|There Is a Star For Everyone – or a Christmas Tale
Author: toroj PM
This story is third in the „Slytherinade”. Complete.Rated: Fiction K - English - Humor - Severus S. - Words: 9,755 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 8 - Published: 12-16-04 - Status: Complete - id: 2174948
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
TITLE:There is a star for everyone – or a Christmas Tale
WRITTEN BY: Toroj
SUMMARY: „... the dusk was setting in, and the day of December the 23rd was coming to an end, having used up the surprises it had in store for the unfortunate Hogwarts teacher. Severus ... expected nothing more stressful than washing his hair the next day." Well, he couldn't be more wrong.
RATING: G, humour, a little angst.
WARNINGS: Some strong language
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is third in the „Slytherinade". The series begins with „Trick or Treat – or Severus Snape's Halloween", in which the character of Siri Lestrange is introduced, and continues with: „The Philosophy of the Snake, or the Great Lestrange's Revenge", „Expecto Patronum, or the Light Side of the Soul", „Dahlia of Slytherin, or a Bodybuilder Erotic" and WiP „The Wheels of Time", tentatively subtitled „the Slytherin's Little Ray of Sunshine".
There Is a Star For Everyone – or a Christmas Tale
(by Toroj, insane, as always)
Severus Snape hated Halloween with a passion, considering it a foolish and barbarian holiday, totally devoid of any spirit of human dignity. Christmas, hovewer...He liked it? That would be too much to say. Tolerated, maybe?
When Severus himself reflected on his attitude towards Christmas, he discovered emotions so ambivalent, it confused him. Let's not beat around the bush, many consecutive Christmases had disappointed little Sevvie so much, he simply got angry at them. And when Sevvie became Severus, this hurt stayed somewhere at the bottom of his soul.
On the one hand, he treasured holidays in Hogwarts for their quiet. Most of the faculty went home to their families at holidays. Likewise the students: only a few miserable ones, who for various reasons had no place to go, stayed at school. At this time the castle was deserted and silent, which made it seem bigger than ever. This was very much to Severus' taste – he had more time for himself and didn't need to intervene in the various crazy affairs which were always coming up among the adolescents.
On the other hand, on Christmas Eve he began feeling blue around noon, and the despondency deepened consistently to arrive at a more or less even level of black depression by suppertime. Every year he looked around the Great Hall, adorned with festive ornaments (such effort for this handful of people) and at the laughing faces around the Christmas tree, and he wanted to howl. Maybe he would one day, much to Poppy Pomfrey's horror.
He saw faces of people who pretended they were not lonely. Eyes of the kids who looked happy on the outside, and yet one could clearly read in them that they would prefer to be somewhere else, but they were not welcome there.
Possibly with the exception of Potter... That boy did not miss home. Obviously he considered the muggle holidays less attractive.
In the meantime, it was a frosty morning on the 22nd of December, and Severus' depression only loomed on the distant horizon. The weather was perfect: the sun shone, the snow sparkled, and everything looked like a sentimental ten-knut Christmas postcard. Snape and the other Heads of the Houses stood in front of the main entrance, watching as the delighted students got on coaches drawn by thestrals. The winged horses shook their black heads and their convex, eerie eyes reflected light like dark mirrors. As always, among the children there were some who could see them and went around them respectfully. Only Luna Lovegood, as usual, caressed the silky necks, not caring that to all the rest it looked weird.
Feet pounding, the last group of students ran past the teachers, lugging their trunks. Shouted goodbyes and holiday greetings were heard. Snape had a pleasant evening in prospect, spent at reading with a drink in hand, so he could even tolerate Alexa Toran singing carols in English-accented Gaelic at the top of her voice. The fact that she could neither sing nor had the ear for music seemed not to bother anyone, including herself.
Finally, the last carriage disappeared beyond the gate. Severus changed his mind about returning to his familiar dungeons. He wrapped his cloak more tightly around himself and went leisurely for a walk.
Red-bellied bullfinches bustled among frost rimed branches of short spruces. The partially frozen lake reflected the pale blue of the winter sky like a gigantic mirror, and there were some roes and one lonely thestral walking daintily along its banks.
Severus found that he couldn't stand this horrible kitsch any longer, and turned to pass under an archway which led to the inner gardens, deserted at this time of the year.
Merry shouts and low barking could be heard somewhere in the distance. Two snowmen stood on the trampled lawn. One – short and sort of hunched over, with thuja twigs imitating bushy eyebrows – held a broom.The other one, taller and slimmer, had a formidable nose made of parsnip root and an old mop for hair.
„Typical" muttered Snape, thrusting his wand into the snowman's belly with the practiced movement of a knife wielding cutthroat. „Relashio!"
Within a few minutes all that was left of the figure was a mound of slush. Severus left the effigy of Filch alone. Let him deal with his own affairs himself.
Just as Severus was passing through another gate, something unexepectedly whizzed over his head, and a second later a terrible blow bowled him over. Severus' fingers closed over his wand almost without conscious thought. In one lightning fast movement he rolled onto his back, searching for the enemy with his eyes.
A large, toothy maw panted just over him, its breath hot and smelly. Thin threads of saliva dripped from its sharp fangs. Snape froze.
„Fluffy!! Naughty dog! Bad doggie! Leave the man alone!" said the familiar deep voice of Hagrid in rebuke.
The embarassed Care of Magical Creatures teacher jerked the Potions Master to his feet, then brushed the snow off him with such zeal that Snape almost fell down again. The gigantic dog crouched nearby, looking as if it wondered if it was hungry enough to eat Snape.
„Blimey, he prob'ly thought you wanted to take his stick from him, sir" Hagrid explained in distress.
Snape glanced over his shoulder. Undobtedly „the stick" was that thick log that had almost hit him on the head. However, some patron saint of Potions must have been on duty that day in Heaven and thought that Severus Snape shouldn't spend Christmas in hospital.
Severus was not overly fond of Hagrid. To be sure, the grounds keeper always spoke to him with respect and never gave him to understand that he was twice Snape's age; nevertheless Severus, with his by no means trivial height of six feet four inches, despised having to look at his companion from a child's perspective.
