"Where are we going, Headmaster?" Harry asked nervously.
"Somewhere safe, my boy, don't worry." Dumbledore answered in a placating tone.
Okay, I might not be worried, Harry thought rather sarcastically, if you, instead of Uncle Vernon, hadn't shown up at King's Cross to pick me up, and then didn't bother to tell me why.
By the change in temperature – gods, and I thought that Scotland was cold! – Harry could tell they had portkeyed someplace far away, presumably somewhere well north of England.
"But, sir, just yesterday you told me I had to spend Christmas at the Dursleys." Harry tried again, shivering in the biting icy wind. He tried to stay calm, but Dumbledore was getting on his nerves with his nonchalant vagueness.
"The situation has changed," the old wizard continued in his annoying attitude, seemingly oblivious to both the killing cold and Harry's boiling temper. "I found you a place where you will be as safe as you would be at your Aunt's house. Ah, here we are." The last was added in an irritatingly pleased tone.
They reached a nice, ordinary looking house. Harry wondered if he would be staying with wizards or Muggles. Nearly all the windows were lit, so there was probably a family living inside, not a solitary person like Miss Figg.
Great, he thought glumly, it will be just wonderful to be an unwelcome observer imposing on a family celebration.
Of course, it was the same with the Dursleys; the three of them celebrating and Harry being in the way, an unwanted nuisance among the family of 'normal, respectable' people. Harry never felt guilty for imposing on the Dursleys, though. At least not since he had come to understand that it wasn't he who was to blame – that was to say, since very recently. The Dursleys were supposed to care for him, to include him into their family just like the Weasleys did.
With a heavy heart Harry watched Dumbledore ring the doorbell. After a minute of nervous waiting the door opened and a woman appeared. She was like the house, nice and ordinary looking. Harry still couldn't guess if she was a Muggle or a witch.
She seemed to be alarmed by their presence. "Has something happened?"
"No, my dear," Dumbledore hastened to assure her.
She did not seem entirely comforted. "Where's... he?"
Harry couldn't miss the pause. There obviously should have been a name in that sentence.
"He will be here soon," the old wizard informed her soothingly.
The woman relaxed, but her expression turned even more displeased with their presence.
"What is the meaning of this, then?" she demanded, copying Harry's thoughts perfectly. He only hoped she would get better answers than he had received.
The woman suddenly looked back inside, from where, Harry just realized, a murmur of children's voices could be heard. She called out something in a foreign language, catching Harry off guard. He caught only the word 'Kolya' which he was pretty sure was a name. A door shut and silenced the murmur.
"Come in," she invited. They weren't invited to go far, however. They stopped in a small hall just inside the door. It was where shoes were changed and coats were hung. Harry took a moment to look at the outer clothes and decided that at least some of them were of wizarding style. Must be a magical household, then. A warm, magical household, thankfully. It was blissfully warmer than it was outside.
"I demand an explanation," she said to Dumbledore, turning to fix him with a steady gaze.
It reminded Harry painfully how unwelcome he was here.
Couldn't the Headmaster at least inform her in advance, for God's sake? I'm lucky that I am too big to fit in a basket and to be left in front of the door!
"Of course, Chris," the old wizard answered with maddening calm. "This is Harry Potter. He is unable to go home. I needed an equally safe alternative on the spur of the moment."
The woman – Chris – nodded at Harry in way of recognition.
"Your safe house," she pointed out meaningfully, though Harry could hear a question in her tone.
"Unfortunately, it has been compromised recently and had to be vacated." Dumbledore said with regret.
Compromised, Harry thought stunned. Were they talking about Grimmauld Place? Did that mean there had been – or still was – a spy among the Order of the Phoenix?
"Hogwarts," she offered.
"The Ministry will most likely try to take Harry." The wizard informed her, scaring Harry out of his wits.
What did he mean take me? Take where?
"Take where?" Harry voiced his worries in what he hoped was a steady voice. "And why?"
"I am afraid I don't have time to explain, my boy," Dumbledore answered him. "Suffice it to say, I will do everything in my power to stabilize the situation before you return for the next semester. Which reminds me, I'm late for an important meeting."
"You should wait and talk to Severus," Chris pointed out sharply.
