The Taming of Harry Potter

by Mel J


CHAPTER THIRTEEN- Spirit of the Season

"Now how many cubes do I have left if each cube is worth ten? Count it out loud."

"Te-en...twen-ty...free-ty...for-ty...fif-fy...si-ix-ty," a halting young voice replied.

"Very good, well done, child," Madame Wallace praised. "Full marks again." There was a pause. "What's wrong, wee one? Are you not feeling up to your maths today?"

Severus' ears pricked when he detected the hint of concern in the teacher's voice. Harry's lessons tended to be conducted at the main desk in the library and Severus usually gave Madame Wallace and the child privacy, organising his own day away from them in his lab or study. For some reason unknown to him, this morning he decided to hoard himself in a quiet corner of the library with his journals, afar from Harry and his tutor but within earshot.

"What's wrong?" He stood up from behind the shelves hiding him and walked around to the desk where Harry and the Madame sat. The boy was a keen student, usually wide-eyed and eager to learn, yet here he was with his head on the table, listlessly slumped forward. "Are you okay, Harry?" There was a half-hearted shrug was his answer. "Say it aloud, Harry. How do you feel?"

Harry was obviously not well but Severus refused to accept that as a reason for laziness. The boy had a tendency to use gestures as a way to respond if he could and needed to be pushed to reply vocally at times. After coming so far, his guardian was not going to allow him to slip back to his silence.

"Me feel yucky."

"'*I* feel', not 'me feel', Harry," Severus corrected out of habit, his attention riveted on the child's state of health rather than his grammar.

The child was ashen, except for his cheeks, which were flushed. His heavy-lidded eyes were dull and dimmed of the childish spark for life. Looking at Harry left a distressing reminder of that frail and weary waif who had arrived at Snape Manor over three months ago.

Madame Wallace brushed the child's fringe back so she could feel his forehead. She tutted softly. "I believe someone has the sniffles. You need to get this wee one to bed and dose him with Pepper Up potion, goldenseal and a few drops of catnip. A nice hot cup of honeyed lemon tea will also work wonders. Do you think you can manage that?"

"I am a Potions Master," Severus said, a touch arrogantly, scooping Harry up. The child was boneless in his grasp, energy spent and head lolling with fever. "And must you refer to him as 'wee one'? He's eleven, not four. Infantilising him does not help matters."

"He's wee, is he not?" the older woman retorted, firmly. Her eyes clouded over in nostalgia. "Rather like you, in many ways. You were always the smallest out of your peers, girls included, that I wondered if you'd ever grow. I was so surprised when you finally shot up." She gazed fondly at the pair. "My two wee boys."

Severus scowled, as did Harry, mustering up enough energy to show his disapproval at his diminutive height being pointed out.

Madame Wallace repressed her smile, dropping the subject to leave the two males to their precious masculine pride. "Right, I'll let you to see to Harry."

Severus was going to take the boy up to bed when he noticed the old woman tidying up her supplies and grabbing her handbag as if preparing to go home. But she couldn't go home yet. Who would help him with Harry otherwise?

"Where are you going?" he demanded, appalled.

"Clearly this child isn't up to lessons so I shall return home and leave you to tend to him."

"What?!"

"I'm doing the exact same as I did when Lucius and Narcissa tried to foist their collicky eight-week-old onto me. I'm going to leave the parent to do the parenting."

"But...?"

"'But' nothing, Severus, I need to leave you to do this for yourself. Madame Pomfrey is only a fire-call away if his condition worsens." She patted his arm in comfort. "You've cared for your Slytherins when they had fever so this is no different. And you've done so much for the child already. This will be simple by comparison. You'll worry, every parent does, but you'll do fine. And if you both get bored, perhaps you can discuss how you intend to decorate the Manor for Christmas. I mean, really, Severus, we're into December and this place is as festive as the bleakest cell in Azkaban."

Severus could only watch in dismayed shock as Madame Wallace waved him off then floo'ed away through the library's fireplace. He stood there dumbfounded and staring at the fireplace, hoping she would come to her senses and assist him, when the weight in his arms shifted slightly and jolted him into responding.

"Alright, Harry, we can do this," he murmured, more to buoy himself than to reassure the boy in his arms. Harry just mumbled apathetically, burrowing his burning head into his care giver's neck.

After instructing Koosey to bring him various vials from the laboratory, Severus carried Harry up to his bedroom. He rubbed lemon balm on the boy's chest before helping him change into his pyjamas.

"Left my goonie on the knob," Harry mumbled, sleepily from his bed as he cuddled into his teddy. "Want it."

