Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of "Volatile." There will probably be other epilogue-fics for Practicing Liars posted sometime in the future.
Chapter Three—Uneasy Truce
"Come on, Draco!" Harry yelled, and then paused to watch the cloud of breath drifting in front of his face. He looked back over his shoulder when it vanished, only to find that Draco hadn't moved an inch, but was sitting on his broom twenty feet above the ground, staring at him warily.
"It's not a good idea," Draco said. "We've been flying for an hour already. We ought to go down and go in, Harry."
Harry rolled his eyes. There were two days to Christmas holidays, they were almost done with exams, and yet Draco was scared of a bit of high flying? "We don't have to," he said. "An hour is nothing in some Quidditch practices."
"Even the team captains thought it was too cold to practice today," Draco said, with a pointed look. "I'm tired and I want my dinner."
Harry almost did give in then, if only because he was laughing at Draco's outrageous pout. But a last glance up into the dimming grey sky above them made up his mind the other way. He wanted to try just one more trick, something he hadn't had the chance to do so far. When he was in practice, he had to focus on the Snitch, and usually didn't remember his latest idea until he was on the ground and it was all over.
"Fine, then," he said. "You don't have to follow me. But watch." He kicked the broom, and it obediently soared straight up.
Harry rolled his eyes. Draco sounded slightly panicked, but Harry had no idea why. He was a good flyer, not just good at Quidditch, and Draco and everyone else in the school knew it by now. What was the problem?
He swooped and zoomed to the side, rocking in long arrows of motion that gradually began to rock his broom with them. If he was right, and if he could master this maneuver in the game, when he had more distractions plaguing him, then he would utterly confuse and baffle anyone who tried to follow him.
It occurred to him that it would be even harder to follow if he was going faster than he was right now. He pushed for more speed, and the broom responded, kicking and dancing beneath him. Harry laughed giddily. It was as if he was perched on a branch in the middle of a high storm, swaying with it, watching the ground and the sky trade places and become a swirling chaos with the slender wooden twig he rode at the center of them.
Draco called something else. Harry was too high to make out the words, but he did recognize the shrill note of panic. He turned and looked back, keeping up the rocking motion of his broom.
Draco was hovering considerably lower than he had been. And beside him was a tall, black figure with that kind of upright stillness that only one person in the school had mastered, his face a pale blur as he stared up at Harry.
Harry took a deep breath, battling both his fear and his resentment. He didn't want to be afraid of Snape the way he was afraid of the Dursleys. He had worked hard on making sure he wasn't, and now it seemed as though it would be undone the moment he saw Snape standing with—he checked again—yeah, he probably had his arms folded and his hands in his sleeves. It wasn't the best situation.
On the other hand, why was Snape watching him now, and angry now, instead of all the other times that Harry had done risky Quidditch moves? This wasn't anywhere near as dangerous as the time that he'd been hit by the enchanted Bludger and then fallen off his broom and broken all the bones in his arm.
Harry turned his broom and flew back towards the ground, in obedience to his father's presence, but with lots of emotions pressing up against his chest and his throat that he didn't think Snape was going to like to hear.
Severus stood with his face placid and his hands locked in his sleeves, because he did not want Draco to see the expression of outrage he dearly would have liked to wear, or his hands clenched into fists. Those were sights only for his son.
His son, who rode the broom as though it were about to throw him off any minute, rocking back and forth in a long series of sweeps that Severus had reason to know was much more difficult to master than players tended to think. He had seen a Housemate thrown from his broom trying to do the same thing during a Quidditch game in his sixth year. The crunch of the boy's skull meeting the ground was an auditory memory he had never ceased to hear.
Harry was dropping back to him. Harry was fine. But it had been a cold evening, and it would have been easy enough for his hands to grow numb and loosen, or grow wet with sweat and loosen…
Severus found that he could transfer the memory of hearing the boy's skull crunch to Harry's skull with no trouble at all.
By the time Harry landed and walked towards him, dragging both his broom and his feet, Severus's anger and fear had frozen into a single large block. He nodded to Harry and waited for an explanation, not wanting to speak until he was sure which words would come out of his mouth.
