Harry rubbed at his right wrist again, rotating the joint about as he did so. Having reached the end of page he was reading, the boy reached up to turn the page only for his hand to return to its previous occupation. The Potions Master glanced up from his seat near the floo to where the boy sat studying at the dining table.
"Harry," the man said, drawing the boy's curious gaze. "Is your hand bothering you?" He had set aside what he was doing, clearly ready to tend to the boy if needed.
For his part, Harry blinked in confusion before looking down at his hands. He hadn't been wholly aware of what he was doing. "Oh. No. It just… feels weird, is all," the boy replied. Propping his elbows up on the table, he held both his hands up in front of him, rotating them back and forth. His right arm looked strange without the leather brace he'd worn for more than three months. His healer had said it was time, however, since his wrist was no longer in any need of support. Harry still didn't have much movement in his fingers, but at least he was able to consciously move all of them, now.
"Let me have a look," the professor told him, having moved across the room to join the boy. Harry held his arm out, watching as the man took his hand and gently palpated his wrist and palm.
The surreality of the situation struck the boy just then. Mere months ago, he would have recoiled from the man. He certainly would not have willingly allowed the dour professor to examine his injured hand in such a way. As he observed the care with which the Potions Master checked over his still healing appendage, Harry had difficulty reconciling him to his once hated professor.
Such a feat proved beyond him, for the Snape standing before him was not the same man whose scorn and vitriol he had feared such a short time before. The Snape of then was a cruel, sneering, hateful man who seemed set on making Harry's life a misery. Harry could never have trusted such a man.
But this Snape – this Snape was different. This Snape offered him help even when he had not asked yet. This Snape bit his tongue rather than taking joy in verbally abusing an anxious student in his class. This Snape was human in a way that the nasty dungeon bat had never been. Most importantly of all, this Snape cared about him, about Harry. And he was not the least bit like what Harry had imagined James or any other father would be, but Merlin, if he was not somehow managing to meet all of his expectations, anyway.
"Harry, are you in pain?" There was a note of alarm in Snape's voice as he abruptly stopped what he was doing. "Am I hurting you?"
Harry tilted his head back to meet the man's gaze, only then noticing that tears had started to track down his face. It took the boy a moment to figure out why this was. Even then, he found himself unable to speak, not because he was at a loss for words, but rather because part of him still did not trust his fortune. Part of the boy was still waiting for the man to turn on him and hate him once more, just like his relatives.
"Harry?" The concern was palpable in the man's tone, then, and the worry clearly written upon his stern features was too much. As the Potions Master's hand gently cupped the side of his face, the boy caved, the feelings he'd been too insecure and scared to express tumbling forth.
"It doesn't hurt," said Harry, tone thick, tears streaking face in earnest despite his attempts to wipe them away. "It doesn't, it just – I'm glad. That you're my father. I didn't think I would be. You… You used to be such an awful git, I thought you being my father would be the worst thing ever, but it's not. You're different, now, and I'm glad. I'm glad you're my father, professor, I'm-"
Harry could not recall the last time he had cried as much as he'd been doing since the start of the school year, but it seemed he was at it again. After a moment, he realized that his cheek was pressed against scratchy robes that smelled of stale herbs as a hand carded through his hair in a soothing manner. That Snape was hugging him only succeeded in making him cry more.
When he felt calmer, Harry pulled away, accepting the handkerchief that the professor offered to him. Snape sat down across from him, waiting for the teen to look back at him.
"I'm glad, too, Harry," the Potions Master told him, "glad that I get to be your father, and that you gave me the chance to start making up for how horrible I was to you. You… have made me desire to be better, to be worthy of having you for a child. I have said it before and I mean it still: I am very proud to have you for a son. And it would make me very pleased if you would call me dad, or father – whichever you're comfortable with. When you're ready, of course…"
It was then, as the professor proceeded to ramble a bit, that Harry realized that Snape was also uncertain of their relationship. He, too, was trying to figure out where they stood.
"I'd like that," Harry cut in, a timid smile on his face as he finally let himself utter aloud the word that grown in his heart, "dad."
Hermione stared, brows drawn. It was a bit rude, if she were honest with herself, but she couldn't help herself.
"Granger? Gods, I think we broke her," Pansy Parkinson muttered to Millicent Bulstrode with a long-suffering sigh. She repeated her query, speaking slowly and over-exaggerating each syllable. "Could you explain Chapter Nine of the Muggle Studies text to us? Please?"
"You take Muggles Studies?" Hermione questioned inanely, quite certain she had never seen Parkinson in the class.
"Merlin, no," Parkinson scoffed. "If I took Muggle Studies, my father would have a… What do muggles call it? When the heart seizes up because the blood flow is blocked?"
The Gryffindor blinked. "A coronary?"
Her classmate snapped her fingers and pointed in an affirming sort of gesture. "Yes. That. My father would have a coronary," she declared, adding under her breath, "Probably'd be an improvement."
"I'm in the class," said Bulstrode, "and Pansy studies it with me. She's not allowed because her parents don't like muggles."
"Millie's mum is half-blood, though, so it's not like they could forbid her even if they wanted. In any case, it's not even the whole chapter we're struggling with, just the electricity bit. Could you explain it?" Parkinson concluded.
Hermione was back to staring by this point. Pansy Parkinson knew what a coronary was, and apparently Millicent Bulstrode had a mother who was half-blood. Furthermore, they were asking for her help. Hers!
Parkinson gave an impatient huff. "Is that a no, then? Greg thought you'd be willing to help. We don't need that much of your time! We tried asking Adrian, first, but he doesn't understand how electricity works, either."
"Adrian?" the Gryffindor echoed. Merlin, she felt like she was being slow!
"Pucey," Bulstrode supplied, "fifth year. He's muggleborn, too, not that he's any help. I think he understands less than we do."
A muggleborn in Slytherin? Hermione blinked rapidly.
"Oh, forget it, already! You should've just said, if you didn't want to help," snapped Parkinson, steering her housemate around and preparing to storm away.
"No! I mean, I can explain how electricity works. I was just supposed you had asked," Hermione exclaimed, oddly reluctant to turn them away.
"Really?" For the first time that the Gryffindor could recall, Pansy Parkinson's expression appeared entirely open and benign. In fact, for a moment, it was a mixture of hopefulness and relief before it was once more replaced with a far more customary superciliousness. "Thank Merlin. It'd be a bit of a shame if none of you understood how it works. After all, you did grow up with it."
"Pans," Bulstrode rolled her eyes.
"What? I'm not wrong!"
Her friend shook her head and turned back to their schoolmate. "Would it all right if we come to the library at the same time you study with Greg and Vince?" she queried. "My book is in my trunk and I'd want to bring it."
"Yes. That would be all right," Hermione agreed.
Bulstrode offered her a somewhat forced smile as Parkinson folded her arms impatiently, as though having to wait for the exchange to finally end pained her. "At the library, then," she uttered rather dismissively. Linking her arm with the larger girl, she proceeded to whine before they were quite out of earshot. "If I knew she would stare at us so strangely, I would've made Greg ask for us!"
Hermione shook her head. This year was turning out to be the strangest, yet.