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Chapter 22 : Silver Bells At Prince Manor
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Draco and Sarai stood behind Severus and Harry as they waited for Severus to dismiss the Endless Mist so they could return to Prince Manor for the holiday break. This would be the first time in years that Severus had spent the holiday at his home rather than at the school, doing clandestine spying activities for the Order. He was happy to be spending the holiday this year with his sons and his beloved, the way most normal people, wizards or Muggles, did. He brought his arms up, holding them out shoulder width apart and over his head.
The mist curled about his feet like a puppy, and Severus brought his arms down and chanted in Latin, “Part for me.”
The mist obeyed, flowing back in silvery ribbons and curling up to either side of the scrolled wrought iron gates. In the center of the gates was a round circular depression. Severus turned to Harry, the Heir Apparent, and said, “Someday I shall teach you how to part the Endless Mist, but now is not the time to practice. The winter favors the Unseelie Court and they are often abroad, searching for ways to enter our world through the mishaps of a neophyte gate caller. So, we’ll wait till summer, when the Seelie are in ascendance. However, you can do the honors and open the gate.” Severus gestured gracefully at the gates.
“Sure, but what do I have to do?” Harry asked.
“Use your medallion and fit it into the hole there. The gates will open for you.”
Harry walked up and removed his medallion from under his shirt. He carefully pressed the silver amulet into the depression and the amulet glowed and the glow spread out all across the gates and then they swung open, welcoming the Heir Apparent and his family back home.
He felt a sharp quiver go through him as he took his first step upon the grounds. As soon as his foot touched the earth he felt a warmth flow into him—warmth and a feeling of utter peace, contentment, and welcome. The cozy feeling wrapped about him like a fleece blanket and he felt tears prickle his eyes. Home. I am home.
All throughout his days at school, there had been an undefinable longing within in him that had never quite gone away. Always in the back of his mind there was a feeling of loss, of wishing for that secret special place where he belonged, where the very land knew his footsteps and the wind called his name.
Now he was back—back at Prince Manor, and the magic of the land welcomed him home.
He shut his eyes and breathed in the cool crisp air, laden with the aroma of just-ripening merlinnas mingling with roses, a fragrance that was uniquely the manor’s own. The wind teased and curled about him, tickling his ears and playfully tugging his hair. Welcome back, Heir Apparent. Welcome home.
“Harry, are you just going to stand there all day, or are you going to move so the rest of us can come in?” demanded Draco irritably.
Harry’s eyes snapped open. “Huh?” Only then did he realize he was standing in the way and he walked forward, feeling the pulse of the land beneath his feet with every step he took. Dazzled by the potent aura of recognition, he paused halfway to the house.
Severus placed a hand lightly on his shoulder. “It takes us all this way when we first return after going away,” he said knowingly. “The land is tied to you by blood and magic, Harry, and it misses you when you are absent.”
Harry looked up at him, his emerald eyes glowing in rapture. “Dad, does . . .does the wind talk to you?”
Severus nodded. “It welcomes me home and asks me to stay. Has it spoke to you?”
“Yeah. And the land, when I walked onto the lawn it . . .hugged me . . .sort of.”
“An apt way to describe it, son,” Severus smiled. “That is how it should be, for a chosen Heir Apparent. And it will always be that way. Here you are safe, no harm shall ever come to you, and you will always belong. You and the land are one.”
“I can smell the merlinnas, Dad.” Harry said, elated.
“Yes, they are blooming again, despite the weather beyond the manor. You coming here has awakened them,” Severus explained, walking towards the house with one arm about his son.
“Are you happy to be home again, Draco?” asked Sarai, not wanting the other boy to feel left out. As a half-fae, she too could feel the land’s welcome of its Chosen Heirs, but she was unsure if Draco could, his fae blood being diluted by his mortal heritage of several centuries.
“Yeah, I am, Sarai.” Draco said, looking over at the manor house. “I’ve missed this place. More than I ever did Malfoy Manor.” As they drew closer, Draco noted there were wreaths of evergreen and holly upon the windows and two large ones on each door of the entrance. “Hey, someone decorated here while we were gone!” he exclaimed.
Sarai chuckled. “Yes, and I suspect that was your father’s doing.”
“You mean, he did this?” Astonishment colored the young Slytherin’s tone.
“If not him, than he hired it done,” said the warrior.
Draco cocked his head. “Hired . . .” then it dawned on him. “Merlin, but he paid house elves to do this!”
“Most likely. Why so surprised, little serpent?”
“B-because they’re house elves and normally house elves don’t . . .er . . .get paid for stuff like that,” he stammered.
“Bound ones do not,” Sarai reminded, her voice tinged with disapproval. “But no Prince will ever bind a house elf to do his bidding. They are Low Court Seelie and to bind one will break the Accords. Besides, they will work for the Heir willingly, as they would for any High Court fae who asks.”
Draco flushed. “Sorry. I forgot. My family . . .the Malfoys, I mean, we had house elves . . .Lucius bound them or they were bound, I can never remember which.”
“You are not responsible for the errors of your elders, Draco,” Sarai said in a more kindly tone. “Learn from their mistakes, however, and do not repeat them.”
“I will,” he said, and flashed her a heartwarming smile.
She laughed and ruffled his hair. “Come, Dragon, let’s race. Last one to the door has to make the other hot cocoa.”
“You’re on!” Draco cried, then he took off, running as quickly as he could.
Sarai allowed him a ten stride head start before she raced after him.
The two blew by Severus and Harry, who stared at them and continued walking leisurely up the path.
Draco ran as hard as he dared, but even at his fastest, despite his longer legs, Sarai caught him, and her hand slapped the green painted door first. “Good try, Dragon!” she praised, breathing a little bit harshly.
Draco gasped and then said, “Damn, but you’re fast, Sarai.”
“That comes from being a guard and from my fae heritage,” Sarai explained, brushing her hair back from her head. “But you gave a good showing, young one.”
They waited for Severus and Harry to catch up before going inside the manor.
No sooner had they all entered then three house elves appeared before them with sharp crackling pops and bowed low. “Welcome back, Master Severus, Master Harry, Master Draco, and Lady Sarai. How was your trip? What may we do for you?”