To make the matters even worse, this incident had been witnessed by the last two people he wished to see: Potter and Lestrange, the two resident orphans at Hogwarts. It was the second time Snape had them together and once again he was struck by their resemblance. Maybe the reason was their glasses, or maybe the identical hair, which in spite of all efforts always looked as if it was cut with pruning scissors...? However, there was, as always, a reserved look on Potter's face (at this time also a slightly derisive one), whereas Lestrange, reddened by the cold like a horseradish, was at the moment projecting kindness towards the whole world.
„Good morning, sir!" she called. „Were you frightened?"
„No" Severus lied.
„So why didn't you stand up?"
„When you deal with such a dangerous beast, you mustn't make any sudden moves, lest you provoke it additionally." Snape added stiffly.
„Oh... Very well, I will remember that" said Lestrange, looking oddly at the teacher.
When Severus had underestimated Hagrid's pet three years ago, he had had to use quite a lot of healing potions and to this day a scar still remained on his leg. Fluffy had too many heads, too many teeth, and generally... there was MUCH of him, and yet the term „dangerous beast" sounded quite inappropriate at the moment. Two of the dog's heads had taken posession of a piece of wood and they were trying to wrangle it away from each other, while the third one fawned on Hagrid, covering his hairy coat with saliva. The dog's tail whizzed in the air.
„Do you want a biscuit, sir?" asked Lestrange, reaching towards Severus with a box in her hand. „Hagrid bought them in Hogsmeade for Fluffy."
„I do not eat dog biscuits" Severus said indignantly. Potter hid his face in his coat's collar, suffocating with muffled laughter. The Potions Master glared at him.
„Potter, don't forget to do your homework during the holiday break. As I remember, you got a D on the two last assignments." Predictably, the boy's face immediately fell. „The level of meanness: in plus two percent" thought Severus caustically. „I am a complete bastard."
„These are not dog biscuits" outraged Lestrange protested in the meantime. „I wouldn't offer you dog cookies! These are people cookies!"
„Made of people?" Severus asked ironically and added: „Please watch this dog, professor, especially around children."
„Of course, professor..." Hagrid patted the dog on the back with his large hand. „Fluffie loves children."
„Yes, eating them," Severus thought.
„Fluffy, Fluffy, a cookie!" Lestrange squeaked, reaching towards the dog with a treat. The beast instantly left its toy, sniffing greedily. The girl began throwing biscuits, and the three heads caught them midair, wuffing excitedly and staring each other in the mouths, in case the neighbour got more, or something better.
Severus decided that he had no business there. He had a quiet spot in the library and a cup of tea waiting for him, and then some finishing touches to put on a few potions.
„Sev...? May I take a few minutes of your time?
The Potions Master looked behind him. Minerva McGonagall stood by the library bookcase.
„Certainly." He gestured to a chair.
„Are you studying?"
„No. I decided on some light reading. After all, it is holiday."
„Hmm." Minerva glanced doubtfully at „Hallucinogens" and „The Mysticism of Mirrors in the Practical Aspect" which were lying on the table. „You are going to Glasgow tomorrow, is that right?"
„Yes. On business of the Order... and the other one," Severus replied very softly. The library was empty, but it wouldn't do to take risks unnecessarily.
„I will collect something at Gringotts, I will stroll through some shops, buy Dumbledore a pair of socks, necessarily pink ones – and while I am at this, I will enjoy the sight of beautiful young women. It's not a bad idea for spending a day in a big city, don't you think?" he added more loudly.
McGonagall smiled. Since last Halloween Severus had sometimes been showing signs of posessing such a thing as a sense of humor.
„But there are flocks of young women walking around Hogwarts. You only need to look round at the sixth and seventh year students. You don't have to go so far to achieve that goal.
„You are mistaken, madam professor!" The man held up his finger in a warning gesture. „They are not women, they are female students."
The Transfiguration professor gave up.
„And it is a matter of a female student which brings me here. Sirith Herma Lestrange is in your House. Are you familiar with her domestic situation?
„Indeed, I am," answered Severus in an unconcerned tone, peering inside an open volume and taking a sip of tea from his cup.
„The Fogbell Charity Society sent me, in my capacity as the Deputy Headmistress, three galleons assigned to the purpose of buying the girl a Christmas gift."
„Here is the money. Since you will be in Glasgow tomorrow, you will also take care of this business." The professor put three golden coins on the table. „Don't forget a receipt."
Snape, shocked, swallowed his tea in the wrong way.
„Mi...ner...va..." he stammered. „You are joking, aren't you?"
„Not at all. This child is in Slytherin, it is perfectly natural that this business should be taken care of by a man who knows her needs the best."
„I don't know her needs!"
„That's bad," McGonagall stated coldly. „It seems you are not doing well as the Head of the House.
„I don't know what little girls like!" groaned Snape, irritated. „Order something in Hogsmeade."
„Do you want to devolve your duties upon me?" the older woman replied. „I work twice the full time."
„And I thrice!" barked Severus.
„Enough of this. If you keep resisting, Albus will make it an official order and both of you will be sorry. Good bye."
The older witch rose and „flew" through the door. Her green robe billowed stylishly behind her. She leaned on the wall behind the door and began laughing silently and a bit maliciously. Sirius Black, who was a born smart mouth, stated once: „Snape is a bloke who could eat a horseshoe and spit nails later." Evidently even he thought that Severus' bark is worse than his bite.
But most likely Black had never had a chance to see Severus in a situation in which he was totally suprised and didn't know how to react. Minerva McGonagall coined a saying: „the look of a Doberman pinscher whose paw was stepped on by somebody" for her personal use – and that suited shocked Potions Master perfectly.
Glasgow in the pre-holiday season didn't differ much from any other large European city – the same Christmas rush, crowds thronging the streets, shop windows filled with tempting merchandise, colourful lights and decorations – chubby little angels and plastic gingerbread cookies, the kind that could come in handy again next year. Some local color was provided by the elves dressed in checkered tartans and the dreadful sounds of bagpipes playing Christmas carols.
