Christmas in Cokeworth: A Harry Potter Fan-Fiction Saga – Chapter 5: As Sharp As Any Thorn

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     Upon opening the door, and having Angelfang take the opportunity to bolt out for a nightly venture into the unknown, Snape beheld none other than Gerard Germsley, Cokeworth’s eccentric Australian tech store manager, still sporting his Mohawk haircut and nose earring, and now decked out in a psychedelic lime green glow-in-the-dark windbreaker studded with sequence simulations of ruby red Christmas lights.

      “Blessed be, and all solstice vibes be with thee!” the hippie hailed him, lifting his fingers in the sign of peace.

      “I’m touched,” Snape grunted, unappreciatively.

      “Good on you, dude,” Germsley accepted, proffering a basket and shoving it into Snape’s arms. “Just here the drop off the best of the season from yon elder one with the aerial woes.”

     “So…did you fix Mrs. Wimpleton’s signal after all?” asked Harry, popping up from behind Snape.

     “Little mate, she has experienced a reawakening of all good energies,” he assured, handing Snape another strangely packaged item.

    “And…what’s this supposed to be?” he demanded, suspiciously. “That old woman has been complaining about her close proximity to my abode costing her the prizes at home and gardening competitions…this wouldn’t happen to be something that ticks…?”

     “Dude, this is a peace offering from yours truly!”

     “It…is?”

     “Abso-tutle-lutely!”

     Snape ripped off the wrapping unceremoniously and beheld what appeared to be a fancy air freshener, the kind that was supposed to give off some sort of aromatic essence whilst turning different colors.

     “Are you insinuating my house is somehow not fit to breathe in?” Snape snapped.

     “Not it at all, my good comrade,” he insisted. “Fate has it, this baby doesn’t even freshen.”

     Snape squinted. “You mean…you’re giving me something that was on your broken discount shelf and you can manage to sell for tuppence?”

      “Hey, it’ll still bring a rainbow of enlightenment to your indwelling!”

     “Brilliant…”

     “Hate to deprive you of my luminous presence, but I’ve gotta be hitting the road…day-after-solstice sales, y’know!”

    “I can…imagine.”

     “All hail the solstice, bro!” With that, he hopped on his matching lime green motor bike, revved up the intolerably loud engine, and shuttled down road.

     As the last vibrations of the oxygen-eater faded away, a blood-curdling screech was heard from Snape’s shed. Harry saw his teacher’s eyes widen, as if he somehow knew the nature of the situation, and shoving the Christmas basket at the boy, he charged off towards the shed.

    Harry quickly deposited the basket on the end table inside, thrust on his coat again, and then followed after him to see what was going on. Outside the door, he heard a terrible crashing noise, and Snape shouting, and then laughter…the cutting kind.     

     Bolting into the shed, Harry was dumbfounded by the sight of Snape sprawled on the floor tangled up a spread of barb wire, swearing violently as the bully children from the woods were cackling and holding Angelfang upside by the tail. One of them had a cigarette lighter and another one a pocket knife.

      Harry seriously didn’t know what he was doing, nor the consequences that would be sure to ensue, but he found himself resolutely walking up to the one holding Angelfang…and calmly punching him right in the nose. This memory rapidly was overtaken by what must have been a gang-up stramash, in which Harry was decidedly was defeated (muggle fighting just wasn’t his thing, besides the fact that it was one against four), and then a pile up, and the rather unpleasant experience of someone sitting on his face.

     “Teacher’s pet!” one boy taunted.

     “Am…not! That’s the furthest thing from what I…” he managed, before they punched him in the gut.

     “Then why you scrougin’ around for a vampire and his devil cat?”

     “You’re the ones most acting like the devil!” he spat. Then he got the beautiful experience of enduring a knuckle sandwich, at which point he indeed started to wonder why he was where he was, and why he would ever bother incurring this sort of thing over the Dungeon Bat, of all people on the face of planet earth…

     But by the time Harry recovered from the buzzing, blanked out feeling he had, the bullies had already made their escape, and all he could focus on was the sound of Angelfang mewing painfully and barbed wire being dragged. When his eyes readjusted to the dark, he realized it was his teacher, still on the ground, bloodied and tangled up, trying to drag himself forward to rescue his cat.

    Harry shook himself out of his own stupor, managed to relocate his glasses that had been knocked off him during the scuffle, and crawled over to him. “Professor, stop…you’ll get hurt…”

     “Leave me be,” he spat.

