Christmas in Cokeworth: A Harry Potter Fan-Fiction Saga – Chapter 4: Grown-Up Christmas List

¸.•*´¨`♥ Nick Hornby

         Snowy bushes having saved the day, the two unfit antenna fixers survived the ordeal of the roof tumble. But Snape’s mood had not been so easily salvaged. Especially when Mrs. Wimpleton inquired how he felt, while he lay temporarily prostrate on her sofa…

    “Feel? Feel?! How do you think I feel after being spanwanned on a rooftop for a quarter of an hour and then having to…to…fang ‘owt of this?!” He gesticulated at Harry in sheer disgust.

     “Huh?” Harry blurted, confused.

     “He means he had to straddle a roof for 15 minutes and then try to catch you after you fell, dear,” Mrs. Wimpleton supplied.

       Snape suddenly realized his lapse into dialectic slang and buried his face in his arm.

      “Oh, well…thanks for that, anyway,” Harry muttered, eliciting another groan from the horizontally reclined teacher.

      “You’re dead, boy,” he stated darkly. “You’re just plainly and simply dead.”

      “Now, now, no need to be so unpleasant,” Mrs. Wimpleton insisted. “I realize you received the worst end of things, breaking the little boy’s fall…but think of how I feel.”

      Snape stared at her in disbelief. “You?”

     “Yes, the holiday marathon is running as we speak, and I can’t even watch it because of how clumsy you two were!”

     “What the…”

     “Why don’t you try and get a hold of Gerard Germsley at the tech shop across town?” Harry suggested, hearkening back to his encounter with the Australian hipster back in the summer before embarking on the calamitous road trip to Hogwarts with Snape.

      “Why, what a smart little fellow you are!” she praised him cheerfully. “I do believe I shall give him a ring and bring my aerial trouble to his attention. Even though it is Christmas, he might do an old lady a favor and stop by…”

       “That’s it; we’re getting out of here,” the professor decided, dreading the thought of having to encounter Germsley, Mohawk haircut wielding, pink koala bear tattoo wearing, revolutionary of “LUV.”

      “Are you quite sure you’re well enough to walk?” the lady of the house inquired, observing him struggle to sit up on the couch and forcing himself to stand.

     “Yes, yes…quite able,” he mumbled, even though he looked pretty wobbly. “Potter…the door!” He pointed at it authoritatively, and Harry decided it best to obey.

     Once outside, Snape stated lowly, “I’m marking off points, and don’t you forget it. I’m keeping the necessary memorandums all up here.” He pointed at his head indicatively. “They shall be implemented upon our return to the school.”

      Harry narrowed his eyes. Meanie, he thought. Just loves blaming other people for everything…even on Christmas, of all days! Alright, so he’d taken a little longer than he should have, getting that duct tape…but hey, it wasn’t like he meant to fall off that roof! The man was just being an irascible git…

    A little farther out into the field, Snape walked over an uneven piece of ground and lost his balance. He stumbled down onto one knee, his hip feeling significantly out of joint from falling off the roof. He was just going to take a second to pull himself together, and then try and stand again…

     “What are you doing?” he snapped at Harry, who had made a move towards him.

     “I…I thought you might need…a hand up?”

     He snorted. “I’m not restoring any of the points I’ve already marked off for deduction, so don’t even try it. You should know better by now…”

     “That’s…not the point.”

     The professor squinted. “Then what is the point, oh great thinker?”

     Harry turned his eyes down. “I just thought you might need a hand, that’s all.”

     “I don’t need a hand from anyone, much less from as incompetent a creature as you.” He struggled to get back up on his feet, wincing at the pain slicing through his injured hip. He felt himself sway a little and reached his hand out instinctively to prevent himself from tumbling.  It landed accidentally on the boy’s shoulder, who seemed to have anticipated the need and stepped into position just at the right moment.

     Snape eyed him suspiciously. “That…was accidental.”

     “I know.” Harry’s eyes sparkled a little. “But since it seems to be working, why not just…do it like this till we get back to the house?”

      “Absolutely not.”

     “Why not?”

     “Because I am no simpering weakling in need of aid from the likes of you!”

