By Avellina Balestri
Word Count: 29645
Summary: Harry and Snape spend Christmas together and come to understand one another a little better.
Chapter 7: The Running of the Deer
Snape and Harry woke up in the morning to the pleasant realization that “holiday tape” had run its course, and the uncomfortable realization that they were both somewhat entangled in the same throw blanket! Once they were freed from the creepily close proximity to one another, Snape shuffled into the kitchen in search of something to toss together for breakfast.
Unfortunately, as he rummaged through the cupboard, he dismally realized that their food supply was at an end. He was loathe to purchase a restock, as they’d be returning to school the following day and he did not wish to carry food stuffs with him. But nevertheless, he realized the necessity. Hence, he decided on the necessity of going to the town’s small market to pick up basic groceries. And as usual, Harry automatically decided to tag along.
It was a fairly long hike into town, and Snape spent most of it muttering under his breath about how low his finances were. Once they made it to the fairly run-down main street, consisting of an assortment of basic buildings like the town bureau office, which meshed with the tiny police department and library, they made their way into the small general store with limited lighting and refrigerating, and far too many empty shelves to be respectable.
“Do we have to have oatmeal again?” Harry inquired, observing Snape’s beeline towards the boxes.
“I wouldn’t complain about the fare, if I were you,” Snape growled, “or I might decide to forego the entire expedition.”
Harry sighed. “I just…well, it’s Boxing Day, and I just thought we could do something a little different, that’s all.”
“Oh, so we’re going by gourmet Potter tastes, is that it?”
“French toast wouldn’t be too crazy, would it?”
Snape rolled his eyes.
“What?” Harry retorted. “It’s not French snails or something expensive or weird!”
“There’s no chance of me making anything so frivolous for the likes of…”
“Fine, you can make the oatmeal, and I can make the toast! Then we split it half and half, how about that?”
“You…cooking?” Snape blurted in disbelief. “You’re a flippin’ disaster when it comes to mixing ingredients!”
“Well, French toast batter can’t explode like a potion, at least!”
Snape shook his head, but seemed to be slowly relenting all the same, and grunted, “If you get one speck of batter splattered where it shouldn’t be, you’ll be sorry.”
Harry smiled and accepted the week-old cheap bread Snape shoved at him, as well as a few packets of French toast mix.
“Hey, question: do you have…peanut butter in your ice box?”
Snape looked at him blankly. “Why do you ask?”
“Well…I was thinking. Even though there aren’t any deer here anymore, there are still other animals. Like…birds and squirrels and rabbits and hedgehogs…”
“What a stimulating survey of the surrounding wildlife index,” Snape remarked, with as much enthusiasm as a hibernating groundhog. “You should become a zoologist.”
Harry huffed. “Yeah, fine, okay, whatever…can we just maybe get some peanut butter, and maybe a little bird seed?”
“In case you’ve noticed, I’m not exactly rolling in funds at present…”
“I mean, just a little bit, just to do it once before we leave.”
“Whatever put this notion so strongly in your stubborn little head?”
Snape blinked, realizing that the boy spoke truth. Then he rolled his eyes again, towards the birdseed section, and Harry promptly snatched up a small bag and a jar of peanut butter.
Walking back from town, they had to cross the woods again. Harry spotted a tangled barb-wire fence wending its way in between the trees. “Hey, what’s the deal with that?” he queried. “I thought you said this was free walking land, that no one owned it.”
“It is,” he confirmed. “It always has been. But is it not a regular thing for man to try and lay claim to that which is not his, to steal it from the right of nature, and the free standing of other men?” Then Snape squinted, seeing where part of the fence was twisted and torn, and a swath of it seemed to have been cut out.
“So,” Snape sniffed haughtily. “It does seem that I’ve caught the remnants of the vagrant onslaught last evening…”
Suddenly the whole fence vibrated, and a soft whimpering sound made them turn to the right.
“Oh my gosh, it’s a deer!” Harry realized, seeing the tan creature tangled up in the ripped wire. “I thought you said they weren’t around here anymore.”
“They weren’t,” Snape confirmed, in as much astonishment as the boy. “Or at least, they haven’t been…” They drew nearer the scene, and Snape got a better look at the situation. “She’s very young. Probably got separated from her own and became disoriented.”
