The smell of bacon roused him from sleep the following morning and he shuffled into the kitchen pyjama clad and bleary eyed.
"Merr' Chr'ssmas," Harry mumbled, handing over a card and grabbing a plate to load up on breakfast. He left aside anything that looked vaguely healthy, there was no room for grilled tomato on his plate when there were mounds of bacon and hash browns to eat.
Snape gave a gruff, "thanks," holding onto the card long enough for Harry to wonder whether he would comment on the fact that he had addressed it to 'Sir'. He said nothing however, merely sending it to sit on the mantelpiece before unloading half of Harry's plate onto his own and throwing on a decent amount of mushrooms and tomato. "I didn't intend for you to take the amount of food as a challenge."
"It's Christmas," Harry replied around a mouthful of bacon.
"That might mean eating until you throw up for that whale of a cousin of yours but I have no intention of watching you vomit, nor will I have any sympathy for you if you do."
"'M hungry. How long have you been up for?"
"Hours, Potter, I couldn't contain my excitement," he drawled lazily.
Harry sent a few curious looks at the pile of presents under the tree as he munched his way contentedly through the feast of a breakfast Snape had prepared. He'd put his own present for Snape under there, right at the back, before he'd gone to bed, but the amount of parcels under the heavily decorated tree seemed to have increased since then.
This Christmas was already shaping up to be the best he'd had yet; Christmas at Hogwarts was always great but there was something special about having one at home... The fact that he knew Snape didn't care about the season, that he'd gone to all this trouble just for Harry, because he'd said that he wanted to spend Christmas with him, that said a lot. He couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face even though it made it tricky to shove as much food in his mouth as he'd like.
"I kept the presents that were delivered for you over the last few days," Snape said, gesturing at the pile under the tree.
"I've already opened a load from Sirius and Remus, who are those even from?" he asked, craning his neck to look but resisting the urge to get up from his seat.
"Go," Snape replied, shooing him towards the tree and banishing the dirty dishes. "Most are from your friends, I believe."
Kneeling beside the tree amongst all the gifts, Harry reached for the first. "Weasley jumper!" he declared without even needing to unwrap it, but waiting until Snape had sat down to do so anyway. He immediately threw it on over his pyjamas, savouring the warmth. He was quite happy with his scarlet jumper, emblazoned with a massive H in gold, even if Snape was less enthusiastic about it.
"Huh? This one just says 'To the ward of Severus Snape.'" He handed it over for Snape to inspect.
"That's you, is it not? It's from the headmaster," he clarified, seeming pleased by the wording. Harry, on the other hand, was completely nonplussed by the odd message but he ripped the wrappings apart nonetheless. On the outside of the box was a happily waving stickman who merrily mimed climbing up a short wooden set of stairs and fixing his own noose before-
"Magic hangman? Does that mean it actually hangs itself?" Harry asked, wrenching the box open and trying to work out if he was grossed out by the gift or not.
"That man very rarely gets me a gift that tolerable, he finds it amusing to give me garish clothes or questionable sweets."
Harry made it his mission to dig out Snape's present from Dumbledore just to see how bad it would be. From the look on Snape's face it was as if he'd been told he had to award Gryffindor one hundred points and then spend Christmas with all the rest of them. He had in his hands a very warm and very furry set of earmuffs all in red and gold.
"Ha, do you think he knows you made me wear Slytherin dress robes?"
"You looked smart in your robes, these are a monstrosity," he said, throwing the earmuffs towards Harry and beginning his pile of presents which slowly expanded as he got through more and more of the gifts until there was only one left.
"Here." Severus unceremoniously sent the last box zooming toward the boy, scattering the pile of wrapping paper that had formed in the centre of the floor. He'd put a good deal of thought into his original present but considering Harry's attitude over Christmas he'd had a rather swift rethink, changing his mind at the last moment.
"You don't know what it is yet," he replied, rolling his eyes. In fact, he looked a lot like he did not want to know what it was, but after a moment, and with no small amount of apprehension, he began tearing off small shreds of paper. Severus was decidedly unimpressed when he tried to procrastinate further by tidying it all away. Though, when all was cleared aside there was nothing more impressive than a rather ragged old cardboard box.
"You know, if I was at the Dursleys this would just be empty and everyone would think it was hilarious." The smile on his face didn't quite reach his eyes as he toyed with the corner of the box. It was thoroughly disconcerting to see him so vulnerable and Severus had no desire to prolong the moment.
"I would not do that to you," he replied seriously, shifting to the closest seat on the sofa and, leaning down to open the box for him, revealed an array of odds and ends. The contents of the box were as thoroughly unimpressive as they looked but they were far from intended as a joke or an exercise in belittling the boy.
"Oh," Harry exhaled, kneeling up a little higher to look inside. "Was this all yours?"
"In a manner of speaking. Try not to let your excitement overwhelm you, it's not everyday I give out old rubbish from my house," he said sardonically. "The books were mine," he admitted, "I don't imagine you're terribly thrilled that I've put those in."
"I read," Harry replied indignantly, finally delving in and pulling out a book, flicking through the pages eagerly. He had the distinct impression he wasn't as enthralled with the story as he was with the history and Severus relaxed, but only minutely, wishing he didn't care quite so much what Harry thought of his gift.
"They aren't books about Quidditch," he mocked lightly, "they're mostly muggle ones, though there's a few wizard novels I picked up when I was a few years older than you. They may help to keep you entertained when I can't take you out."
Harry pulled each book out slowly, studying the covers carefully and forming a neat pile around him, which contrasted greatly with the haphazard pile of sweets and ill-chosen clothing from the headmaster. When he was content that he'd appreciated each tattered novel fully, he inspected the contents of the box once more.
It was a decidedly odd experience having the child root around in the objects of his past with such interest. It was as if he had the same respectful regard for the box that he had for Spinner's End, despite Severus' obvious contempt for it.
"Do you reckon this'll work here?" Harry asked, fiddling with the dials of an old muggle radio with much more enthusiasm than Severus had at his age.
"If you keep it in your room and don't do too much magic in there," he replied, slightly more cheered as Harry seemed absorbed in the box's contents once more.
"How old is it?"
"Quite a few years, but it should work well enough," he replied ambiguously, holding his hand out to get it working for him. Truth be told, he still wasn't keen on verbalising the events of his past but he was coming to understand Harry's curiosity and hoped that these few worthless objects might go some way to make up for his lack of explanation.
"What's this?" Harry held out a blank board, deep grey in colour and no bigger than one of Harry's textbooks. It appeared thoroughly normal; the enchantment on it was so old that it had almost completely faded and Severus had very nearly missed it as he'd scoured the attic for anything of interest.
