In the two weeks that followed, Harry received quite an education about herbs, plants, potion ingredients, and woodcraft. Both Severus and Rellah were experts in woodslore, and between the two of them, Harry learned all about herbs, seasonings, how to move quietly through a stretch of woods or meadow, and how to tell the difference between a harmless mushroom and its deadly cousin, amanita.
"Many plants here are poisonous to one of your kind, young master, if picked out of season, or improperly." Rellah told him one afternoon as she led him through the great meadow, which contained dozens of plants and wild flowers and certain herbs. "See here, a common dandelion." She knelt and pointed to a rather tall specimen growing near the toe of Harry's trainer.
Harry knelt to examine the plant also, for Rellah would not pluck a plant as mere teaching exercise, only if she were going to cook it. "The dandelion stem is edible, you can eat it in a salad or sauteed with oil and garlic and salt as a side dish. It is quite tasty. The leaves and roots of it are also useful ground as a tea, it cures some digestive ailments, such as bloating and diarrhea and is also good for your kidneys and spleen. It has a high vitamin content and can be used as a wash to cure boils and abscesses, and also good for colds and coughs and pneumonia. If you were a girl, it would also ease monthly cramps and bloating and pains when you are bearing a child. But the flowers of the dandelion are poisonous to you and should never be eaten. Repeat back to me what I just told you, sir."
This was standard procedure for these botany lessons. Harry would listen closely to what the woodkin said, and try to memorize it, and then she would have him repeat it back to her to see what he retained. Gradually, he managed to remember over half of what she said on the first try, and the rest he picked up on the second repetition.
He repeated what she had said on the uses of the dandelion, and was rewarded with one of her brilliant smiles. "Well done, Master Harry. Now here is a marigold. Marigold flowers are good for upset stomachs, they are a prime ingredient in the Stomach Soother Potion your father makes, and can also be made into an ointment to soothe burns and rashes, it is an ingredient in that salve Master Sev used to heal you from that awful whipping . . ."
Harry flinched unconsciously when Rellah mentioned that incident, even though he was all healed from it now. He had soon discovered that there were no secrets in Malachite Cottage, and Rellah had been outraged when she had come into the den one evening to ask if they wished dessert and seen Severus tending to Harry. "What sort of woman could do such to a child? It is . . .inconceivable! I hope you punished the harpy good and proper, Master Sev, for should I and my kin ever find her, we would cast the curse of a thousand bees upon her!"She was truly furious, Harry saw, her grass green eyes burning and her small frame trembling with anger.
"Fear not, Rellah, I have paid her back tenfold for what she did to my son."
"Excellent, Master. Now move over and let me tend to the child, my hands are much gentler than your clumsy human paws." And she quite firmly shoved Severus away and finished applying the rest of the salve to Harry herself, and Harry had to admit he barely felt anything when she worked on him.
Severus supplemented their botany lessons with ones on basic potions and drafts, teaching Harry how to use the herbs and plants Rellah had drilled him on in the salves and potions. One of the first salves they made together was the quick healing one, which used marigold flowers and dandelion root, among other things.
One on one, Harry found Severus an excellent teacher, who was quick to point out a mistake but also willing to give praise when praise was due, and showed him many tips and shortcuts when grinding roots and cutting them that were incredibly useful and time saving. "You know, Dad, now that I know how to cut up a milka bean the right way and all, I'll be much quicker finishing my labs and also any detentions too."
"Yes, which means I'll just have to assign you more work during a detention," answered his father, and Harry groaned. "So," his father said, reaching out and tweaking his son's nose gently, "I would suggest you not do anything, Mr. Snape, to earn detention with me. Or with any other professor. Because that will also mean a detention with me."
"A double detention! But . . .but that's-"
"Don't say it. It's fair, Harry, since most parents would punish their child if they got into trouble at school at home. Since I am a teacher there, however, you will simply receive your additional punishment that much sooner. Knowing that, I would hope you are deterred enough to stay out of trouble, fledgling."
"Fledgling?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "What's with the nickname, Dad?"
"You remind me of a fledgling phoenix, always having near-death experiences yet managing to rise above them and be reborn anew." Severus explained, coughing slightly, for that was the first time he had ever given anyone a pet name before. "I thought it suited you, but if you don't like it I'll stop using it."
"No, it's okay," Harry said quickly, not wanting Severus's feeling to be hurt. "It's just this is the first time anyone's ever given me a nickname . . .you can't count The-Boy-Who-Lived .. .but I don't mind it, honest."
"Actually, this is the first time I've ever given anyone a nickname before, son," Severus admitted shyly. "I promise to only use it when we're alone, if it embarrasses you."
"No, it's not a really dumb nickname, like the ones my aunt used to call Dudley. I like it," Harry reassured him. It was true. He didn't mind being compared to a phoenix and Sev used to call him "little one" when he was small.
"Good. Now, can you chop those dandelion roots for me, fledging? I need them fine, since I'll be stewing them for a Decongestion Draft."
