Harry woke early. He always did – at least since he'd started school at Hogwarts. He lay still a moment, savoring the stillness, the scent of Christmas trees that permeated even this far, the chill of the morning outside his blankets. For just a moment, he considered having a bit of a lie-in, but he knew that would invite disaster, so he slipped from under the covers, careful not even to think in the direction of the only other occupant of the room, slid his feet into slippers, and grabbed his robe, shivering slightly as he left, turning the door handle so not even a click would betray him.
He walked down the stairs, yawning and rubbing sleep from his eyes, careful to skip the step that squeaked, two up from the bottom. By the time he reached the common room, as Albus insisted on calling it, he was wide awake, shaking his head and grinning at the pile of presents under the tree. As always, his friends had been generous. He pictured Christmas chaos at the Burrow, and for a moment, wished he was there, but there would be time enough for that this afternoon. Christmas morning was for him… for the place that had become his home, and he savored every moment, like a painstakingly opened present, unwrapped with reverence and anticipation.
Not stopping at the tree and the pile of presents there, he headed further downstairs to the kitchen, softly calling for Kreacher, who appeared with a crack, wearing a new set of towels and a red velvet Santa hat, making Harry laugh out loud – safe, now that he was distant from the still-sleeping hoard upstairs.
"Happy Christmas, Kreacher!" he said, and pulled a present from behind his back, handing it to the aging elf.
"Happy Christmas, Master Harry," Kreacher responded, and he, too, held out a present, wrapped carefully, topped with a red bow trimmed in green.
"You first," Harry insisted, and he went to make hot chocolate, something he tussled over with Kreacher the first few years, until they'd reached a Christmas accord. He grinned as Kreacher unwrapped his present – socks, something else they'd tussled over, as Kreacher went into near fits of anxiety the first time Harry had presented him with clothes, fearing he was being thrown out. Now, however, they had an unspoken agreement: Harry would present him with socks, and Kreacher would ignore the fact, though the socks inevitably made their way into the elf's wardrobe on cold winter days.
A cauldron of hot chocolate simmering on the stove, Harry sat and opened his present from Kreacher – a book on Wizarding traditions he'd been searching for. "Kreacher! How on earth –? Where –? How did you even know?"
The elf's ears trembled in glee. "Kreacher sees! Kreacher knows! As for where, Master Harry…" and he put a knobby finger alongside his rather prominent nose and smiled toothily, "Kreacher is not telling – Kreacher promised!"
Severus. It had to be Severus. Only that snarky old git would have the resources to track down the rare volume, and he and Kreacher played chess weekly, on the one day of the week Harry banished him from Grimmauld Place, by means of ordering him to Hogwarts with Sunday dinner for Snape. Harry snorted and smiled. Snarky old git! he thought fondly.
He set to making Christmas breakfast, while Kreacher set the table and garnished plates with ribbon and Christmas crackers and colorful napkins. Every year, the decorations at the table became more lavish. Six place settings, these past several years – plus one that Harry always added, as Kreacher would not set a place for himself – another step in the dance he and Harry played every day. New slippers sat on every chair – including Kreacher's… including the one for the snarky old git.
The wards tingled, and Harry grinned in anticipation, bounding up the stairs to the front hall. His hand touched the doorknob, but he waited to feel it turning before he yanked open the door, pulling the tall, dark wizard forward into the hall, straight into Harry's arms, as if by accident. It was the only way he'd get his Christmas hug.
"Happy Christmas, Severus!" he said, gleefully throwing his arms around the man and refusing to let go.
"Unhand me this instant, Potter!" Snape snarled, but he did not struggle, and one hand came up to press Harry's back, and his head dipped momentarily, his chin softly touching the top of Harry's head.
Harry gave a last squeeze and let the man go, his eyes twinkling with something suspiciously moist as he looked up into the onyx gaze. Snape struggled for impassivity, but failed to achieve it, and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. "Happy to see me?" he asked dryly.
