An egg was swiftly cracked and left to sizzle loudly in the pan on the stove. Another was added, and soon after, another, and Snape retrieved a spatula from the counter, ready to move them to a waiting empty plate once they were cooked. He swiped a sleeve over his forehead in a rare moment of open exhaustion and heaved a long-suffering sigh. This week had been unusually hectic and tiring, especially when it came to his newly adopted son.
Harry had been on edge ever since Wednesday night, when Snape had found him crying hysterically alone in his room, insisting that someone called the 'Lenderman' was trying to take him away. The child's anxiety had left him admittedly unprepared, but even more distressing was his son's behavior since immediately following the incident. Snape recalled how the boy had flinched wildly away that night when he had attempted to place his hand on Harry's back in an effort to calm him. The action alone spoke volumes, but over the last three days, the child had been extremely jumpy and anxious.
Of course, the boy had been nervous upon his arrival at Spinner's End, but Snape had attributed that to the dramatic shift his short life had taken in so small a timeframe. He had expected anxiety. He had expected tears, and lots of them. But the boy was silent now. And far too obedient for a boy of seven. Eye contact was rarely made unless Snape requested it or lifted the boy's chin, and any question asked was answered with a short, whispered, "Yes, sir." Snape leaned back against the counter and folded his arms over his chest. Had he unintentionally frightened the child that night? Perhaps it had been too soon to hold him, but what else could he have done? The child had been in hysterics. His head whirled with possibilities, but none of them seemed plausible. He'd done his best to comfort Harry and reassure him that he was safe in his new home; he hadn't been angry or upset, and he hadn't growled at the boy, which he considered a feat in itself. Perhaps the child was still fearful of this 'Lenderman', whoever the Hell he was. Snape rolled his eyes. As if someone with such a silly name even existed…
Noticing with a jolt that the eggs were done, Snape set about turning off the seldom-used stove, and moved to grab the empty plate from the countertop. The sound of little feet sounded abruptly in the hall, and Snape smiled wryly to himself, until he realized that the footsteps were practically sprinting for the kitchen. One breathless little boy suddenly appeared, hair mussed and pajamas wrinkled and rumpled from sleep. Snape watched him carefully for a moment before offering a slight smile and placing the plate of eggs on the table.
"Good morning, Harry. Why don't you sit and have some bre-"
"Sorry, sir. I'm sorry!" Harry interrupted as he ran into the kitchen, snatching a chair with some difficulty from the table. Snape looked on in complete, ill-concealed bewilderment as Harry scrambled for a package of bacon in the refrigerator, and placed a frying pan loudly on the opposite side of the stove with a CLANG. Harry then clambered rather ungracefully onto the chair to stand, lit the burner and, with an almost relieved smile ghosting his lips, began placing strips of bacon into the pan to fry. His adopted father watched carefully for another moment before clearing his throat and moving to stand next to Harry.
"I do appreciate your help, my boy," he said in what he hoped was a gentle tone, "but you are far too young to be cooking by yourself as of yet. Why don't you have a seat, and I'll take care of this, hmm?" The boy looked crestfallen, and Snape immediately felt the slight sting of remorse. Perhaps he could allow the boy to stay and help if he watched him carefully…
"I'm real sorry, sir," the child said shakily as he stared down at the sizzling bacon. He made no move to leave the chair he stood upon. "I didn't mean to be late. I would've started earlier if I had known, honest." Snape's brow furrowed and he peered curiously down at the lad, whose shoulders had now curled inward on himself.
"Started what, Harry?"
He thought he saw the trembling of the boy's lower lip, but the child had steeled his expression so quickly that it could have easily been a trick of the light. Or old age, he thought darkly. He waited patiently as his son's fists clenched tightly at his sides and he fumbled for words.
"Breakfast, sir." was the hushed response. Snape leaned slowly against the counter and lowered his face in the hopes of catching the boy's gaze. No such luck. The child stiffened beside him and quickly averted his eyes. Snape studied him in bewildered silence, brows knit together in concern. The boy was awfully upset already, and he hadn't been awake five minutes. Where had he gotten the idea that it was his duty to cook breakfast that morning?
"Harry," Snape began gently, hoping the boy would realize that he wasn't about to be thrashed. "You're a child, my boy. I'm your father. It's my responsibility to see that you're fed and well taken care of, not the other way around." The child jerked back as if he'd been burned, and for a moment, Snape worried that he had scalded his hand upon the hot stove, but he found instead with profound dismay that his son was staring up at him with wild, tear-filled eyes.