Severus just looked perplexed. "Goonie?"

Harry was speaking but his speech was prone to being rather infantile. He tended to leave syllables out or shorten words in the way a toddler just learning to speak would. Ironically, the silence was easier to deal with than hearing Harry mutilate the English language. At least when a toddler Draco was at that stage, Severus could pass him back to his parents or turn to Narcissa for a translation; there was no such easy solutions this time around. It was all very trying for Severus, who had little patience for pre-school children as it was, and he often had to restrain himself from strangling the boy into speaking properly.

Harry scowled at him, tantrum impending. "Get goonie."

"Yes, your majesty," Severus muttered, irritably as he cracked his fingers in an attempt to divert his own wrath at being ordered around by an insolent eleven-year-old.

Manners and wizarding etiquette would definitely be next on the list for Harry.

There, on the door knob, was Harry's dressing gown, which Severus just assumed was what the boy meant by 'goonie on the knob'. After helping Harry into his dressing gown, he took the child's temperature, which was thirty-eight-and-half degrees Celsius. His heart thudded with an odd strain of worry at the thermometer reading. It was ridiculous, he knew, to feel such panic over a slight fever, but he couldn't shake the sudden anxiety. Ordinarily, had this been one of his Slytherins, he would have been rather blasé about such a temperature, dosing the child with Pepper Up potion and hot honeyed lemon juice before sending one of the senior pupils to ensure all was well.

Why was it so different for Harry?

It was very tempting to gather his charge up and floo him to Poppy, who was far more capable of dealing with this than he was. She had the matronly warmth and familiarity with childhood illnesses to see Harry back to full health. But she'd only prescribe the very same remedies Severus was administering now and he knew it would be more conducive to the boy's health to be in his own environment with his mentor rather than wasting energy worrying on strangers and strange places. Poppy would be there if Harry deteriorated.

Harry moaned softly from his bed. "Don't like feelin' bad."

"I know you don't but I'm going to give you some medicine that will help make you all better." He pulled a chair up beside the bed to sit by his miserable charge. After removing the blankets so Harry was just covered with a light sheet in the hopes this would help bring down his temperature, Severus regarded the boy. "Do you wish me to read you a story?"

"Uh-uh."

"Do you want to colour in?"

"Nah..."

"Would you like to have a sleep?"

"No!"

Whether Harry was sick or not, Severus was starting to lose his grip on his precarious temper. "Then what do you want to do?"

The boy wriggled in his bed for a moment, fiddling with the corner of his covers, before gazing up anxiously. His glasses only served to enhance his solemnity. "K-issy-mus..."

Severus sighed. "You want to talk about Christmas."

Harry nodded.

The winter holidays of Winter Solstice and Muggle Christmas were never his strongest suits. As a child, Christmas had been just any other holiday where everyone gallivanted around like over-grown four-year-olds indulging in silly Muggle traditions and he was left watching enviously as classmates went home to warm, cosy homes to return for the new term in January ladened with all sorts of goodies. He was lucky if his mother was able to sneak him some sweets but he was certainly never invited home. Now, as an adult, he felt it was too late for him to ever take joy in the festive period. He did make some effort with his Slytherins, buying boxes of chocolates and biscuits to be shared around and allowing the senior pupils to take charge of decorating the common room but, thankfully, his children understood that he would never relish the holidays as Ponoma Sprout or the Headmaster did. They respected that, knowing he made it up to them in other ways.

But Harry was not one of his Slytherins. He was emotionally far younger than any of the First Years and much more needier. There were days when Severus doubted that the boy was aware a full four years had passed since the day that Dursleys' had locked him in his desolate prison at the age of seven. Harry was also a child who had been deprived of every shred of joy for a good decade. He made Severus' early years look a picnic, a damning indictment of the level of the boy's misery indeed. If he wanted to have a proper Christmas, Severus would find it in himself to provide him that much.

Except, from the blank looks on both man and boy, both were as unsure as the other just what a 'proper Christmas' entailed.

"Would you like a Christmas tree?" Severus asked, perplexed

"Uh...ye-es," Harry said, equally as uncertain.

"Okay, what else? Gifts?"

The boy frowned in bewilderment at that. "The...boy...the big boy...he gotted lots an' lots of presents."

For a moment, Severus was puzzled as to who Harry was referring to until it clicked. He was talking about the Dursley boy. The older man held his breath, apprehensive in how to respond. This was the first time Harry had ever acknowledged the Dursleys and his life with them. He decided to let Harry take the lead and determine where this conversation was headed

"Yes, he no doubt did."