Due to the crowds of customers which thronged the shops (and the flood of cash that flowed through the cashier's desks), the tall gentleman who entered the „Belle Divine" fashion salon drew the shop attendant's attention only as another victim of the shopping madness. The man stood before a thin mannequin dressed in a scarlet cocktail dress and contemplated its fashion and accesories. The salesman measured him with a professional eye, from head to feet: a borsalino hat, hair falling over the collar of a coat of a slightly conservative cut, hands in gloves from Harrods crossed on the back, and lower... riding boots – everything in inky black. „A moderate eccentric", judged the salesman and asked aloud:
„How may I help you?"
„I need a dress," answered the customer, still not turning around.
The shop attendant peered at the red dress, the shade of which could provoke convulsions in both the bull and the torreador, and sighed with professional regret:
„I am sorry, but it seems we haven't got your size."
The customer turned in one smooth movement.
Later the salesman remembered that moment as one of the worst in his life. He had to take a day off, because he couldn't work in his state of obvious shock, and this in turn had a disastrous effect on his holiday bonus. The department manager couldn't somehow believe that his subordinate was attacked by an Iraqi terrorist exactly at the moment when the shopping rush was at its hight.
Severus Snape was not a particularly imaginative man, neither had he ever felt even the need to be so, nevertheless a simple sequence of associations: Lestrange – female sex (apparently) – frayed muggle trousers – a shortage of wardrobe, appeared in his masculine mind. Thus he decided to buy that chit of a girl some decent, regulation clothes, something in the taste of the ladies under the invocation of Mafalda Hopkirk. He would free himself from the annoying duty and deal with his own business. And since the vision of himself browsing the feminine apparel at Madame Malkin's or anywhere else caused him to have nervous stomach cramps, he started at the first muggle shop that looked half decent.
Trying to stay anonymous had proven to be a grievous mistake.
Furiously Snape turned his steps towards the non-muggle regions of the city so fast that his coat-tails fluttered behind him.
A small antiquary shop, equipped with a scratched sign-board bearing the inscription „Lumber-room", nestled between an accounting office and a health food shop, not only did not attract the attention, but actually tried to discourage it. Some shabby books, a rusted, hot-coal flat-iron and a doll without hands were exhibited behind the dirty window pane. The unkempt proprietor sat behind the counter inside, reading some worn volume. Only a very astute observer would notice that it was written in Arabic.
Snape touched the brim of his hat by way of greeting.
„How's Agrippa's health?" he asked.
„He had lumbago a hundred years ago" answered the antiquary, then added: „It's the last month's password. Since the first of December the valid password has been: „The best frogs are on George Square".
Snape shrugged and went to the back of the shop. On his way he passed mounds of dusty and very unattractive merchandise, chosen especially with the aim of discouraging any potential customer. The Potions Master took off his coat, turned it inside out and shook it out – his outer garment immediately changed into a flowing cape.
At the end of the cluttered hallway there was a door covered with peeling paint and equipped with a brass knocker in the shape of a grotesque mask.
„The best frogs are on George Square" muttered disgusted Severus, touching the door-knocker nose with his wand.
„Fleece, come in" replied the knocker, lisping because of the ring it held in its teeth. The door opened and Severus stepped straight into the snowy, nonsensically happy, orange-and-cinnamon-scented atmosphere of the „other" Glasgow. There at least he was sure he wouldn't meet any sophisticated potential suicides insulting normal, heterosexual wizards.
Years ago, when he had barely taken the post of the Potions teacher – a nervous, sullen and distrustful twenty year old – he had been unexpectedly invited, bah! almost drawn by force to the Hogwarts Christmas dinner table, and later, to his dismay, showered with gifts. Since that time he had always bought the Heads of Houses some trinkets. He had no intention of suffering such humiliation again. Severus Snape didn't make the same mistakes twice, and he didn't like having any debts.
He calmed down a little, choosing a notebook bound in lizard leather for MacGonagall and a self-writing quill for Flitwick. Dumbledore was a more difficult case. Every year the Headmaster repeated that he wanted to get a pair of socks at Christmas, because nobody took his wish seriously. This time, however, Severus decided to break one of his sacred rules, which stated that he chose only practical and impersonal objects. God forbid, somebody from the faculty might think that Severus Snape had a more personal attitude towards him or her or that he cared about somebody's private needs at all!
The saleswoman in the hosiery shop was a chubby blonde decked out in a violet-yellow-pink robe and a holly wreath, which made her fade into the surroundings perfectly. In a choked voice Snape asked her to wrap five pairs of self-fitting men's socks in „optimistic colours". He had a hunch, bordering on certainty, that Dumbledore and this lady's tastes in socks were almost identical. He barely had time to notice a pair with psychodelic rainbow stripes landing in a fancy box , then he had to close his eyes, because in a fit of cosmic disgust they had tried to turn and peer inside his skull, like Moody's magical eye. He escaped the insanely colorful interior as fast as his dignity and good manners allowed, but the ghastly kind (and garish) saleswoman caught up with him on the street, handing him the change.
„That was a very strange customer," observed the saleswoman when she came back.
The shop owner shrugged.
„Perhaps he had a migraine... Polly, men always behave strangely before Christmas. In particular when they are looking for a gift for their wives."
„That one didn't look as if he had a wife. Frankly speaking, he looked like..." Polly lowered her voice to a whisper „...Death Eater."
„Are you out of your mind? Death Eater buying socks?"
„And you think they go without any socks?" replied the girl resolutely. „What's more, he is a stranger. I have never seen him either in this shop, or in the vicinity."
The shop owner thought it over. After all, it sounded quite reasonable.
„I will tell you what, you go and floo the sergeant and tell him that a suspicious individual is prowling around here. One can never be too cautious."
„Mr MacNair!" she beamed two seconds later. „What a nice suprise. Can I help you?"
