The Holiday Spirit
"We're going to Italy," Zenna Zabini trilled. "I'm so excited! And I can't wait to decorate our tree. Papa said he'd let me pick the theme, so we're going to cover it with little silver butterflies!"
"Oh, that sounds beautiful!" one of the other girls sighed. "What are you getting? You know—for presents?"
"I don't know. Papa always keeps it a surprise, and Mum is awfully good at hiding things. I just can't wait to see them—and my cousin Isabel! I'm so excited."
Cas rested his chin in his hand, gazing out the window. It was sleeting—that horrible icy, wet, nasty stuff that went straight down the back of your collar and chilled you to the bone. Cas didn't really mind the cold, but he wished it would snow instead. Nobody asked him about his Christmas plans. Not that his family ever did anything anyway. They never travelled.
"I'm excited, too! Mum and I are going to spend hours and hours baking and talking. I hope I get the necklace I asked for! My mother said she'd think about it. Oh, I hope, I hope she gets it for me! What about you, Leo? What did you ask for?"
"I don't know what Mother is getting me. But," Malfoy said "I have it on good authority that it's a top of the line Gewitter. They're very well engineered brooms, you know. We only buy the best."
Cas rolled his eyes. "Could you stop bragging for ten seconds, Malfoy? Or would you strain something?"
Leo Malfoy, who sat directly behind Cas, leaned forward. "You know something, Potter?" he said in a nasty little voice. "I bet you're just jealous because you don't even have a mother."
Before Cas could hex the bastard, Professor McGonagall interrupted. "Let's get class started," she said.
Cas fumed, hunkering down in his seat. In a way it was true; he didn't even remember his mother. He'd asked about her when he was small, but it only upset his dad. In fact, the closest thing he had to a mum these days was actually Severus Snape, who'd lived with them as long as Cas could remember, and was about as Un-mum-like as you could get. Malfoy's mum bought him expensive toys, Zenna's was always whisking them away to new places, and Toby's wore a gingham apron and knitted. Snape didn't buy him expensive gifts, and he didn't bake pies or knit mittens or anything like that—and of course, he didn't wear gingham aprons, though the thought of it cheered Cas up considerably.
"Potter," someone whispered.
Malfoy. Cas ground his teeth and didn't say anything.
Cas felt the sharp tip of a quill touch the back of his neck. "Stop it," he hissed. Why, oh why couldn't Malfoy leave him alone?
"Potter! Is that even your real name? Not much like your dad, are you?"
Cas could feel his face burning. He wanted to turn around and curse Malfoy across the room, but he knew he would get in trouble. He wished he were more like his dad. His dad was a hero, brave and popular. Even though Cas looked like his dad apart from his dark eyes, their personalities were nothing alike. Cas was quiet and easily embarrassed—and could never have stood up to someone like Voldemort. He almost never stood up for himself at all.
Which was something Malfoy knew. Malfoy was practically the only person who ever talked to him, and it was always to bully and brag.
"Shut up," Cas said out the side of his mouth.
"Sorry? What was that?"
Cas pretended to write the assignment down, trying to ignore Malfoy. Was everyone looking at them? Was everyone laughing? He couldn't bear to check. He must look so stupid, sitting there and acting like he didn't hear when he obviously did, too much of a coward even to tell Malfoy to piss off.
"Potter," Malfoy said again, poking him with the quill more insistently.
"Shut up," Cas muttered. Merlin, he wished he were anywhere other than here.
"Creep," Malfoy said. "You're a creepy little weirdo who spends all his time with books because he hasn't got any friends. Pale, peculiar Potter."
Cas glared at his desk. "So what if I prefer to stay indoors and read books instead of hang about with toe-rags like you?" he growled.
There was a disgusting sort of noise, a wet sort of noise, and suddenly there was a little mound of goop on Cas' desk. A Spitwad Spell. Cas was shaking in anger and humiliation. It was right in the middle of his assignment. He wondered how Malfoy had managed to get it there without it touching him. "It didn't hit me, you know," he said.
"Well, why don't I do another, then?" Leo asked loudly.
Professor McGonagall turned and arched a brow. "Is there a problem?"
"No problem," Malfoy said sweetly.
"This is the problem," Cas said, pointing to the gross thing on his desk.
The professor sighed and shook her head. "Let's get back on track, shall we?"
Cas fumed. "Thanks for nothing," he muttered.
The professor went back to the blackboard. Cas went back to hunkering down in his seat and wishing he was dead.
