Christmas was fast approaching and with that, the holidays. In Potions class, Malfoy loudly proclaimed, "I do feel so sorry for all those people who have to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas because they're not wanted at home."
Harry, who was measuring out powdered spine of lionfish, ignored him. He was just glad that he didn't have to go back to the Dursleys and Ron and his brothers were staying at Hogwarts too, so Harry was actually looking forward to Christmas for the first time.
Snape, who was walking around the classroom, stopped at Harry's cauldron. "Potter, what is the next step?" he demanded.
"I've left it on the fire for two minutes, sir," Harry said calmly, "then I'll add the powdered spine of lion fish and stir it anticlockwise seven times."
Snape nodded and moved on to Malfoy's potion. "Malfoy, I would suggest you focus on your potion. You are several steps behind the rest."
"I can still complete it on time, Professor," Malfoy boasted. Snape ignored him and moved on to the next cauldron.
"If that had been one of us, Snape would've given us detention," Ron muttered.
Was it just wishful thinking or had Snape told Malfoy off for him, Harry mused.
That theory was looking much less likely when Snape took points from Ron for fighting Malfoy when Ron had been clearly provoked. Even Hagrid had said it.
"I'll get him," swore Ron, "one of these days, I'll get him."
"I wonder why Snape likes Malfoy so much anyway," Harry muttered to Ron and Hermione as they entered the Great Hall behind Hagrid.
"Dad says Malfoy's dad was in You-Know-Who's inner circle. Didn't you say your Mum told you that Snape had joined You-Know-Who too? Maybe they know each other from there," Ron said.
Harry groaned. Why did all this have to be so complicated?
"By the way, Harry," Ron said, "Percy got an owl from Mum this morning. Mum and Dad say they're going to take us to Romania with them to visit Charlie, so we won't be here for Christmas. Sorry, mate." He looked at Harry sympathetically.
"That's okay, Ron," Harry said, "You have fun in Romania. I'll be fine here." At least he didn't have to go back to the Dursleys.
"You have plenty to do, Harry," Hermione said encouragingly. "McGonagall and Flitwick have assigned essays and we have a Potions quiz after break and it wouldn't hurt to revise Defense."
"Or he can have a relaxing vacation and do his homework on the last day," Ron stated.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "And you can use the library to research Nicholas Flamel," she added in an undertone, ignoring Ron.
Harry gave a weak smile. "I'll be fine," he repeated.
The next morning, Harry waved Ron and Hermione and the Hogwarts Express off, feeling slightly depressed at their departure. When he got back to the castle, he found Professor Snape waiting in the Entrance Hall.
"Potter, the Headmaster requires your presence in his office," Snape said. He turned around and swept away.
Harry stood in the middle of the Entrance Hall wondering why Dumbledore would want to see him. And where was Dumbledore's office anyway? Snape hadn't mentioned. Was he expected to know?
"Potter!" Snape's sharp voice interrupted his increasingly panicked thoughts. "Stop loitering and hurry up."
So Snape was supposed to take him there, Harry thought as he hastily followed the Potions Master. "Sorry, sir. You didn't tell me I was supposed to follow you."
"I thought it would have been obvious, Potter, seeing as I was informed that you had never been to the Headmaster's office."
Harry followed Snape to a stone gargoyle. "Chocolate frogs," he said and the stone gargoyle gave way to a winding staircase. Harry hesitatingly stepped onto the first step with Snape.
Dumbledore's office was incredibly interesting Harry thought, taking in the small instruments on the desk and some sort of perch.
"Ah, Harry. I'm glad you're here," Dumbledore said, motioning for him to take a seat. Harry saw from the corner of his eye that Snape remained standing at the back of the room. "Harry, it seems that an unfortunate situation has arisen," Dumbledore continued. "Professor McGonagall has been taken ill and will not be able to supervise the Gryffindors during the holidays." Dumbledore stopped here to level a blue gaze at Harry.
Harry waited patiently for Dumbledore to continue, wondering where this was going.
"Since you are the only Gryffindor currently staying in Gryffindor tower, I believe it would be more prudent for you to stay in the Slytherin dorms, under Professor Snape's supervision."