“Oh, that’s awful,” Harry mumbled. “She’s probably scared half to death.” He started to crouch down in the snow. “It’s okay, it’s okay…” Harry touched the little deer’s neck, and she jerked. “I won’t hurt you, I promise…I promise I won’t…” He ran his hand along her soothingly. She seemed to calm down a little at the motion, even though she was still breathing heavily. “You’re a pretty girl,” he complimented her. “You’re a really pretty girl…”
Watching Harry stroking the injured young doe, and the look of fear that melted into a tentative trust in her eyes, Snape found himself overwhelmed by his own lack of realization, blinded by a searing mix of bitterness and pride. He was seeing her, all over again, as clear as day…not the boy he had known so long ago, who looked so much like him, and took to tormenting the vulnerable for pleasure and to make himself seem so much the stronger. No, no…Harry was like…
He saw the boy focus on the twisted barb wire stabbing into her, saw him reach his hand out to pull it off of her, just as he had done for his least favorite teacher the day before. But Snape gripped him by the wrist before he could touch it.
“You little fool,” he grumbled. “You’ll tear apart your hands all over again like that. This job requires gloves and wire cutters…”
“But she’s hurting, and it’ll take ages to get that stuff!”
As if to confirm what Harry just said, the little deer made a soft whimpering noise and shivered, her body pressed up against the snow.
Harry grabbed Snape’s sleeve earnestly. “Professor…please!”
Again, the boy tried to reach for the barbed wire, and again the man blocked him. But before Harry could protest, he saw Snape pull up his sleeves, with single tugs, very professionally. The only other times Harry had seen him do that was when he was about to grab a daydreaming student by the scruff of the neck and force their face into their text book.
But now, to Harry’s shock, he reached out his hand and placed it right over those twisted barbs, working them free bit by bit. The deer struggled. “Keep her calm,” he instructed through clenched teeth.
Harry did so, going back and stroking her neck, telling her she’d be free soon. But his eyes were still on the professor, working on untangling the wire, a little at a time. He made no fuss about it, no grand show, just kept at it with a silent determination to complete the job. Every barb, Harry knew, was cutting him. But his teacher did not react. He just seemed to accept the pain as a matter of course, and continue on with steady hands.
And in that instant, Harry recognized a side of his teacher he had never acknowledged before. He was brave. Not like a Gryffindor, full of grand gestures and reckless pluck, but boiled down to bare bones bravery, the kind that has a job to do, even an unpleasant one, and does it with an unsung dignity. A kind that recognizes duty to others, even if he holds little affection for them; that uses rationality, and yet still is willing to pay the price without receiving thanks or recompense. Because it’s part of the job, the everyday grind of living, the grind of being too human to turn away. And in the end, perhaps, that was the sort of bravery that made the world turn round.
Just then, the sound of boots crunching in the snow was heard, and a gruff voice bellowed, “Who be ya on my land?”
It was an older man around sixty or so years, with bushy gray eyebrows, yellow teeth, and an ancient-looking shotgun pointed straight at them.
“McGinty, you know damn well this is common land,” Snape stated as calmly as possible. “It has been since before the towns gained their charters. There should be no place for property claims or barbed wire here.”
“Don’t give me no high-falootin’ excuses! Get yerself and that scrawny kidda off o’ my turf!”
“Look, we’re just trying to help the doe! She’s hurt!” Harry protested.
“What the hell do I care? Better off dead than eating out our gardens come spring!”
“What a creep!” Harry blurted impulsively, earning him a harsh look from Snape.
“Don’t you go talking back to your elders, mangy pup, lest you get your brain blown through!” McGinty pointed the rifle at Harry menacingly.
Snape got to his feet, standing in front of the firearm. “You will not threaten the boy,” he growled. “He may have a way of working his mouth, and I might have the right to tan his hide for it often enough, but you will not threaten a student under my charge.”
“Student, pah!” the man spat. “Think you’re some fancy professor, eh? And you, reared up on the spit-side of the Spinneries, with a drunkard father and an Irish mother wrinkled from the wash-buckets? You can’t put on no act with us!”
Now Snape’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Shut your filthy trap.”
