Title: Catching the Wind
Age-Range Category: One
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus, Eileen, Tobias
Beta Reader(s): dickgloucester
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Child neglect and abuse, domestic violence (off screen).
Note: Many thanks to my friend and beta dickgloucester, who Britpicked, had an eagle eye for weaknesses, and offered up suggestions which truly improved this story. Any remaining mistakes or inconsistencies are my own.
Summary: "It's the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it." — Frank Warren
He could feel it happening again, welling up inside him, fit to burst out at any moment. Severus knew he'd better scarper before it did. Da didn't like it and there'd be even more trouble. If it were bad enough, like when he broke that window without meaning to, it wouldn't just be yelling. 'Course, he deserved the beating then. No one normal, in spite of what Mam said, did things like that, had feelings like this.
It were getting on chilly-like outside, so he searched around in the bag of stuff Mam had just got at Oxfam and pulled out a faded blue jumper. It were too big just yet, but Mam couldn't afford to go often, so she bought to grow into, she said. He pulled it on. He'd be a while with this one.
He snuck out the back door, quiet as he could to avoid the notice of the shouting voices in the front room. Mam was screaming ugly words at Da. If he didn't get out now, Da would start in with uglier words right back and he wouldn't be able to keep that angry, itchy feeling inside. Then he'd end up with more bruises than just the ones he'd got last night.
He closed the door carefully, quiet as you please, and climbed the gate into the ginnel behind. Not far enough. He could still hear them. So he decided to race himself to the end of the alley, maybe wander down to that playground a few streets away. If he was lucky, there wouldn't be anybody there.
So he ran, fast as he could, ignoring the heavy hem of the jumper trying to tangle round his knees, past all six houses to the street. He couldn't help the grin when he got to the end. Faster than last time, he could tell.
A stiff gust of wind blew up the street, carrying bits of rubbish from that knocked-over bin at the corner, and he bent down to see if there was anything interesting. Nowt. No bottles or anything else he might be able to get a coin for. He shrugged. Most folk weren't that wasteful, but ever since that time he'd found a whole shilling's worth, Severus couldn't stop himself from hoping it would happen again. Bad habit to get into round here, he knew. He'd better clear off before he got blamed for knocking it over.
It were still early yet. The street was pretty empty, just the occasional beat-up car motoring past on the way up to the church three streets over, everyone inside dressed fine and looking smug. He tried and failed to imagine what it might be like, being one of them. What must it feel like to have a full belly in the morning, wearing clothes no one had worn before him, his hair slicked back with Brylcreem like one of them cinema stars he'd seen in his Auntie Bea's magazines, being driven in a swanky car to that place Mam had swore she'd never set foot in? He'd always wanted to just sit in one, but no one they knew owned a car. He wasn't curious about the church, though. He thought Mam had the right of it there. If there was someone up there, someone who had made him the way he was, then that someone was a right mean old bugger and Severus didn't want to have anything to do with such. Who in their right minds would thank someone for making them a freak? He turned the corner and tried to ignore the clenching feeling in his thin belly and the itchy feeling that was ballooning up again. He was almost at the park.
The wind that churned the grey clouds overhead pushed the swings with an eerie creaking sound, as if there were ghost children from some day long ago still playing here. He settled himself down onto the seat, wishing there was. Then, maybe, he'd find someone who would play with him. Other kids his age just stared at him or shied away as if he had something they might catch if he got too near. The older kids? Well, 'strange' was about the politest thing they called him.
Once, when he were really little, there had been a boy down the street, Bobby, he would play with. But there had been an argument about something, he couldn't even remember why, and that itchy feeling had come and Bobby's hair and skin had gone all over green. The boy had run home shrieking and Bobby's mam had got into an argument with his mam, and he never played with him again. Oddly enough, his mam never punished him for that, though he'd expected it. But he lost his only playmate and the next time he saw Bobby, the boy was his normal colour but acted like Severus wasn't even there, while Bobby's mam stared daggers at him. Da had thought to send him to the local primary school before that, he knew. But he'd messed that up right and proper, hadn't he? Mam might not have punished him, but Da did, 'cause now Mam had to learn him his letters and numbers at home.
