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Lily's Defender by Snapegirl
Chapter 9 : Home For the Holidays
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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9

Home For the Holidays

by Snapegirl

Hardbroom was positively furious at being reprimanded by both the Deputy Headmistress, whom she somewhat respected, and the Head of Slytherin, whom she most emphatically did not. She regarded Horace as a fat blustering fool whose head had been pickled by too many potion fumes and wouldn't know a good student from a bad one if they hexed him. Evans and Snape had deserved that punishment, and she was not going to allow them to misbehave on her watch, no matter if Snape was Slughorn's pet potions prodigy and Evans too, the little know-it-all! But she also was not stupid, and decided to suspend her detentions until next term, where she would have better chances to catch out the two tattletales. Instead, she contented herself with deducting points as often as she could from both Evans and Snape in her class, making the two very unpopular with some of their Housemates. Not that Haldana cared one way or the other. The two little wretches wanted to play hardball, she'd play all right. For keeps.

Severus knew whenever he set foot in Defense that he was going to get points deducted for something, since Hardbroom had gone on the warpath after he and Lily had revealed what had gone on in their detention to their Heads. It was horribly unfair, but both he and Lily agreed that telling anyone anything else about Hardbroom would only make things worse. He heaved a sigh. The only good thing about being in Hardbroom's class was that Potter, Black, and Pettigrew didn't dare cut up with her. She had no sense of humor and wouldn't hesitate to issue three feet of parchment on obeying the rules in her classroom due the next day, or a night scrubbing the desks in the classroom spotless. All the students were wary of her, but none more so than Severus and Lily.

He entered the classroom noiselessly, and took a seat at the very back, so Hardbroom would not notice him at first. He took pains to get there early and leave as soon as the lesson was over. It was sad, really, because Severus had enjoyed learning Defense at Mirrorvale, instructed by Black Conor and Leif and his grandfather. He had assumed Defense would be one of the classes besides potions that he could really excel at, but because of Hardbroom, he barely raised his wand or volunteered any information on the subject.

He took out his book and homework assignment due that class and waited for the rest of his House and the Gryffindors to arrive. As the rest of the students shuffled in, he caught sight of Lily and Alice. He gave the two a quiet smile and beckoned them over.

The girls quickly came over. "What's the matter, Sev?" asked Lily.

"Nothing, really. I just wondered how you two did on the homework. Did any of you find question ten hard?"

"Yes." Alice said. "It took me forever to figure out what she meant."

"Me too." Lily agreed, digging through her bag for her Defense folder. Once she took it out, she opened it . . . and found her homework was missing. Her green eyes bugged out in horror. "Oh, no!"

"Lil, what is it?" Severus asked, concerned.

"My . . .my homework! Sev, it's . . . missing!"

"Are you sure? Maybe you just misplaced it?" Alice asked.

Lily dumped her bag out on Severus' desk and began sorting through the contents. "It's not here!" she hissed, feeling sick to her stomach. Hardbroom would be sure to give her a zero for this!

"Whatcha doing, Silly Lily?" drawled Sirius, slouching against his desk and eyeing the red-head. "You and Snivvy comparing notes again?"

"Mind your own business, Black!" snapped Alice.

"Ya know, Starkey, you remind me of a big ol' mama dragon protecting her dumb nestling," Sirius giggled.

"And you remind me of a blithering jackass, too stupid to know when to shut up!" Alice glared at him. Then she turned back to Lily. "Did you find it?"

"No. I don't understand. I know I put it in the folder last night. I always check my bag and make sure my assignments are inside it for the next day." Lily's lower lip trembled.

Severus was quickly leafing through Lily's folders, hoping that it had just been misplaced, but he had a funny feeling that someone had stolen Lily's assignment, knowing full well that Hardbroom would take strips off her.

"Aww, poor Evans lost her homework!" sneered Avery from his spot next to Severus. "Boo hoo! Now the Gryffindorks will lose more points."

"Avery, go drown yourself in the toilet!" Severus spat. "Lily, it's not here." He handed her back the pile of folders he'd scanned.

"I know." Lily looked miserable.

Alice patted her on the shoulder. "Come on, Lil. We'd better sit down before Hardbroom sees us over here."

Lily hastily stuffed her folders, parchment, and quills back in her bag and started to go up the aisle to her assigned seat. She was so upset that she didn't see Potter's foot sticking out until she tripped over it. She landed on the floor and some of her quills scattered all over.

Everyone clapped and hooted except for Severus, Alice, and a few other girls.

"Way to go, Clumsy Ox Evans!" Potter jeered.

Lily started to get to her feet and try and collect her quills.

"Evans, what is this unholy mess on the floor of my classroom?" demanded Hardbroom icily.

"Professor, I'm sorry, I fell down . . ."

"I'm not blind, girl. Get up and clean up this mess and get in your seat!" snapped the professor. "Five points from Gryffindor for creating a ruckus in my class."

Lily said nothing, simply picked up her things.

"But professor, it wasn't Lily's fault," Alice objected. "James tripped her."

Hardbroom gave her an icy glare. "Starkey, when I want your opinion, I'll ask for it. Sit down! Two more points from Gryffindor for contradicting me."

Alice slid into her seat, flashing the Defense teacher a glare when her back was turned.

Hardbroom peered about the classroom, her eyes alighting next on Severus. "Snape, quit looking at me like that! Five points for your insolence, boy!"

The Slytherins groaned. Severus looked down at his parchment, seething.

"Now then, today we shall be studying ways to deflect simple jinxes and hexes, like a Stinging Hex or a Jelly Legs Jinx," Hardbroom began. "Open your books to page 205."

They all did so, and studied the diagram of wand movements and the incantation for a simple Reflection Charm. As they read silently, Hardbroom came around to collect the homework.

She started at the back of the room first. Severus kept his nose practically touching the pages of his text, so to avoid any chance meeting with the professor's eyes, and give her another excuse to deduct points for looking at her wrong. Hardbroom sniffed, but took his homework and moved on. One thing she couldn't fault him for was his completion of homework assignments.

He cautiously raised his head as Hardbroom moved on to the middle rows, her heels tapping out a death march. He saw Lily tense as Hardbroom came alongside her desk.

"Miss Evans, where is your assignment?"

Lily gulped and whispered, "I . . . I lost it, ma'am."

"Lost it? Or did you think you didn't have to do it, since you know it all?" Haldana snorted, pinning the girl with one of her harpy glares.

"No, ma'am." Lily stared at the ground.

"Evans, when I give you an assignment, I expect it to be completed in a timely fashion, no excuses!"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry."

