A/N: Since you asked so nicely... Thank you for all your lovely reviews! I hope you're all having a wonderful Christmas!
"Merlin, boy, are you going to sleep all day?"
"Mmph," Harry mumbled into the pillow. "Coming, Aun' Petunia."
"Fool! Do I sound like your Aunt? Now get up – I thought all irritating children were supposed to be up and driving everyone else mad on Christmas morning."
"Christmas!" Harry was bolt upright and tugging on his shoes within seconds. "It's Christmas!" He glanced up at the man who'd almost tripped over a nearby chair. "G'morning, Professor Snape. D'you sleep well?" It couldn't hurt to be polite to the man who'd given him a bed for the night.
"Hmph. The bathroom's through there. Go and get washed up then go into the kitchen" – the Professor pointed – "for breakfast. And make it quick!"
"Yes, sir!" Harry called behind him and practically bounced through to the tiny washroom. It was Christmas!
He only took five minutes, but he had to stop in shock when he came out. The house was now completely decorated – tinsel and holly and baubles hung in select positions around the rooms. Not too much but enough to hint at the festive season. There was even a small Christmas tree in the sitting room!
Harry grinned. Magic again! He loved it already – and had Professor Snape decorated just for him? He must have done, for the house had had nothing in it before. Harry hugged himself. Surely when something was done on Christmas just for you, it counted as a gift? If so, he had just received his first real Christmas present, and he couldn't be happier.
"G'morning, Professor," he called as he hurried into the kitchen and jumped on the nearest chair. "The house looks amazing!"
The Professor winced slightly as the chair groaned under the assault but didn't comment. "So glad you approve," the dark voice drawled ironically. "Now hush up and eat up."
"Y'sir!" Harry quickly tucked into his cooked breakfast – another first – while sneaking looks at his benefactor. Would he allow Harry to stay? Or was this just an 'adopt a boy for Christmas only' thing? Harry hoped it was the former. The man might be a bit brusque but so far he'd been nicer to Harry than his relatives had ever been.
"Can I stay?" he blurted out, then immediately clapped a hand over his mouth. He hadn't meant to say that!
Professor Snape gave him a wary look. "Yes, you're staying."
"Really?" The man across from him winced at the pitch a bit. "Can I really? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! This is the best Christmas ever!"
"Didn't I tell you to hush?"
Harry immediately shut his mouth but remained quivering excitedly.
"Now" – the Professor rubbed the bridge of his nose – "don't you want to know why you'll be staying?"
Harry nodded vigorously, still biting his tongue in an attempt to stay silent.
The Professor looked strangely unhappy. "I, unlike those relatives of yours, am about to tell you the truth. I expect for you to remain silent until I've finished. Understood?"
Harry nodded eagerly again.
"I, as you have guessed, am a wizard. I currently teach in an exclusive magical school in Scotland, which I attended myself with a friend who also lived nearby. That friend was your mother. Si-lence."
Harry obediently closed his mouth and bit his tongue again.
"Your mother was born to two Muggles – non-magical people – while your... father was born into a Pureblood family. This makes you a half-blood... and a wizard."
Harry bounced in his chair even as he fought to stay silent.
"Your parents... were very brave." The Professor sounded like he was drawing out his own teeth. "They – and you – were being hunted by an evil wizard called... V-Vol. Volde-mort. In the end, as was inevitable, he found them."
Harry realised that he had his hands clenched on the edge of the table and slowly relaxed them.
"Your mother and father died trying to save you, but nothing can stop the Killing Curse, or so it is thought." Professor Snape gave him a hard look. "V-Voldemort also tried to kill you, and did not succeed. Instead you got that. " The man reached over and rapped his knuckles against Harry's scar. "It was also the night when the Dark Lord disappeared from the world and hasn't been heard from since. And in the hopes that you would not be found – either by the awestruck public of the Wizarding world, or by the allies of the evil wizard – the Headmaster, my employer, took you and placed you in the 'safe' anonymity of your relatives' home. Seeing as they are no longer the suitable, and the Headmaster trusts me, you will remain here until you are old enough to go to Hogwarts."