"Sure, Dad." Harry took out the sharp knife and began cutting the roots neatly and swiftly.
The two worked companionably until Rellah called them for lunch, and by then Severus could leave his potion to steep with a timer on it and enjoy Rellah's cucumber, tomato, and cheese sandwiches with herb mayonnaise on her signature oat bread. Harry soon learned that the woodkin could be requested to make a certain food for dinner, lunch, or breakfast, but most times Harry found it easier to eat what Rellah felt like making, it was all delicious and he wasn't the type to be picky when it came to food. Compared to the Dursleys, this was paradise.
* * * * * *
In addition to the potions classes and botany and meditation, Severus also took Harry out on several nature walks, teaching his son to be appreciative of the natural world and learn his way around the glen and familiarize himself with the wild creatures that lived there.
"Some of these animals, like the wyvern, can be dangerous when roused, but most are content to live here peacefully, so long as you don't threaten or disturb their lairs. There is a sort of truce between the wild things who live here and us wizards, but it is wise to give them a wide berth, for they are easily roused to anger and can harm you seriously if they feel threatened or insulted."
During these walks, Severus often transformed into Wraith, for there was no greater protection than the huge snow leopard pacing beside him. Almost all creatures, ordinary and magical, would avoid Wraith whenever possible, and even a wyvern, which was the deadliest creature that laired in the glen, would pause before attacking the leopard if there were easier game to be found. Severus showed Harry some interesting animals, including the lair of the onyx fox, who had a recent litter of kits, and Harry watched them, hidden with a Concealment Charm, as they played and tumbled all over each other, fluffy and funny and adorable.
He also had a chance to see some red deer close up, one morning as he peered out his bedroom window, which had a fine view of the meadow beyond the cottage. There was a graceful doe with a slightly awkward fawn at her side and further away a watchful proud buck. The deer did not seem frightened of browsing too close to the cottage, and Harry was tempted to go out and throw dry cereal to them, as he had read of other kids doing. But he didn't want to frighten them, and so he stayed where he was.
Later on that day, he asked Severus if the deer were calm enough to feed. "I saw them out the window this morning and I just wondered if they would freak if I went out there with some cereal for them."
"The deer here have never been hunted by humans," answered Severus. "They have no reason to fear you, Harry. You certainly can feed them if you wish, though they might not take food from your hand at first."
"They'll eat out of your hand?" Harry exclaimed.
"Some will, yes." Severus said.
Harry waited eagerly for the coming of dawn and when he saw the deer grazing again, slipped out the back porch with a small bag of honey oat squares Severus had given him. He walked across the herb garden and out the gate, moving quietly in just his socks. The deer jerked their heads up when he approached, but they did not run.
Harry tossed the cereal on the ground and after a few minutes, a doe picked her way towards him, her nose twitching eagerly. She gazed at Harry without fear, then lipped the cereal from the ground daintily.
"Like that, do you, girl?" he crooned. "Want more?"
This time he threw the cereal closer to him.
The doe walked over and ate it too.
She was almost close enough to touch and Harry nearly stopped breathing. He put some cereal on his palm and held it out to her, frozen like a statue.
For an instant he figured she wasn't bold enough to come all the way near him. But a second later he felt the delicate tickle of the deer's muzzle against his palm, and she licked the cereal off his hand.
Harry grinned in delight. That a wild thing had chosen to eat from his hand was the most incredible thing.
He reached in his pocket for more cereal and the doe nudged him gently, urging him to feed her more of this wonderful stuff. Harry did so, and when he looked up again, he was surrounded by three more deer, all of them waiting for him to share the cereal.
He grinned and made sure all of them had a share, though the others wouldn't venture as near as the first doe. Eventually, the cereal had all been eaten and Harry was going to leave, but then he summoned more from the pantry and continued feeding the deer until Severus came looking for him to eat breakfast.
Severus halted, biting his lip at the sight that met his eyes. There was Harry, surrounded by a herd of deer, throwing cereal and petting deer like a veritable Robin Hood. No one looking at him them would ever guess that he had grown up in a suburb and the only deer he had ever seen had been in picture books. The Potions Master smiled, and thought that Harry was another who belonged in the heart of the glen, for no wild creature would ever come to a person whose aura was not peaceful and calm.
Harry turned suddenly, saw Severus standing there, and waved to him.
The deer saw him also and some of them approached the tall wizard, for he was a familiar sight to them, nudging his pockets for cereal.
"All right, you greedy things," he scolded lightly, pushing their muzzles away gently. "Here, have some oat squares." He summoned the box to him and split the contents with Harry and together father and son fed the red deer.
That same afternoon, Harry and Severus explored the forest where the Silmareen ran, and saw a mother brown bear and her two cubs playing and fishing near the river. Severus put a finger to his lips and Harry, who was about to ask a question, went still beside him.
They watched as the mother bear waded into the river and caught a fine salmon for her children, who immediately began squabbling over it.
