Chapter 4 : Nightmares and Bedtime Stories
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Tobias looked up when Severus entered the kitchen. “Well? How is he?”
“Asleep,” answered his son, pouring himself another cup of tea. “He’s exhausted. I cannot believe the harm they did to him. They’ve made him afraid to believe in his own magic! He’s supposed to be one of the most powerful wizards in the world and he thinks magic isn’t real. What am I supposed to do about that, Dad?”
Tobias was silent for a long while, thinking. At last he said, “Well, Severus, that boy might be what you said, but you need to remember he’s also a kid. One that’s hurting real bad. Like another boy I knew. He needs time, Sev. Time to get used to you, time to realize that you’re not going to smack him around or whatever, before you can convince him that he’s the wizard you say he is. Just take it slow, okay?”
Severus nodded. What his father said made sense. Harry was a scared little boy, and couldn’t be expected to just accept the fact that magic existed when he’d been told his whole life otherwise, and probably had that belief hammered into him by fists and a belt. “You’re right. I ought to know better. I was the same once.” He shook his head sadly. Then he told Tobias about the way Harry had reacted in the bathroom. “Even I wasn’t that bad.”
“You were bad enough,” his father said. “But with patience and compassion, he’ll come through this. He’s a strong kid, he never would have lasted this long if he wasn’t.”
“I think I ought to take him to a Healer tomorrow or the next day. He needs to be evaluated, I know he’s malnourished and needs potions, he may even need some vaccinations, most boys need a set before they start school.”
“That’s a good idea, Sev. Care for a hand of cards? Five card draw poker?”
Severus smirked wolfishly. “Think you can take me, old timer?”
“I can beat the pants off you, boy, without half trying.”
“We’ll see.” Severus chuckled, and summoned the deck of cards, chips, and the container of Sickles and Knuts for the pot.
They spent a pleasurable two hours bluffing and calling each other, having a grand old time fleecing each other. The pot was passed back and forth amid good-natured insults and arguments over who had the best poker face. In the end, Severus had won by ten Sickles.
“Now don’t get all high and mighty, boy, because next time I’m going to thrash you good,” Tobias threatened, laughing.
“That’ll be the day, Dad.” His son snorted, sweeping his winnings back into the battered old biscuit jar. “It’s been a long time since we played a game like that.” Usually Severus was too busy with his research on potions and spells to have time for cards or much of anything except sleep when he got home.
“It was fun, huh?”
“We’ll have to teach the kid, so he can join us.”
“You’d teach a ten-year-old how to gamble?”
“Shoot, Sev, just for pennies. My old man taught me how to deal from an inside straight when I was barely ten. It’s not like I’m taking him to the pub.”
Severus looked skeptical. He loved his father, but sometimes Tobias’ morals were a little lax. Still, maybe that would be a good way to introduce Harry to benevolent magic. By showing him some wizard card games or chess. “We’ll see. I’m going to go to bed, I need to get up early tomorrow and do some brewing before I make that appointment with the Healer. Hopefully Poppy Pomfrey has had a cancellation or two.”
Tobias yawned. “G’night, Sev. I’d let the kid sleep in if I were you. I’ll fix him some breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“All right.” Severus headed upstairs, pausing to check on Harry before turning in to his own room.
Harry woke up screaming. The nightmare was always the same. He was stuffed in the cupboard and the walls were closing in on him, making it hard to breathe. Then they started falling and there was a flash of green light and a woman’s voice screaming, “Harry! Harry!”
He sat bolt upright in bed and gasped for air, certain he was about to be crushed by the falling walls. It was a moment or two before he realized he wasn’t in any danger of the cupboard collapsing because he wasn’t in the cupboard. Idiot! You’re such a damn crybaby! He sneered at himself. But that didn’t stop him from shaking and then scrambling from the bed and huddling in a corner, inbetween the dresser and the window. He pulled his knees up to his chest and hunkered down, wrapping his arms about his bony knees and putting his head on them.
He didn’t know why he kept having that awful nightmare, but he did. He hoped and prayed that his scream wasn’t going to bring one of the adults to investigate. They were sure to be spitting mad, getting woken up in the middle of the night by a big crybaby. Uncle Vernon had always given him the back of his hand for doing that, or even walloped him with a slipper if he was particularly annoyed. “There, now you have something to cry about, you little whelp!” Harry shivered just recalling it and his bottom stung with sympathetic remembrance.
Suddenly he heard footsteps coming down the hall.
Oh no! Now he was in for it.
He tensed and huddled into as small a ball as he could. Maybe if the tall man—Severus—couldn’t find him he would escape the man’s wrath. He squinched his eyes shut. I wish I could disappear. I wish I could disappear.