“Don’t you go turning your nose up at me! We’re wise to ya! No authority have you got on us…”
Suddenly Snape lunged, taking him by surprise, and with unexpected strength yanked the shotgun from his hands and thrust it away.
“Then know this,” Snape snarled. “If I was reared up by the spinners, I have learned to strike back by the spinners, and by the factory yard. And I can splinter your gob if I so take the notion. That authority any man, no matter how near the dirt he is, should bow to!”
Harry’s mouth was hanging open, and so was McGinty’s. But the landowner recomposed himself rapidly. “You think you’re a winner in the fights?” he challenged. “You and your tastes for the girls uptown?”
Snape visibly swallowed back something primal. “Do not…”
“It’s my land, and I’ll say whatever the hell I be wanting to!” he challenged. “You know what it be? You weren’t good enough for her, is what! She went off with the lad with the winning words and the coins to his name, what would she be dallying about with chemical scum like you?”
Snape took a step forward, then stopped, a vein in his neck purple and pulsating with suppressed wrath. “Get – away – now…” he whispered, the way snakes whisper before they strike.
“Fine by me, I’m gettin’ alright,” McGinty relented, reluctantly turning to leave, realizing he was no match for the younger man’s strength if it came to a knock-down, drag-out fight. “Every blasted body with a lick of sense gets itself away from you in the end! There’s a bad omen on ya, and the little missy knew it too! Seems it fell on her, like it or not, in the end!”
Snape remained where he stood, almost statuesque, as the man wandered away from them. When he turned back to Harry, his face had a strange unreadable expression cut into it, like the waves cuts into the coastal rocks. He was seeing into the past again…
The beginning of first year at Hogwarts. The sorting. Gryffindor. Slytherin. Sitting at a different table, away from her. Her assuring they’d still be friends. The boy with glasses and the foxy grin, who bragged about how many presents his parents bought him, when others were scraping and straining just to get by. A push in the hallway, and papers flying everywhere. “I’m going to take your friend,” he taunted. “I’ll get her away from you, chemical scum, you’ll see…”
Snape blinked and brought himself back to the present. There was something in his eyes that seemed sick with himself, perhaps for the binding, or perhaps for the loosing, of such memories that still stung him like acid. It was too easy to carry them on into that very moment, to use them as a shaft or shield. But he was losing the stomach for it all. He was just…sick and tired. And silently he went back down on one knee and continued his work to free the deer.”
When she was finally free, she started struggling again, having difficulty getting back up, and Harry started to guide her gently. “Easy…easy, girl…just take it easy…there you go…”
The little doe got up on wobbly knees, squeaked, and very nearly fell down again. “Whoa, whoa…” The boy braced her a little. “It’s okay, gotcha…” He looked over his shoulder at the grocery bag in the snow. “Hey, do you think…maybe I could give her a packet of our oatmeal? I mean, she’s kinda thin…probably hasn’t eaten in a long time…”
“Do what you want,” Snape rasped, his eyes fixated on his own bleeding hands.
Harry didn’t press it, just opened up the box and then the packet and poured the contents into his cupped hand. He held it under her nose, and she first shied away, then slowly she started to sniff at the oats, then started to munch on them. Some of the oats got in Harry’s sleeve, and she reached across to nibble at them. The boy laughed and petted her affectionately along the neck.
Then he caught sight of Snape watching him with a faraway look on his face, like he was witnessing something he had seen once before. And then Snape turned his eyes down to his hands, no doubt stinging something terrible from the wires. And Harry thought his heart was stinging far worse from the words spoken by the man with the gun.
Harry felt sorry for him all of a sudden and inquired softly, “Hey, would you like to…uh, y’know…pet her?”
Snape blanched. “What makes you think I want to do that?” he blurted defensively.
“I dunno,” Harry admitted. “But…you did save her from the fence, and maybe…maybe she’d like it…?”
“Not from me,” he grunted, shuffling to his feet. “She’d be gone like a flash at my touch.”
Harry squinted. “Why?”
“Because.” The man exhaled and shut his eyes. And he felt his upper arm…burn him. “I am too…cunning, Potter.”
“But you’re brave, too,” the boy offered quietly.
