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Once he had finished unpacking and putting everything away in his new spacious bedroom, which also had a picture of Merlin upon the wall of it that glowed and waved his wand, Harry wandered outside to see what was in the back of the house. He discovered a small stone walkway and a wall that ran the length of it filled with various kinds of flowers-he could identify marigolds, snapdragons, larkspur, and a small rosebush, as well as lavender and pansies. He followed the path down to a small white wooden gate, and when he pushed that open found a large herb garden and a slightly smaller one for vegetables.

Harry could see squash and tomatoes growing on vines and stakes, cucumbers, carrots, string beans, onions, and he thought he recognized potatoes and peas as well. Against the low stone wall were two apple trees heavy with red and yellow apples and a small peach tree as well, though it did not have any fruit on it yet. Inbetween the two apple trees was another gate, leading out into the broad meadow and forest beyond.

Harry ventured as far as the gate leading into the meadow, but he did not go through it yet. He had decided to wait for his father to show him about the glen rather than trying to explore it on his own and possibly getting lost and having to wait until Snape rescued him. That would be the ultimate in embarrassing.

He returned to the cottage to explore it some more and peeked into Snape's study, it looked similar to the Potion Master's office back at school, save that most of the potions on the shelf behind the desk Harry didn't recognize and there were rows of spellbooks with a midnight blue binding and silver script-those were the ones Severus had told him were off limits and too advanced for him to study. Harry was content to heed that warning, he had no wish to end up getting punishment chores his first week here and he wanted his broom back.

He peered at the stacks of parchment and notebooks upon Severus's mahogany desk, one looked like part of a potion recipe and the other partial instructions for a spell called Windwalker, something else Harry had never heard of. He hadn't known that Severus could invent new spells, but then supposed that given the man's intelligence, it shouldn't be too surprising.

He left the study and went down the hall on the opposite side, where he found a potions lab, neat and sanitized to Snape's perfectionist standards. A third room down the hall contained a small library. Harry perused the books leisurely, finding a good many Muggle novels and magical histories among the potions texts and there were even a few cookbooks and one that looked like a book of logic problems. Ah ha! I'll bet that's where you got the idea for the potions challenge, huh, Dad! You're too clever!

He chose an interesting magical history book called The Dwellers in the Forest: a treatise on sylphs, sprites, and woodkin. Upon opening it, he discovered it was a sort of memoir written by none other than the one Rellah had called the White Lady. In it she had detailed her long friendship with the magical non-humans of the glen, their customs, and clan councils, and the treaty she had made with the Woodberries.

He took the book outside and sat down in one of the chairs on the back porch, winced, then summoned a pillow from the den and placed it on the chair before sitting down again. Much better. He began to read, losing himself in the fascinating tale of Angel and the forest people, who had dwelled in this place for thousands of years and regarded it as the last peaceful refuge for themselves and other rare magical creatures.

"I have discovered that the woodkin have a very open philosophy concerning friends, if you do good to one of them, you are named Amith'ala, a person to be trusted, and if you save one's life, you are considered Heta'amitha, a heart-friend, and respected by all their clan. But if you make an enemy of one, beware! The woodkin and other forest dwellers have VERY long memories and they do not forgive easily. They detest liars and those who harm children and animals and users of dark magic. They have their own magic, which some wizards and witches regard as inferior to our own, but they are sadly mistaken. Their magic is fully as strong as our own in their forests or even outside of it, and does not require the use of wands or words. A woodkin uses his or her magic as intuitively as a fish uses gills, and it can easily incapacitate any one of us or even an army if necessary.
"Voldemort, may worms gnaw his gizzard out, once tried to dominate this area and he failed. His Death Eaters and allies could not set foot in the forests protected by the sylphs, dryads, and woodkin. Or rather, they could enter, but never leave, since the woodkin made sure they wandered aimlessly in the middle of nowhere, trapped and lost inside the forest until the woodkin decided to release them. And by the time that happened, the war was over and they had lost months or years trapped in a woodkin's Wanderlust Loop. Others fell victim to the sylph's bows and paralyzing arrows, they might be tiny, but a scratch from one packs quite a wallop. Definitely not people you want to anger.