Severus opened the door. “Harry?” he called softly, and peered in the room. The bed covers were rumpled, but the boy was not in bed. Severus crossed into the room and looked about. “Harry? Where are you? I thought I heard a scream.”
The obsidian-eyed Unspeakable glanced all around the room, trying to figure out where the boy had gone. “Harry? Where did you go?” He walked around the other side of the bed and looked right into the corner where Harry was hiding. “Ah. There you are. What on earth are you doing back there?”
Cautiously, Harry raised his head. Severus did not seem particularly put out, nor was he scowling and threatening retribution. Still, there was no telling when he might lose it. He eyed the other’s large long-fingered hands. Snape was thin, but wiry and Harry was sure his hand would hurt just as much as Vernon’s ever had. “S-Sorry. I’m sorry I woke you, sir,” he began, hating the way his voice quivered like a coward’s. “It won’t happen again.”
Severus blinked. “No need to apologize. Did you have a nightmare?”
Harry expected Snape to drag him out of the corner any minute and was surprised when Severus instead sat down on the floor a few feet away.
“You know, I used to have nightmares too when I was your age. They were very scary and I would wake up in a cold sweat, howling, because they were so real. It was only later that I learned my dreams weren’t just dreams—they were visions. Visions of what might be. You see, Harry, I’m a Seer, born with the gift, and that was how I knew you were in trouble. You haunted my sleep.”
“I did? I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. The visions come as they will, and they saved your life. Would you care to come out and tell me about your dream?”
Harry shook his head. “Are you cross?”
“Because I woke you. Uncle Vernon used to get awful cross when I did that and then he would scream at me and sometimes he’d wallop me too.”
“Harry, I’m going to ask you to do a difficult thing for me. I’m going to ask you to forget about your uncle and whatever he said or did. He’s dead and gone and you’re here with me. I give you my solemn oath, on my magic, that I will never treat you the way he did.”
“You’re not going to beat me?”
“No. Beating a child will not cure nightmares and will only make them worse. I know that better than anyone.” Severus said simply. “Nightmares are your mind’s way of trying to deal with things you are frightened of. They are reminding you that you have to face your fears in order to be rid of them. That’s why I asked you if you would like to talk about them. Sometimes talking about it helps.”
But Harry shook his head. “No. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Wouldn’t I?” Severus raised an eyebrow. “You are not the only one to suffer from night terrors.” He studied the boy for a moment, then recalled something his father had always done after he had a nightmare. “Since you are unable to sleep, perhaps you would like to hear a story?”
“What? You think I’m a baby?” Harry asked indignantly, then he cursed himself for his insolence. He waited for Snape’s roar of anger, for hard hands to seize him and teach him to be smart to his elders. He immediately opened his mouth to apologize.
But Severus just looked at him. “Hardly. I merely thought you might like to hear a story about a boy similar to yourself whose best friend was a little red-headed girl named Lily.”
“Is it a true story? Or a made-up one?”
“It’s true. They were real people,” Severus assured him. “Would you care to hear about them?”
Harry shrugged, then shifted slightly. He was rather cold, sitting beneath the window, and his bum was starting to get numb but he wasn’t quite ready to come out yet. He still didn’t trust the tall man to keep his word.
“You can sit on your bed if you wish,” invited Snape.
But Harry shook his head. “I’m fine here, sir.”
“Very well. Their story begins in a town in Manchester, where there was a park down the street from their houses that all the children went to play at. The boy usually preferred to go there when most of the children had gone home, since they mocked him for his shabby clothes and ragged hair. He was poor, but he had a secret. A secret he would never tell anyone . . .until the day he met the red-haired girl. He met her and her sister one day at the park, they were on the swings and Lily jumped off when the swing was high in the air.
“Her big sister scolded her, and the boy thought she was braver than any girl he knew for daring to risk a broken leg or wrist that way.
“Until she flew through the air and landed lightly on the ground.
“Her sister was beside herself, worried that someone had seen.
“Someone had, but he would never tell anyone. Because his secret was the same as the girl’s. They had inherited a gift. The gift of magic.
“But when he told the sisters that, they laughed at him and said there was no such thing.
“Then explain how Lily flew through the air if she doesn’t have magic?” the boy asked.
“She’s just freaky,” said Tuney. “She’s always doing weird things like that and freaking out my mum and dad.”
“She’s not a freak!” cried the boy. He hated that name, he had been called it too. “She’s going to be a powerful sorceress someday.”
“Tuney laughed. “Oh, right! You’re as nutty as she is!”
“But Lily wasn’t laughing. “How do you know that?”
“Because you’re not the only one who can fly,” he answered, and then he showed her how he could change a rock into rainbow colors and explained that he was a wizard.
