Chapter Thirteen - Happy Christmas
“Ooh! Look what Father Christmas brought us! It’s a life-sized Bathtime Harry!”
“Brilliant! Let’s go see if he floats!” Hands shook him. He stirred. His face hurt something crucial. “Um… Father Christmas is a sick, sick bastard. Percy! Perce! Get in here! Now!”
“Give me five seconds. Why do you always catch me on the way to the loo? I don’t even have my robe—bloody Hell!”
“You two stay here. I’m going to get Mum.”
“Forget Mum, get the fucking Hit Wizards!”
“Watch your mouth, George!”
“I—lovely.” Harry sat up, most decidedly not of his own action. “Harry, wake up.” He could feel the crust on his eyelashes crumble and pop. In a moment a concerned-looking George Weasley came into focus. “What are you doing here?”
“I need to see Madam Pomfrey.”
Fred rubbed his shoulders. “It’s okay, Mum and Nan’ll get you fixed up. They got rid of our bruises lots of times.” Bruises? Harry’s hand stole to his face. It was cold and squishy.
“Percy, just take a breath and tell me slowly, one more time. Harry’s—oh, my goodness!” Molly Weasley shoved George none too gently out of the way. She took Harry’s hands. “My poor baby, what happened to you?”
Harry bit his lip. He wouldn’t cry again, not in front of people. “I think Sev’s hurt. I was trying to go to the hospital wing but I said the wrong thing and I couldn’t find any Floo powder and now I don’t know if he’s even alive—“ she took him in her arms as he broke down in wracking sobs. She stroked his hair. Fred left a reassuring hand on his back. George hugged him from the other side. He was dimly aware of Arthur Weasley coming into the room in bathrobe and striped pajamas, various members of the Weasley clan behind him. A few faces were unfamiliar. Mrs. Weasley fished a square of linen out of her pocket and wiped his face.
“You’re safe now, and you’re welcome here as long as you want, dear.”
“I need to get back to Sev—“
“I’ll send Minerva an owl and tell her you’re here and you’re worried. Poor dear, you look exhausted.” He was. And he didn’t want everyone staring at him. She looked around. “Bill, get him up to Ron’s—no, that won’t work. Your… no. P… oh, put him with the twins.”
“I have to get home!” He pleaded with his eyes. She smiled sadly.
“Get some rest first.”
“But—“ Bill picked him up, careful to make sure his dressing gown stayed closed. “I have to get back!”
“Not with that shiner, you don’t.” He felt too many eyes on him as the fifteen or so people parted to let them through.
“You don’t understand.” Bill started up the stairs.
“I do well enough.”
“You don’t! He’s sick—“
“That’s plenty obvious.” Harry tried to argue but nothing got through. Bill nudged the twins’ door open and set Harry on one of the unmade beds. “Charlie’s in here, too, but don’t worry. He’s kipping on the floor and the twins can squeeze into one bed.”
“Goddammit, Bill, will you just listen to me for a second?” The eldest Weasley looked at him with worried eyes. “It was an accident.” Even as he said it, he realised it wouldn’t help.
“Harry, I stood by for too long and watched your aunt and uncle make your life a living Hell. I’m not going to sit back this time and let some second-rate potions junkie beat you senseless. If he ever, ever lays another finger on you I’ll be the first in line to pay it back. As it is, I’ve got half a mind to go there right now, but it’s Christmas and even raving psychopaths get a little respite.” Harry swallowed hard; he trembled. Bill sighed and hugged him. “Hey, I’m sorry. I just don’t like to see my little brothers get pushed around, and you’re as much family as Ron. Do you want me to stay for a while?” Harry shook his head.
“I want to go home.” Why wouldn’t anybody listen to him? Bill frowned.
“We’ll get it sorted.” He poked at Harry’s sleeve. “I’ll get William to loan you a robe.” Harry was speechless. “Get some sleep. You look like you haven’t had a decent night’s rest in months.” Bill mussed his hair and closed the door quietly. Harry sat very still, feeling very small. Why did everyplace he’d once felt safe have to turn into a prison? He could hear people move around downstairs. The sun wasn’t up yet, and it felt like all his energy had been sucked through the floor. But what the Hell was all the fuss about? So he looked a little tired, maybe had a bit of a mark. For all they knew he’d walked into a door. He got up and wandered to the mirror. What he saw made him recoil. The outline of Sev’s fist was clearly visible in black on his pale skin. There was no way to pass this off as anything but what it was: a strong right hook to the jaw. The man didn’t have enough meat on him to do this sort of damage! Harry looked closer, disgusted but captivated.
“Ahem.” He jumped and turned around. Ron scowled in the doorway. “Thanks for ruining Christmas.”
“I’m sorry! It’s not like I wanted to come here.” The last time he’d seen Ron his face was still knitting back together. Now it was whole, and his hair was longer. His left ear held a tiny golden stud. Molly must have had a fit about that.
“Then why did you? Oh, that’s right, your precious professor got sick of you. Glad I’m not the only one.” He sneered, slouched, and started to pull the door.
“It was an accident. Ron, please.” His Sev was far away, and he had no way of knowing if the man was alive or dead. His best friend was right here, but he certainly didn’t want to be. One, or the other, was survivable, but not both. “I’m sorry.”