Harry looked at the three elves curiously. All had clothes, well made garments, soft tunics and trousers and boots in green and silver colors and green caps. There was one male and two females. To his shock, he recognized Dobby. “Dobby? Is that you?”
“It is, Master Harry,” the elf said, grinning happily. “Dobby has volunteered to come and decorate Prince Manor for your family. These are my siblings, Danae and Damson, they are twins,” he indicated the two female elves, who had long curling blond hair and bright blue eyes.
“’Tis and honor for us to serve the great Harry Snape and his family,” said Danae, bowing again.
“Do you have any trunks you need unpacked? Or would you like some refreshments?” asked Damson. “There is a fire burning in the den and we have hot cocoa and cakes upon a tray.”
“We’re starving,” Draco spoke up. “Uh . . .thanks,” he said awkwardly, for this was the first time he had ever thanked any elf before.
“You are most welcome, Master Draco,” Dobby said, and there was no anger or resentment in his voice.
Draco was surprised, for he hadn’t treated Dobby very nicely as a child. He had ordered the elf about constantly and when he was in a mood he insulted him ferociously and sometimes lied to Lucius if he had misbehaved, allowing Dobby to be punished instead of him. He had endured many a scolding from Severus for treating the house elf unfairly, he recalled, ashamed. Now, however, he regretted being such a brat, and hoped Dobby could forgive him.
“Our trunks are in our rooms, I think,” Severus said, having Flooed them through before they had left Hogwarts. “You may unpack them, if you like.”
“It shall be done immediately, sir,” said Damson, and she popped away.
“Dobby, when did you get your . . .er . . .clothes?” Harry asked.
“Your father was giving me them, Master Harry.” Dobby said.
“I refuse to have anyone in this house dressed like a ragamuffin, so I gave them all uniforms as part of their wages,” Severus interjected.
“Master Severus is most generous,” Danae bowed to him again. She gazed at him in hero worship.
Severus looked uncomfortable at such obvious adulation, and said gruffly, “It was only a simple uniform. We will be down in the den shortly, right now I think it’s best if we go and get changed out of our school clothes.”
“Of course, sir,” Dobby said respectfully.
“Dad, are we still sharing a room?” asked Draco, only then recalling that before they had left for school, Harry was still rooming with him.
Severus considered. “Given your new maturity level, I suppose I can trust you two to behave yourselves. That being so, you may go back to having your own rooms. But—”here he leveled a stern finger at them. “—misbehave and you’ll find yourselves sharing again.”
“Understood, sir,” Harry replied, then he headed down the hall to his room, the first room he had picked out upon coming to the manor last summer. As he walked down the hall, he could hear the sound of bells chiming and he looked about. “Where are those bells coming from?” he asked his brother.
Draco shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s ask Dobby.”
Dobby appeared beside him. “You has a question, sir?”
“Yes. How come we can hear bells ringing?”
“Oh, that’s because my sisters and I have hung silver bells from all the trees in the orchard and the roof of the house. They make pretty music when the wind blows.”
It was true. The silver bells did make a joyous sound in the air, and both boys smiled and continued on into their rooms. Silver bells at Prince Manor, it was a wonderful surprise.
“That’s really neat, Dobby,” Harry said, feeling more and more the joys of the season, which he had never really known with a family until this moment.
He entered his room, and found all of his things put away, except for the Christmas presents he had bought for Draco and Phil and his father. Hermione and Ron and Katie’s he had already sent off before he left. Hedwig’s perch was right near the partially open window, next to Frost’s. Both owls were out flying, delivering his packages.
He began to pull off his school robes and dress in more comfortable clothing.
* * * * * *
Draco pulled open his armoire, looking through his clothes for his favorite jumper and trousers. The jumper was an emerald green and the trousers were black. “Now, where are they?” he muttered, frowning.
“Does Master Draco need help?” asked Dobby.
Draco spun about. “Dobby! Merlin, but you startled me.”
“Dobby is sorry,” the elf apologized. “What can Dobby do for you, sir?”
“I’m looking for my favorite green jumper and black trousers,” Draco said.
“Ah. Here they are,” Dobby snapped his fingers and the clothing appeared in Draco’s arms.
Draco turned away to put on the clothes, then he halted and said, “Thank you, Dobby. And . . .I’m sorry for treating you badly when I was at Malfoy Manor.”
“You are most welcome, sir. And Dobby does not judge wizards. You followed as you had been taught.”
“It was still wrong,” Draco insisted. “I was a spoiled brat and I made your life hell. But now you’re free and you can tell me to shove it if I start acting like a brat again.”
“Dobby would never speak so to a wizard,” the elf said.
“Why not? You can, you’re not bound to hurt yourself any longer if you speak ill of me.”
“Yes, but . . .your father has said Dobby can disobey if Dobby wishes, and if you or Master Harry gets . . .insolent Dobby may leave or report you to him. But of course, Dobby would never need to do so, right, Master Draco?”
Draco burst out laughing. “Dobby, you’re a cunning little thing! That’s one threat I’ll remember. Because I don’t want to be grounded over the holiday.”
“No, indeed.” Dobby said. “Master Draco should not feel bad for what is past.”
“I was horrible to you.”
“Master Lucius was worse,” the elf said feelingly.
Draco winced. “I know. I apologize for him too. He got what he deserved and is where he belongs. Do you . . .forgive me then?”
Dobby looked puzzled. “Forgive? There is nothing to forgive, sir. You was a child, you behaved as your father taught you. Now things are different, and you are a Snape, not a Malfoy.”
“Yeah, they are.” Draco gave the elf a smile. “I know better now.”
“You do,” agreed Dobby. “And Dobby knows he has nothing more to fear.”
And with that, the elf popped away, leaving Draco alone.
* * * * * *
After feasting on hot cocoa and cakes, and admiring the huge tree, decorated with dozens of fairy lights and Prince heirloom ornaments, as well as the swags of greenery and cinnamon sticks hanging all over the doorways, and teasing each other about what they hoped to receive for Christmas, Severus suggested the boys go to bed.
The boys did not protest the order, for they were tired from all the excitement of the Yule Ball and wanted to be able to get up early to put their presents under the tree. Time ran slightly differently at the manor, and it was a few hours shy of midnight there, allowing Harry and Draco to get a decent night’s sleep.