"I can stay!" Harry shrieked, unable to keep silent a second longer. He jumped up and ran around the kitchen a couple of times before screeching to a halt in front of the flabbergasted man still seated at the table. "I can stay! I can stay!"
The Professor slowly closed his eyes and very deliberately pinched the bridge of his nose. "I am beginning to see why your relatives wanted rid of you."
Harry cocked his head to one side and looked at the Professor beseechingly. "But it's Christmas. I promise I'll be good the rest of the year."
"I... I... Blast you, Potter! Fine, be ridiculously exuberant. Are you finished with that?" An imperious finger jabbed towards Harry's empty plate.
"Yup," Harry agreed, smiling, still too happy to care about anything apart from the fact that he could stay. He'd worry about the rest later. At the man's admonishing glare, he ducked his head and tried again, "Um, I mean; yes, sir, it was very nice, thank you."
"Hmm." Professor Snape eyed him suspiciously. "At least you've learned some manners, unlike your cursed father."
Harry blinked. "Was my father bad then?"
An evil smirk spread over the Professor's face. "Yes, very bad. He would have only got coal in his stocking at Christmas-time if his parents hadn't already bought him every present in the shops."
"Oh." Harry's good mood deflated a little and he looked down at the floor, scuffing his shoes over the uneven surface. His father sounded a bit too much like Dudley for his liking... but then, that's what his relatives had always told him. But at least his Mum sounded OK! "Did Mum get coal in her stocking?"
The Professor looked a little guilty. "No... She always got something every Christmas because she was the kindest, most gentle person you'd ever meet..." The man had a faraway look in his eyes, as if he could no longer see Harry and the messy kitchen. "And no matter what she was given, she always loved it... even if it was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string because you couldn't afford anything else."
Greatly daring, Harry reached out and patted the Professor's for a second before snatching his own back. "She sounds really nice. I miss her too."
The man seemed to come back to Earth with a thump. "No more questions, we have work to do today. Did you honestly think Christmas would just fall in your lap because it happened to be the right day? No, you have to work for it!"
The wand came out and the dishes were washed, dried and put away before Harry could even blink.
"C'n I help with the cooking then?" Harry asked, stopped the man in his tracks. "I'm good at cooking."
"Yes, well..." The Professor coughed, seeming temporarily flummoxed. "You can help me start on getting the vegetables set up. The chopping board's over there, as are the knives. Get to it!"
"Y'sir!" Harry yelped, diving for both utensils and getting started to the best of his ability, determined to show the Professor that he really was worth keeping around and nothing at all like his father...
It took much longer than he'd ever expected to make the food – Aunt Petunia had always made Christmas dinner before – but eventually everything was on the table and Harry was digging into the biggest and most delicious meal of his life.
"Dear Merlin, boy, where does it all go to?" Professor Snape asked him incredulously, staring at his almost empty plate.
Harry giggled and pointed at one of the dishes. "C'n I have some more carrots, please?"
"May I have some more carrots. And yes you can, though why you don't want more of these things" – Snape poked the nearby 'pigs in blankets' with the end of his knife – "I cannot fathom. I thought all horrible children wanted to stuff themselves full of unhealthy things."
"I'm not horrible," Harry protested, wrinkling his nose. "B'sides, my school teacher said carrots are good for eyes. I want to be able to see prop'ly by the time I'm eleven!" A grin spread across his face. "Jus' in time for Hogwarts!" He had learnt many things about his future school over the course of the morning, and already he could hardly wait, even if he wasn't sure which of the four houses sounded best to him.
A funny not-smile tugged at the man's face across from him. "By the time you're eleven, you say? Maybe I'll take you to the optometrist in Diagon Alley and see if we can get your sight fixed by magic."
"Really?!" Harry was almost bouncing out of his chair again. "Thank you!"
"Consider it a Christmas present." Professor Snape put his knife and fork together neatly. "Are you finished?"
"Y'sir," Harry said politely, carefully copying the man opposite.
"Then you may have a small bit of Christmas pudding and cream, seeing as you finished off all your vegetables."