"I believe you need to tap it with your wand to get the charm working."
He had, of course, tested it himself beforehand. He had some idea of what the Prince's had been like and wasn't about to let Harry get his hands on anything too powerful or dangerous. He had enough danger to contend with as it was and had no need of any more powerful artefacts, that cloak of his father's was proof enough of what a young man will get up to with powerful magic at his disposal. This was an object of little power but no doubt it would be of some use to Harry.
Seemingly Harry didn't agree, or didn't approve. "Did you enchant this?" he accused, waving the board under Severus' nose so that he had trouble reading it.
He snatched it from his grasp and held it still to find out what Harry found so objectionable. The board proclaimed in faded but ostentatious calligraphy that Harry ought to 'practice occlumency'. He could imagine why his own father would not have wanted such an item in his home, besides the fact that it was magical.
"If I want you to practice occlumency I don't need to charm a chalk board to tell you," he replied dryly, hiding his concern. The charm on it wasn't at all advanced but even after all these years it was effective and if it had decided that Harry's priority ought to be occlumency then it most likely had good reason.
"So this was yours as well then?"
"I hadn't seen it until I was looking for things to give you," he said with a shrug. "I can only assume it was my mother's and she put it aside before I was born."
"Are you sure you want to give it to me if it was your Mum's?" Harry asked, holding it with a good deal more care, as if Severus had just declared it an object of priceless value.
"An old chalk board that I had no idea existed until a few days ago? I'm sure I can bear to part with it."
"What's this last one at the bottom?" he asked, pulling out a small odd shaped stone. It was almost clear but it shone blue where it caught the light, and was no bigger than a large muggle marble.
"Ah, this I made," Snape said with a touch of pride. "Hold it in your hand. Collegare." He jabbed his wand sharply but stopped short of giving Harry a painful prod. "I have a corresponding piece. If you need me, tap it and say 'allerta Severus'."
"What does that do to yours?"
"It'll heat up, and if that doesn't get my attention then it'll emit a noise. If you need me to give you your potion or if you're in any danger and you aren't at home then use this so I know you need my help."
"I might as well just use Dobby."
"That elf is not discreet as we've discussed already."
Harry didn't want to seem ungrateful so kept his mouth shut. This wasn't what he had in mind when he said they needed a way to communicate; it was still completely one sided, how was he supposed to know if something had happened to Snape? He pocketed the little stone and flicked randomly through one of Snape's old books.
"You wrote in this one-"
"Did I?" he asked, whipping it quickly out of his grasp. "Ah, yes. I was rather prone at that age to writing comments in the margins of whatever I read, be it fiction or not."
"You're still prone to that now," Harry replied, thinking of the scathing remarks littered around his essays. "That's not about the book-" Harry chuckled, noticing a scrawl at the top of a page where Snape had written 'Gillen, can't spell his own name, an E in potions?' but Snape snatched it out of his hands before he could see too much more and began flicking rapidly through the pages himself.
"Mm, there's nothing too offensive in this one. Stop trying to find comments in the margins," he said, summoning another out of Harry's grasp.
"I want to see what you were writing when you were a teenager. I can't imagine you being young."
"I'm not yet forty," Snape replied as if offended.
"You're not erasing bits are you?" He leaned over to see and all he got was a glare for his trouble as Snape slid his wand delicately down the edge of a page.
"Not everything I wrote is for your eyes. You do not wish to hear me criticise your father, do you? I very much doubt you want to read it on the side of these pages either. My notes in fiction tended not to be about the story unless it was particularly badly written. Are we finished?" he asked, glancing under the tree.
"No," Harry replied nervously. "I've still got to, er- give you your present. Thanks for all this by the way," he said, waving an arm to encompass the gifts that had already managed to make their way all over the room.
"I didn't think you would appreciate having anything else bought for you this Christmas."
"This is better. But you did say you'd bought something, you know, right when I first arrived."
"Hmm? Oh, yes. I gave that to Draco," he said, his tone careless.
"Ha ha," Harry replied, his voice thick with sarcasm. "I really do want to say thanks-"
"You did, just now."
"Right. You're hard to buy for, so I don't know if you'll like it," Harry said, reluctantly handing his present over.
"You needn't have gotten me anything," he answered, slicing the wrapping paper neatly and efficiently.
"Uh, you said before that you didn't have one but you didn't say you didn't want one," Harry struggled to explain before the wrappings fell off and he could judge it. "When you showed me your postcards you just said you lived alone," Harry continued, his face reddening suddenly in embarrassment, surprised at the speed Snape had managed to get the little package open.
"But I don't live alone now." He studied the muggle camera as he pulled it out of the box, his expression impassive, and Harry couldn't tell whether or not it was good enough.
"I figured you'd know how to make the potion to make the pictures move if you wanted to," Harry said, fidgeting slightly as Snape continued to inspect his gift.
"I do." He looked carefully at the little rolls of film before popping one expertly into the camera and shutting the back with a snap. A moment later, there was a click and a flash that had Harry jumping back in annoyance.
"It is mine to use, is it not?" he smirked. His relief that Snape hadn't laughed or sneered at the gift made it hard to be annoyed, not that he really thought he would do that to him; Snape was decent really, when you got used to him.
Despite the fact that it was Christmas day Snape had harassed him to be warmly dressed and presentable as soon as they were finished with the gifts. Harry hadn't known what to expect from Snape when he asked to spend the holidays with him, but he might have known Snape wouldn't be content to stay at home and take a single day to relax.
He was spared from falling face first onto a foot of snow by Snape's firm grip, but despite the fact he was still on his feet the apparition felt more jarring than usual. He swallowed back the taste of bacon that was far less pleasant having come back up and stepped out of Snape's hold.
"Where are we?" The wind was somehow even colder than in the frost covered garden of their new house and the snow had fallen in a thick, heavy layer upon the ground. It was either way out in the middle of nowhere or the snow had just stopped falling, as the ground was a pure white canvas that Harry was struggling not to launch himself into.
"Not far from Hogwarts, I understand you're quite fond of the snow."
Harry grinned at that, warmed by the thoughtfulness, but his mind quickly jumped to the charmed snow that was falling the day before at Remus' and his grin faded. Almost unconsciously, of their own volition, his lips were moving, voicing something that he'd never considered asking aloud.
"Do you think my Dad would be ok with this, with me living with you?" he blurted all of a sudden. He regretted the words instantly but he could no more erase them than he could have held them back.
After a moment of complete silence, Snape replied with an even 'no'. "I think your father would want more for you but he would be grateful there was someone to take you from your relatives."
