“Is anyone home?”
Harry glanced up to see Severus’ head framed in green flames. “Hey. Come on in.” Harry gave a brief wave and went back to tangling with the wrapping paper. “Do you know how this stuff’s supposed to work?” he asked. “So far I’ve managed to decorate most of the kitchen table, the back of a chair, and part of the wall with a nice pattern of blue teddy bears, yet I haven’t managed to get any of it to stick to the actual box. Sometimes I think Wizarding stuff is a lot harder than Muggle stuff.”
Severus ducked under the mantle, then straightened, brushing off his robes. With a flick of his wand, the paper threw itself onto the box and spread over it lavishly. “Busy day, I take it?” he asked, watching Harry now wrestle with a bow.
“A bit busy,” Harry replied, snapping his wand and snipping the ribbon. “Albus Severus’ birthday, you know,” he added in a hushed voice. “Don’t forget; the party starts at noon.”
“Ah, yes. Where is the little . . . rapscallion?”
Harry grinned. He knew Severus would probably like to use stronger language, especially considering what Al had done to his shoes last time Severus visited, but he also knew that Al was Severus’ favourite, and probably the only kid on earth who could have got away with what he’d done. Plus, rapscallion had three syllables and could be said with fine cynicism, which Severus always enjoyed.
“He’s in the other room,” Harry said. “Want to come say hi?”
Severus followed Harry into the front room, where Al was putting a stack of blocks together in a sort of sulky way.
“Where are the other little monsters?”
“With their mother, decorating the Burrow,” Harry said. “Thank Merlin. James is just getting over the Dragon Pox and Lily spit mashed peas in my hair this morning. Say hello, Al.”
The child ignored them completely.
“Happy birthday,” Severus told him gravely, giving a stiff bow.
“If it is a happy birthday, which I doubt,” Albus Severus responded with what Harry felt was rather too much insufferable precociousness--not to mention diction and clarity--for a five-year-old.
“Why on earth would you say it wasn’t?” Harry asked.
“It’s not a very good birthday if you don’t get presents,” Al replied grumpily.
“But you’re going to get presents,” Harry protested. “Remember, when we go to Grammy’s, we’ll have cake and--”
“It’s not a very good birthday if you don’t get good presents,” Al interrupted with lower lip jutting out and a bloody-minded glimmer in his eye.
Harry sigh. “Al, we are not having this discussion again. I’m sure you’ll get all sorts of fun things for your birthday. You’ll probably get a broomstick, and maybe some sweets, maybe some fun games to play--”
“Don’t WANT a broomstick,” Al grumbled. “Don’t WANT sweets. Don’t WANT fun games to play!”
“Do you want a smack on the bottom?” Severus asked, arching a brow.
Al frowned. “I WANT a Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes Action Auror with a Wicked Working Wand!”
Harry and Severus exchanged a glance. This was the one thing in which he, Ginny and Severus (and even Molly) were all in complete agreement. Harry didn’t have a problem with the idea of Al having an Auror toy, as Aurors were people to be looked up to and respected. And he didn’t have a problem with the wand, which after all only shot inflammable little sparks.
It was the fact that, if you poked the Auror in just the right place, it would explode, sending fake blood and little internal organs everywhere. Famously known as “The Awesome Exploding Auror,” it was George’s most daring marketing gamble, and it had paid off in that every single child under the age of twenty thought it was the most brilliant thing ever invented. It had also caused an uproar in the Ministry’s Health and Safety Department on grounds that it was utterly inappropriate for children and anyway, contained too many small parts. George had reluctantly put a warning label on the thing after a three-year-old shoved a kidney so far up her nose she was in St. Mungo’s for almost a week before they could get it out, but beyond that, the whole mess would have to slog through the legal system before some sort of resolution could be reached.
“Sorry, mate,” Harry told his son. “No exploding Aurors for you.”
Albus Severus opened his mouth as wide as it would go and began to emit a wail that rivalled an enraged dragon’s roar in pure decibel output.
Severus shut his eyes with a rather pained expression as Harry flicked his wand and put the boy on mute, then carried him over to the time-out corner, where he continued to pitch an epic fit. “Ah, five glorious years,” Severus said. “And they’ve just flown by.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “He’s been like this all morning. You can watch him for a bit,” he said. “I need a nap.” He headed upstairs as Severus sat on the couch with a long-suffering sigh. “Wake me when he turns eighteen,” Harry added over his shoulder.
Harry came back downstairs about an hour later to find Al sitting contentedly in Severus’ lap, listening in rapture to a fairy story.
“‘Someone’s been sleeping in MY bed!’ Baby Bear squeaked in his tiny little voice. ‘And she’s still there!’
Just then Goldilocks woke up to see three bears surrounding her!”
