Title: Christmas Vigil

Pairings: Harry/Severus, Hermione/Ron

Rating: T

A/N: Something I wrote for the adventdrabbles community on IJ. :)

xxx

Turning the page of his book, Severus glanced up at the clock for the tenth time in as many minutes. 7:32 p.m. It had taken him half an hour to read three pages, and he could barely remember half of it. He'd snatched up the Potions Journal when he'd been forced to abandon marking, unable to concentrate on the task at hand, but reading had proved just as fruitless. It was Christmas Eve, and Harry should have been home five hours ago.

Severus tossed the book aside and took to pacing the room. Harry had been on an Auror mission for the past two weeks; not unusual in itself, and it was no more dangerous than any other mission, but this time he had not returned when he was supposed to. Kingsley had been in contact, briefly, to inform him. He'd assured Severus that they had no reason to be concerned—Harry had made contact only the day before—but Severus thought rather differently. If Harry knew that he was going to be late, which was fairly often in his profession, he always sent word. The fact that he hadn't…

The fireplace burst to life and Kingsley's head appeared in the flames. He shook it in answer before Severus had even formed a question.

"Still no word, I'm afraid. I've had to officially list his status as missing."

"What about those he was with?" Severus demanded. "Weasley? Thomas? Henderson?"

"The rest of the team got back safely."

"Then I shall just have to go out there myself."

Kingsley shook his head again. "That really wouldn't help matters. Look, Severus, I have people out there trying to ascertain what happened. I'll let you know the moment I have news."

Severus scowled but jerked his head down in an irritable assent; he had little faith in the Ministry idiots finding anything useful. As the flames died, he sank back onto the couch and, ignoring his book, simply stared at the clock.

xxx

At a quarter past eight there was a knock at the door. Knowing it wouldn't, couldn't be Harry, Severus didn't rush to answer it. He assumed it would be Professor McGonagall, so was more than a little surprised to find Ginny standing there instead.

"Sev'rus!"

Severus looked down as something attached itself to his leg. Albus gave him a beaming smile in return, reminiscent of his namesake. Lately he had become unaccountably attached to Severus, something which Harry delighted in. Severus' heart clenched as a memory of a laughing Harry swam across his vision.

"I'm sorry to intrude, Severus," Ginny said quietly. She was holding Lily in her arms, James standing solemnly by her side. "It's just that I couldn't stand waiting—"

"Please," Severus cut in, opening the door wider. "Come in."

"Thank you."

Once inside, Ginny put Lily down and she immediately ran to the tree. Albus gave Severus' leg a final squeeze and then followed, but James stood resolutely by his mother. Aged seven, several years older than his siblings, he alone seemed to sense the gravity of the situation.

"I take it there's no news?" Ginny asked softly.

Severus watched Lily prod the shiny baubles and then laugh, her eyes shining. Harry had insisted on decorating the tree before he left.

"No."

As if sensing the subject of conversation, Albus turned and asked, "When will daddy be home?"

Severus found that his throat was constricted. Ginny laid a hand on his arm.

"Soon, sweetheart," she replied, managing a reassuring smile for the sake of her children.

It was going to be a long night.

xxx

More people arrived as the hours passed, seeking company and reassurance, and the room filled. Mr and Mrs Weasley, Hermione (Ron had gone straight back out to assist in the search), George, Percy, Bill… Normally Severus would have abhorred the mere thought of such a gathering in his rooms, but he found that he couldn't turn them away. Not when they were there for Harry. Instead he sat in an armchair watching the minutes ticking by, declining to take part in the muted discussions and theories, reassurances falling on deaf ears. Eventually Albus climbed up on his lap and went to sleep. Severus pretended not to notice the fond looks directed his way.

When midnight came and went, ushering in Christmas Day, no one uttered a word. They sat in silent vigil, bathed in red and green from the Christmas tree lights; James had fought sleep for as long as he could and was now dozing against his mother, and Lily was asleep in Mrs Weasley's arms. Albus was still curled up against Severus' chest, his pale face relaxed in untroubled sleep. Although he'd never admit it, Severus found his warm weight rather comforting; a little piece of Harry that he could hold close. And it stopped him from grabbing his wand and cloak and going to find Harry himself.

Finally, at a little past two in the morning, Kingsley's silver lynx appeared and his deep voice filled the room.

"We have him. He's safe." The room erupted in exclamations of joy and relief as people got to their feet. Severus would not allow himself to join in, not until Harry was back with him. Knowing that their first thought would be to see him, Kingsley added, "Stay where you are. I'll have more soon."

The fact that Kingsley had not described Harry's condition made the following minutes almost as unbearable as the previous long hours.

"He's alive, though," Mrs Weasley kept repeating. "That's the important thing."

Lily, woken up by the message and subsequent noise, was only asking if Santa had been yet.

Then the Floo burst to life and, instead of Kingsley's head, a familiar figure in red robes appeared in the flames.

"Santa?" Lily gasped.

"Better than Santa, Lils," James grinned, jumping up. "It's Dad."

"Daddy?" Albus said, sitting up, suddenly awake and alert.

Harry had barely stepped out of the flames—exhausted, filthy, but miraculously uninjured—when three small figures were upon him, and everyone else soon followed. The Floo could be heard again over the din and Ron stepped out, soon finding himself with his arms full of a beaming, teary Hermione. It was difficult to imagine a more joyous Christmas morning.

"I just ran into a little trouble with some nasty wizards," Harry explained to Lily, who was clinging to his neck. His other arm was wrapped around James and Albus in a three-way hug. "But I was determined to be home for Christmas." He looked around until his eyes found Severus, standing patiently behind the crowd.

As Harry put Lily down and approached him, Severus allowed himself to breathe freely for the first time in many hours.

"Trouble follows you around, Mr Potter."

"True," Harry said, smiling ruefully. "But I always find my way home." He slid his arms around Severus' waist, and Severus fought the urge to pull Harry tightly against him and never let go. Instead he cradled Harry's face, drinking him in.

"Happy Christmas, Severus," Harry whispered.

"Happy Christmas," Severus replied, leaning in, "Harry." At that moment, he didn't care if the whole world was watching. Nothing else mattered but the feel of Harry's lips under his; the only present Severus ever needed.

End.