Once the boys were in bed, Sarai and Severus felt like indulging in a little Yule magic of their own. They walked out into the orchard and listened to the music of the silver bells while walking over to a large two-seater swing hanging in a venerable old oak at the very end of the orchard. The swing was not often used, except when Sarai came and visited her lover, but now the two wished to cuddle up on it and that was exactly what they did.
The warrior put her head on Severus’s muscular shoulder, rare though it was for the feisty independent woman to lean on anyone. For Severus she made an exception, because she knew he would never take it as a sign of weakness. For him she could just be Sarai the woman, and not have to worry about keeping up her warrior image. For she knew he loved her—all of her—warrior, mage, and woman, without reservation.
“I missed you, Sev.”
He shifted slightly, so she was resting more comfortably in his embrace, and smiled down at her. “I know. I missed you too. Especially at night.”
“Oh?” she arched an eyebrow and grinned teasingly. “Only at night, my sorcerer?”
“And during the tournament, when that bloody fool Bagman released that lamia.” Severus admitted.
“A lamia? But how did such a one cross the boundary?”
“I’m not altogether sure, but I think Bagman made a deal with an Unseelie mage, who summoned the lamia for him and then he permitted it to cross the boundary between the worlds, thinking he could control the she-beast.” He explained what had gone on.
Sarai’s face darkened wrathfully. “Again your Headmaster puts his students in danger. He and I shall have words over this, Severus.”
“I have already spoken to him.”
“That’s all well and good, but I wish to talk with him as well.”
“Fine, so long as you agree not to kill him.”
“I would never slay an unarmed elderly man,” Sarai protested. “You know that, Severus Snape!”
“Not even if you were furious because of what he had done to a family member?”
“Not even then. My sword only spills the blood of the evil-doer and the monster.” Sarai said firmly. Then she snuggled closer to him. “Let us not speak of this tonight. ‘Tis ruining the peace and quiet. Tonight, love, I wish to enjoy being with you, and celebrating the holiday in the old way.”
“And what way is that, Sarai Kinsalari?”
“By holding each other, singing, and lastly making love to you.”
“Wherever you wish. Your bed is big enough for several of us, but the grass is comfortable too,” she laughed.
“For you, maybe.” He groused. “Last time a rock poked me in the back.”
“I shall make certain there are no rocks.”
“So will I. My bed is free of them.”
“So it is,” she murmured, kissing his neck. “Sing to me, Sev. I have missed your beautiful voice these many months. I hear it only in my dreams and when I wake I remember you are far away and my heart cries out with loneliness.”
“Your dreams and mine sound the same, beloved.” He told her sincerely, his hands stroking her arm and then moving lower. “You know I think my voice is terrible.”
“Yes, but trust me when I say it’s not. I have heard many a bard sing at Titania’s court and you could match them, Sev. Trust me.” She gave him a wistful look and he gave in.
“Very well. What do you want to hear?”
He was silent for five minutes, trying to come up with a song that would tell her how he felt about her and also one that he could sing without making a fool out of himself. Finally he recalled an old ballad of the Seelie Court, a lovely piece that would not stretch his range too much. He cleared his throat and began to sing, while the silver bells above in the tree branches tinkled merrily.
“One day I fell in love
With an auburn-haired lass
I loved her long, I loved her deeply
‘Till the day she was taken from me.
I mourned her long, I mourned her deeply
I swore that love would never claim me,
The way it did then. Once my heart had loved that way
But it never would again.
“For long years I traveled, my heart cold as stone
Love had abandoned me, I was alone.
Till one morning I spied a maid walking
She was dark and small, she looked nothing
Like my lady at all, and yet
She called to me.
She called to the heart
That had broken that day,
The heart that had shattered
And bid it to stay.
“Come away, beautiful stranger, come away
To the lands of the undying, your heart I shall mend
What loved once, can love once again.
Come away, come away, come away with me
Let my love set you free.
“But my heart was afraid and thus did I flee
The dark maid of the wood, who desired me.
“Come back, come back, for I love thee,
With all of my heart and all that I be.
“No, I cried, let me be!
My heart is long gone and naught left for thee.
She did not heed, she came for me
Over hill and over dale, for three days she pursued
Through sun, wind, and hail.
“Come away, beautiful stranger, come away
To the lands of the undying, your heart I shall mend.
What loved once, can love once again.
Come away, come away, my heart have you bound
In chains stronger than iron, my soulmate I’ve found.
She spoke a truth I could not deny, and thus did I go
Over sea and under stone, where the earth meets the sky.
On the shore of the undying land she did free me,
And at last my heart loved the way it had then,
Loved a maid bright and true
And, dearest love, that maid was you.”
Sarai was swept away by the seductive power in his voice, that silky timber that made all of her bones turn to jelly, that caused her heart to race, there was nothing else like it, and her heart thrilled to it.
Severus ended the song with a kiss, as was traditional, and Sarai held him close, knowing full well he had chosen that particular song because it described them so well. Theirs was a love of second chances, an impossible love, but one that had stood the test of time and distance and still it burned with an enduring flame that refused to die.
“What the heart loved once, it can love once again,” she whispered, threading her fingers through his hair.
“Yes. Dear God, yes!” was all he managed before she captured his mouth once more.
Tendrils of desire, so long suppressed, spiraled through him, till he burned with the heat and need, of a pleasure long denied out of duty that now could be satisfied. He spoke a word and they were transported to his bedroom, where the elves had thoughtfully turned down the sheets and scented them with attar of roses.
Sarai inhaled the fragrance of the perfume as Severus’s hands skimmed her dress, unbuttoning it with swift fingers. “Mmm, smells like a rose garden.”
“Yes. But you are the most beautiful flower in it,” Severus said huskily, undoing the last button and letting the dress fall to the floor in a puddle of silk and satin.
Her hands quickly removed his robes, trousers, and shirt as well, and she admired every lean inch of him before dragging him over to the bed. And thus did Severus fulfill the last of her wishes, with ardent tender lovemaking until the dawn, when they fell asleep entwined together, dreaming of more than sugar plums.
* * * * * *
Harry awoke to the smell of bacon frying and sniffed in delight, stretching leisurely, before climbing out of his warm bed and running next door to Draco’s room to shake his sleep-loving brother awake.
“Hey, lazybones! Wake up!”