The cubs wrestled and bawled, until Mama Bear had enough of their fighting and came over and smacked the misbehaving cubs on the rump with a paw. The cubs yelped and immediately quit fighting. Mama lectured them for a minute or so with a stern growl, and the cubs hung their heads in shame. Then they went over to the salmon and each of them ate half of it.
Wow! I never knew a bear could discipline like a human, Harry marveled silently, watching as the mother bear caught another two salmon for herself and ate them before calling her rambunctious cubs to her side and ambling off into the woods. Harry turned to Severus, wide-eyed, and said, "Did you see what she did to them, Dad?"
"Yes. She gave them a smack and a scolding because they wouldn't quit fighting and share like she told them to." Severus chuckled.
"But . . .that's almost what you do to me."
"Yes. I have observed that animals discipline their young much more consistently and fairly than we do. I have never seen a mother or father of any animal species punish a youngster unjustly, or use undue force, or truly harm their youngster. That particular vice is reserved for us alone, the supposedly more intelligent species." Severus's lip curled. "Much of my disciplinary policy is patterned after those so-called dumb beasts. Sometimes animals are wiser than wizards, son."
"Yeah, I can see that. I always knew Aunt Marge was dumber than a bear." Harry grinned up at his father, who mussed his hair fondly. Harry turned to gaze at the river bank, here the Silmareen was flowing evenly, and saw to his astonishment what looked like a canoe stowed among the branches of a nearby willow. It was suspended from two ropes attached to a pulley, high enough to not allow a large animal to damage it, painted a soft forest green with gold trim.
"Dad, is that a canoe hanging there?" Harry asked, standing up and brushing the dirt and leaves off himself.
"It is. You can paddle down the Silmareen if you wish, the only real dangerous spot are the rapids just before the falls." Severus said.
"Can we try it, Dad?" Harry asked, giving the older man a pleading glance.
"All right. Let me show you how to lower the canoe," Severus agreed. He moved over to the tree and tugged on a rope end, lowering the canoe to the ground.
Inside the canoe were two benches and a long double oar.
Severus turned to his son and cast a quick Water-breathing Charm upon him just in case he fell overboard, then launched the canoe into the river, holding it by the anchor rope. "Harry, get in." Once Harry had climbed in, Severus followed, and pushed the canoe into deeper water.
The current caught it then, and Severus allowed it to take them a ways downstream before he began to paddle gently.
"This stretch of the Silmareen is relatively tame," he told Harry as he stroked. "But once you travel down her for about two miles, you'll come to the rapids and those are quite wild and dangerous."
"Have you ever taken the canoe through them?"
"Yes, several times, when I was a teenager and an adult. But they're very rough and not for a beginner like yourself to attempt yet." Severus cautioned. The river pulled then further and further downstream, and Harry could hear the rushing roar of the rapids approaching.
The canoe bucked and crested the white water, bobbing up and down like a cork, tossed lightly about by the wild water. The spray splashed Harry in the face, but he was not afraid in the least. He gripped the sides of the canoe and laughed when the slender craft balanced upon a swell then raced down the other side with a lightning swish. Twice he was almost certain the canoe was going to flip over, but Severus navigated the wild river expertly, making Harry gasp and smirk in delight, he loved the adrenaline rush the river gave him. After the rapids, Severus paddled the canoe to the shore and grounded it, then pointed his wand at it and Fetched it back to the willow tree it had originally been strung in. "Well, how did you like your first rapids run, Harry?"
"It was great!" his son exclaimed, tossing his hair back from his eyes. Both of them were slightly wet from the rough spray, but otherwise none the worse for the wear. "Who taught you how to paddle a canoe like that?"
"Rellah's water sprite cousins, who shoot the rapids nearly every day. But it takes a good deal of practice to do what I just did, so don't even think of attempting it on your own, young man."
"Okay, Dad." Harry agreed, for he didn't want to get into an argument over this. "When can we do it again?"
Snape laughed, his son's enthusiasm was infectious. "Another day, fledgling. You might not be tired, but I am. I'm not in the shape I used to be in five years ago, when I used to run the White Rage, as the sprites call the rapids, almost every day during the summer. Too many hours behind a desk and doing undercover work." He massaged his shoulders, he knew he'd be feeling the effects of this tomorrow. "Come, let's go home and see what Rellah's made for lunch."
Severus and Harry made their way back towards the game trail, walking leisurely, until they had come to the place with the canoe, and there he helped Severus reattach the canoe to the ropes and stow it back in the willow.
Then they continued on home, where Rellah scolded them for tracking dirt on her newly scrubbed floors, since they had forgotten to remove their shoes. But Severus cleaned up the marks with a wave of his wand, told Rellah to quit fussing, and started to make himself a sandwich, until the woodkin hurried over and bade him to sit down, that she would make the sandwich.
Not wanting to hurt the woodkin's feelings, as she was sensitive to such things, Severus sat down and Rellah had soon made both her menfolk huge sandwiches and also ice cold glasses of lemonade and water.