“You don’t…understand.” Snape paused, then continued softly, “In ages past, the animals ruled this world. The laws of nature were savage, and yet…they were not evil, for the animals had no capacity for it. What they did, with red tooth and claw, they did according to instinct, not reason nor will. It was to keep a balance in check, keep all things according to their proper state. When Man came…he was meant to be higher than that, to be better than that, and yet instead he fell beneath the level of beast, and embraced evil. Don’t you know animals can read how far gone a man is, especially the deer?”
Harry looked perplexed. “But we helped her. And she seems to trust me.”
“That’s different,” he said with a shiver. “You and I…are different.”
“But…if she trusts me, and I trust you, there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Snape snorted. “Trust? Really, Potter? After what we’ve been through?”
“Yeah,” Harry responded quietly. “Is there…some reason that…I shouldn’t?”
Snape swallowed hard. Too much reason, much, much too much…
“Look, won’t you…just try, like once with her?” the boy coaxed as the doe finished the last of the oats in his hand.
“Why should I?”
“Because.” Harry eyed him hard. “You won’t know unless you try.”
He just stared as the boy moved back a little from the deer. She seemed a bit confused by what was going on, and Snape felt the very same confusion in his soul.
“Try talking to her,” Harry suggested.
“What…what the hell would I say?”
“Tell her she’s pretty.”
“You just told her that,” he huffed.
“Yeah, but…girls like to hear it.”
Snape shifted uncomfortably, but then his eyes met hers again, and something inside him began to thaw, ever so slowly. She was so innocent, so pure, like the fresh-fallen snow, and her eyes were clear, without guile. He found himself crouching down in the snow.
Very slowly, he started to reach his hand out towards her. She backed away a little, and Snape stopped, just leaving his hand as far out as he had stretched it. He felt his mouth go dry. Then, also very slowly, she took a step towards him. Then another. When she was close enough, he touched her nose gently, and both of them winced. But she didn’t run off this time, just…studied him.
Was she seeing all? Was she seeing all his sins written in the sand, seeing the omen that he was, the curse that seemed to come to everything his heart had ever encompassed, who had ever taken the risk to let him know the precious feeling of touch?
A little blood trickled from his hand onto her nose, staining her fur a muddy red, and he shivered. “Sorry, I…sorry…” His throat tightened. What was he doing, apologizing? Apologizing for his blood, always staining the innocent?
“You’re…a pretty girl…” he said it at last, and the words were fully his, coming from the truest part of himself. “A very pretty girl…”
Then before he knew what was happening, she came up and nuzzled his face for a brief moment. He felt her soft fur and wet nose and he let out a breath held, hissing through his teeth.
Was that her way of showing gratitude for being saved by imperfect hands that were hurting hard and bleeding all over?
“See?” Harry said, a slight sad smile on his face. “She likes you, after all.”
Snape looked down awkwardly as the doe finally backed away, and after a last glance at Harry, sprinted off into the woods beyond them.
The professor stood up silently, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and gestured with his chin for the boy to follow him. As they trudged back to the house, Harry spoke up again.
“So…so you’re like, half Irish?”
Snape gave him a death glare.
“What?” Harry countered. “That’s what he said!”
“Just because someone says something doesn’t give you the automatic right to repeat it.”
“But…well, it kinda makes sense. I mean, you do have a temper.”
“You’re stereotyping is unappreciated.”
“Well, it’s true! Ask anyone in your class!”
Snape just shook his head in annoyance, and scattered a pile of dead leaves with his boot absentmindedly.
“So…would you really have fought him if he didn’t back off?” Harry inquired further.
Snape shrugged. “Might have done.”
“So you can fight like a muggle? No magic at all?”
“You think of me as a one-trick pony, don’t you?” he scoffed. “Mind you, this is the world in which I was shaped, rage man or devil ever so much. To survive in this cursed place, you must have had some brutality in you, some ability to claw and bite and kick and strike, and not care for the fineries of civilized men. I’ve been bloodied in the factory yards before, and I’ve bloodied back, to the best of my ability.”
“Then…why didn’t you hit him when he…?” Harry stopped short, but Snape knew what he was going to say, anyway.