The stopover at the Grigotts was a pleasant respite. The dungeons under the bank were cool and dark in a familiar, homely way, and Severus unwound almost completely after the color shock. The time had come to fulfill his professional duties. In the safe No. 357 he found a letter with instructions and a moneybag containing, judging from its weight, about three hundred galleons. He learned the text by heart, after which he burned the paper. He left several vials and some bigger bottles of potions in the vault. Half of the money, as well as a new batch of magical liquids, were left in the safe No. 589. The Potions Master hurriedly jotted down a few words on a piece of paper and added it to the coins. The goblin on duty closed the vault's door, turning the golden key in the lock. For a moment the grinding gears and grating bolts were heard, and after that the door melted into the wall, leaving only the number of the safe. Snape took his key from the goblin, thinking with grim humour that if the Dark Lord knew he indirectly supported the Order of the Phoenix financially, he would hang his potions supplier by his thumbs. And that would be only the first on a very long list of „attractions".
When he stepped out again into the bracing cold of a December afternoon, he did not have long to enjoy its charms. Suddenly somebody covered his eyes from behind and a sweet little voice cooed:
„And who's that?"
On his short list of acquaintances Snape had nobody who could conceivably cover his eyes and ask in babytalk: „Who's that?". Before his stunned mind recovered, his body reacted according to its deeply ingrained instincts. Snape's elbow instantly jerked backward. Judging from a deep „umph", he had caught the person in the ribs, and two seconds later he was pressing that somebody into the pavement with his knee and thrusting the end of his wand under that person's chin...
„Tonks!" hissed Severus angrily. „Tonks! You idiot. You fucking moron!"
If he had had any doubts who the upturned nose, round face, and orange hair belonged to, they would have been dispelled by the eyes, the colour of which was just changing from Irish blue to clear amethyst.
„Language, sir..." muttered slightly squeezed Nymphadora Tonks.
Much to Snape's fury, a crowd of outraged passer-bys immediately gathered around them, angrily commenting on the whole incident. Snape caught Tonks by her jacket lapels and disapparated them both as fast as he could into a near alleyway, where, luckily, there was not a living soul, except for a tomcat which abused them in cat's language for disturbing its meal, as it was digging in a trash-can.
„What do you think you are doing? Exposing an agent in the middle of the street!" Severus growled, leaning threateningly over the girl.
„Kiss me?" she offered with an angelic smile, breathing sweet scent of caramel into his face. He backed immediately, sniffing suspiciously at the same time.
„Why! Merciful Merlin! You are drunk!"
„Maybe a little," admitted Tonks, still in high spirits. „Remus went to look for a gift for me and he left me in a nice company of a carafe full of caramel liqueur. Then I went for a little walk and saw a friend...
„Oficially you don't know me, Nymphadora" Snape interrupted, maliciously using the name she hated. „You have put us both at risk out of sheer stupidity."
„Unofficially I practically don't know you either," she retorted, straightening her beret and brushing the snow off herself. „Severus Snape, a bastard and a scourge of teenagers, the winner of the cup in the meanest guerrilla of this century championship – this much I know. I wonder if you have complimented a woman even once in your life, if only on the occasion of Christmas.
„Nice trousers, Tonks" said Snape dryly. „That would be just the second time."
Indeed, they were beautiful, although indecently extravagant: tight as gloves, blue with a delicate pattern reminiscent of frost at the bottom of the trouser legs. The content of those trousers was also not bad at all, but Severus would rather bite his tongue off than mention it.
„I will do my best to arrange for Dumbledore to fire you. Best with a little Obliviate as a parting gift. You're irresponsible and dangerous to others," he added bittingly, after which he raised his hat with a sneer and disapparated again.
Apparating in a crowded city is not exactly a good idea. A man appearing from nowhere usually collides with somebody or something. This time it was a whole family, burdened with parcels which scattered all over the pavement. Snape sent the harmed individuals a murderous stare, collected their belongings with a precisely chosen spell, and apologised to them in a voice teeming with spectral snakes and scorpions. The innocent victims of his carelessness huddled together, stunned and surprised – muggles whose paths crossed with a polite skinhead would probably react the same way.
The meeting with the obnoxious Tonks had one, and only one, bright side: the Potions Master began paying attention to clothes that the girls who passed him in the street wore, and as a result he found that ninety percent of them were dressed, just like Tonks, in tight (very provoking) trousers. And that in turn reminded the disgusted Head of Slytherin House about the planned purchase of some clothes for the little orphan.
The name of the clothing shop, „Button and Hole", didn't raise Severus' suspicions – he had seen stupider names. However, the fact that the saleswoman had a crew cut and wore cowboy boots should have told him something.
„I want something for an eleven year old girl. About five feet tall, slim, fair hair" Snape ordered.
„For your daughter!" the woman exclaimed. „In such case, breeches, sir! It's the rage among the children. The latest word in fashion, something incredible, and they fit so well...
„No," said Severus, but the woman was already in full swing, laying before him consecutive pairs of those irritating little breeches in all the colours of the rainbow.
„A little blonde, you were saying? She must have taken after her mommy... In such case, sapphire would be the best, they are so pretty, don't you think, sir? Please, take a look," she waved the praised piece of clothing before his eyes. „Beautiful fashion, excellent fabric... Your little daughter will be delighted!"
„And they are only three galleons and eight sickles, the packaging is free!" continued the saleswoman, undeterred, putting the „little breeches" into a box with a Christmas design.
Severus Snape – the Potions teacher – was not used to being interrupted.
„NO!" he roared in a fit of fury, his face flushing brick red. „The fact that the fashion at the moment has women showing their buttocks in public, doesn't mean yet that I will allow my daughter such indecency! And for such a cutthroat price! Would you have me deprave an innocent child? My wife would turn me into the street together with THIS thing!"
The fact that he had neither wife nor daughter did not deter him in the slightest from thundering in holy outrage.
„It is simply an iniquity! I was looking for a shop, and I found... a... a lupanar!"
Now the saleswoman got red in the face.
„How dare you! I have never been so insulted!" she shouted.
„At your age it should be nice to experience something new, don't you think?" sneered Snape.