Ron shivered. Hope blossomed for an instant. “I’m not.” The door slammed.
Harry hugged himself. Fingers bit into his arms. Happy Christmas, Harry.
He woke up to see late afternoon sun streaming through the scorched blue chambray curtains. “Good morning, sleepyhead!” a pleasant female voice greeted him. He looked around to see an older witch, her apricot hair streaked with flaming red, beaming at him. She sat on the edge of the bed. “I’m Molly’s mum. Call me Nan, everyone does.”
“Hi.” Harry groped for his glasses. She handed them to him. Immediately, she began inspecting his face.
“Mm-hmm, quite a right hook that fellow’s got.” She pulled the lid off a red tin in her hand. Grandpa Claudius’ All-Purpose Salve, read the side. Heals cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, abrasions, and insect bites – like magic! She scooped out a lump of goopy pinkish stuff like petroleum jelly. It smelled like baby powder. “Turn your head a little? That’s right.” Harry sat quietly while she rubbed the stuff into his jaw. The pain started to fade as soon as it touched his skin. In the end he was left with a dull ache, and a numbness on the surface of his skin like Novocaine. “That’s better. You’ll have a mark for a couple of days, but it’ll soon be right as rain.”
“Thanks,” he said, touching his cheek experimentally. It was fun in an easily amused sort of way. Boing, boing, boing, he thought, letting his fingertip bounce on the numb but sore flesh. Nan stuck the tin in her pocket. Harry noticed she had a black smudge on her pointy nose.
“You must be starving. William sent you some clothes if you want to get dressed and come downstairs.” She pointed to a chair in the corner. It was heaped with jeans. “I hate to heal and run,” she stood up, stretching mightily, “but I’ve got a couple of grandsons desperate to get one over on me. Amateurs.” She snorted good-naturedly. Harry smiled at her, a little confused. She left before he could say anything, much to his relief. He crawled out of bed and left his robe in a pile on the floor. On the chair he found a pair of black silk boxers – which he felt decidedly strange about wearing as he pulled them on – a Weird Sisters T-shirt, and a robe made of faded black denim. It was as soft as old jeans, and he quickly discovered twice as comfortable. It also fit, a rarity in the Weasley household where tall and thin or short and stocky were the choices. A toothbrush and a fresh tube of Magident (spearmint flavour) were also on the chair. Bless Mrs. Weasley.
Harry wandered to the bathroom. It was mercifully vacant, and he got the impression everyone was trying to give him space. He ran a hot bath before he got undressed again, then brushed his teeth, grinning sardonically in the mirror. The outline of Sev’s knuckles was still visible, but had faded to a light brown. He clutched at them while he soaked. His poor Severus. Alone, possibly hurt, possibly insane. He shuddered at the thought. No, Sev was all right, probably was on his way here now—
Oh dear. No, no, that wouldn’t be good.
Harry finally settled on Sev sitting in front of the fire, reading one of the books Harry got for him, waiting for him to get home that evening. They would bicker for a little while, and end up sweaty and naked and profusely apologetic. In a way. Yes. This was acceptable. Putting on a brave face with the borrowed robe, Harry wandered downstairs.
The mountain of presents was gone. Ginny napped on the couch, clutching a thick, hard-backed sketchbook, a few red curls loose from her ponytail. On the floor next to her sat a large plush kneazle. It smiled, and stared with glass eyes. A fine-tipped raven drawing quill lay across its back. Harry left her to sleep. He found Mister and Mrs. Weasley, Percy, Penelope, Nan, a warlock about Nan’s age, and a young man with curly blue hair sitting around the kitchen table. “How’d you sleep?” Mister Weasley grinned at him.
“Okay.” His stomach growled and resonated. Before he could say anything, Molly had him seated next to the blue-haired man and vanished into the kitchen.
“You’ve met Nan?” Harry nodded. Nan smiled. She now had two black smudges on her face, and a singed robe. Harry wondered what the twins looked like. Arthur pointed to the older man, “This is my father—“
“Call me ‘Grandad’. And don’t call me sir.” He pointed a finger at Harry, brown eyes wide in mock warning, bald head shining. “Haven’t been called that since Barty Crouch was in the running for Minister of Magic, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start again.”
“Dad!” Molly set a heaping plate in front of Harry. He’d never figure out how she could get food so quickly. “Language.”
Grandad crossed his arms. “’Damned’ isn’t language. Good, solid word, ‘damned’.” He huffed. “Now, ‘fucked,’ on the other hand—“ he ducked as Molly threw a hex his way. The blue-haired man chuckled. His skin was the colour of milky tea, and his eyes were long and black. He wore delicate wire-framed glasses, and in height and build seemed almost identical to Harry. His hair was short, curly, and vivid electric blue. He stuck out a hand.
Harry shook it quickly. “Harry Potter.” He started stuffing turkey and ham into his mouth.
“Does the robe fit okay?” Instead of the Arabic lilt his features implied, William had a strong Etonian accent. It was a bizarre contrast to his punk hair and black patchwork robe. Harry noticed a dragon fang earring like Bill’s.