Harry felt alarm wash through him.
Severus? Aka Severus Snape? Dumbledore has to be kidding!
Harry really didn't know if he should scream in anger or panic.
"I have to be going. Merry Christmas!" The Headmaster smiled at them as if nothing had happened, and turned to leave.
"You broke the deal," Chris told to the parting wizard. The accusation – or statement, perhaps - was voiced without malice, but carried graveness. To Harry it sounded like a promise of repercussions or like an announcement that all other deals or expectations were off as well.
It felt the same as the final breaking of his friendship with Ron had been. After weeks of heated arguments, it was one cold and detached dialog that finished it off. Harry shook his head. He didn't want to think about that now.
He swallowed as the front door shut behind the Headmaster. "I'm sorry," he said awkwardly.
Chris looked him up and down as if appraising him. "I suppose you had as much choice as we did in this."
She sighed with obvious resigned anger. "Dumbledore moves people like chess pieces."
Harry nodded again. He felt silly – if he kept this up he could be mistook for a bobble-head toy - but there really wasn't anything to add.
"Well, Harry, welcome to our home. I'm Chris, as you've heard. Leave your coat and boots here. Do you have lighter shoes to wear inside?"
In answer, Harry took his summer trainers from his trunk, but Chris wrinkled her nose at them and handed him a pair of soft slippers. Harry had to admit that the trainers weren't very clean and they had holes in them too, the ugly old things.
"Come and meet our sons. I hope you will get along well." She led him inside and Harry had to wonder if that had been a threat.
Harry was now hoping more than ever that her husband – or partner – was a different Severus. Snape hated children, so it was doubtful he would have his own. Maybe one as an heir, maybe as a pureblood thing, Harry guessed, but definitely not more of them. Not to mention that this pleasant woman would never fall for Snape, the greasy ugly bat.
While leading him to a big hall serving as a living room, Chris looked at him with a small, gentle smile. "I hope you were not offended. It's not as if I have anything against you personally. Dumbledore bringing any wizard here is a major security breach."
"Er- thanks," Harry murmured. "It was fine."
Then his gaze fell on a pair of dark haired boys who were in the living room. And another pair of dark haired boys. And then there was yet another a pair of dark haired boys. These were smaller, and couldn't have been more than five. Three pairs of twins?
"Isn't it like seeing double?" Chris grinned at him, and Harry laughed – something that he hadn't anticipated himself doing through the entire mucked up Christmas.
One of the oldest twins – Harry thought he had to be approximately the same age as he was - rolled his eyes, so this was obviously an old joke.
"Well, this is Harry. He will spend the Christmas holidays with us." Chris informed them. Then she pointed at the boys as she began to introduce them, starting with the oldest ones and finishing with the kids. "Harry, those are Andrei and Nicolay, Eduard and Pavel, and Sasha and Mark."
Harry got a chorus of 'hi's and weakly answered the same. He was doomed. He took a look at each of the boys, still surprised by the fact he was looking at three sets of twins. Whilst Chris' eyes were light brown, not unlike Ginny's, the boys' eyes were Snape-black, and whilst Chris' hair were rather dull brown, the boys' hair were jet-black, even the kids'. The middle pair of twins, Harry guessed they could be about 13 or 14 years old, had even the distinct Snape nose. Darn. There went his hope that this was not Snape's family.
Harry was officially dead.
"Has Dumbledore put some protective spells on you?" Chris interrupted his musings.
"Er- no?" Harry answered, feeling dumb. Judging by the looks he got, the boys thought him dumb too. That was, except for the small ones, who got back to their odd ball game, which consisted of throwing a soft ball at a large Christmas tree trying to hit and shoot down the – obviously spelled against just such mischief – ornaments.
"Okay, let me," Chris told him, and it was the only warning he got before she pointed her wand at him. In an eye blink, he had his own wand pointed back at her. His reaction was automatic. When he realised what he had done, he blushed.
"Good reflexes," she praised him, instead of getting angry. "Only, you should also make a step this way and turn 40 degrees so that you wouldn't have four wands pointed at your back."
Harry looked over his shoulder, and the boys smirked at him. He lowered his wand with a muttered his 'sorry'.