     Harry didn’t listen. He reached through the tangled barbs caught on the man’s coat, and touched his arm. Snape jerked, as if touched by fire.

     “Potter, I said…don’t touch, don’t touch, I told you…” He was shaking now, and Harry saw the pale fading light of evening cross his dark eyes, and they were startled, shaken to the root of his iced-over heart, like an animal threatened with a beating, desperately snarling to keep his tormenters at bay. He started fighting to get the wire off of him on his own, and Harry winced as the barbs scratched his teacher across the face, drawing fresh blood.

     “Stop, you’re hurting yourself!” the boy blurted, again daring to try and seize his arm.

      “I’m used to it!” Snape shouted, but the tone of his voice melted into one of defeat, and he fell over on his side, worn out with struggling. “I’m used…to…hurting myself…” And Harry saw in those eyes that glimmer of exquisite suffering that almost always gives way to tears, but Snape would not let himself go. “Must you…keep pushing…pushing someone to the brink, Potter? Must you always…push so damn bloody hard on me…?”

      Harry swallowed hard, and then without saying anything further, started to help pull the barbs off of him and struggle to undo the terrible tangles. It stung his hands, but the look Snape gave him stung worse. It was the look of one who had grown used to expecting the worst of people, and was in disbelief anyone would dare to challenge the norm.

     “Go back in the house…get yourself cleaned up,” he muttered. “It’s…alright, I can manage…I…I’ve done it…before.”

      “Yeah, but I wasn’t here then,” Harry stated, still fighting with the wires.

      “You’ll…get sick out here,” he predicted. “Too…cold, and you still…haven’t gotten the zipper right, you little fool…” He awkwardly started playing Harry’s zipper, It seemed to take his mind off his own woes for a moment as the boy managed to untangle the wire wrapped around his arm. Snape looked down at it, and the way the wire had torn through the material, and clasped his other hand around it, as if there was something there he wanted no one else to see.

     “You can bandage it up inside,” Harry offered. “I…I can help you.”

     There was a click in Snape’s throat. “Idiot…don’t even know…the half of it…”

      “So what? I can still help stop bleeding…”

     “No, no, you’ll do nothing of the kind!”

     “Alright, whatever, but I’m not letting you turn into an icicle out here…almost done anyway…”

      Angelfang, lying frightfully injured on the ground, was making pathetic mewing sounds that seemed to cut Snape to the quick. “Go…go help her, if you’re of a mind,” he mumbled.

     “I will, just as soon as I’m done,” Harry assured. And he did so when he got Snape free, going over to the cat and wincing at the site of her fur, some bloodied and matted, some singed, some torn off altogether. When he tried to touch her, she hissed at him, her ears flat back against her head and her back arched.

     “Angelfang, please…”

     “Leave her, I’ll do it,” Snape panted, crawling up from behind him and hurriedly pushing him out of the way. When he saw the state she was in, he shut his eyes tight. Then he started talking to her, trying to soothe her with the familiarity of his voice in Latin. Even though she was still stiff and scratching, he managed to scoop her up and hold her tight against him. And as his hand ran down her head, she started to make a sad, sweet purring noise, broken up by whimpers of pain.

     And Harry realized for a moment that this cat was probably the only living creature that seemed to trust Snape without question, to trust him more than anyone else. And he realized just how deeply the man needed that sort of trust being placed in him, just to get himself through.

***

    Back inside, Snape utilized an old record box for his cat, padding it down with bits of stuffing he had been using for the window, and blocking that up with a pillow. Then he got to work trying to patch her up with a salve he had concocted and some makeshift bandaging. She bit and clawed in reaction, but he didn’t flinch, just held her down as best he could, and soothed her with his Latin talk.

     Harry came over and tapped him on the shoulder, eliciting a stern glance from him. “Here,” the boy offered, extending a crumpled red sweater he had dug out of his throw bag. “It could make it softer for her.”

    Snape hesitated, then slowly accepted the offer and tucked her in rather tenderly with it. He staggered over to the sofa and sat down there. Harry settled in next to him.

    “I…would have gotten her…a better bed,” the teacher said, weakly. “I wanted to get her one…for a while…” She mewed painfully again, and he stared out in front of him, as if trying to get away from where he was, go somewhere else in his head, but he couldn’t manage it. “Should I…use chloroform…on her?”