He hooked his arms around the chains and scuffed his feet in the dust. Mam would have to mend his shoe. The right one had split at the sole again. He flexed his toes inside the shoe, watching his big toe appear and disappear. Third time this month. He straightened his legs, backed up and pushed off.
The higher he got off the ground, the better he felt. Was this what flying on a broom was like? Severus had sneaked the kitchen broom outside once last year, put it between his legs (which hadn't been too comfortable) and jumped off the garden fence. He just landed in a heap at the bottom, breaking the broom handle. His mam had seen him, and he shrank back, waiting for her to slap him as she usually did when he'd done something wrong. But it had been one of her rare good days and he could tell that she was trying not to laugh even though she scolded him for breaking the broom. You'll be doing it soon enough, she'd said and then took the broom back inside to mend it.
Mam had told him stories, see, when Da weren't around, when it were just the two of them working on his learning, about the school he'd get to go to someday. A school for kids just like him, she'd said, where what he could do was good and proper and not something that just led to trouble. There would be plenty of food at meals, and no one ever got sent to bed without because they'd broke bottles or just looked at someone the wrong way. He'd have a wand like Mam's (the one she kept hidden from Da 'cause he'd threatened to break it and then where would they be?) and wear wizard robes. And he'd learn to make things do what he wanted them to do, and then Da wouldn't be so angry at him all the time. Maybe Da would even be proud of him a little. He'd have friends. He'd learn to fly for real.
It weren't like Mam to tell a fairy story to him, but the first time she'd told him about this Hogwarts, he wished she'd never stop. And at first, he liked hearing about it, especially since she didn't tell it too often — only on her good days, when she got dressed and combed her hair and they worked on his reading and writing and sums. It had made him feel peaceful inside to think that there might be somewhere he'd belong, even if it was just a pretend place. At night he'd close his eyes and fall asleep to stories he told himself about it, based on what Mam had said. In these stories he made friends with ghosts and giants and played games with other kids like him. He ate cakes like he saw in the baker's window, as many as he wanted, and roast chicken and he never ate porridge for supper again. Then he'd get on his broom and fly wherever the wind took him. When he landed, there would be great deeds to do, and he could do them because his magic obeyed him now. Maybe he'd rescue a princess from a dragon, or build a castle in a day.
But there were times when he just couldn't pretend anymore. Times like last night. It hurt too much to think about cakes when he hadn't eaten anything since yesterday noon. Or to think about these feelings as anything but a curse while his father grabbed him near hard enough to break his arm, calling him a worthless shit as he threw Severus into his room and yelled at him to stay there until morning, sneering at his mam that he should have should have known better than to have married a witch. To know as he lay there, trying so hard not to cry but doing it anyway, that he could no more go to Hogwarts than he could fly to the moon. That the broom in the kitchen would never carry him away from this place. Even if it were real, there weren't no money to send him there. Of course he was going to Hogwarts. And maybe Eton the year after that. This swing was the only place he'd ever fly.
Severus had swung himself as high as he could get, and he wondered what would happen if he just let go. There were an old oak tree in front of him, over by the fence. Would he make it there, land in its branches like some awkward, oversized Blue Tit and disappear among the browning leaves? Or would he drop like stone, his magic no match for the pull of gravity, and land on the sparse grass broken, never to fly? He knew the answer, but was about to let go anyway when he heard his name being called. And there was Mam coming up the street.
She'd seen him, he knew. But he really didn't want to go home, or get his ears boxed for leaving the house. He must really be in trouble, or she wouldn't have been bothered to come after him. There were only the one gate, so he stopped the swing as quick as he could, and scrambled beneath the thick, scrubby hedges by the fence. There were an open space inside, just big enough to fit him. He often hid there when other kids came to the park and watched them, wishing he could join in but never daring. It seemed the safest place now. Maybe she would think he'd learned to disappear.
