Christmas in Cokeworth: A Harry Potter Fan-Fiction Saga – Chapter 3: Up on the Housetop

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     Harry waited on the couch as Snape tried to ease the swelling on his lower lip with a cold cloth and rinsed his mouth out with a combination of wintergreen and witchhazel in the bathroom. When he emerged, the lip seemed to have stopped bleeding, but the swelling was still evident.

     “Would…would you like me to…go back up and sort anything…in the attic?” Harry inquired hesitantly.

     “I really…don’t care,” Snape shrugged him off. “Just…stay out of my way.”

     His words somehow stung Harry like never before, and when Snape went off into the kitchen, the boy felt the unreasoning instinct to cry. Because…he had found himself enjoying their walk, in spite of himself…and he hadn’t thrown the stupid snowball anyway. Why should he be blamed for the ambush?

     Just then, Harry felt the rub of an Angora cat against his leg. “Angelfang,” he addressed her gently, urging her up onto the couch with him. She could often be grouchy and aloof, but she seemed to like Harry much better than Snape’s previous cat, Bastet.

     It appeared she sensed his need, curling up against his tummy and letting him bury his face in her fluffy white fur. He hugged her and petted her all the way from her back to the tip of her tail, and let a few soft sobs escape him, still pressed up against the fluff.

     “Don’t pull her tail,” came Snape’s voice from the doorway of the kitchen.

     Harry shot up his head, hoping his tears weren’t visible. “Of course not,” he choked. “She’s my friend.”

     It was evident from the look on Snape’s face that he had indeed taken note of Harry’s emotional state, but wasn’t sure how best to react.

     “Want…tea?” he queried at last. “I’m making it for myself, anyway.”

     Harry blinked. “Sure, I guess.”

     Snape nodded and turned back to the kitchen. Then he added over his shoulder, “Care for toast with it?”

     Harry stalled, contemplating how Snape always burnt toast to a crisp.

     “Well, do you or don’t you?” he demanded impatiently. “I don’t have all day.”

   Why did he keep saying that? Harry wondered. It’s not like either of them had any major plans for the next 24 hours of holiday cheer…

     But nevertheless, he decided to accept the offer of toast with a nod.

     When lunch was finally served, Snape placed a tray of tea and toast on the end table and sat himself down on the far side of the couch across from Harry. Then he started pouring the tea very ceremoniously for both of them.

     “Cream?” he intoned.

     “Mm-hmm,” Harry accepted.

     “There’s no sugar here,” he noted. “But there is honey. Good for the throat and preventing colds in bad weather. Want it?”

     “Sure.”

     Snape very carefully took out the honey stick from the small pot, balanced it on the edge of the cup, and slowly let it drizzle in.

     “This is a really nice tea set,” Harry commented. And even though it was a bit scraped up and chipped in places, he meant the compliment sincerely. It looked like something from an old magazine about life in the Victorian Era.

     “Inheritance item,” Snape explained simply, “from the Prince Family.”

     “Prince?”

     “Maternal maiden name.” He looked over the set, and a searching look crept into his eyes, as if something wasn’t quite complete. “There used to be more cups and saucers, but…unfortunately they suffered mass collisions.” What he really meant was that his father had smashed them in one of his rants while his mother sobbed, watching the destruction of her grandmother’s precious china. “Two others have disappeared in the distant confines of the local pawn shop. But…it matters little. In case you’ve noticed, hosting social teas is not exactly my forte.”

     “But you seem to be really good at setting up the tea and stuff, and pouring it and all,” Harry offered.

     Snape looked slightly amused at this effort of giving him his due. “I am trained to do things…properly.”

     “Yeah, you do that real good.”

     “Very good, Potter,” Snape emphasized, pointing out his breach of grammar.

     “Yeah…umm…yes.”

     The professor lifted the teacup gingerly to his sore mouth and let the heat of the drink soothe it a little.

     “You should try some ice on it,” Harry suggested.

     “I do believe ice to be the culprit, and therefore illegitimized as a cure,” Snape retorted.

   Harry turned his eyes down. “I wish…I could have thrown a snowball back at them. For wrecking our walk.”

     Snape looked dumbfounded. “Given the chance you…you would have been on their side, without question.”

     “That’s not true.”

     “Come off it, Potter! For you, walking in the woods with…the dungeon bat…must have been the most lackluster Christmas activity you could conceive of.”