"Why?" Harry asked, staring up at him. "I've done deadlier things in games."
"Not at such a high altitude, and not in such cold weather." Severus checked the clouds. Yes, more snow was drifting down. At least it hadn't been snowing when Harry actually flew. Severus struggled with his feelings for a moment and decided that he was more grateful for that than disappointed that he had lost one opportunity to scold Harry.
He turned to Harry, and found him already half-scowling at the ground, his hands balled into fists of his own, ready to fight back if he couldn't strike first.
Severus paused. The expression was an eloquent reminder of the kind of raising Harry had experienced, and the kind of scolding he expected. Mindless roaring for a cause Harry considered trivial and nonexistent—though Severus doubted the Dursleys would have been concerned over the boy's safety, the difference was unlikely to be visible to Harry—and then a punishment he didn't agree with but could do nothing about.
Harry had always been independent. He'd had no choice. And he had made his assessment of risks and the worth of his life likewise.
Severus waited for a few moments more, until Harry had shot him a cautious look, seeming to wonder where the yelling was. Draco, meanwhile, had landed his broom a few feet away from them and was looking back and forth between them as though he expected an explosion that would wipe them both off the face of the earth.
"I will always care when you do things that I consider particularly deadly," Severus said. The best thing he could do was explain, he decided, and then maybe Harry would understand why Severus was not in the mood to joke about this. "I saw a student die doing the same thing in my sixth year. There was no warning and no reprieve, no reason to think that particular rocking of the broom would kill him, but that is what happened."
Harry stepped back and stared up at him. "I'm a really good flyer."
"My instincts when I see you in danger do not make that differentiation," Severus said, his voice sharpening in spite of himself. "Even if you had only been wounded instead of killed, it would not matter. I do not want to see you hurt."
Harry's jaw dropped open. Then he closed it, and blinked, and scratched his hand through his hair. Severus was pleased to note that the undertone of resentment, or at least preparation to resent, had vanished from his face.
"I didn't know that," he said. "Or, I did know, but I didn't realize. I…" His voice trailed off, and they stood there looking at each other.
It pays off to be calm and reasonable after all. It is simply hard to do when my son is in danger. Severus took his hands out of his sleeves and knelt in front of Harry, gripping his shoulders. Harry tensed, and Severus suspected that his guardians had used a hold like this to shake him more than once. But he didn't move away, and Severus found the words.
"To see you wounded hurts me. To see you on the verge of dying hurts me. To see you take risks worries me, because I think it could lead to your wounding or your death." He searched Harry's face. "Do you understand?"
Harry bowed his head and nodded. "You're still going to punish me for this, aren't you?" he mumbled.
"Yes, I think I must," Severus said, but he didn't move away or stop touching Harry. "You will surrender a certain book to me, that we have discussed before." He didn't want to mention the exact nature of the book in front of Draco, in case that was a secret Harry had preferred to keep.
Harry opened his mouth as though to object, then closed it and frowned. He looked at his hands, then at his broom, as if it was more intelligent than he was and would tell him how to answer. This close, Severus could see his cheeks flutter with his breath and his throat bob as he swallowed.
Then he said, "All right. Fine."
"I also want you to promise me that you will not do that particular stunt on your broom again," Severus said. He made sure to keep his words calm, precise, measured, so that it would remind Harry of what he had just explained rather than his attempt to forbid Harry to do unknown spells.
Harry gave a little shuffling step. "But I thought giving up the book was my punishment for flying like that," he said, a hint of a whine in his tone.
"This is not a punishment," Severus said. "This is an attempt to ease my worry, and to keep your safe."
"Oh." Once again, Harry looked as though someone had stunned him with a blast of new understanding. Severus ground his teeth, but silently. Every time he was reminded of just how much Harry had been taught not to value his own safety, he wanted to destroy the Dursleys in a new and unexpected way. "All right. I won't, then."
Severus stood, maintaining eye contact with his son. That had been easier than he had expected. All he had to do was hold back his anger and frustration—something he was used to doing with callow students in any case—and then explain what he meant and why he was doing what he was doing.
He might not have had the raising of Harry from a baby, but that did not mean that he needed to forsake the hope of a powerful connection between them.
