Chapter 67 – The Joys of Life

"Harreeeeey.  HARREEEEY!!  WAKE UP!!!"

Someone shook Harry violently, wrenching Hedwig from her sound sleep in the crook of his neck.  She hissed and snapped at one of the hands shaking her master, eyes still half-closed in sleep.

"Hed!"

"You again," hissed the snake in an irritable voice as Harold Jamison Snape – know as Potter to the outside world – opened his eyes.  The first sight he saw was the one he had seen since summer had begun.

It was the face of one of his best friends and fellow Slytherin, Niamh O'Feir.  The dark-haired, blue-eyed, sharp-tempered girl was staying with him and his father in the small cottage that had once been used by the groundskeeper for the now destroyed Ashdeir Fierion, the ancient manor that had been the Snape home for centuries.  Now the manor house was nothing but overgrown ruins and a few crumbling walls and the cottage itself had been made larger inside by magic.  Where there should only have been four rooms, there was a grand total of twelve.

But neither the nature of the grounds nor that of the cottage was on Harry's mind at the moment.  In fact, he was greatly considering hitting Niamh with a Freezing Charm so he could get some more sleep.

"Come on," said Niamh, shaking his shoulder fiercely.  "Snape sent me up here to get you up.  Remember?  Diagon Alley?  Presents?"

Ah.  Now that was a different broomstick altogether.  Today, the day before Harry's fourteenth birthday, was the day the three of them were going to go to Diagon Alley so Niamh could buy Harry's birthday present.  Harry had a hope that they might venture out into London.  It had been three years since he had seen the city he had grown up in and he was eager to do so.  Not that Argil would have been a welcome sight on the streets, but the black-eyed, blond-haired countenance that was his friend Tyls would be a very welcome sight.

"Harreeeeey…."

"I'm up, I'm up…  Gods, Ni, do you have to shake me?"

Niamh grinned at her friend, who had pushed himself up onto his elbows, glaring at her out of bleary eyes and from under a fringe of dark, silky locks.

"Well…it is the only way you'll wake up…"

Harry sighed, reaching up to brush his shoulder length hair back from his face with a faintly scarred hand.  He shook his head at her in amusement then sat up, his sheets falling to his waist.  Unlike some other fourteen-year-old girl who would have been swooning at the sight of a shirtless boy (let alone the Harry Potter), Niamh did not as much as bat an eyelash.  She had seen him on several occasions without a shirt (along with scarce – and unwanted – glimpses of his dormmates) and still had no shame of barging into his room – be it at his and his father's cottage, the Burrow, or Hogwarts and waking him up by various means.

Harry clambered out of his bed and over to the dresser, sliding open a drawer and pulling out a loose long-sleeved shirt of a thin, Slytherin green material.  As he pulled it over his head, he noticed Niamh eyeing his back in the mirror above the dresser.

"Anything interesting to see back there?" asked the boy with a grin.  Most of the Cockney accent he had grown up using was already gone from his voice and he sounded like a normal English-born boy.

"Huh?  Oh – I was just looking at the scars on your back.  The one's from your aunt."

"Particularly brutal beating, that was," said Harry absently as he ran his fingers through his hair.

"Why didn't you ever turn her over to the police?"

Harry smiled thinly at his friend in the mirror and replied in a rather bitter tone, "Not that Uncle Vernon and Dudley wouldn't be better off without her, I thought it best to leave her grudges against me where they lie.  Y'know, the old saying 'Let sleeping dogs lie?'"

"Yeah.  I get it."

Harry turned to his friend, a wide grin spreading across his features.  "Come on then," he said loudly,  "I'm starved.

Niamh laughed merrily and slid down off the bed, picking up Hedwig and handing her to Harry as they walked out of his room.

"You're always starved!"

"You must be confusion me with Ron."

"Hmmm…no."

"Uh-huh," said Harry skeptically.  By now they had reached the downstairs hall and in two more steps, the kitchen.  Severus Snape sat inside at the circular oak table, the morning's copy of the Daily Prophet spread out in front of him.  He had a mug of what appeared to be coffee in his hand.  Behind him, Marly the house-elf bustled about, squealing in joy when she saw Harry and Niamh enter.

"Master Harry!  Miss Niamh!  You are awake!"

Harry smiled warmly at the house-elf and said, "Yes, Marly.  We're here."

"About time," mumbled Severus, his dark eyes scanning a column by Rita Skeeter in the Prophet.  He added in an even lower growl, "Stupid cow."

Harry craned his neck as he sat down to see what his father was reading and wrinkled his nose in distaste when he saw what it was.

"How can they publish that trash?"

Severus took a sip from his mug and flipped the page over with a contemptuous snort.  He looked up at his son and grumbled, "You'd be surprised at what some people consider 'good reading material.'"

"How true," muttered Niamh darkly.

"Breakfast, Master Harry?  Miss Niamh?"

"Yes, Marly," chorused the two teenagers, their thoughts turning from Skeeter to food.

"Marly get it!" cried the house-elf, bouncing around the kitchen.  Severus watched her antics with amusement, dark eyes twinkling.

"You know," he mused, "since you two have been here, this is the happiest I've ever seen her."

"Surely she is happy with you, professor," said Niamh.

"Professor is for school, Niamh.  You have no need to call me that while you are here."

"I know.  But Mr. Snape just sounds too weird."

Harry laughed and Severus chuckled, ignoring Marly as she bounced off his head.

"And I do so hate to be called that.  Most leave off the 'e' and call me Mr. Snap."

Niamh burst out laughing, choking out, "You – you're joking!!"

"I am not," said Severus seriously.

Niamh laughed for a few minutes longer, her laughter extending when Marly asked if she was okay.  The confused house-elf turned to Harry, blue eyes wide.  He chuckled and waved a hand at her, saying, "Don't worry, Marly.  Ni's fine."

"Yes, sir.  Marly is happy for that," said the house-elf sincerely, bobbing her head.  She continued, "Marly get Master Harry and Miss Niamh's breakfast now."

As few seconds later a plate of pancakes smothered in syrup appeared in front of the still laughing Niamh and a plate containing a simple cheese-on-toast and some bacon appeared in front of Harry.

"Cheese toast again?" said Severus, quirking an eyebrow at his son.  The younger Snape shrugged, taking a bite out of the sandwich.

"Nothing wrong with that," he said, though it came out sounding like, "Mrothin mrong mri mrat."

Severus continued to arch an eyebrow, watching in amusement as the two teenagers practically inhaled their breakfasts.