Harry gaped at him. "Your father!"
Severus raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, did you think I simply appeared one day, as a fully grown adult with a cauldron in one hand and a jar of beetle eyes in the other?"
"No, of course not, but you never talk about your parents," Harry answered lamely.
"With good reason," Severus commented dryly. "Neither of them would have won any Parent of the Year awards. Besides, my mother is dead and I haven't seen my father in years."
"So what makes you think this guy is him?" Harry asked.
"Think about it logically, Harry," Severus replied. "He claims to have been married to a witch and to have a son who is a wizard. He seems to be familiar with the area. Spinner's End is a small town. To the best of my knowledge, the only magical people here for many generations were my mother, myself, and Lily Evans. Excuse me, Lily Potter. Petunia is the only living member of the Evans family…well, besides your cousin and yourself, so it seems sensible that this man would be Tobias Snape."
Harry took a deep breath and fully relaxed. The man had not been a Death Eater. "Yeah, that makes sense."
"Still, to be safe, I should confirm it. Let's go back together and I'll see if I recognise him," Severus said, moving to the closet to pull out a long black woolen coat.
Harry moved to open the front door, but Severus stopped him.
"Wait." Severus took his wand and cast a Disillusionment Charm over both of them. "There. It's not quite as good as your invisibility cloak, but I don't think anyone will see us. Just in case this man should mean us any harm, it would be wise for us not to be seen."
Once outside, Severus cast another charm to hide their footprints in the snow and they set off. When they came to the end of their street, Harry paused uncertainly. He'd been lost in his memories and hadn't paid much attention to where he'd been going, but he thought he had turned right, and sure enough, after a few minutes they could hear the fire engines and the sounds of commotion.
When they drew near the sight of the burning house, they stopped and looked around. Fortunately the fire fighters had gotten control of the blaze and it looked as if the fire were quickly dying down, leaving the house in charred ruins. A crowd of people had appeared, drawn by the noise and excitement and Harry had to search for several minutes before he spotted the man he had saved.
"There he is," he whispered, touching Severus' arm and surreptitiously pointing.
The man was standing some distance away, talking with one of the firefighters.
Severus' lips tightened. "Yes, that's him," he said tersely. "Well, he's not a Death Eater. We can return home."
He turned to go, but paused when he realised that Harry hadn't moved. "Harry?"
Harry dragged his gaze from Tobias Snape and his ruined home to look, almost apologetically, at Severus. "Do you think he'll be all right?"
Severus looked as if he didn't much care, but he nodded. "He's a grown man, Harry. I'm sure he'll be fine."
Harry hesitated another minute, but Severus obviously had bad feelings towards his father, and Harry wasn't sure if he could really blame him. Ever since he'd seen some of the Potions Master's memories in the Pensieve back in fifth-year, he'd had the impression that Severus' childhood had been unhappy, and Severus had implied as much just a short while ago, too.
"All right," he said softly and went to join Severus. They made their way home in silence.
"I have finished the order," Severus commented as they entered the front door. "Would you like to do something together this afternoon?"
"Sure," Harry agreed. He had wanted to be alone earlier, but that feeling had worn off. He was happy to spend time with his guardian…though that still seemed unbelievable sometimes…but even more he thought that Severus wanted to spend time with him too. The Potions Master was very good at hiding his emotions and always presenting a cool, calm façade, but Harry had learned to understand him better these past months.
Severus wouldn't just come out and tell Harry that he wanted for them to spend time together, but that was only because he was afraid of letting himself be vulnerable. Harry knew that over the years Severus had experienced a lot of rejection and it was still hard for him to open up. But there would be a look in his eyes, a certain undertone in his voice, that let Harry know that Severus really did want his company, that he wanted for them to be together too.
And right now Severus' eyes had a haunted look, as if seeing Tobias Snape had brought back some unwelcome memories. Even if he had still wanted to be alone, Harry couldn't have left him now. After all, Severus was always there for him when Harry was hurting.
He decided to try to distract Severus. "So what shall we do?"
Severus glanced around. "Well, the house needs cleaning."
Harry made a face. "You can do better than that."
Severus smiled and the haunted expression disappeared. "Or we could go to London, eat lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, and perhaps do a little sight-seeing this afternoon."
"London, definitely," Harry said with a grin.
One time not long ago, when he and Severus had talked about the Dursleys, Harry had mentioned that he'd never seen a lot of the famous sites that everyone else had. The Dursleys had certainly never taken him along on family trips and even when he'd been with the Weasleys and his friends, they had pretty much stayed close to Diagon Alley. That very day Severus had whisked him off to tour the Museum of Quidditch in Aberdeen. Since then they had also been to Loch Ness, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey.