“Yeah, it’s great. I wish mine fit this well.” William smirked. His eyes flashed. Harry could see why Bill was attracted to him, which came as a bit of a surprise since he’d never thought of any man but Sev as attractive. Then again, William looked vaguely like a young, dark Severus.
“Keep it.” Harry looked at him.
He nodded, wrinkling his nose. “It’ll make me feel less guilty for not getting you a present.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Shut up and keep it!” He grinned in mock exasperation. Harry smiled shyly.
“Thanks.” He paid attention to his food, trying not to look up. There was something so very much like Sev in his dark eyes and aquiline nose. In the back of his mind he wondered how Sev would look with blue hair, or possibly William with badger-striped— Harry mentally shook it off. He wasn’t there to break up his relationship or anyone else’s. When he thought about it, he wasn’t sure why he was there, period.
He munched while the rest of the table chitchatted. Bill and William’s ceremony, he found out, was set for the twenty-seventh. Was William nervous? A little – he’d never gotten married before and was a bit worried Arthur would march him up the aisle at wandpoint. Mister Weasley laughed until he was red in the face.
“Bill, maybe! If he lets you get away I’ll marry you myself.” Molly scowled at him, but it didn’t come off very well with her lips twitching.
Harry thought back to his own secret, wholly unromantic “ceremony” in July. Sirius was the only person he’d mentioned it to, a week or so after Diagon Alley, and he’d responded with questions to Harry’s sanity. He wasn’t happy then about Severus Snape, Godson-In-Law, and Harry wasn’t certain that after today got out he wouldn’t be back in Azkaban. He forced himself to pay attention to the conversation around him, and the rapidly diminishing pile of food on his plate.
They’d just gotten into a hot debate on a proposal by the International Confederation of Wizards to make Muggle currency legal tender when a red sphere crashed through the window. Mrs. Weasley was livid. She stuck her head through the hole in the panes. “That’s it! Off those brooms right now, I don’t care who did that! One of you is going to get down here and fix this!” She picked up the Quaffle and rolled it angrily between her palms. A sheepish-looking troupe trudged in a few moments later. Bill kissed William on the head and murmured to him. Harry felt a pang of jealousy – why couldn’t Sirius be as open-minded as the Weasleys? Hermione, looking significantly more embarrassed than the rest, sidled up to Molly.
“Sorry, Mum.” She pointed her wand at the hole. “Reparo specularia!” Shards of glass flew off the floor and back into place. Mrs. Weasley glared at her daughter-in-law; she fought a smirk.
“You could at least say hello to Harry first.” Harry quickly found himself in a large Hermione-shaped hug.
“Oh, my god! You’re awake! How are you?”
“Not bad, I guess.” Hermione smiled, but there was a coolness in her eyes as she looked at the faded bruise on his jaw. “How’ve you been?”
“Good.” She pulled up a chair next to him. The table was getting rather packed. “I’m working at the Daily Prophet. They’re training me to be Rita Skeeter!”
“Aagh!” Harry hid his face and laughed. Hermione had loosened up a lot since she’d left school. “Get back, foul harpy!”
She giggled into her cupped hands. “Don’t you want your most personal details slathered all over the front page again?”
“Nuh-uh, you know way too much about me.” He’d always expected Hermione to be an Auror, or a professor. Never in a million years would he have pegged her as a journalist; she’d be great, of course, with her writing skills and drive for accuracy. “That’s brilliant. When do I get to read your stuff?”
“Oh, I’ve had a few pieces printed. They’re mostly little things, a few archaeological finds and some minor crimes. I haven’t found my niche yet. I, erm, helped cover the later Death Eater trials after the Diagon Alley attack, too. Back in October.” She turned pink and tugged at her tangled hair.
“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t read it.” Harry had stopped taking the Prophet after the ambush. The outside world was too depressing. A sudden thought struck him: there was nothing, absolutely nothing, here to prevent the Death Eaters from coming in and wiping out the whole house.
“Are you okay? You look a little peaked.”
He nodded. “Yeah,” he lied. “I’m just worn out. It’s been a long week.”
She frowned mightily. “Week?” Mister Weasley cleared his throat loudly.
“That reminds me, Harry, I’ve got something to show you. You’ve used a ‘come pewter’ before, right?”
“A few times.” The sudden switch threw him. Arthur ushered him out of the dining room. A pair of galoshes was thrust into his hands and he put them on as they went to the shed, where Mister Weasley kept all of his enchanted Muggle items. Carefully, Arthur locked the door and set up a soundproofing charm. “What’s going on?”
Arthur’s ears turned red. “Harry, please don’t repeat what I’m about to tell you to anyone.” Harry nodded. He was a little scared. “Um, nobody else knows about Professor Dumbledore yet. I’ve told Molly, but it’s not supposed to go beyond a few higher-ups in the Ministry. We’re trying to set up a network of Aurors just outside the school, and upgrade the security charms, because… well, now that he’s gone there’s very little to keep the Death Eaters from waltzing in.” He’d gone red all over, and despite the cold a few drops of sweat broke out on his extended forehead. Harry blinked at him.
“I’ve got to get back, Mister Weasley. I’m sorry. I can’t leave Sev there by himself.” He started to poke his wand at the lock. Arthur put a hand on his shoulder.
