As he swept down the corridor back to the dungeons to prepare for the class of seventh years, Severus fought to keep from grinding his teeth, every time he thought of the conversation he'd had previously with Minerva. Her complacency had shocked and alarmed him, for normally she believed in obeying school rules as he did. But it appeared that for Harry, she was willing to bend them until they snapped. Traditionally, first years were banned from playing sports because they needed time to adjust to their new school, classes, and learn good study habits. There was also an element of danger in Quidditch and first years didn't have the spell craft necessary to cast Cushioning and Featherlight Charms to save themselves if they were knocked off their brooms. And lastly, the older students were much bigger physically and had an advantage when it came to flying expertise.
"Minerva, I cannot believe you would be willing to allow a first year to play upon an intramural Quidditch team, no matter how much natural talent he has," Severus had argued, attempting to make her see reason. "There are reasons why first years aren't allowed to try out for Quidditch."
"I'm aware of them, Severus," she declared frostily. "However, in this case, I think an exception should be made. Surely you aren't . . .jealous that I now have a Seeker that can give your Logan Thorne a run for his money?"
Snape shot her a withering glower. Fool woman, obsessed with damn Quidditch, he thought furiously. Too obsessed to see that putting Harry on a team with older and bigger players was like tossing him in a cage with hungry wyverns, the boy was likely to get pulverized. And now it was going to be ten times harder for Snape to protect him. "My reluctance to having Potter be Seeker has nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with safety. I don't feel that an exception should be made for anyone, and especially not for him. He needs to learn that the rules exist for him just like any other student, and his status as a celebrity doesn't allow him to be above authority."
"Severus, Potter has not displayed to me any need to be "above authority" as you put it. I need a Seeker since Dale Robinson quit the team and transferred to America to go to the US Academy of Magic, and it just so happens that Potter has all the raw talent I've been looking for. The Headmaster has approved my decision, so I don't see why you are so set against it. Unless you're afraid Slytherin might lose the cup this year?"
Severus sneered. "Don't count your dragons before they hatch, Minerva. And don't come crying to me when Potter falls off his broom and breaks his fool neck either," he said shortly.
"Have no fear of that, Severus. I have faith in Harry, he seems to have inherited James's skill on a broom, and Wood will be coaching him. So worry about your snakes, Potions Master, and leave my lion cubs to me, won't you?"
"As you will, Minerva."
Then he turned and left, before he lost his temper completely and said something rude and unexpected. Couldn't she see that she was being irresponsible and putting a young boy's life in danger over a stupid game? The Potions Master would never understand how a game was worth risking your life. He enjoyed watching the matches, and occasionally refereeing them, but he would never have permitted one of his first years to play in one, and especially not an undersized scrawny child like Harry, who had never even heard of the game until he came to school. All of my team is twice and three times his size, and they play rough, and I can't tell them to let up on him either, he thought agitatedly as he stalked down the hall, his robes snapping and rustling around his ankles. Damn you, Minerva! You'll be lucky if he doesn't end up in the Hospital Wing with half his bones broken. He's never even been on a broom until today and you think he's ready to play Quidditch with the big boys? You're insane! The next match is in two weeks and you think Wood can coach him enough to keep him safe? You're gambling the boy's life for the sake of a damn Quidditch Cup, just because your pride is hurt that your House hasn't beaten mine in over five years. For the love of Merlin, Minerva!
The way he saw it, he had no other option than to coach Harry himself on the finer points of flying and safety, making sure he had some knowledge of the rules of the game, and what to watch out for as far as checking and other rough tactics. His Slytherins played hard, they didn't cheat, but they played quick and dirty, and they would show Harry no mercy whatsoever. If Potter wanted to play with the big boys, best he learn to suck up and deal with it, and that would be the prevailing attitude of the rest of the Houses as well, all of whom were at least a year older and had to wait to make a House team. Severus shook his head. No, Minerva had done Harry no favors by allowing him to start so young, it would only breed resentment, and rightly so. And Albus was just as bad, for he could have overruled her, and probably would have, had it been any other student. But because it was Potter, the Golden Boy-Who-Lived . . .Severus clenched his jaw and swore under his breath.
