Unbeta-ed Caveat Lector
Morning light peeped through the curtains over his office windows as Severus woke in his chair. Someone, probably a house elf, threw a blanket over him during the night. Dickens again floated through Severus' mind. He couldn't remember what Ebenezer Scrooge said upon his waking.
The clock said 11:00. "What day is it?" He asked aloud.
A little silence and then one of the portraits said, "Christmas day." He had slept about fourteen hours-what the dosage of the potions promised. He had enough time to go visit Alice and Frank, if he hurried.
Hesitating at the front door of the castle, he turned toward the lake.
Hagrid was there at Dumbledore's tomb, patiently shoveling the snow that had fallen overnight from around the white marble.
"Headmaster." Hagrid said, civilly enough.
"Hagrid." The tomb looked lonely by itself, without the little plaza and the matching black tomb. The loss of his friend and mentor rose up, raw and fresh. The weight of it made Severus stagger.
A large hand on his shoulder steadied him. "All right, Professor?" Hagrid's tone brought back memories of happier days. Severus' chest clogged with grief. He wanted to unburden himself to someone.
This was dangerous, and not just to himself. The memory of the Hagrid of twenty years hence put the steel back into Severus' spine. He would not falter, not so close to the end of this story. "Don't be ridiculous." He snarled, looking coldly at the hand on his arm as he couldn't bear to look in the man's face. "Unhand me."
Hagrid let go as though burned.
The silence stretched awkwardly until Severus said thickly, "I'm sure you have business elsewhere."
"Yeh, reckon I do."
Alone, Severus approached the tomb. "Soon, Albus." On impulse, he conjured a bunch of cream white calla lilies tied by a green and silver ribbon with a prominent Slytherin seal. These he set on the ledge of the tomb. The seal was important; if any marked his gesture, it would be passed off as gloating.
He turned to go, passing Hagrid who was shoveling the walk to his hut. "Happy Christmas, Headmaster." The words were gruff and grudging. Severus didn't return them.
St. Mungo's was not yet crowded at noon. Most visitors came in after lunch; as did the casualties of Christmas day with family. Augusta Longbottom never showed up before two o'clock to visit her son and daughter in law.
Severus bypassed the information witch; he knew exactly where he needed to go. This had been a weekly visit for fifteen years. The healers on the ward gave him frightened looks, but didn't interfere. Even better, they made themselves scarce.
"Hello, Alice. Frank." Severus said sitting down in the chair across from Alice. She was sitting up in her own chair, staring off into space.
Her eyes focused on him, recognition sparking there. "You've been away," she said, her voice cracked and dry with disuse.
That single sentence was more words than she had spoken in fifteen years.
Shocked, he said, "I...yes. I couldn't come sooner...I..."
Unnervingly, she smiled. It was a fragile, eerie expression. "It's all right, Tim. We're meeting all out of order." She patted his hand. "So strange what eases one's heart, isn't it?" She looked towards her husband who was lying on his back staring straight up at the ceiling.
"Yes." Severus managed to say. "I...can't stay long. I just wanted to..." He was very grateful the ward was almost empty and the healers were staying out of his way. If they heard Alice speaking they would make far too much of a scene.
"Wish me Happy Christmas?"
Her smile changed. It lit up her face as it did after she said the Dark Lord's name for the first time. "Happy Christmas, Tim." She leaned forward and embraced him. "You are so brave." She whispered.
She leaned back and hummed softly to herself, her eyes drifting away.
"Alice?" Severus said, gently. No response. He took her hand and she looked past him, as vague as ever. "I wanted to tell you, I'm working on a potion that will help you. It won't be done for many years yet, but in the meantime, you're safe here." He stood, there was no point in tempting fate by being here too long. He planted a kiss on her forehead.
As he straightened, that spark of recognition returned. "Thank you, Severus." Then it faded again.
He returned to Hogwarts, spending the next few hours writing letters that he gave to the post owls to take to Gringott's.
The corridors were still uncommonly cold as Severus made his way to Madame Pomphrey's office. With no students staying at the castle, the house elves didn't light nearly enough fires.
The walk felt longer than normal. He strode into the infirmary looking most unhappy in case anyone was watching. He didn't think the Carrows had come back, but there was no reason to get sloppy. At precisely 4:55, he rapped his knuckles on Madam Pomphrey's office door.
The nurse's eyes were wary when she opened the door. "Headmaster?" Her tone could have put a skin of ice on a glass of water.
"I'm here to check on you potion's inventory, Madame Pomphrey." He crossed his arms against his chest, appearing most displeased.
"Headmaster, its Christmas." She objected, sounding weary and put upon.
"I don't care about the damned day." Severus said, stiffly. "I told you I want to inspect your potions inventory." He hoped she hadn't changed her mind.
"I suppose you'd better come in." Madame Pomphrey stepped aside and waved him in.