"He would hate that it was you though, just like Sirius does."
"When Black went to Azkaban he did not know I had changed sides. He has spent twelve years in Azkaban nursing his grief and his hatred and he has not matured in the slightest. I stand by what I said yesterday, he is a child and a fool," he declared scornfully. "When James Potter died, he did so protecting his son. He would not take this away from you, he would only wish for better."
"That almost sounds like you're saying something nice about my Dad," he said, wrapping his cloak tighter about him to keep out the cold.
"I'm well aware that your Father possessed good qualities, it is arguable that even the worst of us have good qualities," Snape replied, waving his wand in a familiar pattern as he strode across the clearing.
"What's Voldemort got then?"
"The Dark Lord-"
"I'm not calling him that, he isn't my Dark Lord," he replied stubbornly.
"Then call him You-know-who. He is an exceptional wizard, it's the use he puts it to that is evil." He couldn't feel it but he almost thought he could see the wards shimmer in the cold air as Snape set them.
"Being clever isn't a good quality," Harry countered, stamping his feet to try to keep them warm. If he had known he would be on a freezing snow covered mountain, he might have considered another pair of socks.
"Miss Granger would disagree."
"I don't like her because she's clever. What are we even doing here?"
"I decided that seeing as I had you for the day, you could accompany me while I gather ingredients," Snape answered with a hint of a smile, echoing the phrasing he'd used the day he took him to the beach over the summer.
"What are you gathering? Snow?" Harry scoffed.
"Idiot," Snape replied, sending a great glob of it barrelling straight into him.
"Oi!" Harry determinedly balled up some snow and tossed it back at Snape, who dodged it with ease. He regretted it a moment later when the tree he was standing under shed all the snow from its branches right on top of his head.
"You aren't going to win this, Potter."
"Snape!" he huffed, brushing himself off.
"What do you need to consider when escaping from an attack in the snow?" Snape asked, serious now, stalking around him in a wide circle, wand trained on his chest.
"That it's bloody cold and I shouldn't have let you apparate me up a mountain." he replied, using a drying charm on the inside of his robes where snow had slipped under his collar. He sighed as he ducked a stinging hex from Snape. "Alright! It's icy, so I'd probably fall over running away, aaaaaand... footprints! They'd see my footprints."
"Don't sound so proud of yourself, it wasn't a difficult question. Watch," Snape ordered, performing a spell to obliterate his footprints as he circled Harry.
"You'd think I'd get a day off at Christmas."
"You've got ten seconds. Hide," he commanded, ignoring the comment. "Keep the clearing in sight, don't go out of the wards."
"Kill or capture?" Harry asked, pulling out his wand to obliterate his footprints as soon as Snape's back was turned.
"Kill. I land a hex and you're dead. Go."
He knew that Snape intended for him to keep moving but the crunch of snow under his feet was certain to draw his attention. He kept low, crouching quickly from behind rocks and darting to bushes, every sound making him wince. He lost sight of Snape as he crept and stopped occasionally to listen for the sound of another pair of feet in the snow. It was probably pointless, Snape had this irritating ability to glide silently whenever he wanted to, most of the time when he was patrolling the castle at night.
As he scanned the area behind him he jumped, spotting black amongst the trees. His gasp was likely what drew his attention, but he was ready to sprint the moment Snape raised his wand. He knew that he could have caught up with him if he'd wanted, but Harry could tell he wasn't directly followed across the clearing, although he wouldn't have long until Snape appeared just as silently as before.
Glancing about determinedly, he made a decision, climbing with difficulty up the nearest tree, irritated there weren't many great big knots to pull himself up on and gasping as his shoes slipped across the icy trunk. Once he was perched securely he had to be careful not to move from where he sat, as the slightest movement sent a sprinkling down to the ground that Snape would be sure to spot. Annoyingly, that meant that Harry's view was extremely limited, which proved to be is downfall a few moments later as Snape strolled easily to the foot of the tree.
"Oh, very clever." He sent a weak hex in Harry's direction to end the game. "Get down," he challenged, waiting with his arms folded below him. "Where did you plan on going from there?"
"Nowhere," Harry replied, attempting to ease himself back down the trunk and failing to get purchase. "I'd try and hex you first then hop down -or fall down- when I got you." He frowned, and seeing no safe way down he decided his best bet would be to hold onto the branch and drop and hope he didn't lose his grip.
"If there is no escape from your hiding place then it should be a last resort," Snape replied, catching him by the front of his robes and hauling him down safely onto the snow.
"If I was old enough to apparate then I'd just do that, wouldn't I?"
"And if the Dark Lord has put up anti-apparition wards? If you're taken to a warded house or you're at Hogwarts and in trouble? You need to be able to use your brain."
"Indeed. What spell is the most likely to be used if someone wants to capture you?"
"Doesn't stop you running."
"I wasn't done. Petrificus Totalus or stun, I guess."
"The stunning spell. Petrificus Totalus can have quite damaging consequences on a falling figure and if they're capturing you then they want you alive, preferably not suffering from brain damage." Snape raised his wand and nodded for him to get moving again.
"Hold on, you aren't actually going to stun me are y-"
He blinked in the harsh light, taking a moment to realise he was staring straight up at the sun.
"Hey!" he complained hazily, struggling to sit up in the cold snow.
"It was a stupid question," Snape announced above him. "You lose consciousness in a battle, Harry, and the only way you'll wake up is in the hands of your enemy."
Harry shifted contentedly further into the warmth of the couch. With the fire on one side and a wall of cushions on the other, he was more than comfortable, and there was a strong possibility he'd drop off to sleep at any moment. He'd been stunned a fair few times that day, and when he returned he had been drenched from where he'd repeatedly fallen in the snow. Snape had been unrelenting and unsympathetic, insistent that if he didn't like it he would learn to deflect or dodge. Harry decided he deserved a lazy evening and he wasn't moving away from the fireplace in a hurry, not after spending all day stumbling in the freezing cold snow.
Snape seemed to be enjoying Harry's present a good deal more than he would admit as the pair of them sat back on the couch, watching the little figure wave and step closer and closer to his doom while his gallows slowly constructed itself.
"Is this a word I even know?" he asked, crossing his arms suspiciously. Snape had taken to picking words he suspected Harry couldn't spell or had never even heard of before just so he could win, or maybe just so he could watch the little figure hang himself, which he seemed to find amusing.
"I have no intention of limiting my own vocabulary to match yours, perhaps you'll learn something."