„Indeed, I will. However, before I do so, I will take this and that!" Severus pointed to a green sweater and a pleated tartan skirt, both exceptionally statutory and boring. The sullen saleswoman put the purchase in a box with little Christmas trees, identical to the one she used before. When she was handing the Potions Master the change from three galleons, a group of giggling teenagers burst into the shop, apparently with the intention of buying some „little breeches". Severus grabbed his parcel in the sudden crush and commotion, and withdrew from the feminist zone.
At last! Finally he put that behind him! To be sure he didn't take a receipt, but nobody would investigate if those clothes really cost somewhat less than three galleons. Passing a pet shop, Severus decided finally to take care of his own bussiness. He needed fresh scarabs for his potions, and none were fresher than live ones. The shop attendant, when asked about beetles, answered that indeed, he had some in stock. How many were needed?
„Half a pound," described Snape his requirements.
„Er..." the man behind the counter lost his composure . „I am afraid I haven't got the scales. I sell everything individually."
„Does that mean that you sell a small rat at the same price as a large one?" ascertained Snape in a voice as sweet as cyanide.
„Er... Well, yes."
„That is, in my opinion, cheating the customer."
„May I offer you twenty scarabs?" whispered the shop attendant. He liked the visitor's piercing eyes and his predatory nose less and less every moment, and he had bad feelings about him.
„Fine with me," agreed Snape. „And please add an African bull frog."
The overwhelmed salesman chose the largest scarabs, then put the fattest frog, which looked like a green rubber glove filled with gel, into a cardboard box. It sat calmly inside, not suspecting that it would land in a cauldron soon.
Sometimes Severus had a hunch, which in his mind made him a little better than that wretched Sibill Trelawney – a psychic medium for the poor. And just then, in that pet shop, in the animal stench, he felt the unreal finger of intuition scratch his neck.
„And I also want a...pet," he heard, with a certain surprise, his own voice.
The look he received from the shop attendant was very significant.
„I have a very nice specimen of king cobra," offered the man.
„Something with fur," replied Snape, listening to his inner voice intently.
In five seconds a terrarium appeared before him, containing a large, undoubtedly furry tarantula.
„Less legs," Severus made his wish more precise.
„A rat...?" the shop attendant hazarded.
„Um, no..." Snape muttered, looking with an unfriendly eye at a frightened rat, which tried to look feeble and unattractive.
„Maybe a ferret?" asked the salesman hopefully.
„Hm..." Severus thought for a moment. No, a ferret wasn't probably it. It reminded him of Malfoy too much.
The problem with Severus' subconscious was that it didn't give any clear clues. However he had already found several times that by ignoring his inner voice he usually ended badly. The Master of Potions's eyes travelled along terraria and cages. One of them contained two cats resembling overgrown dusters. Both eyed Snape with identical, disdainful looks of complete aristocrats. At the same moment something dawned on the man. „Mr Filch said that when his cat gave birth, he would give me one of the kittens." Simultaneously Severus' concious and unconscious minds started a fierce fight.
You are insane.
No, I am not, she wants a cat.
So what, if she does? Since when do you care about some brat's wishes?
But this little one is lonely. She would like to have a cat.
You are lonely too, one can live with that, you sentimental moron.
But the school rules allow for a cat.
„A cat," said Snape at last.
„A cat!" The shop attendant seemed to breathe with relief. „I just happen to have some very pretty felis magica viliosa."
„No. That one lower."
Severus had just noticed a pair of clever eyes and a white paw, trying to catch its neighbour's tail as it hung from the level above. The salesman fished the small black kitten out of its cage.
„It's an absolutely ordinary cat," he explained with certain embarassment. „Frankly speaking, a common feline muggle."
„That would be six sickles, sir"
„Five" said Severus, undisturbed. It was exactly the amount he was left with after shopping in „Button and Hole".
„I have just remembered that we have a Christmas discount," the salesman added quickly.
„Wrap it up, please" said Severus firmly.
Severus sat in a cosy cafe, enjoying a cup of aromatic coffee with ginger and cardamon, and read an article in the „Advanced Brewer". His cape, together with his hat, hung calmly on the coat rack, and the boxes with his shopping stood below it. Beyond the windows the dusk was setting in, and the day of December the 23rd was coming to an end, having used up the surprises it had in store for the unfortunate Hogwarts teacher. Severus relaxed in the dim candlelight, to the soft music of the Wizard Radio Glasgow Drum. He expected nothing more stressful than washing his hair the next day.
For the second time the same day a hunch patted him on the neck. He peered around discreetly. No suspicious persons. All tired citizens rested after the shopping bustle, drowning their stress in cofee and tea.
Plop... plop...plop... A strange sound drew Severus' attention to the floor, where the stunned man saw his potion ingredient (in the meantime still alive), moving forward with heavy hops in the aisle between the tables. Snape immediately cast a glance the other way, only to find a delighted four year old sitting under his coat hanger petting the kitten enthusiastically, while around him twenty scarabs were creeping away in all directions.
The Potions Master lost his temper.
When inspector Vanessa McIntyre returned to the station after patrolling her precinct, she was immediately greeted by a Christmas carol on the radio and the sounds of an argument coming from the next room. A familiar pickpocket leaned on the wall, stiff as a board from the effect of a Petrificus Totalus spell. Nevertheless he managed to send her a wink by the way of greeting.
„Good evening, Mr Williamson. Hello, Buck," she told her friend who was sitting at his desk and writing a report. „What's going on at the old man's?"
„Rob and Dennis arrested some bloke for disturbing the public," replied Buck, still writting. „And now he and Wormwood are tussling."
Intrigued, Vanessa half-opened the door, and started as she heard a very familiar voice.
„No, by no means one is sent to Azkaban for such offences. And I will NOT roll my sleeve up! What do you think you are doing? Am I accused of murder? No!"
„Creating a serious disturbance in a public place. Lots of signals from worried citizens. Abusing Mrs Porpington from the clothes shop, and our constables as well. Assault on a young woman in front of the Gringotts Bank branch. It is more than enough!" That was Wormwood.
„Has that young lady filed any official charges against him?"
No, but we are looking for a body."