The fire in the common room was so big and so red that it chased away any shadow of gloom. It was wonderful. All the Gryffindors were gathered around the fire, giggling and chattering away. They completely ignored Cas, but that was okay.
Cas plopped himself down in one of the big armchairs when a bevy of owls shot into the room, carrying special evening deliveries. Cas was astounded to see his family owl, Plato. The fat grey owl was carrying a small package. There was a card with a snowman on it and inside it said, Happy Christmas! See you in a couple of days! Love, Dad. Underneath that it said, P.S. Snape says to wear these when you come home. It's cold out there and he doesn't want you coming down with something. Cas unwrapped the package to find gloves with a warming charm on them, with a hat and scarf to match.
Cas rolled his eyes and stuffed the card into his pocket before someone could see it. Being caught with a cutesy Christmas card from his dad would do wonders for his popularity.
Just then Cas looked up and spotted Zenna gazing out one of the windows with a dreamy look in her big brown eyes. It had begun to snow. None of her friends was around. That was so rare that Cas got to his feet—now was his big chance to talk to her alone.
He walked up to her and cleared his throat. "Hi," he said softly. She didn't seem to hear. Her lips were moving slightly, as if she were counting under her breath. Since she still didn't seem to notice him, Cas reached out and touched her arm. "Hello," he said.
Zenna almost jumped out of her skin. When she saw Cas, she began to laugh. "Oh, Cas, it's you! You just about scared me to death. You're too quiet! I didn't even hear you come up."
"Sorry," Cas said, ducking his head. He coughed. "Counting the snowflakes?" he asked.
Zenna looked sheepish. "Actually, I was making a wish. It's sort of a tradition in our family. My mum always tells me to make a wish on the first snowflake you see and it will come true. It sounds mad, doesn't it?"
Cas smiled. He thought it sounded wonderful. Zenna could make anything sound wonderful. "No, it's nice. Really," he added when she didn't look convinced.
"Well . . . I guess everyone has odd family traditions," she said, nudging him.
"Er, yeah," he said. He couldn't think of any. He desperately wished he could come up with something more to say, just so Zenna would keep talking to him. He racked his brain. Traditions . . . family traditions . . . They hosted Christmas dinners sometimes with the Weasleys, but that was mostly because Snape never left the house, so if they wanted to socialize they had to invite people over. That didn't seem like much of a tradition. Suddenly Cas remembered something. "On Christmas Eve, Dad makes apple cider and we all sit in front of the fire and Snape reads Dickens," he blurted.
But Zenna was already looking straight through him. Ivy and the others had come back down, and she was waving them over with enthusiasm. "Hi, guys!" she said. They gathered in a little cluster, gossiping and teasing each other.
Cas smiled at Ivy, but when he opened his mouth, Constance shivered and said, "Brrrr. Did the temperature just drop about ten degrees? Let's go sit by the fire." And so the gaggle of girls trouped off, leaving Cas standing alone.
He clamped his mouth shut. He knew what had happened; Constance had been cold all right—she'd always been chilly towards him. And of course, Zenna had completely forgotten about him.
Why was he always invisible to pretty girls?
It was well past midnight when Cas gave up on sleep and decided to take a walk round the castle. Maybe he'd stop by the kitchens and get a snack. Everyone else was asleep and Hogwarts was quiet—Cas liked late nights in the castle best. He didn't need much sleep as a rule, and it was nice to walk about without getting teased or snubbed.
Besides, Hogwarts was such a brilliant place, and it was difficult to see all the wicked little details when there were throngs of students about.
There was a light snore nearby, and Cas turned and grinned, watching an old man with whiskers as he dozed, head lolling in his frame.
There was a hiss near his feet. Cas looked down and glared. "Go away," he muttered.
It was the caretaker's cat, and she backed away, hair standing up all over.
Even though no one was about, Cas couldn't help feeling embarrassed. Cats always did that around him. Dogs barked, cats hissed, rats ran around in frantic, frightened circles. He didn't know why. It wasn't like he was a werewolf or something. On the other hand, they did always notice him, which was more than he could say for the actual people around him.
"Everything all right?" a voice suddenly asked, and for once, Cas was the one jumping in fright.
"Oh! Fred—that is, erm, Professor Weasley! I didn't hear you."
"Well, you wouldn't, would you?" Fred said with a disarming grin. "Now, then, curfew breaker, are we? Turn out your pockets!"
Face hot, Cas did as he was told.
"No Ton-Tongue Toffees? No stinkbombs? No Wild Fire Whiz-Bangs? Here, have some of mine," Fred said.