"I thought you might say that," Severus remarked.
So they Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron, had shepherd's pie and treacle tart for lunch, and spent the afternoon wandering through the British Museum. In the evening, they decided on the spur of the moment to attend a Christmas concert and it was quite late when they returned to their house in Spinner's End.
Several times throughout the day Harry found himself wondering about Tobias Snape and hoped that he was all right, but the man had said that he had friends to stay with, and Harry's first loyalty was to Severus.
But he did hope that things were working out for Tobias Snape.
Harry slept late the next morning. Severus had finished his breakfast and was sipping his second cup of coffee when Harry finally made it downstairs to the kitchen.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to sleep in," Harry told him as he scooped eggs and sausage onto his plate.
"No matter," Severus shrugged. "We have all day to decorate the house."
But he was quiet and then in an increasingly bad temper as they struggled to set up the tree in the living room. Harry had seen Professor Flitwick and Mr. Weasley put up Christmas trees before and with the use of magic, it didn't seem very difficult, but Severus couldn't be pleased today. First the tree was too close to the door. Then it was too tall for the ceiling; the angel on top would be crushed. Then it was too big for the parlour. They didn't have room to turn around, Severus claimed.
With an uncharacteristic burst of temper, the Potions Master slammed his wand down on a side table.
"This house is ridiculously small! We never should have come here," he snapped and stalked out of the living room and into the kitchen.
Harry stared after him in surprise. It really wasn't like Severus at all to lose control. Harry had seen him do it a few times before, but only under severe provocation. Obviously seeing his father again had upset him more than Harry had realised.
He followed Severus into the kitchen. The Potions Master was standing by the sink, staring with unseeing eyes through a window into the grey lifeless garden beyond.
"We don't have to stay here, Severus," Harry said softly. "We could go ahead and leave for Athens if you want."
He and Severus had planned to travel for a few months after the New Year, and Greece was the first country they were going to visit. They were going to look for a larger permanent home, preferably in the countryside, when they returned to Britain in the spring.
Severus sighed and closed his eyes for a second before opening them and turning to face Harry.
"I'm sorry," he said in a low voice. "I didn't mean to spoil the day for you. I wanted to give you a happy Christmas."
Harry came close and laid a hand on his arm. "You haven't spoiled the day, Severus. I don't know if it can be a happy Christmas, but we'll try. And if we need to go to a place where there are no bad memories for you either, then that's all right too."
But Severus shook his head. "No, I'll be fine. Shall we finish with the decorations?"
So they hung ornaments on the tree and stockings over the fireplace, but Severus' heart obviously wasn't in it, though he did make more of an effort to be agreeable. When they'd finished, he announced that he needed to pack up his potions ingredients.
"Well, I never did go flying yesterday, so maybe I'll go out to that field for a while," Harry said.
Severus only nodded and headed downstairs to the cellar.
Harry sighed, collected his Firebolt, and left the house. He briefly considered trying to find Tobias Snape to see if he had found a place to stay. But he had no idea of how to go about locating the man and besides, he didn't want to be disloyal to Severus. So he simply headed for the snowy field beyond the town, a wide place bordered by trees and with the twisting frozen river along one side.
It was marvelous to lose himself in the joy of flying and for a time, Harry could forget his troubles as he soared and spun through the air. He had been flying for some time when there was a hoarse cry from below and he realised, with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, that he had forgotten to cast a Disillusionment Charm.
Harry looked down to see a boy below staring up at him open-mouthed and pointing. Unfortunately, he was so distracted by the boy that he flew headfirst into a tall oak tree. There was a burst of pain in his head and then everything went black.
Severus had tried half-heartedly to pack away his stock of ingredients, but old memories kept distracting him. Finally he sighed in disgust and decided to clear his head by going for a walk. Maybe he'd go out to the field and find Harry. Another thing for him to feel guilty over…he'd acted like a sulky child while decorating the house earlier and he'd meant to make it fun for Harry.
He took his coat and left the house, walking in the direction of the field. But as he approached a horrifying sight met his eyes. A jagged hole lay in the middle of the river, sharp cracks radiating outwards through the ice and revealing deadly dark water underneath. Tobias Snape, holding an unconscious Harry in his arms, was struggling to make his way up the riverbank. Both of them were soaking wet and the water was already freezing into ice on their clothes.
With a sharp cry, Severus ran to help. He grabbed Tobias' arm, while at the same time levitating him and Harry as well so that an instant later all three of them were on safe ground.