     Harry doubted Snape’s question was aimed at anyone but himself, as if his ability to make such a hard decision had abandoned him. But the boy decided to respond anyway.

     “Is that…what you want to do?” he queried, his voice disbelieving.

      “What do you think? I just enjoy killing things?” he blurted bitterly, wrapping his arms around himself. “I…only want to stop…pain…stop…stop the pain, that’s all…”

     Harry felt his stomach flip. Of course not, of course he didn’t want to kill things, or to see them suffering, really and truly twisted up in pain like that, especially not his only companion in the world that might ease his loneliness. He might like to chew out his students, snatch their points, put them under pressure and on edge…but that only constituted petty meanness, not any level of genuine bloodlust.

     “Angelfang…is tough,” Harry stated, determined to sound confident. “She can handle the pain…she can get through this. She’s tough…like you are. She can get through, alright.”

      Snape met the boy’s gaze. “Tough?”

     “Yeah, really tough. If she’s anything like you, she’d never just roll over and die. She’ll be okay. Just gotta give her a chance to show what she’s made of…” Harry blinked back something, then hesitantly moved his hand towards Snape’s arm, letting it rest there tentatively for a moment while the man stared at him oddly. “She’ll…she’ll be okay. Really.”

      Snape let his eyes drift down to the boy’s hand, then back up to his face. “You’re all…scratched up,” he realized, rather numbly, seeing the cuts from the barbed wire on his palm and cheek.

      “Well…so are you,” Harry noted with a shrug.

      “We’ll both be lucky if we don’t get blood poisoning,” he lamented, taking Harry’s hand and examining it. “Go on, better wash up in the sink.”

     “You better too,” the boy advised, hopping up from the sofa.

     Snape shook his head, seemingly annoyed, but stood up anyway and made his way over to wash up in the bathroom. There he snatched a paper towel from a roll, rinsed it in the sink, leaned over and roughly rubbed it over Harry’s face.

     “Ouch!” he yelped. “That hurts!”

     “Then you shouldn’t mess with barbed wire nor, may I add, with those accustomed to factory yard fights,” he growled, turning on the sink, yanking up Harry’s sleeves, and shoving his hands under the water. “You couldn’t have been so conceited as to believe you’d have the upper hand.”

     Harry exhaled in frustration. “I had to do what I had to do.”

     “Did you?”

     “Afraid so.”

      Snape just rolled his eyes and stood up to his full height to get some sort of healing ointment out of the medicine cabinet.

    “How tall are you?” Harry asked out of nowhere.

    The professor squinted at him suspiciously. “Why on earth do you ask?”

    “It’s just…well, we all thought you were kind of tall for the past two years, and I was just…noticing your medicine cabinet is so high up, and…I don’t know. Just wondering.”

      “The medicine cabinet is ‘high up’ because you are a runt,” he snarked, leaning back down and starting to firmly apply it to the cuts and bruises on the boy’s face.

      “I’m no runt!” Harry shot back. “I haven’t even finished growing yet!”

      Snape raised an eyebrow.

      Harry sighed. “So…are you, like, six-something?”

     “Did you lay some sort of perverse wager with your clique or something?”

     “Well, not…not exactly, just, like…wondering…”

      “Six-one.”

      “Oh.” Harry could have sworn he was taller. Maybe he just seemed larger than life when marching along the aisles, making sure all the students’ eyes were to their books. And when he looked down his long nose at the children, his eyes steely hard and unrelenting, it always made them feel teeny-tiny and desperate to escape before somehow being eaten alive. “So…was…was my dad as tall as that?”

     “Potter…”

     “All I want to know is his height! That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

     Snape huffed. “Shorter.”

     “But…taller than me, obviously, right?”

    “There are some house elves taller than you…”

     “Oh, come on!” Harry threw up his hands. “I bet I’ll grow!”

     “You do?”

     “Yeah, I’ll be as tall as my dad someday, you’ll see.”

      Snape just shook his head again, and Harry thought he detected the slightest hint of amusement. “Given how much you’re like him in almost every other conceivable way, I wouldn’t be half surprised.”

     “Almost?” Harry challenged.

     “Yes…” He paused for a moment. “You seem to lack…a certain talent he possessed.”

     Harry looked rather downcast. “Well, maybe I’ll grow into it or something. I’ve still got growing time overall, you know.”