Draco groaned, opened an eye, and growled, “What for?”
“It’s Christmas, Dragon, now get up!”
“Oh, for the love of Merlin!” Harry sighed, then he waved his wand and levitated his brother out of his cozy nest and dropped him on the floor.
“Ow! Hey! What happened to my bed?” Draco yelped, rubbing his bottom, which had taken the brunt of the fall, Harry had made sure of that.
“Nothing. You’re just not in it anymore,” Harry stated, smirking.
Draco gave him a lethal glare. “Remind me again why I can’t kill you.”
“Because it’s Christmas and Dad won’t let you,” Harry laughed. “C’mon, Dragon. You can’t oversleep on Christmas.”
Draco sighed and stood up. “You’re lucky I like you, baby brother.” He stalked out the door, all injured dignity, still rubbing his backside.
The aroma of breakfast soon drew the two teenagers into the kitchen, where they found Severus and Sarai sitting at the table enjoying a fine home-cooked breakfast, made by Damson and Danae, while Dobby served them juice and tea.
On the table was a bowl full of merlinnas and Harry gave a cry of delight and summoned one and bit into it. He sighed in bliss, juice dribbling down his chin. There was nothing like merlinnas and they only grew in fae soil.
“Harry, you have the manners of a pig,” Draco remarked.
“So what?” his brother mumbled, taking another bite of the luscious fruit. Merlinnas were his passion and he had been craving them for months, enough so things like table manners were null and void.
“At least sit down and eat,” Severus remonstrated.
Harry did. He finished the merlinna, ate another, and then ate the fluffy eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast the elves had made.
Since it was Christmas, Severus did not make the boys clean up afterwards as he usually did, though he did warn them that after Christmas was over, the elves would go back to Hogwarts and their usual chores would resume.
“Tell me we don’t have to do the laundry by hand again,” Harry groaned.
“Only if you’re in trouble, Phoenix,” Severus said. “So behave and you won’t need to worry about it.”
“Okay, Dad,” his son agreed, then they all retired to the den, where mounds of presents, or so it seemed to Harry, who had never celebrated a real family Christmas, awaited them.
“Sarai, would you do the honors?” Severus invited. “You two sit here, beside me, and Sarai will hand you a present. You each open one at a time, so you can see who gave it to you and what it is before getting another one.”
“And so he can see what you received also,” Sarai added impishly. She reached under the tree for a present wrapped in Snitches. “Harry, this is for you. From your Aunt Petunia and godfather, Sirius.”
Harry carefully opened it. Inside a box was a personal practice Snitch and a warm gold and red cap and gloves, knitted by Petunia. The card inside read: Merry Christmas, Harry! I got you this practice Snitch to sharpen your skills as Seeker, but Petunia insisted she make you something practical, so here’s a cap and gloves you can wear when you’re flying in freezing cold weather.
Then it was Draco’s turn. His first present was from Hermione, who had gotten him a Muggle book called 101 Things to Do Besides Sleep Away Your Holiday. Inside she had highlighted Call Your Girlfriend.
Harry chuckled. “Merlin, but she sure knows you really well.”
“Ah, be quiet.” Draco ordered playfully. “Guess I’ll have to write her since I can’t call her.” Also included with the book were a few bars of Muggle chocolate, which Draco had developed a fondness for ever since he had gone trick-or-treating with Hermione on Halloween *.
Harry received a box of Zonkos joke products from Ron and Draco a fine leather messenger bag from Crabbe, with his initials monogrammed on it as well as the Slytherin crest. Dudley gave Harry a space pen, it could write on almost any surface, including glass and could also glow in the dark. I remember how you always wanted one of these and I wouldn’t ever share mine with you. Hope you still like it! Merry Christmas, Dudley.
“Wow! This is great!”
“What is it?” Draco asked curiously.
“A space age pen. It writes on almost anything.” He handed the pen to Draco.
“Hold it, young man!” Severus snapped. Draco had the pen poised to write upon the table. “That pen may be able to write on everything but you had better make damn sure the ink comes off everything, or else you’ll be scrubbing it away and writing I will not draw on the furniture like a two-year-old a hundred times for me.”
Draco halted and handed the pen back to Harry, who tucked it in his pocket. His next present was from Goyle, four box seats to the next Quidditch match.
Hermione’s present to Harry was a book on solving riddles, no doubt aimed at his second task, and Katie had given him a lovely cloak of crimson lined with gold plus a box of chocolates from Honeydukes.
Then came the presents from their father.
For Harry, there was a small box embossed with a unicorn crest that he didn’t recognize. He opened it and found a gold brooch inset with emeralds in the shape of a winged cat—a shimmerling. He gently picked it up and felt it warm to his touch. “Dad, is this magic?”
“Yes, it is. I had that made by a Seelie jewelcrafter, Harry. It has a spell on it that will allow you to call upon the Seelie Court for aid should you ever find yourself in dire peril. Touch the brooch and speak the phrase, “I, Harry Snape, call upon Titania’s host for aid.” They will answer it three times and then the brooch is spent. So use it wisely, son.”
“Thanks, Dad!” Harry carefully pinned the brooch upon his cloak and then went to hug his father.
Draco opened the largest box yet and found that his father had recalled him mentioning wanting a new broom, since he had almost outgrown his Nimbus 2001. This broom was called a Serpentstrike 2002 and it was superfast and had snakes etched into the handle.
“I can’t wait to try it out!” Draco cried, then he also rose and thanked Severus. “Just wait till you see what we got you.” He looked at Harry. “Where is it?”
“In my room.” Harry answered and summoned it. “Oh, and here’s my present for you, Draco.”
Draco took the present and unwrapped it. Inside was a handbook called Tips and Tricks of the Master Seekers: How to Get the Most Out of Your Broom. “Thank you, Harry. Here’s yours.”
It was a rather large box. Harry tore it open. Inside was a large bowl full of merlinnas and a folded note. For that craving of yours, hope this satisfies it--Dragon. He laughed and thanked his brother.
“Your turn, Dad,” Harry said, handing Severus a package wrapped in green and red paper. “It’s from me and Draco.”
