"I am very impressed, Severus," Poppy said with a smile as he finished threading the shoelace through the muggle sewing card. They had finished the exercises, and today's session was almost finished. "You have gotten much faster with that."
"So I can stop doing it?" Severus asked hopefully, sitting up straighter in his armchair. Across from him, sitting on the sofa, Poppy sighed.
"Unfortunately, I think it would benefit you to continue to do the card twice a day still, with each hand," she said. "As well as that, I want you to try going up the stairs every so often. You have been doing much better in your practise with me. I also have a new activity I would like you to try."
She pulled from a bag at her feet a worn baseball and two baseball gloves. One glove was small, the other large.
"I want you to practise throwing a baseball," she said. "Gently, of course. You do not need to throw it far, but I think it will be good for your coordination. I think that Harry will not mind playing with you, as I am betting he would have fun doing this. The ball is charmed so that it cannot hit anyone, which means that as soon as it gets too close and no hand or glove is intercepting it the ball will stop mid-air and drop. That should prevent injuries."
Severus felt his mouth fall open.
"Are you bloody kidding me?" Severus asked rudely, his fingers digging into the upholstery of the armchair. "I am not playing catch with Potter. What, is this some sort of ridiculous idea of Dumbledore's? Does he want us to ‘bond' or something stupid like that?"
A right bloody bigot he is then, wanting me to get to know Potter better when he hasn't even answered my letter asking him about Potter's home life, Severus thought mutinously.
"Severus!" said Poppy, and he was pleased to see she was angry with him.
He scowled at her.
"This was my idea, because I want to help you get better!" she said, setting the two baseball gloves and the ball roughly on the sofa cushion beside her. "Throwing and catching a ball will help you to recover, and Mr. Potter is the only other person here that I believe will not mind joining in on the activity. And you know what? He might not mind it. Either that, or you try to convince Miss Granger to play with you, and I think you would rather not do that."
"But Poppy, I'll just make a fool of myself," Severus said after a few moments of hesitation. "I will look stupid when I cannot catch the ball, or throw it."
"Harry is four. He cannot catch or throw very well either. Which is why I think you two would do just fine together."
Severus sighed as she stood up, gathering her things.
"Whether you like it or not, I expect you to play catch with Mr. Potter a few times this week," she said. "It will not hurt me if you do not follow my instructions, Severus. You will only be hurting yourself."
And with that she stood up, and left without saying goodbye.
As soon as she was gone, Severus sighed, and he put his face in his hands, feeling that the last thing he needed was to have a four year old outshine him in a game of catch. He was going to need some time to work himself up to this.
"Potter, what are you doing?" Severus asked a few hours later, not too long after lunchtime. Potter had his belly on a stool in the sitting room, and he was waving his arms and legs in the air.
"I'm swimming," Potter said. "Duh."
"Swimming?" Severus repeated, watching the boy continue to wave his arms. He decided to humour him for a moment, remembering that once upon a time he too had had a little bit too much imagination for his own good as a child. "Where are you swimming?"
"The ocean!" Potter replied, grinning up at Severus, who had come around so that he was in the boy's gaze. "Watch out for the shark."
"You astound me," Severus said, rolling his eyes to prevent himself from smirking. "I have a proposition for you."
"A pr-propo - huh?" Potter asked, letting his legs and arms hang.
Severus sighed, and he held up the baseball and two gloves.
"Would you like to have a game of catch?" he said rather reluctantly.
"Seriously?" Potter inquired, sounding more like his teenaged self as he narrowed his eyes. "Did Dumbledore set you up to this?"
"No," said Severus grudgingly, his teeth gritted. "Poppy thinks it would be good for my recovery, and she is labouring under the delusion you might have fun."
"Well, if Madam Pomfrey thinks you should ... I guess so," said Potter with a shrug, leaping off his chair and getting his shoes by the door.
Severus was rather surprised. The boy seemed to be holding back a smile. Did Potter actually want to play catch? But why with him?