"Sorry, are you? Humph!" Hardbroom wrinkled her nose. "Just because you are McGongall's pet Muggleborn doesn't mean you can skive off in my class. Fifteen points from Gryffindor for not doing your homework and a zero for today, Evans. Plus you shall make up your missing assignment as well as complete an extra chapter for me tonight. Understood?"

"Yes, Professor Hardbroom," Lily muttered, feeling hot tears of anger sting her eyes. But she blinked them away. She refused to let Hardbroom ever see her cry.

Severus longed to hex the harridan and give her boils on her hard ass, but he controlled himself. Hexing a teacher was grounds for expulsion, and he knew better than to disgrace his family that way. But he could dream.

It was a relief to get paired up with Potter for the practicum, at least he could get back at the other boy for tripping Lily and making Hardbroom go off. He reflected Potter's Tickling Hex back on the other, and had the satisfaction of seeing the other boy rolling on the floor, laughing so hard he nearly wet himself.

Lily was paired up with Wilkes, and she managed to cast a Jelly Legs Jinx on the other boy before he could get his wand up, making him topple over.

Hardbroom merely sniffed and said nothing, dismissing both of their efforts, though they had performed as well or better than any of the other students.

She awarded Lupin points for defeating Avery during his bout and Longbottom as well. She also gave points to Blaise for defeating MacDonald.

Then she posted the assignment on the board and Severus hastily scribbled it down in his notebook before gliding out of the classroom as silently as he'd come in.

Page~*~*~*~*~*~*Break

That afternoon, as it was Friday, they met with Dorian in the Room of Requirement. But instead of practicing Defense, the two first years began griping about Hardbroom to Dorian, who sympathized with them, since he too had been on the receiving end of Hardbroom's temper. They ended up studying for their upcoming finals, with Dorian tutoring Severus in Transfiguration, and Lily helping Dorian with Charms. Severus assisted Lily with Herbology and Astronomy, quizzing her on the constellations and star charts, and the different properties and parts of magical plants.

After they had made up several study sheets on each subject, Dorian called a halt and said they needed to stop studying before their brains became overworked. He did this by bonking Severus over the head with a pillow.

"Andrews, you prat! I was writing!" yelped the other. "Now look what you did."

Dorian grinned and waved his wand, and the ink splotches across Severus' notes vanished. "Ink Be Gone Charm, Snape. I'll teach you that tomorrow. For now, let's play war!"

Severus climbed to his feet, his eyes gleaming. "All right, Andrews! You asked for it." He grabbed up two pillows from the floor, he'd been sitting on them, and whacked Dorian across the face and knees. "Ten points!"

Then Lily hit him in the back of the knees from behind, giggling. "Got you, Sev!"

He spun around and mock-glared at her. "Cheater!"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "In a duel you seek every advantage, right, Dorian?"

"Right, Miss Smarty-pants," Dorian saluted her, chuckling. Only he was ever allowed to call Lily that, because she knew he was only teasing.

Severus ducked his return smack and rolled out of the way, playing for once with the abandon of the child he was. He tackled Lily into the cushions and tickled her till she shrieked, laughing as he did so.

When they had tired each other out, they sprawled on the pillows and Lily brought up the subject of her missing homework. "I just don't understand how I could have misplaced it."

"You didn't. Potter, Black, or Pettigrew must have nicked it," Dorian said sagely.

"How? The girls' dorm is off limits to the boys. Gryffindor House Rules."

"Well, maybe they convinced MacDonald to do it," suggested Severus. "You know she has a crush on them, she'll do whatever they ask."

Lily's face heated as her temper flared. "I hate this! Why can't they just get a life? They're nothing but a bunch of . . . of . . ."

"Idiots?" Severus put in.

"Annoying brats?" Dorian suggested. "Rotten bounders?"

" . . . thieves and marauders!" Lily finished angrily.

"You can say that again," Dorian nodded.

Severus looked thoughtful. "You know, Lil . . . that's not a bad name for them. Marauders."

"From now on, that's what we'll call them," Lily said decisively. "Payback for all the terrible nicknames they've given us."

"You go, girl!" Dorian grinned and gave her a high five.

Severus followed suit, then the three friends headed down to the kitchens to wheedle some butterbeer and snacks out of the house elves.

Page~*~*~*~*~*Break

It was a week till finals, and Lily and Severus had been studying hard every other night in the Room of Requirement. In addition to that, she had been coaching Remus, Frank, and Alice in Charms in the Gryffindor common room on the weekends. She had offered to tutor anyone in her year who wanted extra help in her favorite subject, but only those three had agreed. Mary and her two other roommates refused, and so did the Marauders.

Lily was rather grateful for small favors, she had no wish to try and tutor while they snickered behind her back and played stupid pranks on each other. So it was a shock when she went to fetch her study sheets from her bag upstairs and caught Mary MacDonald rifling through it.

"Just what do you think you're doing, MacDonald?" Lily cried.

The blond girl jumped backwards, holding a sheaf of parchment in her hand so quickly that she lost her balance and sat down hard on the floor. "Merlin, Evans!" She glared at Lily, clutching the parchment to her. "I just wanted to borrow a quill."

Lily glared at her, fists clenched. "Liar! You just wanted to steal my review sheets! Give them back!"

"These are mine, Evans! Hands off!" Mary blustered , getting up and trying to get past Lily through the door.

Lily cast a Summoning Charm. "Accio my review sheets!"

The parchment was jerked out of MacDonald's hands and flew into Lily's. She fixed the other girl with a glare that should have made Mary explode. "Thief! If you wanted help, all you had to do was ask, you cheating little sneak!"

"Ask you for help? Ha! I'd sooner hang myself rather than ask a Muggleborn for anything!" Mary sneered. "For your information, I don't need your help."

"Right! Tell me another one. You just wanted my review sheets for scrap paper then?" Lily snorted. Then her eyes narrowed. "Or maybe you're doing this for someone else? Like Potter? Or Black? What did they promise you, MacDonald? A ride on their broomstick? A kiss?"

Mary blushed bright red. "None of your business, Evans! At least I have more class than to let a greasy Slytherin hold my hand."

"Sev is worth a hundred of Black and the rest of the Marauders put together!" Lily snarled, suddenly fed up with her Housemate's blind prejudice towards her and her best friend. She felt a hot prickling behind her eyes and she whirled and focused her sudden spurt of rage at Mary's desk, where the girl had left her Defense homework.

The parchment erupted into flame.

"No! You stupid cow! You burnt my homework!" MacDonald wailed as her essay went up in smoke. She quickly cast a Water Charm and put out the small blaze.

"Next time tell Black and his friends to do their own work," Lily said, sizzling mad.

Mary looked as though she were about to burst into tears. "I'm going to report you to McGonagall, Evans!"