     “Okay…fine,” Harry tried. “But you did fall off a roof, and broke my fall doing it. And it was…sort of my fault it happened, I guess, so…”

      “That’s why I’ve made a point to mete out the appropriate punishment to you when we return to Hogwarts.”

     “But…we’re not at Hogwarts right now. We’re in Cokeworth. And it’s Christmas.”

     Snape shivered a little. “Genius…” he muttered.

     Nevertheless, the recollection of the time and place could not help but leave him with a strange sense of mixed emotions. He realized suddenly how Hogwarts had turned into a little sanctuary of his own spiteful show, his authority eclipsing his humanity, his work replacing his personhood. And he liked it that way. He felt…safe. But now that safety was gone, and under the open sky of his muggle hometown, he felt exceedingly unprotected. And Christmas…oh…

      “I go into raptures over Christmas, can’t you tell?” he grumbled.

     “Well, I didn’t always have great Christmases either,” Harry offered. “For a long time I didn’t even get presents.”

      “Presents,” Snape scoffed.

       “Hey, they can be nice sometimes.” Harry raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t you ever just randomly wanted anything nice for yourself? Most people do, y’know.”

     Snape glared at him. “A Christmas list, is that it?”

     “Yeah, I guess.”

     The professor turned away. “Maybe I want…a roof that doesn’t leak, what do you think of that? Maybe I want a stove…that actually…works…and something decent to cook on it. Maybe I want some tea in a box…with a real label on it…flavored…not watered down.” He grimaced a little as he gimped forward. “Maybe I’m so luxurious as to want more than…one plant…shocked yet, Potter? Maybe I might like a whole damned garden, with some…variety. But the hoodlums from town would just…tear it up anyway.”

    He turned his eyes down, hiding fury and pain. “Maybe I want to get through one bloody holiday without falling on barbwire or cleaning up window glass or getting paint knocked onto me or having to save my cat from being tortured…bloody malicious little monsters…” He was rambling now, as if to himself. “Maybe I could paint up some of the house…or…or fix that window I’ve been…stuffing in the winter…it gets…cold…”

     Now he was just mumbling awkwardly, vulnerably. “Maybe I could…get…get my cups and saucers back…” He swallowed. “A woman…should never have had to die…without those things…that made her feel…like a woman…but she did, she had to die, all alone, in that…house…she…she was…”

     “Sir, please…stop.”

     Harry’s voice made Snape freeze, realizing just how far he had aimlessly rambled, and that they had now reached the porch. He narrowed his eyes at the boy, who looked genuinely concerned. “Don’t you dare…tell them…your wretched…Gryffindor disciples…don’t you…breathe one word of it…”

     “I’d never do that.”

     “You better not,” he panted, fist clenched. “You do, and I’ll…”

     “You don’t have to threaten me,” Harry exhaled. “I won’t do it. Cross my heart I won’t.” He looked down himself now. “Remember, I…I lost my own mum too.”

     Snape shrugged painfully. “Get…get in the house.”

***

     Snape was just sitting there on the sofa, staring vacantly in front of him. He had been doing so for almost a half hour since they had returned to the house. And Harry was starting to get worried. He needed…medicine. He knew he did. But he wouldn’t take it of his own accord. And he was sinking…badly…

     Harry summoned up the courage to sit across from him on the sofa. He seemed not to notice or respond for a long, long time. Then Harry addressed him softly, “Professor Snape…”

     “Go away.”

     “Professor…listen to me…”

     “No…get away from me.”

     “Why do you have to be this way? Why do you have to be so…”

    “Maybe I don’t want to have to look at…your face!” he snarled, seething with hostility.

     “Well, maybe I’m not so crazy about yours either!” Harry shot back, his own temper reaching a boiling point.

     “Then…why don’t you…get the hell away from me?!” Snape was shaking now, from tousled-up emotions that he couldn’t contain or express right.

      “Because,” Harry blurted.

      Again, he glared at the boy and his breathing turned into panting. “Why…?”

     “Just…because…I can’t…” Harry shuddered. He just couldn’t…leave him like this.

     “I want…quiet,” he hissed. “Is that…so hard…to understand?”