"Yeah!" Harry punched his fists into the air. "C'n I... May I help myself?"
The not-smile appeared again. "No, but you may watch." The Professor got up and prodded the pudding with his wand. Immediately, large , blue flames sprang up and wreathed the pudding. "They are not hot, so there is no need to blow them out."
Harry clapped enthusiastically and got started on his slice straight away, but stubbornly shook his head when the Professor moved to cut his own piece. "Uh, uh. You didn't eat all your vegetables." He pointed condemningly at the lone Brussels sprout on the man's plate.
The Professor looked at the vegetable askance. "Brussels sprouts are the work of the devil anyway."
Harry glared. "You made me eat mine."
"Leftover over vegetables mean no pudding, you said!"
"Fine!" The man rolled his eyes, picked up the offending vegetable and swallowed it whole. "Am I now allowed to eat my homemade Christmas pudding, Lord Potter?"
"Yup," Harry agreed, cheerful now, "it's really good." That earned him a glare.
The Professor then made Harry sit down in the sitting room for an hour, to 'digest' the meal they'd eaten, but Harry squirmed so much that the man ended up trying to teach him all the different Potions ingredients he'd need to know for Hogwarts' first year. He was a surprisingly quick study.
"Arrowroot, Comfrey, Tansy, Tarragon, Yarrow!" Harry exclaimed triumphantly, pointing to each picture in turn. "Now can I go outside?"
The man – who had at some point sat down on the floor beside Harry – glanced up at the antique clock on the mantelpiece. "Oh, all right, then. But be sure to be back before the sun goes down. Come back here! You're not going out like you were yesterday! Idiotic child, don't you remember how cold you were? Here." A few flicks of the wand and Harry was wearing warm trousers, boots, gloves, a coat, a scarf and a hat. "There. That should last for a good few hours. I'll have to remember to take you shopping as soon as the shops open again."
Harry felt a warm fizz of happiness settle in his belly.
"Now, remember the road this house is on is called 'Spinners' End', if you get lost, simply..."
"Oh, come on, I'll remember. Now can I go?"
Snape threw his hands up. "Fine! Be off with you! There's a park two streets that way, so it's likely there'll be other boys playing there. Remember to keep your coat and gloves on at all times–"
But Harry was already gone, racing down the street without a care in the world. Wishes did come true. He had got a real Christmas after all.
The park was exactly where the Professor had said it would be and was literally packed with kids building snowmen and having snowball fights. Harry joined in with everything and had the time of his life. He was quite certain he'd never laughed so much before, ever. And when one of the Mums hanging around the edge started handing out homemade mince pies still hot from the oven, Harry was certain that life couldn't get much better than this.
One of the adults sitting on the benches even recognised him.
"Hello there, sweetie. You were singing carols with us last night, weren't you? Did you get back home alright?"
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am!"
"Oh, aren't you polite? Anytime you want to come over and have lunch with my Robbie" – her holey mitten pointed at where a boy, with whom Harry'd been building a snow fort, was playing – "you can. Just ask how to get to Number 28, Mason's Road, OK?"
"28, Mason's Road," Harry parroted. "OK, thank you!"
"Do you live nearby? I've never seen you about, or at the school before."
"I used not to, but now I'm gonna stay!" Harry beamed up at her and she beamed back. However, at that point the conversation was cut short as Harry was dragged away to go and slide down a nearby slope on someone's old kitchen tray.
And so, tired, sodden and completely worn out, but still elated, Harry found himself trudging 'home' in the last light of the day, hoping Professor Snape wouldn't be too angry at him if he dripped ice water on the tatty, old carpet.
"I'm back!" he yelled as he slammed the door. "And it's still light outside; you can check!"
Snape appeared at the sitting room doorway. "Must you make such a racket? The people at the other end of the street can hear you!"
Undeterred, Harry shrugged off his outdoor gear and hung them on the pegs by the door. "It was amazing! I made loads of new friends! Dudley never even let me have one before, but it was so much fun! We made snowmen an' snow-forts an' pretended to be fighting battles in them with snowballs! And we went sledging on someone's ol' tea-tray, and had mince-pies–"
Professor Snape held his hands up in protest. "Enough! I get the picture. You had fun. Now will you stop behaving like someone's been constantly feeding you sugar since you've been out?"