"Mum is the Dark Arts, Defense and Combat teacher," Andrei informed him.
"Now, Harry, do not worry. I'm going to put a few charms on you. Completely painless. I'll tell you in advance what they each are for, alright?"
"Okay. Er- sorry." Harry apologized for what seemed the thousand time that evening, feeling awkward. This was going to be the worst Christmas ever. And Snape even wasn't at home yet.
"The first charm confuses post owls. They will stay put where they got their letters, so nobody can even guess in which direction you are." She made a complicated motion with her wand and said, "Noctua Confundo."
Harry shivered as he felt the spell make contact, feeling his skin tingle. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, just odd.
"The second renders 'Point me' useless," Chris announced before producing an equally complicated wave, "Opertus."
"The third and fourth ones obscure you from seers and other users of various divination methods and similarly working devices," she informed him, "Positum Animae Obscuro. Medulla Secludo.
"Now, the last one will mask your magic signature. Of course the house and garden are both warded, but if you forgot and produced a spell outside... Still, it's not foolproof, so try to refrain."
"I can do magic?" Harry exclaimed in amazement. How many times during summers at Dursleys had he wished he had been allowed to use magic at least now and then to help with the most boring chores! Immediately he was mortified as he realized how his exclamation had sounded.
The four boys laughed appreciatively and then laughed some more when one of the kids innocently asked, "You haven't known you're a wizard?"
Chris' smile was more gentle, as she confirmed, "Yes, you can do magic here. Within reason, of course. I expect you to be sensible enough not to bring the roof down on our heads."
"Er- sure," Harry agreed, awkwardly returning her smile.
This time, Chris murmured a long string of Latin as she waved her wand over Harry. He hardly caught a single word he understood. He realised, though, that these five charms might be dead useful. He decided to ask Chris later if she could teach him.
When she was done, she said, "Now, why don't I have the boys show you around? I have to finish dinner. Andrei, Harry will be staying in the guest room." With that she disappeared into the kitchen and left Harry at the mercy of six Snapes.
Fortunately, only Andrei went upstairs with Harry to show him the house, and the others stayed in the living room. As he started up the staircase, Harry heard a comment by one of the middle twins, "Harry Potter of all people. Dad's gonna flip."
Yup, your dad's gonna flip and kill me in process, Harry agreed silently.
"The first door is to the babies' room," Andrei motioned to the left, smirking at Harry.
"We're not babies!" came the yell from downstairs, and Andrei's smirk widened.
"This is my room, and this is Kolya's," he pointed at two doors on the left that were rather close together. "It used to be one big room when we were smaller. The last door is our parents' bedroom. Across from it is your room. Come have a look."
They stepped inside the room and Harry saw that it had windows on two sides. One set of windows showed the street by which Harry had come here, the other a garden. There was a carpet, a bed, a table, and a closet; it was just an ordinary bedroom, decorated in colours that suited both male and female guests. It was bigger than Harry's room at the Dursleys, and of course nicer, too. There were some moving pictures from Africa. Harry admired the nature and the gracefulness of the exotic animals.
"Kolya's hobby is taking pictures," Andrei explained, "he never goes anywhere without his camera. His pictures are all throughout the house."
"You went to Africa?" Harry asked with no small amount of envy.
"Last summer. It was great. We can show you tons of other pictures if you want."
For a Snape, Andrei was positively friendly, Harry decided. "I would love that, thanks."
They left the guest room and walked back to the staircase. Andrei pointed at the doors that were on the same side as the guest room was as they passed them. "Eda's room, Pavel's room, Mum and Dad's workroom, bathroom and another bathroom. Everyone has to clean it after themselves," he informed Harry. "Oh, and everyone has to keep their room neat. Even the twins have to pick up their toys, though we help them with cleaning."
"Sure," Harry said. It made sense that Chris wouldn't clean after seven people all the time. "Where do you do laundry?" He dared to presume Snape wouldn't chuck him directly out of the house tonight.
"You don't have to do your laundry. Just put dirty clothes in the bin in either of bathrooms, and it vanishes to the laundry room downstairs." As an afterthought the teen added, "You are welcome to help with cooking, though."
"Sure," Harry nodded happily. He wouldn't feel like such a burden if he pulled his weight.
