Hesper Starkey, famous for her research on the use of the phases of the moon in potion making, was rather less known as an author. This, of course, was most likely due to the fact that she had only written one book, of which none but the most avid potioneers even knew about. There had only been one edition and most of the copies that had been made were either lost or secreted in private collections. Which is why Severus found himself helpless to do little more than stare at the volume he now held in his hands.
The lightly worn leather cover held the picture of a cauldron, the moon's reflection glimmering on the surface of its contents. In graceful, curling letters across its front was the title,
Celestial Brews;the Moon's Phases and Their Use in the Art of Creating Potions
Harry watched his face anxiously. "Do you... like it?" he asked uncertainly.
Like it? the man thought, I've been looking for a copy of this book for years!
"Where did you find this?" he asked.
"Well, uh... I saw it in a second-hand shop in Hogsmeade when I went there with Hermione and Ron," Harry answered.
"A second-hand shop?" Snape echoed incredulously. Such a rare and valuable book and someone sold it to a second-hand shop?
"I wasn't sure if I'd get another chance to go shopping, so if you already have it or-or don't like, I..."
"Nonsense. It's perfect. I've been wanting this book for years."
"Really?" the boy queried, his uncertainty ebbing only slightly.
"Really, Harry," Severus told him sincerely. "Thank you."
A smile stole across Harry's face. "You're welcome," Dad. "... Sir."
Severus stared longingly down at the book, wishing for nothing more that to pore through its pages. He managed to suppress a sigh.
"We had best make our way to the Great Hall before the headmaster sends someone to ensure that we make an appearance." Rising to his feet, he reverently placed the book on the coffee table, intent on reading from it later in the day.
As they exited the quarters and started up the corridor towards the Great Hall, Severus was glad to see that Harry fell in step beside him. The boy shot him a crooked smile, obviously happy with the way things were going.
Severus returned it with a small smile of his own. He was rather pleased with the way the day was progressing, himself.
"Draco, sit properly and stop playing with your food."
The thirteen-year-old shifted in his seat until he was sitting straighter in the chair. He gave his food another stubborn poke. "Uncle Sev didn't come last night," he muttered to his plate.
Lucius frowned reprovingly at his son. "Draco," he admonished.
"Well," Draco huffed, putting down his fork, "is he coming tonight, at least?"
"Your godfather said he has something more pressing to attend to," the man informed him. "He will not be able to come this year."
"Sure, he does," the boy grumbled dissidently.
"Now, Draco, love, don't be like that," Narcissa said soothingly, to which her husband scoffed. "Didn't Severus get you a nice gift this year? I'm sure it was his way of making up for not being here."
Draco took up his fork again and sullenly continued to eat his meal. He knew the real reason the Potions Master hadn't joined them for supper on Christmas Eve. Stupid Potter. He ruins everything. The blond stabbed viciously at a potato. He hated him.
Snape's expression was as unreadable as ever, though, Harry studied it in earnest. Nope. Still nothing. With a sigh of defeat, he finally made his move. A few minutes later, the man had him in check – for the fourth time in a row.
Harry groaned. "Maybe we should do something else," he suggested.
"Sound idea," the professor smirked. "If we were to play again, I do believe your chess pieces would revolt." Said chess pieces were looking quite mutinous, indeed.
After putting away the game, with some rather colorful insults on the part of Harry's pieces, the two wizards settled in front of the fireplace, Snape in his favorite chair and Harry on the end of the sofa closest to him. Snape had opened Celestial Brews, while Harry was reading a new Quidditch book. He still had one more essay to finish before the end of break, but the professor hadn't said anything, so Harry certainly wasn't about to bring it up, either.
So went the rest of the break, with brewing and reading and games of Wizard's Chess (most of which Harry lost). They'd even made a couple more trips; one to Hogsmeade and the other to Diagon Alley – the main purpose of the latter being to get Harry "a proper wardrobe," much to the boy's embarrassment.
Soon, it was the last day before the rest of the students returned. Harry would go back to Gryffindor tower the following morning and Severus found himself oddly adverse to the idea, though, he would never say so aloud. Were he to be entirely honest, he'd already grown accustomed to the boy's presence. They'd grown comfortable around each other, closer, and a part of the Potions Master was afraid of losing that.