Harry grumbled quietly under his breath, stretching ridiculously to reach the post that the fire had just coughed out so that he didn't have to stand. Only in the last few days had they started getting letters through to this house and he wasn't sure how Snape was managing it. Letters couldn't floo themselves after all. But what was far more intriguing was why he thought it was necessary all of a sudden. He waved his wand over the bundle as Snape had taught him before picking it up and passing it to his guardian, who awaited it with his hand outstretched.
"No..." Snape replied, passing over a letter but pausing to smirk as the figure took another step forwards and the noose settled into place.
Harry gave the envelope a single glance before chucking it aside. "Y?"
"No." This time, when Snape looked up to watch the toy his gaze fell on the letter that Harry had tossed onto the table. "You aren't going to open it?"
"I know who it's from," Harry muttered, frowning as he tried to puzzle out Snape's word.
"You seemed to have been enjoying the day yesterday," he replied conversationally, knowing full well that the letter was from Sirius.
"Yeah, until he went and tried to ruin everything."
"You'll forgive him that," he commented from behind his own letter.
"What?" Harry looked up, surprised and not a little annoyed. "You hate Sirius, since when are you on his side?"
"I'm not saying you should but I know that you will. You aren't one to hold a grudge; you forgave me, did you not?"
"Because you took me in twice and because of everything you've done for me!" Harry replied heatedly, sitting up straighter on the couch. "He said he would be okay with me living with you, he knows this means a lot to me and he still tried to ruin everything."
Harry's agitation distracted Snape enough from the parchment that he lowered it slightly and replied calmly, "Black was entirely thoughtless, but he was trying to hurt me and I assure you he isn't capable of sabotaging our situation."
"Yeah, but it's not like everything's set in stone, is it?" he said, settling back into the chair once more. "I don't want things to go back to the way they were."
"I'm a man of my word, there is nothing he could say that would stop me being your guardian." Snape didn't put the letter down, but neither did he take his gaze from Harry, as if he wanted to be certain that the conversation was taken care of before he could go back undisturbed to his reading.
"I'm not saying you would kick me out but it's not like you're officially stuck with me, you know, for good."
Something about his wording must have irked Snape. "Just because you are not adopted, it does not mean your position here is any less permanent." He shook his head, as if to clear it of those thoughts, unrolled the parchment further, and said absently. "Regardless, we cannot discuss adoption. Not that it would make the slightest difference."
To hear it said so bluntly was a blow. He felt winded, that Snape could so easily and carelessly refuse a notion he'd barely been brave enough to entertain, and in the same breath insist that to adopt him would even be meaningless, hurt. A lot. He stared down at his fingers, suddenly ashamed to have wanted to spend Christmas with his teacher, childishly pretending they were even close to being some sort of family.
"We cannot discuss it because I need to be able to take up my position as spy when the time comes," Snape said slowly, in the lengthy silence, as if it was odd that he should have to explain something so obvious. When he didn't immediately get a response, he abandoned the reading of his letter completely, putting it aside to turn his full attention on Harry, who reddened under his troubled stare.
"So if... if you didn't have to spy...?" Harry said finally, leaving the question unfinished, looking up to meet Snape's gaze.
"The plan is to act as though you are still living mainly with your relatives so that the Dark Lord believes you to be under protection of the blood wards. If he finds out that you no longer have them, then the fact that no one knows where you are will be an additional layer of protection that I will not forfeit."
Harry heard the implied no and looked away. "Right."
"It does not matter either way," Snape asserted, leaning forward slightly so that Harry could not ignore him completely.
But Harry wasn't interested in avoiding his gaze any longer. "Yes, it does. Of course it matters," Harry spat with something akin to disgust. "If you don't want to adopt me that's fine but-"
Snape abruptly raised his hand, cutting him off. "I did not say that I didn't want to adopt you."
Harry scoffed, once more unable to control the words that came spilling out. "I can't even get you to say you like me more than Malfoy!"
"Because it should go without saying!" he snapped, raising his voice for the first time before visibly reigning himself in. "I had hoped that one day it would. It is an imagined rivalry born out of insecurity, I did not want to be in a position where I would need to constantly reassure you every time you felt threatened."
Severus gritted his teeth in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. He couldn't quite believe he had been so foolish as to say the word aloud and raise the topic.
"Enough. I refuse to believe that you didn't realise that I would not be able to adopt you. This arrangement is a secret for your protection, if I were to adopt you things would become rather more public than is in your interest."
"I wasn't asking you to adopt me, you just went ahead and said that you weren't going to and that it wouldn't mean anything anyway."
"That is not what I said. You assume as much because it is easier for you to accept to take the most negative interpretation and believe that I do not want you, than to consider that I was stating a fact. I cannot adopt you now. And it does not matter, Harry, because I do not require the ministry's permission to consider you my son," he clarified fiercely.
That declaration appeared to be slightly too much, overwhelming might have been the word most appropriate. "You- um- what?" Harry replied uncertainly, looking far more lost than he had even a moment before.
They both started as the floo flared unexpectedly and Severus felt no small amount of pride at the speed at which Harry had the Headmaster's floating head at wand point. He swallowed back a self-satisfied smirk and pushed down Harry's arm as he stepped smoothly in front of him to greet the Headmaster and invite him in.
He rounded on Harry with a stern look, knowing they only had a scant few seconds before he came through.
"If I ask you to leave the room, then do so. Do not argue with me in front of the Headmaster." The last thing he wanted was the Headmaster's ill-timed appearance to result in public histrionics on the boy's part. He let his gaze linger on the child for a moment but he seemed to be pulling himself together, enough at least to manage a quick visit from the Headmaster.
"Merry Christmas, my boys! I should applaud your decorating skills as well as your reflexes Harry, I'd never have thought to see Severus' home so festive," he cheerily announced in all his Christmas finest. His robes were even louder than he was as he stepped out of the grate and Severus openly shook his head, horrified at the green and red robes, but even more so at the snowflakes that were tumbling across the fabric. All he needed was to be edged in tinsel and then he officially could not get any worse.
"Have you been enjoying the holidays?" he asked Harry, his eyes twinkling in that Grandfatherly way of his. Severus excused himself to prepare the tea, letting Harry deal with the pleasantries while he considered whether the Headmaster would be bringing him news of the investigation. It would be just like the man to floo in merely to exchange Christmas greetings and a cup of tea as if it were any other year and Severus was once more alone in his quarters, enjoying a well-earned break from the other occupants of the castle.
He finished swiftly and made to join the pair of them, fervently hoping Harry had dealt with the small talk, but at the sound of Harry's low and earnest tone Severus paused in the doorway, suspicious. "Are you sure they can't arrest him without any evidence?" He hadn't noticed Severus surface from the kitchen, focused as he was on the Headmaster's reply.