     “I can be quiet,” the boy responded.

     Snape snorted in disbelief.

     “I can be quiet for as long you can,” Harry dared him. “You just try me.”

     So Harry just sat there, quiet as a mouse on the other side of the couch. Silence reigned supreme between them. The minutes ticked by, and yet time seemed broken. Snape was unaccustomed to the presence of another, even if he was not making any noise, and he shifted awkwardly from time to time. But he didn’t banish the boy. Harry, holding himself back from moving or talking with all his might, began to sense they were both reluctantly adjusting to each other.

     Finally, he saw Snape lean into the sofa and let his eyes close. It became apparent that he had slumped into a cat nap, which Harry assumed was not uncommon for him. Judging from the bruised circles under his eyes, he did not sleep well at night.

     Watching him asleep was a strange thing. Once again, he had his guard down, as he had out in the woods, and a little bit when they had tea, and then when back to the house…

     Harry grimaced at the thought of Snape’s rambling. It had been pathetically incoherent, pathetically…human. Just flavored tea and a garden and stuffing for his window and teacups. And perhaps just a little understanding. He might have been battling with ever so many demons inside, but at the end of the day, they didn’t define the deepest part of him.

     Harry blinked. He didn’t look half so much like a vampire now. Just a very tired, lonely, uncared-for man, all burnt out from his own bitterness against humanity that he thought would protect him…but only tore him up in the end.

     Just then, Angelfang leapt up on the couch again and this time nuzzled under Snape’s arm. The professor, still asleep, groggily murmured something along the lines of “hello kitty” and unconsciously let his hand drift back and forth along her fur. The cat started to purr contentedly, and Harry couldn’t help but smile just a little. For someone who could be so terror-inflicting when he was awake, he could be kind of cute in his reactions when he was out of it.

     And soon, Harry himself found himself falling out of it, and let his heavy eyelids close…

     When he opened them again, he found Snape was very much awake, and glaring at him. Harry jerked up, waiting for…something. He didn’t know what.

     “Congratulations,” Snape remarked quietly. “Managing to hold your blathering tongue must have taken some excruciating effort…even if you did drift into slumber part time, through.”

      “Well, you did too!” he responded.

      Snape dead-eyed him. “Your point?”

     “Well…I only told you I could do it for as long as you could,” he reminded him.

     The professor snorted. “What do you want? The medal of honor?”

     “No, I just…” He yawned. “Just wanted you to say it, that’s all.”

      Snape shrugged, and then sank into silence again. They stayed that way for a long time before Harry finally dared to break it.      

     “Was…was your mum magical, professor?”

     He had no idea how Snape would react, for good or ill, but the man ultimately gave a single nod of his head.

     “Did she go to Hogwarts?”

     Again a curt nod was his only response.

     “What house was she sorted into?”

     “Take…a ruddy wild guess.”

     “So same as you then?

     He closed his eyes. “Are you quite through with this tedious inquisition?”

     “I don’t mean it any bad way. I just…I actually think that’s cool, her being from Slytherin. She’d probably be really proud of you becoming the head of the whole thing.”

     “Proud,” he repeated darkly. “Always pride in exchange for blood, sweat, and tears.” He pushed himself back against the sofa, and his hand tightened around the armrest.  

      Harry wondered if he should keep going or stop. But he just…could not bear to leave him like this. He almost thought incurring his ire was preferable to observing the silent desolation that had taken over his countenance. He had to try…try to snap him out of it…

     “There was an old box of records I found in the attic. Did you…want to keep them or…?”

     “There’s no point in it, really,” he retorted. “The damn player broke ages ago.”

     “Oh, well…I thought…they looked rather interesting,” Harry commented. “They seemed like…they had some kind of foreign language on them.”

      “Italian,” he filled in dismally. “It’s…opera.”

      “Huh,” Harry breathed out. “I don’t know nothing about opera.”

      “Anything, Potter,” Snape corrected irritably. “And that just goes to show what a cultureless little philistine you are.”

     “Well, hey, where the heck would I be learning about opera?!” Harry defended himself. “I mean…come on, I’m going to a school for Wizardry, not classical music!”