Harry jumped on one foot down the steps from the porch, skipping out onto the grassy area in front of the house.
"Come on, Professor!" he called, unable to explain why he was so eager to play. "I found a good spot!"
The words came out before he could stop them, and he wished he had not sounded so excited. The fact was that he was amazed that Snape was even doing this. Harry hated to admit it, but he was always jealous when Uncle Vernon played catch with Dudley, and he always wished that someone would play catch with him. He'd seen other boys and their dads playing games together at the end of year school picnic held near the play park by his school. Harry had always gone because the teachers would have asked funny questions if he hadn't, but was given the instructions to read a book by Aunt Petunia instead, while Dudley and Uncle Vernon competed in games. He had been instructed to pretend he would rather read. Harry bounced on his toes, watching as Snape walked sedately out onto the grass.
"Which glove's mine?" Harry chirped, looking up at Snape.
"The one that looks like it could fit a puppet," said Snape, rolling his eyes as he handed the little glove down to Harry.
"Fits good," Harry said with a grin. "How far do I stand from you?"
"I do not know," said Snape. "I've never done this before."
"Your Dad didn't play catch with you either?" Harry asked curiously before he could stop himself. He was amazed to see Snape flush slightly.
"No," he said through gritted teeth.
"It's okay," Harry said, examining his glove, "Uncle Vernon never plays with me either. He likes it better when I stay out of the way."
Harry did not pay much attention to what he had just said, and as he was still examining the baseball glove he did not see the expression on Snape's face.
"Be ready to catch the ball," Snape said, sounding a little bit awkward. "I might not be able to throw it too accurately."
"That's okay," Harry said, shrugging. They were only about seven feet away from each other.
Harry got ready with the glove, and lunged for the ball, which Snape threw underhanded. The ball wobbled through the air, and Harry missed it, but the ball had at least come fairly close to him.
"Sorry," Snape said through gritted teeth. "I doubt I can throw it well enough for you to catch it."
"I don't think I can throw it too well either," Harry said as he picked up the ball. It was big in his hand, but he twisted around and lobbed toward Snape. It went quite a ways to his right.
Snape walked over it and picked it up again.
The ball flew toward Harry, and he held his glove open. The edge of the glove grazed the baseball. Snape did not comment on this, but spoke when Harry got ready to throw the ball back
"When you throw it this time try keeping your wrist straight. You let it twist a little bit last time, which was why the ball went to the right."
Harry picked up the ball, and paying attention to Snape's advice, threw it, careful to keep his wrist lined up with Snape. The ball flew straight, and Snape only just missed it with his glove.
"Better," Snape said absent mindedly as he picked up the ball.
Harry grinned, and held open his glove as Snape gave the ball another throw. To his excitement, Harry managed to clamp his glove over the ball. He raised it up in the air.
"Did you see that, Professor?" he said, waving the ball, so excited he could hardly breathe, the words coming out before he could stop them. "I did it! I did it! Good throw!"
To his amazement, Snape actually smirked, which was the closest thing to a smile Harry thought he was capable of. Just then, Harry caught sight of someone on the porch, standing and watching.
"Hi Hermione!" he called over to her. "Did you see that? I caught it!"
"I did, Harry," she said. "That was a very nice catch."
Snape suddenly looked a little bit sheepish, and seemed to be paying a great deal of attention to his glove. Harry looked back at Hermione, as she was speaking again.
"I'm going back inside to have a bite of lunch, Harry," Hermione said. "Have fun."
Harry grinned and waved. Then he threw the ball back at Snape, but his throw was wonky and went too far for Snape to catch.
"Sorry, sir," Harry said, frowning slightly.
"No need to apologize," Snape said with a bit of impatience in his voice, throwing the ball at Harry again, who missed catching it. "We would do far too much of that between the two of us if we insisted on apologizing for every bad throw."
Harry kept Snape's earlier advice in mind again, and his throw was straighter this time. Snape raised his glove, and just barely got the ball.