"Do it and I'll tell her how you stole my review sheets. Who do you think she'll be angrier at?" threatened the irate witch. "I'll also tell her how you stole my Defense homework and made me lose points and get a zero."

Mary gasped. "How did—I mean . . . you can't prove it!"

"I caught you red-handed this time, MacDonald. And you're the only thief with access to the girl's dorm." Lily continued implacably. "Do you know what they do to thieves here? They expel them!"

Mary went pale. "B-but I gave it back, Evans!"

"If I find anything missing out of my bag tomorrow, I'm going straight to McGonagall. Got me?"

Mary nodded meekly, sniveling. "But . . . what about my homework?"

"I guess you'll just have to re-do it," Lily said coolly, then she sailed out of the room, leaving the other witch to groan and stamp her foot on the floor at having to re-write a two foot assignment.

When she told her friends what had gone on upstairs, they were angry and wanting to go and tell off MacDonald to her face, and Frank was all for going and punching out Black and Potter for letting a girl do their dirty work, the lazy bums. But all of them agreed that Lily had finally put the sneering girl in her place.

"Good for you, Lily!" Alice praised. "Maybe now she'll quit kissing Potter's arse and start thinking for herself. Ain't nothin' but trouble following those three."

Remus nodded. "You can say that again, Starkey. Lily, can you show me how to do that wand movement again for the Levitate spell?"

"It's like this, Remus . . ." Lily pulled out her wand, and for the first time since coming to Hogwarts felt proud of herself.

Page~*~*~*~*~*Break

"You set her homework on fire?" Severus gaped at his friend the next morning, after breakfast.

"I wasn't planning on it, Sev, but she made me so mad that I just . . . lost my temper." Lily told him.

"She deserved it. But I wish I could have seen it." The Slytherin said, snickering. "I'll bet you ten Sickles she was crying her eyes out after you left."

"Who was?" Dorian asked, coming up to them.

"MacDonald. Lily caught Mary trying to steal her review sheets for the Marauders and set her homework on fire. On fire!"

Dorian burst out laughing, "Sweet Merlin! I always knew that redheads had tempers but . . . oh, God, that's priceless! Too bad you didn't have a camera!"

For some reason, that comment made Severus double over, giggling hysterically.

Lily stared at him for about a second then joined him, for his laughter was infectious.

When they finally stopped laughing, Dorian suggested they go down by the lake and feed the giant squid before studying some more. Their first exams were on Monday morning. Each subject had two portions, a practical portion and a written exam. The average of the two was what determined the final exam grade.

Of course, Lily and Severus were worried about Hardbroom, but as there was little they could do about the harridan's bias against them, they decided to continue on as best they could and hope she would give them the grade they earned.

They took Transfiguration on Monday, Defense on Tuesday, Herbology Wednesday during the day and Astronomy at night. Charms was on Thursday and so was Flying, Friday was Potions. Their results would be owled to them over the break.

On his last night before going home on the Hogwarts Express, Severus lay awake in his bed, stroking Grey, who was purring atop his chest. His familiar had seemed to enjoy wandering about the castle, hunting mice with Mrs. Norris and some of the other students' cats. But no matter how long he had been away, Greymalkin always was waiting for Severus in his dorm room at night. The cat always seemed to know when Severus was upset and would curl up on him, rubbing his face against his wizard's cheek and purring loud enough to wake the dead.

When he was small, Severus had believed then, and still did, that the cat contained a piece of Eileen's spirit within him, and he adored the gray and white tom. He used whisper all his childish confidences and troubles into an upright gray ear, and Greymalkin had never failed to keep a secret or comfort him when he was sad or lonely. Now he scratched the cat beneath the chin and whispered, "I'm glad we're going home for the holidays. School is all right, but I miss Mirrorvale. And I can't wait to get away from Avery, the LeStranges, and the rest of the idiots over here. Especially the Marauders. And Hardbroom! Praise Merlin, I won't have to see her nasty pinched face till next term—miserable Harpy! I just hope she doesn't give me a bad mark on my final. I know I did well on both parts, but that won't count much with her." He sighed and scratched Grey behind the ears. "Never mind. I can't wait to go home, and see Gran and Grandpa and work out with Conor and Leif. And Lily and Dorian will be over to visit, that'll be the first time I've ever had friends over at the manor . . ."

His whispers trailed off abruptly and soon he was fast asleep, dreaming of home, Greymalkin cuddled beneath his chin, purring a feline lullaby.

Page ~*~*~*~*~*Break

Up in Gryffindor Tower, Lily was curled up on her side, hugging Belinda and thinking about how she was going to bake gingerbread and sugar biscuits with Hyacinth, make a brandy sauce for the plum pudding and stuff the turkey with Hyacinth's special cranberry, chestnut, and sausage stuffing. Her dad would be hanging swags of evergreen and holly all over the house and Tuney would be making cinnamon buns and squealing over the latest pop star on the telly. Lily couldn't believe her first term was over already. It had been full of surprises, laughter, and tears. But she was glad to go home, she had missed her parents and even Tuney tremendously.

She sighed softly, listening to the snores and breathing of her Housemates, and fell asleep dreaming of eggnog and cinnamon sticks and presents under the tree.

When she woke, the sun was streaming into her window and she jumped out of bed and dressed hurriedly, eager to go down for breakfast and then go home on the train.

Dumbledore bid everyone a fond farewell and wished them all happy holidays, and gave everyone a Sugar Quill and chocolate truffles. Then they all boarded the Express. Lily and Severus shared a compartment with Frank, Alice, and Dorian. They chattered happily about what they hoped to get for Christmas and whose mum made the best treats.

"You've got me beat there," Frank admitted, laughing. "My mum can barely heat up a can of soup. My dad does most of the cooking, else we'd be eating canned tuna and chipped beef for every meal."

The others made sympathetic faces and groaned. "Remind me to never eat over your house," teased Lily.

"The only one who'd love it would be Greymalkin," added Severus.

"Do you have house elves to cook for you, Snape?" asked Frank curiously.

"Yes and no. Mitzi and Arlo do cook us breakfast and lunch, but Gran prefers to make dinner, unless she's busy with something. She makes wonderful spice drops and coconut macaroons and her glazed pineapple ham won an award in Witch Weekly for the tastiest Christmas ham five years in a row. They called it the Prince of Hams."

"Is she going to make that when I'm over?" asked Dorian hopefully.

"Probably. It's tradition," Severus answered, his own mouth watering.

"Lucky," Frank said, a bit enviously.

"Hey!" Alice mock-punched him. "You're eating over my house for Christmas, remember? And my mum's beef Wellington and Yorkshire pudding is top notch."

