Chapter 1: Pretty Little Snowflake
Harry Potter grumbled as he rummaged through the random useless junk that littered Professor Severus Snape's attic. Doing this sort of work was drudgery as it was, but doing it under orders from his least favorite teacher ever was worse. But this was not the first time circumstances had thrown the two off-beat cohabitators haphazardly together.
After being kicked out of his aunt's house back in the summer, the boy had been forced to spend the night under Snape's roof before embarking on a maniacal road trip with him that ended in pandemonium and a summer spent in Hagrid's shack before the school season reopened. Having settled back into their usual antagonistic routine, they both had assumed that they would mercifully be spared a repeat of the too-close-for-comfort interaction.
Unfortunately, however, when Christmas rolled around, Harry once again had nowhere to go, and while he would ordinarily have just staked out at the school, long overdue finances had just come in for long-needed interior redesign, and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore decided to shut down the school for the holidays to implement the monetary supplements. Realizing the issue with Harry's placement, he had once again summoned Professor Snape as a last ditch effort.
If it were possible for the potions master to be in a more hostile and cantankerous mood than usual, he achieved it during Christmastime. Needless to say, the prospect of having Potter forced upon him for the holidays did nothing to ease his intense brooding. He protested the imposition bitterly, and railed against the headmaster's failure to find him suitable accommodations elsewhere. But again, with everyone else traveling somewhere for Christmas, they could not commit to taking Harry in. So in the end he had been somehow persuaded to accept the unwanted assignment.
Afterwards, Dumbledore had cheerfully tipped off Harry that Snape sank into some very "black moods" during festive seasons (like…blacker than usual…which of course was difficult to even fathom), and should really take medication for it, but of course, he was too proud to admit to suffering depression. Hence, Harry might want to do his best not to rouse his ire while stuck in his house.
True to prediction, Snape had grown increasingly more sullen, snappy, snide, and generally impossible to function around since Harry arrived and Christmas Day approached. Still he had managed to keep the boy busy by barking marching orders left and right to do various "chores" around the house lest he demonstrate any signs of laziness, "just like your father." It was his all-time favorite refrain, which was really starting to grind. But Harry did want to go on living, so he decided it prudent to just let it go.
Why Snape had decided to launch "spring cleaning" in his attic during Christmas break was beyond the 12-year-old, and what he hoped to achieve from it was even more obscure. His rickety house was in shambles, he never had company (barring the rare, unwelcome student foisted on him with no rational alternatives offered), and there was really nothing of much value to hock, if he intended to make any extra cash to go towards feeding his cranky cat and creepy Venus flytrap growing in a pot on the bathroom sink.
Amidst the debris and dead insect population, Harry discovered a high pile of assorted bins and boxes he was expected to sort through. But as soon as he touched this little brother of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the whole structure gave up the ghost and collapsed in a heap. He groaned as he snatched up the smallest item first, which happened to be a shoebox from the 1960's.
"Great," Harry mumbled to himself. "Please don't tell me I've just rediscovered his first pair of shoes or something…"
Thankfully, upon opening the lid, he found this was not the case. Instead, he found himself staring bewildered, at a charming little collection of glitter-laden Christmas cards.
"Snape…cards?" he queried in disbelief, starting to pull them out. There were six of them in total, all with different pictures on the front, and always with copious amounts of glitter. He thumbed through them quickly, and the sparkly stuff rubbed off on his fingers. They all seemed decidedly homemade, with colorful ribbons laced along the edges.
He flipped open one with a reindeer on the front and a strange singed mark in the corner, as if it had been touched by fire. The remaining handwriting was that of a young girl. He squinted to make out the message, or what was left of it:
"…want us to go ice-skating. Don't worry about the others! We'll go ourselves…"
"…fun, and you'll do fine. Don't you love the snow? It's so sparkly…"
"…hope you like it! I drew it myself…it's our deer, Sevy!"
"…Your very best friend, Lily…"
Oh, then it was from…his mum. Hagrid's photo albums had indicated that Snape and his mother had been friends once…but looking at the cards…he suddenly realized…just how much…
Suddenly Harry felt something smack into his ear and nearly knock him over with the force of impact, causing the cards to fall all over the attic floor.