"Dad, can you teach me how to shoot the rapids?"
"Yes, but not at the moment. I've two potions brewing, a Memory Restorative and a Decongestion Draft, which need my attention. Later when they are finished, I shall teach you how to handle the canoe. In the meantime, I think you have summer homework to complete, yes?"
"Aww, I thought you'd forgotten!"
Severus eyed him incredulously. "Not in this life, mister. Now go fetch your assignments and start on them, fledgling. Soonest begun is soonest done, as my mother used to say."
Harry groaned, but got his books at his parent's warning glower. Sometimes it really sucked having a professor for a dad, he thought rebelliously as he opened his Charms text.
* * * * * *
The weather took a turn for the worst the next day, and it rained for three days, making it impossible for Harry to do anything except stay inside and work on his summer reading and homework. He sulked and grumbled, but Severus would have none of it and threatened to give him extra work if he didn't quit acting like a whiny five-year-old.
At that, Harry quit pouting and started working, though he was still irritable about being cooped up inside. Severus made him practice meditation every night, hoping to calm him down, and it worked for awhile, but Harry was possessed of a restless spirit, and was relieved beyond measure when the rain stopped on the morning of the fourth day.
"Thank you Lord!" he whispered when he woke up that morning. "Now maybe I can finally go outside and take a walk or something before I go off the deep end."
After breakfast he headed outside, Severus was in his lab again, finishing up some drafts, and told Harry he would see him around lunchtime. Harry slipped through the gate at the back of the garden and out to the meadow, and somehow his feet led him to the Silmareen.
The river was running a little higher than usual because of all the rain, but it looked calm enough to Harry's untrained eyes. The eleven-year-old stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed, for he badly wanted to do something fun and fast-paced. He glanced up at the canoe and back at the river.
I know I told Dad I wouldn't shoot the rapids without him, but what harm could it do to take the canoe into the shallows here? I mean, it's miles from the rapids and all I want to do is paddle over to the other side and back, just to see if I can. He bit his lip, trying to weigh if it was worth it, if Severus would get angry with him for taking the canoe out alone. But his father had never said he couldn't paddle the canoe in the shallows, he rationalized. How hard could it be? It's not deep, I won't drown if the canoe tips over. All I'll get is wet and I can dry off before I go back to the house.
He closed his eyes, recalling the wonderful adrenaline surge he had felt as Severus had shot through the churning white water, the same incredible rush he felt when he flew his Nimbus. He had missed that. And if he couldn't fly his broom, this seemed to be the next best thing, he reasoned. He was tired of studying, he needed to do something physical, something to release all the extra energy he seemed to have acquired.
He tugged the rope that released the canoe from the tree, working it slowly down until it touched the ground with a thump. Then he slipped the guide rope free and dragged the canoe over to the edge of the riverbank. Luckily, the canoe was quite light and moved easily at his sharp tug.
He shoved the prow of the needle-nose craft into the water, and the current caught it almost immediately. Harry hopped into it and sat down on the bench facing the river just as the canoe was tugged into the river. Normally, the Silmareen was a quiet river, it flowed gently until the rapids, but on this day it was filled with rain and the wind had picked up, making the current much stronger than usual.
Harry picked up the long oar with its double paddle and began to try and steer the canoe. But it was harder, much harder, than he had anticipated. Severus had made it look simple, but Harry had not taken into account that his father knew how to handle the oar and was taller, stronger, and broader than he was. His short arms barely reached from side to side of the canoe, and his first attempts at paddling were like the splashes of a polliwog in a pond.
The river carried the canoe downstream quicker than Harry realized, he was so busy struggling with the oar and trying to paddle to the opposite bank, that he misjudged the speed of the river, and as a result was borne along at a swift rate.
By the time he had nearly gotten a handle on the oar and was actually able to paddle somewhat, he heard the unmistakable sound of the White Rage Rapids.
Huh? Oh, damn! That's the white water up ahead. Got to turn around. He dipped his paddle into the water, trying hard to steer the canoe around, but the craft was harder to maneuver than he thought. It spun around in half a circle, refusing to go upstream. He paddled hard, but the canoe was awkward and fishtailed.
He could hear the roar of the rapids drawing ever closer, as the current dragged him onward despite his efforts. Ah, blast it! Turn around, you stupid boat! Come on, I don't want to go downstream. He tried to put both paddles in the water at the same time, but lacked the strength to propel the canoe back the way he had come, the current was too strong for a mere eleven-year-old.
He worked the oar frantically, but it was hopeless.
The current carried him right into the rapids, and then he had all he could do to stay balanced in the canoe and not flip out when the boat crested a wave. He shoved the oar inside the canoe, not trusting himself with it, and prayed to God that he could make it through the stretch of white water without capsizing or hitting a submerged rock.