"But they can also be fun to be around, they like to gossip and play music and throw a party, and a woodkin revel is quite an experience! They have a drink called dandelion wine, very light, very fruity, and very potent. If offered, only drink a glass. Otherwise you'll have the mother of all hangovers the morning after. I have found the woodkin to be very wise and knowledgeable, a better guide through forest and field you will never find, and they are gardeners and gatherers beyond compare. I have learned ten fold about herbs and plants by attending to a woodkin called Saylla, her clan's Healer, than I ever did in class at Hogwarts. Now I am a much better potion maker, thanks to my woodkin friends. Letting them occupy the glen and the forest was the best decision I have ever made."

Harry paused there, wondering if that was how Severus and presumably Eileen as well had become such brilliant potion-makers and Healers. It would make sense, and he wondered why Severus did not teach more of the woodkin methods in class. He made a mental note to ask his father about it later over supper. He was just about to return to the book, marking his place with an index finger, when Rellah came out onto the porch.

"Is it time for supper already, Rellah?" Harry asked.

"Hmm? Oh, no, young master, I'm just gathering some herbs I need for my chicken and potatoes. ‘Tis a lovely day out, with a nice fresh southern breeze." She lifted her hand to the sunlight and her skin appeared to glow slightly, as if she were absorbing it into her flesh. "Good book, Master Harry?"

"Yes, it's actually about your . . .uh . . .people. It was written by Angel."

Rellah looked amused. "The White Lady was a very good friend to us for many years, almost like kin. I am interested to hear what she has to say about us."

"Nothing bad," Harry was quick to reassure her. "It's all good, she said she learned a lot from a woodkin named Saylla, I think, about herbs and potions."

"Saylla is my grandmother. I was just a little sapling-child then, but I do recall her taking Angel, she was much younger then, and showing her the bounties of the forest and field." She cocked her head at Harry. "Are you interested also in learning such, Master Harry?"

"Yes, please. If you have time."

Rellah giggled. "Time is one thing I am never short of. Unless it is suppertime." She turned to enter the herb garden, dancing lightly down the path.

"Uh, do you . . .I mean would you like some help?"

"Certainly, if you wouldn't mind." The woodkin called, her head buried in a patch of basil. "Pick me double handfuls of wild parsley, please. And then some rosemary, five sprigs."

Harry rose and entered the herb garden, looking about at all the plants, and chewing his lower lip nervously. He had thought they would have labels or something, like Professor Sprout's did in the greenhouse back at Hogwarts. But there were no labels on anything, it seemed that Rellah and Severus needed none.

He looked up and down at the rows of herbs and was at a total loss. On Privet Drive he had weeded and planted flowers for Petunia, but never dealt with herbs at all until he came to Hogwarts and then they had learned mostly about magical plants, not ordinary ones. He stood there, feeling like the world's biggest imbecile, when Rellah looked up and saw him staring around with a pensive expression on his face, emptyhanded.

"Is something wrong, Master Harry?"

"Uh . . .I forgot I don't know what parsley looks like when it's planted. Or rosemary either." Harry admitted, feeling himself flush.

Rellah blinked. "You don't know herbs, sir? Do they not feed people at that silly school?"

"Uh, yeah, but the students don't prepare meals. I don't know who does, but it's not us."

"That would be house elves, I believe. There is a clan bonded to Hogwarts." Rellah said, then she came over to Harry. "Perhaps if they allowed students to help cook, you would learn useful herbs quicker. Come along, young master, and look here." She beckoned him down to a small patch where some light green plants grew. "This is rosemary, see the thin spikes. And smell it, rosemary has a distinctive smell." She broke off a few sprigs and let him sniff them. She plucked five sprigs from the plant and tucked them into a gathering basket. "And this is wild parsley." She moved over to another plant with distinctive curled leaves, and picked two handfuls of that as well and put it in the basket. "Smell," she ordered, shoving the parsley under his nose. The parsley was much milder than the rosemary, sweet almost. "If you cannot recognize a plant on sight, sometimes you may by smell. Over here are some small onions and here some thyme."