"Always," Harry said, relishing the look that – always – came to the man's face at his usual reply.
Snape pushed at his shoulder. "Back up, brat, and give me room to divest myself of my travel robe, before I expire of the heat in this tomb."
Harry laughed and took his cloak, hanging it on a peg that was labeled Uncle Severus, amidst two rows of similarly labeled hooks, one at waist height. "The rest of them are still asleep."
"Aided, no doubt, by that potion you slip into their cocoa, Christmas Eve."
"Severus!" Harry pretended to be scandalized. "How could you think such a thing of me? Dosing my own children to keep them asleep? What would the wizarding world think of me?" he laughed.
"Doubtless, they would consider it some marvelous parenting innovation brought to them by their dashing hero," Snape said mildly as he followed Harry back down the stairs to the kitchen, a flash of apology flitting across his face as Harry turned to look at him, sadness and disappointment on his face.
"My apologies," Snape said. "I know better." He paused. "Harry… sincerely…"
Harry shook his head, and Snape raised a hand to pat his shoulder, then, unable to stop himself, it seemed, pulled the younger man into a quick hug. Harry shook his head and gave a strained, surprised laugh. "You know – that's the first time you ever hugged me of your own accord," he said, pink-faced and looking anywhere but into Snape's eyes.
"I did not hug you. And if you ever speak of it in front of anyone, I shall hex your racing broom."
"Horrors!" Harry said, wide-eyed and laughing.
Balance restored, they worked together to complete the Christmas breakfast, then Harry turned to him with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Shall we?"
Together, they walked up the stairs to the second floor, careful to hit the squeaky stair this time, to warn the likely-waking residents of the upper floors that they were coming. They parted at the first landing, Harry turning to his room, Severus continuing to the third floor.
Harry slipped back inside the room, then back into the bed, sliding his hand under the covers and walking his fingers up the back of the red-haired witch laying with her head buried in her pillow. He leaned over and kissed her neck. "Ginny love," he said, as he did every morning, "I'm Seeking something." He laughed when she reached behind herself and batted his hand away, moaning something incoherent. "Come on, love – it's Christmas, and Severus is here, and breakfast is waiting. If we don't get up, the kids'll start without us!"
She groaned again, but flipped over. Even with creases from the pillowcase pressed into her cheek, she was beautiful, Harry thought, and his breath caught, as it did every morning he woke with her beside him. "Gods, you're beautiful!" he said, smiling down into her sleepy brown eyes.
"And you're insane," she responded, but she pulled him down into a chaste kiss which she refused to let him deepen. "Morning breath!" she protested. "Besides, if you get me going… James and Albus will have torn the presents apart!"
Harry growled. "They'd better not have!" He shoved himself upright and held out a hand. "Come, my fair lady, let us go see to our children and our guest."
"Not before I brush my teeth and hair!" she protested.
Harry pulled her into a hug and kissed her fiercely, just on the principle of it, and said, "Hurry up! Christmas won't wait!" Laughing, she pulled away from him, and headed into the master bath.
Sounds of laughter and squeals of "Uncle Severus! Stop!"came from the floor above, and Harry wondered what Severus had done to wake the trio upstairs. Some vow kept the boys and Lily from tattling on their uncle, who steadfastly refused to even acknowledge Harry's question every time he asked, but this, too, was tradition, and he grinned happily as he listened to the deep, smooth voice weave its way around higher-pitched young voices, though James' voice had changed to match Harry's older tenor this past year. Severus would keep them occupied with washing faces and hands, brushing teeth, and making themselves semi-presentable until Harry and Ginny called to them. He set about brushing his own teeth, washing up, and dressing for the day – in Slytherin green, just to annoy Severus.
Ginny emerged from the master bath, and he grabbed her up in a hug, whirling her around the room, grinning at her protests. "I love you, Ginny Potter!" he said, grinning at her.
"I love you, too, Harry Potter, but if you don't put me down, I'm going to slip one of Snape's potions into your hot chocolate!"