“A real wizard! Wow!” she cried, and that was the beginning of their friendship.
“He brought her books of magic and told her about the magical world that existed side by side with her own, that only wizards could see. He showed her how to brew elementary potions and spoke of the magical school they would one day attend called Hogwarts.”
Harry scowled. “Hey! I thought you said this was a real story!”
“And so it is. Hogwarts is real. The girl and boy are real. Most important of all, magic is real. You were born with it and so was I. So were your parents, which is why your aunt refused to speak to them. The little girl in the story was your mother, Lily. Her sister was your Aunt Petunia.”
“And the boy?”
“Can you not guess?”
“Was he my dad?”
“No. Your father was wealthy.”
Harry thought for a moment. Then it hit him. “It was you, right? You were the boy.”
“Yes. I met your mother when we were both ten years old. She became my best friend.”
“You really knew her? You’re not just saying that?”
“On my honor, I really knew Lily.” Snape said solemnly.
“Did you know my dad too?”
“Yes. We attended Hogwarts in the same year.” Severus said grimly, masking his distaste.
“Did they really die in a car crash like Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia said? Because my father was driving drunk?” Harry asked, the questions flowing from him like water from a spigot. For so long he had gone without answers, that he couldn’t help himself. Finally he might get a sense of who his parents were.
“A car crash? Lily and James Potter?” Severus repeated in astonishment. “That is a baldfaced lie! They did not die in an auto accident.”
“That’s what aunt always told me. She said that’s how I got this scar. From glass shattering.” He indicated the lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
“More lies. Harry, I will tell you the truth about your parents and that scar, but not right now. It is not something I wish to discuss with you in the middle of the night. It’s a dark tale and better spoken of in the light of day. Tomorrow I shall tell you all. For now, however, know that your aunt and uncle lied to you and hid the truth to serve their own ends.”
“Why? Did my mum and dad’s deaths have anything to do with magic?” Harry guessed, intuitively knowing it was so.
Snape nodded, pleased with Harry’s astuteness. “It did. We will speak more of it tomorrow. But it grows late and you need your sleep.”
“Will you tell me more about my mum? Please?”
Severus considered , seeing the hungry look come over the boy’s face. “I shall, if you will come and get into bed. You’ll catch a chill sitting there beneath the window.”
Harry hesitated. He looked from the bed to Snape, estimating the distance it would take for him to get in bed without Snape grabbing him. He thought he could make it. “Okay,” he agreed.
“Get in bed then.”
Harry ran then, as quick as he could, and jumped on top of the bed. He landed with a slight thump and rolled over, crawling under the covers before Snape could blink. “M’in bed,” he said, his voice muffled through the covers. “Will you tell me now?”
Severus suppressed a laugh. He rose and took a seat in the desk chair. “What do you wish to know?”
“Was she pretty, my mum?”
Severus nodded. “I thought she was the most beautiful girl ever. But she had something even better than beauty. She was kind and generous, she always defended me to any boy who teased me, or even her own sister. People naturally enjoyed being with her, she had many friends in school, but she never forgot me, her first best friend. We used to study together for tests and do homework together.”
“Did she have a favorite subject?”
“Charms. She was wickedly good at them. But potions was her second love and she excelled at them. She and I were the best potion makers in our year,” Severus said with a faraway look in his eyes. “She had huge green eyes that saw everything. Your eyes are like hers.” Except hers were never filled with fear.
Harry seemed pleased with that. “I can’t remember her.” Except for her screaming, but I don’t want to remember that. “But I’m glad I have her eyes.” He began to yawn.
“She had a lovely voice, very soft and melodic, unless she was tearing someone into strips for being a nasty lout. She had quite a temper, your mother. Especially in defense of the helpless.”
Harry shut his eyes. He could almost hear her voice in his mind, soft and low, singing a lullaby.
“Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top . . .”
He drifted, seeking an elusive memory of a song sung in a sweet contralto, and recalling the gentle touch of a milk-white hand. But that was all he could recall. Still, it was enough to send him into a peaceful slumber.
Severus allowed himself a tiny smile of triumph. He had not thought it would work, he had thought Harry was too distressed to relax with a mere story, but it looked like Tobias’ method worked like a charm. If it hadn’t, Severus had been prepared to use a spoonful of Dreamless Sleep, but he was just as glad not to have to resort to potions. It was always best to fall asleep naturally.
He gently smoothed out the covers before departing the room. He turned and glanced over his shoulder at the slumbering boy and muttered, “If only you had done what you promised long ago, Lily, and named me his godfather. Then those rotten Dursleys would have never been able to claim him.” He sighed. There was no sense in wishing for what might have been. He had Harry now, and had to hope that he would be able to fix what the bloody Muggles had broken.
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