A/N: Dear readers. I have a lot of feels about this chapter. This is Halloween with Nape and Pot. It's also a long one. I'm excited for your feedback!
It was Friday afternoon, classes had just ended, and Snape grimaced at the rather large stack of pumpkins which still sat in his office. He felt as though Dumbledore had really pushed his bounds here. Having Snape double cross the Death Eaters, spy on them, and report back, all the while putting his life in jeopardy was doable. Becoming a full time babysitter was somehow working out better than anticipated, granted, anticipation had been for utter failure. But turning Snape's office into some kind of freaky indoor pumpkin patch? Snape was not amused.
Snape was, to say the least, undergoing enormous amounts of stress.
Harry was teething, and was therefore constantly shoving his entire fist into his mouth and sucking on it vigorously. He would then take his hand out of his mouth and try to touch Snape with it. This direct application of large amounts of slobber was not something Severus found in the least delightful. He also didn't appreciate the fact that Harry would wake up in the night crying and poking his gums with his little pointer fingers to show Snape where the "ouch" was.
One night Harry had woken Snape up by shrieking in the next room for the third time, and Snape knew it needed to stop. He entered the room and cast a quick soothing spell over Harry's crib. That had stopped the crying, but it knocked Harry out cold for the rest of the night and the whole next morning. Such a reaction to the spell made Snape hesitant to repeat the action. He knew that mixing magic and babies sometimes caused problems. Basically, the combination of anything and babies was liable to cause problems. Pumpkins included.
That was another source of stress for Severus. Everyone seemed so paranoid about Halloween this year. Snape had tried to explain that just because it was going to be the 31 of October, it did not mean that he had to take Harry around to see the other professors and ask for sweets. All the other teachers seemed to disagree however. Minerva insisted that if Snape did not take Harry trick-or-treating, he would be responsible for the later emotional scarring of the boy whom he was being called upon to protect. The others argued that Harry deserved a chance to have a normal childhood, even if he was growing up as a baby under Snape's care. Severus, for his part, found this argument completely ridiculous, but Dumbledore had caught hold of the idea, and had even brought Snape a costume for Harry to wear.
He had appeared at Snape's door one evening, which gave the potions master all sorts of wary feelings. His uncommonly accurate intuition told him something unpleasant was afoot, and it proved to be correct.
"Good evening, Severus," Dumbledore had grinned. The already visible amusement in his eyes made Snape uncomfortable. That look never entailed any joy for him.
"If you insist, headmaster," Snape responded.
"I heard you were thinking of taking Harry trick-or-treating," Dumbledore began.
I was not thinking any such thing, and you know it all to well. Snape knew better than to interject here. Dumbledore had come down to the dungeons for this. Merely inserting the fact that Snape had no such intention wasn't going to dissuade the old wizard.
"I found the idea to be an utterly stupendous one," the headmaster continued. "And knowing that you probably weren't going to have time to think of a good costume, I brought you one, I had in an old drawer in my office."
Before Snape could ask why Dumbledore was keeping infant's costumes in his office drawers he had to keep himself from shrieking as Dumbledore whipped out a furry onesie with a hood.
"It's a panda outfit," Dumbledore said, looking so pleased with himself that Snape was fairly certain there was a law against it.
"I see that," Snape said, mildly horrified, but reaching out to take the costume nonetheless. There were ears on the hood and a little round tail on the bum.
"If you like, I can scrounge up a matching one for you, Severus," Dumbledore was clearly only moments away from laughing.
Snape nearly choked. "Oh I think one panda this Halloween will be more than enough, thank you." Snape said perhaps more than a little impolitely, shutting the door.
Once the door had shut, Dumbledore rapped on it once more.
Snape grimaced, pulling the door open.
"I just wanted to remind you, Severus, all the decorations are going up on Saturday. I can't wait to see the jack-o-lanterns!"
Snape smiled tightly, looking more pained than anything else, murmured "Good night headmaster," and shut the door again.
Now, to add to the stress of Halloween on top of classes on top of Harry on top of life in general, Snape had received an urgent owl from Lucius, saying he needed to speak with Snape that evening.
Well that was fine. Just fine. If he was so urgent to talk then talk they would. And if Dumbledore was so insistent on having thirty carved pumpkins, then he'd have them. And they'd be carved without the use of magic. Dumbledore had made that specification clear. Apparently they could use magic to preserve the pumpkins and to make them float, but not to carve. Snape knew Dumbledore was being aggravating on purpose, almost testing Snape's limits. Well Snape had handled more difficult foes than pumpkins, and he was not about to cave now. He cast a shrinking spell on the mound of pumpkins in his office, packed the mini-pumpkins into a pouch, scooped up a sleeping Harry, grabbed his Essentials Kit and went to catch a train. He was needed at Malfoy Manor.