"That's my girl!" he laughed. "At least you didn't threaten to hex my broom!"
"Oh – I can think of ways to hex your broom," she said, laughing, and he gaped at her and gulped as she headed toward the door. Laughing, he recovered, and chased after her.
They paused on the landing, and she grinned up at him as they listened to Snape's exasperated tone, saying, "Albus Severus, you will comport yourself as befits your name! No, Lily, you may not dress like a princess today! It's Christmas, not Halloween! You will dress as befits the day. Now go change into that red frock your mother bought you! James! If you don't stop hexing your brother's ferret, I will have you scrubbing cauldrons from here to Easter! You have exactly two minutes before I lose my patience entirely and abandon this hovel you call a home for the peace and quiet of my study at school! Do not test me!"
Ginny giggled, and Harry could not help the snort he gave. Severus' keen ears must have heard them, because he poked his dark head over the bannister and glared down at them. "Potter, I swear, your children become more unruly by the year!"
"Yeah, well, the only thing that's changed is how much exposure they've had to you, Sev!" Harry called up at him, and received a well-aimed stinging hex to his buttocks, for his cheek. Laughing and dodging hexes, he and Ginny grabbed hands and raced down the stairs, calling, "Last one down is the last one to open presents!" Squeals of protest chased them.
Soon, stampeding feet, followed by a more measured step, made their way to the kitchen, cheerful voices calling out over each other, "Happy Christmas, Mom! Happy Christmas, Dad! Happy Christmas, Kreacher!" and hugs were distributed around.
"I hope you wished your uncle a Happy Christmas, as well," Ginny mock-scolded, hugging Lily. "All we could hear was arguing and scolding! Hmm… perhaps we should delay presents until Uncle Severus can attest to your better behavior," she said thoughtfully, turning to wink at Snape, who had pulled out a chair and sat, and was spreading a napkin over his lap.
"No! No! We weren't bad, I promise!" Albus said fearfully. "I wasn't bad, was I, Uncle Severus?" he pleaded.
Snape considered him seriously, tapping a finger against his lips. "Let me see if I can recall…" he began. "Who was it who hexed the ferret? Ah, yes!" he said, turning to James, who paled and began stuttering out an apology. Snape waved him to silence and fixed his gaze on Lily. "And who was it who decided she would rather dress as a princess than as a Christmas angel?" Lily smiled at him and hid her face in Ginny's robe. "And let's see…" Severus turned his regard on his namesake, but could not maintain his stern visage, softening into a smile. "And who was it who forgot to wish his godfather a Happy Christmas?"
Albus tore around the table, and Snape pushed back his chair in anticipation. His godson threw himself into his lap, his thin arms clinging to him. "Happy Christmas, Uncle!" he cried.
"I love you," the boy whispered into his ear. He hugged the small body to him and murmured back, "And I love you."
"What about me?" Lily demanded, pulling her head away from Ginny.
Snape put Albus off his lap and said, "Well? What about you, then?"
A tiny red-clad body hurtled into his arms, and tiny arms wrapped around his neck, followed by a wet kiss to his cheek. "Happy Christmas, Uncle Severus! Am I your favorite?"
He tapped the back of the little head, and admonished, "Lily… Your uncle does not play favorites!" glaring at Harry when he snorted.
"Happy Christmas, Uncle," James said, grinning at him and holding out a hand. Snape considered it with distaste, and the hand was withdrawn, James standing awkwardly.
"Mr. Potter," Snape said, narrowing his eyes at the boy, "if you insist on formality, I'll thank you to refer to me as 'Professor', or 'Sir'."
James gulped, looked at his father, who was fighting to keep his smile from turning into a scowl, and tried again. "Uh… Happy Christmas, Uncle," he said, and after a moment's hesitation, threw his arms around… admittedly… his potions professor. After a moment, during which Snape hugged him gently back, he relaxed and tightened his hold a moment before stepping back. "Sorry, Unc," he said cheerfully. "Force of habit, you know."