"Santa bring-ed them...Why not me?"

Severus sighed. The boy would have been about six years old during the last Christmas he remembered; still young enough to believe in the Muggle foolishness of Father Christmas, Santa Claus or whatever name they tagged the creature. He wouldn't have even been familiar with the myth were it not for Narcissa and Lucius mentioning it when Draco was small. Lucius had shared his despair of how pathetic Muggle ideas were increasingly influencing the wizarding world while Narcissa had snapped to both men that it was fashionable and they had better keep their mouths shut for Draco's sake.

His godson had been eight years old when he proclaimed that he was too old for Santa nonsense. Harry was now eleven, at an age where the cynicism of adulthood should have been starting to claw upon his perceptions of the world. Yet here he sat in the bed, wide-eyed and as innocent as a toddler.

What could Severus say?

He knew the truth was the better option. Not only did he not believe in pandering to his pupils, he had to remember that Harry was not a small child; he was on the cusp of adolescent with a hefty destiny weighing upon his slender shoulders and he had to prepare for that. Feeding his childish delusions was not the right path for him. But who was Severus to deny this boy some semblance of childhood? Harry had lost a decade of his youth, years he could never claim back. He had only five-and-a-half more years of treasured childhood left, and his guardian was going to fight for his right to at least enjoy some of it. Voldemort, Dumbledore and the Order be damned...There would be plenty of time for the realities of adulthood in the years to come. In fact, if Severus' suspicions proved correct, Harry's dark path to adulthood would begin the moment he put on a Hogwarts uniform.

Severus put his hands on the boy's shoulders then prepared to weave a lie worthy of any spy. "Well, Harry, San...Santa," he bit back a wince of disgust at the name, "needs an adult to tell him how many children are in the house if he is to deliver presents. He is a generous man but he isn't a psychic."

"That why we writ-ed him letters?"

"Ah...yes." Normally, he would have been irritated at such naivety from a charge in his care but today he was just relieved to see Harry taken in by his make-shift story. "That is exactly why children write him letters. It not only allows him to know what the child wishes for but lets him know where the child lives. Your...They never wrote a letter for you or told him that you lived there so he didn't know. He couldn't help you."

Harry chewed his lip, lost in thought. "I wish-ed for Santa to come...I wish-ed for him or the Tooth-y Fairy to come."

There was a long silence as Harry wallowed in defeatism and his foster father struggled to comprehend what it must have been like to be a seven-year-old child praying for fictional characters to save him from his desperate plight. Not for the first time, he wished he could have joined Moody on his little rampage to number four, Privet Drive.

Severus cupped the boy's cheek gently. "I came, Harry. And I'm going to make sure that you have a Christmas fit for a king. Now try to sleep, give the medication a chance to work on your cold while I work on some plans."

He settled the child into a lying position, tucking his teddy bear by his side before drawing the covers high against his chin. He brushed the unruly black hair from Harry's forehead in a rare gesture of physical affection before standing to leave the room and allow the boy to rest.

As Severus was leaving, Harry called out to him, "Sev-rus?" The man turned and found himself mesmorised by the beatific smile lighting up the boy's features. "I like you."

Severus sighed in a much-put-upon-way...then grudgingly murmured back, with a faint smile, "I like you too, Harry."

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Severus sneezed. His nose crinkling and his lip curling as he was pervaded by the overwhelming scent of cinnamon and pine. He glared around his drawing room, which now resembled less a Pureblood domain and more a shrine to a Muggle Christmas grotto for that Santa creature. The past two weeks had been spent consulting Narcissa and Minerva on what constituted a 'proper Christmas' and this was the result.

A huge Christmas tree, heaving with decorations and the trunk swallowed by masses of lovingly-wrapped presents, graced a corner of the drawing room with miniature trees dotting practically every other room of the manor. Tinsel lined the mantelpiece where four large red stockings hung over the fireplace. The House Elves had gone overboard when at being let loose to decorate the manor; their joy a mixture of having been denied this treat for all their time with the Snape family and an attempt to make up to Harry the years of neglect.

Quite honestly, all these frivolities were giving Severus a tension headache but, whenever the need to rage at how Christmas was dominating his personal space, he bit his tongue as he regarded his young charge. Harry was positively revelling in the festivities. And there were also practical positive attributes. The boy's speech was coming along wonderfully as he bursting to share his thoughts on everything associated with Christmas, from presents to the tree, while he threw himself into his school work when Madame Wallace tailored her sessions into Christmassy themes.