“Harry, stay here for a few days. They don’t know you’re not at school, and I can call in a couple of favours to make sure they won’t. As long as they don’t know Dumbledore is gone they won’t go near Hogwarts. Anyway, I don’t feel comfortable sending you back into that… situation.”
“There isn’t any situation. Why won’t anyone believe me?”
“Because you showed up on our couch Christmas morning wearing nothing but a bathrobe and a bruise the size of my fist.”
Harry dug his fingernails into his palms. He could see what Mister Weasley meant. “It wasn’t his fault.”
“What’s going on between you two?” Arthur sounded calm and rational, willing to listen. He waved Harry to an ugly woven chair better suited to a beach than a garage. Harry sat down, chin on his fists.
“He’s sick. Really, really sick. He’s down to bones and,” he swallowed, “he has these flashbacks where he can’t tell what’s now and what happened in the past, and he can’t sleep without a potion. Like, at all.”
“Harry, you’ve described Unicorn Blood poisoning.” Mister Weasley’s voice was dead serious. Harry sank back into his chair. He couldn’t meet that pointed gaze. “Oh, god.” The tall man sat down in another of the ugly chairs. He rolled his wand mechanically between his palms. “You’ve just put me in a very awkward position. Deliberate ingestion of Unicorn Blood can carry a prison sentence.” He looked at Harry, grim. “What happened?”
Harry gripped his forearms until he could feel the surface of his bones. Azkaban. Sev wouldn’t survive a week there. “Nothing. He’s just sick. Madam Pomfrey’s taking care of him.” He didn’t even believe himself.
Arthur shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t buy that. Plus, he’s hit you, and I doubt it’s the first time. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be so calm about it.” Arthur sighed and slumped. “I never imagined Snape would go back to the Dark Arts.” Blood pounded in Harry’s head.
“He didn’t! When the Death Eaters sent him back he almost died.” Harry knew he shouldn’t be saying this, but he had to defend Sev. He wasn’t a criminal. “He’d made some experimental potion that wasn’t supposed to have side effects, and wouldn’t let Poppy try it on anyone but him. She only gave it to him because of me!” The small building felt very cramped. He could feel magic radiating from the slew of enchanted objects, and it burned like acid. Mister Weasley looked stunned.
“You told her to give him Unicorn Blood?”
“No! I didn’t even know about it until term started. She… his heart stopped when she sent me out. It was the only way to keep him alive,” he finished softly.
Arthur nodded. He wore an odd grimace. “I see. Do you know where the blood came from?”
He nodded, cheeks on fire. “They were the ones Professor Quirrell killed. Sev cut them up for ingredients.” His stomach turned. For a moment Harry wondered if he was going to throw up. Arthur sat quietly. Suddenly, he got up and opened the door of a small Muggle refrigerator in the corner.
“Thirsty?” Harry shrugged.
“I guess.” A large, dark bottle of Leaky Cauldron’s Best Stout landed unexpectedly in his hands. Mister Weasley sat down next to him with an identical bottle. He tapped the lids with his wand and they flew off.
“Molly doesn’t like it in the house,” he explained, “so we do most of our drinking out here.” He took a long swig. Harry just held his bottle, unsure if he wanted to try the viscous liquid. It looked like hot tar. “If he’d never hurt you, this would be a different matter. Morally, I can’t justify letting you leave until I know you won’t just get hurt again.” Harry started to open his mouth. “However, you’re an adult now. Technically, there’s nothing I can do but ask you to think about it. And tell Minerva he’s hit you.”
Arthur’s ears turned red again. “I sent the owl this morning.”
Harry leapt from his chair. “For fuck’s sake! Can’t even run my own life, can I?” He tipped back the bottle and nearly choked when thick, bitter liquid hit his tongue. He swallowed as much as he could force and came up panting. “He thought I was Lucius Malfoy!”
“Harry James Potter!” He froze at his full name. “Regardless of who he thought you were, you could have been seriously injured or even killed. You’re going to have to resign yourself to the fact that there are people in this world who care whether you live or die.” Sev said something like that, once; it felt like a long time ago. “I for one would rather not see you dead of strangulation.” Harry slouched. The memory of Sev’s long fingers around his neck, squeezing, trying to crush his trachea and sever his veins, was still potent. He drained the bottle and gagged.
“Albus wouldn’t blame him for it.”
“Harry, I loved Albus Dumbledore as much as the next person, but the man had his flaws. One of them was Severus Snape! Didn’t it ever occur to you that if any other teacher treated his students like Snape he’d be fired on the spot?”
“Still wouldn’t treat his students like Snape treats his. Yes, I know what he did to the Malfoy boy. It doesn’t matter.” Harry glanced back. He had never seen Mister Weasley’s eyes burn with such conviction. “That wasn’t Mad-Eye to start with, and he at least pretended to be decent sometimes. That’s a Hell of a lot more than I can say for Snape. You’ll have to forgive me, but I think Dumbledore made a serious error in judgment when he hired him.”
“Whatever.” Harry slammed his empty bottle on top of the refrigerator and unlocked the door.
“Harry—“ his borrowed galoshes crunched through the ice-crusted snow. He ducked back into the Burrow, intent on finding some Floo powder and getting the Hell out.