"Daaaad! That's Daaaad!" screamed one of the kids downstairs, his voice thrilled. "Mum, Dad just came by a taxi!"
Andrei chuckled. "You should see your face."
"As if you prepared yourself for a battle with a dragon," he looked amused.
Dragons were tame plushies in comparison to Snape, in Harry's opinion. He didn't bother to voice it.
To Harry's surprise the teen offered, "Come to my room for a while if you want, and let Mum break the news."
It sounded tempting, but Harry's Gryffindor part found it too cowardly to allow. "No, but thanks." He said and really meant his words of gratitude. Andrei was surprisingly decent. They all were, really.
"Your call," the dark boy shrugged. "I guess I'll show you downstairs and the bellow later."
"What's the bellow?"
"Laundry room, Dad's lab, and a cellar."
They were in the middle of the stairs when the front hall door opened, revealing Snape.
Snape ignored the chorus of "Hi, Dad's" and absentmindedly caught the smallest pair of twins who jumped at him. As he stepped inside the living room, he asked, "Whose trunk is in the-"
Then his gaze fell on Harry and his lips pressed into a thin line. An angry vein rose on his forehead and pulsed dangerously. Harry prepared himself for scolding. Or maybe death.
"Hi, darling. Come to the table," Chris beat her husband to it, casting a very meaningful glance at the small boys Snape was holding, "Dinner is ready."
"I'm starving," said Nicolay helpfully, and Harry felt immensely grateful.
Snape nodded, obviously fighting his anger for the sake of his youngest sons. His eyes - still glued to Harry's - screamed murder.
"Daddy, you didn't kiss Mum!" One of the smallest twins rebuked him indignantly. Each of them were perched on one of Snape's sides, their little hands around his neck, and they were ignoring - or more likely not noticing - the tension in the room.
Snape obligingly kissed Chris, and murmured something quietly to her. She nodded and led their offspring to the kitchen. Snape walked towards Harry and Andrei. He stopped two stairs under them, which brought his and Harry's head to the same level. Harry stared at him with trepidation and no small amount of fear. Andrei was silent. Harry idly wondered what his expression was. After a while, Snape turned his head to Andrei, his face softened and he nodded to his son. Then he continued his journey, passing between them without a word. Harry let out the breath he hadn't known he was holding.
Maybe he should celebrate his second birthday on the December 21st.
"It's turkey for dinner," Andrei informed him. "Dad likes it, so Mum always roasts it for the first meal together."
Harry thought the other boy was feeling uncomfortable, and so he retreated to small talk. Harry supposed he should cooperate, and so he inquired, "How old are you, anyway? I'll be 17 this summer."
"I'm a couple of months older than you, then," Andrei smiled at him. "My birthday is in May." They walked together into a big room that was dinning room and kitchen together. It was similar to the Burrow kitchen, but it was bigger and with a more modern feel.
Chris showed Harry his chair and said, "Going by custom, you should sit by Severus' right hand, but Sasha and Mark like to usurp places beside Severus for themselves. And you and he don't go together well anyway, as far as I've heard..." she trailed off.
Harry nodded at her euphemism. Snape detested him, and Harry alternatively hated and feared the older wizard. "Thanks, I'll be glad to sit here with Andrei and Kolya. We are nearly same age, too."
Snape appeared a few moments later, having changed into casual black trousers and light-grey sweater with Nordic patterns in white. In this attire, he looked more human and less like the vampire of the dungeons. The normalcy of his appearance was a bizarre sight. They all busied themselves with the delicious turkey; all but the smallest Snapes, that is.
"Guess what, Dad," one of the kids asked.
"Fata Morgan," Snape answered lightly, and the little twins giggled.
"No!" The kid told him with 'you are so silly!' expression. "We maybe did magic last week!"
"Only we don't know which one of us," the other kid added somewhat unhappily.
"They claim a dog was barking and growling at them through the garden fence, and then it suddenly yelped in pain and ran away," Chris explained.
Harry thought that it might have been just a coincidence, not the twins' magic, and he had the feeling that Chris thought the same.
"It is rather early for you two to do accidental magic," Snape told them. "But give it two or three years and incidents like that will become rather common."
"What if we won't, though," the more timid twin asked.