“Did she run away?” Al asked.
“Nonsense. She broke into someone’s house and ate their food. She’s almost as foolhardy as your father. No, what happened was, Papa Bear said, ‘How dare you burgle our house and use our furniture!’ and Goldilocks replied, ‘Less stratified economies are more socially just! The rich exploit the poor and gain unfair benefits, and thus wealth should be redistributed in order to create a more egalitarian society. I was merely enacting distributive justice. Down with the bourgeoisie!’ Can you say bourgeoisie?” Severus asked Al.
“Oh, Merlin,” Harry groaned. “Is this what you teach my kid when I’m not around?”
Severus shrugged, a smirk playing at the edges his mouth for a moment. “Your former mother-in-law is convinced I have some sort of vast, evil scheme to corrupt you all and that I’m teaching him how to engage in sadomasochistic carnal relations with an adult homosexual. She should be gratified that I’m only instructing him in a nonsensical mishmash of communist and socialist policies and buzzwords.”
“Nonsense. Anyway, if I had an evil plan, it’s clearly working. Both you and Albus Severus are using multisyllabic words with regularity. You’re nearly able to carry a whole conversation without pointing and grunting.”
Harry bent to kiss his temple. “I have to admit it’s actually kind of useful. When I have the vocabulary to call someone an ill-nurtured, chicken-chucking reprobate, I feel a lot better and don’t actually feel the need to hex anyone by the time I’m done.”
“Chicken-chucking?” Severus looked amused. “I don’t recall using that one, at least not on a regular basis.”
Harry laughed. “You also taught me to be creative.”
“As the feathered nipple clamps hidden in the closet amply testify,” Severus acknowledged.
Harry glanced at the clock. “It’s party time. Are you ready?”
“Are you certain you want me to attend?” There was a suggestion of tension to Severus’ shoulders; Harry wasn’t sure whether it was because he expected Harry to say yes or because he expected Harry to say no. Harry and Ginny’s divorce had been final just over a year ago, and after running into Severus in a bookshop they’d been easing into a relationship ever since, but this would be the first time Snape spent any appreciable time with Harry’s ‘extended family,’ such as they were.
The divorce had been amicable and Ginny was not an issue, but sometimes her mother got a bit . . . over-involved. And she hadn’t taken to Severus at all. She seemed to think he was taking advantage of Harry, and nothing Harry said made a difference.
Harry patted the man’s arm. “Of course I want you to come. You’re an important part of my life. Besides, who’s going to exasperate me if you don’t come along?”
“Any one of your mischievous spawn would probably be sufficient.”
Harry sat beside him, leaning his head on Severus’ shoulder. “No one can exasperate me quite like you.”
Snape snaked an arm around his shoulders. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
Harry straightened indignantly. “It is not. I’ve also told you that I adore you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“That isn’t at all nice. In fact, I find it offensive,” Severus told him.
Harry blinked in surprise. “Why?”
“Because when you’re charming, sweet and attentive, I have nothing to complain of. The only thing that makes me more crabby than having something to complain of is having nothing to complain of.”
“You are a disagreeable old cactus,” Harry said. “Ready for the party?”
“Yes,” said Severus.
“No,” grumped Al.
Harry sighed. “Oh, good. The only thing better than one truculent snot are two truculent snots.”
The Burrow was festively decorated with blue and green balloons, Al’s favorite colours, but he still seemed unwilling to be drawn out of his sullen mood. His Gram planted kiss after kiss on his cheek while he scowled harder and harder.
“What a lovely party,” Pansy Pucey (née Parkinson) told Harry with a very insincere smile.
“Thanks,” Harry said shortly. He still loathed Pansy, but somehow or other her daughter had become close friends with Al, and Harry didn’t want to punish his son (or Pansy’s daughter) by not allowing the children to play together. And anyway, Penny Pucey, the poor girl, was perfectly nice and had not yet shown any signs of being the snake her mother was.
The first thing she did at the party was run up to Al and hand him a piece of parchment. “It’s for your birthday! I wrote it myself!” she said with great pride.
James looked over her shoulder. “That doesn’t say anything,” he said, making a face. “It’s just a jumble of letters.”
“No, it’s not! It’s a birthday card!”
“But it just says, ‘BHtpp AppT yDDaRthppappYdAy.’ Those aren’t even words!”
Penny began to get tearful. “Yes, they are!”
Harry was about to step in, but Snape beat him to the draw. “Let’s see if I can read it. It might be a little advanced for a boy of James’ age,” he said. Severus knelt and took the card from Penny, giving her a gracious nod.
All the children gathered around so they could read over his shoulder. Even Lily toddled over and latched onto Severus’ robes with sticky fingers.