Very quickly, Christmas Eve came upon them and excitement from Harry and the House Elves twitched in the air. At present, Mr Oates had taken Harry sledging on the grounds of the Manor to run off some of his childish excitement thus allowing Severus to savour the short period of child-free peace. While Harry had cunningly wormed a place into his heart, it was a delight to sink into his favourite chair in the library with a mug of liquour coffee and a pile of the latest Potions journals without having to keep an eye on little hands touching things they shouldn't or answering endless 'why' or Christmas questions with a fixed smile that hid a barely retained temper.

He sighed in contentment as he took a sip of his coffee. And then, as was the story of his life, something just had to give...

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"Wait! Don't kill me!"

Severus had been engrossed in an article in a German journal when he stood up sharply as the floo alarm chimed to warn that someone was accessing the floo connection to the library. The Manor and its grounds were heavily warded as was the floo connection into the estate. Few wizards could easily penetrate his carefully conceived wards and there was only four people- Dumbledore, Minerva, Lucius and Madame Wallace- who by-pass his defences in order to floo in.

And he had not been expecting any of those four to visit today.

Leaping up, he swiftly whipped his wand out while grabbing for an ornamental yet still deadly sword that hung on the wall above. Wand in his right hand, a rapier in his left and a dark spell already envisioned in a mind prepared to do whatever it took to protect his young charge and his home, Severus was left dumbfounded when, of all people, Remus Lupin stumbled out of the floo fire, hands wide-spread to show he was unarmed. The years since leaving the pampered confines of Hogwarts had evidently not treated him well as he was dressed in rather frayed robes and looked rather aged for a man barely into his thirties but this was definitely Remus Lupin.

Coward. Bully. Werewolf.

For a brief moment, Severus just gaped at him in shock. Then, as memories of a tormented adolescence cascaded over him, he brought his wand up once more. How dare this creature enter his home. "Confri-"

"Wait, Severus!" Lupin pleaded.

It took every shred of control to not blast Lupin right there and then but clearly his exploits in parenting was having some effect on him as he was able to reel back his rage slightly. "What the hell are you doing here?!" he demanded, surging forward with his sword to the point where the tip touched Lupin's chest lightly. "Who told you how to get pass my wards?"

Lupin appeared to be on the brink of tears. "Please, Severus, I just wanted to see Harry for Christmas. He's all I've got." H is voice dropped to a near whisper, his pain evident in his words. "I owe it to James and Lily."

Severus just sneered. "So you just came sniffing around because of some pathetic loyalty to Potter?" He conveniently forgot that just a few months ago, he too was quick to compare Harry to his father. "The boy neither needs nor wants you. He had enough 'help' from his father's friends ten years ago."

"Don't bring Sirius Black into this," Lupin spat back. "I hate him too; probably more than you ever will. I-"

"Sev-rus, I builded a snowmen!"

The two men turned to see Harry scampering in to stand in the doorway. The child was dressed in a thick cloak, dark winter robes and snow-encrusted boots, his hair tousled from where he had pulled his hat off and cheeks rosy red from a mix of the cold and boyish exuberance.

The boy paled, his grin fading as he realised that his guardian was not alone. "Sev-rus?" he murmured plaintively.

"Harry?" Remus made a move to go forward to the boy, which Severus quickly aborted by pining him in place non-too-gently with his rapier tip.

"Stay," Severus ordered before throwing his sword down and turning full attention to Harry.

His only concern now was for Harry, a child who was so emotionally fragile and still required to be handled with great care and thought. The last thing his young charge needed was for this buffoon to blunder up to him. Harry still barely tolerated the Headmaster's touches of affection let alone be prepared for what was likely to be some grand display from Lupin.

He slowly backed away to stand by the wide-eyed boy's side, placing a hand on a slender shoulder. "Harry, this is Lupin.

From a sideway's glance, he noted Lupin's astonishment at his soft tones. The idiot clearly had no concept of what it meant to raise a child like Harry. To Severus' surprise, Harry stood his ground by his foster father's side instead of hiding behind him as expected. Pride in the boy swelled within Severus. For one who had experienced so much horror and had every right to live in terror, Harry trusted him enough to protect him from a potential threat.

"My name is Remus Lupin," Lupin simpered in a rather patronising tone. "I knew your mummy and daddy when we were all children at school. We met when we were the same age as you are now."

Severus smirked at the dark glare Harry shot him, as the boy clearly took his cue from his guardian, and Lupin was suitably taken aback that such a angelic looking child could muster such a glower. Let the werewolf know what rejection was like; if he thought he could waltz into Harry's life and start playing the father role then he had another thing coming...