"Right. Forgot about that. Thank Merlin!" Frank grinned.

Before they knew it, the train was pulling up at King's Cross, and everyone was scrambling to be the first off the train.

Severus and Lily waited until most everyone had exited before calmly getting off.

Lily ran straight into her dad's arms, setting Guinevere's cage down before Paul scooped her up into a bear hug. "How's my Lily flower been? Did you miss me?"

"Lots and lots, Dad," she murmured into his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek.

When Paul set her down, she went over to hug her mother, and saw out of the corner of her eye, Severus getting the same treatment from a tall platinum blond woman dressed in elegant blue and gold robes and a tall dark-haired man in a gray suit with a green and silver tie. Those must be Marius and Vesper Prince, she thought before she was smothered in Hyacinth's embrace. She vaguely remembered them from Tobias' funeral.

"Where's Tuney?" she asked when she could breathe again.

"Home. She's baking some shortbread," answered Hyacinth. "Come on, Paul, Let's get a move on, before we hit traffic."

Paul picked up Lily's trunk and owl cage and they headed out to their car.

Lily waved at Severus, calling, "Bye, Sev! See you soon!"

Severus waved, "Bye, Lily! Happy Christmas!"

"Sev, look at you!" Vesper exclaimed, looking her grandson up and down. "Marius, I swear he's grown another inch!"

"Takes after me," Marius said, clapping his grandson on the shoulder. "Come on, there's probably a line at The Leaky Cauldron for the Floo." He waved his wand and shrank Severus' trunk and handed it to Black Leif, who tucked it into a pocket, and nodded gravely at the Prince heir.

"Welcome home, young sir."

"Hello, Leif!" Severus shook the bodyguard's hand, for it would not be good manners to hug the Black Cloak out in public, where he had to be on duty. "Where's Conor?"

"Here, Master Sev," came a voice from out of the air, and Vesper's bodyguard, a large blond curly-haired man, appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, his black cloak wrapped about him. He was dressed in a charcoal gray uniform and carried a sword, dagger, and wand on his belt, though Severus knew well he had many more concealed weapons on him. "Looks like they feed you all right at school."

"The food's good, but not like Gran's," Severus answered, then fell in to walk beside Marius, while the two Black Cloaks flanked them.

Marius tousled his hair. "Nobody cooks like your grandmother, lad."

As predicted, there was a line at the Floo, but it went quickly, and before he knew it, Severus was stepping through the fireplace and into Mirrorvale's parlor, home at last.

Severus looked about at his room, finding everything was just as he had left it. He had a large room with a connecting bath, all done in shades of cool blue, silver and black. His four poster bed had silvery mesh hangings and a soft blue velvet coverlet, thick pillows, and a window seat done in black and silver swirls.

The window seat lifted up and there was a storage space beneath it where he put his potions and ingredients and brewer's journal, a notebook where he wrote down his experiments.

In the lefthand corner was his study nook, a walnut desk surrounded by bookshelves, with a rolling chair. Against the far right wall, opposite the window seat, was a huge armoire, you could stand up inside it, and it had shelves and drawers in it with room to hang up all his clothes, racks for shoes and whatever else he might need. There was even a screened off partition for Grey's litterbox and the cat's play gym. Greymalkin had climbed to the top of the wood and carpet covered gym and was lying lazily on the top platform, eyes half-shut.

Several shelves along the walls held curious kinds of objects, a rock that glittered, a snake skull, a jar of blue shells, a preserved lizard, a model of a Hungarian Horntail, a petrified runespoor egg, among other things. On his nightstand lay his wand, next to a framed picture of Eileen and Tobias and himself, taken just before the accident at the mill.

It took him fifteen minutes to unpack his school things, with the help of Mitzi, who insisted upon getting the young master settled in proper like. Mitzi and Arlo were freed house elves, brother and sister, who had served the Prince family for two centuries, since they were small.

"There! All finished, Master Severus!" the brown-haired elf declared when the last sock had been placed in a drawer. "Now, Mistress Vesper has tea in the drawing room for you, young master. Don't want to keep her waiting."

"All right, Mitzi, I'm going, now keep your hair on," Severus smirked.

"None of your cheek now, young master!" Mitzi scolded, though she was smiling also. She was wearing a deep blue dress with gold sleeves and a silver apron and cap, the typical Prince livery for a house elf, for the Prince coat of arms was blue, silver, and gold. On the right side of the apron was the Prince crest, a raven wearing a crown. She shooed him through the door and down the stairs.

He found Vesper and Marius in the drawing room, a cozy room done in shades of pearl gray and lavender stripes, with a long plump sofa covered in soft gray upholstery, a lavender carpet and several square white lamps. Portraits of old Prince ancestors hung on the wall, and the mantle was decorated with the traditional mistletoe and holly and large silver and green ribbons entwined about it. A fire was crackling in the fireplace, and a tea tray was set out with various kinds of snacks and sandwiches upon it.

The drawing room was where the family usually gathered for talks and to relax after work.

"Are you happy to be home, Sev?" Vesper asked softly.

"Yes, Gran."

"That's good. Why don't you sit down and eat something, you must be starving. After, your grandpa and I would like to have a talk with you about that incident with Walburga's boy at school."

"Yes, ma'am," Severus said, sounding slightly annoyed, though he should have expected that was coming.

There were mince tarts and small beef pasties, chicken sandwiches, and vegetable canapés, plus gingerbread and spice drops. Tea and a pitcher of strawberry lemonade were also upon the tray. Once they had all eaten their fill, Marius cleared his throat and eyed his grandson sternly.

"Severus, you know how I feel about fighting."

"Yes, sir. You should only do it when absolutely necessary." Severus said, hanging his head. "But Grandpa, it was necessary. Black called my mother a . . . prostitute and he said my dad was a no-good Muggle." He lifted his head and met his grandfather's deep brown eyes squarely. "I couldn't let him get away with it."

"I realize that, but there were better ways to handle things than you throttling the boy half to death, young man. What have I told you before about controlling that temper of yours?"

"That if I don't learn to control my temper, it will control me, and I'll be a danger to everyone around me because of it," Severus recited.

Marius nodded. "Yes, because your magic reacts to strong emotions, lad, and the angrier you are, the more your magic will rouse, and you could hurt someone unintentionally, since your magic is very strong, child. It is important that you learn discipline over mind and emotions, Severus, such is the hallmark of a good wizard. A skilled practitioner has control over the smallest spark of his power, and in a duel that can be the difference between life and death."

"Or someone else's," Vesper added. "Mr. Black was wrong in saying what he did, and I hope his mother deals with him properly for being so cruel and insensitive. Now, we asked you to write an essay about what you could have done differently and what might have happened had you seriously injured Sirius with your loss of control. Did you do as we asked?"