Severus opened it. Inside was a long black cloak with emerald green satin lining, and a replica of the Prince crest upon the closure. Along with the cloak was a note telling the owner of it that it was enchanted. Charms were woven into it –Warmth, Waterproofing, Fireproofing, and Comfort. He stared at the expensive garment and then at his sons in astonishment. “How on earth did you afford this?”
“We pooled our allowance you gave us at school and most of the money you gave us for Christmas presents,” Draco answered. “Do you like it?”
“It’s . . .a magnificent gift, boys. I will wear it everyday. Thank you,” Severus was deeply touched at their thoughtfulness.
“Now it’s my turn!” Sarai declared, her face lighting up like a mischievous child’s. “First you, Sev.” She pulled out a long package from the very back of the tree. “Joyous Yule to you, beloved.”
Severus unwrapped the package and held up a black oak staff nearly as tall as he was. Upon the staff head was a carved falcon holding a sphere in its claws. All down the length of the staff were runes—runes of the Seelie Court. He stared at it then looked at Sarai. “How did you manage to purchase a Staff of the Magi? They cost thousands of Galleons.”
“Yes, well, I did the carving myself and I had my Aunt Sharrilise, Titania’s Court Enchantress, put the enchantments on the staff.”
“What does it do?” asked Harry.
“It does many things, Harry. I don’t have time to explain everything to you right now.” He thanked Sarai and kissed her. “Joyous Yule to you, Sarai.” He handed her a black velvet box.
“Is that what I think it is?” hissed Harry to Draco.
Draco elbowed him in the ribs. “Shut up! You’ll ruin the moment.”
Inside the box on a bed of green velvet, was a lovely marquee diamond, inset on either side with rainbow moonstones, those stones being highly prized by the Seelie.
“Oh!” Sarai gasped.
Severus took the ring and knelt before her, gently sliding it on her finger. “Sarai Kinsalari Valinek, I give you my heart along with this ring. Do you accept it?”
“Yes! A thousand times yes!” she cried. “I love you and only you and shall have no other, Severus Tobias Snape.”
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes, as soon as I am free of my contract. Then nothing shall keep us apart.” There were tears in her eyes as she leaned over and kissed Snape.
The boys clapped and hooted and even the house elves cheered.
“One last present, boys.” Sarai announced, and she pulled a rather large crate draped with a red and white striped blanket inbetween the two. “This one is from me. Because every boy should have one.”
Draco and Harry were mystified. What could it be? A sword? A suit of armor?
Draco carefully pulled off the blanket and Harry unlatched the crate. He peered inside, trying to see what was there.
Suddenly a long pink tongue swiped his whole face.
It was quickly followed by an inquisitive black nose and the slender features of a misthound, renowned for their ability to never lose a scent and remain loyal to their master forever. The misthound puppy walked out of the crate, he was a light cream color with soft floppy ears and a brush tail, though the rest of him was shorthaired. His legs were long and slender, and he appeared to dance as he moved. “A puppy!” Harry cried, stroking the dog, whose tail began to wag. “He looks like a cross between a borzoi and a Great Dane.”
“He’s a misthound, Harry,” Sarai said. “A fae breed. This one is from Prince Balin’s own kennels, the son of one of his favorite hounds. He is four months old and fully housebroken, though he does like to chew shoes and such.”
The puppy turned and raced over to Draco and jumped up and washed his face also. “Ugh! Dog germs!” he sputtered, then he laughed because the puppy looked insulted. He petted the misthound’s ears, which were silky. “Misthounds are really smart. Aren’t they?”
“Yes. You will find he learns quickly and he will be the most loyal friend you could ever have so long as you treat him well.” Sarai beamed.
“Does he have a name?” Harry asked, as the dog bounded back over to him and jumped in his lap.
“No, that is something you two have to choose.” Sarai said.
“And remember, this dog is your responsibility, am I clear?” Severus interjected. “That means you feed him, brush him, and walk him. And any trouble he gets into, you are also responsible for.”
“We understand, Dad,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “What kind of food does he eat?”
“Right now, bread soaked in meat juice and ground beef,” answered the half-fae warrior. “Later on he can eat any sort of meat or bread and even vegetables cut into pieces. Balin feeds his dogs a kind of stew. They thrive on it.”
The puppy gave a soft yip, ran over to Sarai and jumped up and licked her under the chin, his tail wagging. She stroked his head. Then he jumped down and did the same thing to Severus.
“What’s he doing that for?” asked Harry, sensing it was for a reason.
“He’s establishing the hierarchy of his pack,” Sarai explained. “He licks me and Sev this way because he knows we’re alpha to him. And you and Draco are beta.”
“He’s a smart dog,” Severus said, and gently tickled the puppy’s ears.
Draco stood. “Let’s take him outside, Harry. Misthounds like to run and he can’t hurt anything out there.”
“All right. And maybe we’ll think of a good name for him too.” Harry said, and he whistled softly. “Here, boy. Come!”
The puppy rose and ran over to them, wagging his tail and yipping.
“Inside the crate you’ll find a lead and collar, dishes, a brush, and some toys and a blanket,” said Sarai.
Harry looked and found a red ball, which he took with him.
The two boys and the misthound spent a half-an-hour playing outside, running and chasing the ball and having a glorious time. Finally the little puppy tired and lay down in front of their feet, panting and sleepy.
“He’s an awesome dog!” said Harry, petting the silken ears.
“Yes. And a noble one.” Draco said. “Got any ideas what we should name him?”
Harry thought and thought. Finally he said, “How about Cafall, you know, after the white hound of King Arthur? He was a noble and regal dog.”
Draco considered. The misthound did have a regal look about him and Draco had always liked the legends of Arthur Pendragon. “Yes. I like that name. Cafall it is.”
“This is the best Christmas ever,” his brother said.
Draco nodded happily and continued stroking their new puppy. “And tomorrow we go and see Uncle Phil.”
“I can’t wait. Hope he likes dogs.” Draco said. Then he summoned his new broom and went flying.
Sarai and Severus watched from the back entrance as Draco swooped and dived, sending Cafall into a frenzy of puppy barks and the dog tried several times to jump and catch the laughing Draco, till Harry whistled him down and started a game of fetch with him. The four-month-old puppy proved to be an expert at catch and retrieve, nearly always bringing the red ball back.
“I still can’t believe you talked me into this,” Severus said, sighing. “The last thing I need is to train a dog, Sarai.”