"Koosey?" Snape called. The House Elf popped before him. "Please help Harry clean up before supper." Koosey nodded and took the boy's hand. However, Harry resisted and turned questioning eyes to Severus. "It's okay, Harry. I'm going to deal with this then I shall join you soon."

"'Kay," the boy said, before allowing the House Elf to lead him away, carefully maneuvering themselves around Lupin so he was never within reach of them.

"So it's true?" Lupin asked, once the pair were gone. "What Dumbledore said about what the Muggles did to him? He looks so little for his age. James was much taller at eleven."

"Why are you here?" demanded Severus, ignoring the other's concerns.

"I want to help. I heard from Dumbledore and I wanted to help Harry. He *is* like a nephew to me."

"The last I heard was that Potter had cut you off."

Lupin's eyes darkened, bitterly "That was Sirius spewing hate into James' head to turn him from me. All so he could betray them to their deaths..."

"Where were you ten years ago?"

This was what Severus never understood. If that were Lucius and Narcissa in the place of the Potters, he would never have left Draco to the hands of Muggles and Dumbledore's wishes be damned. He would have kept his godson close and killed anyone who dared to harm him. Maybe that was the difference between Gryffindors and Slytherins; the former talked about loyalty while the latter quietly demonstrated their devotion to those close.

Now Lupin turned away, shame-faced. "I admit that was a mistake. I was too lost in my own grief to think."

"So you scuttled around like a beggar for a decade and now turn up, for what? What makes you think Harry needs your help, werewolf?"

"Better a werewolf than a Death Eater," he spat back.

Severus' dark eyes slit back then he took a breath and calmed. "Touche."

There was silence for a long moment. "Look," Lupin sighed.,"I know we were shites at school. But that was then. Don't you think I don't know that if I'd been braver, if I'd had more courage then I had the power to get Sirius expelled. Maybe then, James and Lily would have been here to protect Harry and poor Peter would be alive with perhaps a family of his own. Don't you think I think of that every single day? That if I had been there for Harry as a baby then he would be well now. Hindsight is everything."

And there is was, the reason why Severus had not thrown Lupin off his property straight away. Since Harry had come into his life, his priorities were not only about healing the child's past but planning for his future. Along those visions of Harry in his school robes and mentoring him as a Potions Apprentice when adulthood approached was the reality of who this boy was and the lurking threats lying in wait for him. As much as he was trying to arm Harry with the knowledge to protect himself and as much as he would lay his life down for his foster son, he was but one man. Like it or not, Harry needed allies.

Even an ally as wretched as Lupin.

"You may come for Christmas lunch."

Lupin blinked in astonishment at his sudden magnanimous mood. "How do I know you won't change the wards?" he asked, suspiciously.

Perhaps Lupin was not as thick as he seemed. Severus regarded the down-trodden man before him. His robes were, though clean, were tattered and hardly warm enough for the winter months. He was weary and lean in a manner that was not down to being naturally slender but rather due to poor diet. Deep within, Severus felt a sliver of pity for his former school rival. Was this what parenthood did to a person?

After a long, considering pause, he replied, "You may stay in the barn until tomorrow afternoon."

To his credit, Lupin did not ask about being accommodated in the manor. Yes, he had twenty bedrooms but he had no intention of being overly-hospitable to a man who played a role in making his own childhood a misery. As it was, the barn made for modest but comfortable digs with a bed, a small bathroom with running water and heated snugly by a fireplace (one with protected access to the Floo system). In decades gone by, it had been more of an out-house that once homed the head gardener of Snape Manor. Now the House Elves and Mr Oates were all that remained of the estate's help and the barn was used as storage.

"Thank you, Severus. Thank you very much. You won't regret this for a minute. And Harry, I can't wait to give him my gift. I've got ten years of presents to make up to him!"

Severus swiftly moved forward, cutting off Lupin's pathetic words of thanks. He hauled the other man up by the lapels of his robes, throwing him up against the wall and drawing his wand up under his chin. "Listen good, Lupin. I'm not Dumbledore. I don't give a hoot about so-called Gryffindor chivalry. We saw how well that held true on Halloween of '81. Heed me on this, werewolf, if I ever believe for one second that you are a threat to me and mine, I will kill you."

Oddly, Lupin relaxed at those words. "Good...I wouldn't want you to do any less to protect Harry."