Harry scrunched up his nose. "The mince-pies were kinda sugar-y."
The Professor rolled his eyes. "Merlin preserve me," he muttered, causing Harry to giggle. "Come into the sitting room; I have something to show you."
Harry cheerfully followed him in... and stopped dead. A big, brightly wrapped present sat in front of the hearth, and two people who could only be a witch and a wizard sat on the battered sofa. Harry looked from them to the present several times and gulped, unsure of whether to be excited or nervous. Eventually, the rigorous training in manners that Aunt Petunia had taught him won through.
"Uh, H'lo, pleased to meet you," he mumbled to the carpet in front of his feet, then risked a glance at both of them again.
The woman spoke first. She was rather stern-looking, but wearing a tartan robe and a pointed, witch's hat. "Pleased to meet you too, Harry. I'm Professor McGonagall and I also work at Hogwarts. Happy Christmas. I take it you're having a good time so far?"
"Happy Christmas, Professor," Harry answered gamely, his earlier confidence returning. "You're the Head of Gryff'ndor House, aren't you? Professor Snape says your House is full of 'morons who do stupid things an' then call it bravery', but I think he's jus' exaggerating."
Professor McGonagall and the wizard on the couch burst out laughing while Professor Snape scowled and glared down at him viciously. Harry gave him a gap-toothed grin back.
"Och, he's got yer measure all-right, Severus," the witch laughed, her accent becoming thicker with amusement.
The man in question just glared back at her without a word.
The wizard on the couch then leant forward and smiled at Harry, prompting him to smile back. His long, white beard and red robe with gold stars on reminded Harry of Father Christmas, or maybe even Merlin, whom Professor Snape swore upon so much. "Hello, Harry. I'm Professor Dumbledore – I'm the Headmaster of Hogwarts – and can I say that we're already very much looking forward to having you there."
A slight frisson of fear tingled down Harry's spine, causing him to take a couple of steps towards Professor Snape and grab the man's hand. The man in question looked down in disbelief but Harry didn't even notice.
"You're the one who left me with the Dursleys," Harry said uncertainly, willing to trust again... but only if the wizard opposite gave him something slightly more substantial than a smile and a kind appearance to go on.
"I am. And I'm very, very sorry. I thought it would keep you safe. Can you forgive me, Harry?"
Harry chewed his lip. His intuition was telling him that the wizard really had meant well, but he wasn't quite ready to take the plunge just yet. "You could have come an' checked up on me!" he said accusingly, his hand tightening around Professor Snape's... and was that a reassuring squeeze the man had just given him back?
"I couldn't. The night I'd left you there, the world was in chaos, so no one knew, but these days I'm constantly watched – as is Professor McGonagall – in the hopes that we would lead the press to you."
"You have the ability to evade them, Albus!" Professor Snape snarled, startling Harry. He still hadn't let go of his hand.
The old man studied his hands. "Yes, I do. But only with a monumental amount of effort, and quite honestly, I thought it would be unfair of me to come barging into your world if you were settled and happy. I am sorry, Harry."
Harry squirmed a little, then sighed. "O-kay. I forgive you." He let go of Professor Snape's hand, walked over and shook a finger at the old man's nose, like Aunt Petunia had done to him. "But don't do it again!"
More laughter filled the room, and this time even Professor Snape gave a small snort. The Headmaster drew him into a gentle hug – as if afraid he might break – then let him go and pressed a brightly wrapped parcel into his hands. "Merry Christmas, Harry. I shan't keep you or Professor Snape any longer now that I've seen that you've settled in so well."
Harry clasped the precious gift as if it was made of glass. "For... me?"
The Headmaster stood and ruffled his hair. "Of course, dear boy. Goodnight, Severus." And with a soft pop, both he and the witch were gone.
Stunned, Harry turned to the Professor, who rolled his eyes.
"It's called Apparition, Potter. Did you really think wizards used Muggle transport?"