     Harry blanched at hearing Snape use the students’ derogatory nickname for him out loud. The kids had always taken pains to keep him from hearing it outright for self-preservatory purposes, but their teacher obviously had sharp ears. “Nah,” Harry exhaled. “I…I liked having someone…talk to me like that.”

     Snape snorted. “You probably don’t remember half of what was said.”

     “Willow bark and marshmallow help with stomach aches and joint pain,” he recited. “And some of the trees in the woods here are very old, all the way back to the Norman Conquest, and there’s a legend about magic bark that thaws out winter…”

     “And lovers’ hearts,” his teacher added quietly.

     “Yeah, them too.”

     Snape stared into his teacup. “So why don’t you listen in class like that, genius one?”

     “Well…you don’t talk to me in class like that,” he ventured to explain. “It’s like…you want me to mess up in there.”

     “What?!” Snape snapped, causing Harry to jump a little. “Now you’re blaming your flagrant incompetence on me?”

     “No, it’s just…well, you seem to sort of…want to prove how lazy or stupid you think I am, or something, in front of the whole class. That’s bound to make anyone get nerved out.”

     “Then why haven’t you used whatever head you have and gone out of your way to prove me wrong in front of the class?” Snape dared him. “Study hard, pay attention, and quit with chitter-chatter and wisecracks.”

     “But Hermione’s smart, and studies like there’s no tomorrow, and always knows the answers, and you still don’t like her.”

      Snape sighed. “Your little Gryffindor girlfriend happens to be an insufferable know-it-all.”

     “She’s not my girlfriend!” Harry protested.

     “Irrelevant,” Snape retorted, taking another sip of tea.

    “Well, geez, your preferences are really hard to meet, Professor! We all can’t be Slytherins like Draco Malfoy!”

     “Mr. Malfoy’s family happens to have a history of excellence in the subtleties of magic and potions making…”

     “He’s also cruel, and a filthy rich snob,” Harry shot back. “He’d be just the type to throw snowballs with glass in them at someone who…” Again, Harry stopped himself from treading into dangerous territory. But Snape quickly filled in the blank.

      “Someone who…was raised rough?” The man’s eyes narrowed. He wanted to shoot down the boy for his insolence, but in his heart, he knew Harry was right. Malfoy would rather die than wear a patched-up coat that had once belonged to a dirt-poor factory worker’s son. He could only keep the façade of authority with his pure-blood students via the connections he had made among the Slytherins during his school years. But more often than not, he knew it was a conscious act to distance himself from all he truly was beneath the surface. Even his monotone voice had carefully been trained to suppress any hint of the rough midlands accent of his youth.

     “Well…I grew up rough too,” Harry confessed. “I mean, not factory town rough, but sleeping in a closet under the stairs isn’t exactly high on the hog, y’know. But that’s okay. I’d rather be a bit scruffy than a snob, any day.”

      Snape rolled his eyes. “You have a simplistic mind.”

      He shrugged. “I guess.” Then he started reaching for the honey pot again and hovering the stick over his toast.

     “What are you doing?” Snape queried, in partial distaste as the honey started to drip down the crust of the bread.

      “Well, you said honey was healthy…”

      “Not dribbling all over my coffee table, it’s not!”     

      Just then, there was a rapping on the front door. Snape made grumbling noises. He hated being disturbed when in the act of drinking hot tea. Nevertheless, after shoving a napkin at Harry to clean up the sticky mess, he reluctantly stood and scuffled over to answer it.

     There he found his nearest neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Gertrude Wimpleton, who he had done business with in the past.

      “Severus Snape,” she addressed imperiously, tapping with her cane on the porch.  “I am in need of your assistance.”

     Snape rolled his eyes. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this timely assault upon my privacy?”

     “Now don’t mouth off with me, young man,” she snorted. “My aerial is falling down, and they’re just starting to run a holiday special on The Many Loves of Melinda Maypole!”

     “What’s that?” Harry queried, popping up from behind his teacher curiously.

     “Soap opera, circa 1974,” Snape clarified dismally. Then he focused his attention back on his visitor. “And what exactly has this to do with me, may I ask?”

     “If you don’t help me in this time of crisis, I shall never feed your pets and plants again!”

      Snape exhaled. He knew he needed her to be there for the finicky Angelfang and his belovedly sinister Venus fly trap when school was in session and he couldn’t be there for his nearest and dearest ones himself. “Alright, fine,” he grumbled, going back in to grab his overcoat again.

      Harry mimicked his movements, slipping back into his own borrowed coat eagerly.

      “Who said you could join the venture?” Snape snapped.

      “Oh, please, it sounds exciting!”