"Yeah!" said Harry. "That was good!"
Snape seemed rather pleased with himself, and threw the ball back.
After the first ten minutes, Severus was rather amazed that he was almost enjoying himself. Sure, it wasn't exactly riveting, throwing a ball back and forth, but he had to admit that Potter was being rather amusing. That and for the moment, it took Severus' mind off the fact that Dumbledore had yet to reply to the letter he had sent a few days ago about Potter's home life. He shook his head slightly, focusing on the present again, trying to forget the comment Potter had made about his uncle a few minutes ago.
"Woah, that one went far," Potter cried over his shoulder as he ran after the ball, which was rolling down a slight slope after a rather long throw of Severus'. Potter giggled slightly as he dove for it. "Got it!"
Potter was clearly becoming more childish. Severus was pretty sure if the boy had been acting completely as a teenager, he would have scoffed at the idea of a game of catch, but right now, he seemed to be having a lot of fun. Severus was getting a bit better at throwing and catching, and so was Potter, so perhaps this added to it. Potter tossed the ball back to Severus, who caught it, much to his surprise.
"Hmm, looks like it might rain," said Severus as he fumbled to take the ball out of his glove, staring up at the sky. "There are a few clouds coming in."
"Aww," said Potter, looking crestfallen. "But I wanna stay outside."
"It is not going to rain for some time," said Severus absent mindedly as he threw the ball. "We can play a little longer."
Potter did something that made Severus' heart actually give a small beat. Potter's eyes lit up with excitement, and his face broke into a big smile before he bent down to scoop up the ball.
"Just as well," said Severus to himself, glancing at the rain clouds, "The plants could use a little water today, considering the temperature."
He looked down again, toward Potter, who was standing stock still, the ball in one hand and his glove still on the other.
"Go on, throw it then," Severus said, though not unkindly.
Potter had a funny expression on his face.
"Are you alright?" Severus asked, suddenly worried.
Just then, Potter's eyes widened. Before Severus could ask him what was wrong, Potter was running up the steps of the porch and into the house, the screen door opening and shutting with a bang.
"What on earth ..." Severus muttered, going after him as fast as he could, leaving his glove in the grass, his stomach dropping to his toes. He hated to admit it, but he was honestly worried. Was the boy's scar hurting? Did he have a vision?
Into the house Severus went, his leg dragging slightly. He frowned when he noticed that Potter had not taken off his shoes, as they were not at the door. He could see no trace of him at first, and then he saw the baseball at the foot of the staircase, across the sitting room. Had Potter gone up, or through the hall?
"Professor, what's going on?" Hermione asked worriedly, poking her head out of the kitchen, a pitcher of juice in her hand. "I just heard Harry come tearing in here. I didn't see where he went. What happened?"
"I do not know what this is about," Severus said, bewildered. "He stood as still as a statue right as he was about to throw the ball, and then ran into the house."
"Is he hurt?" Hermione asked, worried.
"I do not think so," was Severus' reply as he walked over to where the baseball was. He picked it up and examined it.
Severus took a step forward, and then he looked down the hall. There was a glove outside the bathroom door, which was shut. Miss Granger was standing at the base of the stairs and looking up. Just then, there was the sound of a toilet flushing.
Severus suddenly felt the urge to laugh.
"Miss Granger," he said quietly after a moment, unable to keep the amusement from his voice, "it's fine. He just had to go to the bathroom."
"Oh," said Hermione, looking relieved. "Of course. I should have guessed ..."
She giggled slightly, then retreated to the kitchen.
Severus stood in the hall and waited for Potter to come out. The door creaked open.
"You're alright?" asked Severus calmly.
"Yeah," said Potter, looking embarrassed, his voice barely a whisper. "Sorry, but I really, really had to go."
"Completely understandable," said Severus. "I was merely worried your scar was acting up again."
Potter shook his head, and then he started to play with his sleeve. He looked up hesitantly, and asked, "Sir?"