      “Even if you were,” he countered, “you’d probably be horrible at remembering such things. You don’t have a culturally adequate mind. Neither did your fa…”

      “Try me!” Harry challenged, initiating a deadlock of eye-to-eye contact akin to psychological arm wrestling. “You just…tell me about the songs on the records, and I’ll remember what you tell me, and you’ll be very surprised by how well I do.”

      “They’re not just songs, you impertinent lout, they’re whole plays.”

      “So? I can remember plays!”

      He sighed. “And what if I simply don’t care to bother tutoring you in something I know you’ll fail at?”

        “You won’t know, unless you try.”

        Again, they were back to staring at each other, hard and hot. Finally Snape gestured with his chin to the pile of stuff Harry had cleaned out from the attic, and the boy went and snatched up the records box. “Okay, so…who or what is Madame Butterfly?”

     “An opera in three acts, by Giacomo Puccini,” he rattled. “It chronicles the torrid affair of a Japanese geisha girl who falls madly in love with a Yankee sailor man…”

     “A…what?”

      “He doesn’t reciprocate…”

       “That’s…too bad…”

       “So, after a lot of in-between catastrophes, she cuts her throat open with her father’s knife in the end.”

      “Oh…terrific…” Harry blurted, starting to feel sick.  

       “But to do it proper justice I really should start at the beginning of Act 1, when the American sailor first arrives in Nagasaki…”

      “And all this…is in Italian?!”

      “Don’t be dense, boy,” he shrugged. “What do you think it would be in? Japanese?”

      “Well…uh…”

       “Oh, just button it and let me get on with this, will you?”

     So on they went, flipping through the records one by one, with Harry reading off the title, Snape telling him the story behind the opera, and then quizzing the boy about it as soon as he was finished. Surprisingly, Harry was doing quite well at the game, and Snape seemed to have left behind his state of despondency to test the child as sharply as he could. In fact, this form of antagonistic play was giving them the unexpected opportunity to show off to each other, and they both found themselves rather liking it.

     “Well, read off the title, boy,” Snape ordered, finally getting into the swing of things, as his pupil stalled at one of the records.

     “Ummm….” Harry hesitated. “It…it says…Score from Bambi….”

     Quicker than quick, the record was snatched out of his hand. Snape stared at it for a long time, then polished the dust off with his sleeve.

      “I….never knew there was an opera about Bambi.”

     “There isn’t, dimwit,” Snape huffed. “This is…an anomaly in the collection.”

     “So…it is from the cartoon?”

     He exhaled. “Your mother enjoyed it.”

     “Oh, yeah…because of the deer, right?”

     “Brilliant deduction.” Snape shrugged. “She made me…view it with her once or twice.”

     “Wow, really?” Harry exclaimed. Imagining Snape, even a young Snape, watching a Disney film was a shocking, and utterly hilarious, stretch of the imagination.

      “Didn’t I just say it?” He shoved the record back at Harry. “She…she got rather emotional when the mother deer…died, so…she needed moral support.”

     The irony of this struck Severus as soon as it was out of his mouth. Lily…and the deer…and sacrifice…for a fawn…

     Back then, she had just reminded him of Feline, exuberant, giggly, teasing…quite adorable. And she would laugh and say he could be like the bashful Bambi, barely able to say hello sometimes. He probably had been. Whatever. He had just been happy to know that in the end of the film the two wound up together, cemented by the theme “Love Is a Song That Never Ends.” Which was, of course, on the record Lily had given him that Christmas.

      Besides, it was good to know that if she had needed a shoulder to cry on during her emotional movie meltdowns, he was going to be that shoulder…

      “Girls,” Harry sighed. “They get all out of sorts over every little thing.”

     “She was…empathetic. She took the sufferings of others into her own self.”

     And Snape had a strange inkling that if the boy ever found himself watching the film, that scene with Bambi wandering alone in the snow, calling for his mother, now shot through by a hunter’s bullet, might just leave an impression. He shivered, thinking of it himself…he wanted to think of something else…another memory…anything…

     “She used to get out a mixing bowl during television viewings, and dump almost everything edible in the house into it.”