"You...fiend…you…" It was Snape, and Harry saw a look of sheer fury in his eyes, something wild and untamed that unnerved the boy.
"I didn't do anything…"
"Silence!" He shoved Harry hard against the pile of boxes. "I know you…I know what you were doing…you don't touch them, you hear?!"
Snape was kneeling on the ground now, frantically snatching up the cards, as if he expected someone to try and steal them. "Bloody hell…Gryffindor…swine…I'll teach you to…"
Harry's patience snapped. "You're more the swine than me!" he blurted, one hand clamped over his throbbing ear. "You're a cruel, horrible person just looking for someone to blame for how miserable you are!"
"Stop…" Snape's fists were clenched.
"No wonder no one wants to come near you! My mum was probably the only one who ever bothered sending you cards, or even cared whether you lived or…"
In some sudden, terrifying motion, Snape had grabbed Harry by the collar and had him up against the wall. For a second, the boy was genuinely afraid. The man's dark eyes seemed as black and fathomless as the ocean on a starless night. Then he saw him swallow…an awkward swallow, as if just coming to one's senses in the nick of time…and Snape released his stranglehold. He clutched the cards he had in his other hand harder against his chest.
"Your record, boy…is scraped raw when we return to the school," he growled, but the strength was out of him. His eyes seemed more scared than threatening now. He was like an animal just previously foaming at the mouth with rage, who just now realized he was hurt and could think of nothing but getting away from the hurt. And so he did, retreating from the attic in fast order, and taking the cards with him.
Harry didn't know what to think, what to say, but the intensity of the experience left him with a queasy feeling and a prickling sensation in his eyes. He wanted to hate the man, but the way he had clutched those cards…it was an act of desperation, like a starving person trying to grab at scraps off the streets. And somehow seeing his hurt, even if he inflicted it on others often enough, made Harry hurt too.
Two days passed, Christmas Eve came, and Snape was agitated. It seemed as if he was running on something automatic, some gear shift that made him want to work on…anything, everything, yell at somebody, everybody…put them to work, at least, keep them out of his hair, but within shouting distance. The boy was back up in the attic. They hadn't spoken to each other in complete sentences since the stramash over the cards. Snape regretted going as ballistic as he had, realizing it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, but was far too proud to ever apologize.
He just had to get away from thinking too much about the time, or the day, or the year, and how quiet everything got, and the way everything in the house seemed to come alive, and how if a curtain blew in the wind or a bit of ice struck the window he would jump. He would start imagining things, like the face of the Dark Lord manifesting itself in the shadows, and the ghosts of his parents fighting in the kitchen again. No matter how he tried to tend it, his old childhood home was unkind to him. He wanted to get out of it, but there was nowhere to go.
So he busied himself as best he was able, straightening things up, and fixing the cushions on his ancient sofa Harry had been using to sleep on. Seeing the way the boy kept it in a constant state of messiness annoyed him to no end.
But then…his hand ran something under the pillow. It felt like…a card. His throat tightened. Had the nasty brat stolen one of the cards after all? But no…no this was a different card…with lots of glitter, forming a snowflake, and glitter ink addressing it to him on the inside:
Dear Professor Snape,
Okay, so I know you're probably going to hate this card, and the glitter snowflake on the front. In fact, you'll most likely hit me in the side of the head with it. But that's okay, because I'd still give this to you anyway, even if you tear it up into so many little pieces and toss it on the fire. That's because, in spite of everything, I do wish you could have a happy Christmas. Really, truly I do. And believe it or not, I would never hurt your stuff on purpose, especially special stuff. I'm not that much of a crumb.
Your Least Favorite Student Ever,
Henry James Potter
Snape just stared and stared and stared at the card in his hands, seemingly as frozen as the snowflake it depicted. But his mind was turning like a rusty wheel.
I hate you, you sniveling brat… I hate you and your sentimental drivel, and the way you talk and walk and everything about you…I hate you, I hate you, I hate you…
He felt a sudden pain in his gut, and found himself clutching the card tight against him, the glitter dusting his cloak.
