Severus halted when he noticed that Harry was no longer at his elbow. He had slowed his pace a few times throughout the morning in an attempt to get the boy to walk beside instead of slightly behind him, but Harry had walked slower to maintain his position. The man had decided to let it go for the moment, not wishing to embarrass his son by calling attention to it. Now, however, the boy had wandered off for the first time since their arrival in Diagon Alley.
With a twinge of panic, he turned quickly, relieved to see that Harry had stopped a short distance up the street outside Quidditch Quality Supplies.
"I might have known," Snape murmured as he moved to stand beside the teen. Harry tensed, glancing up anxiously. When it didn't appear that the man was angry with him, he relaxed, turning his gaze back to the window, where the Firebolt was still on display.
"It's the fastest broom, yet," he stated. "Probably the best, all-around."
"Is it?" the professor asked.
"Of course it is!" Harry declared, proceeding to tell him all the broom's specifications – most of which Snape had heard from Draco when it had first come out. Severus listened, anyway, his lips curving into a faint smile.
"It's beautiful," the boy concluded, suppressing a sigh of longing.
"It is a very fine-looking broom," Snape agreed. "Be that as it may, I do believe it is well past lunchtime. I need to stop in the apothecary near the Leaky Cauldron and then we can get something to eat, if you are agreeable?"
"Okay," Harry nodded, then hastily amended, "I mean, yes, sir."
Severus put a hand on the boy's shoulder and steered him back down the street, exerting a bit more force when Harry started to fall back again. "I wish you'd stop walking behind me," the man remarked quietly.
Harry blinked at him, apparently unaware of what he'd been doing. He directed his gaze to the ground in front of him, but remained at Snape's side when the older wizard allowed his hand to fall away from his shoulder blade.
While the professor bartered with the apothecary, Harry quietly roamed the small shop, looking at the various potions and ingredients for sale. His footsteps led him over to the equipment. He remembered being a first-year and wanting to get a gold cauldron. Thoughts drifting, he lightly traced the sample engraving on a deluxe brewing kit.
"I forgot to ask earlier if you needed any supplies," Snape's voice brought him back to the present. The teen drew his hand away from the brass nameplate.
"No, sir," he answered, "I mean, I don't need anything."
"You are certain?" A nod. "Your equipment is in good condition?"
"I've taken care of it!" Harry exclaimed.
The Potions Master simply raised a brow. "I never assumed otherwise," he stated calmly, "but I also know that student tools and cauldrons tend to undergo greater... wear and tear than those of the more experienced. It is, therefore, a perfectly valid query. There is no need to take it so personally."
Snape smirked. "'Oh', indeed. Are you ready to leave?"
"Are we going back to the school to eat?" Harry asked.
"The house elves would have stopped serving lunch by now," the man replied. "I thought we would dine at the Leaky Cauldron before we head back. Agreed?" Harry nodded eagerly. "Let us go, then." Severus placed a hand at the back of his son's head to pilot him from the shop. He wasn't entirely certain, but he thought that the boy might have leaned into the touch, just a bit.
It was the first time Harry didn't flinch.
Harry sat on the rug in his room. A few wads and scraps of colored paper littered the floor around him. Shoulda had the shopkeeper wrap it, he sighed, staring down at the lumpy parcel he'd just finished wrapping. Ron's present had been, by far, the most difficult to wrap (it had taken him two tries). Who would have a thought a Canons' jersey could be so troublesome?
Placing the gift with the others he'd gotten for his friends, he turned to face the last present he had to wrap. He tugged it towards him, studying it contemplatively. After a moment, he darted a glance at the door before reaching for the last bit of wrapping paper.
He just hoped that Sna... his father would like it.
Slowly, the middle door between the bookshelves opened, well-greased hinges turning silently. A messy dark head poked out before moving a bit farther to see around the large shelves. The living room, with its floo and corner kitchenette, was empty. Stockinged feet padded out into the room, moving around furniture towards another door which stood ajar just to the left of the fireplace.
Harry frowned upon entering the study, as it, too, was empty. The boy was about to leave again when he noticed yet another door in the corner behind the desk. His curiosity was piqued. He hadn't noticed the door before. It undoubtedly led to the master bedroom, which Harry had been told was 'strictly none of his business.' But like all thirteen-year-olds and Gryffindors, alike, he felt drawn to the unknown and the door was open.
Before he could get close enough to peek through the narrow opening, however, a quiet sound from the living drew his attention and he quickly went back the way he'd come. Snape was standing beside a bookshelf, running a finger down the page of the book he held. The man looked up as Harry paused guiltily in the doorway.
"I do believe I said my study was off-limits unless I am in there."
"Sorry, sir," Harry murmured, his gaze fixed on the corner of one of the chairs.
Snape had returned his attention to the book. "Yes, well, I suppose as long as you know better than to snoop -" Harry winced. "- through my personal belongings, it doesn't matter. You are to leave anything on or within the desk alone. As long as you return the books to their proper place, you may borrow them. They are not, however, to leave these quarters. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." Had Snape really just given him permission to go into his study? And trust him not to pry into anything?
"I'm working in my lab," the Potions Master told him, closing the book and returning it to its spot on the shelf. Obsidian eyes flickered down to his mismatched socks (he had no idea where their mates had gone) and back to his face. "Put on a pair of shoes and you're welcome to join me."
Harry had originally thought he'd go for a walk around the castle, using the Marauder's Map to do a bit of exploring. It had been the reason he was looking for the professor – not that he'd be mentioning said map, of course. Now, however... He met the man's gaze, a tentative smile crossing his features.