“Oh, quit grumbling, Sev. The dog is a fae animal, and that means he has a brain and can use it, unlike your mortal animals. A misthound is not an ordinary pet, he will be a companion to the boys and love them and protect them. When he is older, maybe about a year or so, he will be able to mindspeak. I had one, her name was Whitethorn, until she died, and there was never a more steadfast companion than she was. When all the court mocked me for trying to become a Blade, Whitethorn remained my true friend, and trusted me to show them all what I was made of, and so I did. Your boys have been through a lot and the dog will let them play and be ordinary children for once, without the burdens placed upon them by circumstance and position. Look at them, beloved. Look at how they smile and laugh at the puppy, and think about how often you have seen them do so. Doesn’t it make your heart lighter?”
“Yes. It does,” Severus said slowly, watching as Harry raced after the misthound, who darted like a wraith in and out of the trees, then doubled back and ran inbetween the boy’s feet, tripping him and making him fall. But no sooner had he landed on the ground, then Cafall was on top of him, and the two rolled and wrestled in the grass. Then Draco landed and offered the broom to Harry, who brushed himself off and mounted it, letting his brother romp with the puppy, who seemed to never grow tired.
“I never had a pet when I was young, perhaps this will be good for them.” Severus mused, as the puppy and Draco played beneath the merlinnas. “Will you be joining us when we visit Philip and his family?”
“As long as he doesn’t mind one more,” Sarai answered. “We met before, at Titania’s behest, and he seems like an honorable Nightwalker. A little hot-tempered, but then all you Snapes are that way.”
“It’s the family curse,” the Potions Master said wryly. “And Philip has already assured me that you are welcome at his home.” Then he continued watching his sons and their new puppy, his arm about his half-fae warrior.
* * * * * *
“They’re here! They’re here!” screamed two children’s voices, and Setus and Siren jumped down from the bay window seat and scampered towards the door, each one grinning widely, so their tiny fangs showed. Both wanted to be first to open the door for their new relatives, and pushed each other as they stampeded down the hallway.
“It’s my turn!”
“No, mine! You opened the door for Dad last time!”
“Boys, if you don’t quit yelling and running about like maniacs, I’m opening the door,” their mother called from the entrance to the kitchen. She had just finished basting the ham and despite the apron tied about her looked very regal in her gorgeous midnight-blue dress. Her light brown hair was piled artfully atop her head and her hazel eyes accented by a touch of cobalt eyeliner. She wore a simple sapphire pendant on a gold chain about her neck. She quickly banished the apron and smoothed out the dress, nibbling nervously on her lower lip. Phil, our guests are here, she mindcalled to her husband, who was reading a book in his chair before the fire.
The twins immediately slowed at that threat and managed to reach the door without further mishaps. Setus grasped the handle and pulled it just as Harry’s hand lifted to knock on the door.
Paradoxically, as soon as the door swung open and Siren caught sight of Harry, he became shy and ran over to hide behind his mother, peering out from behind her skirts. Both twins were dressed in brand new jeans and polo shirts, Siren’s was emerald green and Setus’ ocean blue, with matching socks and black sneakers.
Setus, however, was grinning and talking a mile a minute. “Hi! Welcome to our sea cottage. Who’re you? Are you my cousin? I’m Setus, and I’m four and a half. How old are you?”
Harry stared down at a miniature version of Phil, down to the dark hair and wide violet eyes. The kid was one of the most adorable Harry had ever seen, including the budding fangs. “Hello. I’m fourteen and my name’s Harry.”
“Setus, let them in the door before you attack them with questions,” Julie said, coming up and drawing her overeager child back so that Harry, Severus, Sarai, and Draco, who was holding Cafall, could come in.
“Welcome to my home, I am Julie, do come in,” the vampire invited, smiling carefully so as not to alarm her guests. “That’s Setus, and this is his twin, Siren.” She indicated the little boy still clinging to her dress, who looked up at her uncertainly. “He’s a bit shy till he gets to know you. Siren, can you say hello to your cousins?”
“Hello,” came a very faint whisper from behind a fold of Julie’s gown.
Then Phil was there, greeting Severus and bowing over Sarai’s hand in his courtly fashion, his violet eyes twinkling. He was wearing a very nice black suit and tie that complimented his handsome face perfectly. “I’m so glad you could make it and I can see you’ve all had a very Merry Christmas.” His eyes caught sight of Sarai’s ring and he grinned broadly. “Ah, so you finally proposed, did you, Sev? I was wondering how long it would take you after the hints I’d been dropping.”
“I had been planning to anyway, Mr. Matchmaker,” replied Severus smugly.
“Congratulations!” Julie said, and she bent to examine the ring. “Oh, it’s gorgeous! The Snape men have good taste, my lady.”
Sarai laughed. “They do indeed. Thank you. And please, call me Sarai. I am a lady only in my cousin’s court.”
Julie then showed her the ring Phil had given her, a beautiful carat diamond set in a platinum band with two other diamonds flanking it. “I got those added after the twins were born,” she told Sarai. “Do come into the den. I have some appetizers for you and some sherbert punch that I think you’ll like.” She turned to go, Siren still clinging stubbornly to her.
Just then Cafall wriggled free of Draco’s hold and trotted over to the boy, sniffing him and licking him. The puppy lowered his front end to the floor, his backside sticking up, and barked, tail wagging like a metronome.
“Cafall, come back here,” Draco called softly. “You’ll scare the kid.”
But Siren slowly let go of Julie’s dress and took a step towards the puppy. Cafall panted happily, his blue eyes glowing with trust. Play with me! Come and play!
Siren’s eyes widened. “Mama, he wants me to play with him! He said so.”
“Go ahead then, son,” Phil encouraged. “He won’t bite you.”
Tentatively, the little vampire put out a hand and Cafall promptly swiped it with his tongue. “Ahh, that tickles!” giggled Siren. “Silly dog!”
Cafall jumped up and licked the boy all over. Play now? Play? Please?
Still giggiling, Siren pushed the puppy off him. “Okay. I’ll play with you. On the beach. Okay, Mama?”
“Yes, so long as you don’t go swimming in the ocean.”
“Me too! I wanna play with him.” Setus cried. “What’s his name?”