"Good," he said, and smiled, the half-smile that Harry seemed to feel most comfortable when he used. A full smile would have Harry ducking and checking him nervously for hours, as well as casting a spell he thought Severus didn't notice that was used to detect Cheering Charms. "I am glad you are well."
"So am I," Harry said, and smiled cautiously back.
With Draco at Harry's side, they went back into the school. Although it was still cold, Severus felt contentment wrapping him like a warm blanket.
Draco could hardly believe it, but the experiment that was Harry and Professor Snape's living together was actually working.
Then he reminded himself that he shouldn't be so surprised, since he had been the one who thought it would when Harry and the professor were dubious. Perhaps he should say that he was surprised it was working well.
He had left Hogwarts for a few days to be with his mother, and then had brought her back to the school, and Professor Snape's warded rooms, on Christmas Eve so that they could be with Harry and Professor Snape for the exchange of gifts. He had half-expected to find the professor's rooms covered with burned marks, or at least his potions cupboards empty of ingredients, because he knew Professor Snape had wanted to teach Harry the basics of brewing.
Instead, he found rooms that were still mostly intact, except for a mysterious melted patch on the couch in the drawing room that Harry covered with a pillow as Draco, trailed by his mother, marched in, and that none of them referred to again. Draco did try to sneak a look at it later, but someone always came—most inconveniently—into the room just when he thought he'd manage.
His mother had almost fully recovered from the torture, including the multiple Cruciatus Curses, that she'd suffered when she was prisoner in the Manor, and she could sit up and hold a cup of tea without her hands shaking, and hold long conversations without suddenly staring into the distance and losing the thread of the discussion. Draco was enormously proud of her, and kept glancing at Professor Snape until he noticed and nodded. He could see the difference, and he was proud of it, too.
But appearances could be deceiving, so Draco waited until his mum and the professor were deep in discussion of some people they'd known during the first war with the Dark Lord and then dragged Harry into the corridor. Harry laughed and leaned forwards, snogging him. Draco surfaced from that gasping and pleasantly dazed.
"Yes, I missed you, too," Harry muttered, leaning his head on Draco's chest. "And I don't think you needed to bring me all the way out here. I'm fairly sure our parents know that we kiss."
Draco smiled at the casual way Harry had said "parents," but decided not to draw attention to it, just in case Harry felt the need to be contrary. He locked his hands in front of his chest when Harry tried to kiss him again. "It's not that," he said. "I wanted to know how things are really going with you and your father."
Harry made a face and leaned against him once more, heavily enough to drive Draco into the wall. Draco didn't exactly mind. "It's not—I mean, we're not getting along horribly or anything. But sometimes whole hours pass where we hardly say anything to each other."
"That's normal," Draco whispered soothingly, running a hand through Harry's hair. He knew Harry worried about not doing things "normally" because he hadn't grown up with his parents and had no idea what it should be like. "My father and I would do that sometimes."
Harry stroked his hair in return. "You don't have to talk about your father if you don't want to."
"No, I think I'm done being silent," Draco said, surprising himself. "I mean, it was horrible that the Dark Lord made his head show up and speak to me, yes. But if I never talk about it, then it's as though that's my only memory of him that exists. I want other people to remember him differently, and I want to do the same thing. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded. "Of course. So you and your father would be in the same room and not talk to each other?"
"Yes," Draco said, eyes shut as he thought about it, remembering the evenings when Lucius would sit on one side of the fireplace and he on the other, both with books, and with no sound other than the turning of the pages. "Why not? We were enjoying each other's company, and we didn't need to make excuses for that."
"I never thought about Lucius Malfoy being a man who would just enjoy his son's company," Harry said, stroking the back of Draco's neck. "Tell me more?"
Draco knew Harry was partially indulging him, asking about a subject he might not have much interest in just so Draco could talk. But so what? All that meant was that he had a sensitive and thoughtful boyfriend, and other people didn't.
"I remember the time that he decided to brew a potion from a description he'd read in a book, without a precise recipe," Draco began. "I knew something was wrong when I started smelling burned hair from behind the door of his potions lab…"
He made Harry laugh with that story, and smile with the next, and so the hours slid past.