Snape gave a short nod and went back into his lab as Harry ran to get his shoes.
The afternoon passed quietly. Harry had watched quietly, at first, managing to sit still for quite some time before he started fidgeting. A mild glare had put a stop to this, but it was only a moment until the boy slid off his stool and approached the nearest work area.
Severus was working on restocking the stores for the hospital wing. While he already had three other brews well underway, he had yet to set to work on the fourth cauldron he'd set up except to lay out the needed ingredients.
Harry eyed said ingredients for a moment. "Burn salve?" he queried.
The man inclined his head. "Do you know the directions?" To his surprise, the boy rattled them off perfectly. "You'll have to make a triple batch," he informed him.
"Oh," Harry frowned thoughtfully, then promptly located a spare bit of parchment and used a quill to scribble out the new quantities.
"We need to work on your penmanship," was Snape's only comment, though he nodded in approval and motioned the boy to get to work.
When the burn salve was finished, Severus had the boy bottle and label the headache remedy while he checked his work. The bright orange paste appeared to be flawless, the consistency and color perfect. So, the Potions Master said so.
Harry gaped at him for a moment, nearly letting a vial slip from his fingers in his surprise. It seemed to take him a moment to conclude that the man was sincere in his praise and soon a broad smile overtook his features. Severus felt warmed by the sight.
"Thank you, sir," the teen said quietly, ducking his head.
"You're welcome, Harry."
That evening, after dinner in the Great Hall, the two sat in the living room. Severus had insisted that Harry work on his holiday assignments. He'd been a bit surprised when the boy had reemerged from his bedroom with his homework and settled on one end of the couch. Harry had a perfectly functional desk – Severus knew because he had selected it himself – but he merely raised a brow and continued reading.
Harry bit back a small smile when the professor didn't say anything about him doing his homework on the sofa. He had a desk in his room, of course, but it had been... nice spending the last couple days with the older wizard. It was – it was almost how he'd imagine it would be like to have... a father.
"Do you have a question, or did Professor McGonagall assign me as the topic of your Transfiguration essay?" the man drawled.
A blush colored the teen's face as he realized that he had, in fact, been staring at the man. "No, sir," he murmured, turning his gaze back to his textbook.
Severus continued to watch the boy for a moment. There had been something in those green eyes that he couldn't quite identify. It wasn't awe or curiosity or anything else he'd have associated with Harry's gaze in the past. His inability to know what was going on in the boy's mind was frustrating. Why had he looked at him in such a way? What did it mean?
Alas, the mass of dark hair held no answers and the man redirected his own gaze before the boy sensed it and looked up again. The corners of his mouth curved slightly upwards. Who would have ever thought that he would enjoy such a domestic moment? Just him and his son, sitting in companionable silence.
A part of him wondered how he had never before realized just what he was missing.
Harry woke early, though, that was hardly any surprise. He'd woken up early his entire life, with few exceptions. It was already such a deeply-ingrained habit, he doubted he'd ever be able to sleep as late as Ron sometimes did.
Stretching his legs confirmed that the typical pile of gifts rested at the foot of his bed. Harry smiled as he levered himself up on one elbow and turned on the lamp, pushing his glasses onto his nose a second later. Before coming to Hogwarts, he'd never had any reason to care much for Christmas, but now, he found it was a day he rather liked.
As he opened the presents he'd gotten from his friends, he wondered if they liked what he had gotten them in turn. It was so good to have people who cared about him. He had gotten up to put his newest acquisitions on his desk when he finally noticed a tall, thin package leaning against the bookshelf. A smaller gift rested on one of the shelves. Both were wrapped in silver paper with green ribbons.
Slowly, he walked over to them and opened the smaller one first. It contained a practice snitch. Harry grinned, setting the snitch aside while he looked for a card. It didn't have one, but the larger one did – a simple one that matched the wrapping paper. Flipping it open, he read the missive inside.
I trust that you will use this responsibly so that I will not be forced to confiscate it. Happy Christmas, Harry.
There was no signature, but Harry would know the spidery font anywhere. Hastily setting the card aside, he tore open his remaining package. Even after he had gotten the wrapping paper entirely off, it took him a moment to fully comprehend what was happening.
A Firebolt. Snape had gotten him a Firebolt. Tears sprang to his eyes. For years he had watched as his aunt and uncle showered his cousin with innumerable gifts, everything the selfish boy had asked for and more, while Harry was lucky to get a decent meal. Now, someone had gotten him something he had really, really wanted and he hadn't actually asked for it, not really. It was something expensive, too – probably more than anything Dudley ever received – but his father had gotten it, anyway. For him. Because it was something he liked.
Severus had just emerged from his room, groggily making his way over to the kitchenette to prepare himself a cup of coffee. It was, therefore, a mild shock when the door to his right jerked open abruptly and he was bodily assaulted by pajama-clad thirteen-year-old. In fact, it was so sudden, that it took him a split-second to realize that he wasn't really under attack.
Harry had his arms wrapped around his torso with more strength than the Potions Master would have credited him. The boy's face was pressed against the cloth of the t-shirt he wore to bed and Severus could have sworn that it was starting to feel a little damp. Then, to his alarm, a choked sob escaped the small frame.
"Harry -" But before he could form his inquiry, it was cut off.
"Thank you," Harry murmured thickly, somehow managing to hug him tighter. "Thank you, so much!"
The boy wasn't distressed, but touched? He let out a sigh that was one part relief and two parts bewilderment. With a small smile, he caressed the back of the messy black head, noting how the hair was soft and fine like his own.
"You're welcome, Harry," he said softly. "Happy Christmas."