"Yes, Gran. The essay's up on my desk in my room."

Vesper Summoned it down with a wave of her wand. She read it silently then handed it to Marius.

After reading it, Marius looked up and said, "You wrote here that you should have gotten a teacher instead of attacking Sirius. Professor Hardbroom was in the classroom, why didn't you call for her?"

"Because she wouldn't have done anything, probably," answered his grandson bitterly.

"Whatever do you mean, Sev?" Vesper asked, sounding confused.

"Professor Hardbroom hates half-bloods, Muggleborns, and Muggles. When I told her what Black said, she just looked at me and said that I . . . I had to expect that kind of thing given how my mother disgraced her family by going slumming with a Muggle and if she'd stuck to her own kind, I wouldn't have to worry about being a half-blood. And when Lily tried to defend me, she gave her a detention too."

Marius and Vesper remained with their mouths open. Then Vesper demanded angrily, "And who does she think she is, to judge my daughter's choice? We were never ashamed of Eileen for choosing to marry Toby. He was a good man and father, much better than a lot of the pureblood sons we knew!"

"We were shocked a bit, at first, but after we met him . . .we soon saw that he loved Eileen and would treat her the way she deserved, with kindness and compassion and respect and that was all that mattered," Marius said sincerely. "Eileen was old enough to choose whom she wished to marry and we honored that choice, unconventional though it was. Hardbroom has no right to put her bias upon you for being a half-blood. Nor Miss Evans for being a Muggleborn. There is no shame in it. Does the Headmaster know of her attitude?"

"I don't know. But Professor Slughorn and Professor McGonagall do and they weren't real happy about it." Severus told them. He then told his grandparents about his detention with Hardbroom and they were quite furious.

"Marius, if this continues, you and I are going to pay a visit to Dumbledore!" Vesper snapped, her blue eyes hard as steel. "I will not permit Severus to be targeted by a teacher like this. It is totally dishonorable and unacceptable! What kind of people is Albus hiring these days? This Professor Hardbroom sounds like the worst sort of pureblooded bigot."

Marius reached over and clasped his wife's hand. "Vesper, dear, don't go off half-cocked. First we need to gather some evidence before we make demands and accusations. And that shall have to wait a bit. I shall speak to Professor Slughorn and a few other parents of Slytherins and see what they think of this Defense teacher." He turned back to his grandson. "Severus Tobias, I trust you have learned your lesson regarding fighting in the classroom, regardless of the provocation? There will always be idiots who speak before they think, or hold opinions you disagree with. You have to learn to look at the source from whence it comes, lad, and remember that a fool is only taken seriously by another fool."

"Yes, sir."

"Good. As my heir I expect you to behave with restraint and discipline, and I trust you can do this. Next time think before you act, young man. I don't want to have this discussion again, or else you'll be over my knee before you can stir a cauldron counterclockwise. Understood?"

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir, for disappointing you. It won't happen again." Severus promised, feeling guilty and ashamed. He hated getting scolded by his grandparents, whom he loved and respected. Marius was a strict disciplinarian, but he was always fair, and was a man of his word, what he promised, he did—always.

"Nobody's perfect, Sev. We all of us make mistakes," Vesper said quietly, lifting his chin up so that he looked into her eyes. "The trick is to learn from them and try not to repeat them. Do that and we'll always be proud of you. And remember this too, we shall always love you, no matter how many mistakes you make."

"Really?"

"Really, Sev." Marius reassured him.

Vesper hugged him then. "Welcome home, Sevvy. This is going to be a fine Christmas."

Severus smiled as he nestled close to his grandmother. She could be strict as well, and tolerated no spoiled behavior, but she could also be wry and funny and she loved giving him hugs, "the way your mum would, rest her soul." When Severus first came to Mirrorvale as a damaged little boy, refusing to speak, Vesper had sat holding him for hours, stroking his hair and singing softly to him. She had healed him with her patience and love and Severus loved her fiercely.

All the Christmases he could remember at Mirrorvale were wonderful, but this one, he knew, would be something special.

Page ~*~*~*~*~*Break

12 Spinner's End

Evans residence:

Lily spent the rest of the days leading up till Christmas in a whirlwind of activity. She helped Hyacinth cook for Christmas dinner, and went shopping with her sister and spent the afternoon at the cinema with Beth and Cathy. They asked her how it was going to boarding school, and she told them it was all right, except for a few catty girls and idiot boys and Hardbroom. The girls were properly horrified at Hardbroom's cruel attitude, Lily told them she was prejudiced towards girls from northern England.

"Ugh! She sounds like the hag from hell!" Beth made a face.

"An' then some! Happen she'll get the shock o' her life, eh, when you take First in everything, the way you did here, right?" Cathy said stoutly.

Lily smiled at them. "Well, I don't know about that, 'cause it's a lot harder than primary, but I'm not dumb like she thinks."

"Enough about th' old witch!" Beth snorted dismissively. "How about the lads, Lily? Did you meet any likely ones?"

Lily blushed. "Well . . . I did run into an old friend. He used to live next door to me, back when we were five. Then he moved away to live with his grandparents after his mum and dad died."

"Oooh! And you met him at your new school?" Beth cried. "Did he remember you? Is he cute?"

"Are you going with him?"

"Yes, he remembered me. At first he . . . tutored me in chemistry, some idiots in my class kept mucking up my experiments, but he caught them and then we became friends again. And I think . . .he's very cute. But we're not really going out. Not yet. We're just friends."

The two girls squealed and asked what he looked like.

Lily told them, adding that his name was Severus Snape.

"Eh, a good Yorkshire name, that is," Cathy said approvingly. "You'll have to let us meet him someday."

"Maybe next time he comes over to visit," Lily said. "Come on, we'd better get going, the film's about to start." They hurried into the theater, for that was Lily's Christmas gift to her Muggle friends, a pair of movie tickets and snacks. They in turn had given her a poster of The Beatles and a large scrapbook to put all her clippings of the famous pop stars in. They had started her off by giving her several articles and photos of Ringo, John, George, and Paul.

Lily carried the popcorn into the theater, hoping that Severus was having a good holiday at Mirrorvale.

Christmas morning, Lily woke to a snowy landscape, and shivered deliciously as she watched the snow fall outside the window. "Guienevere, look! It's a white Christmas!"

The barn owl hooted softly, then tucked her head back under her wing and fell asleep. The only thing snow meant to her was extra nap time.

"Here, Gwen. Have a Happy Christmas!" Lily left her several owl treats.

Then she hurried down the hall to wake up her parents and Petunia.

