Christmas in Cokeworth: Chapter 6

By Avallina Balestri

Word Count: 29645

Rating: PG

Summary: Harry and Snape spend Christmas together and come to understand one another a little better.

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Chapter 6: To Raise Us from the Grave

 

    Once Harry and Snape figured out how to hook up the TV and VHS player, they sat back on the sofa to figure out just what mysterious contents Dumbledore had in store for them via the enigmatic “Holiday Tape.” It rapidly became evident who had done the recording.

    “Seriously,” Snape blurted. “Camcorder clips from last Christmas? Recorded by…Hagrid?!”

    “Wow, we had a really nice tree,” Harry reminisced as the screen zoomed towards it, and the choir setting up for Christmas Eve rehearsal.

    “Professor McGonagall wanted a Victorian theme,” Snape remarked. “Hence all the paper doily cutouts.”

    “Yeah, Hermione told us about that,” Harry confirmed. “She helped make some of the decorations.”

    “What the…why is the numbskull going down to the classrooms?”

    “I guess he just wants the spread…”

    “There’s going to be no one there but me, because I’ll be cleaning up all the nasty pre-Christmas candy wrappers and other debris lying around and preparing the next set of tests for the next day of classes…”

    ‘You idiot! What are you bringing your damned camera in here for? I’m busy preparing the next set of tests for the next bloody class, you nitwit! Get that devilish contraption out of my face!’

    Snape looked rather in awe of himself on camera, and the full terrifying force of his persona as his cloak swirled and he charged towards the camera-wielder, inaugurating a tussle.

    “Did you, like, tackle him?” Harry queried, mouth agape.

    “He got away, I’m afraid,” Snape lamented dramatically.

    The camera garbled out, and then jumped to another clip, this time of the students hanging around by the pageant stage area. Harry spotted himself, Hermione, Ron, Draco, and some of his Slytherin cronies.

    “At least some promising individuals are making an appearance,” Snape sneered.

Hagrid started interviewing the kids genially, as was his way, about their likes and dislikes, their favorite teachers, and least favorite…

    Harry started to shrink against the back of the couch as video Ron yelped, ‘We sure know Draco’s favorite! Gotta be that greasy dungeon bat!’

    “And…ten points from Mr. Weasley,” Snape enunciated for the sake of sweet vengeance.

    Then events took an interesting turn. Draco started mouthing off.

    ‘What’s he to me? He’d not be worth a rusty cauldron in his position if not for my father! He’s made him everything he is, and it’s in his best interests to keep that in mind!’

    Even video Hagrid seemed a bit shocked. ‘But Draco, ain’t he your godfather and all…?’

    ‘Yeah, because my dad thought he was good at mixing things up, but no relation of mine. He’s half-blood, you know what that means? He’s no part of me…’

    Abruptly, the clip was cut off and evidently copied over, heralding the introduction of the Island of Misfit Toys scene from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

    Harry dared to glance over at Snape’s face, and saw a mixture of stunned silence and acknowledgement of what he must have always known, deep inside, to be the case. His bad day was just getting worse and worse, knowing what his prized, protected puppy really thought of him…

    “Professor…look, he always punks out on camera,” Harry said quickly. “It’s not, like, for real; he just wants to show off, is all.”

    “Since when have you become an apologist for Malfoy?” Snape growled.

    “I’m not! I’m just saying…”

    “Trying to spare my feelings?!”

    “No!” the boy blurted. “Duh, I’m just telling you how it is! He does this sort of thing a lot, so it can’t be taken too seriously.”

    Snape was silent for a long moment, watching Rudolph distractedly. “He was quite correct,” he admitted quietly. “His father has been the prime mover of my career.”

    Harry shrugged. “Well, you seem to know a lot of stuff on your own. He didn’t give you what it takes to be smart, I doubt.”

    “Do you think smarts are enough to raise person out of this place?” he scoffed. “No, he…he thought my abilities were worth something to him, so he offered me his friendship in first year.”

    “Yeah, Draco did the same with me,” Harry concurred.

    Snape looked astonished. “Then why the hell didn’t you take it, Potter? He would have been much use to you on your side, and a great opponent against you.”

    “Because,” the boy started, “I told you, he’s a professional snob, and is mean to people for kicks, and people I care about to boot.”

    Snape gazed down at his hands. “So you chose the dirt poor Weasleys and that uppity muggleborn Granger over one of the most distinguished families in the Wizarding World?”

    “In a heartbeat.”