As soon as the door shut behind him, Madame Pomphrey turned around and asked, in a much different tone. "How are you, Headmaster?"
Severus was strangely at a loss. After so long playing this masquerade he wasn't sure how drop the act. He sat down in the chair at her desk. "Do you want honest truth? I'm tired."
Mme. Pomphrey had not yet thrown all caution away, he was pleased to see. She merely nodded.
For a long moment they stared at one another.
Finally, Severus broke the tension. He smiled at her. "I should thank you for the gift you gave me. Where did you get it?"
Mme. Pomphrey relaxed slightly. "It's not something I usually stock, that's true. However, yesterday morning when I was taking inventory of my potions, I found it in the back of the cupboard with your name on it."
Severus stared at her. "I beg your pardon?"
"You are aware of the enchantments on the castle that protect the headmaster, are you not?"
He was vaguely aware that there was some kind of defensive enchantments around the office of headmaster.
They were interrupted by a table with two chairs popping into existence. Another second and a Christmas dinner for two, with all the trimmings, appeared on the table.
"Why don't we sit down and talk about it while we eat?"
Severus sat down to the meal. The house elves had gone a bit overboard for a private dinner for two, since they didn't have anyone else to cook for. He poured himself a glass of wine. "Please explain what that has to do with our current situation or with finding an illegal potion in your cabinet."
She took her own seat. "I can only assume that the castle wanted you to have it. It's happened before. The castle looks after the headmaster."
"As Minerva is so fond of muttering under her breath, I am not the true headmaster, but an upstart."
The woman smiled. "No. If you weren't worthy of the office, the headmaster's office would have closed to you as it did for that horrible Umbridge woman." She held out her wine glass for him to fill. "The castle's purpose is to look after the students and the teachers and itself." Madam Pomphrey gave him a speculative, measuring stare before she continued, "I'm not sure anyone else here realizes what that means, not even Minerva." She paused a beat as if to see if he had caught on. When he didn't respond, she let out an exasperated snort. "It means the headmaster cannot be assassinated on the castle grounds."
"I would seem to have disproved that myth." His voice was harsh with grief.
She nodded, lowering her eyes. "Dumbledore was so ill." She sounded pained, "I knew him for far longer than you did Severus. I saw the creeping weakness that was overcoming him. I know he never wanted a slow demise. The school would never have allowed him to die at the hands of a traitor."
Chilled to the bone, Severus asked, "Have any of the other staff put this together?"
"No." Madam Pomphrey smiled sadly, looking up. "I feel it's much safer not to enlighten them."
"What about you?"
"I'm a Slytherin, Severus. Being underestimated is good camouflage." She filled her own glass again. "And, I think if the headmaster likes to harass me because I have objected to his treatment of a certain redheaded student, no one will think twice. You are always welcome here, if only for a cup of tea and a shoulder." A resigned frown settled over her features. "If you feel you must, you may also obliviate the memory from my mind."
He should obliviate her. This was dangerous, he couldn't afford friends. The dreams of last night were just that. He couldn't afford to cling to the hope they gave him.
But Alice...She had confirmed the truth of some of it. Hadn't she?
For the moment, he could put aside his fear for the space of one Christmas meal. He held up his glass in toast, "Happy Christmas, Poppy."
On Christmas Eve, in his study, nursing a fire whisky, Harry contemplated the events of the past week. Tim was much better, although he was hearted that the Dark Man had apparently disappeared without so much as a good bye.
The kids and Ginny were out doing a bit of late Christmas shopping. Harry wasn't keen on the crowds and the relentless cheer, so he stayed in.
A tapping on the window made Harry jump. It was just a post owl. Probably delivering some late Christmas cards.
Three letters were held in the bird's beak. One was addressed to him, one to Ginny and one to Tim. The parchment looked old.
He opened the one addressed to him. In Professor Snape's cramped handwriting, it read:
If you read this, then all my hopes have come to pass. I am placing these documents in the care of the goblins. I have directed that these letters should be delivered this Christmas Eve to you IF the letter to one Timothy Rhys Dawson Potter could also be delivered.
Although I left the majority of my possessions to Hogwarts, I have several items that I have bequeathed to you and your son Tim. The key to the vault is at Gringott's and will be released to you after the New Year. Please accept my thanks.
Harry stared at the parchment, not sure how to feel about this proof positive that Snape's appearance in Tim's body was real.
The third letter was addressed to Ginny.
Hours later Harry was still staring into the fire in his study, although he had changed to just drinking tea. "Tim?" He yelled down the stairs. "You've got a letter."
The boy came thumping up the stairs, his cheeks red from the wind outside. "I do?"
"Yeah. It's..." Harry didn't know how to explain. "Just come in here to open it."
Tim gave him an eloquently quizzical tip of one eyebrow. Harry was sure the child must have been practicing that expression in the mirror, or else the muscles of his face had gotten used to the way Snape used them. He couldn't remember ever seeing the blond child look so Snape-ish.
