Chapter VIII - Christmas
During the two months following that first civilised conversation between them, the Death Eaters' attacks increased at an alarming rate, devastating Hogsmeade. Traditional pureblood families that were loyal to Dumbledore were exterminated, and there was little the Order could do - it isn't easy to oppose guerrilla tactics. At moments like this, the espionage work could make the difference. It was the only way to prevent the attacks.
After the classes, Harry would often go to his dormitory and, if alone, look for the Potions master in the Marauder's Map. At night, there he was, prowling throughout the castle, through corridors, chambers, gardens. When Snape didn't show in the map - and that would only happen deep into the night - Harry became worried, picturing him on his knees before Voldemort, getting hit by a Cruciatus, or maybe among the Death Eaters, burning down Muggle houses, killing babies... Sometimes Harry only managed to sleep after seeing the Severus Snape dot finally get to the Hogwarts gates. Then Snape would go straight to his chambers and stay there, and Harry would fall asleep.
Ceci was an important ally and Harry's informant. Under Snape's increasingly suspicious gaze, Ceci would tell him about her master's week, if he seemed well or if something was bothering him. Harry would ask her to pay attention to when her master came home late and check if he was wounded or severely depressed, so she could tell Harry later. Ceci would reveal that her master sometimes returned very late, looking terribly tired and downcast, but that he would then drink some potions and wake up the next morning in a good mood, going on with his routine.
Snape didn't treat Harry with disdain anymore. Sometimes Harry wondered if he was dreaming, or if some kind of link was indeed coming to be formed between them, a link that wasn't based on hate.
Shortly before Christmas, Snape and Harry completed the deciphering of the code in Salazar Slytherin's Manuscript. Now they could start the proper translation. Harry would read it and translate it aloud; Snape would write down the translation dictated by Harry and check any problems of coherence.
That night, before going out, Harry stopped at the door, hesitant. Snape stared at him with his Basilisk gaze.
"You're using Legilimency on me," Harry noted, surprised.
"You were particularly readable now," Snape replied.
"You do that often? Trying to read my mind?"
The teacher's sarcastic grin didn't hide a certain concern. "And you don't?"
"What's the point? You're a solid wall."
"If it were that hard, you wouldn't have noticed my attempt. It's a two-way process. The moment I try to penetrate your mind, I must lower my defences. That's when you can sneak through them. That's how you've just noticed it now."
"Interesting... Well, did you find what you were looking for?"
"No," the older wizard admitted. "It seems your classes with the Headmaster were productive. Maybe that's why he relieved you from them."
"He didn't. I dismissed him."
"Such arrogance, Mr Potter!"
"Ouch, don't start! What I wanted to ask is... Er, I don't have anywhere to go on Christmas. The Dursleys would kill me if I went there. The Weasleys are too busy with the Order, and I don't want to bother them. And Hermione is going abroad with her parents. So... I've already talked to Professor McGonagall... I'm staying at Hogwarts. So we could go on with the work, couldn't we?"
"I don't think that would be advisable. There aren't schooling activities during the holidays, therefore there aren't remedial classes either."
The two of them stared at each other for a long while. Harry gulped. "What am I going to do during the next two weeks? What a waste of time! I'm gonna bore myself to death!"
"Stupid boy. I could order you a three-roll essay about the various uses of dragon eggshell."
A grimace was Harry's only reply.
Snape made an impatient gesture. After an awkward silence, he spoke at last. "You know how I hate Christmas parties. Albus keeps teasing me, trying to embarrass me. Why don't you... come to see me after the party? With your cloak, naturally... I'll be more sadistic and unpleasant than ever. I promise you won't be bored. And I would get to have my revenge from Albus through his Golden Boy..."
"Just you wait, you greasy git," Harry answered with an ear-to-ear smile.
On Christmas night, Snape heard a knock on his office door. As he opened it, he didn't see anyone. "You... Come in."
"Merry Christmas!" said Harry, coming inside and, still under the cloak, offering him a cylindrical package.
Snape yanked the cloak off and glared daggers at him.
Harry went to the right corner at the back of the office, where Ceci's enclosure lay, filled with plants, branches and stones. He greeted her and petted her scales.
"Ceci is lucky for not feeling this cold: I have put a spell on her enclosure to keep the temperature even," Snape sighed. "Come sit near the fire."
Harry returned to the centre of the office and sat on the sofa in front of the fireplace.
The teacher slowly opened the package, concealing his curiosity. Inside the cylindrical box was a tapestry, an escutcheon showing the Lion joining the Serpent, with a tower in the background.
"Interesting... It's an occult image that became popular again in the early nineteenth century, with Aleister Crowley. But this picture seems to be from an older Order. Maybe it would be interesting to investigate its origin, huh? Thank you, Potter."
"Couldn't you call me Harry?"
"And what would you call me?"
"Only if there is no one else around, understood?"
"Severus..." Harry repeated. "It's such a pompous name, isn't it? Too grave."
"Listen, I didn't authorise you to criticise my name."
"That's not it. It's just that your first name is so solemn that calling you by it doesn't feel like much of a victory when it comes to intimacy."
"Petulant boy, do you know how many people have my authorisation to call me by the first name?"
"Er, sorry, I've already told you I'm not criticising your name, it's a very beautiful name, all right? It's Christmas, and I didn't come here to pick a fight with you... Severus."
Snape tilted his head, tossing aside the hair falling over his face. Then he looked at the wall over the fireplace, which had been built right in the centre of the wall, and uttered the spell to hang the tapestry there. "Affigo! Ah, yes. And Accio present." A package flew from one of the bookshelves to his hands. "I also have a present for you."
Gaping, Harry received the package and opened it with trembling hands. It was a book: The Elusive Golden Snitch - Seeker's Strategies, by... Severus Snape.
"What? You were a Seeker and wrote a book about Quidditch?"
"It was never published. My life as a Death Eater cut off my brilliant career as Seeker and Quidditch theoretician. And I never had the time to start again. I printed a few copies, as a home-made edition." He stared firmly at Harry. "Unfortunately, I can't wish it to be useful to you, since you're going to use this knowledge against my own House..."
"Wow, thanks. This wasn't very Slytherin of you!"
"Ah, I know. Don't tell anyone, don't let anyone see you with that book. I feel, once again, a traitor."
"And because of me, Sev!"
Snape was going to protest against that 'Sev', but gave up. The boy was incorrigible. Moreover, he didn't want to confess, not even to himself, that he enjoyed that growing closeness between them and didn't have the courage to fight it anymore. He didn't resist, however, the urge to tease him. "Perhaps, to make up for that, I should offer my team some extra training. Especially Draco," said Snape with an ironic smirk.
That feeling of deep disappointment and hollowness, was that jealousy? Harry couldn't stand the mere idea of seeing Severus near the blond, arrogant boy. But what could he do? Draco was a Slytherin, and he wasn't.
Snape hadn't taken his eyes from Harry, as if he was trying to read his thoughts, analyse the emotions on his face.
"I wish you could coach me, Sev."
"Can you imagine the look on people's faces if they witnessed that scene? The Head of Slytherin coaching Gryffindor's Golden Boy?"
"The look on McGonagall's face!"
They started chortling at the same time, and Harry's eyes widened. Severus Snape was laughing.