„I wish you luck. You will probably find it in one Lupin's bed." The arrested man's voice dripped with familiar sarcasm.
Vanessa put her head inside the interrogation room to find that, indeed, in front of Wormwoods' desk, there sat no one else but the meanest teacher in Hogwarts – Severus Snape.
„McIntyre, it's a good thing that you here," said Wormwood. „Escort Mr..." he peered at the papers „...Snape to his cell. Mr. Snape is temporarily arrested. If he resists, use Torment."
When after an hour Vanessa peered into the holding area again, she saw Snape pacing the narrow space from wall to wall like a trapped wolf. The room was exactly four paces by two.
„McIntyre..." he snapped. „You must be overjoyed. Finally the chance to take revenge for all those detentions.
„I usually remember people I meet twice a week for seven years," replied Snape, still pacing nervously. It was obvious he felt extremely badly in a locked space. Vanessa took the wand from her service holster.
„Some little Torments? Of course for resisting the authorities?" sneered Snape, stopping. „Be kind to an old teacher and at least let me sit beforehand."
Vanessa shook her head, exasperated. Snape hadn't changed even a smallest bit. She dipped the tip of the wand in the cup of tea she brought.
She pushed the steaming vessel between the bars.
„Well, take it, professor," she prompted. „I can't stand like this for hours, breaking the rules."
Snape took the cup from her, slightly abashed.
„Thank you," he muttered.
The girl pointed her thumb behind her in the direction of the office, from which explosions of insane laughter were coming.
„Dennis and Buck are drawing up a report. Is it true that the waiter slipped on a frog?"
Snape ignored the question, hiding his big nose inside the cup. Vanessa giggled.
„Copies of this report will probably reach all the police stations even before the New Year."
Snape groaned dully through his teeth.
„The accused attacked my employee by means of a frog, who slipped on the aforementioned and dropped the tray, because it roared like a bull" – the policewoman quoted, barely controlling fits of laughter.
„I did not attack anybody with a frog!" protested Snape furiously. „That beast simply slipped from my hands!"
„Apropos of the part where you air your grievances to Mrs Porpington... Congratulations. I didn't know you were married."
„I lied," barked the Potion Master. „There are no women desperate enough."
McIntyre measured her former teacher with a critical eye. True, Snape had, as always, awful hair, hopeless profile... as well as an imposing height and surprisingly nice looking hands.
„So why the gifts for a girl?" wondered the future Auror.
„A new orphan in Slytherin. I was tricked into doing some charity work," explained Snape shortly and darkly.
„Have you got enough money to pay the fine?" she asked.
„I think I have."
„ I will talk Wormwood into letting you free even today, before he digs deep enough into the files and sees that you were on trial in '81."
„I was acquitted!" hissed Snape, and for a moment there was something in his face that made the girl shudder. „Where have you acquired that sensational knowledge, Miss McIntyre?"
„I was an intern at the Wizengamot archive."
They were both silent for a long time.
„Why are you doing this?" he asked. „Why are you so nice, McIntyre? To me? In school I would have thought you sucked up to me, but here, in such circumstances?"
„Maybe this whole affair simply seems sadly ridiculous to me, and I think nobody should spend the Christmas Eve in prison? Especially you."
„Then you are a surprising exception," remarked Snape, returning the empty tea cup to her. „Most people not only wish I spent holidays here, but in general they would rather see me in Azkaban, or, even better, in a coffin. I can see that Hufflepuff virtues bloom in you."
She rolled her eyes.
„I will draw up a pardon now, and I will slip it to Wormwood for signing. I will make an idiot of myself, I will whine and lie that you were my beloved teacher. For God sake, don't waste my efforts, professor."
Filius Flitwick was working on the Christmas decorations in the Great Hall when he saw his younger colleague entering quickly. His cape billowed less then usual, because his bottomless pockets were stuffed with some mysterious little packets.
„Good morning, Severus! How was the weather in Glasgow?!" Flitwick called cheerfully from under the ceiling, where he was putting red bows on spruce garlands.
Severus glanced upward, eyes bright with anger and the mouth pressed into a thin line showing from under the brim of his hat. Without a word he started for the entrance to the dungeon, furiously kicking a large Christmas tree tub on his way.
„Uh-huh... it seems there was sleet," Flitwick muttered to himself.
Severus had to admit that meditating in the lotus position indeed helped controlling stress a little. Especially when one throws knives at the wardrobe at the same time.
Severus didn't write a diary. Nevertheless, on the morning of the 24th of December he concluded that if he did, it might have looked like this:
23rd December, 7:05 p.m
The cat climbs my cape. It cost twenty galleons, is that animal aware of that? What do cats eat? „Felis domestica, or the house cat." (At the moment more like a castle cat.) „A vertebrate animal, a mammal from the genus felidae. It occurs in many varieties all over the world. Worshipped in ancient Egypt..." We are not in Egypt! Leave my coat alone, you bastard! „Eats small vertebrates, such as mice, rats and small birds."
The kitchen elves say that they haven't got anything mice (or rat) flavoured on the menu. It's a pity Pettigrew escaped from Hogwarts, he might have come in handy. Let's limit ourselves to chopped chicken.
Tomorrow I will put the cat into some box with a ribbon. When I was having a bath, it crawled into the wash-basin and relieved itself there. Well... just in case I will roll up the carpet in the living room.
I threw the cat from my bed.
I threw the cat from my bed for the second time.
I threw the cat from my bed again.
I haven't been aware that my bathroom has such good acoustics. I wonder if the Potion of Sleep has any effect on cats? I let the animal out of the bathroom, it is unbearable.
The effects of the potion on felines are still unknown. The encyclopaedia doesn't say anything about the ways to force a cat to drink anything it doesn't want to drink.
24th December, 0:10 a.m
This accursed animal ruins my office. I don't know what it rolls about on the floor, and I don't want to know. I have had a hard day, the next one doesn't promise to be any better, and I want to get some SLEEP! One spoonful of the potion should be enough for me.
