After his friends had said their rather reluctant goodbyes, Harry returned to Severus's quarter where he found his guardian packing a small trunk.
"Are we going home for Christmas, then?" Harry asked excitedly.
"Unless you wish to stay here..." Severus said.
"No, I want to go," Harry replied. "Is Sirius going home too? I haven't seen him yet.""He should be there on Christmas," Severus told him. "You must understand that the teachers generally do not leave on holidays."
"But you can?"
Severus smiled lightly. "Because of you, McGonagall allows me certain... special privileges."
Harry grinned. "I'm glad. I think I'll run up and say hi to Sirius before we leave. Is that okay?""Of course. Be back in say, a half hour?"
"Sure," Harry replied. "Bye."
Harry made his way up to the Defense Against the Dark Arts room and walked through it to the attached office. Sirius sat inside, his wavy hair draped across his face as he worked on something. Harry knocked on the doorframe and Sirius looked up.
"Harry!" he exclaimed, standing and immediately meeting Harry for an embrace. "Gosh, it's been so long! You've grown. You look stronger," Sirius noted. "Building up those muscles, eh?"
"Trying to anyway," Harry said with a grin.
"Well, come, sit down," Sirius said, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. "How long are you back for?"
"A little over a week," Harry replied. "Severus said you are coming over for Christmas."
"Wouldn't miss it," Sirius said, smiling. He leaned forward as if he were going to share a secret with Harry. "Harry, you'll never guess."
"I'll never guess what?" Harry asked with interest.
"Severus invited me in for tea! For no reason," Sirius said with wide eyes and exaggerated shock.
"No way," Harry breathed. "Really?"
"Really," Sirius nodded.
"Wow," Harry replied, Suddenly, they both broke into laughter.
"It's nice to have you back, Harry," Sirius said with a smile. "So tell me all about your date to the Yule Ball."
Harry groaned and wondered if he really should have come up here.
Later on that night, Harry sat, head on his fist, looking at Severus from across a chessboard. He reached forward and moved a piece to another space.
In a tone of forced casualness, Severus asked, "So how was the dance?"
Harry had to strongly resist a moan. "Why is that all anyone wants to know?"
Severus's lip twitched. "Perhaps everyone is in shock that you got a date to the dance."
Harry shot him a dark look.
He sighed but replied, "It was great. I had a lot of fun."
"With... Rhea, was it?" Severus asked, moving one of his own pieces forward.
Harry knew that he remembered exactly who he had gone with but played along with Severus's odd informality. "Yes."
"And will you be spending more time with her?" Severus asked, slipping easily into the role of overprotective parent.
Harry sat up straighter only to fidget properly. "Maybe. We had fun."
"In that case, can I meet her?" Severus inquired after a pause.
Harry looked at him. "You're going to embarrass me, aren't you." What had been phrased as a question came out instead as a statement.
"Certainly not," Severus replied shortly. "I simply wish to know if you are spending time with reputable people."
"You want to judge her," Harry accused.
"Will she pass?"
Harry frowned. He imagined she would but was reluctant to give Severus the satisfaction. Then again, it would serve to prove that Harry could meet nice people and recognize them of his own accord. "I'm sure."
Seeming satisfied, Severus let the topic drop, for the moment. A few moves later, he asked, "Do you have any idea who cursed you?"
"Cursed me?" Harry parroted in surprise. "I didn't know that was a curse."
"Yes, I referenced the remedy that worked to restore your voice and it is indeed a curse. Have you made any enemies at Durmstrang?"
"Uh," Harry hesitated. Severus gave him a disapproving look and Harry got defensive. "Well not until last week!"
"What happened last week?" Severus asked heavily, as if dreading the answer. For the moment, the chess game was disregarded.
"Well I ran into Rhea and Gregor arguing in the library-"
"Who is Gregor?" Severus interrupted.
"Uh, you know those... questionable friends of Draco's I told you about? He was their ringleader," Harry told him.
"Ah. Continue," Severus said.
"And they were arguing because he had asked her to the dance too. We were both waiting for her reply but neither of us knew it. So then he grabbed her and I kind of confronted him," Harry said hesitantly. "I disarmed him and he left but not until after I told him I was going to the dance with her. He was pretty mad about that," Harry said, voice far away, thinking in retrospect. "I never did get my money from the bet..."
Severus pursed his lips. "What was that I told you about staying out of trouble? You walked right into it."
"He was going to hurt her!" Harry insisted.
"Maybe so, but you were the one who got hurt out of this. Is this something Gregor would do?" Severus asked. "Or could do? Memory charms are very difficult. They are generally not something you can teach yourself."
"I bet he'd do it," Harry said. "Guess he doesn't know I live with a Potions Master," he commented with a grin. "And Rhea said he has lessons with Karkaroff sometimes."
"Ah," Severus replied as if that all made sense. "This makes me want to meet your girlfriend even more now. Could you perhaps call me through the mirror with her one day?"
Harry stared at him, trying to figure a way out of this. He saw none. "Fine. But she's not my girlfriend."
"Of course," Severus said easily, returning to the game.
After a few minutes of silence, Harry said wryly, "So if memory charms are hard, how come Lockhart could do them so well?"
Severus's lip twitched into a small smile. "The world is full of mysteries."