"I will," the other boasted. Harry could see that they looked the same, but apparently they had quite different personalities.
"I'm sure you will, Mark," Snape turned to the unsure one. Harry wondered how he told them apart.
"What if I don't?" Mark insisted.
"We will love you anyway," Chris told him, and Harry realised this was probably a big issue for every child in a magic family. Squibs were frowned upon, Harry guessed. Maybe even disowned or killed in cruel snot families like Malfoys.
"It wouldn't matter to us." Snape assured him. "We would help you find something you would excel at."
"Like what?" Mark asked doubtfully.
"You could be a herbologist," one of the middle twins told him, whilst the others were thinking.
The kid looked nonplussed.
"Or a photographer," Kolya said. It was easy to tell them apart, Harry realised, because Andrei had a short military-like haircut, whilst Nicolay wore his hair slightly longer – though still much shorter than Snape.
Mark still didn't seem to be overly happy over the prospect of digging in dirt or making pictures, so Harry piped in hesitantly, "You could be a pilot."
"Yeah!" Mark enthused, "I'll be a pilot of that huge jet we took to Africa!"
"Me too!" Sasha cried. "I'm gonna be a pilot even though I'm gonna do magic too!"
Harry was careful not to look at Snape.
"Let's make plans for the holiday," Chris changed the topic. "Are you going to stay all three weeks, Severus?"
Snape acquiesced he would, and all of his family enthused. Harry still couldn't wrap his head over the fact that they all were so fond of Snape and Snape of them. Of course, they were a family. But it was Snape!
"So, anything special you want to do?"
"We want to build a snow fortress with Dad," Sasha said immediately. "And then we want to battle against everyone."
"Okay, you can do that tomorrow morning if you want, if your father agrees, of course. I have to do some last minute shopping." Chris said. Harry thought it was interesting that she was the mediator. He would expect Snape to have the first word, but so far the man was rather laid back.
"I can make lunch if you want, Mum," Andrei offered, and she gratefully nodded. Harry decided he would help Andrei, but he would offer it in private. So far Snape had pretended Harry didn't exist and Harry wanted that to last as long as possible.
"I would like to do an all day cross-country ski trip, dad," Eduard or Pavel said, "If you are game," he added with a mischievous smirk. Snape nodded.
"I'll join you," Andrei told them, and his twin raised his hand, indicating he was in, too. They quickly decided to leave it for some day after the Christmas day, and have a few shorter 'training trips' beforehand.
"You promised to go with me through theory of the Wolfsbane potion, Dad," the other middle twin – Harry had just noticed this boy had a well visible scar on his thumb – reminded Snape.
The Potions master smiled at him proudly. "I didn't forget, son."
"Eduard and I are into potions," Nicolay informed Harry quietly. "Of course, Andrei and Pavel are decent at potions too, but they don't plan to make a living of it."
Harry nodded gratefully. It was one thing to try being ignored by Snape, and another entirely to be ignored by everyone.
"Speaking of potions," Chris smiled, "I'm going to make home-made chocolate on Christmas day morning, and I need volunteers."
From the reactions it was obvious that it was a Christmas tradition at Snapes and that mentioning 'volunteers' was a joke. All the family was there, making and tasting the sweet miracle. Chris graciously invited Harry to join them, 'because fresh home-made chocolate was like no other'. Harry thanked her, grateful that she was sitting just opposite to Snape and so Harry didn't have to see the man's reaction to this invitation.
Chris then reminded Snape that they had to attend a beneficiary banquet in the evening of December 26th, and after a small debate – and pleading looks from the middle twins – it was decided that all the boys would be staying at home. Andrei and Kolya had to baby-sit the kids, and Pavel and Eduard obviously wanted to do anything else but attend the banquet.
By the time they were done with the turkey, all the boys made an attack on the fridge and freezer, bringing out various kinds of ice-creams, creams, fruits, and toppings. Everyone got a glass bowl and a spoon and made himself a sundae of their liking. Apparently another tradition of Snapes.