He saw her come in through the gate and look around, then go straight for him. He put his head down on his knees, but not so fast that he didn't see the purpling bruise blooming across her left cheekbone. Her footsteps stopped, then there were the rustle of her skirts as she sat down beside the hedge.
"I don't blame you," she said softly, "but it's time to come home, Severus. Your da's gone out."
He didn't answer, and she laid her own head on her knees and spoke again, her voice muffled by the fabric of her dress.
"He wasn't always this way, you know. Once, before the mill closed and the drinking started, your da was a good man, and a kind one. And once, before the melancholia swallowed me, I was a decent wife and mother. I don't know what's happened to us." Her voice was thick now. "I'm sorry, son. You deserve better. And it will get better, I promise. In a few years when you go to Hogwarts — "
"Give over, Mam!" he shouted, unable to contain himself any longer. "Just give over and stop telling me chinnies! I don't want to hear 'bout that place no more when I know it in't real!" And the ground shook so hard half the leaves on the hedge and the oak fell, and he burst into tears, appalled that he'd just talked back to his mam and lost control yet again. The shaking stopped. "I'm sorry, Mam," he whispered between hiccups, "but, I can't. I just can't anymore."
"You ... you think Hogwarts isn't real?"
"It's okay," he said, wiping his eyes on his jumper sleeve, "I know you were just trying to make me feel happy."
"Merlin, child! You actually think that Hogwarts is make-believe, like the Muggle story of Santa Claus?" she asked, sounding like she couldn't believe her ears. "Severus, come out of there right now. We're going home — there's some things I need to show you." Then she stood again, wiping off the back of her skirts.
He obeyed, keeping his eyes down. He promised himself he wouldn't flinch or cry if she slapped him for talking back. She'd smacked him good for a lot less, and he deserved it this time. Instead, she reached into the pocket of her apron and brought out a paper-wrapped bundle which proved to be a cheese sarnie. He swallowed hard as his stomach clenched at the thought of food. He'd forgotten for a while that he hadn't eaten. She put it in his hands.
"Eat it while we walk home. You can have another after."
They walked home in silence. The sandwich disappeared by the end of the first street and he was still hungry. Severus felt guilty about needing two. He suspected that he would be eating his mam's lunch, as well. They turned the corner into the ginnel and nodded to the occasional neighbour out tending their garden, then went through the back gate into their own overgrown plot. Mam had given up trying to grow anything long ago. When they entered the tiny, drab kitchen, she told him to sit at their battered table and put another sarnie down in front of him along with a glass of milk, only just starting to smell off. He drank it gratefully anyway as Mam went out of the kitchen and came back with her wand.
'Tweren't a pretty thing, her wand. It were made of some light-coloured wood that had got stained over time where her hand held it, and there were some sort of carven twisty shape almost like a snake that wound its way 'round the length of it that was missing bits. But it still worked all right, he supposed, since when she flipped her wrist and spoke an odd word he'd never heard before, the dishes began washing, drying and putting themselves away. She slumped a little after, as if it had tired her some to do that. Maybe it was why she didn't do it all the time. Mam placed her wand carefully into the pocket of her apron.
"When you're done with that," she said, nodding at his rapidly disappearing food, "wash those up, leave them to dry and then come upstairs." Then she left the kitchen.
He finished as quick as he could. He went over to the sink to wash up his plate and glass, but the magic she'd done hadn't finished yet. The plate and glass were pulled from his hands and he watched, fascinated, as the dishrag swiped over them all by itself, they rinsed themselves under the tap and set down to dry on the draining board. Severus put his hands where the plate had been but he couldn't feel anything.
"Any time, boy," came the half-exasperated, half-amused voice from the top of the stairs.
Mam was waiting on the landing. With another flick of her wand the little door in the ceiling opened, and the ladder dropped down. "Up you go." He scrabbled up, full of curiosity — he'd never been up here before — but it weren't much to look at. He crawled away from the opening to let his mam climb into the small, dusty space. She used her wand to pull the up ladder and close the door after them. A little watery grey light came through a grimy window at one end, but it were still hard to see proper. He stood, the ceiling so low he could touch it in the middle. Mam had to stay hunched. Over in the far corner stood a pile of mouldy cardboard boxes, and Mam went toward them. She waved her wand and he gasped as the pile of boxes became a large, handsome black leather trunk with Eileen Prince wrote on it in big curly gold letters. Severus knelt and ran his fingers over them.