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Minerva had been expecting the firecall from the moment Albus gave Remus Lupin the key to accessing through the formidable wards of Snape Manor, and that evening it came. However, it started in a rather pleasant manner when it was a giggly little voice who first greeted her.

"'Ello, 'Fessor Gon-all!"

She smiled widely at Harry's greeting, watching in amusement as the boy gazed excitedly around. He had come so far in these few months; it was not so long ago when he would tremble in fear at the slightest sign of magic and now he was using the Floo system with the glee of a typical wizarding child making their first firecall.

"Hello Harry," she said, warmly, "are you all ready for Christmas?"

"Yes! Santa comes tonight, gonna leave presents." He seemed to reach out, entranced by the idea of communicating via a fire. "This is fun! Buzzy in my head!"

"It does give one's head a rather odd sensation."

"Gonna hang my stocking up." He turned and murmured behind him. "Sev-rus wants to talk now. Bye-bye!"

"Goodbye, Harry, have a nice Christmas." The child's cheery face pulled away, replaced by his guardian's scowling countenance and Minerva's mood sobered in response. "Good evening, Severus."

"Did you not think you should have asked me, Minerva?" Severus snapped, clearly struggling to keep his voice civil.

"It wasn't my decision." She knew that was a poor defence and Severus knew it too.

"But you knew and you said nothing. Instead, you left me to be surprised by that pathetic fool bursting onto my property this afternoon."

"Is he...well?" Minerva asked, cautiously.

This drew a smirk from the young man. "I restrained myself from killing him, if that's what you're asking." He sighed. "I had a right to know."

And he did. Not only should his personal history with Lupin have been considered, so too should his role as father-figure in Harry's life. Harry Potter was, for all intents, his child now and it was his prerogative as to who the boy mixed with. That was the price Albus agreed to pay in return for his saviour being nursed to health yet how easily he forgot. This was one of the times when she wondered if the Headmaster forgot that these were flesh and blood children (and yes, she counted Severus and Remus as children just as she did Harry) he was dealing with rather than pieces on a chessboard.

While she had visited Snape Manor on a number of occasions and was fostering an almost grandmotherly relationship with Harry, she was aware of Albus' disappointment that the boy was almost rebuffing his own attempts to culture a bond with the child. Deep down, she wondered if Harry sensed that it was the Headmaster who played some role in his life with the Dursleys or even if he picked up on Severus' carefully hidden resentment of Albus residual from his schooldays.

Whatever the case, she did feel that Albus allowed Remus to contact Harry to have some control.

"I know," she conceded. "I'm sorry..." Of all people, he understood how deceptively the Headmaster could convinced one to see only his perspective. "What did you do?" Severus was silent and Minerva studied him, as carefully as one could through a firecall. "You let him stay, didn't you?" She was both surprised and more than a little impressed. It seemed it was not just young Harry who made much progress.

"I didn't do it for Albus, and certainly not for Lupin," Severus said.

"You did it for Harry."

"War is coming and he needs to have his own army."

For a man who so haunted by his past, he had become quite the futurist during his term in fatherhood. But it was so very true. When she was speaking to Harry, Minerva dearly wished to pretend that he was just Severus' own little boy, innocent and untouched by evil, but this was the Boy Who Lived. They needed to prepare for the turbulent path that likely awaited him.

"You did the right thing," she said.

"We'll see." He studied her for a long moment. "I'm not that pathetic little schoolboy any more, Minerva...I will not slink away quietly should anything happen. Harry comes first, always and no matter what that means to anyone else. You do understand that, don't you."

It wasn't a question, and it was very clear to Minerva what he was conveying in the undertone of his words. Albus and the Order would protect the world but Severus would be the one to protect only Harry. He was finally the advocate that the boy much needed and certainly could have done with from birth. And the twist of worry within her since the day she dropped Harry off at those Muggle creatures' house eased.

"Merry Christmas, Severus," she just replied, knowingly. "You better get that lad of yours to bed."

No, it was not fair to ask Albus to choose between what was best for one little boy born with the misfortune of being a saviour and what was best for everyone else but for Severus, however, there was only one choice as was the case for any father.

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After hanging his stocking on the mantelpiece in the drawing room, Severus managed to usher the over-excited child off to bed. Pulling warmed covers over Harry, it heartened him to see the boy flushed with joy and anticipation of the day ahead. It was a good look on him, and there was something oddly relaxing about enjoying in Harry's happiness and putting aside concerns over Hogwarts, Dark Lords and rehabilitation of traumatised little boys. He would have had to murder Lupin had he succeeded in distressing Harry and ruining this moment for the child.

