On Christmas morning, Harry trotted down the stairs and resolved not to say anything about the night before. Harry wandered into the sitting room where Severus sat with a sup of coffee.
"Merry Christmas!""Merry Christmas, Harry," Severus replied with a soft smile.
Harry smiled extra brightly as if to negate whatever doubts Severus had harbored the previous night. Just as he was grabbing a cookie from the tray, the Floo flared and deposited Sirius, grinning broadly and carrying two packages.
"Merry Christmas, Sirius!" Harry greeted happily.
"And Merry Christmas to you both," Sirius replied, handing over their gifts.
"Thanks," Harry replied, taking his. He moved to retrieve Severus's and Sirius's and soon everyone had something to open.
With no form of organization whatsoever, they went at it, paper discarded haphazardly.
"Neat, thanks Sirius!" Harry said excitedly, pulling out a small penknife. He fooled with its attachments for a moment, admiring it.
"It's no ordinary knife, Harry," Sirius said with a grin. "It's charmed to unlock any lock and untie any knot."
"Really?" Harry asked. "Even if it's locked with a charm?"
"Even then," Sirius said proudly.
"Brilliant," Harry breathed. After a moment, he moved on.
"This must be a joke," Severus stated, holding up an odd assortment of garments all in Gryffindor colors. There were disturbingly bright socks, a scarf, gloves and a knitted hat.
Sirius burst into laughter and, after a glance at Severus's facial expression, Harry joined in. Severus glared at them both.
"Oh, relax, Severus," Sirius said through hiccups. "It's a joke. Those are all mine. Here's your real present," he said, pulling a box from a pocket of his robes."
"All yours? Even these?" Severus said, raising a brow whilst holding up a pair of red and gold underwear.
Sirius turned bright red as Harry burst into fresh laughter. "Must have gotten mixed up with my socks..." he muttered before turning his attention to the gift in his hands in order to cover his embarrassment.
Harry happened to glance at Severus while Sirius was looking away and noticed him chuckling quietly. Harry gave a wide smile and unwrapped one of Severus's gifts to him.
"Wow, Severus, thanks!" Harry exclaimed as he pulled out the large, heavy camera.
"There is really not much to thank me for, it's very old and hardly works," Severus replied.
Harry raised it and snapped a picture of Severus sitting on the couch, Sirius cross-legged on the floor beside him. He held it for a few moments, hoping that it was a wizard camera to capture their movements. The shot was so candid that they hardly knew what was happening before it ended. The picture came sliding out of a slot in the bottom of the camera and Harry studied it. It was tinged with yellow around the edges but the figures did move. To Harry, it was the most perfect image.
"Does it look alright?" Severus asked.
"It's yellowed," Severus pointed out with an apologetic frown.
"It's vintage," Harry protested. "I love it. We'll get some more pictures later. Open your presents now," he told Severus.
Severus did so and opened Harry's first. In it was a box with a dozen small glass bottles with wire-closed lids. They had tiny labels to write on and stacked together neatly.
"These will be perfect for potion ingredients," Severus said with satisfaction. "Thank you, Harry."
"Hermione and I found them in a muggle kitchen store," Harry told him.
"Impressive," Severus intoned. He opened Sirius's real present to find three kinds of specialty teas. "Much better," he told him. "Thank you."
"Sure," Sirius said flippantly. "Thanks for the plan book, Harry, I daresay I'll be needing it. Classes are getting crazy."
"Hermione recommended it," Harry said.
"I'll be sure to thank her. It'll be real helpful."
Pulling away more paper, Sirius said, "Ah, thanks, Severus. I get the feeling I'll go through this stock of Wide-eye potion pretty fast."
Harry flashed a grin and opened his other gifts from Severus, Hermione, Ron and the Weasleys. They contained various odds and ends, ranging from candy to quills to the customary hand-knitted sweater.
"What is that?" Sirius asked making a face.
"Er, I think it's a chimera."
"I think Mrs. Weasley should stick with letters," Sirius replied.
"I quite agree," Severus replied.
When at last it seemed that they were finished, everyone migrated to the kitchen for a nice lunch. Partway through, Carmax came tapping at the window, foot tied to a small package wrapped in brown paper. Harry stood to let him in and untied the box.
"Who's that from?" Sirius asked.
Harry hesitated and blushed. "Uh, Rhea."
"Ooh," Sirius teased. "What'd you get her? Jewelry? You did get her something, didn't you?"
"'Course," Harry replied, unwilling to say more.
"Well, open it," Severus urged, joining in. "Let us see."
As Harry carefully pried off the paper, he hoped that it wasn't something embarrassing. The box inside looked normal which gave Harry some relief as he opened it and withdrew a heavy object wrapped in tissue paper. He tossed that away to reveal a cylindrical dark blue candle with a small cream colored note attached to it with a bit of twine. Harry pulled it off and read a simple "Merry Christmas" on the outside with "Light it" written on the inside.