"Where'd this come from, Mam?" he asked in a hushed voice.
"It's mine, Severus. Eileen Prince is me — was my name before I married your father." She sat and ran her hand lovingly over the battered leather. "I'm still Eileen," she said softly, as if she hadn't meant him to hear it. Then her face and voice changed. "Your da thinks I've got rid of this," she said sharply, "and you are not to let on otherwise; you understand me, boy?"
He nodded. "Yes, Mam."
"Make sure that you do. This is all I have left, and if a slip of your tongue causes me to lose this, well, believe me when I say you'll wish you'd never been born."
He nodded again. Wishing he'd never been born weren't a new feeling, but there were something in her voice that made him shiver as she said the words. "I promise."
"Very well. Lean back away from the trunk. Alohomora."
The trunk sprang open. He waited patiently as she reached in and brought out a large, thin, green leather-covered book and pulled it into her lap.
"Scoot over closer, Severus." He slid over beside her and she stroked the book. "I wasn't making up stories when I told you about Hogwarts. It's a real place, up north in Scotland. It's where I went to school. Take a look."
She opened the book, and on the first page was a photograph like one he'd never seen before. It moved, almost like it was a miniature telly! In it stood a small, solemn-faced girl wearing black robes that came to her ankles, who waved at him shyly. Beside her were the very trunk they sat next to, standing on one end so that it was nearly as tall as the girl, and an owl perched on the top of it, flapping its wings and fluffing its feathers. The letters underneath read: 'Eileen, First Year, Train Day'. He reached out a finger to touch it, then drew back, thinking the better of doing that. He looked up at his mam in wonder. She seemed amused at his reaction at first, and then frowned.
"How . . . ?" he started to ask, but she shook her head.
"I really have been negligent, haven't I," she murmured. "What would your grandparents think if they knew? You should have known about this. All of it." She looked as if she might cry for a moment, but then she turned her face away from his.
"Magical pictures move, Severus. Ordinary ones don't. Only witches and wizards can see the difference."
"Da can't see them move, then?"
Suddenly he felt very sad for Da. "That's a shame," he said softly. His mam made a sort of choking noise beside him.
"Turn the page, son."
He reached over and gingerly turned the page on the waving girl. The next page showed that same girl — his mam, though it were hard to imagine her as ever being small like him — standing next to an older boy wearing robes that had a green crest and a gold 'P' on and two adults who looked a little older than his mam was now. The man and woman in the picture fussed over the boy, pulling him away from the girl, who crossed her arms over her chest, looking on the verge of tears.
"That is my brother Eugenius and my parents."
Something in her voice stopped him from asking her why he had never met them. This time, it was she who turned the page. The next photo showed a whole group of girls, seven of them, all wearing robes with green crests, giggling and crowding together, putting up fingers like rabbit ears behind each other's heads and yanking on each other's plaits. His mam was off to the right, smiling like anything. She looked so happy that he just wanted to stare and stare. It was almost more remarkable than the castle they were posed in front of.
"Those girls were my roommates in Slytherin House. We all lived together in one big room in the castle. That castle is Hogwarts."
"You lived there with all of them? They were your friends?"
"Yes," she answered, her voice softening again as she ran her fingers over the faces, a queer look on her own. "Yes, they were."