I overslept. I woke up with the cat on my head. It licked my hair and made some noise. I hope I will not catch anything from it. I think I know now why the little monster was only five sickles. Reduced price goods!
Yet, all things considered, Severus benefitted from taking care of the five sickles' worth kitten. Constantly busy with pulling the ubiquitous little animal from various nooks and crannies (among them his own shoes), he was filled with irritation to such extent that there was no space left for his customary holiday depresssion. Of the two evils Severus preferred having cat's hair on his slippers to one of his black moods.
Finally the Christmas Eve „approached in force", as it did every year. With the exception of the fact that Severus' depression reached only its first stage. The gifts were already lying under the Christmas tree in the Hall; the cat, packed in a box with holes, was turned over to the care of a house elf, with an order to put it under the tree at the right moment.
Severus looked in the mirror with a critical eye, straightening his silk (on the occasion of Christmas) collar. Unfortunately, his hair, although recently washed, still looked hopeless. Tortured day after day with fumes of various potions, it had already lost all shape long time ago. It might be said that it was hair which fell into post-alchemical madness.
„A horror, my dear boy," said the magic mirror. „What tie? Black or black? Or maybe black?"
Since Severus had no tie at all, he left the talkative mirror and went to the Great Hall, where everything had been already prepared for that yearly farce called the Christmas Eve supper.
The room looked splendid: festoons of spruce twigs and holly twined the columns, the floor was covered with a thick carpet of moss; illusionary snow fell from the enchanted ceiling, disappearing just over the heads of the people present; several Christmas trees, decorated with shining icicles and sparkling, silvery trinkets, stood in a circle, and inside it there was a large table laid for supper. Severus located the position of mistletoe bunches with a quick look, so that he wouldn't stand under any of them – who knew what might get to Pomfrey's head.
The place of honor was taken by the largest Christmas tree – almost disappearing under the chaotic accumulation of glass ornaments and decorations of all sorts. Among them there were rainbow soap bubbles, preserved with magic spells, jewel-eyed butterflies and dragonflies, flapping their wings, nonmelting snowflakes the size of dessert plates, and next to them items as trivial as straw cockerels, teddybears made of wool, cardboard angels with sweet faces in the affected 19th century taste, or Chinese paper toys. All of this created nonsensical, merry, motley melange, and there were so many of them that the quantity turned stepwise into quality, creating a certain „styleless" style. It was customary to add one toy to the Grand Christmas Tree ornament pool every year, so it became a Christmas museum of sorts. Each year Severus wondered how much more of this colourful trash the unfortunate spruce tree would hold.
The children who stayed at Hogwarts for holidays were however so fascinated with the Grand Tree, that it even won over the parcels assembled underneath it. All ten students just stood in front of the tree with their heads thrown back: all neat, their hair slicked. Except, of course, Potter and Lestrange. The boy would have had to use concrete to make his hair behave.
In contrast to the rest of the young company, both he and Lestrange were dressed in shabby jeans and sweaters, of which they obviously began to grow out. Snape grimaced reluctantly. It seemed he had decided to replenish that young lady's wardrobe just in time.
Hagrid, in a horrible tweed suit of green and brown, and Flitwick in an orange festive tie, provided Severus with some new aesthetic experiences. After a while they were joined by Madam Pomfrey, who was generously distributing season greetings and holly twigs covered with red berries. Severus checked the mistletoe configuration again.
„Depression in plus ten percent," he thought acerbically, then he received his portion of good wishes and holly. „I wonder if Potter remembers that holly berries are poisonous? Maybe I should drop some into his cranberries?"
Everything went according to the routine. The table groaned under the weight of appetizingly browned turkeys, hams, puddings and other delicious dishes. Dumbledore's falsely optimistic speech, wishes, wishes, blah, blah, blah... Turkey, pudding, green peas. „Severus, you're not eating." Jokes, blah, blah... Hagrid draining his tenth glass of grog. Plum cake... „No, thank you for the seconds." The representatives of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw with smiles that did not reach their eyes. Potter, on the other hand, was merry as a cricket, and Lestrange, sweating from the thrill and beaming. At least those two were truly happy. The usual exploding candies. And at last...
„Pre-sents! Pre-sents!" intoned Dumbledore, waving his cake fork to the rhythm. „The youngest distributes the gifts! Yes, the young lady in glasses!"
Lestrange, blushing from excitement, jumped up, almost knocking her chair over, and ran to the Grand Christmas tree.
„Rubeus Hagrid!" she read the card aloud and carried the box triumphantly to the giant groundskeeper, who, as usual, was extremely touched.
Distributing and unpacking the presents continued. Potter again got a sweater bearing clear signs of Weasleyan handicraft. Happy Dumbledore inspected his stunningly tasteless socks. The Muggle Studies professor took delight in arranging some items in shape of blue teddybears, smelling of muggledom from 15 feet away, around his plate. The children were tasting sweets. Severus didn't expect any surprises for himself – the set was much the same every year: books, some cologne and... a sweater. When he got the first one, he had been very surprised. Without any doubt this piece of clothing wasn't bought in any shop, but was made by somebody at home. No card, no note, nothing at all. One might have thought that Santa Claus himself had knitted it. The investigation took years and hadn't brought any results. At first Severus fretted, then he grew used to it, then again began getting annoyed when Potter started receiving similar sweaters. Damn it, somebody treated him like... a...a little orphan! All in all, Snape already had thirteen sweaters in his wardrobe and he was expecting the fourteenth one.
He peered into the box. This time the sweater was red. No harm done, in an hour it would be black.
„Minerva..." he said with a sigh. „You really don't know who sends them?"
„I have no idea," replied the Transmutation professor, hiding a smile. „Maybe Lupin?"
„Do not insult my intelligence, madam. Firstly: he hates me, and I hate him back. Secondly: a werewolf knitting?"
In that moment he heard a happy squeal coming from under the tree.
„Wooooow!!" Lestrange kneeled over the disemboweled box decorated with little Christmas trees, raising... a pair of sapphire trousers in her hands. The child was absolutely extatic.
„Wow! Is it for me? For me?" repeated the girl.
