Lenderman was someone, a faceless someone, to be exact, who liked to pick out children and follow them around until he decided to take them away. At least, that's what Dudley said. He also said the 'Lenderman had long, stretchy arms and stilts for legs, and he was really, really skinny, which was why he was called the 'Lenderman. Harry shuddered. He always hated that story, but Dudley seemed to really like it, at least when he told it to Harry, and he just didn't understand.
When another gust of wind shook the house, Harry burrowed into his pillow and sniffled. It looked as though it would be another long night on his end. He'd be listless and tired in the morning and Mr. Sir would ask him what was wrong, and he had to tell the truth because he couldn't lie. He just couldn't. Only freaks were liars, and since he had been born a freak, he had to work real hard to make sure he didn't make it any worse. He certainly didn't want to make it worse for Mr. Sir. He had been so nice, even though sometimes he got real grumpy, and he gave Harry a bed, and food three times a day, and told him he wouldn't ever have to go back to Aunt Tuney and Uncle Vernon. There really wasn't anything or anyone nicer than that, as far as he was concerned. And so, Harry rolled over and tried to sleep, so he wouldn't be so tired in the morning for Mr. Sir. But the ominous rolling of his stomach made it incredibly difficult, and he shivered a little as the storm raged outside.
He had almost made it to that hazy place between sleep and consciousness when a loud thunderclap boomed over the roof, and a flash of lightning illuminated the night sky. Harry watched in horror as the sudden burst of light revealed the shadow of what appeared to be a long, spindly-fingered hand reaching for the window. Unable to help himself, he wailed loudly and the tears he had tried so desperately to avoid came pouring full force down his face. The 'Lenderman had found him! Just like Dudley said! He was out there, waiting, and now it was only a matter of time before he-
The little boy leapt with a sharp cry at the unexpected sound of his adopted father's voice, and tried to calm himself before Mr. Sir got angry. And by the looks of things, Harry suspected he probably wasn't too happy with him already. Mr. Sir's black hair was a little mussed and his dressing gown looked as though it had been hastily pulled over his shoulders; he'd woken him up! He stared at Harry with his eyebrows knit together on his forehead, and Harry was sure he would shout any moment. But when he finally did speak, Harry was dumbfounded, even through his tears.
"What's the matter, child?" Mr. Sir's voice was real soft, and it made Harry cry all the harder just hearing it. Then the tall, pale man sat next to him on the bed, watching him with those worried, near-black eyes, and laid a large hand on his shoulder. The warm weight helped Harry to gather his bearings for a moment, but when the thunder outside made itself known once more, he leapt under his adopted father's hand and the tears began anew. Mr. Sir would be so angry if he told him he was scared of a stupid monster in a stupid dream. Mr. Sir wouldn't want a stupid, scaredy-cat son, and he'd send him back to the Dursleys immediately if he knew. But still, the 'Lenderman was out there, waiting to catch him alone, and that scared him half to death. Harry lowered his head to weep into his blankets, and he was startled when Mr. Sir hooked both his hands under Harry's arms and began to lift him into his lap. Harry, his mind still fixed on the terrifying mental image of the 'Lenderman waiting in the shadows to drag him off into God-knows-where, flew into a panic and struggled against Mr. Sir's hold.
"No, no! I don' wanna be taken 'way!" he wailed over a loud, hoarse sob. His adopted father ignored his son's flailing hands and pulled him snugly into his lap, where his arms wrapped around him in a tight embrace. Harry felt a warm hand smooth gently over his messy hair as he cried loudly into Mr. Sir's black dressing gown. Mr. Sir's hand stroked soothingly over his hair again and again, and suddenly, his low baritone was speaking into his ear.
"Hush, my boy," he whispered softly, "No one is going to take you away." Harry felt as though he should have been comforted by those words, but he instead found himself immensely disturbed by his adopted father's ignorance. Didn't he know what was out there? Didn't he see the 'Lenderman tapping on the window with his long, spidery fingers? The little boy sobbed all the harder against the tall, sallow-skinned man, who, despite his utter confusion, still held the boy close.
"B-But the 'Lenderm-m-man!" Harry protested from within Mr. Sir's arms. "He's o-o-out there! I s-s-saw h-him!" He was alarmed when his father stiffened abruptly beneath him.
"Who, Harry? Who did you see?" he demanded urgently, though he did not raise his voice above a whisper. The little boy shuddered heavily in his embrace and pressed his wet face into Mr. Sir's chest. A warm hand came around to pat his back reassuringly.
"The 'L-L-Lenderman!" Harry nearly shrieked into the black cloth of the dressing gown. Mr. Sir leaned back a little to look the boy in the face, and Harry was frustrated to find no spark of comprehension illuminating the older man's eyes. Maybe only kids knew about the 'Lenderman, which made perfect sense. He surely couldn't sneak in and steal children if grown-ups were watching for him! One long-fingered hand reached down to tilt Harry's trembling chin up, and Harry's watery gaze met the concerned, bewildered one of his new father. "D-Dudley told me 'bout h-him…." Harry clarified, somewhat relieved when Mr. Sir's face softened considerably at the new information.