Harry let out a sigh of relief. At first he was afraid Dumbledore was going to send him back to the Dursleys. He nodded in agreement.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said, "Professor Snape will escort you to the dungeons. Your trunk will be taken to your room."
Taken himself to be dismissed, Harry stood up and turned to the door where Snape was standing with a scowl on his face. This was going to be an interesting break, Harry thought drily.
"Come along, Potter," Severus said as they exited the Headmaster's office. He looked over at the boy walking beside him and recalled his earlier conversation with Dumbledore. He had not been happy to be saddled with the brat.
"Why isn't Potter going back to stay with his relations?" he had demanded.
"I believe that is a question for Harry," Dumbledore had said calmly, "whatever his reasons are, he wishes to stay at Hogwarts during Christmas break and we will accommodate him."
Dumbledore had suggested once before that Potter was not happy with his relations. Severus's lips curled as he thought of Petunia. She had never gotten over the fact that Lily was magical and she was not. His thoughts were interrupted by their arrival at the entrance to the Slytherin common room.
"Salazar," he said to the blank wall which revealed the common room. Behind him, Harry rolled his eyes at the unoriginality of the password.
The Slytherin common room was definitely not as cozy as the Gryffindor common room, Harry decided as he took in the eerie green glow and leather couches.
"Potter, before I leave you here, there are some rules we must go over. As you are under my supervision, you will check with me before leaving the castle at any time. You will be back in the common room before curfew and I warn you, Potter, I do not tolerate rule breaking. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," Harry replied dutifully.
Snape looked at him suspiciously but merely said, "You will be staying in the first year boys dormitory. I will be most displeased if I encounter any problems later." Harry nodded and with that, Snape left.
Left to his own devices, Harry was not sure what to do. He went to the dormitory and noticed his trunk at the end of a bed that Harry was glad to see did not already belong to anybody. Sleeping in Malfoy's bed was just a sickening thought.
When Harry walked back to the common room, two girls from his year were sitting by the fire. They looked at him strangely. "What's he doing here? Does Snape know there's a Gryffindor in our common room?" one of them asked the other, loud enough for Harry to hear.
Harry decided it was useless to pretend he hadn't heard them. "Dumbledore told me to stay in your common room during break because there's no one in Gryffindor tower," Harry told them, "I'm Harry Potter by the way."
"We know," one of them said rolling her eyes, "I'm Daphne Greengrass."
"Tracey Davis," the other offered. With that, they went back to whatever they had been talking about and Harry decided to go visit Hagrid.
He stopped by to knock on Snape's door. "Enter," came the voice from inside.
"Sir, I'm going to go visit Hagrid if it's alright," Harry said.
"Yes, go on, Potter," Snape said irritably, "I expect to see you at dinner."
At dinner that evening, there were only a handful of students, Potter included. Severus was in the unfortunate position of sitting between Dumbledore and Hagrid.
"How was your afternoon, Hagrid?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes twinkling.
"Young Harry came ter visit me, sir," Hagrid said smiling, "he's a good lad."
"I hope he isn't feeling too lonely."
"No more'n can be expected without Ron an' Hermione. At leas' he's not with the Durlseys." Hagrid's tone turned uncharacteristically dark. "Nasty family. An' their lad, a spoilt pig if I ever saw one."
"I r'member when I went ter give him 'is letter. Had to break down the door, I did. An' Harry was lyin' on the floor while that fat lug took the sofa to 'imself."
Severus had stopped eating as he listened to Hagrid. He had heard that Hagrid was the one to tell Potter about Hogwarts and wizardry but this was new.
"Tol' me his firs' letter was addressed to the Cupboard Under the Stairs." Here Hagrid was much too overcome and had to stop to blow his nose with his large handkerchief.
On his other side, Flitwick patted Hagrid's back sympathetically. So perfect Potter was not so perfect after all, Severus thought, unconsciously glaring at the child sitting alone at the far end of the Gryffindor table.
A lone Gryffindor in Slytherin territory, Harry felt at a loose end about what to do. He didn't feel welcome enough in the Slytherin common room to spend his time there and he didn't feel like going to the library to find Nicholas Flamel without Ron or Hermione. He'd already visited Hagrid, he thought as he entered the dungeons, ambling around as he thought of his choices. It was too cold to fly –
"Potter, what are you doing, aimlessly wandering around the dungeons?" Harry jumped as Snape's unmistakable voice broke through his thoughts.