Petunia refused to get up, and told Lily to get out, saying the best Christmas present ever would be to let her sleep in all day.

Lily just shook her head and went to knock on Cinthy and Paul's door.

"Mum! Dad! Wake up, it's Christmas!"

Groans and yawns followed, but then Paul called, "We'll be right down, Lily."

Lily hurried downstairs and into the living room, where the neatly decorated Scotch pine was placed in the corner and beneath it were many gaily wrapped presents. Lily crawled beneath the tree and began to gather hers together. The rule was she couldn't open any till her parents were there, but that didn't mean she couldn't fetch them all into a pile.

She even got Tuney's presents and placed them aside for her sister. Petunia might be grumpy, but it was Christmas, and Lily figured it couldn't hurt to be nice to her.

Then she sat down on the floor next to her presents and waited impatiently for Paul and Hyacinth to arrive. She traced a kitten on her purple and pink kitten pajamas, and wriggled her toes inside her fluffy cat-face slippers.

She could see the snow falling outside the window facing the street and it gave her a shivery delightful feeling, though she was warm and cozy inside her house. At last Hyacinth and Paul descended the stairs and made their way into the living room. Her mum was wearing a new terry pink robe that the girls had bought for her and given to her early, and Lily was happy to see that Paul was wearing his new calfskin slippers from them and new red and green flannels that Hyacinth had given him. In the Evans house, the girls had always given their parents gifts on Christmas Eve, while Christmas Day belonged to the children.

"Merry Christmas, Lily!" Hyacinth cried, hugging her daughter.

"Merry Christmas, Mum!" Lily hugged her back. "Can I open my presents now?"

"Where's Tuney?" asked Paul, bending down to kiss Lily.

"Asleep. She told me the best present is to let her sleep," Lily said.

"That's our Sleeping Beauty," Paul chuckled.

"Do I have to wait for her, Dad?" Lily pleaded.

"Hmmm . . . no, I suppose not. Go ahead."

Lily tore into her presents with joyful abandon, and paper and ribbons soon littered the floor.

From her parents she received a lovely emerald green dress with puffed sleeves and a skirt that had a layer of silk over taffeta that came down to her ankles. It also had matching shoes with fake little emerald beads along the front.

"Do you like it, Lily? I picked it out for you to wear to the Prince's house." Hyacinth told her.

"It matches your eyes," Paul added, which was his standard comment when ever one of his girls asked him if clothing looked good on her.

"Mum, I love it! It's beautiful!"

"And you'll look beautiful in it." Her father said.

Next Lily opened a small box containing a beautiful charm bracelet, it had three charms on it, an owl, a wizard's hat, and one that said I Love the Beatles. She put that on, and continued opening the rest of her gifts, which were clothes, two Beatles records, a box of pumpkin pasties, chocolate frogs, and Sugar Quills, plus a Day Out With Mum package—which was a day where Hyacinth spent shopping with Lily in her favorite bookshop and ate lunch out in York.

Lily jumped up to hug and thank her parents.

By then Petunia was awake and had sleepily wished her parents and sister a Happy Christmas and started to open her gifts as well. She received much the same as Lily, except instead of magical sweets, she had Muggle ones, and received a day at a popular spa with Hyacinth instead of the bookstore and make-up and perfume instead of records.

She eyed Lily's collection of magical sweets and frowned in disgust. "I don't know how you can possibly eat those gross hopping frogs. Eeew! Who would want to eat something that jumps like that?"

"They're good, Tuney. It's just a little animation spell." Lily tried to explain. "Once the spell fades it's just plain old chocolate again. Want to try some?"

"No way! I might get some disease or something." Petunia shoved Lily's hand with the frog on it away.

Lily looked hurt, but then said gamely, "Here, Tuney. This is from me." She handed Petunia a small box wrapped in gold and green paper.

Petunia looked at it suspiciously. "This had better not be a disgusting sweet from your freaky alley place."

"Open it! I think you'll really like it."

Petunia tore off the paper to reveal a pair of pretty silver dragonfly hair combs, with small turquoise and crystals set in the wings. "Very nice, Lily. They'll match the dress Mum got me."

Lily beamed. "I'm glad you like them. Now let me open yours," she said reaching for the bag Petunia had handed her. Inside she found a book called How To Make Yourself Into the Ultimate Diva. "Wow! A book on fashion design."

"So you can look halfway decent at that school of yours," Petunia said offhandedly.

"What's this?" Lily picked up a small bottle with a cross on it and some clear liquid.

"Holy water. If you rub some on your forehead, maybe it'll get rid of the demon inside you. Or protect you from the other demonic children that probably go to that school."

Lily stared at her sister, hurt and angry. "Stop it, Tuney! I'm not a freak or possessed. I just have magic."

"Don't you get it, Lily? Magic makes you a freak!" Petunia said spitefully.

"Petunia Charlotte Evans!" Hyacinth snapped. "Apologize to your sister at once! This is Christmas and you promised me you'd be nice to Lily and not twit her about magic. Is this how you keep your word?"

"You always take her side, Mum! She started it by trying to give me one of her poison frogs!"

"Chocolate frogs aren't poisonous!" Lily cried.

"Enough! Petunia, we're waiting for your apology," Paul said angrily.

Petunia set her jaw. "I'm not apologizing for speaking the truth. You just don't want to admit it, either of you! You both spoil her rotten! Precious Lily, with her precious magic! You're all sick in the head, and I wish I had a different family! One who was normal!"

Hyacinth's eyes flashed. "How dare you, young lady!" Before her daughter could move, Hyacinth had spun the spiteful child about and delivered a well-placed smack to her backside.

Petunia yelped. "Oww! Mum!"

"Get upstairs to your room. As of now, your phone privileges are revoked and you are not allowed to see any friends over the holiday until you apologize to your sister."

"You're so unfair!" sobbed her eldest.

"Go, before I forget you're too old to spank and take you over my knee," Hyacinth warned.

Petunia fled upstairs and slammed the door.

Lily sniffled. "Mum, I'm sorry."

"For what? You did nothing wrong, Lily." Hyacinth said quietly.

"I ruined our Christmas."

"Nonsense," Paul said, coming over and putting an arm about his youngest. "You aren't to blame for Tuney's unreasonable attitude. We had several talks with her while you were at school, trying to explain to her that your magic was a gift and not something to be feared." He gently wiped the tears from her eyes. "I thought we'd finally made her understand, but . . . I guess she still is having trouble with accepting it."

"Well, she had better start learning, Paul, because I'm not going to tolerate her pettiness any longer." Hyacinth said. "There was no call to give Lily such a gift and call her possessed."