"A candle?" Sirius asked in dismay at how boring that was.
"I like her," Severus stated, seemingly satisfied with the practicality.
"It says to light it," Harry said aloud.
"Then do so," Severus advised.
Harry shrugged and set the candle down with a thunk. He pulled out his wand and gently lit the wick. As soon as it caught, an intricate pattern of tiny words glowed through the wax.
"Wow," Harry breathed, squinting to read the words. It looked like a poem.
"Harry, look at the flame," Sirius said, excitement in his voice. "I guess it's not such a bad gift after all."
Harry turned his gaze to the extra tall dancing flame. It morphed from a moving, roaring dragon, into a beautiful phoenix and then into a twisting snake. Harry stared at it in awe.
"That's amazing," Harry breathed, glancing at Severus for his reaction.
"Most impressive," Severus admitted. "Whether she bought it or made it herself, it is tasteful."
Harry's mouth twisted. "My gift seems dull in comparison."
"Why, what'd you get her?" Sirius asked.
"Uh, a box," Harry said, wincing at how lame that sounded.
Sirius nodded slowly, brows knitting. "Right. A box. Huh."
"It was really nice!" Harry said defensively.
"I'm sure it was," Sirius replied as if trying to placate a crazy person.
"It was," Harry grumbled, sitting down for lunch. He let the candle burn through the meal not only because it was mesmerizing but also because he didn't have the heart to extinguish the dancing flame creatures.
Lunch was an extravagant affair. Midgy seemed to think she was cooking for twenty people rather than three. Their plates were stacked high with mashed potatoes, vegetables, turkey and rolls. Harry ate with a vigor for the food was undeniably delicious. Even after eating far more than was necessary under any circumstance, huge portions of food remained on the plates.
"I believe Midgy's goal was to not have to cook until the new year," Severus stated dryly.
Harry laughed. "It was so good though."
"Is there dessert?" Sirius asked eagerly.
Harry moaned. "You have room for dessert?"he asked incredulously.
Sirius shrugged and smiled. "Those Hogwarts elves have me trained pretty well. Even when you think you're full to burst, there's always a little bit of room for dessert," Sirius said, gesturing with his hands.
"Maybe for you," Harry muttered. "As for me, I'll wait until later."
"Oh, fine," Sirius conceded. "Midgy isn't making a Christmas dinner too, is she?"
"We were invited to the Burrow," Severus stated, "but I do not believe we ever accepted the invitation. Do you want to go, Harry?"Harry shrugged. "It'd be great to see everyone but I sorta just want to stay in with you guys. Is that okay?"
"Absolutely," Severus said, almost with relief. "That is perfect."
"Maybe we can stop by the Burrow tomorrow," Harry suggested.
Severus almost managed to hide his disdain of social functions before Harry noticed. "That should be fine."
"Great," Harry said. "Anyone want to play some chess?"
After Sirius left and Harry tiredly got ready for bed, he sat adding his new pictures to his photo album. They had asked Midgy to take a few of the three of them and, with those turning out nicely, Harry got an idea. He gave her the camera and told her to sneak pictures throughout the night, candid shots of them laughing or talking or sitting by the fire. He went through them now, smiling as he watched the tiny faces.
At a knock on the doorframe, Harry looked up. "Hi, Severus."
"Harry," Severus replied. "Can I come in?"
"Of course," Harry said.
Severus sat next to Harry on the bed and looked over his most recent additions to the book. "Who took these?""Midgy."
"Ah. I didn't see her."
"I think she stayed invisible," Harry said with a smile. "She's a great elf."
"I agree," Severus said.
For a moment, no one talked. Harry stared at the pictures, running his thumb over one that contained his parents.
"Harry," Severus began in a pained tone that made him look up. "I am very sorry about what I said last night."
"It's okay," Harry assured him. For to Harry, it was. As long as everything was good now, he was fine.
Severus shook his head. "No, it's not. All I've wanted was to be there for you but by voicing those doubts, I accomplished the complete opposite," he said with a frown.
Harry bit his lips. "I don't really know much about this, but I think it's normal to have doubts. I think that means you're doing a good job."
"Potter, your standards of parenting are far from what is generally considered acceptable."
Harry didn't reply to that, for he knew it was true.
"Again, I am sorry. All that matters is that you are happy and safe and I'll try my best to keep it that way," Severus replied factually.
"I am happy," Harry insisted. "And I'm as safe as you can expect."Severus rose to leave. "That will do for now, I suppose."
He strode to the door but Harry called him back. "Severus," he said. "It matters to me that you're happy too."
Severus looked at him with dark eyes. "I am, Harry. As long as you stay safe."
With one last look, Severus left the room. Harry finished putting his photos away before closing the book and setting it on his nightstand. He climbed into bed only to find a picture that he had missed on his pillow. It was of Severus with his arm around Harry, laughing quietly. In the picture, Harry grinned and joined in. Harry smiled, wondering when Midgy had taken that. Harry set it on his stand and extinguished the light, falling asleep with a smile.