“Harry!” Charlie caught him. “Owl just arrived. For you.” Oh, god. What kind of lecture was Minerva going to give him? Or – worse – Sirius. Happy Christmas, here’s your Howler.
“Where is it?” he asked wearily. Charlie led him excitedly into the sitting room. Hedwig sat there, fluffing her feathers and ignoring Pig, who zoomed around her head, twittering. Hedwig landed on his arm with a great flap of wings. Ginny, still waking up, blinked blearily at her. “Hallo, Hedwig. Who sent you?” She held out her leg so he could untie the note on it. With an affectionate nip on his ear she settled down under the Christmas tree to nap. He noticed two brown paper packages on the table. One contained his Firebolt. He was starting to hate Christmas. Harry unrolled the note. The handwriting was neat and angular.
You forgot something.
Yup, that was Sev. Always the romantic. It was enough to make his blood sugar plummet. Sighing, Harry ripped into his Firebolt first. Might as well get it out for a flight. He ripped the plain brown paper off to reveal shiny red with gold reindeer. Very funny. Return his broom to him as a Christmas present. God. With a look of disgust he clawed the wrapping. “OH, MY GOD! OH, MY FUCKING GOD!” Charlie turned about eight shades of red and started to choke. Mrs. Weasley came running, followed closely by William and Nan. Harry sat there on his knees, stunned. The Firebolt was still one of the top brooms, but it was no longer anything to get that excited over. He looked down at the broom.
The gold enameled broom.
This wasn’t his Firebolt.
Harry ripped the rest of the paper off. The broom was brilliant gold all down the handle, with long, straight hazel twigs even finer than his Firebolt’s. Charlie coughed, and Molly pounded him on the back. His eyes were bugged out and leaking. His face was a mask of awe. “Oh, my god. What number is it?” Harry looked at the end of the handle. It said Firebolt 10K, and a Roman numeral VIII was painted beneath.
“Eight.” Charlie started hyperventilating.
“Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Can I touch it? Please?” For someone who wrangled dragons for a living, Charlie was awfully excited about a broom. Although, it was rather a nice broom. Harry let it go and it hovered perfectly still. He motioned at it to Charlie, who took it in his shaking hands and closed his eyes. A look of utter bliss rolled over him. More like a prayer than a statement, he murmured, “Firebolt 10K, number eight of ten in the prototype series, first of only three released to the public, remaining seven flown by England at the World Quidditch Cup Quebec, sold at auction in September, number ten bought by Kennilworthy Whisp, remaining two by anonymous bidders. The ultimate – Quidditch – broom.” He sighed, mouth curling up in a huge smile. “I can die happy now.” Harry suddenly regretted his near-complete break with the outside world. He’d heard that England absolutely plowed Argentina at the Cup, but…
“Wow.” There really wasn’t much more to say.
Charlie wiped his eyes on his sleeve. He pushed the broom into Harry’s hands. “Outside. We’re speed testing this puppy.”
A small gang of Weasleys, Ron conspicuously absent, followed them. Charlie danced along like a kid, eyes shining. It was pretty obvious he wanted to try the broom but wasn’t about to take it on its maiden flight. Up on the hill where they could fly with no worry of being spotted, Harry straddled the 10K. It was utterly, perfectly still. “Be careful, dear,” murmured Mrs. Weasley. Her eyes glittered. She’d seen these things in action.
“I will.” No sooner than Harry leaned forward he shot off. His stomach dropped several feet behind him and he was sure that if he let go he would fly a hundred miles on his own. An invisible field protected him from dust and inertia. Wind whistled past, yanking his robe and pushing his hair straight back. Seconds later he stopped on a Sickle. Crisp sunset ocean was visible on the horizon. He looked back.
The Burrow was a tiny, lopsided speck.
Stroking the handle, he found a small compass embedded in the wood. He’d gone south-southeast. He turned a hundred and eighty degrees and returned at half speed. Otherwise he might overshoot the house. It was still at least as fast as his Firebolt’s cruising speed. He’d suspected that one responded to thought rather than touch; he was certain this one did. On a whim he paused and tested a straight vertical rise and drop. It worked. No broom in history had ever managed a perfect degreeless shift. Even the original Firebolt needed a few inches of give. He wanted to sleep with this broom. He wanted to marry it. He definitely didn’t want to come down. A flock of red heads milled in the fading evening sunlight. Charlie was still bouncing. He could barely make out Bill standing behind William, chin resting on his blue head. A wave of sadness hit him. Sev should be here to see this. Harry felt guilty for flying it without him.
Suddenly, he wondered what a broom like this cost. He doubted it was anything a teacher’s salary could cover, not even if the teacher had barely spent a Knut in years. No fortune? Was this one of Sev’s half-truths, or one of his lies? Or did his implication that he didn’t necessarily share the Malfoys’ financial situation have some deeper, sinister meaning? The 10K didn’t look quite so perfect in that light. And he was stuck with it; the prestige of having a broom only nine other people could match couldn’t be swept aside. Forcing a smile, he landed to applause and hoots. “How was it?” Charlie yelled.
Harry put on his game face. “Bloody amazing!” Charlie whooped and held out his hands.