    His teacher shifted uncomfortably. “Mr. Malfoy offered you a very useful chance for advancement, glory, power; he would have been…”

    “He wouldn’t have been any real friend,” Harry retorted. “He only wanted to use me.”

    “He could have been of use to you, don’t you understand that?” Snape’s voice was sounding strained by something akin to denial of an inner guilt.

    “You don’t pick your friends because they can do something for you,” Harry shot back. “You do it because you care about them, and they care about you. That’s it.”

    Snape looked down, and muttered, “We’re not exactly on friendly terms, Potter. So…why did you…get me out of the wire, back there?”

    Harry exhaled. “Anybody would have done that…”

    “No, they would not have,” he answered. “Not unless they sought to gain something, and you know by now you’re not going to get any special favors from me…:

    “And you know by now I’m not looking for any,” he huffed.

    “No,” he conceded lowly. “Then I suppose…you were just being who you are.”

    “Yeah.” The boy turned his attention to the cat in the cardboard box. “Think Angelfang might like to watch TV, too?”

    “The abominable snowman will probably give her nightmares,” he mumbled, observing the creature make its appearance on screen.

    “Eh, she’s too hard-edge for nightmares!”

    Snape stretched a little. “Hard-edge people have nightmares.”

    “Seriously, this movie isn’t really terrifying!” he protested. “I mean, we’ve been through worse at school!”

    Snape shrugged. “You don’t know the half of…oh, Potter, what…careful, you’ll jostle her like that…”

    But Harry had already settled the cat-in-the-cardboard snugly on the sofa so all three could see the picture together. She just meowed rather weakly but not without interest. “See, she likes movies.”

    Snape grumbled inarticulately, but let it go, anyway.

    The time passed inoffensively enough. Rudolph melted into some type of low-budget Hallmark drama about pre-fabricated romance on an American western ranch around Christmas time, involving actors who looked like their hair had never experienced western wind nor their clothes western dust. Then something came on that perplexed Snape, but Harry explained was a space opera spin-off involving strange hairy creatures known as Ewoks, which Snape insisted had to be from the same sterling special effects backroom studio that created Rudolph’s abominable snowman.

    Somewhere in the course of the duration, Snape found that he was snarking into the void, for Harry had fallen asleep on the couch. He stared at the sleeping child for a spell, feeling strangely at peace in that moment, and it almost frightened him. It was so unfamiliar, and he knew it couldn’t last. But there was still something strangely comforting about not being quite so alone on that dark Christmas night, with the TV rambling on with nonsensical holiday specials, and a table littered with half-eaten bits of neighborly leftovers, and this boy he had come so very close to hating slumbering on the couch next to him, with his hand still resting snugly in his purring cat’s fur.

    Snape shook his head as he noted the way Harry’s glasses slid down his nose, and dutifully took them off him. He decided preventative measures were in order, lest the boy crack his skull on a wall through visual impairment, resulting in subsequent medical bills. So he started to breathe on the lenses and wipe them off with a handkerchief he had stuffed in his coat.

    Harry stirred. “What…what are you doing?” he queried, rubbing his eyes.

    “Attempting to remedy these spectacles of filth,” he replied, wiping them off and slipping them back over the boy’s eyes.

    “Oh…wow,” Harry yawned. “That…helped. Everything’s a lot clearer now.”

    “Brilliant observation.” Straightening the specs just so, the teacher’s hand randomly brushed back a loose piece of the student’s messy black hair…and ran over the scar on his forehead by accident.

    “Ouch,” Harry yelped softly.

    “It…still hurts?”

    “Sometimes,” he mumbled. “Like when you touch it.” He looked into his eyes through those newly cleaned glasses. “It’ll always hurt, won’t it?”

    “Probably,” he admitted. “But…hurt is not the strongest thing you will feel in your life, Potter. You’ll…have a life, and a family, and…you won’t be…like me.”

    “What if…” Harry paused. “I…get killed?”

    Snape winced at the boy’s frank realization of what might come.

    So…he was not so oblivious to the dangers flying about him, after all…

    “You…won’t,” Snape stated firmly. “I might, and lots of others might, but you’re the boy who lived, and you bloody better remember it, if you value your parents’ sacrifice at all. You’re going to keep on living after we’re all dead and gone, Potter. You’ll have a life. So help me…”

    He forced back a primal emotion rising up inside him.