"Harry, dear come on in," Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, bustling over to the fireplace as Harry stepped out.
Severus followed soon after and she greeted him as well. "Hello, Severus. We weren't sure if you'd come."
Severus nodded his greeting and didn't comment. One of the twins came bounding over but slowed at the sight of Severus.
"Uh, hi, Harry," Fred said. "Is Sirius coming?""No, he's back at Hogwarts already," Harry said with a twinge of sadness. "Why?"
"We had a few Quidditch things to run by him," Fred said. He shrugged. "We'll catch him later. We're playing exploding snap, wanna come?"
"Sure," Harry replied, following him off.
They entered the room in which Ginny, Ron and George were sitting around a deck of cards.
"Hey there, Harry!" Ron said as Harry sat down. "Nice Christmas?"
"Great Christmas," Harry said with a grin. "How about you guys?"
"Crazy, as usual," Ginny commented.
"Hey, how are you liking my broom?" Harry asked her lightly, secretly jealous that she was making use of it.
"It's amazing, Harry!" Ginny replied with feeling. "It'll be hard giving it back."
Harry put on an expression of exaggerated worry. She hit him lightly on the arm.
"Oh, don't worry, I'll give it back," she assured him, "eventually."
Harry shot her a look. "Keeping it nice, I hope?"
"Harry, to damage that broom would be like kicking a dog," Ginny replied, rolling her eyes. "It would make me a horrible person."
"And you're not one, correct?" Harry joked.
"I hope not," she said indignantly.
"Are we going to play or what?" George demanded.
They all set to playing while chatting about school, Christmas and other things.
"Can you show us any neat spells from over there?" Ron asked.
Harry shrugged. "They're mostly the same as here."
"You haven't learned a single cool one?" Fred asked in disappointed surprise.
"Well, there's this," Harry said shooting a band of light out of his wand that formed very large intricate snowflakes. "Sort of useless up there, really."
They laughed brightly.
"So are those Durmstrang blokes evil?" George asked.
Harry shrugged. "Some of them, I guess," he said, flipping a card and holding his breath to see if it would explode. It didn't. "Like my friend's stalker."
"What?" Ginny asked.
"Not your girlfriend," Fred said teasingly.
"Nah, surely not," George seconded. "Harry would never get involved in something complicated that doesn't concern him and puts him in danger."
"Oh, it's not that much danger," Harry said dismissively. "Severus restored my voice in a few hours."
There was a temporary shocked silence.
"What's that, mate?" George asked in alarm, breaking the silence. "I was just messing with you."
"I know," Harry assured him. "See, we both kind of asked the same girl to the dance and she chose me so he got mad and cursed me to lose my voice. At least we think it's him," Harry said nonchalantly. "Anyways, I'm better now."
"Gosh, Harry," Ron breathed. "You better watch your back."
Harry groaned. "That's all Severus keeps telling me."
"For once, I think Snapey's right," Fred said.
"She must be hot," George mused.
Harry declined to comment, causing the twins to grin.
"Your turn, Ginny," Harry prompted to distract them. She snapped out of her quiet reverie with a blush and took her turn. Immediately after, she fell distracted again. Harry didn't comment.
"So how's Defense Against the Dark Arts with Sirius?" Harry asked.
"It's a blast," George said. "He doesn't really care how we learn as long as we do. Lets us duel and everything."
"Really?" Harry asked, again wishing he could have Sirius for class. "How 'bout for Head of House?"
"That's pretty great too. He turns a blind eye to most of our pranks as long as no one gets hurt."
"Do they have Defense Against the Dark Arts over at Durmstrang?" Fred asked. He added jokingly, "Probably just Dark Arts."
"Both actually," Harry said casually, playing a card.
Fred and George turned to him with avid interest. "Really?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "We're not in practical Dark Arts though, just theory. We're in Defense though, the physical kind too."
"As in martial arts?" Fred asked.
"Yep," Harry replied. "It's sort of fun, really."
"I thought you were getting bulky," George said, punching Harry in the arm.
Partially out of instinct and partially to show off, Harry caught his hand as it was being retracted and twisted it out of the way as Aris had shown him. He released it with a quick grin. George rubbed his elbow and looked at Harry resentfully while the others laughed.
"I liked you better scrawny," George muttered.
"Sorry," Harry replied, sounding anything but apologetic.
"Can you teach me how to do that?" Ginny asked brightly.
"Sure," Harry agreed.
"No! Don't teach her that!" Fred said hurriedly.
Harry laughed with the others, feeling fully relaxed, something he realized he had been missing. For some reason, this easy joking didn't come naturally at Durmstrang, but here, in the Burrow, it was as inherent as life. Harry soaked in every moment of it.