Snape froze. McGonagall leaned towards him, covering her mouth with her hand.
„Ekhm... Sev, don't you think it is a little too... bold?"
„It is not what I have bought!" he whispered back in despair. „Oh, my ... I must have switched the boxes by mistake!"
„We can't take it from her now, don't even try," muttered the professor with a smile, still covering her mouth. „We will survive somehow."
Yet it was not the end of surprises. A house elf, dressed in a neat handkerchief decorated with bunches of poinsettias, appeared with the characteristical „pop" , and handed the little Slytherin another box, bowing to her. The girl looked at it with disbelief. After such wonderful thing as a piece of clothing which was the hight of fashion that season, she didn't expect anything more.
„Miaow!" said the little cardboard box with resentment.
„A cat!" shouted the girl, taking the ribbon and the lid off as quickly as she could.
„I am so happy, I could die here and now!" she stated, holding the kitten, miaowing at the top of its lungs, in her arms.
„Don't be silly," replied a little Ravenclaw, sitting next to her. „Who would look after the cat?"
„What will you name it?" asked Harry Potter.
Sirith looked at the cat closely – it had a white ruff and white socks. Then she regarded the Head of her House – white shirt collar, white shirt cuffs showing from under the black sleeves of his robe.
„Sever," she said firmly. „I will name it Sever."
„That suits it," muttered Harry. „There is something of the cat in Snape. He walks silently and he is as mean as Mrs. Norris."
„He has immidge," stated Siri laconically.
Dumbledore rose from the table.
„Honoured colleagues, dear students... let me take temporarily the post of Santa and hand over one more gift, which has yet been overlooked.
From behind one of the Christmas trees a large, somewhat shapeless parcel levitated out.
„And the recipient is our Master of Potions."
Severus froze with the wineglass halfway to his mouth.
„Usually we don't allow our students to give presents to the teachers, but in this case I decided to make an exception," continued Dumbledore archly. Severus looked at the parcel as if it should explode any moment. „Professor Snape, please, unwrap it. With best wishes from the sixth and seventh years."
Snape pulled on the ribbon with sour face. The paper fell away and from beneath it there appeared a rolled up comforter made of green damask patterned in little silver snakes.
„Appreciating your Halloween prank, the students picked the hair and feathers up, then decided to give them to you as a souvenir in this useful form. The bedroom in the dungeon is quite chilly."
There were chuckles coming from all around. For a long moment Severus stared, as if hypnotized, at the green damask and little snakes, then exploded:
„Albus! Uh, I mean, Headmaster! Do you think I will use something that has been made of....STUDENTS!?"
He put the glass away abruptly, spilling the wine, and left the Hall, disgusted to the utmost.
It was already around eleven in the evening, when Severus decided to go for his usual walk through the castle halls. Thank Merlin, the formal supper was behind him. The next day Dumbledore with his jokes would go visiting his brother, and Flitwick would do the same. Pomfrey would be busy with the students who had overindulged, and Potter without Weasley and Granger seemed temporarily nonthreatening. A cigarette between his teeth and hands in pockets of civilian jeans, Snape submitted himself to the healing effects of nicotine and a measured march.
He was surprised in the Great Hall by the sight of a small figure sitting on the moss with her legs crossed. Lestrange raised her face towards the magical ceiling, watching the falling snowflakes almost without blinking. The black kitten played nearby, tugging at a Christmas tree ornament.
„What are you doing here at this time?" asked Severus.
„I am watching the snow, sir," Sirith answered solemnly. „It is beautiful."
The man involuntarily looked upward. It was true, the snow was beautiful.
„Why aren't you in bed?" he asked gently, amazing himself.
„There is no one at our place. Of all Slytherin only I remained, and I feel... strange."
„I am from Slytherin too, so that makes the two of us," muttered Severus, sitting next to the girl. She put the „little breeches" on and Severus had to admit inwardly that the saleswoman was right; they fitted perfectly and in principle they didn't look provocative on an eleven year old girl.
His neck hurt from looking upward, so he laid down on the moss carpet, propping his head on the comforter, still lying abandoned under the Christmas tree.
„The Headmaster said later that it was a joke, and it is not made of students at all," said Sirith.
„I won't use it anyway," Severus snarled.
„You lie on it, that's using, sir," she pointed out to him insolently.
„Do you miss home?" asked Severus and immediately he silently called himself an idiot.
„No. Do you?"
The man inhaled the cigarette smoke, spilling ash on himself.
„I am home," he muttered softly, blowing smoke upward. The snow was still falling lightly and gracefully from the black sky, swirling gently in the imperceptible breeze.
„You're somewhat nicer today," observed the child.
„It is Christmas Eve. Even I speak with human voice tonight," he replied.
„I have something for you." A small hand holding a folded piece of paper appeared in Severus' sight. He took the leaf and unfolded it.
„I know it's a poor gift, but I haven't got anything else," Siri apologized.
On the piece of parchment there was written carefully:
Total 52 points
„This is a repayment of the debt, sir. With interest!" Sirith emphasised with certain pride.
„I see. Professor Hagrid was extremely generous."
„I helped him feed the thestrals," she explained.
„Uhm," muttered Severus, scrutinizing her. „It's quite a gift. And if you want to make me even more happy..."
She hung upon his words.
„Sing something," he finished softly, suddenly feeling terribly embarrassed.
The Bloody Baron and Almost Headless Nick floated discreetly beyond the circle of the Christmas firs, listening to the sweet voice of a child singing a psalm.
There is a star for everyone out there in the blue,
so said once the merciful Lord.One of them shines just for you,
pick the one you want.
It will guide you
on the thorniest road,
where there patiently waits
like a father, the yearning God.
„What will come of it?" asked Nick silently, looking at the girl and the Potion Master.
„This I don't know" replied the Bloody Baron soundlessly. „But one thing I am sure of, the very best for them is the fact that their paths have crossed."
December 2003Translation by kimera
Many thanks to the wonderful beta reader of this translation, Sam Walker.
December 2004. The characters and world of Harry Potter are the sole property of JK Rowling. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon her rights and meant only for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.