For there were rocks here, quite large ones, and the white foam concealed some of them. Harry clung to the sides of the canoe, pale and trembling with anxiety, yet a crazy part of him was enjoying the wild ride. It was, without a doubt, the most insane thing he'd ever done save for face off against Voldemort. Oh my God! "Ahhh!" he screamed as the canoe hurtled into the air for a brief instant then slammed down into the water again. "Merlin, this is amazing! Wait till I tell Ron!" Harry cried aloud. He winced as the canoe bounced hard against a rock, but luckily it didn't tear anything and he was free of the object an instant later.
He managed somehow to avoid most of the dangerous spots by sheer luck, but it was towards the end of the rapids that he ran into trouble.
The canoe was cresting a rather large swell and riding down the other side when the nose struck the tip of a large rock.
Harry felt the canoe jump, then it stood on end, with the boy clinging to the bench and shrieking, before it capsized totally.
Harry released the bench just as the canoe went over, but the long oar struck him in the head, partially stunning him.
He lolled for a few moments beneath the canoe before the current snatched him away and whirled him like a leaf in a whirlpool further downstream. Harry tried to swim, but it was like trying to run in a hurricane, his arms and legs moved but they had no effect on the current. Unwillingly, he was dragged through the frothing water, battered against the rocks that he could not see, and half-drowned by the frothing raging water.
He coughed and tried to shut his mouth, but the river had him in its relentless grip and would not release him. The white water threw him from side to side and he was helpless to resist, he was pulled inexorably towards the falls, and there he was sure to end up drowned.
Water flowed into his mouth and he swallowed uncontrollably. He no longer knew which way was up or down or anything save that the white water was smothering him and he couldn't get a decent breath, water was everywhere, in his eyes, his nose, his lungs . . .he could feel his sight start to dim and a strange pressure fill his chest . . .
Am I drowning? Is this what it feels like? I can't breathe, so cold . . .Dad, where are you! I need you! Dad, help me! I don't wanna die . . .not like this, not from the Silmareen . . .it's not supposed to happen like this . . .
Blackness crept around his vision and he struggled futilely against it. The rapids threw him hard against a rock and his chin clipped it and he felt a terrible pain and then he felt himself swirling away into midnight, whirling down a dark tunnel with no end.
* * * * * *
Severus was just finishing decanting the Memory Restorative into a beaker when he felt the bracelet on his arm vibrate so violently that his wrist shook, sloshing the contents of the small cauldron all over his lab table.
What the bloody blazes? He set down the cauldron and touched a finger to the bracelet only he could see. Instantly he saw Harry, whom he had thought happily occupied with reading on the back porch or wandering through the meadow, floating face down in the frothing deadly rapids of the Silmareen.
The beaker with the Memory Restorative toppled over and smashed upon the floor as the Potions Master swore and Apparated away to the river bank, where his son was in dire peril.
Severus arrived in flash of blue light, just in time to see two water sprites emerge from the river and stretch a large silvery glowing net across it, large enough to contain the canoe and Harry should he manage to wash up against it.
"Harry!" Severus howled. "Hang on, I'm coming!"
He did not even pause to remove his clothing, he sprang up and into the air, changing in midleap to his snow leopard persona.
Wraith hit the water with a tremendous slap, nearly going under, but his strong shoulders pulled him up and he began to paddle furiously towards the pathetic scrap of blue and white that was his unconscious son.
The river was fierce, however, and the current unwilling to give up its victim, but Wraith was relentless. He pushed his great body through the surging waves in an unceasing forward motion, until at last his great jaws were close enough to fasten gently yet firmly on the boy's shoulder.
Holding the comatose boy in a grip that was firm yet did not break the skin, the snow leopard began the hard swim back towards the opposite bank, towing Harry along.
The leopard's powerful shoulders heaved and the strain of fighting the white water and keeping his grip on Harry was extremely draining, but Wraith would have no more given up than he would have killed a child. The great paws smacked the water, propelling the lean body foot by foot to the bank, the great jaws aching from maintaining his sideways grip on Harry's shoulder, but the leopard did not let go. To let go would mean letting the river claim his son, and that Wraith would rather die than permit.
Minutes passed like hours, but at last the leopard gained the shallows and heaved his limp burden up onto the bank then climbed out himself. He shook hard, spraying droplets everywhere.
Then he nuzzled his still child, grunting in alarm when he could not hear the rasp of breath. He gave a soft yowl of distress, then placed both front paws on the boy's back and leaned upon the limp form.
Water squirted in a stream from Harry's mouth. Wraith leaned again, placing a fraction of his full weight on his massive paws. Again water was pumped from the boy's lungs and yet again.
Then Wraith blurred and became Severus, who flipped the still unresponsive child over and began feeling for a pulse. It was there, blessedly weak, but there.
Severus placed his mouth over Harry's and breathed into the boy's lungs three times. Harry. Harry, come on, son. Breathe, damn you!
He drew back, waited, and suddenly Harry's chest rose and fell and color flushed the corpse-pale cheeks a dusky rose. "There you go, son!" Severus cried, as Harry began to cough violently.