The man was pulled from his musing as he sensed Harry's eyes fixed upon him. Looking up from his book, he was a bit surprised and rather pleased when the boy didn't immediately divert his gaze. He raised an inquiring brow and Harry bit his lip for a moment before voicing what was on his mind.
"Sir," he began slowly, "after terms starts... can I still come here, sometimes?"
"Of course, Harry," Snape answered. "This is your home, too."
Harry smiled. "Thank you, sir."
Severus at once felt a surge of warmth. Harry wanted to come back. His son wanted to spend time with him. And yet... despite his joy and relief at this, there was also a tinge of disappointment.
"Sir?" That appellation was the reason for it.
"Harry, you..." The words caught in his throat. How could something so simple be so difficult to say? Harry continued to watch him expectantly and finally, he said, "You are always welcome here. Even if I'm not in – the wards will allow you access at any time." And I would be pleased if you called me dad or father, even, he added silently.
The boy grinned, the expression making Snape wish even more that he'd uttered what he truly desired. But Harry went back to reading the book he had taken from one of the shelves and after a long moment, the man turned his gaze back to his own reading.
Minerva McGonagall glanced over casually to watch her coworker's face when she saw Harry walk into the Great Hall for breakfast. Had she not known the man so well, she might have missed the subtle change that overcame his expression; the slight warmth that entered his dark eyes and the merest upturn of his lips.
Harry met the man's gaze and smiled, to which Severus responded with a nod. Minerva smiled into her teacup. She had noticed a change in the man's demeanor towards Harry earlier in the school year, but had not been made aware of the reason behind it until just prior to the Christmas holidays. The thought that both Harry and Severus had someone made her happy. She was further pleased by this evidence that they were getting along. They needed each other, after all.
A few moments later, owls swooped in, bringing the mail and the Daily Prophet. As she had once more glanced at the younger professor while unfolding her own copy of the paper, she saw Severus' reaction to the front headline before seeing the page itself.
What little color the man possessed had abruptly drained from his face. His eyes had darted up to Harry and back down again, narrowing at the image before him. Folding his paper once more, he pushed his chair back and stalked angrily out of the room. That can't be a good sign...
Turning to her own copy of the paper, she stared in surprise. Gazing back at her was a pair of sunken gray eyes staring out from a gaunt face framed with matted black hair. It took Minerva a moment to realize that she recognized the man. The headline only confirmed this.
Escape from Azkaban: Sirius Black at Large
Her eyes immediately sought out Harry where he sat with his friends. Sensing her troubled gaze, the boy looked up, frowning uncertainly at her expression.
Not good at all...
The fierceness of the man's glare ought to have caused the staffroom fireplace to collapse upon itself, the bricks melting together in a way the unassuming flames currently ensconced between them would never cause. Instead, the fire still crackled and the man continued to glare, though, his grip upon his teacup should have certainly given the glassware cause for alarm.
Had he not known better, Remus might have believed the other man hadn't realize he'd entered the room, for he gave no indication that he did. He knew, however, that Severus Snape was never more attuned to his surroundings than when he was on edge. The Potions Master's senses seemed nearly as good as his own.
Snape shifted his glower from the fire, eying the newcomer expressionlessly before blandly responding, "I could ask the same of you."
Remus inclined his head, but didn't disagree. "A dangerous convict is on the loose," he stated, "naturally, it's cause for concern."
The Potions Master slammed his cup down onto the coffee table and rose to his feet. "Cause for..." he sputtered furiously. "The madman is after my son, wolf! 'Cause for concern' would be an understatement!"
"It was not my intention to underplay the risk to Harry," the werewolf sighed. "I don't want Sirius to find him anymore than you do."
"Oh, it's 'Sirius', is it?" Snape demanded sharply.
"Snape, please! The man was one of my closest friends for more than seven years, much as-"
"And he's directly responsible for the death of two of your other close friends. Wait, make that three."
"Much as his betrayal hurts," Remus continued over Snape's interruption, "much as I hate him for he did to James and Lily and Peter-"
"Obviously," Snape sneered, also continuing to speak, "I should have anticipated that you'd have some sort of unhealthy attachment to the salivating lunatic-"
"Look, I know just as well as you do that he's a traitor and a killer-"
"Naturally, I was the only one who wasn't surprised he turned out to be a murderer. After all, he tried to kill me when he was only fifteen!"