      “Really? What kind of stuff?”

     “Granola,” he recalled, in monotone, “table crackers, popcorn, chocolate covered raisins…”

     “Whoa!”

     “It was quite…unique.” He raised an eyebrow. “Your aunt did not approve. She was always threatening to turn your mother in for parental chastisement for the flagrant misuse of the mixing bowls.”

     “Oh, Aunt Petunia never approves of anything,” Harry sighed.

     “We…can agree on that.” Snape knew she certainly never approved of him.

     He remembered her whining while he and Lily had watched TV, “Are you watching that stupid Disney movie again, with that weirdo?”

     “Get lost, Tuney!” Lily would shout back, crossing her arms. “We’re not bothering you!”

     “You’re hogging up the whole television! You’re obsessed with that stupid cartoon and that freakish friend of yours, with his creepy magic tricks!”

    “Listen, if you call him one more name, I’m going to use what he taught me, and turn you right into a really homely puddle duck!”

     Alright, so neither of them was nearly as proficient in magic to achieve such a feat at the time, but the threat worked beautifully, and Petunia reluctantly removed herself from their space. And 9-year-old Severus had remarked dryly, “What about turning her into a platypus in Australia…then she’d still have a beak, but she’d be across the ocean from us.”

     That gave Lily a good laugh. He liked to make her laugh. He missed her laugh…

     “I wish…” Harry paused for a long time.

     Snape raised an eyebrow. “Go on. Get it out.”

    “I wish….that we could have…I mean, that mum were here, and we could have…gone through this stuff together. The three of us.”

     Snape’s throat constricted automatically. His eyes grew hard and they bore through the boy for a long time before he managed to rasp, “You…are not…”

     But he found that he could not finish, not finish the words burning through his brain: my own.

     He stood up suddenly and walked over to the mantelpiece, hiding within himself a sudden emotional surge. So this was the answer to everything, was it not? This boy was not his boy, which meant that his Lily had given herself to another man…his most hated enemy, no less. And this offspring of theirs was proof of it by his very existence, though he could not help it.

     But now Snape felt strangely trapped between two extremes. He found that he could not truly hate him, for there was too much Lily in him, and yet he could not manage to love him either, for James continued to live through him…and Snape feared he gone past the point of being able to love anything anyway. But he also feared he had somehow gone past the point of keeping to his chillingly stony balance.

     Still, he felt haunted by the image of the boy and his mother, being alive and safe and together, and somehow visiting him at his house…reminiscing fondly over crazy childhood memories, Lily with her infectious laugh, Snape still playing straight man, making deliciously sarcastic commentary, the boy always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time…Snape still jumping down his throat, but in a slightly less bitter, more playful way…

     “Now don’t be so hard on Harry, Sev,” she would lecture him, starting to randomly pick the bits of lint off his cloak with a motherly hand, and brush it out straight. “You need some curtains to brighten this place up; it’s turning you into a cranky old man ahead of your years. There are some lovely calico ones I can bring…”

     Damn. Damn. He could have lived with that. Being this boy’s snarky surrogate uncle, with his mother still acting like some sort of surrogate sister to him, he might have even managed to force himself to maintain a bare minimum of civility around James. And she would doubtlessly have teased him about needing to get out and meet some nice girls, maybe she would even have tried to set him up on dates…but he would have staunchly shaken his head, and they both would have tacitly known what that meant. If he could not have had her in that way, he would not have had anyone in that way. But even having lost the moon of romance, he still would have been able to cling to the stars of their friendship.

     But for all his fantasizing, the sky had gone all black for him, without a spark of the palest light, sometimes it seemed. Well…almost…

     He turned slowly back to the boy with the Bambi record in his hand. “You can keep it…if you want it.”

     “But…but she gave it to you…”

     “You are her son,” he stated. “I’m just…a particularly nasty former friend. Besides, do you think the music was ever really suited to my tastes?”

     Harry blinked and replied lowly, “You know that wasn’t the point.”

    He shrugged. “You and your points, pernicious little mite.”

     Just then there was another knock at the door. Snape grumbled under his breath. Who could it possibly be now…?

By Avellina Balestri

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