Severus turned him on his side and held him while he hacked and vomited up the rest of the water he had swallowed. It took forever, or so it seemed, but Severus's hold never slackened. "Easy, son. You're going to be all right, I've got you, but you swallowed half the blasted river." He patted Harry's back as the youngster retched over and over.
But at last the young wizard managed to take a breath that was not waterlogged and the paroxysms eased. "Dad?" he whimpered. Harry knew two things. One that he was still among the living and two, that his throat and chest ached like ruddy hell. Actually, three things. The third was that somehow his father had rescued him.
"Harry. You're all right." Severus said, gently turning his son over. He gasped when he saw the awful bruise across the boy's chin, and felt the jaw gently. Harry yelped.
"Hush. I need to see if it's broken." The Potions Master deftly probed again and his child yelped, but Severus could see then that the jaw was badly bruised but not broken, since Harry could move it. "You'll have a hell of a time eating tomorrow, and I'll have to ice and poultice that bruise, but it's not broken."
Harry groaned and shivered. Severus pointed his wand and uttered a quick drying charm and a wave of warmth crept over the boy, drying his clothes and skin in an instant. Nevertheless, Severus conjured a large blanket and wrapped Harry snugly in it before lifting him in his arms. He rose to his feet, his foolish child cradled close, and saw the water sprites hauling the canoe from the river's depths.
"Master Severus, we have retrieved your bark floater," one called, causing the canoe to hover in the air with a single gesture.
"And your stick," said the other, levitating the oar, which miraculously had not shattered despite the rough water.
Severus was at a loss for a moment to reply to the sprites, but then he recalled the manners Eileen had drilled into him. "Thank you, your service is greatly appreciated. But I must get my son home, he's bound to take a chill from this. If you wouldn't mind putting my canoe back beside the willow further upstream, please?"
"Of course, Master Severus," said the taller of the two, he was blue skinned with webbed feet and fingers and had short greenish hair and wore a scaled loincloth and a baldric about his slender waist containing a mesh pouch and a shell and a sharp knife made of a shark's tooth. "We would have caught your minnow-child as well, but we were occupied upstream and the river did not inform us of his presence until you were already here. Mistress of Waters have mercy, I hope he is not too badly damaged."
Severus shook his head. "He is badly bruised and chilled, but he should recover, God willing. May the river bless and keep you. I must be going."
The water sprite lifted a hand in farewell. "We shall return your floater to the willow, never fear. Farewell, Master Severus."
Severus nodded, then he lowered his head and concentrated.
An instant later the tall wizard vanished, to reappear a moment later on the front porch of Malachite Cottage.
"Dad?" Harry's voice was hoarse, but perfectly audible. "How did you find me? You always find me when I'm sick or hurt."
"You ought to thank your lucky stars for that, son. What in God's name possessed you to take the canoe into the rapids, young man?" Severus demanded, his tone laced heavily with anger and disapproval. "Do you have a bloody death wish or what?"
"No," coughed Harry. "I wasn't going to go near the rapids, Dad, honest. It just . . .happened somehow." He said slowly, for his jaw ached something fierce.
"Harry, for the love of Merlin, things never "just happen" around you!" Severus sighed. He opened the door with a softly spoken unlocking charm and stepped inside.
Eileen was watching as they entered and cried out in alarm when she caught sight of Harry in her son's arms. "Severus, what happened to him? His face . . .!"
"It looks worse than it is, Mother," Severus said softly. "His jaw is bruised, not broken. He got that when he decided to swim the rapids and drown himself in the Silmareen."
Eileen gasped. Her eyes narrowed. "Harry, you didn't! What were you thinking, foolish child? You could have died!"
"I . . .I just . . .I was trying to . . .paddle the canoe across the river . . .I didn't know it'd be so hard . . ." murmured the boy, feeling suddenly ashamed of his impulse to take the canoe out without supervision.
"It was just after a three day storm, couldn't you tell the river was high and agitated from the wind and rain, son?" Severus demanded testily. "Where was your head? Up in the clouds? Of all the idiotic stunts . . .!" He broke off as Harry began to cough harshly.
"Better put him to bed, Sev," advised Eileen. "He's probably taken a chill, if not worse."
Severus nodded. "My thoughts exactly, Mum."
"I'm fine," Harry protested, though he knew he wasn't.
"Oh sure you are. You're so fine, mister, that you're hacking up a lung," Severus drawled, his voice stiff with sarcasm as Harry began to cough violently, his small form shaking. "It's bed for you, young man, no arguments."
He carried Harry straight into his bedroom and set the trembling boy down on his bed. Harry coughed, nearly doubled over with spasms, and Severus was just about to summon Rellah to fetch him a Pepper-Up Potion and a Decongestion Draft when the woodkin appeared in the room.
"Master Harry, what have you been doing?" she exclaimed. "Did you get attacked by a spidren bear?"