"Hmm?" Snape asked, picking up the small baseball glove that had been left on the floor by the bathroom, where Potter had flung it aside.
"Can we keep playing?" whispered Potter.
Severus smirked slightly, and then handed Potter the glove.
"Yes," he said.
Snape had gone in some time ago, and the baseball gloves had been put in the chest in the sitting room, by the door to be used later. The clouds had rolled in overhead, but so far, no rain had begun to come down. Harry was taking advantage of the little time he had before the rain came, and was swinging under the big tree outside the house. Hermione was sitting on the porch, reading a book and glancing over at him occasionally.
The tree was a very large one, and it creaked as the swing went back and forth, the leaves fluttering in the breeze. There was a thick patch of moss around the trunk, and clusters of fascinating little mushrooms that snaked up through cracks in the slightly decaying bark, something Harry had spent a great deal of time studying, as a plethora of the insects and slugs lived here. At the moment, however, thoughts of bugs, slugs, and fungi were far from his mind, for he had a rather different pursuit in mind than documenting the activities of the tree trunk.
Harry, who had never been lucky enough to have someone push him on a swing, had learned to pump his legs long ago, and he rose higher and higher into the air with each movement. There was a big, green leaf fluttering in the breeze. It was a beautiful leaf, and Harry was quite determined to reach it so he could press it in a book, for it was so much bigger than the other leaves on the tree. Just a little higher, and Harry thought he might be able to reach up and pull it off the branch. He swung his legs back, then forward again, then repeated. With determination, he kept his gaze up, watching the tree branches above him as he swung. At long last, he had gotten the swing moving as high as it would, and he readied himself for what he was going to do.
"You can do it, Harry," he whispered to himself as the swing rocked back, and then started to go forward once more.
This time, he was prepared to take his right hand off the rope of the swing, and try to snatch the leaf off the low hanging branch.
Just like Quidditch, he thought.
The swing sped toward the ground, and then left it behind again, and Harry took his hand off the rope. He was almost to the leaf, and then in a blink of an eye it was right before his eyes. He snatched at it with his right hand, the leaf so close. He leaned forward just a little bit more, and he just barely touched the stem. Harry gasped as the swing rocked backward again, and quite suddenly his bum slid off the seat. He had his left hand still on the rope, and dangling in the air he was brought down with the swing, being pulled behind it. His fingers slipped when he was still a ways from the ground. His knees hit the dirt hard, and his hands went out in front of him. He skidded along, and felt the worn out pair of jeans rip, and his knees were exposed to the dirt and stones. He slid to a halt, his palms and knees throbbing, careful not to raise his head too high lest the swing hit him on its way back.
He started to cry, unable to help himself, and he looked at his palms, gritty and scraped. Before he knew it Hermione had run down from the porch, and she lifted him to his feet and brought him out of the way of the swing, which had yet to stop completely.
"Harry!" she said breathlessly, "Are you alright?"
He tried to tell her he would be fine through his sobs, but he couldn't. He didn't understand why he was making such a fuss. The sting wasn't overly bad.
"Where does it hurt?" Hermione asked, holding him by his shoulders, looking frantic. Harry's tears blurred her image, and he held up his palms. "Okay, your hands. Oh my, and your knees."
She looked down to his torn and bloody jeans, and gently pulled away at the fabric to examine the cuts. Harry let out a squawk of pain and jerked back. Now that had hurt.
"Shh, you'll be alright," Hermione said, surprising Harry by picking him up and starting toward the house, settling him on her hip. "I'll take you inside and get you patched up, okay?"
Harry only cried harder, because as far as he could remember, nobody had ever carried him inside like this when he got hurt. He pressed his face against her shoulder, wrapping his arms around her.
She brought him inside and set him down in the bathroom, on the counter by the sink. Hermione rummaged around in a drawer for a moment.
"N-No," Harry said through his cries without thinking, "S-Snape, I w-want Snape!"
Hermione looked at him, shocked. Harry hadn't realized he said it, but Hermione nodded.