"It's all right, Mum. I'm sort of used to it, some kids at school call me names too—" Lily blurted, then halted in dismay.

"Lily, what do you mean?"

"Nothing. Just forget it."

"Lily, if some kids at school are picking on you, we'd like to know so we can help," Paul began.

Lily shook her head. "It doesn't matter, Dad. I . . . I don't want to talk about them now. They'll ruin Christmas. I'll tell you later, all right?"

"If you're sure . . .?" Paul looked at her worriedly.

She gave him a tentative smile. "I am. Let's go eat some breakfast."

"That's a splendid idea," Hyacinth said brightly, striving to get back into the Christmas spirit. "We have warm cinnamon rolls and that lovely fruit platter Miss Standish sent over and I can make some bacon and eggs. How's that sound?"

"Delicious, Cinthy," her husband grinned.

They all had a lovely breakfast, eating two helpings of Hyacinth's bacon and egg scramble and cinnamon rolls and fruit. Lily told Paul and Cinthy about her classes at school and how she had made friends again with Severus, and his mentor Dorian, and a girl named Alice Starkey.

Lily got dressed and went to play out in the snow, making snow angels and dreaming about seeing Severus and his home at Mirrorvale. She hoped he liked her present.

She spent the day reading, drinking hot peppermint cocoa, and playing Monopoly with Hyacinth. Tuney came down for supper, sullenly apologized to Lily, and sat down to eat Christmas dinner.  The girls opened their Christmas crackers first, though Tuney claimed she was getting too old for such things. Lily got a china cat in hers and Tuney a tin whistle.

Hyacinth had made her famous roast turkey with cranberry-chestnut-sausage stuffing, whipped potatoes, creamed spinach, gravy, and buttered rolls. For dessert there was strawberry-chocolate trifle, gingerbread and sugar biscuits, shortbread stars, and apple crumble. Once Hyacinth had made a traditional plum pudding, but none of them really liked it, so she stopped making it.

Everyone ate till they were stuffed, then the girls washed the dishes and put away the leftovers. Then they all gathered in the living room to watch Christmas specials on the telly until bedtime. Petunia was still sulky, because neither Hyacinth nor Paul were willing to revoke her phone privileges or her having friends over till New Year's Eve.

But she agreed to roast marshmallows over the fire on sticks with Lily like they did every year, and offered to show Lily how to paint her nails, and so there was a truce of sorts between them. Lily wondered how long it would last and prayed it would continue until she left for Mirrorvale in two days.

Page ~*~*~*~*~*Break

Mirrorvale Manor

That same morning:

Mrr-ow! Mrrr-oow!

Severus groaned and opened one eye to see Greymalkin peering into his face, green eyes glowing. The cat gave another mew, and gently tapped the boy on the cheek with a velvet paw. "Hey, Greymalkin. What time is it?"

He looked at his clock next to the picture on his bed. "It's morning! It's Christmas!" He sat up in bed, grinning from ear to ear. "Merry Christmas, Mum and Dad!" He said to the picture, then he jumped out of bed and grabbed Grey and hugged him. The cat meowed in protest. "Mitzi! Can you give Grey his sardines and milk?"

The little elf popped into his room. "Right away, Master Sev." She put a dish of sardines and another of milk down and Greymalkin springboarded off Severus' chest and ran over to eat his breakfast.

"Thank you, Mitzi. And Happy Christmas!"

"Same to you, young master!"

Severus headed downstairs, to find his grandfather and grandmother awake and drinking some cinnamon coffee. He went and hugged them and sat inbetween them on the couch while Marius sent his presents over from under the tree one by one. When he was younger, he used to tear into his presents, but now he took his time and opened each one carefully.

This Christmas he received the usual clothes and new dragonhide boots from Vesper, as he had outgrown his old ones. From Marius he received a copy of Most Potente Potions and a cloak with a Deep Pockets spell on it, it could carry many breakable items within, including potion vials. From Leif and Conor came a platter of dark chocolate-dipped dried fruit, one of his ultimate favorite sweets.

"And this one's from both of us, Sev," announced Vesper, floating a large green and silver wrapped box over.

Severus started to unwrap it slowly, but then his curiosity overwhelmed him and he ripped off the paper and tore open the box to reveal . . . "A self-stirring cauldron! Totally awesome!" His dark eyes shone with joy and it made Marius and Vesper smile, to see their normally shy and serious grandson so happy. "Thanks, Gran and Grandpa!"

"You are most welcome, Sev." Marius hugged him tightly for a brief moment. "Mind you use that cauldron with the respect it deserves."

"Of course." Severus said, running a finger along the rim slowly, as if it were the sacred Cauldren of Cerridwen herself. "Open mine next!" He handed Vesper and Marius a package each.

"Oh, Sev, they're beautiful!" exclaimed his grandmother, taking a pair of jet and silver raven earrings out of the small box. "I'll wear them today." Then she put them on.

"This is just what I needed to keep track of all my appointments," Marius said, unwrapping a snakeskin covered appointment book. He was active in many philanthropic enterprises as well as being a prosecutor for the Ministry Law Association. "Thank you, Severus."

Severus looked up from his cauldron and laughed—for Greymalkin was pouncing and batting the crumpled balls of paper and ribbon about the floor. "Grey, you crazy cat!"

Vesper chuckled too. "Must have had too much catnip, the silly kitty." Then she caused the balls to start hopping all over the place, making Grey go crazy trying to stalk and grab them; and her grandson laugh delightedly.

When Greymalkin was tired out, the small family went into the dining room to eat breakfast, which Mitzi and Arlo had cooked this morning.

"Cinnamon pancakes!" Severus exclaimed in delight, and promptly helped himself to three of them, with golden syrup, nuts and a dollop of whipped cream, plus a rasher of bacon.

After breakfast, Severus and Vesper went down to the potions lab so Severus could use his new cauldron and try out some recipes from his new potions book, while Marius relaxed on the sofa with a book.

Leaving his Dreamless Sleep potion to simmer, Severus went upstairs hours later to eat Christmas dinner, which included Vesper's famous glazed ham, roasted potatoes in their jackets, creamed corn, asparagus Hollandaise, honey-wheat bread with sweet butter, and stewed apples.

"My friends can't wait to taste your ham, Gran," he told Vesper over dinner.

"Why, Severus Snape, have you been bragging about my cooking?"

"Only a little," he smiled.

"And why shouldn't he, considering you make the best ham in all of Britain," her husband said.

"I'll second that," agreed Black Leif, taking a second helping. For this one day, the Black Cloaks permitted themselves to sit with the family and eat with them, at their employers' insistence. The next day, the brothers would go home for half a day to visit their family for Christmas.