Cas laughed. Fred Weasley taught Charms, but he was also an extremely close friend of the family, and Cas' favourite professor. "That's all right," Cas said.
"You take at least this bag of Butterscotch Belchers," Fred told him. "Or I'll have to give you detention. Share them with your friends."
Cas took them reluctantly, unable to bring himself to tell the professor that he didn't really have any friends.
Fred leaned back against the wall, jolting the whiskery old man's portrait. The man woke, shook his fist at them and mumbled something, then wandered off to quieter paintings to continue getting his rest. "So, what's wrong?" Fred asked shrewdly. "What has you moping about the corridors at this hour?"
Shuffling his feet, Cas mumbled, "Nothing really."
"A girl," Fred guessed immediately.
Cas flushed. He was sure even his ears were glowing. "I—I—how did you know that?"
"Ha ha, you little Casanova. Barely twelve and already mooning over women. Come on, then. What's she like?"
"Pretty," Cas said, looking down at his feet.
"I bet she likes you, handsome devil like you."
Cas rolled his eyes. "Right. Like I even have a ghost of a chance with Zenna Zabini."
"Does she have a boyfriend?" Fred asked.
"I don't think so. It's just . . . she's the prettiest girl in my class."
"Then what are you waiting for? Table for two at Madam Puddifoot's, bring her a rose, tell her you want to bring her up to the Astronomy Tower to watch her eyes rival the stars—romance her, mate!"
Cas shook his head helplessly. "It's not that easy. She doesn't even know I'm alive."
Fred's eyes softened a little in understanding. "You're never going to get any attention if you're too afraid to ask for it," he pointed out.
That was something to think about. "I wish I were more like my dad," Cas confided. "I wish I could be a hero like him. He must have been so popular . . ."
Fred rubbed the back of his neck. "People liked him well enough," he said, "at least most of the time. But it wasn't an easy ride for him, either. And the girls? He barely had time to think about them, with Voldemort around. He didn't really start messing about with girls until he was out of school. Then he did get popular for a year or so—all those girls he dated! Luna, Katie, Padma and, of course, my sister. But like I said, that came after his school days. So there's hope for you, too."
"Maybe. But . . . why do I have to feel so awful now? It's like I'm invisible! No one even notices me except for Leo Malfoy, and that's only because he needs someone to torture. Everyone hates me. Everyone thinks I'm weird, just because I'm quiet and like to read instead of playing Quidditch. I'm not good at anything popular. I'm not good at flying or joking or anything."
"Yup, it's true. All you do is haunt the halls at night, moaning and whinging," Fred said.
Shocked, Cas stared at him. "Well—well thanks a lot!" he spluttered.
"Well, you might not be good at much, but you're great at feeling sorry for yourself," Fred pointed out. "Look, school can be a bore. I know that! But it's up to you to change the things you don't like. Talk to that girl you like. Learn a few jokes. And the next time Malfoy bothers you, pop him in the tonk."
Cas glared. "I hate everything about everything. And you don't understand."
Fred laughed. "You really want my advice? Talk to your dad about this. Trust me, he'll understand. There was a time when he hated everything about everything too. Maybe you could even suggest talking to a family counsellor, or something, if you think that would help."
Cas scuffed a shoe on the floor. "Dad and Snape would never go for that. Snape's too private and Dad's paranoid about his home life getting spread in newspapers and stuff. Anyway, they're always too busy arguing to listen to me about anything."
"Tell your dad to make time. I'm telling you, he'll listen. He cares about you, you know."
"Well . . . all right. I'll try," Cas said.
Fred reached out and Cas felt a chilly breeze tickle through his hair. "Good on you, mate," Fred told him. "And you know you can always talk to me, right?"
"Right. Thanks, Professor Weasley."
"Good. Now get back to your dorm," Fred told him. "Try to get some sleep, or you'll be dead on your feet tomorrow, and that's not the way you want to start the holiday. And here, take a chocolate frog."
"Okay. Thanks," Cas said.
Cas trudged past the train station, watching everyone else board. He was the only one who lived right there in Hogsmeade. It wasn't fair. Everyone else would be getting sick on cauldron cakes and laughing and talking, and all he got to do was walk up the street. He could see Zenna by the window, her pretty silver butterfly earrings flapping their tiny wings.
On sudden impulse, he ran up and tapped the window.
He saw her jolt in fright, then smile. But the window was difficult to see out of—little frost vines were climbing all over the pane, obscuring her. She used a spell to open it and leaned out. "Hello!" she said.