"I'll clean then, sir!" he offered in what strangely seemed like desperation. "Is the broom in the hall closet? Or the mop, sir?" His tiny hands joined together before him and promptly became a mass of nervous, wriggling digits. Snape frowned, but tried valiantly to conceal it when the child shrank away slightly at the sight.
"Harry, child, I'm not sure I understand," he said softly, reaching a careful hand forward to rest upon the boy's thin shoulders. Harry flinched a little at the touch, but although the fidgeting of his hands failed to cease, a little tension bled from his shoulders under the warm weight of Snape's palm. A little. Snape studied him in concern for a long moment. How to put this? He certainly didn't want such a good-natured lad to grow into a freeloader, like his biological father had been, but he thought he might wait until Harry had settled in successfully to introduce a few chores. And even then, he did not plan on overloading the boy by any means.
"As I said before, Harry," he began gently, yet with an tone that underscored the conviction of his words, "you are still a child. A young boy. And yes, I expect you to keep your room neat and to pick up after yourself, but I certainly don't expect you to clean house like some sort of servant. I adopted a bright young boy, Harry, not a house elf." The child's demeanor soared almost instantly from a quiet, trembling fear to an irate, full-blown panic, and he shrugged Snape's hand from his shoulder in one sharp movement before leaping to the floor. Snape watched, astounded, as his son stood before him, taut with frustration, and stared up at him with wide, glassy eyes.
"You don't get it!" the distressed boy wailed, little voice cracking on what Snape assumed to be an onslaught of tears. "This isn't how it's 'upposed to be!" If possible, Snape's confusion only skyrocketed, and he leaned forward a little to look into the boy's eyes, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. He was utterly dumbfounded, especially when the boy had scarcely formed a full sentence all week. What on Earth was he on about?
"And just how is it supposed to be, Mr. Snape?" the man half-growled. It was plain to see that the boy was near hysterics-again-but even so, his tone left much to be desired, and Snape would have faced six rounds of the Cruciatus before he raised a child with no respect for adults. He instantly regretted the snarled rebuke when the boy practically deflated before him, face blanched white and clearly horrified, as if he had just realized what he had done.
"S-Sorry, sir! I'm real s-s-sorry! Honest!" Harry's voice had easily jumped an octave, if not more, in his obvious fear, and Snape felt his hard frown soften in concern. His child was trembling now, fists clenched before him and eyes squinted shut; a stream of muttered apologies poured from his quivering lips.
"Child," Snape offered gently, dropping to one knee on the tile floor, "What is it?" Harry shook his head wildly, eyes shut tightly, and wrapped his own arms around himself in a protective gesture. "Come now, Harry. Tell me what's troubling you so." Again, the boy refused, utterly terrified, and Snape reached out to card a soothing hand over the messy dark hair. After a few moments, silence still reigned supreme. Perhaps a little nudge would do the trick.
"Can you tell me how things are supposed to be, Harry?" Snape urged quietly, relieved when his child sucked in a shaky breath and rubbed at his eyes with his little fists.
"'upposed to clean 'n stuff," he said in a hoarse whisper, "Hafta w-work." Snape shook his head adamantly and swept his hand over the boy's head once more.
"I have no idea where you heard that, Harry," he said reassuringly. "When you are much, much older, I do expect you to look for employment, but that will not be for a very long time. This is your home, Harry. Not your job." Instead of calming like he had hoped, Harry abruptly burst into fretful tears and buried his pale face tightly into his hands. His adopted father remained kneeling before him, at a complete loss for what seemed to be the umpteenth time that day. Something was very wrong here. Very wrong indeed. Little boys should be delighted at the prospect of not working until they were of age, not sobbing inconsolably at the idea.
"Harry, my boy, what on Earth is all this about?" Snape inquired gently, reaching out to grasp both the child's hands, which had begun to pinch painfully at his little face. Harry shook his head in reply, still crying with loud wails. "Come, child. Let's have it." He was admittedly almost limp with relief when the boy began to speak, but when the words registered, he was completely unprepared.
"H-How w-will I earn my k-keep, s-s-sir?!"
Snape could have wept himself at the plaintive question. Lord, was that what the boy thought? That he had to earn his food and bed? He clenched his jaw tightly and resisted the urge to curse those blasted Muggle relatives of Harry's into the next week. He should have known Tuney and her fat oaf of a husband had had something to do with the boy's behavior. He very carefully cupped his son's face in both hands and swiped at his tears with his thumbs, a sad, affectionate smile perched upon his lips.