She took Harry all over the herb garden, picking the herbs she would need to flavor her roasted chicken and potatoes for supper, showing him by example every herb she used, and then lecturing him on what it went best with, a sauce or a rub or dried.

"I wish I had a parchment and a quill to write all this down," he said, half to himself.

Rellah snorted. "What, your mind is not good enough to remember my little instructions? What are they teaching these days, that they don't train you to listen and remember when a teacher is talking? Have you not been paying attention, sir?"

"No, but I just . . .I'm not used to remembering everything someone says." Harry explained. "Don't you ever write recipes down, Rellah?"

"Indeed not! I have all the recipes I need up here," she tapped her head pointedly. "What need have we of ink and scribbling? A woodkin remembers."

"Uh, well, I'm just a human boy and I don't have that good of a memory yet."

"Hmm . We'll have to work on that then. You're plenty smart, Master Harry. You can learn to remember like a woodkin if you put your mind to it. Now listen, and I shall go over the herbs once more."

She repeated her lecture again, along with the examples, and Harry tried hard to concentrate and remember what each herb looked and smelled like. It really was not hard, it just required more concentration than he was used to. But at last he was certain he knew the difference between wild parsley, rosemary, and thyme. "Thank you, Rellah."

"‘Tis naught, young master. Every wizard should know herbs, that way if you ever find yourself alone in the woods someday, you can tell what is good to eat and what is poisonous. I shall teach you some more tomorrow. Now I must cook supper." She vanished back into the cottage, leaving Harry in the middle of the herb garden.

The roasted chicken and the new potatoes with fried onions, rosemary, and salt and pepper was delicious. Rellah also had a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes with a dressing of vinegar, olive oil, and some basil. More oat bread was on the table along with butter and honey. There was fresh lemonade to drink and for dessert there was an apple crumble with fresh cream.

Everything tasted so good, Harry went and ate seconds of it, and Rellah preened.

"Eat up, young master, you are too thin. I can practically see your ribs," she urged and put more green upon his plate.

Harry grinned at Severus and ate them, they were very tasty. It was strange, but he could never recall being hungry at Hogwarts, unless it was after some major spellcasting. But here, his appetite was raging. He supposed it must be the fresh air here or something.

"Harry helped me pick some herbs for supper tonight, Master Sev," Rellah informed the Potions professor, who had put off his typical black school ensemble to wear a casual Mystic blue shirt and navy slacks.

"Ah, so Rellah has taken you under her wing already, Harry?"

"Yes, sir."

"You'll find her a good teacher, but be warned, if you don't pay attention, she'll tweak your ear."

"Oh, go on with you, Master Sev! I only tweaked your ear a few times because you were mooning over that red-headed lass instead of listening to my lecture on the properties of rose thorns," scolded Rellah, her eyes twinkling mischievously.

Severus blushed faintly and Harry eyed his father speculatively. Dad, you were interested in a girl once? Someone with red hair? It was funny to think of his father as a boy, much less one who acted like every other boy with a crush on a girl. "Who was she, Dad?"

"None of your business, Harry. Finish your dessert."

"Killjoy," he muttered. Then he recalled the other thing he had wanted to ask Severus. "Dad?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"I was reading a book today out on the porch, it was written by Angel about the woodkin and she says that she learned a whole lot about potion-making from them."

"That's right. And she passed what she'd learned onto your grandmother, who then taught me."

"And that's why you're an ace at potions, huh?"

"Yes, in part. Also because I truly love my subject and have an aptitude for it."

"Well, I was wondering why don't you teach us some of the stuff you learned from the woodkin?"