Harry licked his lips nervously and studied the presents arranged on the sleek oak table in the middle of Snape's drawing room. (Snape had conceded further to a Christmas celebration than Harry had thought he would, but refused to have a tree). He'd got a few things each for Narcissa, Draco, and Snape, and half of them were neutral gifts of the kind that you might get anyone. He hoped that was all right.
For that matter, he hoped his more exotic and personal presents were all right. He was really no good at this.
"Good morning, Harry."
Snape was suddenly behind him, just like that, with a quiet, deep greeting and a touch on his shoulder. Harry kept himself from starting with an effort and nodded to his father. "Good morning, sir."
Snape nodded back and sat down in one of the chairs spread around the table, making a complicated gesture at the fire. A tray appeared, borne by one of the kitchen elves, containing enough eggs, bread, porridge, toast, marmalade, milk, juice, kippers, and small sandwiches to feed an army of Death Eaters. Harry blinked at the tray as the elf vanished, wondering how all the food balanced on there, and then looked at Snape. "Surely we're not going to eat all that, sir?" He was accustomed to having breakfast late on Christmas day, and in the Great Hall.
"You are not about to skip meals," Snape said, in a severe tone. He picked up a plate he had somehow found buried under all the clutter and began pushing toast and eggs onto it with a large serving spoon.
Harry had to sit down and stare at the fire for a while. By the time he glanced up, Narcissa and Draco were already awake. Draco took the chair next to Harry's, giving him a sloppy kiss as he did so, and his mother took the chair next to his.
Narcissa and Snape insisted that they eat their breakfast before they opened the gifts. Draco pretended to agree, but rolled his eyes at Harry when he thought no one was looking.
"Don't do that to your eyes, Draco." Narcissa's voice was very calm, and she never looked up from her plate of more kippers than Harry would have thought one person could possibly stomach. "They need proper exercise."
Harry and Draco ate their breakfasts in chastened silence after that, and then reached for the gifts. Harry watched Snape's face and Draco's hands, and opened his gifts carefully, practically unwinding the paper, rather than in the frantic haste he usually would have used when he was with the Weasleys. He had to learn how to do everything over, how to fit in with people who had a lot of rules.
(Well, not everything. He'd already had Christmas with Ron and Hermione, receiving and giving books where Hermione was concerned and getting spare bristles for his broom from Ron. Harry had given Ron a practice Quaffle with a mind of its own, enchanted to go in a dozen different directions during a game. Ron had hugged him until his bones creaked and immediately started making plans about how he could use it against Slytherin. It was nice to know that some of his relationships really hadn't undergone a drastic change).
From Snape, he unwrapped a glittering vial of Felix Felicis, and then a book that he quickly recognized as a Potions journal. When he flipped through it, he found the Potions recipes from the Half-Blood Prince's book copied, without the dangerous spells.
He looked at Snape with a quick, jerking motion of his head, only to see Snape turn his eyes away in some determination. Harry wasn't sure if that was because Snape wanted to give him privacy for his reaction or needed privacy for his own, but he could give Snape what he needed to hear.
"Thank you," he whispered.
Snape looked back at him and nodded, face hiding whatever he felt at the moment. "I thought you could use the luck," he murmured, "with as much bad luck as you have."
Harry had to pretend to be absorbed in the book to hide the ferocious, demented grin that spread across his face.
From Draco, a ring with the Malfoy crest and a book of spells to keep him safe on his broom. Harry rolled his eyes over the book and slipped the ring on the third finger of his right hand. He could see from Draco's little darting glances that he was trying to figure out what that meant, if anything, and that was exactly why he'd put the ring there.
He did manage to sneak Draco one heated glance, letting him know that he'd thank him in detail for his gift later, and in private.
Narcissa's gifts were more practical—dragonhide boots, a long cloak treated with spells that would resist fire and falling stone—and made Harry both more comfortable and less sure about whether he should have given her the gift he did. He nodded to her after he opened each one, and she returned calm, placid expression, face like a still lake.