I will keep him safe. I promised Lily. No matter what, I shall be true to my oath. We can begin with some flying lessons tonight, things that Hooch doesn't cover in her classes. Hopefully between me and Wood, we can make sure he is adequately prepared for the first game in two weeks.
* * * * * *
The door to Snape's office banged open, and the professor looked up from his latest pile of homework essays, a stern frown on his face, ready to tear strips off the rude brat who had come barging in like a herd of unicorns. Only to see that it was Harry, who was grinning like a jack-o-lantern, and his expression softened slightly.
"Potter, close the door and sit down," he ordered.
Harry obeyed and turned back to the professor, still wearing that delighted smile.
Severus quickly cast the Muffliato Charm again and locked the door, before saying with a touch of annoyance, "For Merlin's sake, boy, wipe that grin off your face, you're supposed to be coming here for detention, not a high tea. And that's generally not something to look forward to, especially with me."
Harry's face fell. "Oh. Right. Sorry, sir. But nobody saw."
"Yes, sir." Harry reassured him, going to sit in the same chair he had the previous day. The smile returned and the green eyes glowed as Harry said, "I can't wait for the first Quidditch match, sir. I'm a little nervous, but . . .still I can't wait. My dad played Quidditch too, he was a Seeker like I was."
"And also Captain in his sixth year," Severus recalled dryly, masking a sneer.
Harry blinked. "You knew my dad then?"
"Yes, and your mother as well, we went to school together," Severus sais softly.
"What were they like, sir? Could you tell me? No one ever talks about them."
"Your aunt never discussed her sister with you?"
"No. Once, when I was small, I tried to ask her, and she yelled at me to shut up, that she wasn't going to discuss her sister's freakiness with me and give me ideas, and then she locked me in my cupboard for being nosy and that was that."
Severus frowned. "Stupid imbecile!" he muttered. He expelled a breath, then said, "Lily and I were neighbors, we lived on the same block. When we were children, we played together down at the park. She was my first friend who could wield magic."
"And my dad? Did he live there too?"
"No. James was from a wealthy wizarding family, his family owned an estate in the north of England. I didn't meet him until I attended Hogwarts." Snape grimaced. "Your father and I . . .we did not get on. He was full of himself and arrogant, privileged and spoiled." Severus broke off abruptly, not wishing to discuss James bloody Potter any longer. "Enough about him, that's not why I called you here tonight. I wanted to discuss your sudden elevation to Seeker, a position that no first year has ever held in over a century."
"Ron told me that too. His brothers, Fred and George are on the team too, as Beaters. I'm not sure exactly what they do, but Wood promised he'd give me a manual that explained all the positions and the balls."
"You've spoken with Wood then?"
"Yes, sir. Right after lunch, he took me down to the pitch and showed me all the balls, including the Snitch. He said that's the only one I ought to be concerned about."
"Humph! He's right, technically. However, he neglected to mention that you also need to be alert for the Bludgers, even though it is the Beaters' job to keep them away from you."
"Did you ever play Quidditch?"
Snape shook his head. "I had no time for sports, I was too busy studying. But I do referee matches from time to time. I can show you some basic moves and tactics, after you learn how to fly properly, that is."
"Really? You'd teach me?" Harry sounded as if he had just received a billion Galleons.
"Did I not just say so?" Severus repeated. "Pay attention, Harry." He rose to his feet, summoning his broom from the closet. "Come along, Mr. Potter. Do you have a broom, or must you borrow one from the school stores?"
"Uh, I have to borrow one. It wasn't on my list of school supplies," Harry admitted, biting his lip. He was practically dancing from foot to foot.
Severus raised an eyebrow. Playing Quidditch on a borrowed broom? That's not going to protect him worth a damn, those broom are old and need safety charms rewoven into them. He needs a decent broom, Sev. One that won't become kindling and allow him to outfly the majority of the other players. It's the only advantage he's likely to have. He hid a sigh. One more thing he had to see to. "Very well. Has anyone taught you a Summoning Charm yet?"
"No. Professor Flitwick only covered levitation."