"-but, dammit, Snape, referring to him as 'Sirius' is a habit. It's called a habit for a reason."
"Funny you should forget, considering you were his weapon of choice."
"It's no different than you calling Voldemort 'the Dark Lord'!" Remus snapped.
Severus flinched, then scowled. The other man had a point, but he was already on tenterhooks and therefore in no mood to admit to it.
"Well," said Remus whimsically after a moment of awkward silence, "that was rather mature of us."
Snape quelled the traitorous twitching of his lips by fixing the other man with a fierce scowl. He was not amused! His colleague seemed to know his malice was (mostly) feigned, however, for the man still wore a small smile of his own. Damned werewolf.
Lowering himself back into his chair, Severus allowed his head to rest between his hands in an unusual show of vulnerability. "I can't lose him," he admitted softly, though why he'd said as much to Lupin was beyond him – he still hated the man after all. He decided he didn't really want to contemplate it, just then.
Remus took a seat across from him, amber eyes fixed on the flickering fire. "I know," he murmured. They lapsed into silence and Severus found himself thinking that, had things been different, he might have been friends with the other man.
Draco scowled so fiercely, Crabbe dropped his spoon upon seeing the expression. What, in Merlin's bloody name, was wrong with the world? It was bad enough that his godfather didn't come for Christmas Eve as he had nearly every year before (well, as far as Draco could recall). Now, the man was practically smiling at Potter from the head table.
Alright, that wasn't quite true, but the professor had nodded at the stupid Gryffindor when he entered the Great Hall, and that might as well be a smile where the professor was concerned.
"Bloody Potter," Draco growled, jabbing his fork into his sausage.
Across from him, Vince and Greg looked at each other. Vince nodded towards Malfoy, Greg gave a minute head shake. Raising his eyebrows meaningfully, the shorter boy nudged his friend with his elbow, to which he responded by drawing his own brows together and nudging him back. After a surprisingly complex and totally silent conversation, Goyle finally let out a sharp huff that was lost on their blond companion.
"What'd he do this time?" he asked Draco. Obviously, Vince had won the argument.
Both of them shrank back at the malevolent glare Malfoy shot at them before turning his attention back to his plate.
Vince worried his bottom lip with his teeth, looking down. I hope he doesn't do anything stupid...
Greg let his eyes momentarily grow wide as he drew a long, slow breath. Me, too.
All week – the whole, ruddy week – he found himself facing reminders of the fact that his godfather wasn't his anymore. No. He was Potter's, because stupid, bloody Potter was his son. Wasn't Potter's mother a mudblood, though? What had Uncle Sev been doing with such filth? Or was that a lie, too?
Draco decided he didn't care. He hated Potter, now, more than ever before. Damned arrogant Gryffindor, constantly putting on airs because he was the bloody Boy-Who-Lived. Now, he went to Severus' office, even visited Severus' quarters – as if the stupid prat didn't think he owned the stupid school before.
Stupid Crabbe and Goyle seemed to think he should just forget about it. As if he could! Morons. Who asked them? No one was on his side anymore, not even those two brainless oafs.
The blond stalked down a corridor, absolutely seething. As the object of his hateful ruminations rounded a corner ahead of him, he slowed, eying the dark-haired boy hatefully. Potter returned his glare, continuing towards him to pass in the opposite direction.
"A bit far from your tower, aren't you, Potter?" Malfoy snarled, stopping to call after the other boy over his shoulder. "Is it really wise for you to be wandering around without your bodyguards?"
Potter paused, but didn't turn around. "You're one to talk, Malfoy," he returned coldly. "You've been spending an awful lot of time by yourself, lately. What happened – your two lackeys finally put their brains together and figure out you're nothing but an arrogant prat?"
"Shut up, Potter!" the blond snapped, his rival's words stinging more than he'd ever be willing to confess.
"Whatever, Malfoy. I've got somewhere to be." Potter started walking again, and Malfoy suddenly realized exactly where he was heading: his godfather's office!
Raising his wand, Draco pointed it right in the middle of the Gryffindor's departing back. Tone full of hate and menace, he snarled. "Confrin-"