Still, if the cretin intended to join them for Christmas lunch tomorrow, Severus did need to broach the subject of his appearance and determine Harry's thoughts. Ally or not, it would not do if Harry was unsettled by Lupin.

He perched on the edge of the boy's bed. "What do you think of Lupin coming to lunch tomorrow? Rather like Professor McGonagall does sometimes."

"Don't like him," Harry declared, firmly. "Can't 'Fessor Gon-a-gall come instead?"

Severus bit back a vicious smirk at this. "Oh, and why ever do you not like him? This was the first time you've met him."

"'Cause you don't," was the firm reply, jaw stubbornly set.

Severus was momentarily stunned. He knew that, as primary caregiver, he was a strong figurehead in Harry's life but he had never realised just how easily he could influence a child. With his Slytherins, while he could try to steer them in the right direction in life, they not only had their own families to guide them but they were adolescents with their own budding perspective on life. Even with Harry, whose social development was still on par with an oblivious and self-focused infant school pupil, he had not been aware that the boy was quietly starting to watch him and pick up on cues. It was an admittedly heady feeling to know he could so effortlessly turn Harry against James Potter's thuggish friends (not that he needed much effort when it came to the traitor Black) but he felt the strain of responsibility towards this boy grow yet again.

He was not twelve years old any longer. It was time for him to take the mature role here, even if he did feel a pulse of malicious amusement at the thought of Harry sharing in his loathing of Lupin.

"Harry, you are right. I don't like Lupin. But I want for you to decide for yourself how you think of him. It's very important that you make up your own mind over what you do and do not like."

"Why?"

Why was nothing ever easy? Did Molly Weasley have these questions or did her red-headed brats just pop out perfect, requiring no ethical dilemmas?

"Because you are Harry, you are your own person. You have your own thoughts that you are allowed to have. We won't always agree on the same things...but that will never change that you are my boy. Do you understand?"

Harry chewed thoughtfully on his teddy's ear. "Think so." He then blinked solemnly up at him, bright green eyes wide with hero-worship. "But I wanna be just like you."

If Severus was astounded before, he was rendered utterly flabbergasted at the overwhelming idolising tone of the boy's words.

He gazed tenderly at his young charge. "You are going to be a better man than any of us," he said softly, knowing Harry could not comprehend the meaning of his words yet. He tucked the blankets further up to the child's chin. "Now off to sleep. This Santa Claus fellow does not come to boys who are awake."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Remus Lupin clutched his gift for Harry protectively in front of him like a shield as he was led by one of Severus Snape's House Elves through Snape Manor into the drawing room where the festivities were being held. The room was wonderfully decorated for the season, with various expensive decorations, stockings lined up along the mantelpiece and a large Christmas tree by the window. Snape- or, more likely, Harry and his House Elves- had clearly put much effort into it.

Severus and Harry were sitting on the floor, surrounded by what looked like the entire contents of a toy shop. There was a rather handsome wizarding chess set by the tree, coloured pencils from a well-stocked art set lay strewn nearby as well as plush teddies and figurines of Merlin, wizarding soldiers. Piles of children's books and boxes of various popular wizarding board games lay open in the midst of torn wrapping paper. While Harry seemed quite taken with a beautifully carved zoo house, complete with tiny wooden figures of both animals and magical creatures charmed to move and make appropriate noises, the boy's hand was firmly latched around what must have been the main present and much yearned for object by every wizarding child: a Nimbus 2000. Snape must have plundered his Gringott's account dry.

Harry paid scant attention to his entrance while Severus sneered up at him. Never before had Remus felt so awkward and unsettled in a situation. He never imagined Harry, after all he had endured, would throw himself into his arms but he had hoped for more of a connection to the infant he once cradled lovingly, particularly when the boy was so clearly the living image of James.

It was disconcerting enough being in what was very much Severus Snape's territory but it was harder still that nothing was going the way he predicted. On hearing the heart-breaking story of the abuse that had befallen James' little boy, he had fully expected to meet a poor little ragamuffin of a child who Snape could barely tolerate. He had plans to take his place in the boy's life, relieving Snape of his burden, and perhaps raise Harry himself at Hogwart. Those assumptions wilted quickly yesterday when he saw Harry and Severus together and he realised that he was very much the outsider here. Harry might have been the UnSorted son of two staunch Gryffindors but Remus had the distinct impression that he had come into the home of two Slytherins and he would have to fight to prove his worth to be allowed to remain.