"Yes, that's one of his favorites. More practical though to start with a Summoning Charm. No matter, watch me closely, Harry. Accio broomstick!" Severus spoke the charm slowly, enunciating the words distinctly and keeping his wand movements deliberately slow, so Harry could see exactly how the charm was cast.
An instant later, a broomstick flew into Severus's outstretched hand. "There. An easy bit of magic, and very useful too." He placed the broomstick upon his desk, then opened the office door. "Go outside and cast the charm. Remember to speak the incantation firmly and with the proper inflection."
Harry obeyed. A second later he spoke the spell, and the broom quivered an instant before falling back into place.
"Again, and this time put some conviction into it. Magic is nine tenths will and one tenth power."
Harry spoke the charm again, this time putting some force behind the command. "Accio broomstick!"
This time the spell was successful and the broomstick flew off the desk and into his hand. Harry grinned. "I did it."
Severus nodded. "Not bad for your first try. Very well, follow me." He stepped out of his office, locking the door, then he led Harry down a short corridor he had never known was there, to what looked like a dead end. But then Snape tapped the stone with the flat of his hand and it glowed and slid aside to reveal a doorway out of the castle.
"Neat! I never knew that was here."
"Nor should you, for this is an emergency exit. Not to be used by students for sneaking out of the school." Severus told him sternly. "However, this once, we must use it. Come."
Harry followed practically on his guardian angel's heels as they slipped from the castle.
Snape led him past the lawn and the Quidditch pitch, down a winding twisty path between several rows of larches and aspens. Harry panted, struggling to keep up with Snape's long strides.
Severus glanced back, saw that his student was having difficulty and slowed down. "Hurry, Harry. There isn't much time to practice before curfew."
"Where are we going, sir?"
"A place where we can fly unseen," answered the Potions Master, and continued walking.
The path looped and twisted, until Harry was totally disorientated and certain that they were no longer even on the grounds. Finally Severus walked inbetween two gigantic oak trees and into a large clearing.
Sweet meadow grass carpeted the ground and Harry could see the first stars of evening brighten the twilight sky. There were several oaks surrounding the clearing, though when Harry glanced back, he could see the silhouette of the castle in the distance. So they had not left the grounds as he had thought.
Severus walked to the center of the clearing and beckoned to Harry. "I'm going to put a Sticking Charm on you once you mount your broom. That way if something happens while I am demonstrating a maneuver, you can't fall off."
"But why? I flew just fine without one today." Harry protested.
Severus narrowed his eyes in disapproval. "What you did today was reckless and foolish, young man. You had never been on a broom in your life, what if you had miscalculated and fallen off, the way your classmate Longbottom did? You were higher than he was, you would have broken more than just a wrist."
Harry goggled. How had Snape known about Neville? Did the man really read minds, the way the Weasley twins said he did? "How did you know about that, sir?"
"I have my sources," Snape replied. "That's none of your affair. Your only concern should be obeying me, and that means when you fly with me, you do so with safety charms, am I clear? I want no accidents, I have too much to do to be mending broken bones, Harry James Potter."
"Yes, sir," Harry said dutifully, though he really didn't see why Snape was being so cautious. He was a good flyer, everyone said so. Why then did the professor insist on treating him like a little baby?
"Mount your broom, Harry."
Harry did so, and then Severus cast a Sticking Charm upon him, practically cementing the seat of his trousers to the broomstick. Harry felt the difference immediately, it was rather like wearing a seatbelt inside of a car. He wasn't sure he liked it, but he knew better than to protest.
Severus mounted his own broomstick, then kicked off into the air. "We'll practice some basic flying first, loops and spirals, until I'm sure you've gotten used to being in the air, then we'll go on to some more advanced moves, things you'll need to catch the Snitch and avoid Bludgers and other players trying to ram you."
Harry hovered next to him. "They can do that, the other players?"
"Yes, if they can catch you. It's not an outlawed move. So you must learn to be alert and pay attention not only to the Snitch but the other players around you. So, we begin." Snape circled the entire clearing, rising to some thirty feet above the treeline. They were far enough away from the castle to avoid being seen by anyone save an owl.