Everyone pronounced the dinner as excellent and a new dessert, a flaming baked Alaska, even more so. Then they gathered in the music room, where Marius played the piano, and they all sang Christmas carols. Leif and Conor had surprisingly good voices balanced nicely by Vesper's clear contralto and Severus' bright soprano.

Afterwards, they all had a slice of plum pudding cake and hot rum toddies for the adults, Severus had a hot butterbeer. Then he went down to the lab to check his potion, it still needed to simmer until tomorrow, and stayed up reading his new potions book until he fell asleep with it over his face on the couch.

Marius carried the tired boy upstairs and Vesper tucked him in with Grey beside him, whispering a final "Happy Christmas, Sevvy!" and kissing him good night.

Page~*~*~*~*~*Break

Two days later, Lily received a letter from Severus, telling her to expect his grandparents and himself around eleven o'clock in the morning. Because the Evans' house was not connected to the Floo Network, the Princes would Apparate to Spinner's End to pick up Lily and speak with Paul and Hyacinth, making sure everything was settled. Lily was going to stay till New Year's at Mirrorvale, as was Dorian. She was going to take Guinevere as well, so her parents didn't have to look after her owl.

At exactly eleven o'clock, Marius, Vesper, and Severus appeared in the Evans' foyer. They were dressed in casual clothes, Marius in pressed brown trousers and a beige collared shirt and loafers, Vesper was wearing a turquoise pant suit, and Severus had on his new jeans and a blue long-sleeved shirt and sneakers.

"Sev! You're finally here!" Lily squealed and ran over to hug her friend. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas, Lily," he said, blushing slightly. "Lily, these are my grandparents, Marius and Vesper Prince, lord and lady of Mirrorvale Manor."

Lily smiled up at them. "Pleased to meet you, my lord and lady."

"Please child, no titles. We get enough of those from our colleagues in the Ministry," Vesper said, shaking Lily's hand. "Just Marius and Vesper will do."

Lily clasped her hand, liking her very much. Then she shook Marius' hand also. He smiled gently at her.

"Are your parents home, Miss Evans?"

"Yes." She turned and called for Hyacinth and Paul.

Her parents came and introduced themselves, assuring the Princes that they were honored to meet them and have Lily stay at the manor.

"Not at all. The honor is ours, Hyacinth." Vesper said graciously. "I remember when Eileen used to tell us how she had found a wonderful friend in her next door neighbor. I can see now what she was talking about."

"We'll take good care of your daughter, Paul," Marius told him, shrinking all of Lily's belongings, save for Guinevere, who would be flying to the manor.

"Thank you. I appreciate it." Then he bid goodbye to Lily and they all Apparated away to Mirrorvale Manor.

Once there, Severus showed Lily his room, hers was right across from his, a pretty sherbet pink and pale green affair with a canopied bed and vanity, desk, nightstand and closet. Lily took her present for Severus out of her trunk and said, "Hope you like it."

Severus carefully opened it, giving the crumpled paper to Grey to play with. "Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I always wanted to read this, but never went to buy a copy. Thanks, Lily." He carefully placed it on his nightstand and fetched a medium-sized red and gold box from atop his desk. "Your turn."

"Cool! My own journal! And magically refillable quills and . . . is this my own seal?" She gasped when she saw the stamp with the etched lily that curved into the shape of an L. "That's so awesome, Sev!"

"So now I know when it's you writing to me," Severus said. "Most witches and wizards have a private seal, and I figured you could use one too. Mine's my family crest—the crowned raven."

"Thanks so much!"

Dorian arrived soon after, bearing his own set of gifts, he had bought a Charms book for Lily and a vial of unicorn hair for Severus. They in turn gave him tickets to a Quidditch game and a certificate to Fortescue's Ice Cream Shoppe.

Severus showed them his new cauldron and then took them outside to the huge snow covered hill. On top of the hill were three sleds, one green, one blue, and one silver. "Pick one."

Dorian took the blue sled, Lily the green, and Severus got the silver.

Severus threw himself on the sled on his stomach. "Ready, set, go!" He pushed off and soared down the hill, yelling as he picked up speed.

Dorian was right behind him and Lily followed, a bit more cautiously.

They all reached the bottom safely.

"Whoa! That was great!" Dorian panted, his cheeks red from the cold. "Let's do it again!"

"Want to race?" Severus asked, his eyes gleaming challengingly.

"Sure!" Lily said. She knew she probably wouldn't win, since this was her second time on a sled, but she didn't care. Being here with her friends was enough.

They slid down the hill a second time, and Dorian won, edging out Severus by a runner.

Four more times they slid down, until Severus' runner hit a submerged patch of ice and stopped short. The dark haired boy flew off and landed face first in a snowbank.

"Sev! Are you all right?" Lily called.

Together, she and Dorian pulled him out.

"I'm fine!" he waved off their concern. He stood up, brushing off the snow.

"I've had enough sledding for now," Lily said. "Let's make snow angels and build a snow family."

So that's what they did, playing happily on the huge lawn until Vesper sent Arlo to summon them inside for hot cocoa and scones.

As Severus stamped his boots to clear off the snow, he thought about how nice it was to finally have kids his own age here to play with.

In the evening, he played chess with Dorian and rummy with Lily. Marius popped popcorn over the fire and drizzled it with butter and salt, they all ate handfuls while he told them amusing anecdotes about old laws still on the Ministry books, such as the one where you could get fined for letting your pig cross the road without a person nearby.

"Guess they must have had a lot of pigs back then," Dorian remarked.

"Or the road must not have been very big." Lily said.

"Or maybe the pigs caused a lot of accidents," Severus offered, making them all laugh.

"Could you imagine what Filch would say if there were a herd of pigs running through the halls?" asked Dorian impishly.

"He'd pass out!" Severus smirked.

"Or he'd chase them with his mop," Lily giggled. "And Peeves would have a field day. Here piggy, piggy! Now, this little piggy went to market . . ."

The boys quickly finished the old nursery rhyme, laughing even more as they did so.

Vesper beckoned Marius over, and the two watched their grandson smiling and joking with his friends. "It's so good to see him happy again," she whispered to her husband. "He's always been such a serious child, so mature for his age. It's nice to see him behaving like other eleven-year-olds for once."

Marius nodded. "He's not had it easy, Vesper. That's part of why he is the way he is. Too much sorrow makes one more cautious and he's grown up with all adults, so that also has an impact. But you're right, his friends are good for him. We should let him do this more often."

But none of the children were smiling the next morning, when the owls delivered not only the morning post, but their end of term grades as well.

A/N: an extra long chapter for you! Next: see what grades they got and how their parents/grandparents react. Three guess on what Hardbroom gave them?


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