“Listen, boy,” he ground out, holding up his hands, still bleeding, and shaking ever so slightly. “I have learned…control. I have learned…there are those destined to act with the grandest form of show in this world, to achieve greatness…and then there are those destined to burn themselves out in the shadows, and in blood, in emptiness, and in the cold. And they must have the greatest control—those who live with the dark and wait for it to have the last word.”
Harry blinked, not quite sure what to make of all that, but sincerely wanting him to feel better. “When we get back to the house, I’ll…I can help you…make all the stuff, so you don’t hurt your hands worse.” He held up the bag of groceries indicatively.
“You?” Snape huffed perplexedly, letting his hands fall at his side.
“Well, if you instruct me nice and calmly,” Harry added.
“Oh, I see,” he spat. “A clause.”
As they got nearer the house, they ran into none other but Mrs. Wimpleton, coming back from the post office with her mail.
“Why, whatever happened to your hands?” she gasped upon observing the blood stains on Snape’s sleeves.
“Nothing,” he lied.
“We rescued a deer!” Harry spoke up.
Snape grumbled under his breath.
“Well, you two seem to make quite a team, don’t you?” she said brightly.
Now Snape looked positively sick. “We’ll probably wind up in mortal conflict in the kitchen, never fear,” he assured, gesturing at the bag of groceries Harry was holding.
“Oh, well, you can’t be doing work like that with your hands all sliced up, and you yelling at the poor boy for every little thing he does with the cooking certainly won’t help the food go down any easier!”
“I’m afraid I can’t afford a gourmet chef,” he snarked dismally.
She huffed. “That’s it, I’m helping…”
“It has to be done…”
“But I don’t want you in my kitchen!” he declared, most rudely.
“SEVERUS SNAPE.” She gave him killer look that matched his own. “Not – another –word. I’m going in that kitchen, and I’m making lunch, and there’s nothing more to be said about it. Do I make myself clear?”
To Harry’s surprise, this rebuke somehow succeeded. Perhaps it had something to do with the tea set she’d produced the night before, or maybe because some primal reality clicked in, equating her to the scolding mother and him to the chastened child.
The fact that Mrs. Wimpleton veritably forced Snape to lie down on the couch after washing and bandaging his hands led to him falling asleep by accident while she and Harry started to cook the oatmeal and French toast. By the time he woke up, he found that Gerald Germsley was also in kitchen somehow, and with a cardboard box of take-out Chinese food picked up from a tech mission in Birmingham.
Snape scanned the table, now littered with far too much food. “How the hell are we going consume all these victuals?” he demanded. “There’s enough here to feed a regiment!”
“We’re working on it, mate,” Germsley assured, shoveling a forkful of French toast with drizzled honey into his mouth, followed by a bite of eggroll.
“Yeah, I’m sure we’ll make at least some headway,” Harry assured, munching on a mouthful of rice crackers, followed by a sugary Chinese dumpling.
Snape rolled his eyes. “Leave it to human vacuum cleaners…”
Just then, he heard the cell phone beckoning him from the other room, to the un-melodious tune of “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” that automatically became the ring tone this time of year, against its owner’s will.
“You…still have service…?” Harry inquired, as the last time he saw Snape use it was during their road trip the previous summer.
“For emergencies, yes,” Snape conceded. “So…if you’ll pardon me…guests…”
With that parting sarcastic shot, he wandered out into the living room and snatched it up from the end-table, just desperate to end the infernal holiday ditty from gyrating any longer than it had to. “What the hell…?” He squinted, waiting for the name of the caller to come up on the Smartphone screen, but all he got was “unavailable.” So he just decided to take his chances with any bill collectors and survey takers that might be trying to haunt him, and pressed the answer button.
“Yes, who is it?” he snapped irritably, holding the phone to his ear.
“I was wondering when you might make a check-up call, Albus.” Snape rolled his eyes. “So, what in the name of Merlin was that imbecilic video recording adventure supposed to impart to the helpless viewers? A sense of harmony, you said? More like a ten-hour-long headache! It must surely count as some form of cruel and unusual form of in-house torture! ”
“Ah, but you both did feel united in that headache, didn’t you?” the headmaster offered brightly.