Every turn of the page brought a fresh wonder. Mam on a broom, flying past treetops, Hogwarts in the background; two of Mam's friends standing beside a unicorn, the beautiful thing pawing nervously while a solid-looking woman with sandy hair showed them how to stroke its nose; the biggest room he'd ever seen, with rows and rows of tables that had many children seated at them, as a dour-looking bald man in yellow robes spoke to them from behind a raised table at the far end. Years passed and Mam and her friends looked older with every couple of turns of the page and she looked more and more like the Mam he knew. There were photos of her playing a strange game where the pieces spit out gooey stuff at Mam's opponents, and sitting in a dark and cozy room studying with her friends that she said was the Slytherin Common Room everyone shared; though the older they got, the more of her friends were sitting with boys than were sitting with her. And he couldn't help noticing that the older she got, the more unhappy she seemed. There weren't any photos of her sitting with boys, and the in the last pictures of her and her friends, everyone stood stiff and formal-like. No one smiled or crowded close. No one wore plaits anymore and Mam seemed apart from them somehow, even though she was standing right there.
She closed the book. Her eyes started to have that hollow look that they often got on her bad days — the ones where she'd lie in bed and stare at the wall for hours without moving. He looked up at her.
"What I wouldn't give . . . ," she began, gripping the book so hard her knuckles went white. A tear rolled down from one eye and caught in the corner of her mouth
"Mam?" And he reached out to touch her, but she pulled away sharply. The book went back into the trunk with a careless toss and the lid came down with a bang.
"That's enough for today."
The trunk once again looked like a pile of mouldering boxes. He wanted to try and touch it again, just to see if he could feel what he knew was there instead of what he saw, but he knew he daren't. She got up and opened the trap door, her wand stabbing the air, sparks flying as the ladder slid to the floor below.
"Out," she said, sounding angry now. He obeyed quickly, but couldn't help a last glance where the trunk sat, wondering whether the other things inside would take his mam the same way; wondering if he'd ever get the chance to know. When they reached bottom, the ladder slid back up and the little door shut firmly with an echoing click. She turned on him with a sour frown. "You mind what I said earlier, you understand me?" He nodded. "You are not to go up there by yourself, either. You will be very sorry indeed if I catch you even trying."
He shrank back from the hard expression in her eyes, edging toward his own door. He nodded at her again, not daring to speak. Then her eyes softened again and she knelt down so that she was looking at him full on.
"I am sorry, Severus — so very sorry in more ways than you know . . . ," Mam bit her lip and looked down at the floor for a second, then looked back up at him. "I'll tell you more, later, when I'm up to it. But I hope you understand now that Hogwarts is real and you will be going there in five more years, after you turn eleven. I would not lie to you, son."
"I din't think you were lying to me, Mam," he said, scuffing his split shoe on the floor, ashamed. "Just telling me fairy stories, see, like the one you told me about Babbitty Rabbitty — to cheer me up, like." Mam's hand lifted his chin and gently made him look at her. There were tears in her eyes again, and he hated that he'd made her cry. She cried too often as it was.
"Stay here for a moment, Severus. I'll be right back. I have something I should have given you years ago; I should have realized that you've been old enough to look after it and keep it nice for some time now."
She gave his chin a soft squeeze and then went down the stairs. He could hear her rummaging around in the bookshelves in the front room. When she came back upstairs, she was holding a book in her hand, and he would have bet his supper it was from the shelf he was never allowed to touch. He clamped down on his excitement as she handed it to him, not quite able to believe his luck. Books were precious, and he never had one of his own before. Was Mam really giving this to him? He held it gently, feeling the plain brown leather of the cover warm in his hands. It were a big book, too — about the size of the Atlas Da liked to take down and look at every now and again — but slim, only two fingers thick.
"That was mine, Severus, when I was a girl. It's a book of wizarding fairy tales my gran gave me when I was five. You're nearly seven, now, so I know you'll take excellent care of it."
"Oh, I will, Mam, I will, I promise!" He hugged the book tight and nodded his head like anything.
"Good Boy." She ruffled his hair, but then her shoulders sagged and she dropped her hand. "Keep it out of sight, you hear? Your da can't see the pictures move, but that doesn't mean he won't know it's magic when he sees you with it." He nodded again, with his most serious face. "Now, go on into your room if you'd like to read it. I'll call when it's time for supper."
"Yes, Mam! Ta!"