Harry found the elementary exercises Snape insisted he perform quite boring, but he did as the dark angel had requested. Severus matched him effortlessly, noting that the boy did indeed have an instinctive grace on a broom. After ten minutes, Severus rose another five feet into the air and began showing Harry the more complicated maneuvers, weaves and dodges, and double backs.
The boy performed each maneuver gracefully, and that was when Severus reached into a pocket and withdrew a small glowing Snitch from it. "All right, Mr. Potter. Catch this."
He tossed the tiny winged globe up into the air, and it fluttered all over the clearing, but no further, since Severus had placed a Boundary Charm upon it.
Harry squinted, spied the glittering globe, and began to pursue it.
Severus hovered some ten feet up, watching his secret son chase the Snitch, a small smile playing across his face. Oh, Lily. It's too bad you couldn't be here to see this. If only . . . There's no use in wishing for what can never be, Severus, he reprimanded himself sternly. Better to appreciate each day as it comes and not hope for more. Except, if he was being honest, since Harry had come into his life, he had been hoping for more than simply existing. Since Harry had come to matter so much to him, his life had taken a turn for the better. The boy had brought a measure of happiness and contentment back into his life that he had only known once before. With Harry's beloved mother, whom Severus had loved the way he had never loved another. Had things worked out differently, Lily would have been my wife, not Potter's. And Harry my son in truth, not just borrowed, and then I'd . . .he cut short his musings to glance down at where Harry was flying after the elusive golden ball, and almost fell off his broom. Great bloody Merlin's ghost! What the blazes is that boy DOING!?
For Harry had pursued the Snitch right up to the trunk of a large oak and proceeded to slingshot around it at a speed that nearly made Severus's hair stand on end. It was a dangerous maneuver, for one single miscalculation and Harry would have smashed face first into the trunk and tumbled some forty feet through the air.
Yet the boy darted around the trunk, missing it by a scant half an inch, and then he was soaring up at a fantastic rate, one hand outstretched to grab the Snitch.
Severus's heart nearly came up out of his throat as Harry twisted about, zigzagging like a drunken sailor in and out of the trees, flying with a speed that bordered on insanity. Severus opened his mouth to shout at the boy to stop immediately, then froze, afraid he might disturb the boy's concentration and cause him to lose focus. And if that happened . . .
Harry, you reckless little imbecile! Just wait till I get a hold of you! Severus thought wrathfully.
Just then Harry's hand closed about the Snitch and he spun about, waving his hand in triumph. "I caught it! See? See?"
"Potter! Get your damn backside on the ground NOW!" Severus snarled, totally losing his legendary composure once he was certain the boy was safe. Did the boy not realize how close he had come to splattering himself all over? How near he had come to hitting his head on that last branch? Where was his sense of self-preservation, for Merlin's sake? It was damned unnatural for the child to display no fear whatsoever at flying at such a reckless speed, in and out of blasted trees . . .Severus had almost died of heart failure.
Harry froze, the smile he had been wearing sliding off his face, all his joy at catching the Snitch evaporated in the heat of Severus's anger. Huh? What . . .why's he so mad? He wondered frantically, then dived down for a landing after seeing the look of stark anger upon the older wizard's face. He had never seen that particular expression upon Snape's face ever, and it made his heart begin to pound crazily and fear surge through his limbs.
Severus followed, touching down a scant minute before Harry, jumping off his broom to stride over to the boy, his face set in forbidding lines. He snapped out a reversal of the Sticking Charm before his hand shot out and picked up the boy, holding him effortlessly in the air, and shaking him hard.
"Have you gone totally insane? What do you call that kind of stunt you just pulled, mister? Did I or did I not tell you to be careful when you flew about the trees?"
"I-I was, sir . . .!" Harry stuttered. "I wasn't all that close to them, honest." Actually he hadn't been able to tell how near he was to each tree, he had just flown on pure instinct, his eyesight was unreliable in the dark.