"You don't have to 'earn your keep', child," he whispered quietly, noticing with some satisfaction that the child's tears were slowly receding. "You are my son, Harry. Do you know what that means?" When silence punctuated by a watery sniffle and a hiccup followed, Snape took it upon himself to explain in full. "Harry, you're my child now, and I'm your father. Fathers provide for their children and care for them because they love them, my boy, not because they're looking for something in return or for someone to clean house or cook breakfast each morning."
"Not gon' send me away?" came the disbelieving whimper, and Snape stared at him with wide, dark eyes. Surely he didn't really think….?
"Never, Harry. Never," he said hoarsely, swiping again at the freefalling tears with both thumbs. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
"I w-woke you u-up and cried real l-l-loud and I'm 'pposed to n-not be a f-f-freak but I s-still cried like a baby a-and-" Snape interrupted the child's distressed babbling by snatching the boy into his firm embrace and cradling the dark-haired head in one hand. As he held his son close and lightly carded his fingers through the tousled hair, Snape tried desperately to understand. What on earth had this child been taught about himself for his self worth to be in such shambles? Snape tightened his arms around his little boy and lowered his face close to Harry's ear.
"Harry, you are not a freak," he began in a firm, yet gentle tone. "I don't care what you've done, or what you've been told. It's not true, son." He let his words permeate the quiet of the kitchen, which was still punctuated by the occasional gasping sob or sniffle. Thankfully though, Harry's tears had not lasted long. The worst was over, though it was obvious that the child was still quite upset. After a long moment, Harry pulled away and swiped a small finger under his nose, sniffling a little when Snape tugged a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it silently to him. Twin scarlet spots dusted the boy's cheeks, and he dropped his gaze immediately to his bare feet in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry, sir," he apologized sadly, "I got your clothes all wet…" One small foot shuffled nervously against the tile of the kitchen floor, and Snape smirked affectionately at the boy before pulling him close for another brief moment.
"There is no need to be sorry, my boy. Tears are allowed." Harry looked as if he were about to protest when he pulled away, but Snape shushed him gently. "It doesn't make you a baby, Harry. In fact, many view the sharing of emotion as something that takes a tremendous amount of courage." He was thankful when Harry smiled a little at that, and gave the boy's shoulder a warm squeeze before turning to look back at the table, where the plate of eggs sat waiting.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, chuckling when the pungent odor of blackened meat reached his hawk-like nose. "I think it's fair to say that we've spoiled the bacon, but we can fry a little more if you'd like." Harry shook his head and wrapped his arms around his torso, in a silent act of self soothing that Snape noticed had become quite a regular occurrence as of late.
"Is there something wrong, Harry?" he asked quietly, unnerved by the boy's sudden shyness.
"Willyouhugme'gain?" came the soft whisper, and it took a moment for Snape to decipher the rushed words. His heart cracked when the meaning finally registered. Will you hug me again? He could not help but smile proudly down at his boy, who had finally asked him for help, whether he knew it or not, and swept him into his arms. He stood with the boy clasped firmly to him, pleased with the warm weight of his son's arms draped around his neck, and stepped carefully into the living room, where he sat on the threadbare couch and propped his feet upon the coffee table.
Harry snuggled against him tentatively, little hands curled tightly in the folds of his clothes, and though he was not completely relaxed, he allowed his adopted father to rub slow circles over his shoulders. And as far as Snape was concerned, that was a vast improvement. He made a mental note to hold the boy more often, as it became abundantly clear that the poor child was starved for physical contact, and as long as no one barged in, he could still keep his reputation as the feared Dungeon Bat of Howgarts. Snape smirked wryly to himself and rested his cheek against his son's dark hair. How strange it was, to be consoling a Potter. But if he were honest with himself, he'd readily admit that the boy had his heart in quite a grip already, even though they'd only been father and son for just a few weeks.
"Sir?" a small voice asked cautiously. Snape turned a curious face to his little boy and raised his eyebrows.
"Do I really getta stay here forever?" There was a wariness Harry's eyes that Snape didn't like. Not at all. But he swept a soothing hand over the boy's head and risked planting a kiss into his hair, coming away exceedingly proud when Harry allowed the gesture, and spoke sincerely to him.
"Of course, Harry," he replied softly. "You're never going back to those people as long as I have something to say about it." His boy nodded his understanding, though his eyes betrayed the wariness that still remained. Snape presumed the child would need to hear his reassurance time and time again until the worry receded from his mind. He cradled Harry's head with one large hand and the two of them sat a while longer in comfortable silence. It would be a long journey for the both of them, he knew, but the boy was worth whatever he had to give.