I hate glitter – his mental resolve was faltering – and snowflakes. I wish they'd all melt and Christmas would die. I hate it…it hurts…why must everything…hurt?
Just then, Harry wandered into the sitting room, and Snape jerked to his feet, the card still clutched in his hand, and his eyes burning with intensity. Harry felt a rush of panic. This might have sent the disturbed man over the edge. And the boy knew he hadn't been taking his medication like he was supposed to according to the prescription.
"I…I didn't know you'd find it…so soon," Harry stammered. "It was meant to be…a surprise."
Snape just glowered at him for a long time, then swallowed something back. "You…" His voice was shaking from some emotion, and Harry could not tell what it was. Was it hatred, or…? He doubted if even Snape knew.
But when the man took a step towards him, Harry shrank back, unsure what to expect.
Was he planning on hugging him, or pulverizing him? Almost certainly the latter…
The boy's reaction seemed to alter whatever Snape's intent had been, and after a moment of awkwardly staring down at the floor, he stormed off in the opposite direction, with the card still in his hand, and locked himself in his room.
Harry exhaled. At least he was still breathing…for now. The card surprise may have gone over like a lead balloon, but at least he was still alive to talk about it.
Christmas morning dawned bleak, as was appropriate for the surroundings, and Harry dressed sluggishly, not expecting anything much in the way of activity. He'd probably just be put to work cleaning potion bottles out in the shed or organizing books alphabetically on the shelves.
But when he wandered out to the main room, he beheld something that stopped him in his tracks. Snape was sitting stiffly on a chair, his chin resting in his hand, and his eyes were on the front window sill...now decorated with Lily's cards, and in the middle, Harry's snowflake one.
"You…put them up," he blurted in near disbelief, gazing at the glittery cards lined up so that some would face inward and some outward for any passersby who might just happen to look in.
Snape lowered his eyes, clearly embarrassed at what might be interpreted as a show of weakness on his part. But it was also clear by the soft haze in his eyes that he was drawing some small pleasure in looking at his work, and the thought that other people might just look as well.
"They look…really nice," the boy offered to ease the tension. "Y'know… really pretty, all together like that."
"Clearly you and your mother shared a similar taste…for glitter," he mumbled.
"Yeah, I guess so." Harry smiled a little. "It's nice and sparkly, especially now that the sun's coming out a bit."
Snape gazed at the way the sparkle-reflective light revealed the particles of dust floating in the room. "I…know you hate being here…almost as much as I hate…having you," he stated lowly. "But…all the same…" He looked up at the boy, and his eyes were pained. He was struggling to say something words could not do justice to, something he was untrained to express. "I've discovered…that I don't…hate you," he managed. "Not…in the strict definition of the word at least. I've wanted to, very badly. But…hatred is a stretch. I'm just…not keen on you. Understand?"
"Yeah," Harry nodded. "Likewise."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Always have a smart answer, don't you, boy?"
"Well, I try."
"You do." Snape stared at him again. "Attempting to relay season's greetings at this point would fall terribly flat, so I'm not going to do it. All I can say is…I wish you could have had your holiday accommodations of choice…far away from here. But as it is…" His eyes flitted towards the door awkwardly. "I'm…going out. So you can have the house to yourself without any…oppressive ethos destroying whatever level of festive spirit you may have in reserve." He started putting on his overcoat by the door.
"Can't I come with you?" Harry asked.
Snape paused with one arm in the coat and the other out. "Why in the name of Merlin do you want to do that?"
"Because…it's creepy around here all by myself," he mumbled. "And…I don't want to be all alone for Christmas."
"Don't want to be alone, eh?" he scoffed. "One can get used to it. How do you think I've been living day in and day out?"
"Well, maybe that's why you're so…" Harry stopped himself before going too far.
Snape dead-eyed him. "Effervescent?" he droned.
Harry shrugged. "People need each other after a while, that's all."
Snape sighed and headed over to his closet. He rummaged around in there for a spell, then yanked out a smaller, rather worn and grubby overcoat, with stains and patches everywhere. "It'll have to do for you, boy," he declared, tossing it to Harry. "Come, get it on. We don't have all day."