"Not all that close . . .!" Severus growled, and shook the boy again. "Are you blind? Or do you simply have a death wish? You missed hitting a tree branch by half an inch! And the tree trunk by another three quarters. You could have smashed your head open, foolish child! And then all your blasted brains would have been decorating the grass."
"I was?" Harry repeated blankly. "I didn't know . . .I thought . . ."
"No, you didn't! You didn't think at all. Otherwise you'd never have done something so utterly stupid, and risked your neck that way." Severus spat, his terror at Harry's daring shifting into anger. "You could have died, you reckless little fool! I didn't save your life all those years only to have you smash your head in now."
Harry was stunned. Never before had anyone ever cared whether or not he was careful, or if he got hurt. He had always been the unwanted burden, the poor relation abandoned on the doorstep, the freak of nature that would have done better to die along with his parents. No one had ever cared if he lived or died. No one . . .until now.
Harry swallowed sharply, trying to moisten his throat, which had gone dry from fear. He had never seen his dark protector so angry, and to have the full force of that anger turned upon him . . ."I-I'm sorry . . .I really didn't know . . .I was just trying to catch the Snitch . . ."
"You're telling me you didn't see how close you came to knocking your head against that tree trunk?" Severus demanded harshly, trying to rein in his temper.
Harry shook his head. "My . . .my glasses . . .I can't see too well at night, or . . .or far away . . ."
Severus drew in a deep breath. "You can't see even with your glasses, Harry? You wouldn't happen to be making that up as an excuse, now would you? Because if I find out you're lying to me . . .you'll discover what a real detention is like with me, young man!" He punctuated his scolding with another brisk shake, then he set the boy on his feet, though his hands remained resting firmly on the slender shoulders.
"I'm not lying, sir! Honest. My eyes are bad . . .I can't even see well with my glasses. Aunt Petunia . . .she said I was lucky I wasn't blind." Harry said, dropping his gaze to his shoes, all the euphoria he'd experienced earlier burned to ashes by his guardian's temper.
"Harry. Look at me," Severus ordered, waiting until the boy had dragged his gaze up from the grass before saying in a much more even tone, "When did you last have an eye exam?"
"Huh? An eye exam? I don't know what you mean."
"When was the last time you had your eyes checked by a doctor?" queried Snape exasperatedly.
Harry's brow furrowed. "Uh . . .I've never had my eyes checked by anyone. Not that I can remember."
"Then how did you know that you needed glasses?"
Harry shrugged. "Uh, my teacher in preschool noticed I kept holding things to my face and squinting, and she told Aunt Petunia I should get glasses. Aunt Petunia said a new pair was too expensive for the likes of me and she got me one from the Masons bin."
"So you've never had your eyes tested? Or been to a doctor to determine if they can be corrected with surgery so you don't need glasses?" Severus demanded, incensed at the neglect and cruelty of Harry's Muggle relatives, though it didn't surprise him.
"No, sir. This is the only pair of glasses I've ever had. But at least with them on I could see a little better. Enough to keep from bumping into things."
"Those miserable . . ." he trailed off, muttering explicatives under his breath. He managed to get control of himself after a moment however, and said, "You need to pay a visit to Madam Pomfrey, the school's medi-witch, and let her perform an eye exam on you. Perhaps that will enable her to figure out the correct prescription for your eyes and then you may get a pair of glasses that actually improve your vision instead of making it worse."
"My glasses make my vision worse?"
"If they aren't the right prescription for your eyes, yes."
"But . . .I don't have any money to pay for new glasses," Harry recalled. He had spent the last of the money he'd withdrawn from his vault on the train coming to Hogwarts.
Severus waved off his concern. "I can afford to buy you a decent pair, though I shall tell Madam Pomfrey that I loaned you the money, and you must repay me next year. I suggest you go see her tomorrow morning, first thing. Then perhaps you will be able to see the trees in the clearing from now on and quit almost hitting them."
"I didn't know I was, sir." Harry protested. "Was my flying really that bad?" He looked crestfallen.
"It was . . .terrifying, you young imp," Severus scolded gently. "You nearly made my heart come up out of my throat."
"Really? You care that much?" Harry asked, wonder shading his tone.