"Yes, I am," Albus answered simply. Severus cleared his throat and Harry caught his eye, staring straight back at him and refusing to look in the slightest bit guilty.
"Thank you, Severus. Harry here was showing me the camera he bought you for Christmas."
"Was he now?" he replied coldly, not taking his eyes from Harry who was masterfully ignoring him to show the Headmaster which way up the device should be held.
"Where would you prefer? By the fire or in front of the tree?" the Headmaster inquired pleasantly, still holding the camera as if it were a foreign object.
"Tree?" Harry asked as he stood.
"What?" He was confused for a moment, the question not lining up with the conversation that had gone before. "No- Harry, sit. I prefer not to be the subject." That this was becoming an uncomfortable social visit was not lost on him and he was eager to get to the point.
"Now, now, Severus," the Headmaster chided lightly. "I know you'll want to remember your first Christmas together, you did say-"
"Alright!" he snapped, changing tack immediately, not wanting to be reminded of anything he may have said, especially not in front of Harry.
He bent down to the child's level as he stood beside him. "You are in trouble."
"Severus," the Headmaster said impatiently. He heaved a put-upon sigh as he straightened, yanking Harry closer and resting a hand on his shoulder. The moment the shutter clicked, he summoned the camera, which he had quite enjoyed the use of until it was turned against him, and stashed it away in his own room, where not even Harry's disobedient spirit would lead him to venture.
"It's been a long evening and Harry was on his way to bed. I'll be with you in a moment, Headmaster," he said, needlessly draping his words in the polite lies people were accustomed to hearing in these social situations.
"I was clear with you, I did not want you to know about the auror's investigation into myself," Snape growled, banging open Harry's wardrobe with more force than was strictly necessary and chucking Harry's pyjama's in the general direction of his head. "You knew what that meant. How dare you attempt to get information from the Headmaster?"
"I didn't ask for specifics." Snape paused in the act of shutting the curtains to give Harry a dark look.
I do not require the ministry's permission to consider you my son. You wouldn't think, to look at him now, that those words had been said. He'd stopped striding about the room and had settled into his looming stance, his usual angry scowl in place... He was always angry with him, almost always at least. Maybe he hadn't meant it like it sounded, perhaps he'd meant that one day he could think of him like that and the ministry's opinion on it wouldn't make a difference... Or maybe that even, Harry didn't like to think of it, but that, if he did adopt him, it wouldn't make him care about him as if he were his son.
"About what you said earlier..." Harry started, his tone guarded, but trailed off at the expression on Snape's face. Almost immediately he realised that he'd cut the man off mid-flow and Severus Snape was not a man who was accustomed to being ignored, even if, by now, he must have gotten used to being interrupted. He could only shrug weakly as Snape went from indignant to understanding.
"Do not doubt that I meant it."
Harry could not doubt his sincerity but the concept was too foreign to consider, it was too much to hope for and he shook his head, not sure what he was denying but choosing instead to focus on the matter at hand.
"Then I'm not sorry," he declared boldly. "If you want me to believe you care about me, then you should understand why I needed to ask Dumbledore. I know the aurors suspect you and I know you're worried, how can I not be concerned?"
"There is nothing to be gained from you knowing every detail, you have enough responsibility as it is," Snape replied, parroting the same reply as usual. "Concern yourself with occlumency, your training and avoiding being killed whenever you are not in this house. I think that's rather enough for a child of your age to deal with on top of their school work."
"Who cares about schoolwork?" he replied incredulously. "I'm not a child, you don't need to pretend everything is alright. You don't do that, you agreed that not knowing something doesn't make it go away."
"You know the facts and when the situation changes you will know about it, but I will not add to the burden on your shoulders by telling you every detail or every difficulty I may face along the way." Snape's expression was determined and Harry knew he would not be easily steered from his course. "There is no if either, I would hope that I've made it more than clear that I care about you."
"I know you care about me, I've lived with people who couldn't care less whether I lived or died, so it's not hard to tell the difference. I wasn't questioning that," he denied, choosing to leave what he was questioning unsaid. "Either way, I get to care about you too and I wasn't about to go to bed while you chat to Dumbledore, then wake up and find out you've been arrested."
"I'm not going to be arrested-" Snape huffed out in exasperation.
"I know, that's what I asked Dumbledore," he replied, aware that his words would have sounded more than a little insolent.
There was a polite but crisp knock at the door, cutting off whatever Snape was about to say next.
"I don't mean to interrupt my boys, but I was beginning to worry that I was waiting in the wrong room..." Even Harry wasn't fooled in the slightest by Dumbledore's words, he was certain that either he knew the pair of them were arguing and wanted to put an end to it, or he had something urgent to discuss with Snape. Harry would have bet all the gold in his vault that it was the latter.
"Merry Christmas Harry. I trust you enjoyed yourself?" Dumbledore said, bidding him goodnight.
"It's been great. Did I thank you for the hangman?"
"You're very welcome. I'm glad the two of you have been able to put it to use, so many of my gifts seem to go to waste. Ah, and I recognise another of them here," he smiled, his eyes twinkling in that all-knowing way of his as he glanced at Harry's almost offensively yellow pyjama top.
"It's sort of my pyjamas now," Harry replied, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment but instinctively clutching it to his chest.
There was an awkward silence as the Headmaster looked pointedly between them, waiting for one or the other to say their goodnights. Snape met his gaze with a steady look of his own, clearly not willing to have any interaction under his scrutiny. The moment the Headmaster gave them their space Snape crooked a finger at Harry, impatiently summoning him over and surprising him by enveloping him in a brief one-armed hug. "You feel reassured now?" he asked quietly, so as not to let Dumbledore hear.
"Yes," he decided, remembering the Headmaster's confident assurance.
"Don't mention it again and we'll let that be an end to it," he said firmly, holding him that little bit tighter for a split second before letting him go. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Harry replied weakly.
He picked a book off Harry's desk and put it in his hands. "Read before you sleep, occlude your mind, and I will see you in the morning."
"Did I interrupt something this evening?" the Headmaster asked as Severus shut and warded Harry's door. He wasn't foolish enough to presume that Harry would not take to eavesdropping if he thought he could get away with it.
"I hadn't quite finished your letter, I wasn't expecting a visit."
"I did not want to ruin your first Christmas together but the matter is urgent." He took a lengthy moment to gather his thoughts or to allow Severus to prepare himself for their discussion. Either way, he found the pause profoundly irritating. "The ministry, quite like yourself, has been putting a great deal of pressure on me to take some action after this latest attack."