Tearing the letter open, Tim sat down on the settee to read. His mouth slowly bloomed into a wistful smile.
"What does it say?" Harry asked after a few minutes, unable to contain himself.
Wordlessly his adopted son handed the letter over. The child's eyes were suspiciously bright and he swallowed hard. Tactfully, Harry didn't acknowledge the threatened tears. Instead he looked at the letter.
I am delighted that you are able to read this. I must apologize for my abrupt departure. Magic does what it will without necessarily complying with our own desires.
First, a small reassurance: we will see each other again. This is not so much "farewell" as "until later".
Second, I have a vault at Gringott's I have bequeathed to your father dad with the stipulation that it should pass to you upon your seventeenth birthday. The key will be available to him and you in the New Year. Merely trifles that I believe will be helpful to you.
I am very glad to have been able to spend some time with you.
The Dark Man
The sound of the front door opening and closing announced the arrival of Dudley, Philip and Eleanor. The noise of the floo told them that other guests had turned up. Neither of them moved. It was some time before either Harry or Tim felt up to joining the noisy group downstairs.
It was uncommonly cold this Christmas holiday at Hogwarts. Though the Great Hall boasted twelve Christmas trees and fairy lights graced every corridor, Professor Potter felt a chill that went deeper than skin and bone as he made his way to his dungeon quarters.
A concerned voice stopped him, "All right, Tim?"
He turned, attempted a polite smile. "I'm all right, headmistress."
Professor Longbottom stepped forward, taking a good look at him. "Neville and I were wondering if you wanted to join us tonight for supper?"
"I'm not sure if I'm up to company right now."
Her smile was understanding. "If you change your mind, we'll be in all night."
"Thank you, Millie." He turned down the stairs, not meeting anyone else, not even a ghost. When he got to his quarters, he threw himself into his favorite chair and started going through the messages that were stacked on the side table waiting for him.
Mostly letters of condolence, sympathizing the loss of his father. A few notes pertaining to the estate from the solicitor. A letter from James letting him know what time dinner was at the house tomorrow.
He dropped them all back on the table. He wanted something to occupy his mind, but there wasn't a thing he could think of. He thought of just getting on the computer, but in this mood, not even the internet could distract him.
Restlessly he got up, poured himself a drink. All that old pain rose up in his stomach. Mum and Dad's deaths so close together had brought it all back. Mary's death. His Nana's death. That horrible feeling of loneliness. He sat down again.
Something else tickled his brain too. He had been having the most awful dreams the last week since Dad died. Over and over, he dreamed of being on the astronomy tower and raising a wand to someone and watching him fall. The dream would change then, and now it was his own death he dreamt. He would wake up choking.
He got up to pour himself another drink.
When he returned to his chair, a small silver box with green ribbon had popped up on the table. One of the house elves must have brought it. For lack of anything better to do, he opened it. Inside was a small silver potion labeled Heart's Ease.
What the devil was someone doing sending him a dangerous restricted potion? He took out his wand and scanned the thing. He didn't have many enemies, but it would be mad to take it at face value.
The spell showed nothing untoward. Well, nothing more untoward than randomly receiving a restricted potion illegally.
The letter lay in the bottom of the box written in cramped handwriting.
From the past to the future. For a day when you need it. The Dark Man.
That was beyond weird. As far as Tim knew, the only people who knew about his dissociative disorder were his family and his mind healer. He hadn't been troubled by the sensation of housing separate identities in his body since he was young. And then there was that weird thing that happened that one Christmas.
He did have that dream about the Dark Man the night Dad died. Could this be connected?
He stared at the bottle, wondering if today was the day when he needed it.
"Tim? Are you there?" Someone called from his floo. "You're not coming tonight?" It was Bette Selwyn, an auror who worked with James. She was referring to the Ministry Holiday Party that James had to attend and invited Tim to. "I was sort of hoping to see you."
"I just don't feel up to a lot of people." Tim got up to crouch on the hearth, "Sorry." About ten years younger than Tim, they'd met when she started working in James' department. As a consultant on Dark Magic, Tim saw her quite often when he went to the Ministry. She always made time to talk. James had been telling Tim for months that Bette fancied him.
It was hard to shrug when one's head was sitting in the fire, but Bette managed it. "No worries, Tim. I know parties aren't your thing on the best days. I suppose I wasn't really expecting you...I was just concerned about you sending Christmas Eve alone. Could I come through? Or you could come over here. I thought we might just have a quiet cup of tea or something." Bette was quite popular, which was one reason he hadn't taken James very seriously. She could spend her Christmas Eve with anyone she wanted. He was touched that she would want to spend it with him.
A quiet cup of tea with the dark, soft voiced, big eyed auror sounded like just the thing at the moment. "Yes, that would be nice." Perhaps another time, they could do more than just a cup of tea, but it was a start.
The box with the silver potion went forgotten on the table. Today was not the day.
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