Harry observed the amount of ice-cream everyone scooped into their bowls and decided not to be shy. He loved ice-cream and he rarely had an opportunity to indulge. At Hogwarts ice-cream was never served, at the Dursleys it was never for Harry, and so he only could have one in Diagon Alley or on Hogsmeade's outings. Soon he was enjoying the taste of strawberry and lemon ice-cream mixed together, and with a sense of the unreal he discreetly observed the feared Potions master feeding on chocolate ice-cream with chocolate chips, covered with chocolate cream and chocolate topping. The man was nothing if not dramatic.
"When is Minerva coming?" Eduard asked Snape.
"On the morning of 27th," his father informed him. "She's going to stay until the 30th."
"Minerva's your Transfiguration teacher, right?" Pavel asked Harry, whose chin was lower than it should be.
Harry nodded. The sense of surrealism engulfed him. First Snape, and now McGonagall.
Chris noticed his expression and explained, "My parents died when I was a child and Minerva with her husband raised me."
Harry nodded again. He felt like a puppet.
More winter entertainment was planned, like ice-skating on the nearby lake, a visit to a Muggle aquapark, a Muggle cinema, and a Muggle shopping center – apparently, the boys' school's Muggle Studies classes were a tad bit more practical than the Hogwarts ones -, and a trip or two to family friends. Harry wasn't told which, if any, of those outings included him, and he didn't dare to ask. Being here was still much better than being at Privet Drive, although frankly, Harry would prefer staying at Hogwarts to coming here.
The evening turned even better for Harry, because it was time for the youngest ones to get their baths, and then to bed. The kids, bless them, decided that it had to be their father who would take them through their ablutions tonight and read the bedtime story.
When Snape left, Harry relaxed. He was nicely stuffed, and currently he was only sipping a glass of orange juice.
"You've been silent tonight, Harry. I'm sure you have to be full of questions." Chris encouraged him. The boys stopped discussing possible routes for their planned skiing trips, and looked at Harry. Pavel even raised his eyebrow in a decidedly Snape-like manner.
"Can I go outside?" Harry picked up the question that bothered him the most. "I mean, outside of your garden."
"Of course, that's why I charmed you," Chris told him, surprised. Harry thought she must think him dense. She couldn't know he had wanted to ask, 'Will Snape allow me outside?'
"We won't take you to meet our family friends, of course," she continued then, as she decided to interpret his question in a way that made sense to her, "you can accompany us to other trips. I think we will disguise you to look similar to us, and pretend you are some sort of relative, just to be safe. Severus' cousin, maybe? You will just have to refrain from doing magic. Unless you are in danger, of course."
"Do you cross-country ski?" Pavel asked.
When they learnt Harry couldn't ice-skate either, the boys offered – with a touch of pity in their faces – to teach him. Harry thought they wondered what he had been doing all previous winters.
"You play Seeker, right?" Andrei asked him. "We read things in the newspaper but it usually sounds like rubbish."
"Being Seeker is probably the only true information they've ever printed about me," nodded Harry.
"It's too cold here to fly during winter," Chris' voice dashed any hope Harry carried.
"Where's here, anyway?" he asked dejectedly. A series of snorts, chokes and laughs sounded.
Chris shot their sons a reproving stare and said calmly, "Russia."
Harry blinked. He didn't have time to consider this bit of news, as Chris continued.
"We will find ski and ski-shoes, and skates here for you, I think you might be just the size Andy and Kolya were last winter. I hope you don't mind second-hand?" Chris asked.
She was really awfully nice, Harry reflected, and thanked her, assuring her he had no problem with second-hand things. He bit down his disappointment over being once-again smaller than anyone else in his age group. Drat, even Pavel and Eduard were nearly as tall as him. He was only spared the indignity of being smaller than girls, as there were none in this household. He idly wondered how normal it was in Russia to have so many children, and if wizards had twins often or if Snape cheated and mixed himself a twin-inducing potion.
His head snapped up, and he blushed. "Sorry, I got lost in my thoughts," he apologised.
"That's alright," Chris told him, "I asked if you had everything you needed tonight, toothbrush, pajamas, towel. I couldn't fail to notice this was quite an unexpected trip for you."
"I was completely packed," he assured her, "I just thought I was going to my relatives."
"Why didn't you?" Pavel asked.
He sounded curious, not malicious, so Harry decided he wouldn't take offence. Chris probably deserved some kind of explanation anyway. Only, Harry didn't have any information to share.
