"We will begin dueling this evening before dinner, then." Severus had said. Harry's eyebrows had shot up at this, but Severus hadn't elaborated. Now as he assessed the depth of space in the yard, the few fruit trees and a series of decorative stone pillars placed around to create a modified courtyard, he concluded that they could accomplish a lot back here.
He heard the backdoor slam and turned to find Harry seating himself on the top step of the small back landing with a frosty bottle of butterbeer. He had a second bottle which he held up on offer to Severus as he sipped at his own drink. Severus declined, so Harry shrugged and made a small wave with his hand over the bottle, causing it to disappear. Severus found himself shocked at the sight of Potter performing magic way beyond what would be appropriate for a young adult. Most wizards didn't master wandless spells until well into their twenties, even their thirties. Feeling an impressed smirk settling itself on his face, he strolled towards the distracted teen, who was tilting his head back as he guzzled his drink.
"How much other wandless magic can you do, Harry?"
Harry blinked. His ex-professor was suddenly standing in front of him with arms crossed and eyebrows raised. It had been a long time since he'd really put any thought into the level of magical skill he'd mastered to date, and he was not certain how to answer such a question. A lot of what Harry could do magically was unconscious. It had been for quite some time. Trying to quantify it had certainly mattered when he had a Dark Lord to fell, or an angry Umbridge to dodge, but there had been no reason to care much about increasing his spell mastery of late, other than construction charms and wards for the house. "Er, some," he finally answered. "Mostly nonsense like banishing butterbeers back to the cold box and dirty socks to the hamper."
Severus nodded in approval. "I'm impressed."
Harry felt a nervous bubble of happiness settle into his chest and covered by taking another gulp of his drink.
Severus jerked his head back toward the yard behind him. "Come," he ordered. "Show me what else you can do."
Now Harry was completely unsettled. He'd seen Severus Snape in action with his wand. The wizard was a brilliant duelist and quite powerful. He'd had a few conversations with the senior Malfoy over the past year in which the blond man had readily admitted that his old friend was an even more powerful wizard than Lucius himself, and to Harry, that was quite a level of power to exceed.
"Come, Harry," Severus repeated. He had backed several paces away from the teen and was now standing casually, wand elegantly twirling between his deft fingers.
Harry gulped. "Oh boy," he muttered, but stood up and crossed the yard and faced Severus with his own wand in hand.
"So… what can you do, young man?" Severus asked lightly. "Can you block-" a quick flick of his wand and Harry felt a smacking sensation on his bum, as if he'd been swatted "-a nonverbal hex?"
"Hey!" Harry protested. He glared at his former professor and read the next hex easily, throwing up a nonverbal reflective shield that would have caused Severus to be the one getting smacked if he'd not reflected it as well. They sent it back and forth that way, back and forth, back and forth, until Harry couldn't help but find it funny and he began to giggle helplessly. After numerous rounds, somehow he had the sense to throw up a charm he'd coined the "open void" to suck the menacing smacking hex away before he ended up getting the worst of it again.
Severus again raised his eyebrows in surprise and curiosity. "And what was that, Mr. Potter?"
"What was what?" Harry asked innocently as he sent a silent tickling hex at Severus' ribs and succeeded in getting past Severus' shield.
"I'm not ticklish," Severus informed him dryly when Harry hooted his triumph. He sent another smacking hex at Harry which made it to the laughing teen and caught him by surprise. They both heard the sharp crack against Harry's left buttock and Severus raised his eyebrows in mock alarm.
"OW!" Harry bellowed. "Not cool!" He began to send a nonverbal stream of tripping, hopping, sneezing and burp-inducing hexes towards Severus, grinning as the man had no choice but to deflect, deflect, deflect. Harry was sweating before long and thoroughly enjoying the rough-housing style of their first duel. They carried on for nearly an hour. Severus made a point of showing Harry a new shield via defensive demonstration. Harry had devised a hex that created a localized sandstorm, reminiscent of the curses that Dumbledore had exchanged with Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic. Severus' shield was actually inverted into more of a bowl shape that had controlled the deflection of the storm and sent it right back at Harry, who was now shaking sand from his hair, as Severus jogged over to him.
"Yeah, just a little gritty, is all," Harry said loudly, in exaggerated exasperation while Severus watched him struggle in amusement. "A little help?"
"Get your hands off your head, idiot boy," Severus chided. He cast a scourgify on Harry's hair and then over his clothes to de-dust him so he wouldn't track the storm detritus into the house as they made their way inside to grab showers before their evening meal. "That was a lot of fun, sir," Harry enthused. "I've never played with magic like that before."