"The answer to that is obvious," Severus replied immediately. "Replace Moody; tell the aurors what I told you."
"Tell the aurors that their prime suspect has accused a well-respected ex-auror? You have no evidence and although I have the greatest of faith in you, even I find the idea rather far-fetched. How did Cornelius put it? Ah, a 'continual lack of action' has forced them to take matters into their own hands."
"What are they threatening to do now? They aren't suggesting you close Hogwarts until the perpetrator is caught...?"
"They are calling for your suspension," the Headmaster answered bluntly.
The all too familiar stab of fear pierced his chest. He could not face the prospect of abandoning Harry in that castle, not after what happened just a few weeks earlier. The sight of him bloody and broken on those stairs rose too often in his memories as it was.
"Hogwarts is not under ministry control, they have no right to interfere."
"The ministry has convinced the board of governors that your refusal to take veritaserum or give up your memories puts you under suspicion and that until you submit to questioning you cannot hold the position of Potions Master." The fact that the Headmaster appeared both sincerely apologetic and concerned did nothing to placate him.
"You cannot be serious..." he hissed.
"I am absolutely serious. We must do what we can in the days we have left, otherwise I will have no choice but to suspend you until your innocence is proven."
"You are jeopardising Harry's safety to satisfy the aurors! Question Moody again, at the very least send us both from the castle."
"This is not what I want, Severus, but we have time to find a solution."
He paced in front of the fire, taking a moment to think. The Headmaster was right, there was still time. He needed to wring a confession from that man, or convince Albus completely in order to remain in the castle. It was doable, he knew who the culprit was, and there was no need for blind panic or a frenzied search.
"I will return to the castle in two days when Harry leaves for the Weasley's," he announced finally, utterly determined. He had no intention whatsoever of moving out of the castle. He would convince the Headmaster or wrest a confession from that man before Harry stepped foot in that castle once more. There was not a chance in hell that Harry would return to school with his attacker present and with Severus miles away, unable to help him.
The Weasleys celebrated Christmas just how he imagined they would; the table was still laden with leftovers from what looked like an amazing Christmas dinner that he was almost sorry to have missed, and the house was alive and bustling with post-Christmas excitement and anticipation for the New Year. Ron was eager to show him how a wizarding Christmas was done, either because he thought Harry hadn't had one this year or because he was attempting to show him that he could keep his secret and act like he had been at the Dursleys this past week. Whichever was the case, Harry appreciated the effort, he half expected to be on the receiving end of all the questions he hadn't answered on the train home and was grateful his best mate was acting normal.
He'd worn his new Weasley jumper as a thank you for having him over and also for the gift itself, which turned out to be a good idea as he'd only been there a few hours before the twins suggested they go out for a game of quidditch and he realised he'd gone and left his winter coat at home. Mrs Weasley clucked disapprovingly and nagged at the lot of them to dress warmly, reminding him oddly of Snape, though he'd never dare mention it. The look on his face wouldn't make it worth it if he had to scrub out his cauldrons for the rest of the Christmas holidays.
He realised how much he missed Quidditch this year as he soared across the garden, catching the quaffle by just the tips of his fingers and launching it back at George. Part of him had been worried he'd get rusty if he didn't have a chance to practice before next years game, another part of him wondered who Snape would root for if he was on the pitch...
When they came back in, hungry and exhausted, he was pleasantly surprised to see that Hermione had arrived already, having chosen to wait for them inside instead of traipsing out into the cold to fly in the freezing weather. He would have been the first to concede that she might have had the right idea as his hand had very nearly frozen to his Firebolt, and he had a moment of panic when he landed and he doubted his icy fingers would peel off the broom.
Hermione followed the pair of them up to Ron's room where they tossed spare gloves and scarves, but the moment the three of them were alone he realised that Ron had merely held off his questioning until he had back up.
"So," he said, rounding on him expectantly, "what have you been doing?"
"Nothing as interesting as you guys. How was your Christmas Hermione?" he asked in a futile attempt to deflect attention elsewhere.
"Come off it," Ron snorted at the same time as Hermione whispered, "did you see Sirius?"
"Fine, yes," Harry admitted ungraciously, hoping that would make them believe this was the big secret that he hadn't wanted to admit.
"Well, how has it been? He's not still in that cave you mentioned, is he?" Ron asked.
"I don't see him there."
"It must be nice to see him, to have someone else to go to in the holidays," Hermione tried gently, a tone that Harry found got on his nerves.
"Mmm," Harry agreed, imitating Severus' mannerisms.
"There must be something you can tell us... Are you still training, you know, because of the prophecy?" Ron asked, lowering his voice so Harry had to lip-read.
"A bit. I practice tactics and stuff and I'm still doing occlumency," he murmured with a shrug, as if it was not all that important.
"But it's not Sirius who's teaching you?" Hermione questioned shrewdly.
Harry sighed, tired of dodging their questions. "Both of you, can you just stop? If I can tell you something, I will. I've only got a couple of days here, can we just enjoy them?"
"What can you tell us then?" Ron asked impatiently.
"Well," Harry considered, weighing his words carefully. "They reckon it was Moody that tried to kill me but they don't have proof."
"Who reckons that?" Ron's face was screwed up in disbelief. "From what I heard they're pretty sure it's Snape."
"Dumbledore knows it wasn't Snape and it's a good thing too or no-one would have bothered looking for whoever did try and kill me."
"How do we know it wasn't him?" Ron replied stubbornly.
"If he wanted to off me then he would have done it over the summer." He tried his best not to sound too frustrated. "I'm just saying that it probably was Moody, so we should be careful."
"Of all the people in the castle... You know he's an ex-auror and he's pretty in with Dumbledore."
"He's got a reputation for being mental as well," Harry snapped, all the more supportive of Snape's theory the more Ron questioned it.
"Yeah? And Snape's got a reputation for being a Death Eater!"
"Maybe we should be careful of both of them, just in case," Hermione suggested, interrupting what could have been a long and drawn out argument. "I don't suppose there's anything else you can tell us?"
"I'd tell you everything but I can't right now, can we just enjoy Christmas?" he pleaded, looking from one to other. "Also, Fred asked if I'd try one of their new mince pies, I don't want to agree to that, do I?"
"No, and don't let Mum hear a word about it; she'd be livid if she knew they were still messing with all that. Avoid Percy if you can, I don't want to listen to him go on about his job any more..." Ron complained, leading them back downstairs where, despite Ron's best attempts to escape, they became caught up in a long winded lecture on Percy Weasley's 'Great Memo Calamity' of the week before.