    Lily, I swear, so help me…

    “I can’t imagine you dying,” the boy rasped. “It would be so weird…I mean…you’re tough…really tough…”

    “Believe it or not, I am human,” he retorted. “And humans, try as they might, cannot cheat death. Trying to outwit it only quickens their own undoing.”

    Harry turned his eyes down. “Maybe it won’t happen for a long time, though.”

    “It’s not as if anyone would go into deep grieving over it,” he scoffed. “I believe house Gryffindor might even throw a party…”

    “Stop, don’t say that,” the boy whispered, wrapping his own arms around himself for comfort.      “What do you think we are? Death-eaters?”

    Snape stiffened. “What do you know of them?” he spat. “They are not so very far from anyone else…just a little more lost…a little more accustomed to the depth of the dark. They weakened for the shine of power, some time or other, and the glory of the night entranced them. Then the moon faded, and all the stars fell, and they were trapped, without any hope of escape.”

    Harry stared at him, seeming to know without knowing. “So they can never be forgiven, then?”

    Snape shrugged. “And who would ever forgive them?” He faced the boy. “If you…met a death-eater, one who…had a part, even an indirect one, in your parents’ deaths, and who…regretted it with all his strength, you…you still would not forgive him. You know that, Potter. You couldn’t do it. And if I were you, believe me, I wouldn’t.”

    Harry nodded in reluctant admittance. “I suppose you’re right. I…I’d hate him really badly.” Then slowly, some light of epiphany came into his eyes. “But…but then…if I didn’t forgive…I don’t suppose I could ever celebrate Christmas again. And I wouldn’t like to…never celebrate it again. Because that’s what it’s about, you know? It’s about a really dark night that everyone thought would go on forever, and then…a star comes out again, and shows people the way to get through. And it’s really bright, and it sparkles, like light on glitter…”

    Snape shut his eyes tight and turned down his head. He wanted so much to hide within himself. But he could not. He wanted to tell the boy how stupid he was. But he could not. “So now you’re going to give me a Sunday school lesson, is that it?”

    Harry shrugged. “I used to hate church when the Dursley’s made me go. I think they just went to look good, like, try and be all respectable or something. But they’d get all dressed up nice, and make me wear my cousin’s old worn-out things that I didn’t fit in, so everyone gave me dirty looks. And the vicar, he didn’t care for me, I don’t think. Uncle Vernon made some sort of donation to him, I think, and told him I was very bad.”

   Snape blinked. “I…never had anything good to wear, either. We were never churched.”

He remembered back when he had been less than Harry’s age, and sometimes he’d just go out to watch the people on Sunday, coming out of the church building. They were from the better side of town, usually, Lily’s side of town, and if any of them spotted him they’d do their best to chase him off. Because he was dirty, and rude, and he stared too much, and his clothes were too old and too loose because he was scrawny and ill-fed on course bread, and had too course a tongue, and they said his eyes were dark, and he was born of sin, and suffering for it…and his face was smudged, often bruised, and he reeked of chemicals from the factory…

    But Lily, when she had seen him waiting for her to come out of church, would run over and hug him, anyway…

    “I guess the church people wouldn’t have liked either of us overly much,” Harry concurred.

    “Apparently their god is eager for see the pews full up with fine, pure souls in their Sabbath best,” he sneered. “A god made in their own image and likeness, who takes one look at you, and spits you out of his mouth. Yes, that gives them all quite a lot to sing praises about, doesn’t it? A divine being who prospers his own, all polished clean and unbroken, lest you be accursed.”

    Harry was quiet for a moment, then mumbled, “Not the baby.”

    “What baby?”

    “The one at Christmas,” he clarified. “The one half the world is making a fuss over right about now. Well, it wasn’t like that in the beginning. He barely had anything to wear at all, and it was cold and everything. And it was in a barn. Barns are freezing this time of year. But his parents were just that broke, and there was nowhere else to go. And who found out first about the whole thing? Shepherds, and they couldn’t have been dressed so great.”

    “Keen memory,” his teacher scoffed.

    “I…I hated church, but I liked the story,” Harry explained. “On Christmas, they usually didn’t want me in their pew, because their family had come in and…well, they just didn’t want me. So…so I went and did my own thing. And they had a Nativity set off to the side, and I used to look at it, and I used to think, well maybe, had all these preachy types been back then, they’d have tossed him and his mum and dad right out of here, too. They’d have thought themselves too good for them. And do you think they would have let the shepherds in? Not a chance!”

    Snape looked down, and said in a low whisper, “And the shepherds…were sore afraid.”