      “Perhaps you will at that,” he relented, but it rang with distaste.

      “Heck, what was it?”

      “The talent of…making it hurt, Potter.” Snape turned his eyes away. “Kicking a man when he’s down, and making an art of it. I just don’t see it in you yet, I’m afraid.”

     Harry didn’t know what to say in response to that, whether to take it as an insult, or a compliment, or both. So he said nothing at all.

     Wandering back into the living room, Snape’s gaze fell on the coffee table. “Would you…like anything to eat?” the man inquired, gesturing awkwardly to the basket from Mrs. Wimpleton.

     Harry twitched a smile. “Getting hungry?”

     “No,” Snape disclaimed in annoyance. “Have no appetite at all. I just thought…”

     “Well, I’m not going to eat it if you’re not going to,” he retorted. “We both really should, though, ‘cause it’s been hours.”

     He sat down on the couch again and started pulling apart the contents of the basket, which included fruit cake, pumpkin bread, Danish butter cookies, and cheddar popcorn, tucked neatly in a throw blanket. There was also a carton of eggnog which Harry looked particularly keen on.

     “Don’t go drinking that stuff straight up,” Snape grumbled. “Even it out with milk.”

     “Milk?”

     “Yes,” Snape acknowledged wearily. “There’s some in the ice box.”

     Harry begrudgingly came back with the milk, and proceeded to mix it with the eggnog, both for himself and Snape. “Hey, could I…try and give some to Angelfang too?” He gestured to her box, where she seemed to be busy tearing apart Harry’s sweater with her teeth, possibly to refer pain.

     Snape shrugged, seemingly wary of the concept but not strong enough against it to stop him either. So Harry went over with his glass to the box, and coaxed the cat to drink some. She seemed note-worthily reluctant, but ultimately poked her nose into the glass and licked up a little of the strangely stirred substance.

     “Drink the rest of yours,” Snape instructed when the boy came back to the couch. “Calcium is…good for you.”

     Harry made a low, grumbling noise as he picked up the glass.

     “Believe me, if your mother were here…she’d make you drink it,” he insisted, “just like she made me drink it.”

     “You?”

     “Yesss.” He rolled his eyes. “She did play the part of older sister ever and anon. Well, older by two months, but…at any rate, it did me good, or else I might have had serious problems with malnutrition.”

     “You didn’t eat enough at your house?” Harry surmised.

     Snape closed his eyes. He didn’t want to go into the details of it all, how when they were ten,  Lily had noticed one day that he was wobbly at school from not having eaten in two days after his father gambled away his pay at a card game in the pub. So she took it upon herself to build up his strength again.

     “Suffice to say, calcium is vital for a nutritious diet, and I didn’t have nearly enough. So clearly, if she were that insistent with me, how do you think she’d be with her own son?” He looked away and explained, “I’m simply trying to do what I think she would want done. Understand?”

     Harry nodded, and gulped down the rest of the milk. Then he looked back at Snape. “Have you taken your medication today?”

     The professor’s eyes narrowed. “That is none of your affair, Potter.”

     “Yes, it is,” Harry protested. “Because I’m just trying to do what I think she would want done. Understand?”

    “Why you insolent little…” Anger flashed across Snape’s face for a moment, then it faded, meeting the boy’s determined emerald eyes.

     “She’d want you to take it. You know she would. It’s good for you.” He inhaled. “Besides, it’s only fair. I mean, if you’re trying to sort of stand in for her with me, you should let me sort of stand in for her with you.”

     Snape looked paler than usual. “That was the reason for the card…wasn’t it?”

     “That…and just…” Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. Because it’s Christmas.”

      The man stared blankly in front of him for a spell. “In the attic…I…I wasn’t thinking of you, at that moment.”

     “I kind of figured that,” the boy admitted. “You wanted to clock my dad, right?”

     “It…had to do with…a time after your mother and I had…had a very bad falling out. I said something in anger…something very bad, something I didn’t mean. And I made…other mistakes…” He paused, not sure how far he wanted to go, or indeed, how far was wise to go. “Your father grew closer to her in the aftermath of this…and claimed…claimed she didn’t want me to have the cards…anymore.”

      The memory still stung from that Christmas of his fifth year, when he found James Potter had broken into his quarters and had the cards in one hand, and a lit match in the other. 

     “She doesn’t want her childhood scribblings in the hands of a death-eater, Snivelus,” James had sneered. “You might just do something untoward with them.”