"Severus...what is this?" Lucius said, one eyebrow arched upward, his expression sincerely confused.
"This," Snape said, restoring the size of the last pumpkin. "Is called multi-tasking. I'm here because I consider you a friend and did not want to ignore your message. However, I have other responsibilities to attend to, and if I'm to share your burden, then I would only hope you'd share mine."
They were standing in the Malfoy's elaborate dining hall. On the extraordinarily long, dark wood table were piled several pumpkins, and the rest were on the floor nearby. Harry was asleep in a baby carrier that Snape kept in shrunken form in the Essentials Kit, restoring to full size when he needed to transport Harry or leave him at least somewhat unattended. The baby carrier used to be upholstered with pictures of smiling hippos, but Snape had changed those to smiling snakes, making it at least a mildly appropriate form of decoration.
"So," Lucius said slowly, making sure he understood. "We are going to discuss Death Eater business...while we carve pumpkins."
For the first time in a long time, and the first time Lucius had ever witnessed, Snape allowed a full, genuine smile to cross his face. "You are correct," he said.
"Well, I guess...let's begin?" Lucius said, sitting in one of the high-backed chairs and using his wand to quickly cast a spell on the table and ground around the table, so that the gloopy insides of the pumpkins would not affect or stain any of the Malfoy's expensive furnishings.
The message which Lucius wished to convey Snape was one of discontent among the Death Eaters. Accusations of betrayal were flying between them. Many were accused of going soft, or being disloyal. Members were calling each other into suspicion left and right. The only Death Eaters not accused of effective "treason" to the group were those like Bellatrix LeStrange, who were sitting in cells in Azkaban.
"You and I," Lucius said with grave seriousness, looking up from the mouth he was carving on an especially large pumpkin to look Severus in the eye. "Are the most heavily criticized at the moment. You are still under suspicion of being a spy for the other side, which I have argued is completely preposterous. There are those who believe in you, but there are others who want to see you tried, or at the very least would like to regain possession of Bellatrix's diary."
Snape shook his head. "The diary in the hands of another Death Eater would lead to even more contention, and could prove dangerous for anyone the possessor was displeased with."
"I'm fully aware, and so are some of the others," Lucius said, lifting another pumpkin from the ground and beginning to saw around the top. "Which is why you haven't been contacted by any of the others as of yet. Many still believe that the diary will be safest kept in your hands, and no one disputes that you have the best chances of actually mastering its secrets."
Snape didn't answer for a moment, because he was intent on the pattern he was carving. When he finally spoke it was to say, "The unrest among the Death Eaters is concerning. Why do they suspect you?"
Lucius laughed in a way which was almost a snort, but yet managed to be dignified. Such was the complexity of Lucius Malfoy. "They say I'm spineless, all because I'm attempting to protect Narcissa and Draco," he answered. "A man has a right to protect his family."
Lucius rarely spoke so honestly. For just a moment his aristocratic drawl disappeared and he spoke with true sincerity.
The moment was so genuine that Snape had to lay down his pumpkin carving knife.
Lucius continued, his composure regained, but his words just as serious as they'd been a moment ago. "I fear that my family is in danger," Lucius stated. "Alecto Carrow has implied to some of the others that I would die for Narcissa before I'd die for the Dark Lord." Lucius paused, regarding Severus with wary eyes, assessing how much he should disclose.
Snape said nothing, waiting for Lucius to finish.
"And if any of them ever confronted me on that note, I fear that in all my skill with words, I would still be unable to deny it."
"I would not side against you, Lucius," Severus said gravely. "You are my friend, a commodity I find to be extremely rare. I've sworn to you to care for Draco if anything should ever happen. While I stand by my word to act as Draco's godfather should you and Narcissa ever be compromised, I will also do all in my power to keep such a situation from arising."
The air was tense. Neither man generally spoke such words, and conversations like this were not the norm between Death Eaters. Lucius nodded, knowing that he needn't thank Severus or say anything more on the subject. He was concerned for his family, and knowing he had an ally was all he needed.
He turned back to his pumpkin, and after a moment said, "Severus, my pumpkin is better than yours," his drawl back in place.