"Foolish child, do you not know that by now? Would I have healed you all those years if I didn't?"
"Well . . .you said you made a promise. And you should always keep your promises. That's what you told me."
"True. But the promise is only one reason. I . . .care very much about you, you reckless young fool," Snape growled gently, cuffing the boy very lightly on the back of the head. "And if you ever scare me that way again . . .you'll be very sorry, that much I will promise you." He gave the skinny eleven-year-old a semi-nasty Snape glare to make sure he was taking this seriously.
"I'll watch my flying next time, sir," Harry promised, and gave the professor a tentative lopsided smile.
"You had better, or else you'll see a side of me you wished you hadn't," the professor threatened softly. He glanced at his watch. "Come, it's time to go back. You don't want to miss curfew, do you?" he added as Harry groaned. "Give me the Snitch."
Harry reluctantly handed it over and Snape whispered something that made the ball go still and tucked it back inside his pocket.
"Even if I did miss curfew, I could always say it was your fault," he remarked cheekily. "That you kept me too long in detention."
"My fault, is it? You're pushing it, boy. Get your broom, Mr. Potter, and quit dawdling, before I give you an honest to God detention."
Harry obeyed, sensing the other wizard was not joking. He fell in beside the tall man, and Severus placed an arm about the slender shoulders for a bit as they walked. The night was cool and the stars above sparkled like tiny jewels in the velvet vault of the sky. They walked in silence for some way, until Severus said, "I will continue to give you flying lessons, Harry, every evening I can spare until the Quidditch match. I will send you an anonymous note with your owl, and you can meet me outside by the greenhouse. But make certain you are not seen. It would look very strange if it were known that I, Head of Slytherin House, was giving you flying lessons."
"I'll be careful, sir." Harry pushed his glasses back up on his nose. Severus's concern warmed him to the core of his being. At least there was one person who cared about him, even if he did have a rather odd way of showing it at times.
They re-entered the castle through the emergency entrance, and Severus made sure no one saw them entering the office. Once inside, he took Harry's broom and returned it to the school broom cupboard with a Returning Charm. Then he took another look at the boy, making certain he was not injured, before drawing him into a fierce embrace.
Harry returned the hug, glad that his dark angel was no longer angry at him for flying like a maniac, unintentional as it had been.
Severus released him after a long moment, admonishing him sternly to "Get some sleep and then go see Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing first thing in the morning. Don't forget."
"I won't. Good night, sir. And . . .thanks."
Severus snorted. "Now he thanks me, the wretched imp," he muttered. "Off with you, Mr. Potter. You've wasted enough of my evening," he said gruffly, removing the charm about the office. Then he sent the boy on his way with a firm spank, making Harry yelp softly.
Harry cast his guardian an indignant glance over his shoulder before shutting the door to the office. Really, did Snape think he was five, giving him a swat like that? He rubbed his bottom absently, then made his way back up to Gryffindor Tower, thinking perhaps he ought to be grateful that he was too old to spank, else Snape might have taken him over his knee instead of merely screaming and shaking him half to death. He snorted at his own foolishness. Don't be ridiculous, Harry. He would never do that to you, he's your teacher, not your father. His father . . .would James have gotten angry like that over Harry nearly flying headfirst into a tree that way? Was that how a parent who cared for their child behaved? Harry didn't know the answers to those questions, for no one before had ever given a damn what happened to him. Still . . . Harry supposed if his father had lived he might have reacted that way. Perhaps he would ask Ron tomorrow, because he had an odd feeling that the Potions Master was coming to care for him as more than his student. If that were possible.
It was only after he was sliding into bed that he recalled he hadn't told his guardian angel about the creepy feeling Quirrell gave him and the way his scar had hurt. Oh well. I'll tell him tomorrow night, it's not like it's that big of a deal anyhow. Harry yawned, then snuggled down in his crimson comforter and was asleep in seconds, too tired from the night's excursion to notice the snoring and tossing of his Housemates.
So how was that for a different plot twist?
Next: Quarrels abound at Hogwarts between students . . .and a Potions Master.
Next: Quarrels abound at Hogwarts between students . . .and a Potions Master.