     His mind had exploded at the suggestion that he would ever use Lily’s gestures of friendship to bring her harm. “You lie! You lie, damn you to hell!” And they had struggled on the ground in the dark. The match caught onto one of the cards, but Snape had put the fire out with his hand, in spite of the pain. He needed those cards, like the breath of life.

     “I didn’t want to believe…she wanted them back,” Snape admitted to Harry. “It did not seem like something she would do, or say, even in the wreckage of our friendship. But perhaps…”

     He thought back to how James Potter had taunted him that night as he clutched the cards tight against him, and said that he could very well keep them, for they were meaningless now. He would always live with the fear that Lily had wanted them back, that she regretted ever having given them to him, that the bright pink glitter ink spelling “MY VERY BEST FRIEND” was all a lie. No, worse…an illusion. And he had cursed at his rival until he left, and then cried himself to sleep on the floor, the cards still clutched at his chest, and the glitter dusting his dark clothes.

     “She didn’t say that,” Harry stated. “You know she didn’t.”

      He stared intently at this son of his best friend and worst enemy. “How…do you know?”

     “Because you were best friends,” he emphasized. “Very best friends. My mum wrote that, and she wouldn’t have just made that up. She had to care about you, and if you care about someone that much, it never goes away.”

    “I…I don’t…” Snape’s voice cracked.

    “But I do.”

    Snape watched as the boy got up and darted into the kitchen. He returned in a twinkling with medication in hand .

     “You’re a know-it-all brat, you know that?” Snape growled.

     “I know.” Harry’s eyes sparkled a little as he pushed the bottle of pills and his glass of milk towards him.

     “I don’t need it,” he protested.

     “Yes, you do.”

      “I’ll deduct more points from you if you keep pressing me,” he threatened.

      “Deduct away.” Harry squinted, determined to return death stare with death stare.

     “You’re pig-headed, Potter. You’re just like your…”

      “Mother,” he finished.

      Snape’s eyes bored into him for his temerity. Then they softened slightly. He nodded once, in reluctant acknowledgement of what had been said, opened the bottle, and tossed a pill into his mouth. Then in a strange ceremonial manner, he clinked his milk glass with Harry’s, as if he expected the pill was really poison and he was bidding adieu to the world, and gulped it down.

     “Great, so now that that’s done,” Harry exhaled, “want to open the giant box out under the porch?”

    “The…what?”

    “There’s like this giant box under the porch. It’s been there since last night, I think.”

     “You never informed me of this.” Snape stood abruptly. “It could have been planted by someone with ill intent…”

     “Well, a lot of stuff started happening at once around here!”

      Harry jumped up, flung on his overcoat, and followed Snape out to the porch and beheld the box as described. The professor dragged it out, and both of them spotted the owl label instantly.

     “Dumbledore,” they blurted in accord.

     “Headmaster, to you,” Snape snapped, starting to lug the box up the porch steps. “Help me with this, lazy bones.”

     “I’m not lazy,” Harry grumbled, taking the other end of the box and helping drag it into the house. They set it down in the middle of the sitting room, and Snape grabbed a razor out of the drawer to cut through the tape crisscrossing the box.

     After yanking it open and digging through the mounds of plastic peanuts, Harry pulled out a letter marked with the Hogwarts wax seal.

     “Give me that!” Snape ordered in agitation, tearing it open, wishing upon every star that it contained a long overdue Christmas bonus for him. Alas, the message simply read:

 

A Happy Christmas to Professor Snape and Co.!

 

Enjoy this little token of our esteem, from the Hogwarts staff.

We feel assured it will bring the Christmas spirit of unity and harmony to your household.

 

All Warm and Fuzzy Feelings,

Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster

 

     Snape snorted. “Why do I have a negative feeling about this…?”

     “It’s a TV!” Harry exclaimed.

     The professor gazed down at the inauspicious little glass box, that looked about twenty years old, and appeared to have no remote control. There were also scratches and smudge marks all along the screen. “I think…my life is over,” he stated factually.

      “Well…look, they also sent a video tape,” Harry tried to cheer him up, holding aloft the VHS triumphantly. The label was descriptively embossed with the words: “HOLIDY TAPE.”

     “That…scares me,” Snape frankly admitted. It was bargain bin material, start to finish.

     “Well, can’t hurt to just…you know…watch it.”

By Avellina Balestri

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