Severus didn't bother to hide his surprise at that as he held the back door open for Harry. "Not even with the Weasleys?"
"I guess there was never time," Harry told him. "First, we were under age, and then we were on the run. And besides, there's always been quidditch. I can't wait to try it with Ron."
At the table, Harry found that he had a much larger appetite than he'd had in probably a couple of years. He commented as much to Severus, who considered the news for a while.
"I am extremely pleased to hear that," Severus finally said. "We've just unveiled an appealing way to help you get healthy. I am actually surprised that Lucius has not had you dueling with him all of this time. With him, it is strategic, rather than playful. He can be ruthless, but he will bring out the best in you, and that is a satisfying experience."
"I suppose it was he who taught you the smacking hex? Probably made that one up himself." Harry snarked good-humoredly.
"Indeed," Severus confirmed. "You would do just fine against him, especially with that banishing charm, which I would recommend keeping handy as a secret weapon. He will be quite impressed. As am I." He curved his mouth into a half smile, wanting Harry to understand he was being highly praised. But the boy had suddenly retreated behind a mask that was oddly reminiscent of his school days. Severus now knew it was a defense mechanism, not the blatant show of indifference he'd always believed Harry had felt towards him. "What is that charm called, Harry?"
"I call it the open void."
"Did you invent it?"
"I think so," Harry said. "When we were in the forest of Dean, we had a lot of time to just think about what was happening out there, and it was really hard not to completely lose it. I would try to imagine the kinds of hexes I'd need to be prepared to fend off and think of ways to fight back. Hermione tells me I was visualizing, and that it had been a very powerful exercise for me because I was able to react really well when…" He looked up at Severus for a brief moment, then back down at his plate. "No one taught it to me, but I had pretended in my mind that I could do it so many times that it kind of happened on instinct during a …deadly moment when we were running from the snatchers that eventually caught us and took us to Malfoy Manor." He scratched his nail at a groove in the wood grain of the table surface. "I used it again in the battle at Hogwarts. It's pretty handy when you've got no time to waste fending off three death eaters at once because there's a horcrux to be destroyed."
There was so much to be addressed in the story that Severus truly didn't know where to start.
"Harry, look at me." When the boy raised dull eyes to meet his, he said, "I'm at an utter loss at this moment… I wish I had been there to help you." Harry gulped and his complexion began to pale. "It was a time of pure horror. And nothing about it can be changed, can it?" The boy continued to wait with that same dulled guard over his vulnerabilities. "But this is an incredibly positive thing to take away from that time. Do you realize this?"
Harry's mouth quivered and he simply shook his head, his hands had stilled on the table and he dropped them to his lap, but continued to look at Severus, waiting.
"It means, that you are extremely talented and powerful in your own right. And extremely clever," Again, he watched to see if the nervous teenager before him was really taking in what he was saying. "Harry, you taught yourself defensive fighting without ever physically practicing your methods. You invented an incredibly useful and potentially life saving defensive charm." And Severus finally let his own emotion show, his eyes clouding over and filling. "I wish Albus was here to see this. I really do. This is something you can build on. A talent that should be harnessed and utilized in many facets of your life." His voice was gruff with pride now. "You need to know that about yourself, Harry. What you did, in the middle of the fight for your life, was nothing short of amazing. Truly, truly amazing."
"Oh," Harry said softly.
"Indeed." Severus confirmed. "Own it, young man. You have raw talent and incredible instincts." He tilted his head and added, "And it's important to value that in yourself."
"It's strange to hear that kind of thing coming from you," Harry said shakily, and the tension in his voice made it clear that the past was haunting him.
"You'll get used to it," Severus said simply.
Lucius wondered idly how Harry and Severus were getting on. Severus had returned on Sunday, and it was now late morning Friday, and he had heard nothing from Harry all week. This of course was not unusual, but under the circumstances, he realized he was worried. A small gray owl flew in through his study window right then and stuck its leg out with a letter from young Mr. Potter, inducing a smile on the blond man's face.
Good morning, Lucius,
I was hoping you'd have time to meet me in Hogsmeade today for lunch? Noon at the Three Broomsticks?"
It was an unusual request, so now Lucius was a bit concerned. He sent a quick note back to Harry with the bird and set about finishing up the preliminary designs he'd been drawing up for the remodel of Spinners End.
"Hello, sir," Harry said from behind Lucius as he made his way along the cobbled street to the pub.
He turned to find the boy standing with hands in pockets wearing a sheepish expression of uncertainty. "Hello, Harry," he said without his usual reserve and on instinct stepped up to Harry and gave him a tight hug. Harry clung to him for a moment longer than he would have expected, so Lucius held on as well and set his chin on Harry's head. "Alright, lad?"