They stayed up chatting about nothing in particular, half watching Bill and Ginny who were engaged in a heated Gobstones match, and half watching Fred and George who were building an exploding snap pyramid on top of one of Percy's 'important work documents'. The ensuing arguments were more than enough entertainment for the evening, but they all cleared promptly off to bed when Percy threatened to explain exactly why cauldron bottoms were such a hot topic at the ministry these days. When Harry finally climbed into bed that night, stuffed full of good food thanks to Mrs Weasley's amazing cooking, he was barely disturbed by Ron's quiet snoring filling the room as he did his best to clear his mind before he let sleep take him too.
He awoke with a jolt, his scar burning and his heart beating a painfully fast rhythm. Scrambling out of his bed, half falling onto Ron's as his foot twisted in his covers, he searched blindly for his stone and his glasses. Through the pain and his panic a manic euphoria surged through him, a rush of joy and anticipation that was not his own.
"I can't find my glasses-" Harry hissed quietly. He felt wide-awake but struggled to think clearly through the pain. He needed Snape, he needed his potion and he had to tell him about his dream- something about a potion being ready...The details were fading fast and he was couldn't push through the burning and the roiling confusion of emotions that weren't entirely his own.
"It's the middle of the night, why do you need your glasses?" Ron grumbled, rolling over and squinting at Harry in the dark.
"Allerta Severus," he whispered, quiet enough that Ron shouldn't be able to catch it even if he was fully awake. "Accio glasses!"
"Where are you going?" Ron hopped out of bed as Harry struggled to get his Weasley jumper over his pyjamas.
"I need a potion for my head," he said, smothering a groan of pain, his breathing irregular. "And I need to speak to Sn- Dumbledore- someone- about something."
"Is this to do with You-Know-Who? Have you had another vision? My Mum and Dad will know what to do."
"No, I don't need your parents, I need Snape. I'm just- where's my cloak?" He pulled things haphazardly from his backpack with one hand as the other instinctively went up to his scar. "I'm going to floo to his, I'll come back," he said through gritted teeth.
"We've got potions here-" Ron replied, not lowering his voice even though they were out on the landing.
"Shhh! Snape has a potion for my head, gah."
"Mate, you're not thinking clearly," Ron hissed back at him, following him down the stairs. "Fine, you want Snape, he might be on patrol or something, we should check where he is on the map."
"Why would he be at the castle?"
"He's always at the castle in the holidays. Where's your map?" Ron asked, blocking his path. "Just let's have a look first, summon it and I'll move." Harry relented because he could barely stand, let alone reason or argue his point. Snape was probably asleep, he wouldn't feel the stone right away, he wouldn't be able to get here quickly... "Look! Look! He's in his office with Dumbledore."
"Why is he-?" Harry asked, snatching the map and staring down at it, shaking his head. It didn't matter, he needed to see Snape and now he knew where he was.
"Harry, I think you've gone mental, I'm not just going to let you floo out to see Snape in the middle of the night." Ron made a grab for the floo powder before Harry could get to it. "He's the one they think has been trying to kill you. What was this vision about anyway?"
"Ron, my head." He took a breath, trying to make some sense out of his thoughts. "Snape has a potion for it. I need it and I need to tell someone about this vision now." He tried desperately not to claw at his forehead, scrunching his hand into a painful fist to distract himself from his scar.
"Don't you need to occlude-?"
"I can't occlude, if I could occlude I wouldn't have had a vision and I wouldn't need my potion!" he snapped, pulling his wand out to summon the floo powder.
"Fine, we'll go," Ron said, making up his mind and holding tighter to the little pot as if he could tell what Harry was thinking of doing.
"We're not going, I'm going. You go back to bed."
"Have you seen yourself? You won't make it over there without help. Call Dobby."
"Can't, he's not discreet, Snape wouldn't like it," Harry replied, no longer caring if his replies made any sense.
"Make room under there," Ron said, slipping under the cloak with Harry and scanning the map. "Are we even going to be able to get into Hogwarts by floo?"
"Why not? We'll go in by Snape's rooms," Harry muttered, grabbing a handful of floo powder while Ron was distracted.
"Are you mad!?" Ron impressively managed to whisper-shout in his ear.
"He's in his office, you aren't going to get into trouble." He dragged in a harsh breath, his emotions were entirely his own but the pain hadn't relented and he was struggling to see as little dots hovered in his vision.
"He'll go mad if we break into his rooms."
"Don't come then! Snape's quarters!" he announced, throwing down the powder and holding Ron's arm tightly for support as they spun past what felt like hundreds of grates.
"You alright?" Ron whispered as they picked themselves up after falling untidily from Snape's grate. He wasn't, mixing pain and floo travel was a terrible idea but he couldn't be distracted now. He just needed to get to Snape and everything would be fine.
"Yes," Harry lied impatiently. "Castle's pretty empty, we should be alright." He didn't bother keeping quiet as he half-jogged to the front door but Ron kept peering around as if expecting Snape to jump out at them at any moment, despite knowing he was in his office with the Headmaster.
"He's going to be so mad..." he breathed. He kept his eyes fixed on the map as if terrified Snape would appear at any second and find out they'd been in his rooms. "Someone's round the corner," he breathed as quietly as he could, pointing at the little dot nearby on the map. "What's Crouch doing down here?"
Harry shrugged as they slowed their steps, the better to sneak past without being heard, wondering why Crouch was loitering in the dungeons at this time of night. They tiptoed round the corner, Harry's eyes trained on the map as well, the better to check the route to Snape's office where he and Dumbledore were. The way Snape's dot seemed to be pacing up and down, they were probably arguing. He looked up though, when Ron stopped suddenly.
"But that's not..." Ron breathed, looking down at Harry's map, his face contorted in confusion.
Harry stifled a gasp with difficulty, pulling Ron back with a tug on his sleeve, praying that Crouch or Moody or whoever that was, didn't turn around.
"He can see through the cloak," he mouthed, eyes wide.
"It's far too late to back away now boys," the impostor said suddenly, without turning to face them. He could see out of the back of his head, Harry realised with dismay. He folded the map shut as nonchalantly as possible and slipped the parchment into Ron's hand.
"Sorry, Sir." He kept his voice casual as if he didn't expect any more trouble than the last time Moody had caught him under his cloak after hours. He tried not to let his pain or fear show on his face, this impostor wouldn't necessarily do anything, not when Ron was here to see it.