"I don't know," Harry shrugged. "The Headmaster just picked me up in London and in fifteen minutes I was here."
One set of light brown and four sets of dark brown eyes gazed at him, contemplating.
"Something happened to your relatives," the first idea was voiced.
"Okay, so maybe nothing happened to them but there were Death-Eaters around their house." Eduard allowed.
"In that case Dumbledore would have to relocate them, and he would have relocated Harry with them," Kolya pointed out. "If you have to hide a family, why not hide it together."
"Maybe he didn't relocate them."
"Maybe they had a car accident," Pavel threw in. Under the furious gaze of his mother, he added hastily, "Some little accident. It takes ages to re-grow a bone for Muggles."
"Muggles cannot re-grow bones," Harry commented idly. He felt completely numb. What if something happened to the Dursleys? Granted, Harry didn't like them. Hell, there were moments when he actively hated them. But still. What if the Death-Eaters killed them? What if they died because of being near to Harry? Like Sirius? Like Cedric?
Chris looked at him. He supposed he had showed severe lack of emotion over presumable accident, or death of his relatives.
"You've gone pale. Do you want a calming draught?" she asked. The middle twins looked vaguely ashamed.
Harry shook his head. He wanted a dose of Dream-less Sleep but he was shy to ask. "Can you contact Dumbledore? Safely?" he added hastily.
"We will find out," she promised him. "Don't worry too much, okay? This can easily be just one of Dumbledore's schemes. He might have planned to take you here for weeks, but if he told you, you would confront Severus, and Severus would do everything to thwart that plan."
Harry looked at her gratefully. It sounded a lot like Dumbledore.
A loud noise of splashing sounded from upstairs. Chris looked up with an amused grin. "I should better go and check on them. The babies should have been in bed ages ago."
Afterward they talked in an even more relaxed manner. Harry learned that they all lived at Durmstrang ten months a year. That kind of explained why they planned only short trips and always got back home for nights. Chris was teaching there, the four older boys studied, and the school even provided a nurse for Sasha and Mark – 'they really want Mum there, you know, she's a great teacher'. Harry was glad they didn't ask if Snape was a great teacher. It would be impolite to say the truth, but given their history, Harry definitely didn't feel like lying.
As if Andrei knew Harry was thinking about their father, he asked, "So, you and Dad?"
Harry shrugged. The boys looked at him expectantly, so he said, shrugging again, "Explosive."
They laughed. "He is," they agreed.
"He's going to be decent to you," Andrei assured him. "You're our guest, so he's honour bound to treat you with respect."
It was hard to believe. On the other hand, for a Slytherin it probably was entirely possible to hex someone in front of his house, and pour him a glass of wine inside.
Harry shrugged, and changed the topic. "So, does your Mum teach one subject or three?"
"One, it's just a complicated title." Andrei responded, "But she also sponsors a duelling club."
"Cool. Can we duel here?" Harry asked. He guessed he could learn a lot during the three weeks. "You must be pretty good."
"Not inside," Kolya informed him, "Mum wouldn't have it. But I guess we could practice in the garden. To fight against the Boy-Who-Lived, imagine," he added with a smirk.
"I hate that moniker," Harry informed him firmly. "Everywhere I go people think they know me before they even meet me."
"Makes sense," Kolya acknowledged, his smirk vanishing. "You were only a baby when it happened after all. So, are you any good at magical combat?"
Harry hesitated. He usually felt confident about his Defence skills. Then again, he had been no match for the Death-Eaters the summer before last. And between a Durmstang Defence teacher, and Snape's dirty tricks, the boys were probably pretty well trained. "I'm reasonably good at Defence," he said finally, "but I think I have a lot to learn."
The four boys exchanged glances and nodded more at themselves than at Harry. He suddenly felt as if he had passed a test he hadn't known he was undertaking.
They sat in silence for a while. Harry didn't mind. It was a comfortable kind of silence. Then Pavel and Eduard got back to planning their ski-trips, and soon they were joined by Chris, whilst Snape stayed upstairs reading bed-time stories. Which, again, boggled Harry's mind. Harry figured out it was the best time to hide in his room and excused himself.