Harry pulled back. "Yes, sir," he said. "I'm just glad to see you."
That warmed Lucius' heart more than anything that had transpired between them thus far. "And I you." He inclined his head toward the pub. "Let's get our table, shall we?"
"Nothing's wrong, exactly," Harry tried to explain when they were seated and had placed their orders. "In fact, it's been a week where… so much has happened, and been said - out loud, and a lot of-" he broke off with a pained expression. "What's wrong with me?"
Lucius smirked kindly, not wanting to let the subject take on a morose note. "Nothing is wrong with you, Harry. It's likely the first time that you can remember having a positive turn of events in ages. I am aware of how conflicted you were about Severus when we thought he'd died. Perhaps you're reacting to his reappearance as something miraculous?"
"Is that what this is? Am I so used to being miserable that I can't handle good things happening?"
"That's likely part of it," he told the boy. "And there's no doubt been a lot of heaviness mixed with the happiness in both your interactions and private thoughts. That's draining on the spirit and the body, even when it's ultimately for the good." He leaned back and made a point of assessing the boy. "You are handling it just fine."
Harry blinked, considering his words. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"I haven't spoken with Severus since Sunday night. He is staying with you, is he not?"
"Yes, sir. Probably until Spinner's End is finished," Harry said. He seemed anxious when he continued, "We've spent a lot of time together and he's kind of falling into a guardian role too, and I'm okay with it. But I don't want to lose what I have with you and Narcissa, or even with Draco-"
"And you shan't, Harry. Not possible."
Harry was visibly relieved to hear that and he relaxed back in his chair as their food was served. They were still looking at each other, as it seemed Harry had more to say. "He's different. So, so not the snide potions master of my nightmares. It's as if he's the person he would have been all along if there'd never been a dark lord."
"So you've had no clashes of temper, or cross moments, then?" Lucius asked.
"None," Harry told him. "In fact, we've been talking a lot and even played a bit at dueling." At Lucius inquiring look, he continued. "He says I have raw talent and good instincts. He says I need to know that about myself, something about it being part of the foundation of the adult wizard I'm destined to be."
"Dueling?" Lucius repeated, his eyes assessing Harry. He could tell Severus' praise had meant a lot to Harry. "I know we've discussed Severus previously. If you impressed him, you must have revealed talents that he thinks you should be exploring. I have thought of approaching the subject of dueling with you myself. But I hesitated because I didn't want to put you in a situation where you found yourself unable to trust me because of my past misdeeds."
Harry seemed to consider this. "Severus says that you are a strategist, and that you'd bring out the best in my skills. So far, when I've dueled with him, we have been mostly playing, trying to outwit each other with annoying hexes. He's made me laugh while I responded on instinct in our play. He's got a wicked sense of humor. I'm feeling better physically than I have since I played quidditch. I've never done that before - used my magic for fun. When I've practiced anything, it was either for lessons, or for defense in battle. But I'd like to have a go at a duel with you. Maybe not right away, but soon."
Lucius inclined his head. "And so you shall. If you'd like, Draco and I can demonstrate the way we practice for you one Sunday."
"I'd like that, sir. Thank you," Harry said, but he still seemed nervous.
Lucius picked up his fork. "You're handling yourself very well, Harry. Just keep doing what you are doing. You're on the right track."
Harry seemed to want to contradict him, no doubt lamenting their ongoing disagreement about his education, but he kept his thoughts to himself and Lucius let him. He agreed with Severus that they should help the boy to heal further. If Severus was already helping Harry feel successful in his own right, he'd likely already begun the groundwork toward lowering the obstinate boy's resistance to returning to school.
"Severus is going to join us for dinner tonight and you are quite welcome to come as well," Lucius said as they parted after lunch.
"Thank you, sir, but I've already made plans to spend this evening with Hermione and Ron," Harry told him. "They wanted to have a go at dueling. We're all helping Hagrid at Hogwarts today, so we'll end with him and head back to Grimmauld Place."
"Very well," the older man returned with a hint of disappointment. "I hope you all enjoy yourselves. Perhaps we could set up an event of dueling games, with you and Severus at the manor? Invite anyone you think would want to join in. Oh, and Harry, I don't intend to put you in the middle with this, by any means, but if the subject comes up with your Miss Granger regarding reviewing the texts in the manor's library for donations to help restock Hogwarts… She is welcome any time to peruse our collection."
Harry gave him an understanding nod. "I'll do that. If it comes up. And I think the dueling idea would go over well. I'll see what I can set up."
Lucius smiled in approval. They shook hands. "Until Sunday," Lucius said, and watched Harry walk off, back towards Hogwarts.