"Er, nothing, Professor. I was just thinking of what to do."
"Bored, are you, Potter?" Snape said silkily. "I can think of just the thing to alleviate that."
Ten minutes later, Harry was standing at a workstation in the Potions classroom, brewing the cure for boils while Snape stood at the front of the classroom, brewing two potions at once.
"Sir, why would Madam Pomfrey need a cure for boils in the hospital wing?" he asked as he stewed his horned slugs. They were indeed brewing potions for the hospital wing.
"Because, Potter, most students are dunderheads whose sole purpose is to increase my work load by hexing each other with foolish jinxes."
Harry laughed a little and looked up to see Snape looking at him oddly. "Potter, why are you at Hogwarts and not with your family like the rest of your little friends," Snape said abruptly.
"My family and I don't get along, sir," Harry said, going back to his potion. Nothing else was said until Harry was about to leave.
"Can I come back to help you tomorrow, sir?" Harry asked.
Snape took a look at the potion on his desk that Harry had decanted. "Very well, Potter. If I must suffer your presence, make sure it is here at nine."
The next few days were not fun per say, but comfortable. Harry got to spend time with Snape, and they were civil for the most part. Harry thought he had learnt to deal with Snape pretty well.
"Are you deaf, Potter," Snape had snarled, "I said to dice, not chop."
"Can you show me how, Professor?" Harry had said firmly, unwilling to let his temper get the better of him.
Snape had glared but had shown him nevertheless.
"Do you like potions, sir?" Harry asked one day.
Snape's usually schooled face showed surprise. "Why do you ask, Potter?"
"I just can't tell if you do or not. It was really interested what you said about potions on our first class, about bewitching the mind and ensnaring the senses, but you don't seem to like teaching potions or brewing potions," Harry said, careful to avoid Snape's eyes.
It took Snape a moment to answer. "Quite a correct assessment, Mr. Potter. I enjoy the creativity needed to create new potions or make changes to an existing one. Brewing the same potion again and again is not enjoyable, nor is teaching children who do not wish to learn."
"Why do you teach then? Sir?" Harry added, crossing his fingers and hoping Snape took that question the way it was meant.
"It is a profession I fell into," Snape said, and Harry could tell the matter was closed.
On Christmas day, Harry awoke to squeals of glee coming from the common room. Putting on his glasses and robe, he went to the common room to see Tracey and Daphne surrounded by piles of wrapping paper and gifts. Snape was sitting on an armchair reading a book.
When they saw him, Daphne exclaimed, "There now, you've gone and woken Potter."
Tracey just grinned and said, "He doesn't mind, does he? Presents!" She pointed to a small pile under the Christmas tree in the corner of the room.
"I – I've got presents?" Harry could hardly believe his eyes.
"Don't sound so surprised," Tracey said teasingly, "It's like you've never gotten presents before."
"I haven't," Harry said quietly but the girls didn't hear him, though the other occupant did. He looked at the pile hardly able to believe they were his.
"Are you going to open them or not?" Tracey called out while Daphne rolled her eyes.
"Bring them here and open them, Potter," she said.
Harry dutifully brought his presents to where the girls were sitting and carefully began unwrapping them. He got sweets from Hermione, a hand-knitted green sweater and homemade fudge from Mrs. Weasley, a wooden flute from Hagrid and a fifty pence piece from the Dursleys.
"That's what your relatives sent you?" Daphne asked studying the fifty pence piece.
Harry shrugged. "It was friendly of them. You can keep it if you want."
All that was left now was one package. Harry carefully undid the wrapping, and out fell a light shimmery cloak and two pieces of paper.
He picked up the note first, which was written in loopy handwriting.
James left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well. Enclosed is also something I believe will be of interest to you. She was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. A Very Merry Christmas to you.
Harry stared at the note, wondering who could have sent such a cryptic message. He picked up the other paper that had fallen out. It wasn't paper, he realized as he held it in his hands. It was smooth and glossy. A photograph then. He turned it over to reveal a pretty young woman with red hair, green eyes and a dazzling smile. As he took in her appearance, she waved at him.
He took in a deep breath. "Mum," he whispered.
"What is it, Harry?" Tracey asked curiously.