“Gimme.” He tore into the sky with an ecstatic howl. Harry watched, more or less, perhaps a bit quieter than he should have been. Fortunately, the sun was setting quickly. It was only about half an hour until Molly called for them to pack it in. Nan landed with a growl. She handed Harry the broom.
“I’ve got to get me one of those.” He very nearly gave it to her.
Once inside, the pack dispersed. Bill and William disappeared entirely – they had a wedding to finalise. Harry alone wandered back into the sitting room. Hedwig was still asleep under the tree, Pig dozing on a branch high up. Harry set the 10K on the couch. There was one more, much smaller parcel on the coffee table. He settled on the floor between table and couch and picked it up. Within its paper it was round, and comfortably heavy. His watch. Halfheartedly, he pulled the paper off. He realised he hadn’t the foggiest what time it was. Harry pressed the fob and a slip of parchment fell out. Odd. He picked it up and unfolded it.
Paeniteo. Sodes, venia tui imploro. Te amo, mei solus maritus.
“Sev…” he sighed. Harry propped his head up on his hand and read the note over and over. It was so sweet it was pathetic. I’m sorry. Please, I beg your forgiveness. I love you, my only maritus. He must have thought Harry left for good. Not that there was any point now – he could forgive the 10K if Sev had a good explanation for so blatantly lying (he would, of course), but nobody was going to let them get near each other, at least until Harry’s bruise was forgotten. Goddammit, it was a bloody accident!
“I thought you’d left.” Harry looked up from the note to find Ron looking at him with an oddly pained expression. His arms were crossed, and he shifted from foot to foot.
“I wish.” His gaze fell back on the note. It lay next to the open watch. Severus Snape – Harry James Potter. Did he regret it? Probably not. It might be nice to have his heart and mind back under his own control for a while, though.
“Wish I had a sugar daddy,” Ron sneered. “I could sure use an upgrade to my Firebolt.”
“You don’t have a Firebolt.”
“Yeah, I do. Father Christmas brought it.” For a split second Harry though Ron was going to cry. He sank. Once again, without even meaning to, he’d shown Ron up in his proudest moment. It must have been Hell having his engagement overshadowed by his best friend’s fling with a teacher. Silently he picked up the broom and tossed it at him.
“Take it.” Ron threw it back with a leer.
“I don’t want your garbage.”
Harry looked up at him. He was too tired to keep fighting. “I don’t want my best friend to keep hating me.”
Ron blinked. “Maybe you should have thought of that before you shagged Snape.”
“That’s cold, Ron. That’s really cold.” He chewed on his lower lip. “You’d like him, I think.”
Ron snorted and raked a hand through his ginger hair. “You’re whipped.”
He apparently didn’t expect assent, because Ron sat down, hard, on the arm of a heavy flowered chair. He stared at Harry for a minute, then at the table. “What’s the letter?”
“Just an apology, nothing important.” He folded it up and shoved it in his pocket.
“Snape apologized? Man, he must be whipped, too. Can’t see why.”
Harry slammed his hand on the table. “Goddammit, Ron! Why do you have to make such a fucking huge deal out of everything?”
“You’re shagging the Potions monster! How am I not supposed to make a fucking huge deal?” He flung his arms wide, mouth open in outrage. “We spent seven bloody years hating the bastard, and suddenly you go off and start sleeping with him. What happened?”
Harry picked up the watch and stroked it. I realised that if I wanted any kind of real happiness in my life I was going to have to find someone who saw more than this damned scar. “I got to know him.”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Oh, that answers all my questions.” He popped a knuckle. “When’s the wedding?”
“Oh, bloody Hell. You’re actually going to marry that greasy freak! I was being sarcastic. You know that, right?”
“No, it was in July. My birthday, to be exact. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything. It was pretty dull as weddings go.”
“And pretty foul as wedding nights go.”
“Ron!” Harry swallowed a sob. “My god. I’m trying to get my friend back. I’m certainly not going to get my…” he sighed, frustrated.
He started to his feet. Suddenly, Harry had a flashback to Nadja. “He sounds like a bitch.” He snickered. “Yeah. I guess you could say that. He can sure act like one.”
Ron glanced at him. He didn’t seem sure what to make of this. “What happened to lovey-wuvvy Snapey-poo?” Harry made a gagging sound and Ron stifled a laugh. “Y’know, if I’d known you were that desperate to get laid, I would have slept with you.”
“I never knew you cared.” Harry frowned.
“There’s no good reason anywhere for you to be Harry Snape.” What was this? Some sign of concern?
“You don’t know him like I do.”
“I hope not! It’s not my goal in life to be raped by—“ Harry grabbed him by the front of the robe.
“Don’t. Even. Say that.” Ron sneered.
“A little too close to the truth?” He poked Harry in the still-sore bruise. Harry had to shove him to keep from starting another brawl. He turned towards the tree. It was awfully bright through his tears.
“His brother raped him,” he said softly.
Silence. After a long time it was broken by an equally soft, “My god.” Harry started to tell him the whole story of the Unicorn Blood, too, when Ron cut in. “You don’t have to stay with him ‘cause of that, Harry. It’s not healthy.”
He whirled and pointed an accusing finger at his former best friend. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that I could stay with Snape because I genuinely want to?”