"It's past curfew, Mr. Potter, Mr Weasley," he said, turning slowly and Harry noted with dread that his wand was already drawn. He wondered if that magical eye could see anything else, like how fast his heart was beating in his chest. "You two aren't supposed to be in the castle but here you are, you've wandered right into my path and at such an opportune time... Here you are, invisible to everyone and no one knows where you are." By the time he finished speaking, he sounded a lot less like Moody as they knew him. A slow smile spread across his face and an eager gleam shone in his one good eye.
Even if Snape felt the stone, he didn't know where he was, Harry realised as the pain began to recede ever so slightly, and this was a real emergency.
"Dobby," Harry called, summoning the little elf.
The loud crack of his apparition was followed by the immediate harsh syllables of "Avada Kedavra." The fake Moody's wand trained on the spot Dobby had appeared, the elf expiring the moment he materialised, collapsing in a heap at their feet.
Harry froze, paralysed with horror. Ron let out an involuntary cry beside him at the sight of the elf's body sprawled, lifeless at their feet.
"Look what you made me do, Potter. No, no, don't reach for your wand, boy."
He tried desperately to ignore Ron's quick breathing as he edged carefully in front of him.
"You're not Moody," Harry stated, buying time.
"But I'm convincing, boy. I must thank you for this opportunity after you've been so difficult this year. Backing out of the tournament, my Master was very disappointed when he heard the news and I don't like to disappoint my Master. I live to serve, Potter."
"Who, Voldemort? He's not even alive, what kind of person acts the slave for someone who doesn't even have a body?" Harry sneered, trying to shake off the remaining pain in his scar to concentrate on what was going on. Snape hadn't prepared him for this, he couldn't have his wits about him if he could barely think. His eyes kept darting to where Dobby's body lay, in the hope that house elf magic could have stopped the curse... Perhaps he'd wake up, he couldn't have been murdered, he couldn't be dead.
"You're going to have the honour of rectifying that." Impostor-Moody fished in his robes for a moment, pulling something small out of his pocket and tapping it twice with his wand. Sensing his distraction Ron stepped back grabbing Harry's robes, intending for them both to run round the corner and out of sight.
"Find Snape!" Harry yelled as they scrambled along the dark corridor. He ripped off the cloak to stop them tripping over their feet, bloody pointless anyway if he could see through it.
"I'm not leaving you here!"
"He wants to capture me, he'll kill you, run." He gave Ron an almighty shove through a hanging tapestry that disguised a narrow corridor, trusting that when Crouch/Moody rounded the corner and spotted him, he would leave Ron to chase him. He sprinted as fast as he could along the corridor, cursing its lack of convenient side corridors to duck into and hide as he heard the rapid and steady thunk of the wooden cane against the stone floor.
"I can do nothing if I am not at Hogwarts," Severus seethed as they waited for Moody to arrive for their 'meeting'. "What kind of spy could I claim to be if I am not trusted to inhabit this castle?"
"It is not that I do not trust you, which is the key issue."
"No, it isn't. The Dark Lord will see that I am useless to him if you allow them to remove me. I must be in a position to spy for you when the Dark Lord returns, everything is at stake here."
"I will resolve this, Severus. I do not want you removed from the castle and it is just as important to me that you are in position to continue spying when the time comes."
"Then do not have me taken from the castle! Do not allow them to do this!" he argued, irritated at the Headmaster's calmness and at the fact that he was allowing this 'meeting' only to disprove Severus' theory that it was Moody who was behind the attack. "I will not sit at home waiting for someone to hurt Harry in my absence merely to prove that it is not me who is a threat to him."
"If it comes to it and you must leave Harry will be fine. We can all see that you're doing all you can to protect him. Lily would have been proud-"
"This isn't about Lily, not any more than it is about his father. It is about Harry."
Rapid footsteps slapped along the stone corridor outside his office and both the Headmaster and Severus looked round as the door barrelled open with too much force, crashing into the wall with a resounding slam.
"Professor- help. He- took Harry, Moody-Crouch- he took him," the Weasley boy gasped, hanging off the door-frame and waving a piece of parchment in a deranged manner. The moment Weasley appeared Severus froze deathly still, a chill sweeping through him from head to foot, even before he registered the mangled words spilling from the boy's lips.
"What exactly has happened, Mr. Weasley?" The headmaster asked as Severus thrust his hand into the inner pockets of his robes, searching frantically for his stone that linked with Harry's. Feeling it burning with a heat he had not registered through his robes, he pulled it out, dropping it with a clatter onto the table and regarded it with horror. Harry was in danger, he'd needed him and he hadn't realised.
"Speak Weasley! Where is he?" he rounded on the boy, who by now appeared close to tears with panic.
"I don't know- he's not on the map," he exclaimed, holding the parchment out once more, and this time the Headmaster took it from him, regarding it intently. "Moody, no, Crouch- he was polyjuiced to look like Moody- he took Harry and he killed Dobby."
"Professor Dumbledore, I caught this one out of bounds-" Filch wheezed, appearing suddenly in the doorway behind Weasley.
"Mr Filch, one of our house-elves has been murdered. Where is the body, Mr Weasley?"
"Near Professor Snape's rooms."
"See to it that the body is moved where no children will come across it. One of our students has been kidnapped, ensure no other students are roaming the corridors this evening," the Headmaster addressed Filch calmly as Severus wrenched up his sleeve to check the ugly mark tattooed on his arm. No darker, it had not returned, He had not returned.
"What did Moody say? Where has he taken him?" he questioned Weasley, adamant he would have answers.
"He didn't say!"
"What did he say? Why were you two here?" he thundered.
"Minerva McGonagall's quarters!" said the Headmaster behind them, using the floo to make a call. Severus ignored the whoosh of the fire and stared intensely down at the boy. They could not have lost him, he needed to know where he was, there must be something he could tell them. Something that would tell them where Harry had been taken.
"He said- he said he was working for You-Know-Who and something, something about getting his body back."
"Professor McGonagall is contacting your parents Mr Weasley, they'll be here shortly," the Headmaster interrupted, guiding Weasley to a chair.
"He was working for the Dark Lord, he's taken Harry straight to him!" Severus bellowed, rounding on the Headmaster, hating his composure.
"Harry wanted you," the Weasley boy said shakily, looking up at him, perplexed, from where he sat trembling. "He came here to find you, his scar was hurting and he had a vision-"
The sound of rapid breathing filled the room and had everyone but Severus glancing about for its source. Then came a muffled thud and a low groan of pain and Severus sank silently and heavily into a chair, his eyes trained on the stone.
"You're about to be a part of a magnificent rebirth," came a gravelly tone, amplified by the stone's magic and infused with the maniacal anticipation and excitement of a fanatic.