"And who is the "'Lenderman", Harry?" he asked carefully. Harry noticed Mr. Sir's arms tighten around him ever-so-slightly, and he felt a little less afraid.
"H-He's this big, s-s-scary guy who has l-long arms and l-l-legs and he w-watches little kids and f-f-follows them until he d-decides to take them away and h-h-he was outside m-my window, s-s-s-sir! I saw h-him!" As soon as the words left his mouth, he was ashamed. Mr. Sir would never want him now, not when he was such a whiny baby. His breathing quickened suddenly, and Harry's chest ached as he struggled for a deep breath. He was more than a little surprised when his father brought one hand up to cradle his head to his broad chest.
"And you think I would ever allow this 'Lenderman' to hurt you, Harry?" he asked in a voice that sounded a little sad. When Harry didn't reply, he spoke again. "That's absolute nonsense. I've never heard of this man, and if he existed, there's no chance I'd let him harm you." Harry nodded his understanding, but gripped his father's robes tightly in his little fists when a new question loomed in his mind.
"But what if he f-finds us?" he asked tremulously as he bit back a few more tears. Mr. Sir seemed to notice his distress, because his hold tightened and he swept a soothing hand over the small head of dark, tousled hair. "Wh-What if he knows where we live?" His father shook his head adamantly in reply.
"That's impossible, Harry," he said softly. "You know perfectly well that the house is heavily warded." His father's hold tightened ever so slightly and he was pulled upward to rest his head upon his father's shoulder. The hand was back again, this time tracing light, slow circles over his back. Harry sniffled, tensing a little in surprise when Mr. Sir began to rock the two of them slowly on the bed. This was so strange, to be held and comforted even when he'd caused such a ruckus with his little baby nightmares. Trepidation curled in his stomach as he still anticipated a blow or a sharp word at any moment. He'd played this game before. He knew the rules.
But when a particularly loud clap of thunder jolted him from his thoughts and made him leap with a whimper in his new father's arms, he was shocked that the man only shushed him gently and moved a large hand up to cradle his head. No hitting. No hurting. No shouting. This was quite odd, in a weird, wonderful sort of way.
His father rocked him a while longer, whispering reassurances every so often, until finally, Harry's eyelids began to droop steadily. Mr. Sir lifted him carefully from his lap, and settled him comfortably beneath the sheets once more with a gentle smile. Harry avoided his affectionate gaze, and toyed with a few loose strings on the quilt absentmindedly. His father continued to regard him with a soft smile, and although Harry admitted to himself that he loved seeing the man so pleased while looking at him, he still failed to meet the pair of obsidian eyes.
"You know that you're safe here, right Harry?" the low baritone suddenly asked as a large hand came forward to card gently through his tousled hair. Harry nodded, though Mr. Sir didn't seem too convinced, and the hand moved to his chin to raise his head back ever so slightly. Mr. Sir stared at him with a wrinkled brow, and his lips twitched a little into a reassuring smile.
"You're always safe here, Harry," he said slowly. "And it's all right to come and get me if you need during the night. Or during the day, for that matter. I won't be upset if you do." He paused for a moment and stroked the other hand over Harry's head just once. "In fact, I'd prefer it if you informed me whenever you're sick or sad or frightened, Harry. I'd like to help you if I can." Harry nodded, not because he understood, but because it was polite and Uncle Vernon always slapped him if he didn't remember his manners. He wasn't sure what Mr. Sir could do to help him, especially when he'd done well enough on his own already, but he supposed it was just another new rule, and pushed it to the back of his mind for the time being.
"Do you understand, Harry?" the gentle voice asked again, and once more, Harry nodded out of sheer politeness.
Something crumpled a little in Mr. Sir's face, and Harry felt panic rise in his chest. Nobody like a liar, and he'd just told a lie. No doubt that Mr. Sir realized it and that was why he looked so disappointed. The man reached slowly for Harry's shoulder, and the boy jerked away, expecting a blow. The hand only pushed him carefully to the softness of his bed and rubbed slow circles over his shoulders as he pressed his face into the pillow.
"Hush, child," Mr. Sir said in a voice that made Harry want to cry all over again, "Back to sleep now. There's a good boy…" Harry felt his eyelids begin to droop slowly, though his heart leapt at the man's words. A good boy? Him? Really? He sighed tiredly and decided that Mr. Sir still had a lot to learn about things, particularly the kind of boy he really was, but for now, he was content to relax under the soothing weight of his adopted father's hand and listen to the soft baritone lull him carefully back to sleep.