"I'll go get him, so you stay here," said Hermione, and then she was gone.
Harry shuddered and angrily scrubbed at his tears. Why did he have to go and say that? He hoped he had not hurt Hermione's feelings, and he wondered why had he even said it.
Well, because it's true, he thought to himself. He did want Snape, although he wasn't too sure why.
Hiccupping, Harry noticed the light dim, and he looked to see Snape standing in the doorway, looking concerned. To Harry's surprise, Snape dragged a stool into the room, and he sat down so that he was mostly level with Harry. He had expected Snape to refuse to help him, but apparently, that was not the case.
"What happened?" Snape asked calmly, examining Harry's cuts. Carefully, he rolled up the legs of Harry's baggy jeans so that they were above his knees.
"I f-fell off the s-swing," Harry said through tears.
"Well, you faired pretty well," said Snape. "Lucky for you, Poppy brought around some essence of dittany during her last visit."
"It heals cuts, to explain simply," said Snape. Harry hiccupped slightly. "Take a deep breath, Potter, you will be just fine."
Harry complied, and Snape got up, then took a flannel from the middle drawer under the counter and wet it in the sink, adding a little soap.
"This will sting a bit," Snape told Harry.
Harry nodded, sniffling, and Snape began to clean the scrapes on his knees and palms. He worked in silence, and Harry watched as he carefully wiped the dirt away. Snape's hands were steadier than they normally were. Harry wondered why, and watched his Professor's brows, furrowed in concentration.
When the scrapes were clean, Snape pulled a little brown bottle from his drawer under the sink. He carefully unscrewed the cap with his left hand, then put a few drops onto a cotton ball he had retrieved from his drawer. He then dabbed the cotton ball on Harry's knees, one at a time, then added more liquid from the bottle.
"Your hands, please," Snape asked, and Harry thrust them forward, his palms facing up. Snape dabbed the wet cotton ball again on his wounds, and Harry watched in amazement as the scrapes healed over immediately.
He let out a shuddering breath.
"All done," Snape said, putting the brown bottle of dittany back in his drawer, and putting the flannel covered in blood and dirt into the little basket for the laundry.
Harry tried to thank Snape, but it just came out as a strangled sob, and he looked at down at his feet. The pain was gone, but his eyes were still watering, and he was not sure why. He sniffled, trying to keep his nose from dripping. Harry was sure Snape was looking at him like he was a ball of germs, like his Aunt and Uncle always had. Harry rubbed the tears off his cheeks with his sleeve as Snape stood up. Finally, he looked up at his Professor, and to his surprise Snape stared back for a second, not looking disgusted as Harry believed he would. In fact, he looked rather thoughtful. Harry hiccupped, and let out a shaky breath.
After a moment of hesitation, Snape reached into the middle drawer again to pull out another clean flannel, and he wet it under the tap.
"Close your eyes, Potter," he directed, sounding tired.
Harry obeyed, confused. He felt the flannel, warm and damp on his cheeks, and he let out a tiny cry when he realized Snape was wiping the dirt and tears off his face. He relaxed after a second, and then Snape pulled the flannel away.
"There, now you can save your sleeves from getting dirty," Snape said a little bit gruffly, pushing the stool he had been sitting on closer to the bathroom counter, obviously so Harry could get down. "I would suggest you go put on a different pair of jeans. Those ones are torn up pretty badly."
Harry nodded, and looked down to make sure the stool was under his feet. He made to slide off the counter, but Snape told him to wait, using his teaching voice. Harry looked up at the command, surprised as Snape's good hand reached out and grabbed one of his.
"There, now you can come down," Snape said. "No sense in scraping yourself up again."
He held Harry's hand to keep him steady as he jumped down from the stool and onto the ground, then he let go.
"Well, run along then," Snape said, seeming bewildered as to why Harry was still staring at him.
"T-Thanks, sir!" Harry said quickly before darting out of the bathroom and up the stairs to his room to put on a different pair of jeans. But before he went he saw the wide eyed surprise on his Professor's face at his words.