"It's a picture of my mum," Harry said quietly. Snape started.
"Can I see?" Tracey said.
Harry wanted to hold on to the picture forever, but he silently handed it to Daphne who was closest to him. She glanced at it before giving it to Tracey.
"She's really pretty," Tracey said reverently as Daphne nodded in agreement. They both seemed to sense how much the photograph meant to him. "See, Professor," she said, holding it up to Snape.
Snape's hand twitched, as if unsure whether or not to take it. Finally, curiosity seemed to win out and he took it from Tracey to glance at it. Was it only Harry who noticed the slight tightening of his lips and a haunted look in those usually emotionless black eyes?
Finally, Snape held it out to him. As Harry approached Snape to take it, he noticed that Lily, who had been smiling and waving before, was now winking and blowing kisses at the professor. "I think she likes you, sir," Harry said smiling softly, "she was only waving when I had the picture."
Snape did not reply, instead he stood up. "If you are all done, I will be taking my leave. I will not be in my office so do not disturb me."
Once Snape had left, Daphne let out a startled gasp. "I think I know what that is," she said, "It's an invisibility cloak! They're really rare. Who sent you that package?"
"I don't know," Harry said still looking thoughtfully at the entrance to the common room.
Severus buried his head in his hands as he sat in his quarters that night. Harry Potter. Every time he saw the boy, every time he spoke with the boy, he was barraged with emotions he had hidden away all this time. The boy who mocked him with his very name, he thought humorlessly as he remembered back to a day long ago.
She lay back on the grass and turned to face Severus.
Severus drank in her features, unable to believe that she had chosen him to be with her. At least for now.
"Sev," Lily said as she idly picked on the grass, "If you had a child, what would you name him or her?"
"Why do you ask?" Severus asked, a little taken aback.
"Just wondering," Lily said. Lily had a habit of allowing a train of thought to escape from her mouth. Severus thought he should be in the habit of expecting strange questions and comments from her, but she still shocked him sometimes.
"I don't know," Severus said, "I've hardly ever thought of myself as a particularly parental figure."
"I actually think you'd be a great father. You're firm but gentle."
Blushing slightly, Severus decided to divert the subject. "How about you? What would you name your children?"
"If I had a girl I'd name her Rose," Lily said immediately.
Rose Lily Snape, Severus thought. He mentally snorted.
"And if I had a boy, I'd name him Harry."
It had a nice ring to it. "Harry Snape."
"What did you say?"
Lily was staring at him. Had he said that out loud? "Nothing" he said quickly.
"Did you say Harry Snape?" Lily said. Severus didn't look at her to see her expression.
"I didn't mean – " he grappled for words that could diffuse the situation. She must think him an idiot for presuming that he would be the father of any children she had.
"You did," Lily said. It was a simple statement of fact. "I like it," she continued, "it has a nice ring to it."
Severus finally met her eye. She was grinning at him. He smiled shyly back.
Harry Potter. Unloved by his Muggle relatives… befriended those who others would not… always willing to help anyone in need… friends with Slytherins… happy to spend his free time brewing potions with Snape. He was nothing like James Potter. Severus rubbed at his temples, trying to rid himself of the ache in his head. He needed to get out of the dungeons, he decided, grabbing his cloak and trying to leave his thoughts behind him.
Harry stood before the strange mirror, drinking in the sight of himself with his father's arm around his shoulder. His father was smiling at him proudly. His mother stood behind them, smiling at them lovingly. Harry reached out to touch the beautiful image but all he touched was glass.
"Potter, what did I say about curfew?" the voice that spoke lacked it's usual snarl.
"I'm sorry, sir," Harry said, still unable to tear his eyes from the image.
Snape came to stand behind him. "What do you see?" he asked.
"I see…" Harry stopped. The Lily in the mirror had moved to where Snape was and had taken his hand. Lily and Snape smiled at each other lovingly, Snape's hand still on Harry's shoulder. He looked up at Snape, "I see my parents. What do you see, sir?"
Snape didn't reply. Harry hadn't expected him too. They stood silently for a while until Snape's eyes fell away. "Come on, Potter. I shall escort you back to the common room before you get into any more mischief."
With one last glance, Harry followed.
A/N: Next chapter, next week.