      He squinted. “Fixing an aerial excites you? That’s…pathetic.”

      “Not as pathetic as just hanging around here.”

      “Don’t start whining about my house, maggot…”

      “I’m not! I just…”

      “Enough said,” he blurted, giving him a shove towards the door. “If you insist upon being a tag-along nuisance, I suppose I’ll have to find something suitably unpleasant in the way of work to keep you occupied.”

       Once outside, they followed Mrs. Wimpleton to her small house down the hill and across the field. Ushering them inside, she ran about in a flurry wringing her hands in anticipatory anguish as the excessively dramatic cheesy violin theme song heralded the grand introduction of Many Loves through the intermittent static on her TV.

     “Problem noted,” Snape huffed. “Now where is this degenerate aerial located?”

     “On the rooftop,” she answered.

     “Rooftop?!” Snape exclaimed. “Madam, this is becoming exceedingly precarious…”

     “There’s a ladder in the lean-to garage…oh, do hurry!”

     With the future well-being of Angelfang ever-present in his mind (for all his faults, he had always been fiercely loyal to whatever felines had come to share his dwelling), Snape, followed by the hapless Harry, went out to retrieve the rickety wooden ladder from behind her automobile-oriented grandson’s rickety go-cart meant for downhill racing.

     Harry, overwhelmed by a tween’s curiosity and lack of self-control, reached out and squeezed the horn on the steering wheel, which made a much louder blaring noise than he had expected.

     Snape growled and slapped his hand away. “Keep those nasty clingers to yourself!”

     “Sorry,” the boy muttered.

     “Pah,” he spat in annoyance. “Here, take the other end of this.” He thrust one end of the ladder toward Harry who struggled to balance it against his shoulder. The boy staggered under the weight, but the two of them managed to lug it out to the side of the house and prop it up into position.

     While the ladder may have been a certifiable safety hazard, Snape gritted his teeth and prepared to make the ascent. “Foot the ladder,” he ordered Harry, starting slowly to mount the first rungs. Slowly but surely, he made it to the top. Clambering onto the roof, he crawled over to the wind-whipped aerial and started jiggling it this way and that.

     “Potter!” he shouted down. “Get back in the house and see if the stupid thing is working yet!”

     Harry did as he had been bidden, disappearing inside. Coming back out again, he yelled up, “It’s working!”

     Snape let out a shaky breath and took his hand off the areal, believing his job was done. Then he heard Mrs. Wimpleton yelp from inside.

     “It faded out again!” Harry updated.

     Snape groaned and snatched at the aerial again. What he needed…was duct tape.

     “Look, I need something to hold this bloody thing up!” he exclaimed. “Go see if the old woman has any tape or string or…whatever!”

     “Okay,” Harry responded, vanishing back into the house. And when he vanished, he really vanished, leaving Snape for a good ten minutes clinging to the icy roof for dear life, getting colder and crankier with every passing second. He was just about prepared to bite someone’s head off when Harry finally emerged.

      “The guy punched the groom!”

      “What…?”

       “Melinda’s ex-boyfriend’s second cousin came in and punched the groom in the middle of the wedding ceremony, and got his gold teeth knocked out that were stolen in a museum heist in Bulgaria! There was fake blood everywhere, and Melinda fainted! It was brilliant!”

     “Potter…prepare to die…” Snape growled menacingly, realizing that the kid had been swept up in swirling highs and lows of the ladies’ budget TV drama.

     “Well…I did get the duct tape…” Harry offered meekly, holding it aloft in a vain effort to defer the death sentence.

      “Then get…the hell…up here…” He enunciated the words in a deliberately terrorizing monotone, even though the chattering of his teeth from the cold lessened the effect slightly.

      He heard the boy climbing up the ladder, and saw his arm reach up with the duct tape.

     “Farther,” Snape instructed, realizing it was still out of reach.

     Harry started to edge himself onto the roof, sliding on his stomach like a salamander.

     “Farther…”

     Then suddenly everything went haywire. Harry made an awkward little forward inertia pouncing motion, which resulted in him landing all the way on the roof, and started to rapidly slide downward. Snape, on instinct, snatched at part of the boy’s coat, which resulted in him losing balance himself.

     The next thing either of them saw was sky, lying in a daze in a clump of snowy bushes beside the house, and the next thing they dimly heard was Mrs. Wimpleton bemoaning the fact that the frequency had failed just when Melinda was threatening to jump out off a balcony on account of her spoiled super-wedding with her criminalistic former groom.

By Avellina Balestri

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