    “Yeah, but they didn’t have to be,” Harry responded softly. “Because Christmas was for them as much as anybody. Maybe more for them than anybody, because they were more like the baby than all those rich people all over the place who missed out on it altogether. That’s why the angels showed up out in the field instead in some palace or something. They were the ones the baby wanted to meet first, even if they were scruffy and broken up. And those other people who thought they so bloody perfect, well…they’re the ones who’d get spit out, not the other way around.”

    Snape shook his head. “The meek inheriting the earth is an exceedingly unpromising prospect. The good ones always seem to finish last…makes some sense of my own decisions, does it not?”

    “I don’t know. Everybody’s out celebrating a poor kid born in a barn, even if they forget why they’re doing it. Maybe that’s the start of something after all.” Harry smiled slightly. “You know, when I was little, I used to think…” His voice trailed off.

    “What?” Snape queried darkly.

    “You’ll start jabbing at me.”

    “Surely you’ve grown accustomed to that by now,” the man sighed. “Now out with it.”

    He turned his eyes down. “I just wondered if my parents were as happy to have me as the parents in the crèche…even though I…messed everything up for them in the end.”

    Snape felt his heart thump like a rock hitting the ground as the boy looked at him, a painful innocent wondering in his eyes. Then Harry asked him hesitantly, “Do you think…maybe they’d have thought well of me?”

    He felt caught off-guard. “I…your mother…do you really question whether she loved you, boy? What more proof do you need than the cause of her death?” The child looked pale, and Snape added softly, “It’s not those who die in such a way who should be pitied, but rather those…who are unable to save those dearest to them. They are the ones who suffer the greatest agony. Your mother…valued your life above her own.”

    “And…my dad?” the boy questioned hesitantly. “Are you sure he wouldn’t be all mad at me on account that…that my mum…they both died because of me? Maybe…maybe he’d rather I just got killed, then he could just have another kid with her and…”

    “Enough of this nonsense,” Snape spat, feeling churned up inside. “You both would have been…obnoxiously inseparable.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Incalculably obnoxiously,” he affirmed. “He would have spoiled you rotten, without a doubt, and been one of those fathers who throws himself headlong into molding a child into his own image.”

    “But…but do you think that’s the same as…?”

    Snape clutched the arm of the sofa, and gesticulated defeatedly with his other hand. “He would have…cared for you as an extension of his own life, his own soul. He would have done everything in his power to make you happy and secure and successful.” He rolled his eyes and added, “And, upon learning of our past…run-ins, he most likely would have pulled all sorts of strings at Hogwarts to have me fired and blacklisted from ever darkening the door of a schoolroom again.”

    Harry swallowed awkwardly. “I…I wouldn’t have wanted that, exactly.”

    “Oh, no?”

    “No,” Harry affirmed.

    Snape gazed at the boy and then shook his head. “You strange, silly creature.”

    Just then there was a knocking at the door.

    “Merlin’s blood, who on earth would be out at this hour?” Snape grumbled as he reluctantly   stood. “It must be nearly midnight…”

    Opening the door, he was surprised to find Mrs. Wimpleton, accompanied by three of the local men who frequently went house to house Christmas caroling. Among them was the irascible Mr. Chillingsworth, owner of one of the local taverns.

    “Madam, what in heaven’s name are you doing out at this late hour?” Snape demanded. “And accompanied by these annually tuneless locals, no less?”

    “Now, Severus Snape, don’t go sharpening your tongue on them until you’ve heard them out,” she lectured.

   “There’s nothing I care to hear,” he snapped. “We’ve tacitly agreed not to engage in any superfluous Christmas rituals, and my house has always been passed by when it comes to caroling. I see no reason why…”

    “It was my request that they should come,” she returned resolutely. “These three came; the others who would not make the venture with me.”

    “And well they should not have,” Snape spat. “I have no interest in them, and they have none in me! We are best apart from each other lest…”

    “Hold, you hear me out,” she commanded authoritatively, bashing her cane down on the step.   “I am fairly newer to this town than others, having only resided here for some ten years. But there are others…with longer histories, I feel. And perhaps, just perhaps, this is a fair enough night to help bring them into light.”

    “So you’re all trying to clear your precious consciences, is that it?” he sneered, scanning the little group. “Because you pity the wretch who wastes away in here. Well, isn’t that it?”

    “No, we don’t pity you,” Chillingsworth piped up unexpectedly. He turned his eyes down and scuffled his feet. “We pity…ourselves. Because we treated a boy and his mother like dirt when they needed a fair shake. We blamed him for what his father was, instead of giving him a chance to stand on his own. And I think we fine folk were quicker to condemn than to forgive.”