"It is not that I wouldn't want to, Harry, but I am limited in my curriculum because of Ministry policy. They consider half and non-humans to be inferior to them and refuse to allow them a vote in the Ministry. They most certainly would never dream of learning what a woodkin knows." Severus explained. "Or me teaching other than the accepted methods and subject matter."

"Oh. I always knew the Ministry was dumb." Harry smirked.

"Bunch of addlepated hidebound old men," Rellah said scathingly.

"Come, Harry. I'll put some more salve on and then we can work on a few meditation techniques, if you want."

"Uh huh. Sounds good."

Harry found he was less sensitive now he had the salve applied more than twice, and managed to lie still while Severus applied it.

"Better now?"

"Yes, much. Thanks." Harry sighed in relief and put his clothing back on.

Severus sat next to him on the couch and said, "I want you to lie back and get comfortable, Harry. You should feel relaxed when you meditate. The first step to meditation is breathing. I want you to focus on inhaling and exhaling. Inhale through your nose with your mouth closed, then exhale through your mouth slowly. Good. Don't do anything but breathe for a few minutes."

That was harder than it sounded, just breathing, even though he did it involuntarily every day. He tried to do as his father had suggested, focusing on drawing air into his lungs and then releasing it. After about a dozen breaths, Harry felt relaxed enough to almost fall asleep. He turned to look at his father, who wore a peaceful expression on his normally serious face, and said, "Now what?"

"Now I want you to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a safe place. It can be anywhere of anything, a room, a house, a bed. When you've found your safe place I want you to put yourself there and allow it to surround you . . .like a warm soft blanket. All right, try and do what I said."

Harry closed his eyes. A safe place? What could that be? I haven't known too many of those, Dad. Not really. Just your lab, but that's not really a safe place. Hmm . . .I guess here is the safest I'm ever gonna get, and it's so very peaceful. Harry imagined Malachite Cottage, and the room he was in now, and Severus sitting next to him. No, that wasn't quite right. Severus always made him feel safe, true, but there was one thing that always made him feel not only safe, but loved. So he imagined himself into Snape's arms, he wrapped the phantom arms about him and let himself be hugged, and he nestled into the familiar shoulder and knew there was no way anyone could hurt him so long as his father was holding him, for his father's love protected him now and always.

"Harry?" Severus voice was low and hypnotic, it slipped into his thoughts like a thief in the night. "Do you have a safe place to go to in your mind yet?"

"Yes, sir." Harry said, and smiled.

"Good. Focus on it, so you know every nuance and detail. Then allow it to surround you. Let the peace you feel there fill you. Can you feel it?"

Harry was silent for a moment. Then he murmured, "Yes."

"Good. I want you to stay there for about seven minutes and then walk away and come back here."

"Okay, Dad." Harry allowed the peace that infused Malachite Cottage to fill him as he curled into Severus's embrace. He was surrounded by warmth and love and he allowed it to flow through him, healing wounds in his soul and spirit he didn't even know were there.

"Harry, time to come back."

Harry sighed, then reluctantly stepped free of Snape's arms and released the image in his mind.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring into the fireplace, blinking sleepily, yet he felt utterly awake and calm. He gazed at his father curiously.

"How do you feel now, Harry?"

"Great. I feel relaxed and . . .and calm. And a bit tired, but not really. Does that make sense?"

"Yes. What you just did is called finding your center. It's the first step in meditation, son. Now, whenever we start meditation sessions, I'm going to tell you to find your center and then breathe. You should come out of the sessions relaxed and calm. Meditation is a good way to relieve stress and anxiety or negative emotions, if done properly. You can also block pain with it, if you know how, though that's a more advanced technique which you won't learn until later on." Severus sat up, smiling slightly. "I think we should have sessions every night or every other night. Does that sound acceptable to you?"

"Yes. I think this will really help me control my magic and my temper better."

"It will, believe me. That is why I practice it."

"You must have done it an awful lot back when we were in school then."

"Every day," Severus said with a quiet laugh. "And sometimes twice in one day. I don't have the patience to teach first and second years who don't pay attention and keep blowing up their cauldrons. It's too bad I couldn't just teach fourth through seventh years and those few who earn O's on their OWL's in Potions."