"No, a rock," Harry muttered when he could speak again.
"He hit his face into a rock in the Silmareen," Severus elaborated. "He was trying out for human fish of the year, Rellah."
"You were trying to swim the White Rage, young master?"
"My canoe tipped over," Harry said, wincing.
"Which he shouldn't have been using in the first place," his father said, scowling at his son. He spoke a word and Harry found his clothes vanished.
"Hey!" he yelped and tried to cover himself. He snatched the towel and wrapped it about himself, his face burning.
"Rellah, run him a hot bath, if you would." Severus ordered, ignoring his son's embarrassment. He quickly performed a diagnostic and found Harry suffering from various scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones, though his lungs were weakened after his submerging.
"At once, sir." Rellah vanished.
Severus turned to Harry and said severely, "You are very lucky the river walloped you so soundly, otherwise I'd blister your behind, Harry James Snape. How could you have been so foolish as to take the canoe out with the river at flood strength?"
Harry hung his head. "I didn't know, sir."
"All the more reason to wait for me. Did I not say I would teach you how to paddle the canoe?"
"Yeah, but . . .I was . . .I just wanted to . . .I don't know . . .do something fun . . ." stammered Harry, feeling more and more like a lame idiot.
"Fun? Getting your brains bashed out by a rock and nearly drowning is fun?" demanded Severus, moving over and picking his son up. "If that's the case, I'd hate to see your idea of boring, you insane brat."
"Dad, I can walk."
"Quiet." Snape ordered, carrying Harry down the hall to the bathroom, where Rellah had drawn a steaming bath with some magical bath salts in it that were supposed to reduce bruising and swelling.
Severus gently lowered Harry into the water, ignoring the boy's yelps and complaints.
"Ouch! Dad, it's too hot. It stings!"
"Hush. You'll get used to it. Stop squirming."
"Ow! I'm boiling here!" Harry yelped, for at first the hot water made all of the various scrapes he'd picked up sting sharply, but Severus held him in the tub firmly, ignoring his son's attempts to get out. "Ow! Dad, please!"
"Harry! Be still and relax," Severus ordered sternly. "The stinging is because of the salts in your cuts, but it'll stop in a minute, it's cleansing them."
His son sniffled, blinking back tears, and glared at him. "It hurts. You never said it would hurt."
Severus gritted his teeth. "Don't be a baby, you'll feel better in five minutes." He released his son and turned to Rellah. "Keep him in here for another twenty minutes. I need to brew a Breathe Ease Elixir, just in case. His lungs are weakened from swallowing half the river, he could, and probably will, develop pneumonia, he's had it before."
"I shall watch him, Master," Rellah promised, giving Harry a sharp scolding glance.
"Thank you." Severus walked away then, leaving Harry alone with the woodkin, who immediately set about rubbing shampoo in her charge's hair and washing it.
"Rellah, please! I'm not a baby, I can wash my own hair!"
"You hush that mouth, young master! You are in no shape to do anything ‘cept as your father says," the woodkin scolded, but her hands were featherlight as she massaged his scalp, careful of the bruise alongside his head. "Lie back," Rellah ordered, and cupped water in her hands and rinsed the shampoo away.
Harry flushed, he hadn't been washed like this ever, not that he could remember anyhow. The woodkin ignored his sputterings and blushes, summoning a soft sponge and some soap that smelled like honey and oatmeal and washing the boy quickly and efficiently.
Harry wished he'd drowned, he was so embarrassed. "This is your way of punishing me, right?" he mumbled, his face hot. "Treating me like a baby."
Rellah paused in scrubbing his back. "What ridiculous thing are you saying now, young sir? Punishment? I am trying to help you, silly child."
"How? I'm old enough to wash myself." Harry said sullenly.
Rellah snorted. "Humph! Not with a lump the size of a walnut on your jaw you're not. You move about too much and you'll get dizzy and then what? You'll fall and crack your head open and lose what little sense you've got. Forest Spirit grant me patience!" She returned to scrubbing his back, careful of the scrapes upon it.
Harry submitted to her at last, knowing he wasn't going to win this one.
Rellah was gentle and thorough, washing him without any hint of embarrassment, then she told him to lie back in the tub and soak until Severus returned.
Harry was content now to do that, for the water felt incredibly good on his battered body. So good that he nearly fell asleep.
"Harry. Harry, wake up." Severus ordered.
Harry sat up with a splash. "Huh?"
"You can sleep in your bed, fledgling. You're not a merman." He helped his son from the tub, drying him with warmed towels and then picking him up again and bringing him back to his room.
He laid Harry on his bed and rubbed bruise balm and quick-healing salve all over the boy, hissing softly at the myriad bruises all over the child's legs, back, ribs, shoulders and hips. Harry squirmed a little, but the water had leeched most of the soreness from him, and he could tolerate Severus's hands. Once the professor had finished applying the salve, he flicked a finger and Harry was dressed in warm flannel pajamas and tucked into bed.