"Why me?" Severus asked Miss Granger a few minutes later as he stood at the window, looking out as the rain started to fall at last. While both were staring out at the clouds, neither seemed to have their minds on the weather. "Did he say why he wanted me?"
"Not really- he just asked for you, plain as day," Granger said slowly, looking equally puzzled. "I'm not exactly sure why myself ... but I think you make him feel safe."
"But why?" Severus wondered aloud, bewildered by her answer.
"Well," Granger muttered, pausing slightly, "you're one of the most consistent people in his life. He can predict how you'll react to most things, and while you're strict, he knows what to expect. At least, I think that might be part of it. That, and lately, you've been there for him more than I have." Miss Granger sighed slightly. "I've been ... distant, lately," she added quietly. "What with ... my parents, I haven't seen much of Harry, or paid much attention to him because I've been in my room most of the time."
"I do not think he blames you," said Severus honestly. "You have had a rough time lately."
"I know, I just ... I feel like a bad friend," Granger admitted. "And when he asked for you ... well, I realized I haven't been there for him as much as I could have been."
"You are not a bad friend," Severus said, forcing himself to be honest. "You are a very good friend, the kind that everyone needs sometimes. Potter probably just did not want to burden you with his troubles when he asked for me instead. He has been worried about you lately. Would he worry so much if he thought you were a bad friend?"
Before Granger could look away from the window and reply to his statement, Severus made a hasty retreat. He limped down the hallway toward his room, and he closed the door tightly behind him, sinking down on his bed. He had not wanted to be thanked for his words, and he could tell she was going to. He was not used to being thanked, and so he had fled. He sighed slightly. Maybe he was so used to playing the bad guy that he was not used to being treated like he was good.
He did not dwell on his, and let his thoughts move on, his mind darting back to Potter's request for him to help him. Was Granger right on the reason Potter wanted him instead of her? Did he really make the boy feel safe? But why? Severus frowned.
"What have I ever done to make him feel safe?" he muttered to himself, confused.
He put his face in his hands, and closed his eyes for a while, thinking. After some time it occurred to him that maybe, he had asked the wrong question.
"What have others done to make him feel unsafe?" he whispered to himself at last, looking up from his hands, not understanding why he didn't think of it before.
It was at that moment that he had at last finished waiting for Dumbledore to reply to his last letter. He was going to demand that Dumbledore visit and answer his questions about Potter's family. He was sick of waiting and wondering if Dumbledore would even write back. Severus was going to talk to the man himself, because he knew there was no guarantee that Dumbledore had even put a straight answer in the letter (if he had even answered it), and it was difficult to guess a lie on paper. So, quickly, Severus went out of his room and to the kitchen. He grabbed a piece of parchment from the drawer, as well as the ink and special quill, and settled at the table.
Dumbledore, I need to talk to you about Potter's home life. I am done waiting for your reply by mail. You are to come here as soon as possible to have this discussion, in person. I need answers. This is not a request, it is a demand.
- Severus Snape
He set the quill down, scowling at his messy writing. It was not as though his writing was pristine before all this, but now it was downright awful. Oh well, he thought to himself. It would have to be good enough for the moment. It was the message that counted, anyway.
He strode out into the sitting room. It appeared that Miss Granger had gone up to her room, and he felt his shoulders relax as he went and over to the perch they kept for the resident owl, seeing as Potter's Snowy Owl was too obvious. He then carefully tied the scroll to its leg. It took Severus a long time to do it, but the owl was patient. It hooted slightly when Severus finished, then fluttered toward the door. Severus opened the screen door, and let the owl fly out into the rain. He was very grateful for the fact that Poppy had charmed all the parchment to repel water, as Severus could not do the charm himself like he normally would have done. He watched it fly away, and then went back to his room, staring out the little window and at the swirling grey skies.
"Now comes the wait," he sighed, wishing he could do more than just send letters.