After he'd shut the door to his room, he scrambled eagerly onto the thin mattress that was his bed and wedged himself into the corner, propping the big book up on his knees. The cover felt so soft that he couldn't help but pet it a bit. It was plain as plain could be on the outside, but it was real and it was his — it made him tingle right down to his toes. Severus hugged it again, and then made himself sit quiet and take a deep breath before he opened the cover.
The inside page were blank at first, but then beautiful curly writing appeared, the lines widening and narrowing and looping gracefully, until they ended in curlicues and spelled out The Tales of Beedle the Bard in big letters. He traced the lines over with his finger in wonder. The place where the writing was didn't feel any different than the rest of the page, exactly, but maybe, when he closed his eyes, he felt a tiny prickly feeling when he touched the place where the words lay. He forced himself to turn the next page very slowly. It were worth the wait. Black lines began to sketch themselves onto the page, first in the shape of a man with a pointy beard holding a quill just above the page of an open book. When he was finished being drawn, the man winked at him, then adjusted his hat and began to write. The words showed on the page just below the picture.
There are five of my tales in this book, young master. They are: The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Warlock's Hairy Heart, Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump and The Tale of the Three Brothers. Which dost thou prefer?
Babbitty Rabbitty was the only one he knew, so he said it out loud, though he felt rather queer doing that.
As you wish.
The book startled him into almost dropping it, as the pages flipped by all on their own. When they stopped flipping, on the right page, the same fancy letters as started the book showed that this tale was Babbitty Rabbitty. The 'A' that were at the beginning of the story was as tall as his little finger and at least an inch wide and looked like it were jewelled, the colours glowing like the windows of that church up the hill when it were all lit up inside at night. And on the left page — well his eyes couldn't get any wider to take it all in, he was sure.
Delicate as spider legs, the lines began. Blades of grass came first, then tall trees in the back. Birds flew in among the trees and butterflies landed with a flutter on the flowers which sprung up at the edges of the page. A deer stepped into view, looking around all shy-like before dropping her head to nibble on the grass. A big stump formed on the part of the page closest to him. A funny statue of a round little woman, with her hair piled in a knot on her head, and who looked more than a bit like old Mrs. Horn at the end of the street, appeared on top of the stump. Then colour began to appear, tinting the grass and trees more greens than he could name, the birds and butterflies in the same jewel tones as the fancy 'A'. The flowers stayed white as their dark green vines followed the edges. The deer came over a soft brown with shining black eyes and hooves, a delicate pink in her ears, and the statue was all pure, shining gold. Then, from the base of the toast-brown stump, in a hollow that looked so real he felt as if he could reach right in it, a nose appeared. It twitched a bit, then whiskers popped into view. Ever so slowly, a grey muzzle began to push out of the hollow, holding a stout wand in its mouth. The nose twitched some more, and a head gradually emerged, until the ears sprung up. Then the grey, furry body shimmied from the hollow and it stood on its hind legs, craning its head this way and that, starting as it seemed to see him. The rabbit dropped down onto all fours and scooted behind the stump. The head peeked out from around it, but it weren't afraid. It almost looked like it was grinning at him as it changed, flowing into a flesh and blood person that were just like the statue. Babbitty smiled at him and he smiled back before he could catch himself. She raised her wand and vanished in an instant, the deer and the birds seeming to take no notice. He'd thought she was gone — what had Mam called it when a witch went somewhere by magic? Apper-something? — but a pair of long grey ears poked up from behind the stump.
Severus stared at the beautiful picture, this window into a world the like of which he'd never seen before, for a long while. He watched the birds flit from tree to tree, the butterflies drink from every flower. Clouds went slowly across the patches of blue sky between the trees. The shy deer came closer and closer to the front, a wary eye on him in case it needed to bolt. And the whole while, Babbitty Rabbitty — sometimes a laughing lady and sometimes a grey rabbit who investigated everything on the page — was there as he drank it all in like an endless glass of lemonade. He even pinched himself a few times to make sure he weren't dreaming. When he'd looked his fill, at least for the moment, he began to read.