Harry groaned when he saw the vials of potions, he'd had them before and knew they tasted absolutely vile. "Do I have to?"
"You do. Drink."
Harry drank, grimacing and sputtering. But Snape gave him water after and then held out a cloth bag with ice. "Put this on your chin and hold it there for ten minutes. It should help with the swelling."
Harry obeyed, wincing. But the ice numbed the pain in his jaw considerably.
Severus sat down on the edge of the bed, anger warring with concern and said wearily, "What am I supposed to do with you, child? If it's not one scrape it's another. You are a born magnet for trouble, I swear it."
Harry felt his eyes well up with tears. "Sorry." He hated when his dad used that tone, it made him feel so very guilty and ashamed.
"Now you are, sure," sighed Snape, reaching out with one callused thumb to wipe away the tears that had trickled down his son's face. "You're always sorry after the fact. But that's not enough, son. You need to think before you act, before this impulsive streak of yours gets you killed. If I had been a minute too slow . . .you'd have been feeding the fishes."
"I know. I'm sorry." Harry sniffed miserably. "Forgive me?"
Severus sighed and didn't answer for a moment. Then he nodded. "Always, you reckless scamp. But next time you plan on swimming the rapids without supervision, warn me beforehand, so that I can die and get it over with." He removed the ice from his son's jaw, examined it, then handed Harry a muslin sack which smelled strongly of eucalyptus and was very warm. "Put this poultice on your chin and hold it there for ten minutes."
Harry obeyed, he could feel his eyelids growing heavy. Severus cupped the poultice under his chin as he started to nod off, muttering, "Angels and ministers of grace save me, boy, but if you risk your neck once more this summer I swear I shall beat you senseless."
"Yes, sir," he heard the boy mumble then the green eyes were shutting.
Severus leaned down and kissed his son on the forehead. "I love you, fledgling." He continued to hold the poultice on Harry's chin until the ten minutes were up, then he tucked the covers around the boy and slipped from the room.
He headed into the den, where he kept a bottle of single-malt Scotch for emergencies and poured himself a shot.
"Severus! What on earth are you doing?" exclaimed Eileen.
"Drinking, Mother. After the day I've had, I need a stiff drink. Or three. Or four."
"I suppose I can't blame you." Eileen said feelingly. "How is the little rascal?"
"Asleep. Bruised and battered and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he took sick with an upper respiratory infection. But otherwise he'll live. Unless I throttle him beforehand." He downed the shot in one quick flick.
"Feel better now?"
"Not really." Her son sighed. "That boy has more lives than a cat, I swear it. When I saw him floating in the river . . ." Severus's face darkened. "My heart nearly stopped." he suppressed a shudder.
"I know the feeling."
"Why? I was never so reckless, Mum."
Eileen eyed him and snorted. "How quickly you forget, Severus. Who was it that nearly blew himself to kingdom come when he was nine, trying to make a Fireproof Potion?"
"I . . .didn't really . . ."
"No? Your hair was nearly burnt off and my lab was partially on fire . . .what would you call that if not almost blowing yourself up, Severus Tobias Snape?"
Severus could feel himself flush. "It wasn't intentional . . .my hand slipped when I was adding the dragon tongue . . ."
"Never mind the excuses, boy. My point is that you were as bad as your son for giving me heart failure sometimes. Like every other child ever born."
"How did you survive it, Mother?"
"I meditated and counted to ten a great deal. And I reminded myself that strangling you was considered murder and I didn't really want to kill you . . .well, maybe just sometimes . . ." She laughed at her son's indignant expression. "Oh, Severus! You're going through what every other parent does right now. But it will pass . . .eventually. When he's seventeen perhaps . . ."
"Christ, Mother! I'll be dead by then!"
"No, you won't. Trust me. You're stronger than you know, son. This is a phase and it will pass. And one day when you have grandchildren you'll look back and laugh about it."
"Sure I will." Severus said sourly. "When I'm senile and toothless, right."
He rolled his eyes. Then he set the glass down and capped the bottle. The drink had settled his nerves a little, though he knew he would not be able to rest easy until he had made sure Harry was truly recovered.
Heaving a sigh, he blurred into Wraith and returned to his son's room, where he stretched out on the bed beside his slumbering child and purred soothingly, keeping watch over his son, Harry's hushed breathing relieving his agitated spirit like nothing else could.
Once Harry was recovered, there would be consequences to be faced for his reckless decision, but for now Wraith was content to let his son mend and his temper to cool. He put his head on his paws and yawned lazily, half-drowsing amid the blankets, allowing the peace of Malachite Cottage to ease his weary soul.
Chapter End Notes:
Well, how was that for an action-packed river ride?
Next: Harrysuffers the consequences of his ill-advised canoe trip, but later tries to persuade Severus to teach him how to become an Animagus.
Next: Harrysuffers the consequences of his ill-advised canoe trip, but later tries to persuade Severus to teach him how to become an Animagus.
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