After a surprisingly comfortable night in what Severus referred to as a barn yet was more luxurious than many places he had been forced to sleep in over the years, Remus was still pondering on what were his host's motivations to even allowing him to stay a single minute on the grounds of the Snape Estate. It was not out of the goodness of Severus' heart yet Remus did not doubt that Harry's welfare was at the core of whatever was behind his reasonings.

He just hoped now that he would gain Snape's permission to stay. And yes, he knew now that when it came to Harry, it was Severus who was taking the lead and not Albus Dumbledore, despite what the Headmaster and the Order might like to believe.

He fidgeted pitifully for a moment, hating that he felt like a pathetic First Year waiting for permission to speak, but it was Snape who finally broke the silence with an almost disappointed, "So you came."

"Eh, yes, wouldn't miss it for the world. Thank you again for the invitation." Remus crouched down in front of Harry. "Hello Harry."

The child's brow furrowed dubiously as he scooted closer to sit practically on Severus's knees. "'Lo," he muttered.

"That's a fine broom you have there. You seem to have many nice presents." Harry's hand tightened possessively on the broom, as if Remus might steal it, and stared mutely at him. Ploughing ahead, Remus plastered a smile on his face for the boy. "Erm, I've also got you a little something." He held his gift out for Harry to take.

Harry glanced at his guardian, who nodded in reluctant approval, then he took the gift. Despite his hesitations, the boy could not hide his delight at being given another gift. He swiftly tore into the wrapping paper to reveal the contents.

"Look it, Sev-rus," he said, holding the present up for perusal with curiously burning in his voice. "What is it?"

"It's a game called 'Wizarding Warriors'. I played it a few times when I was your age." There was a brief nostalgic smile to Severus, likely recalling the few instances of his days at Hogwarts that were not a misery.

'Wizarding Warriors' was best described as a wizarding version of the Muggle board games 'Snakes and Ladders' and 'Monopoly'. Using a dice to determine moves, players had to traverse their 'legion' of seven pieces across the meter squared board, which was littered with perils like tiny fire-breathing dragons and lava pits. One had to be quick to move lest they burn their fingers and lose their pieces! There were challenge cards to add further suspense to a game that was popular with wizards of all ages. It had cost Remus a couple meals to save for it but he was not going to scrimp on his first Christmas with Harry in ten years.

Severus sobered. "What do you say, Harry?"

"Thank you, Lupin," Harry obediently replied.

Remus winced inwardly at how the boy cited him. "You're very welcome, Harry. I hope you like it. And please call me 'Remus'. You know, when you were a baby, you used to call me 'Unca Amoo' because you were too little to say 'Uncle Remus'." At Harry's doubtful look, any illusions he had of Harry referring to him as an uncle withered. "Just...just call me 'Remus'."

"Interesting choice, Lupin," Snape commented, studying the other man carefully.

Remus knew he had surprised him with his choice of gift. Severus had likely expected him to give Harry a frame photograph of James and Lily or a book on being a good Gryffindor. As it was, he had considered the photo idea and decided against it on Minerva's gentle guidance. He was glad he did as it was plainly evident that sadly Harry would have little interest in seeing his parents, for now at least. The boy was quite content with Severus as his father.
Harry, already dazzled by the board game's box, was eagerly laying it up on a large table. "Let's play! Let's play right now!" he demanded of his foster father, pulling him over to the board.

Remus watched wistfully as the pair set up the game, lining up their respective seven mini wizarding warrior pieces opposite each other. Harry was vacillating between childish excitement and solemn concentration as Severus briefly explained how to play.

"Can I play?" he asked, softly. He was still so uncertain about his place in this home and in the life of his childhood friend's only son.

Harry frowned deeply at him for a long moment, glancing

"You can be yellow."

Tentatively, Remus took his place.

End of CHAPTER THIRTEEN- Spirit of the Season


Yes, I do still live! I know it's been quite a while since an update but I am determined to finish this. I did lose interest in HP for a long time but I've always love my fan fiction. Thank you so much for everyone who is still interested and continue to drop reviews. I've changed my pen-name as 'Mel J' is what the story was submitted under on other sites that I've since lost track of so it's easier to change here than everywhere else. I hope this is still up to standards as I am a bit rusty and be warned this chapter hasn't been beta-ed. There is also a wee bit added in Chapter Twelve.

For people worrying about Severus being soft, don't worry. He and Lupin are not going to be best friends running through daisy fields together. Severus will keep him in his place! The next chapter will introduce more people into Harry's life (and, hopefully, will not take six years to come out). Merry Christmas, folks!