"I—I—just wanted to say—have a happy Christmas!" Cas managed.
"Oh, you, too!" she said, beaming. "And here!" She leaned out, handing him a small, brightly wrapped package.
"What's this?" he in surprise.
Cas smiled as he unwrapped it—it was a bar of chocolate with a fancy Z impressed in it. "Wow. Thanks!"
"I meant to give it to you last night, but you disappeared on me," Zenna told him.
It was probably an afterthought, but Cas didn't mind. He'd never had a gift from a girl before. "I—didn't get you anything," he admitted.
"That's all right. See you next term?"
"Yeah," he said. Then the train started up, and he stepped back, letting it slide away. "Have fun in Italy!" he called out. He waved until it was out of sight, and Zenna waved, too.
When Cas finally got home, his nose was running and his fingers were numb, despite the charmed gloves Snape had sent. He went inside and was met by a blast of warm air—and raised voices.
He rolled his eyes, brushing the snow off his coat and hanging it up. Snape and his dad had fought practically since the beginning of time. Snape tended to be crabby, but Harry Potter had a temper.
Cas crept into the house, knowing they probably wouldn't notice him. They never did. They were in the library, facing each other across the couch. Harry's face was red and Snape was scowling. "You were supposed to start the stew two hours ago," he snapped. "And what have you done in all that time? Nothing!"
"I peeled the bloody potatoes!" Harry retorted.
"It doesn't take anyone two hours to peel potatoes!"
"If you don't like it, why don't you do it yourself? You'd think a potions maker could manage a damn stew!"
"You'd think even an idiot could manage it, yet you didn't," Snape replied.
Harry threw a glass at him. It passed straight through him and shattered against the wall. Harry growled in frustration. "Sometimes I wish you weren't dead, just so I could have the pleasure of wringing your neck myself!" he snarled.
"COULD YOU BOTH BE QUIET FOR TWO SECONDS?" Cas shouted, surprising even himself. Both men turned to stare at him. "Hi! Welcome home! Did you have a good term? Any problems?" Cas asked himself sarcastically. "Gee, Dad, school hasn't been so great lately. Malfoy bullies me and throws things at me and the professors don't even seem to notice or care, and I'm totally fucking invisible to just about everyone, and nobody likes me, not even the animals, who all turn and run when I get near them, and on top of everything, all you two ever do is scream at each other! So yeah, I'm having a tough time—thanks for asking! You're such an amazing dad, the way you always listen to me!"
"Cas," his dad began quietly, but Cas cut him off.
"I hate you!" he shouted. "I hate everyone!"
Snape drew himself up instantly. "Casper Albus Potter! How dare you speak to your father that way! Go to your room!"
Cas wiped his face with the back of his hand. "I hate you, too," he said defiantly.
Snape jabbed a finger in the direction of the stairs. "Go to your room right now!" he roared.
Cas turned and stomped out, slamming the door shut behind him.
Harry turned to Snape. "Well. Happy Christmas."
Snape let out a long breath. "Don't take it too personally," he advised. "You used to scream the same sort of thing at me."
"And I meant it, at the time," Harry said. He went to the liquor cabinet. "Glass of scotch?"
Harry poured him one. "Spirits for the spirit," he joked, and they both sank into the leather couch beside the fireplace. It took Snape several moments to find the right level, since as a ghost he tended to go straight through things unless he was concentrating.
"I thought everything was supposed to be jolly and gay round the holidays," Snape remarked.
Harry sighed. "What a mess. I expect a lot of it's just the usual teenage thing. Do you remember being a teenager?"
Snape sniffed. "Well, I certainly remember when you were a teenager," he answered dryly.
"What's that supposed to mean? Are you saying Cas is like me when I was younger?"
"Hmph. Let's just put it this way; had I been teaching you acting instead of potions, I would never have worried about getting you to emote on cue."
"Oh, thanks. Thanks a heap. But really . . . I think he's normal."
"As normal as he possibly could be, considering," Snape agreed.
"Maybe he just needs some help growing up," Harry said. "Someone to take him in hand, like you did for me, after you died."
"Over my very dead body," Snape replied, scowling.
"I didn't mean like that! I mean . . . we really started to understand each other. We could talk."
"I couldn't get rid of you." Snape's face softened. "I suppose I didn't want to. I learned to enjoy the company. I assumed you'd leave me eventually, but you didn't. You just built your own little world around me," he added.