“He’s Snape!” His voice faltered slightly. Apparently, even Ron couldn’t hate him so much when he felt sorry for the guy. He tried, though. “He’s a Death Eater.”
Yeah. Just another Death Eater. Harry viciously wiped a clear trail from his cheek, furious with himself for letting it fall. “I think they… too. He got touchy after they sent him back.”
Ron peered at him. “Y’know, I’d ask for details, but I really don’t want to know.”
“Good! I don’t especially want to talk about it!”
“Hey, calm down.” He held up two thin, freckled hands. “It’d just be a little too much information. That’s all.”
“Whatever.” Harry was tired. It started in his bruise, in the marks he could still feel around his neck, and ran deep into his soul. “Look, where’s the Floo powder? I should probably get out of here before I bollocks things up any more.”
Ron pointed. “Mantle. The red box. God. It wouldn’t be so bad if you’d told me the disgusting little details before the rest of the damn school.”
Harry, his hand in the little red box of powder, looked up. “I would have, if you’d been speaking to me. And don’t blame me for people finding out – that’s Malfoy’s work.” He threw a pinch of powder into the fire. The flames turned green. Harry felt like he was stepping into tall grass. “Hog—“
“Don’t forget your crap. And how in Hell did Malfoy find out? Let me guess, you’re shagging him, too.”
Harry gritted his teeth. He tried not to focus on the image of Ron’s nose and mouth dripping blood, his face freckled with the red fluid; it was too tempting to dwell on. He stepped out of the flames a moment. “Next time you slip into a deserted classroom to talk, make sure there’s nobody listening, Weasel.” He glanced at Ron, eyes narrowed in anger and hurt, and saw comprehension wash over that freckled face. Ron sank into the cavernous flowered chair.
“He was listening?” Harry nodded, sneering. “I’m sorry. Really, I- we—“ the angry flush drained from his skin, leaving it as pale as ever. He snorted self-deprecatingly. “Dammit. Ballsed up royally that time.”
“What are you talking about?”
Ron offset his jaw, eyes wide with embarrassment. “I was going to tell you I was sorry when I,” he clutched his hair, “ran into Padma and Parvati and they asked what you were… y’know… like. Guess I overreacted.” He looked at Harry, then dropped his gaze to the floor.
The flickering flames were starting to shift back to yellow and orange. Harry turned away in disgust and flopped on the couch, clutching the 10K to his chest. “That’s where that ‘slut’ thing came from.” Ron nodded sheepishly. “That’s why Neville wouldn’t sit next to me.” He nodded again. “Who was I shagging?”
Ron shrugged. “Snape, mostly. Me. Seamus, Dean, Neville. Herm. McGonagall—“
“McGonagall?” Sev said she had a filthy mind, but he didn’t think it extended to orgies with students. Anyway, the thought of Minerva naked… urgh, no.
“Like I said, I overreacted. Herm thought I was going to hex you to death at dinner. She wasn’t going to give my wand back until we talked.”
Harry stroked the 10K absently. Apart from the watch and two scraps of parchment, it was the only thing he had of Sev right now. The only thing that mattered, anyway. It really was a beautiful broom, and Harry suspected he’d gone through a firestorm to get it. “How much trouble did you get in?”
“Not much. Flitwick gave me a lecture on peer pressure. Usual bullshit.” Harry grunted. “How about you?”
“Hagrid was going to throw me in the lake, but…” he hugged the broom tight. Sev, bruised and bloody and torn, his eye eclipsed with red and the precious bit of steel swaying from his neck, filled his mind. As always happened when he thought about that, he wanted to hold his Severus and never let go. “I ended up in Dumbledore’s office. McGonagall tried to send me to hers because they didn’t believe any of the stories so they didn’t know I needed to be there when…” he wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Dumbledore and Filch carried him in.” He sat for a moment, replaying the whole scene. “He couldn’t even speak, but he kinda lurched out of his chair at me and I caught him.” So fragile; so determined. Harry’s face turned wet. He hid behind his sleeve. He felt Ron’s arms around him.
“I’m sorry. I was a right wanker.” Harry shrugged.
“So was I. Sorry I punched you.”
“Eh. It happens. I didn’t need that much blood anyway.” Ron leaned back against the coffee table. “Do you need anything?”
“Just to get home.”
“You’re not going anywhere, mate. I’ll sic the Hit Wizards on that bastard myself. He doesn’t deserve you.”
Harry touched his cheek. The numbness had faded, and he was left with only a vague throb. “It was an accident.”
Ron gave him a disapproving look. “Tripping over his shoes in the middle of the night is an accident.”
“If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anyone else?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Not even Hermione.”
Ron looked baffled. “Of course. What?”
“Remember those unicorns Professor Quirrell killed?” Ron nodded. “Sev harvested them for parts. Y’know, horns, blood, all that stuff.” Ron blanched slightly but didn’t flinch. Harry didn’t like to think about Sev doing anything that gruesome either. “He made some weird Medieval potion with the blood. It was supposed to be this amazing healing draught without any side effects.”
“Let me guess, the Death Eaters ripped him up so much he almost died and he took the potion, and it didn’t work the way he’d planned.”