"I'll second that," Harry muttered. "I still haven't figured out what that blasted egg is supposed to mean."
"Have you tried doing something to it to reveal the message?" Severus suggested.
"What message? I thought the screaming was the message," Harry grumbled.
"I have a feeling it is not," Severus said.
"So what do you suggest?" Harry asked.
"I am not sure. Maybe stick it in the fireplace or run it under some water and see what happens. I'm sure you can figure it out," Severus told him.
"Will you help me?" Harry asked, finding a new excitement in him to overcome the dread with which he associated the egg.
"Certainly," Severus said. "Would you like to do it now?"
Harry looked at him. "Now? We're in the middle of a game."
"Are we?" Severus asked with an air of haughtiness. "Checkmate."
"What?" Harry demanded. "But I was just about to take your bishop!"
"And?" Severus asked.
Harry huffed and began to put the board away. "Ugh. I'm rusty."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry snapped.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps we will need to play more often then."
"Alright," Harry readily agreed. "I'll go get the egg."
Harry trotted up the stairs to his room and took the heavy golden egg out of his trunk. He carried it down the stairs in the crook of his arm and set it down heavily at the kitchen table.
"How do you know it won't hurt it if we toss it in the fire?" Harry asked.
"There is no way to know," Severus replied. "It is up to you whether or not we try it."
Harry thought for a second then shrugged. "Let's go for it. It's not getting me anywhere now."
Snape picked up the egg in his hands and carried it to the blazing fireplace, setting it on the hearth.
"Would you like to do the honors?" he asked Harry, gesturing to the egg. Harry reached for it but Severus cut him off. "Harry, you'll burn yourself. Are you not a wizard?"
"Right," Harry replied, feeling foolish. He levitated the egg into the flames and watched them lick around the smooth golden surface. After a few minutes, Harry asked, "Should we take it out?"
"Yes and maybe try to open it?" Severus suggested.
Harry levitated it out and, covering his hand with the edge of his robe, twisted open the top. The high pitched scream that followed was no different than before. If anything, it was louder. Harry slammed it shut and the following quiet was blessed relief. Severus frowned and ran a few diagnostic tests on the egg. Nothing came up.
"Well," Harry stated. "Let's try water next."
The egg appeared untouched by the charring flames and once it had cooled, Severus asked Midgy to bring a small tub of water. She did so and they set it inside. Harry reached into the pleasantly warm water and opened it. There was no sound. He looked at Severus.
"What's that mean?" Harry asked.
"I do not know. Perhaps we cannot hear it above the water," Severus suggested.
"So... what? Stick my head in?" Harry asked with mild distaste.
"Be my guest," Severus replied, seeming glad that he wasn't the one to have to do it.
Happy that the water was warm, he stuck his head in and immediately pulled it back out with a gasp. "Still screaming," he choked. Harry wiped off his face with his hands as Midgy appeared with a towel. "Thanks," he said, drying his head. He then closed the egg, withdrew it, and dried it off.
"Now what?" Harry asked in disappointment.
"I do not know," Severus replied. "It may be best if we stop for the day. I can think of nothing else to try at the moment."
"Sounds good to me," Harry replied. "At this point, I'd be happy with never seeing the stupid thing again."
"I get the feeling that one day, you will be happy to have had it to help you," Severus replied. He held out the egg. "Here, return this to your room. Then, I believe we have a tree to decorate."
Harry grinned and dashed off to his room, setting the egg haphazardly on the windowsill. He paused a moment to make sure it wouldn't roll off then hurried back downstairs, so glad to be home.
The next morning, Harry woke to a sharp rap on his window. He sat up groggily and found Pigwidgeon and Errol working together to carry a decent sized box wrapped in green paper. Shoving on his glasses, Harry hurried to the window for the birds were slowly dropping lower, bogged down by the weight. Harry shoved the window open and reached out to help guide the package through. In the process, his elbow knocked the golden egg that sat balanced on the windowsill from the day before. Harry watched in horror as it teetered precariously before falling to the ground below and breaking open.
Above the squawking of Pig as he pestered Carmax who was locked in his cage, Harry could not make out the scream that was sure to rouse the neighbors sleeping hundreds of yards away. Tossing the package on the bed, Harry raced downstairs and out the back door, disregarding the fact that his feet were bare in the deep snow. He wanted to get to the egg as fast as he could before it woke someone, specifically Severus, up. Feet tingling, Harry half ran and half hopped to the spot beneath his window where it had landed.
When he got there, Harry was surprised to find that it wasn't screaming. In fact, it was... singing. He strained to hear the sharp and shaky voice emanating from the inner swirling mass.
Come to us where we reside,
In the bright is where we hide.
We won't be alone in the cold,
You've lost the thing we now hold.
An hour's time is yours to find,
Else what you love is left behind.
Come to us where we reside...
The song began to repeat and Harry shivered violently. Whether from the cold seeping into his skin or from the weight of what he had just heard, he didn't know. A sharp voice from behind brought Harry out of his sudden daze.
"Harry!" Severus said loudly. "What in Merlin's name are you doing out here with no shoes, no cloak?" he demanded.
"Listen," Harry said numbly.
Severus's face looked concerned but he listened to the entire song. When it had finished, he gathered up the egg and helped Harry stand. Putting his arm around him, Severus led Harry inside.
"It seems you have unlocked the clue."