Snape smirked. "If you must deceive yourself, by all means, carry on."
Half an hour later, both men still sat at the table. Their arms were getting sore from sawing through pumpkins, and the pile of uncompleted pumpkins was diminishing too slowly for either of their tastes. When Narcissa swept into the room with Draco on her hip, she couldn't help but laugh.
"Exactly what is going on?" she asked.
"Happy Halloween, dear," Lucius responded with a wry grin, not looking up as he finished carving a triangular eye.
"Punkin, dada?" Draco said, pointing.
"I asked Severus for a favor," Lucius explained as Narcissa took a seat next to him, setting Draco on the floor. "Now he is of the opinion that I owe him a favor in return, and apparently they have him doing some rather unorthodox tasks at Hogwarts."
"Well I guess there's only one thing to be done for it," Narcissa replied. "Hand me a pumpkin and a knife. It's been far too long since I've done this."
As the three adults carved pumpkin after pumpkin, Draco crawled over to Harry, who was still sleeping in his seat. Draco poked Harry repeatedly until he woke up, fussing and whimpering.
"Apologies, Severus," Narcissa said, as Snape got up to unfasten Harry from the baby carrier.
"He's been sleeping for hours," Snape said. "Having him awake now means I may actually get some sleep tonight."
As Harry was lifted from his chair he stopped his fussing and rubbed his face happily against Snape's shoulder.
"Nape." he said in contentment. Snape held him for a second, making sure that he was truly awake and done crying, then set him on the floor with Draco.
"You two play nice," he instructed.
Harry was sad to say good bye to "Daco" and fussed the entire way home. No amount of fussing could truly dampen Snape's spirits however. All the pumpkins were carved. That made the Halloween score Snape-1, Dumbledore-0.
Indeed, the following morning when Snape presented Dumbledore with the jack-o-lanterns all ready for being used in the halls and on the tables in the Great Hall, Dumbledore seemed rather surprised.
"I'm delighted with these!" he exclaimed as he looked at all the pumpkins.
His favorites all seemed to be the ones Narcissa had carved, she was clearly the most artistic of the lot. Snape didn't care that his pumpkins weren't the most admired. He honestly couldn't care what Dumbledore thought about his pumpkin carving techniques or creative tendencies. He merely cared that he had proved he was capable of completing even the stupidest and most time consuming of tasks.
The pumpkins and enchanted suits of armor, the bobbing skulls and the rowdier than usual castle ghosts had all the students excited for Halloween, meaning they paid less attention in class, leading to Snape's retracting of even more than usual house points. So, by Wednesday night everyone was in a pretty good mood.
The teachers throughout the day had made it clear that they had goodies for Harry, so Snape had better bring Harry to a couple of the classrooms where the teachers would be congregating, drinking fire whiskey and having their own Halloween celebrations. They'd been so adamant that Snape decided spending twenty minutes taking Harry to a few different rooms to get a few treats or toys would be exponentially easier than dealing with the glares and angry exhalations from the other teachers for the rest of the year.
After dinner, Snape told Harry it was time for a very "exciting adventure" and that he would need to be dressed in the "ceremonial garb for the occasion."
When Harry laid eyes upon the Panda onesie he squealed with delight. After pulling the little hood over Harry's dark hair, Snape set Harry on the living room floor so he could take a picture. He stuck with his reasoning he had used for taking the first picture of Harry. There were just some moments that needed to be documented if he was going to play his part convincingly.
Harry was hard to snap a picture of, because he refused to orient himself in such a way that Snape could get a shot of his face. Harry was crawling all over the floor, oo oo ooing at everything and wiggling his little bum as he scurried from the couch to the chair to the coffee table, the little black tail making Harry's particular crawling style even more strange to witness. When Snape was finally able to get Harry to look at him for a moment he took the picture. Harry was giggling to himself in between his oos, as if he was telling himself the funniest jokes.
"It's time to introduce you to the first of what will eventually be an indoctrination of unnecessary events to spoil you," Snape said, scooping Harry up, and heading upstairs. "However, I counsel you to refrain from getting full of yourself or accustomed to too much doting. It never does a person good, and you are not going to be one of those bratty children with the misconception that the universe revolves around them."
Harry giggled. "Si'y Nape." he said, batting Snape on the nose.
Snape sighed as they reached the first classroom.
"Say it, Severus!" Minerva hiccuped, It was evident she'd already had more than two glasses of fire whiskey. Happy Halloween indeed.
Snape sighed. "Trick of treat."