"Not here, James. Here, I'm just your uncle. Please," Snape said.
James responded to that by throwing his arms around the man again, more enthusiastically this time. "Happy Christmas, Uncle," he said again. "I do love you, you know?"
"I do. And I love you, as well. Now get off of me so I can eat my breakfast, you unruly scamp!"
Everyone laughed, and chairs scraped across the floor as they sat down. Twenty noisy minutes later, Ginny led them upstairs to the parlor, the children jockeying for position until she said, "Age order! Youngest first!" shushing James' protest.
Harry and Snape took a moment to begin cleaning up, before Kreacher waved them off with, "Masters Harry and Severus should be opening presents with family."
Harry tugged on Snape's sleeve when he turned toward the stairs. "Sev."
"Yes, Potter? What is it?"
Snape considered him. "Not if you insist on calling me 'Sir', Mr. Potter. We are not at school."
"Sorry," Harry said with an unrepentant grin. "Severus."
"What is it, then, Harry?"
"I just wanted to say Happy Christmas."
"You've already done that."
"Well… yeah… but…" Harry pulled a palm-sized box, wrapped in silver and green, from underneath his robes. "This is for you."
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Presents are to be opened around the tree – Harry."
"Not this one. Indulge me. Please," Harry pleaded, his eyes uncertain and anxious.
"Very well." Thin, elegant hands undid the wrapping carefully. Harry held his breath as Snape opened the lid. He did nothing else for a moment, then carefully lifted the tiny figure from where it nestled amidst cushioning tissue. He raised questioning eyes to Harry's.
"It's… it's how I think of you," Harry said. "A dragon… brave… and protective… and fierce. I… do you like it?" he asked, daring to hold Snape's gaze.
Snape turned his eyes back to the small creature that stretched and rustled its wings, turned on Snape's palm to look at him, then blew a bit of harmless flame. One finger reached out to touch its neck, and it froze into crystalline stillness, a thing of beauty, its scales deepening from green to red from head to toe, its tiny wings gossamer thin, its proud neck stretched out under Snape's caress.
"You think of me this way?" he said wonderingly.
"Complete with freezing into stiffness when someone expresses affection – yeah," Harry laughed.
Snape looked from the figure in his palm to Harry. "I hardly think I am stiff around your children, Harry."
"No," Harry said softly. "You're not," something like longing in his tone.
Snape turned his eyes back to the dragon in his hand, then back to Harry. He reached out his other hand, and Harry stood firm, wondering what the man was going to do. The hand touched the back of his head, running down his hair to the nape of his neck, where elegant fingers and a strong hand pressed him forward. He went willingly, and could not help the small sob that was torn from him as Severus wrapped his arms around him, holding him tightly.
"I love it," Snape said. And Harry knew what he meant.
"I love you, too," he said past his tears, and thought he only imagined the lips brushing the top of his head.
"Come," Severus said. "Your family awaits, and I did not spend my meager salary on presents for your brats only to miss their faces when they open them."
Harry laughed, hugged the man tightly once more, and let go. They both pretended not to notice the wetness around his eyes, nor the suspicious gleam in Snape's.
"Can't let that happen," Harry said. He hesitated one more moment. "Severus…"
"Harry… thank you for the dragon. I shall cherish it." Severus caressed the dragon again before replacing it in the box, and slipping it into an inside pocket in his robes. "Come – your family is waiting."
"You are my family, too," Harry said quietly.
Snape froze, as still as the dragon in his pocket, closed his eyes, and opened them to look at Harry in wonder. "That… is the best Christmas present I have ever received," he said quietly, then nodded at the doorway.
"Come, Kreacher. You're family, too," Harry said, and the elf, who had been watching in silence, started and smiled, and said, "Yes, Master Harry, Master Severus," and together, the three of them climbed the stairs to join the rest of the family for Christmas.