Harry stared into his drink. "He feels invisible," he muttered. He looked up at Snape. "Do you think he is? I mean—is he doing it more often?"
Snape shrugged. "Possibly it's more apparent as he ages. After all, there's a reason we send children away to school around eleven. At adolescence, their powers often manifest—become stronger and more noticeable. It could be similar."
Harry took a big gulp of his scotch, sucked a breath through his teeth, and set the glass on a nearby table. "I think it's time to tell him he's half-ghost," he announced.
Snape arched a brow. "I thought you never wanted him to know I was his father."
"I—that wasn't it," Harry replied. He looked surprised. "Did you really think that?"
"You insisted on keeping it all so quiet," Snape replied, trying to seem indifferent. "What else was I to think?"
"That wasn't it," Harry repeated. "I—love you," he added quietly. "It's just that I know what it's like to be different. It's hard. And it hurts. I just thought—he seemed so normal. I just wanted him to feel normal, that's all."
"Lying about him—about me—didn't do much to make either of us feel normal, I imagine," Snape pointed out.
"I'm sorry," Harry answered. "The important people knew—like Hermione and the Weasleys. I didn't think anyone else mattered."
Snape looked away. "Do you know what it's like to be shut up in this house and have next to no contact with the rest of the world? And to have a son—that should have been wonderful. To have a son to carry on my name . . . when you said you didn't want that—"
"I'm sorry," Harry said again, truly stricken. "You might have mentioned it earlier." He looked down at his hands and smiled a crooked smile, shaking his head. "It was all such a shock!"
"That's true," Snape conceded.
"I didn't even know men could get pregnant, let alone that ectoplasm could act like sperm."
"Pregnant men are exceedingly rare. But to my knowledge, this is the first time a ghost impregnated anyone, male or female," Snape replied. "I'm just glad the prophylactic potion worked after that."
"We would have had no end of trouble trying to get rubbers on you," Harry agreed. "Look, it's past time to tell him. I'm sorry I insisted on lying about it. And maybe he's right. We kind of yell a lot. Maybe we could . . . talk to someone? All three of us? To a third party, I mean. A neutral party."
Snape shifted uncomfortably, looking at the fire. "They'd have to come here," he finally said. "I can't go out. But . . . if you think it'll help . . ."
"He's becoming a teenager. And I think we'll need all the help we can get," Harry said.
Snape snorted. "If he's anything like you were, we certainly will," he agreed. They smiled at one another.
After a few minutes, Harry's hand slipped into Snape's. They weren't holding hands—not exactly. Harry's hand literally sank into Snape's, suspended there. Snape pressed a brief, cold kiss to his temple. "Want to make love?" Snape murmured.
Harry gave him a tired smile. "I think this is a case where the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Harry leant into him, turned his face to the fire, and closed his eyes.
Cas crouched for another several minutes at the keyhole, watching in shock. Severus Snape was his father. His other father. He'd always assumed he'd had a mother, that she'd just died not long after he was born and it was too hard for his dad to talk about. He couldn't absorb it. In the library, his dad began to snore. Cas continued to stare, unseeing. He was part ghost!
The door creaked open and Cas fell back, sitting down hard. Snape loomed over him, one eyebrow arched high. "So we've a little spy, do we?"
"Family business," Cas shot back.
Snape snorted. He studied Cas carefully. Cas had the feeling that Snape was trying to read his mind. Well, knowing Snape, he probably could.
Was this man really his father? His real father? This towering, ugly, sarcastic man? The mind boggled. On the other hand . . .
On the other hand, Cas remembered his sixth birthday. He'd got dragon pox, and Snape was the one who nursed him back to health. He gave Cas cold compresses, fed him soups and potions, and even read him bedtime stories.
So he didn't buy expensive toys or knit or bake. So what? He did help Cas with his homework and worried when Cas got home late and brewed special anti-flu potions in the winter. He always made sure he was warm and safe and fed, and whenever one of the Weasleys visited, he always bragged on how Cas was getting on. He was proud of Cas.
"You don't need to wear gingham," Cas said softly.
Snape looked surprised. "I suppose that's good to know, as you'd have had a hell of a fight to get me into it."
Cas smiled. "You don't need to wear gingham," he repeated. "You're a good mum, even if you're . . . an unconventional mum."
Snape rested his hand on Cas' head for a moment. Then—"Wait, why am I being drafted into the role of the mum? Can't your father do that?"
Cas laughed, his heart feeling lighter than it had in years. "I'm afraid his title's been around long enough that it stuck," he said.