Harry was lying in his comfortable bed, more comfortable than his Hogwarts one. He felt alone in the room, missing the snores of his Gryffindor roommates. His thoughts were swirling madly, and he didn't feel he could fall asleep anytime soon. He had heard everyone but Chris and Snape go to their rooms, bidding 'Goodnights' to each other, but he was just watching the white ceiling, and the snow falling behind the window dimly lit by the streets lamps.
He missed Hermione. He missed the hug and quick kiss she always gave him before they split for the night, climbing to their respective dormitories.
The Burrow, predictably, came to his mind right afterwards. By this time Ron surely informed everyone that Harry was a total bastard who 'had stolen his girlfriend'. Harry supposed that Ron managed to turn Mrs. Weasley against him. She had been nasty to Hermione a few years back, sending her the smallest Easter egg just because the Prophet had printed a story about Harry and Hermione. Harry knew that Ginny stayed a true friend to him, and he supposed that the twins and other Ron's older brothers didn't really care one way or another. Mr. Weasley was an enigma in this, as he always let his fierce wife do the talking. Harry suddenly realised how petty the woman was. He still liked her a lot, of course, but he couldn't miss how easily she would be swayed and turned against people she had liked.
His 'adopted' family – that might have rejected him by now – brought thoughts about his 'true' family, if the Dursleys could be called that. What the hell happened to them? Chris' explanation was a nice one, and Harry longed to believe it. At the same time, he somehow knew that the truth was worse. But how worse, he didn't want to guess.
Harry willed thoughts of the Dursleys away. He was so tired! Why was sleep evading him so? He suddenly wished he had learned Occlumency back in his fifth year. He would simply clear his mind now and fall asleep! The sharp pang of guilt came the second after. He should have learned Occlumency to save Sirius, not to help himself sleep! Without protection, his mind was opened to Voldemort and to any unscrupulous Legilimens.
Harry bolted upright.
Any Legilimens could read about the Snape secret family. He would endanger them all, from Snape to the smallest twins!
Harry leaped out of his bed and hurried to the sitting room. He had to tell Snape at once and beg him for a book on Occlumency, or even lessons in it.
Barefoot, he reached the stairs noiselessly. He halted when he heard voices from downstairs. Chris said something he didn't catch, and Snape responded, "I don't want to talk about Harry Bloody Potter. I haven't seen my lovely wife for several months, and I have something completely else on my mind." His voice changed through the speech from angry, to petulant, to seductive.
Harry hesitated, but decided it was really important. He descended the stairs. The glare Snape gave him as he came into sight nearly drove him back upstairs, but he stood his ground. He tried to ignore the way Snape's arm was wrapped around Chris' shoulder and how his hand gently caressed her shoulder.
"I need to learn Occlumency, so that nobody can read about you from my mind," Harry informed Chris urgently.
"Oh, and you think you can achieve it in mere three weeks? How arrogant can you get, Potter?" Snape reacted instead of Chris.
Harry's anger flared. He was aware that his face reddened. Leave it to Snape to belittle him instead of offering him help. Didn't the man realise he was endangering his own family? "I have to try!"
This time Chris was faster to respond. "It's okay, Harry. I will lock all memories about this Christmas in your mind. You will remember everything, but you won't be able to talk about it. Also, nobody else would be able to reach the memories through Legilimency, Veritaserum or any other truth charms or potions."
"Oh," Harry's anger at Snape and his panic deflating. "I didn't know that was possible."
Chris smiled at him gently. "I come from a long line of witches and wizards, and as every old family, we have our secrets."
Harry didn't know what to say to that, and wasn't willing to say 'oh' again.
After a short pause, Chris offered, "I can still lend you a book on Occlumency. It's a very useful skill to have."
Always a teacher. Harry smiled back at her. "I would like that."
"Not tonight though," Chris informed him, "now is time for you to sleep. You have no idea how early the babies get up."
"Good night," Harry said obediently, retiring back to his room. On his way he could hear Snape complaining.
"Potter is always so arrogant. Always knows better. His impulsiveness will get him killed one day."
"I thought you had something else on your mind," Harry could hear her answer and swiftly shut the door to his room. There were definitely things he didn't want to know about Snape.