“His name’s Cafall, and we just got him for Christmas,” Harry explained. “Down, boy!” he ordered when the puppy would have jumped up on Julie.
Cafall sat obediently.
“How come I didn’t get a dog for Christmas?” Setus demanded.
“Because Father Christmas knows you’re too young for a dog,” Phil told him.
“Am not!” his son insisted stubbornly. “I’m four-and-a-half, Dad!”
“You need to be seven in order to take care of a dog, Setus Snape,” said his father firmly. “Old enough to walk it and clean up after it and feed it.”
“No fair! I want a dog for Christmas.” Setus sulked.
“Someday you’ll get one . . .if you behave.” Phil said, a warning tone in his voice. “Now quit sulking and go play with your cousins and brother, or else you can spend ten minutes in your room. You know how I dislike that attitude, young man.”
His son flashed him one more indignant look before running towards the back door of the cottage, yelling, “C’mon, slowpokes! Let’s chase the gulls!”
Cafall, Siren, and Harry and Draco followed. There was a path from the cottage that led directly to the beach and soon all four children and the misthound were running down it.
“That boy!” Phil shook his head. “Sometimes I just want to shake him. He wants everything he sees lately and if he doesn’t get his way, he sulks and whines. Drives me crazy.”
“Draco was like that too,” Severus recalled. “Lucius and Narcissa spoiled him. It took me a year to break him of crying and whining whenever he didn’t get his own way.”
“How did you do it?” Julie asked.
“Mostly I’d ignore him when he started acting up. Sometimes, if he was being particularly obnoxious, I’d give him a time out. Once though, he went on a rampage, threw himself on the floor, screeching, kicking, and when I went to put him in the corner, he bit me. That time I gave him a smack on the behind and an extra minute with his nose to a wall. He soon learned not to test me.”
“Maybe I need to try that,” mused the young vampire mother. Then they all went into the den, which was a cozy room with plump couches done in aquamarine and sand tones, and which had rag rugs on the slate floor in matching tones of peach, aqua, sand, and lavender. Upon the stone walls were seascape portraits and a whale leaping and several fish were mounted.
“The people we rented the cottage from must have been fishermen,” Phil said, indicating the fish upon the wall. “First day we arrived, Setus tried to climb the wall and touch one, nearly knocked it down and broke his little neck. After that, I put a spell on the wall so he couldn’t come near them.”
“Your son sounds like a daredevil,” Sarai laughed. “My cousin Gavin was like that. He used to dare us to climb the seven foot statue of a unicorn in the palace entryway and ride it, even though he knew the unicorn was the sacred symbol of his House and not to be disrespected.”
“Setus has given me heart failure more than once,” Julie admitted. “Thank goodness Siren is more sensible and quiet. Although he can get into mischief too. He set a bucket of small crabs loose in the kitchen last week and it took me forever to find them all.”
“Crabs are better than army ants,” Severus remarked. “The Marauders once brought an anthill inside the castle and broke it open in the Slytherin common room. We found ants everywhere for weeks, till Slughorn finally bought an ant eater to hunt the rest down. To this day I still cast anti-insect wards over my quarters.”
Julie shuddered slightly. Then she said, “Here are some tea sandwiches and crab tarts, bourbon meatballs, spinach dip with vegetables, and chicken wings.” There was a large tray upon the maple coffee table and off to the side upon a small sideboard was a silver punch bowl, ladel, and cups. “The punch is over there and we also have water and tea. Help yourselves, dinner won’t be done till four.”
“Did you make all of this yourself, Julie?” asked Sarai, biting into a crab tart. “These are divine.”
“Most of it, but Phil did help. He fried the chicken.”
“My specialty,” the vampire smirked, handing one to his son.
* * * * * *
The children returned from playing in about half-an-hour (four-and-a-half year olds become bored easily) and once they had eaten some of the appetizers and drank the punch, Setus began pestering Phil to let his cousins open their presents.
“Why don’t we wait till after dinner, scamp?”
“But that’s so long!” Setus protested. “Can’t they just open them now?”
He shot his father his best pleading stare.
Phil looked over at Severus. “Well? What do you think?”
Severus looked at the small vampire. “I think you’ll never get any peace till you let him watch us open something. And vice versa.”
“Please, Daddy? Please?” Setus pleaded. “I won’t ask for a dog for Christmas.”
“Setus, you’re a little conniver,” Phil groaned. “You’re lucky you’re cute. All right, go and get their presents. To hell with tradition.”
Setus whooped and raced over to the small fir tree, where some presents still remained, wrapped in gold, red, and green foil paper with pretty bows on them. “Siren, come and help!” he called to his twin. “I can’t carry them all.”
Siren went over to help, luckily none of the presents were too large for the children to carry. They came and set them before Phil, who read the tags and told his twins who should get what.
Once all the presents had been parceled out, Severus clapped his hands and more presents appeared in front of him. “Here are yours, scamps.” He handed a box each to Siren and Setus and floated over two smaller envelopes to the adult vampires.
Then they waited until Phil said it was time to open them before tearing into the paper. Soon paper littered the floor and Cafall was pouncing and rolling in it, while the twins shouted for joy over the Transmogrifying Tops Severus, Harry, and Draco had given them.
The tops could change into four other toys, including a stuffed dragon, a light-up ball, a flying wizard, and a toy train. Each time you spun the top, it would change, and you could make the toy it became stay for two hours by telling it to halt. You could reverse the change by spinning the toy around on the floor.
“Where on earth did you find those?” Phil asked.
“Diagon Alley, in the toy store,” Severus replied. “Apparently they’re all the rage this year and I was hoping you hadn’t bought them one.”
“This is the first time I’m seeing one,” Phil said. “Thank you for the gift certificate, I can always use more potion ingredients.”
“And I can always use more books. Phil says I need to open a library,” Julie smiled, holding her gift certificate to Flourish and Blotts close.
“Or buy the bookstore,” her husband quipped.
“Mama loves to read. Like me,” Siren put in, spinning his top and watching it change into a plush teddy bear. “Stay!” he called and the top remained a bear. “This is a very cool toy,” he told the adults.
“And what do you say to your cousins?” Julie prompted.
“Thank you, Harry, Draco, Uncle Sev and Lady Sarai,” the child recited, and then he gave a small hug to each of them, the bear gripped in one fist.