A small frown line appeared between Harry's eyebrows. "Oh, I guessed that, there're hundreds of television programs about witches an' wizard appearin' and disappearin'!"
"Then why the gormless look?"
Harry held the wrapped box up with both his hands. "I have a present!" he exclaimed, trying to express the momentous moment in words.
Professor Snape raised both his hands to rub wearily at his face. "Yes, Potter, you do. And you have another one over there." He pointed at the large one in front of the fire. "Now hurry up and get rid of that gaudy wrapping! Did you honestly think I'd allow it in my house for no reason?"
Harry felt like hugging himself. He was a reason. "Thank you! Is it from you?"
The man looked like he'd just swallowed something unpleasant. Maybe another Brussels Sprout. "Partly. Professor McGonagall helped me with the Transfiguration. Now, for Merlin's sake, open it, and don't you dare say thank you again!"
Harry obediently bit his tongue, set aside Professor Dumbledore's present and tore off the wrapping on the big present. Inside was...
"It's a bike!"
Professor Snape winced and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "A few hundred decibels lower would suit me just fine." The next moment, he was caught completely by surprise by a nine year old grabbing him around the waist in a hug.
"I've always wanted a bike," Harry told him, eyes shining, "and it's red!"
The man glared down at him. "That is Minerva's doing. What, pray tell, is wrong with Slytherin green?"
"Oh, nothing, I like green too, but first bikes are always supposed to be red," Harry told him solemnly. Fancy the clever Professor not knowing something as simple as that!
The man looked down at him, then at the bike, and then back at Harry again, seeming completely baffled. "Whatever you say, Potter. Now let go of me."
"OK!" Harry stepped back and ran over to the Headmaster's present. "Sweets! Magical and Muggle ones," he read off the label.
"Oh no," the low voice came from behind him. "You may have one a day, but not before a meal!"
"Alright!" Harry picked a Sherbet Lemon and stuffed it in his mouth before trotting back over to the Professor. "What happens now?"
"Ah..." The Professor glanced at the clock, which still showed a good few hours before Harry's bedtime much to his delight. "I..." The man's eyes caught sight of the bike again and became stern. "We set some ground rules."
Harry's heart sank. Uh oh, here we go...
"Number one; you do everything I tell you when I tell you to do it. No arguing unless there's a very good reason. I don't just use air for the sake of it!"
Harry nodded. Simple enough. In fact, it was less strict than Aunt Petunia's rule of no arguing at all.
"Secondly; you must always be polite and respect your elders and betters... unless they try to harm you. Then, I expect you to fight back and to come and find me straight away. Understood?"
The Professor looked a little flummoxed for a minute at Harry's easy agreement. "And... you will not ride that bike until all the snow and sheet ice have melted."
"Aww." Harry stomped his foot a little, mostly because he'd never tried it before. "I really wanted to show all my friends! That's not fair!"
"Life is not fair. The sooner you learn that, the better."
"Besides, it is far too dangerous at the moment. Not only will you be learning, but the ground is far too slippery."
Harry pouted a little less.
"Don't look at me like that. Go and sit down. Are you hungry?"
Harry wrinkled his nose in thought. "A little." Which was something he would have thought impossible after that huge lunch, but play wears you out.
"Very well. Sit there and warm up. I shall go and fetch a light tea."
Harry perched on the sofa and watched the crackling flames of the real fire, mesmerised. The Professor came in a while later with a tray and they proceeded to eat the little they had seated side by side in silence. Harry was certain that he'd never felt so happy and safe in his life.
Yawning a little, he tentatively leant against the man beside him and looked up into the surprised face. "Thank you for giving me a real Christmas. It was amazing. Will you tell me about my Mum?"
The Professor tensed and went very still until all that Harry could hear was the whistle of the wind and the crackle of the fire. Then, grudgingly, the man began to speak, wrapping Harry up in the tales of days gone by, slowly dragging Harry's eyelids lower and lower as the hours passed.
God does answer prayers after all, he thought drowsily, I never would have guessed. Then he drifted off into a deep and contented sleep.