Tobias fell to his knees, his teeth chattering so hard that he couldn't speak at first. Severus snatched Harry from his arms and laid the boy on the ground just long enough to cast drying and warming spells on him before taking him in his arms again, holding him close.
"Harry? Harry, speak to me," Severus said anxiously. He glared at Tobias in sudden fierce anger. "If you've harmed one hair on his head…!"
But Tobias shook his head. "He…he…in the river…got him out," he managed to say between violent shivers.
Severus slowly took his wand and sent warming and drying spells at his father, too.
"That's amazing," Tobias murmured, but then his own face creased with worry as he looked back at his son and the boy he believed to be his grandson.
Severus was cradling Harry to his chest, rocking back and forth slightly. His mask had dropped and his face and voice were filled with fear as he spoke.
"Harry, don't leave me. You can't leave me now. You're everything to me and I need you. Harry, I love you." Severus' voice broke and he bowed his head close to Harry's.
"I love you," he repeated in a strangled whisper.
Tobias spoke in a choked voice. "I think he needs a doctor. I'll go for help. Or can't you wizards just blink in and out of places?"
But just then Harry's eyes flickered and then opened. "Severus?"
Severus couldn't speak in reply, but just held him even closer. His eyes squeezed shut and a tear slipped down one cheek.
For a few moments Harry just leaned against him weakly, but finally he looked up and tried to explain. "Forgot the Disillusionment Charm. 'M sorry, but this kid…he saw me." He looked at Severus with a worried expression.
"We'll take care of it. It'll be all right," Severus assured him. "Don't worry."
"Think I flew into a tree. Don't remember anything else," Harry mumbled.
"You must have fallen into the river," Severus said. He looked over at Tobias. "And you saw him?"
"Not at first," Tobias replied. "It was those other two kids…" He looked around suddenly. "Where'd they go anyway?"
"You and Harry were the only ones here when I arrived," Severus told him.
"But I was over on the other street, and suddenly this young girl was there. She told me to hurry, that Harry needed help. She led me here. And there was a red-haired boy in the river, too. He was holding Harry's head out of the water."
Severus and Harry both stared at him with pale faces and wide eyes. Then, in spite of his exhaustion, Harry smiled faintly.
"They really are with me still," he whispered.
Severus shook his head, looking dazed. "Well, however it may be, we need to get you to St. Mungo's."
He stood, helping Harry to his feet as well. Harry leaned against him and Severus kept his arms around him, supporting him.
"Severus, I don't have any right, but let me go with you," Tobias said, his voice low and almost pleading. "Harry's my grandson, isn't he?"
Severus and Harry looked at one another with startled expressions for a second, but then Severus slowly smiled at the boy. "Yes, he is."
He glared when he looked back at Tobias though and for a moment it seemed he would refuse. But finally he said in a grudging tone. "Take my arm."
Tobias did so, and an instant later the field was empty.
It was late afternoon when the three of them returned home from St. Mungo's. Harry had been given a clean bill of health, and stern admonitions to be more careful in the future.
"No need to worry," he commented glumly as they stepped out of the fireplace into the living room. "I lost my Firebolt."
"Perhaps not," Severus said quietly.
Harry looked at him and the Potions Master indicated the Christmas tree. Harry caught his breath. His Firebolt lay underneath, as good as new, with a note attached.
Harry knelt and took the note. There were two lines, each in different but familiar handwriting.
Happy Christmas, mate! in Ron's loopy scrawl and We love you! in Hermione's neat printing.
Harry's eyes filled with tears, but at the same time he felt happier than he had since May.
Eventually though he became aware of the tense silence in the room and looked up to see Severus and Tobias staring at one another.
Tobias cleared his throat several times before saying uncomfortably, "Severus, I know I made a lot of mistakes with you. I don't deserve another chance…but I'm asking for one anyway. I'm sorry for everything. I know that I can never make it up to you, but if you'll let me, I'll never stop trying."
Severus didn't speak for a long time. Finally he looked down at Harry and his gaze softened.
"Not very long ago, someone gave me another chance that I didn't deserve," he said quietly.
He turned back to his father and slowly held out his hand. "How can I do less?"
Tobias smiled and reached out to clasp his son's hand.
Harry stood and stepped close to Severus, twining his arms around his waist. Severus smiled at him and wrapped his other arm around Harry's shoulders.
Harry leaned against him, feeling warm and contented. Maybe it would be a happy Christmas after all.
***Thank you, everyone! I hope you've enjoyed "Christmas at Spinner's End." I think I'm going to take a week or so off from writing, and then I'll work on a new chapter for "Slave Child". Thanks again!