    Snape swallowed back a surge of shock quickly followed by a flush of passion, thinking of how his neglected mother had died alone, without a soul to comfort her, so many years before when he was away at school. “And you think you can ever undo what was done?” he rasped.

    “No. Neither, I suppose, can you undo what you’ve done in the past.”

    Snape closed his eyes. All they knew was that he had gotten in with “a bad crowd” in his teens, only to come back to his senses after Lily’s mysterious death. They could not even imagine how far it all had gone, and the burdens he carried.

    “So bringing us back to the point,” he redirected, “what are intentions now if nothing can undo what was done?”

    “I guess we’re asking a favor,” muttered Mr. Chillingsworth.

    “What…?”

    The tavern-keeper pulled out a fiddle from under his coat. “Just don’t slam the door in our faces till we’re done.”

   Snape opened his mouth, a bunch of garbled thoughts rushing through his mind, but was silenced by the sound of the string instrument, playing the beginning of a tune he had not heard since his childhood. It was from the one time Lily had tried to drag him along caroling with her, but the others in the group had scoffed at his patched up coat and his “evil eyes” (he had always had a bad habit of staring, and it haunted people even when he was nine). So Lily had pulled him away from the haters, and walked him most of the way home, and sung him the Christmas tune the fiddler had started playing before Snape got kicked out of the group. And he had loved, loved, loved, the fact that she had sung it especially for him.

    And now, so many years later, in front of his door, he was hearing it again:

 

“Shepherds, arise!

Be not afraid

With hasty steps repair

To David’s City’s

Stable there

To our blest infant there

For us a savior come on earth

For us His life he gave

To save us from eternal death

And to raise us from the grave…”

 

    Before he could think of a way to properly respond, crossed between automatic snark and melancholic sentiment, Mrs. Wimpleton stepped forward and placed something in his hands, a paper parcel. He could feel through the wrapping…he knew what they were.

    “How…?”

    “Well, Mr. Germsley and I felt that perhaps your efforts on behalf of technical enlightenment on the rooftop today merited more than an out-of-commission air freshener, so we tracked it down together,” she explained. She smiled sweetly. “Happy Christmas, young man.”

   Snape swallowed, blinked, and then mumbled under his breath an uncharacteristically sincere       “Thank you.” Then he slowly closed the door, and for a moment just rested his forehead against it, trying to make sense of what had just happened.

    “What did she give you?” Harry questioned.

    Snape turned, brought back to reality, and then laid the parcel down on the end table. Slowly, he started to unwrap it, and revealed the missing pieces of his mother’s prized tea set. And inside the cups were packets of flavored tea.

    Harry could not help but feel his heart swell as his teacher started to delicately place the cups and saucers this way and that on the table, gazing at them with the wide-eyed excitement of a child who unexpectedly finds the present he wanted, but was too cautious to ask for in his letter to Father Christmas.

    When all the tea set pieces were in place, a hard lump suddenly rose in Snape’s throat and his hands trembled a little, clanking the last cup as it he set it down. He could not help but picture his mother lovingly doing the very same thing with her prized possessions in the midst of poverty, so many years before…

    “You alright?” Harry queried.

    “Of course…brilliant one,” he muttered, but could not prevent a shiver from running down his spine. He felt the boy toss something towards him. It was the hideous patchwork throw blanket Harry had been using during the night. “What…what are you…?”

    “You looked kinda cold.”

    His eyes shot to the ceiling. “I – am – not…”

    “Well, it was just a thought.”

    “Did I mention I’m quite capable to taking care of my own needs without student intervention, thank you very much?”

    “Yep,” Harry conceded, and nestled back into the couch sleepily.

    Snape exhaled, and tossed half of the monster blanket over the boy, with the other half still awkwardly tangled up in his cloak.

    “Wake me up if we come back in the film…” Harry murmured, drifting off to sleep.

    “Look,” Snape snapped. “I’m not committed to watching this horror reel all night just to unpack Dumbledore’s imbecilic surprise. Especially since this thing seems to be taped in slow motion…how many of these sickening specials have we already gone through? Two? Three? Not to mention all these intermingled Hogwarts camcorder clips besides…”

    But Harry was at this point sound asleep and beyond the point of comment. And within the liberal passage of some fifteen minutes, Snape too fell mercifully unconscious as A Muppets Special Christmas Carol began to run.

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