Harry threw him a blank look and Severus elaborated. "OWL's stand for Ordinary Wizarding Levels, they're a series of standardized tests designed to see how advanced you are magically and how well you've learned each of the disciplines taught at Hogwarts. You don't take them until you're a fifth-year, however, and your scores determine your placement into the more advanced classes given during sixth year. Sometimes they're also used to determine which career best suits you, though it's not always a sure indicator."

"Oh. Why don't you see if maybe Dumbeldore could find you an assistant, Dad? Somebody who wants to teach potions but not at an advanced level like you. Then you could teach the serious students and the assistant could take the kids who are hopeless or not interested or just want to pass and move on to other things."

"That is an excellent idea, Harry. Now why didn't I think of that?"

"Because you're too stubborn to admit you might need help, Severus," Eileen put in from her place above the mantle. "You were like that as a child, always Mr. Independent, and I don't think you've changed all that much now you're an adult."

"Shows how much you know," the Potions Master grumbled.

"Excuse me?" Eileen demanded, her dark eyes flashing. "I didn't catch what you said, mister."

"Nothing, Mother," Severus said quickly, feeling like he was ten again and had just mouthed off at his mother in a fit of temper.

"That's what I thought." Eileen sniffed, giving her son a disapproving glower.

So THAT'S where he gets it from, Harry thought upon seeing Eileen's face. He snuck a look at his father, who looked a little abashed, and couldn't help grinning a little. Eileen might be only a magical portrait, but it appeared she had not lost her ability to make her son feel guilty and ashamed over his quick tongue.

 

Still, discord didn't sit well with him, and so he said, in an effort to alleviate the strained silence, "I'm kind of the same way, Grandma. I never really had anybody to depend on growing up with the Dursleys so I don't always admit I need help either."

Eileen shook her head. "The pair of you are like two peas in a pod, I swear it." She looked at Harry searchingly. "Are you sure you're not really a Snape?"

"Not by blood, but by adoption. Does it matter?"

"No, child. Only sometimes you remind me so of Sev when he was that age that I felt I had to ask. You are more alike than you know."

Harry felt pleased by that comment. "Thanks." Suddenly he found himself yawning uncontrollably, even though he could have sworn he wasn't tired. "Sorry. But all of a sudden I feel like I want to go to bed."

"Meditation takes a lot out of you first time you do it," Severus said. "For the first few sessions you'll be tired, but it's worth it in the end. Go to bed, Harry."

Harry nodded, then hugged his father hard. "Night, Dad."

"Good night, Harry," Severus said and gave the boy a quick kiss on the forehead. "Pleasant dreams."

"You too," Harry called then retreated down the hall to his room.

Hedwig was asleep on her perch, he head tucked under her wing. Harry gently stroked her as he went by on his way to the bed. He climbed into the lovely blue bed and within minutes was fast asleep.

Back in the den, Severus was discussing Harry with Eileen. "... I know he has been damaged emotionally, Mum, and that's why I brought him here, to see if the cottage can't work its magic on him the way it did me. I hope I'm doing the right thing. Sometimes I think I had it easy, when all I had to worry about was myself."

"Love is hard, son. But it is also precious and you should treasure this time with Harry. Soon enough he won't come to you to be hugged, he'll be too "old" for that kind of thing. His aura is damaged, but not so badly that it can't be healed. All he needs is time."

"And time is what we have right now. A good three month's worth."

Eileen smiled. "That should be more than enough time to allow him to heal, Sev. Just reassure him and love him and he'll be fine."

"Thanks, Mum." Then Severus sought his own bed as well, and slept deeply and peacefully till the dawn. Malachite Cottage had that effect on everyone who dwelled within its walls, its serenity was evident even in dreams.


 



Chapter End Notes:


So how was that?

Thanks to all my reviewers, old and new! You make my day.

Who would like to see Ron and Hermione come for a visit?

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