It were the same story his mam had told him, all right, but there was more to it, somehow, the way food tasted like more if you salted it. He read slowly, savoring every word. He turned the page, and a small drawing of the wicked Muggle pretending to be a wizard and waving a silly little twig sketched itself in the middle, as the words flowed around it.
The story continued like this, a new drawing with every turn of the page, until the scene of Babbitty's escape, and the statue was left standing all on its own. It was so good, he had to start it again, and to his surprise, the second time around, the drawings were different! He stared in awe at the new pictures, wondering if they would change every time he opened the book, when he heard his father's voice booming downstairs, calling his name.
He just had got the book hid under his mattress when his door burst open. Severus tried his best to stifle his fear, both for his new book and for himself, wondering what he was in trouble for this time. But his father was smiling at him, even though he smelled of beer.
"Whadder yer doing in here all alone, lad? Boy like you needs to be outside on a day like this. Look, I brung yer something."
Da brought a battered football out from under his faded duffle coat and gave him a lopsided grin as Severus' heart sank. He wasn't any good at footie, no matter how much Da wanted him to be.
It always made Da so upset with him when he wasn't as fast as the other boys or shied away from the tackles. It didn't seem to matter if he was a forward or a back — he always managed to mess it up somehow and make Da angry. It was especially bad if he'd been into drinking, and Da would say mean things to him, and call him a nancy or a coward in front of the other boys, who didn't like him anyway and would say even nastier things to him under their breaths so's their das wouldn't hear what they'd said. But he'd disappoint Da more if he didn't want to, so Severus smiled and nodded and followed him out of the room. Mam yelled up at them, telling Severus not to get too dirty.
"Quit tha mithering, Eileen." Da yelled back down, though not as annoyed as he usually sounded. "He's a boy — o' course he'll get dirty. But he'll clean up again, won't you, lad? A little bit o' dirt never hurt anyone."
He shrugged. He wasn't all that fond of getting dirty, but he hated taking baths in the cold kitchen, so he hoped he wouldn't get dirty enough to need to.
Severus resisted with all his might the temptation to glance back longingly at the place where he'd hid his book. How he wished he didn't have to hide it, that he could share it with Da instead of going out to play this stupid game where he always ended up bruised, one way or the other. He wanted to show him all of the wonderful drawings — maybe even read him the story. Severus was proud of how well he could read now.
But Da didn't like magic, did he? He wondered, as he went down the narrow stairs, why Da and Mam had got married if Da thought magic was bad. Surely he hadn't always thought that way. And then, something occurred to Severus that hadn't before. Maybe it wasn't that he didn't like magic — maybe he was angry it at it because he was left out of it. Severus knew how he felt when he got left out of the games the other kids played, and how sad it made him to have to hide the things he could do, because Muggles weren't supposed to know. He wondered if Da felt as unhappy being reminded all the time that he couldn't do what Mam and Severus could do, or even see the wonderful things they could see. He supposed he would, if it were him.
He'd lagged a little behind, and so he ran to catch up, full of feelings he couldn't identify that swelled when he looked at Da's wiry form as he motioned Severus to go forward toward the end of the street.
"Where's everybody else?" he asked. He'd expected to see the Thompsons and the Cartwrights out here waiting for them. That's who they usually ended up playing footie with.
"It's just you and me today, son. Run back a bit and I'll kick th' ball. Let's see yeh try and get it past me, eh?"
There was so much he couldn't change, he thought helplessly, and there had never been so much that he wished he could. He couldn't make everything right between Mam and Da; he couldn't make Mam not feel sad so very much, he couldn't make Da be magic like him and Mam, he couldn't keep his own magic under control and be good all the time so that maybe Da and Mam would fight less and like him more. Even when he got a wand, he wouldn't be able to wave it and make all of their problems go away. But maybe, just maybe, this once the magic would be on his side, and for a little while, he could be the boy his da wanted him to be.
So he concentrated hard on the ball spinning through the air, and when it landed in his arms and he didn't drop it, he ran, hope winging at his heels as he made his way toward Da's lopsided grin.