“Yeah.” He hugged the broom tighter. “He’s started having weird flashbacks, or hallucinations, something like that. It used to just be when he slept, but since D—“ he caught himself, “Saturday he’s had two when he was awake. That’s how I found out about his brother.”
“Fuck,” Ron whispered. “He hit you during one of those… things?” Harry nodded sadly.
“He thought I was Lucius Malfoy.”
“He decked Draco’s dad.”
“I guess.” Ron’s solemn face broke into a mischievous grin.
“Cool.” He sobered quickly. “Not that he hit you. I mean, I’m not happy about that, at all, but, y’know, the part about Draco’s dad. He deserved it.”
Harry blinked. “S’okay.” He took a shuddering breath. “He’s lost, like, three stone. There wasn’t much of him to start with. I’m really worried he’s going to die.” There. He’d said it, finally. It didn’t help.
Ron touched his arm. “That sucks. That really, really sucks. Isn’t there anything he can do?”
“Sorta. He can take a shot that’ll stop an attack, but Poppy says they’ll stop working soon. He’s been trying to come up with something else, but…” Sev’s hand had finally lost its pink shine on Christmas Eve. “He’s not himself. He even let his cauldron boil over a few days ago.”
Ron looked vaguely annoyed. “Dammit. Why couldn’t he have done that in our class instead?” Harry hit him with a couch cushion. “What?”
“This is serious. He burned up his hand.”
“Y’mean, like, poof?” Ron flicked his fingers to demonstrate an explosion of ashes. Harry started to snap back. He realised what he’d said.
“No, nothing like that, but bad enough to make Madam Pomfrey send him home for the day. I didn’t see him until he’d been patched up, and he’s not very chatty most of the time.” Not very chatty? How about, not prone to any form of discernible or rational communication whatsoever until the situation becomes life or death? “I don’t want to talk about it right now,” he pleaded. He wanted his Severus. Ron frowned, but nodded.
“Okay. I still don’t know what you see in him, except that part about decking Lucius Malfoy.”
“Ron!” Harry groaned and sagged into the couch. “How’s married life treating you?”
Ron beamed. “I’ll tell ya a secret.”
“I’m gonna be a daddy.”
Harry looked at him. “Well, we have been a little bunny rabbit, haven’t we?” A slow grin spread over his face. “That is so cool! Congratulations!” Ron shushed him.
“Keep your voice down. Nobody knows yet. We decided that since Bill and his bloke dropped their bombshell at our wedding we’re going to get them back.” Harry chuckled. “I still can’t believe it. I mean, next July I’m going to be a father.”
“Scared shitless, more like.” Harry gave him a sympathetic smile.
“I understand perfectly.”
“Oh, please. If you tell me Snape’s preggers I’m shipping you off to St. Mungo’s.” Harry stuck his tongue out.
“He’s not, and believe me, I’ve never been happier about anything in my life.” He sat up, stroking the 10K. “Can you imagine a rugrat version of Snape?” Harry didn’t think about the boy giggling on his grandmother’s lap. He didn’t. Ron laughed into his hand.
“Suddenly, I feel a little better.” A smile spread over his freckled face. It was warm, and thoughtful, and proud, and terrified, and purely happy. “The mediwizard told us it’s a girl. We’ve already got a name picked out.”
“Ruby. For Hagrid.”
Harry made a wistful, sad sort of noise. “He’d like that. Are you going to give her a middle name?”
“I dunno. We haven’t found anything we agree on.”
He had to tell Ron. It was unfair to keep something like this from him, no matter what Mister Weasley said. “How do you fancy Alba?”
Ron made a face. “I think I preferred Isis. I’m not naming my daughter after the headmaster!”
“He’s dead, Ron.”
Ron stared at him blankly. His jaw tensed and relaxed, tensed and relaxed, like he wanted to say something but couldn’t make the words fit. “Dumbledore’s not dead,” he finally blurted. “Nothing could kill Dumbledore.”
“His heart gave out.” Before he knew it, Harry spilled the whole story to Ron, from the icy shroud on the castle, to tea with Trelawney, to Dumbledore’s final gesture to unfreeze the door and show him his Severus was safe. Even his next-to-last words: “He’ll be fine.” Everything, right up to the time Lupin left him in the warm, airy room so, so painfully far from the dungeons. By the time he’d finished, Ron was white, and his lip hung slack.
“Why didn’t anyone tell us?” he whispered.
Harry shook his head. He hadn’t even told Sev the story of his early morning walk; it was strange to once again tell Ron something Snape didn’t know. “The Ministry’s worried the Death Eaters’ll try to come in. They’re beefing up security while they can.”
“Christ.” Ron rummaged in a candy dish on the table and stuck a peppermint humbug in his mouth. “Jesus fucking Christ. I have to tell Herm.”
“Nobody’s supposed to know.” Ron pursed his lips. Harry tensed.
“She won’t tell anyone.” Harry exhaled in relief. The old communication was still there. Ron got to his feet. “Do you mind if I go? I really hate to leave you alone, but, y’know, this is kinda big.” Harry gave him a weary smile. He could use some time to himself, anyway.
“Sod off.” Ron smiled back.
“Happy Christmas, Harry.”
“Happy Christmas, Ron.”
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