“That’s…pathetic,” Snape sighed, slumping down on the couch.
“Well, all the same,” Dumbledore chirped. “How is the boy doing? I trust he’s still among the living?”
“He’s a stubborn creature, almost like a weed, not given to dying easily,” Snape remarked wryly. “Stubborn as his mother could be at the same age. They surely would have…made quite the pair.” He smiled slightly, fondly, in spite of himself. “Do you remember in third year, when she put on all this makeup without a mirror, and nearly got herself thrown out of class for breaking the rules?” He chuckled a little. “Some Ravenclaw girl gave it to her, and she was so excited about it, she didn’t bother learning how much to use. When I tried wiping it off her in the hallway, she just about cracked me across the face for it, and wouldn’t talk to me for a full week. She was sweet, though…when we made up, she sat on the wall and we had lunch together outside, so we wouldn’t be split up by the tables…”
“Severus,” interrupted the voice on the other side of the phone, grave and ghost-like this time.
There was a long silence. Then words that stung.
“Don’t get too attached.”
Snape’s train of innocent reminiscence was fully derailed and he tasted bitterness at the back of his throat. “Attached?” he croaked.
“Yes, just so. I knew that if you ever came to see her in the boy, you could not help but fall into that. You have not mentioned her in years, not mentioned her since…until now. I know you, Severus. You have never done things by half measures.”
Snape clenched his injured hands, letting the hurt run up his arms as Dumbledore continued.
“But your duties make such a potential attachment not only precarious to the cause, but unhealthy for you, in the end. The boy has a destiny he must fulfill, and so do you…”
“I don’t need to be reminded of my duties,” Snape growled resentfully.
“Everyone needs reminding, every so often, Severus,” Dumbledore continued, using a faux gentility now that set Snape’s teeth on edge. “Even I need it sometimes. We all have some youthful attachments and flights of fancy that blether about in our heads when we are older, and sometimes cloud our thinking…”
“What do you think? It was just some tawdry little passion worked up over too many glasses of punch at the Wizarding Ball? Is that what you think she was worth to me?”
Dumbledore chuckled ironically. “Certainly not, Severus! Given your background, you’ve always had enough sense to be a teetotaler.”
Snape twitched at the implication.
“But seriously, my dear boy, I’m only concerned for your wellbeing. You’ll only torture yourself unnecessarily with too many thoughts of her, rekindled by the presence of…”
“You knew her,” Snape whispered harshly. “You watched her grow up, taught her, worked with her. Is it possible to have known her and yet not still grieve for her?”
“We all make mistakes, Severus,” the headmaster remarked, and Snape shut his eyes tight at the covert allusion to his accidental involvement in her demise. “Lily was a truly beautiful soul, a type who could not help but make the world a better place for having been here. But in the end, we must let the dead bury the dead.”
“She’s still…alive to me,” he choked. “If she were not, do you think…I’d be doing this?”
“And what would we do without you?” he proclaimed. “Your dedication to the task of reparation is as strong as ever. You have laid down all attachments and personal goals in that pursuit, and I cannot help but have a great deal of hope for you.”
“I do not desire your absolution,” he retorted.
“Ah,” Albus exhaled. “So perhaps you are trying to seek it from her boy, by being his protector?”
“The boy?” Snape spat, his anger flaring out violently. “You are more of a fool than I thought, if you think I care what happens to that Marauder’s bilge-mouthed brat…”
Suddenly Snape sensed someone in the room with him. He turned and found Harry standing in the threshold, swallowing back the lump of pain that had formed in his throat. Then the boy quickly turned away and retreated from the room.
“Well, at least your attitude assures me my concerns for your wellbeing were misplaced,” Dumbledore rambled on indulgently. “Nevertheless, in spite of your impenetrable bitterness over past events, I do believe your efforts on behalf of the cause mark you out as a good man.”
Snape shuddered. “Like you, Albus?”
Another wry chuckle from the headmaster. “Oh, Severus, by the way, has the boy gotten you to take your medication as of yet?”
Something inside Snape snapped, and he pressed the “end” button on the phone before hurling it across the floor. He had a feeling the screen had been damaged. He didn’t care. There was a far deeper damage that had been done, and it made him feel disgusted with his very self.