Harry watched out of the corner of his eye as people opened his less personal presents. He'd got clean vials for Snape, a silver necklace for Narcissa, and Quidditch gloves for Draco. Then Draco picked up the long, slim present Harry had wrapped in green and silver paper and shook it as though the sound would tell him something.
Harry held his breath, and hoped Draco couldn't hear the sloshing—or at least wouldn't figure out what it was if he did hear it.
Draco tore open the paper this time, ignoring his mother's disapproving frown. Then he took a deep breath and stared down at the vial in his lap, filled with a sparkling blue-purple liquid that tended to change color when it caught the light.
"Harry," he whispered, and tilted the vial back and forth. The light shone off what looked like crystals in the depths.
"How did you—" Snape began, and then fell silent, pursing his lips. Harry knew he was going to ask how Harry had brewed the potion or made off with it from Snape's private stores without notifying him, and had only then remembered that he could have bought it instead.
Harry indulged in his own eye-roll at his father and looked at Draco. "It's a memory enhancer," he said. "So you can relive the memories that you especially want to. It'll be like a Pensieve, but no one else can see it. There should be enough there for at least six doses," he added.
Draco was looking at him with half-lowered eyes, with an expression that Harry knew well. He smiled back, reassured. He had been almost sure that Draco would like the gift after what he'd said about Lucius last night, but it still could have gone wrong. He had a lot of unpleasant memories too, after all.
"Thank you," Draco whispered.
Harry smiled more broadly. "You're welcome."
After that, Narcissa took up the second small box that Harry had labeled as being for her and undid the paper, and even Harry's clumsy knots in the ribbon, with expert fingers, never taking her eyes from him. Harry tried to look calm and unconcerned, though he knew it was useless when Draco leaned over to him and whispered, "You're sweating."
Harry bit his lip and ended up looking down after all when Narcissa took the gift out of its box. He just wasn't used to this. Yeah, he gave gifts to Ron and Hermione and worried about what he got them, too, but his relationship with them was much more comfortable, much more equal. He hadn't thought five months ago that he'd ever have to worry about whether his boyfriend's mother liked her gift.
"It is exquisite."
That was a little reassuring. Harry sneaked a glance and found Narcissa turning the bracelet over and over in her hand. It was silver, like the necklace, since Draco had mentioned once that his mother liked silver. And it was in the shape of a broken chain.
"A most appropriate gift," Narcissa said, with a long glance at Harry and a small bow of her head before she slipped it over her wrist. Harry breathed out, surprised to find he was shaking.
"You're welcome," he said, and then turned to Snape.
Snape also unwrapped his square package without taking his eyes from Harry. That was a skill Harry would give a great deal to learn, he thought. He sat bolt upright now, and couldn't even move to take Draco's hand when he reached out.
"It is a journal," Snape murmured, turning over the slim black book inside the package. He sounded half-curious and half—Harry didn't know what. Then he opened the cover and glimpsed what Harry had written inside it.
His gaze at once came back to Harry's face. He didn't say anything. He didn't have to. He knew as well, from that one glimpse, what was written there as Harry did.
"Happy Christmas," Harry said, hands shaking as he leaned over to hug Snape's arm. He had written down a description of Dudley bullying him. That was all. It was only a beginning, and smaller than Snape had asked for, and Draco and Narcissa didn't have to know about it if Snape and Harry didn't want to tell them.
This next gift was more public, and therefore harder.
"Happy Christmas," Harry repeated, "Father."
Snape did nothing more than reach down and cover Harry's hand with his.
His other hand never stopped cradling the journal against his chest as if he thought it would vanish if he dropped it.
And his eyes burned.
When Harry felt Draco's touch on his free hand, he had to close his own eyes.
It would be senseless to say one moment made up for all the years of pain and agony that preceded it—to which had been added the recent grief of Albus's death, and the pain of knowing that he had not only never recognized, but had mistreated, and left open to the mistreatment of others, his son.
It did not make up for all that, hearing the word "Father" from Harry's lips. It did not render the other challenges that were to come toothless.
But it steadied and balanced and clarified, for Severus, it made an oasis in the desert, and he knew he would remember his son's hand on his arm and his nervous, careful words long after the other memories had begun to crisp and fade.