“Wow, Uncle Phil, these boots are wicked.” Harry said, trying on a pair of soft suede black boots that came up to his calves and folded over. They were so comfortable, he never could remember a pair fitting him so well before.
“Yeah, I really like them,” Draco agreed, trying his on.
Phil smirked. “Those boots are magically adjustable, and they’re Boots of Stealth, meaning that with them on you can glide like a ghost over any surface, even a nightingale floor.”
“What’s a nightingale floor?” asked Harry.
“It’s a floor created to trap thieves, it originated in Japan,” Julie replied. “When you stepped wrong on it, a series of notes would play, like a nightingale singing, and awaken the household.”
“Boots of Stealth?” Severus repeated in mock-horror. “What are you trying to do here, Philip, make my sons into amateur thieves. I already have a hard enough time keeping them in bed at night.”
“Dad, please!” his two sons chorused indignantly.
Phil chuckled. “Oh, lighten up, Sev. That’s part of being a teenager, sneaking out of the house without your father catching you.”
“Humph! And how many times did you do it, I wonder?”
“Too many to remember,” Phil snickered. “My poor father never had a chance, with me being a vampire. We belong to the night.”
“Yeah! I love the dark! Grrr!” Setus cried, spinning around and then baring his small fangs at Cafall.
Cafall cocked his head, puzzled, then he puppy growled right back at the little vampire.
For about a minute the two stared each other down, then Cafall shook his head and jumped on the child, breaking the stalemate and making the adults chuckle.
“Maybe I ought to confiscate those boots,” Severus threatened. “So you two won’t be tempted into mischief back at school. Especially you, Mr. Snape.”
“What? No fair!” Harry cried, tucking his feet under him so his father couldn’t yank the boots off. “I haven’t snuck out of my dorm room in at least . . .six months.”
“We’ll promise not to use them to sneak around unless it’s an emergency,” Draco bargained shrewdly. “Right, little brother?”
“Yeah, what he said.”
“Very well. But the first time I catch either of you out of bed with those boots on, they’re mine until you’re of age. Clear?”
“Yes, sir,” his sons agreed. “We promise.”
Severus had received a whole case of rare potion ingredients and there was even a small bottle of perfume for Sarai, it smelled like strawberries and kiwi. Both of them thanked their vampire hosts for being so generous, and after they cleaned up the paper, it was time to go and eat dinner.
Besides the pineapple-honey glazed ham, there was roasted new potatoes, creamed spinach, fresh-baked rolls, almond rice, and carrots in brown sugar sauce. Everything was delicious, and they all stuffed themselves, except for Setus, who tried to feed his spinach and carrots to Cafall, and was scolded by Phil.
“Son, you need to eat your vegetables to stay healthy.”
“Why? I’m a vampire and they’re yucky.”
“You know, you’re lucky to have vegetables that taste good. When I was your age, all of our vegetables were stewed or boiled till they were mush and they tasted awful and I still had to eat them.”
Setus scowled at his plate. “Cafall likes ‘em better.”
“Setus, eat your vegetables, or else no sweets,” Julie interjected. “They won’t kill you.”
“They will too,” the rebellious child muttered, but after a swift glare from his father, he reluctantly began to eat them.
After they had eaten the dessert, which was a chocolate layer cake that no one complained over, Setus and Siren took Harry and Draco outside to play hide-and-go-seek in the dark.
The two boys soon discovered that the little vampires were experts at that game, and invariably found them wherever they hid and yet they could hide so well neither of the wizards could find them unless they used magic, which was cheating.
They played until the two kids were exhausted and Julie called them inside for bed.
“Aww, Ma!” whined Setus. “I was just gonna show them how I can hang upside down like a bat.”
“You can show them that some other time, young Snape.”
Draco swung the boisterous Setus onto his shoulder. “C’mon, Setus. I’ll read you a story if you go to bed like your mama says.”
Setus agreed and Draco raced into the house with him.
Siren looked up at Harry, who knelt down and asked the quiet youngster, who reminded him of himself, “Would you like a ride too?”
Harry scooped him up on his shoulder. “There you go.”
Siren smiled. “Setus thinks if he fusses, Mama will let him stay up, but I know she won’t. That’s for when we’re bigger, like you.”
“You’re a smart one, kid,” Harry chuckled. “But you know what? I’m ten years older than you and my dad still tells me when to go to bed.”
“Yeah, only sometimes I can talk him out of it. Do you want me to read you a story too?”
“Yes. Do you know any good ones?”
“Um . . .I’m sure I can come up with a few,” Harry said, then he carried the small vampire all the way into the cottage and down the hall to the room he shared with his brother.
* * * * * *
Two stories later, all four boys were asleep, the twins in their little beds and Harry and Draco in the chairs beside them. Cafall had followed them inside and was snoozing on Harry’s foot, his feet racing as he dreamed of chasing a huge hare.
Ten minutes later, Severus and Phil came to check on them, making sure the twins hadn’t tied up Harry and Draco in the bedsheets, and found them all fast asleep.
The two fathers looked at each other in astonishment and then Phil said, “Don’t bother to wake them, Sev. Just spend the night here.”
“Phil, I couldn’t . . .”
“You can and you will.” The vampire lord interrupted. “We’ll transfigure the chairs into beds and you and Sarai can have my room for the night.”
“No, I won’t kick you out of your bed!”
“Severus, we won’t be using it, Julie and I need to hunt and tonight’s the best time, with you here to watch the twins.” Phil said. “Now quit arguing and just accept my invitation, you stubborn ass.”
“If you’re sure . . .”
“Positive. Merry Christmas, Sev.”
Then Phil winked and vanished, leaving Severus no choice but to accept his hospitality. Severus swore, then went to tell Sarai that they would be staying over, and the warrior chuckled at his being outmaneuvered by a thousand-year-old vampire.
*see my Halloween story Trick or Treat Slytherin Style for Draco and Hermione's adventures, if you haven't read it already.
Thanks to everyone who has been patiently awaiting this update and I hope you all like it.
For all of you who were wondering where Smidgen is, she's running a few errands for the queen and will return next chapter!
Next: Harry returns to school and the next challenge must be faced, can he solve the riddle in time? And is there more to the Sphinx's test?
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