"There are alternatives," Snape said. "You could call me Father or Papa or Supreme Ruler or Benevolent and Powerful God. Why can't you choose one of those?"
Cas ignored this. "You never told me! Why didn't you tell me? Why did you do it his way?"
"Potter wanted to surround you with sunshine and unicorns and rainbow-coloured kittens, and death didn't figure largely into his plans." Snape looked suddenly pensive. "I suppose he just didn't want you growing up to be maladjusted. And as he was moderately less maladjusted than I, it seemed prudent to do it his way."
Leaning against the wall, Cas looked at Snape pensively. "Why did you become a ghost?" he asked. "Professor Weasley's a ghost. He says he has unfinished business. He says he hasn't pranked everyone in greater London yet, and he says he's not going until there's a rubber chicken in every pot and fake dragon vomit in every shoe."
"Fred Weasley is a liar," Snape replied. "And I'd box his ears for it if I could, or put an ear-boxing hex on him, at any rate. But the truth of the matter is that ghosts—real ghosts—can't leave the place they died. You never hear of Anne Boleyn and her unearthly ski trips in Vail, do you? It's why your father and I had to buy the Shrieking Shack and fix it up. Fred Weasley is stuck at Hogwarts because he died there."
"So that's why you never leave the house!"
"That and the fact that I'm notoriously unsociable anyway," Snape acknowledged. "But we learnt long ago that we could order most things in and your father could take care of the rest."
"I'm not stuck, though," Cas pointed out.
"We worried about it in the beginning, to be honest. But you're only half-ghost. I've noticed a few ghostly traits in you, but not many. Though you do have a deplorable tendency to fade away when you're feeling self-conscious or don't want to be seen. Used to do it regularly whenever George Weasley came over and tried to play 'got your nose.' You hated that. It drove your father mad, the way you'd disappear."
Smiling fondly, Cas remembered, "He stopped when you cursed his nose off and hid it in the coffee pot.
"Yes, well, it was annoying. You would squall whenever he did it."
But the mention of George Weasley reminded Cas that he'd had an actual point. "What's your unfinished business?" he demanded. "Ghosts have unfinished business, right? What's yours?"
Snape arched a brow. "Your father isn't dead yet," he said ambiguously.
Cas knew he meant to pass it off as a joke, that he hadn't killed Cas' dad yet, but Cas also knew in another way he actually meant it; he was waiting for Harry Potter, and wasn't leaving without him. Maybe Fred Weasley was doing the same. Cas' dad had always said the twins were inseparable. Maybe Fred was just going to hang about and wait on George.
"You really love him, don't you?" Cas asked.
"Stuff and nonsense," Snape replied, folding his arms over his chest and looking mulish.
"You do," Cas insisted.
After a few moments, Snape sighed. "I know that we do not always present what might be termed a healthy relationship, as far as role models go," he said, "but frankly, neither of us has very much experience with playing happy families. We do the best we can with what we've got. And yes, of course I love him. Mind you, if you tell him, I'll have to kill you."
Cas grinned. "Good luck with that."
"Yes, well, there are ways to torture even a ghost, as your father well knows." After a moment, Snape asked him more seriously, "Do you think you'll be able to handle knowing you're a ghost?"
Cas looked at him, giving this consideration. So he could become invisible, but didn't have to. He made things get cold. People didn't always realize he was there, but animals sure did. If he was careful, he could break into Leo Malfoy's trunk and steal all his underthings and pin them all over the common room decorated with little pink bows.
A wicked grin spread across his face, making his cheeks ache. In fact, Cas might have a lot of fun—playing dead, as it were.
"It's not all games," Snape cautioned, like he knew what Cas was thinking. "You likely won't age as quickly as the others. People will always feel a chill around you. And some people just can't take being reminded of death. It's a difficult road, boy. I've walked it." He brushed Cas' fringe out of his face, and Cas smiled. Both his parents were part of his life, and both of them cared about him. And now that he knew what he was, he could learn to deal with it.
Cas took his father's hand and squeezed it, icy cold though it was. "I'm all right," he said.
Snape smiled too. "Get up to your room," he said. "You're still in trouble for your tantrum."
Cas groaned. "I'm not going to have to stay up there all Christmas, am I?"
"We'll see. I'm sure if your attitude improves, we'll consider letting you out of your cage and feeding you more than potato peels."
Cas started up the stairs.
"You really don't mind being half-ghost?" he heard Snape ask behind him.
Cas stopped and grinned over his shoulder. "I think I can live with it," he replied.