Harry smiled as Severus gave the scribbling a scholarly once-over, rubbing his chin. “It says, ‘Dear Albus Severus: Greetings and felicitations on this happiest of days, from your very good friend, Penny.’”
James rolled his eyes and Teddy Lupin covered his mouth with both hands, trying to smother his laughter, but Penny looked deeply pleased. “Yes! That’s what it says!”
“And it also says, ‘P.S. Down with the bourgeoisie,’” Severus added with brief, waggish smile. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw his ex-wife spit out her punch.
Pansy looked livid. “It doesn’t say THAT,” she snapped.
“Yes, it does! He read it just right!” Penny insisted.
Severus smiled sweetly at the woman. “She should know; she wrote it.”
Fuming, Pansy retreated to the punchbowl.
Ginny hurried over. “Let’s move onto presents,” she said.
At this, Al perked up. There was indeed a new broomstick (albeit one that had training wheels, a saddle and didn’t actually come off the ground) games, and a stuffed dragon from Uncle Charlie.
“And here’s one from Auntie Hermione and Uncle Ron,” Hermione said, pressing a box into her nephew’s hands.
“ACTION FIGURES!” Al yelled as he tore off the paper.
“Er . . . yes, I suppose you could call them that,” Hermione said. “They’re anatomically correct um, ‘action figures’ designed to familiarize the child with their own bodies and those of others in an educational, appropriate and non-offensive way. They didn’t have any girl dolls—um, action figures left though, so I bought two boys. I hope that’s all right?”
“Those aren’t action figures. They’re just dolls,” James scoffed. “They don’t move like the Awesome Auror. They don’t come apart or go up or down or in or out or anything.”
“Mine do,” said Al proudly. “It goes in and out. Look, Aunt Hermione!” And as Hermione looked round, Al picked up his two dolls and fit them together, front to back; took them apart and put them on the ground; and then picked them up again and pushed them carefully together.
“So it does!” said Penny. “It goes in!”
“So it does!” laughed Teddy. “And it comes out!”
“Doesn’t it?” said Harry weakly. “It goes in and out like anything.”
Pansy grabbed Penny and tried to figure out how to use two hands to cover two eyes and two ears. “Don’t look—don’t look, Penny!”
“I’m very glad,” said Hermione in a high, thin voice, “that I thought of giving you useful . . . action figures.”
But Al wasn’t listening. He was taking the little men apart, and putting them back again, as happy as could be...
Molly Weasley was so puffed up, red and trembling that she looked ready to burst. “Severus,” she growled.
Severus looked at her in surprise. “This wasn’t my fault,” he protested. “There’s never any ‘in and out’ around Albus Severus, of that I can assure you.”
Al lifted one figure into the air. “Down with the bourgeoisie!” he cried.
“Now that was my fault,” Severus concluded with an air of smugness.
Molly Weasley let out an inarticulate cry. Ginny put her arm around her mother and led her away. “Let’s just cut the cake, mum,” she said.
“Why aren’t you more concerned about your son’s language?” Molly demanded.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “The bigger a fuss you make, the more often he’ll say it. If he knows it’ll get a reaction, he’ll have it memorized and fling it around all the time.”
Harry picked up his son. “Uh, so, what exactly are your action figures doing?” he asked with trepidation.
“Wrestling,” Al said promptly.
“Wrestling? Ah, good. Yes. Wrestling,” said Harry. “They’re very nice action figures,” he said, examining one. There wasn’t any hole, as such, but there was a little male organ, and it had fit quite nicely between the other doll’s thighs. “And what do we say to Auntie Hermione?”
“Thank you!” Al chirped, going right back to thrusting the two men together.
“Maybe you shouldn’t . . .”
“Don’t stifle his creative activities,” Severus suggested. “Like your wife said, it’ll only make it seem taboo and therefore more appealing.”
Harry sighed. “Want some cake, Al?”
“YES!” the boy shouted. Harry set him down and he promptly dropped his new toys and ran to find his mother.
“I think cake is in order for everyone,” Hermione said.
“Yeah, cake and firewisky,” Ron agreed, leading his wife to the kitchen.
Severus picked up the dolls. “You have to admit, they are educational.”
“Uh-huh. I don’t know if Mrs. Weasley would describe them as inoffensive, though,” Harry pointed out.
“Well, it was a good party, at any rate. Want to . . .?” Severus held up the dolls, wiggling them in a pantomime of gay ragdoll sexual intercourse.
Harry laughed and kissed him. “Let’s wait until we get home to wrestle,” he said.
From the kitchen, they heard Penny Pucey yell, “Down with the bourgeoisie!” followed by an even more surprising, “Let me eat cake!”
“SEVERUS SNAPE!” Pansy roared.
Snape sighed. “Oh, bother.”