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The Jingtingler's Waltz

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The Jingtingler's Waltz: A Christmas Tale in Three Steps


by asecretchord




 

Downbeat

"It's mine!" Roxanne screeched and yanked the jumper out of her cousin's hands.

"No, it isn't!" shouted Rose as she screwed her face up in preparation for a nerve-shattering shriek. "Mum! Mum! Rox has my jumper and she won't give it back!" She pulled hard, wrenching the mauve jumper back out of Roxanne's hand, and leapt to her feet. She ran through the room, tripping over Dominique's house built of Exploding Snap cards.

"Hey!" she yelled and started to cry. Three of the cards exploded with a bang and woke Louis, finally asleep in the cradle after a long afternoon spent howling. Whilst Ginny was attempting to calm a badly frightened Frank, Harry went to rescue Louis, picking him up and rubbing his broad hand gently over his back.

Molly the Elder was attempting to mediate the squabble between Rose and Roxanne, whilst in the corner of the overcrowded room Little Fred was accusing his uncle Ron of cheating at wizard's chess. A crash sounded from the kitchen and Molly ran to see what needed rescuing, leaving Rose and Roxanne to resume their battle.

Apparently thinking that the house could use a little more Christmas cheer, Charlie flipped on the wireless and Celestine Warbeck's voice dared the glass in the windows to remain in one piece. Draco's voice soared in drunken harmony and Charlie exacted his retribution by tickling his husband; and Draco began screaming with laughter.

Bill rose from one end of the sofa to put Rose and Roxanne on time-out and rescue Lucy from Teddy's teasing whilst Louis' wailing climbed in pitch right along with Celestine. The baby was so worked up that he sicked up all over Harry, who promptly passed him over to an unsuspecting Arthur. "Take him so I can get cleaned up," begged Harry.

The smell of baby sick twisted Severus Snape's stomach into knots. Swallowing heavily, he slipped from the chair where he'd taken refuge when the post-pressie madness had begun to go stand in the corner furthest from the noise. Heated voices spilled forth from the kitchen: Molly and Fleur were engaged in another epic battle over gravy. He watched with no small sense of agitation as Harry vanished up the stairs, and took a step backwards into the shadows to soothe his jangling nerves.

He just couldn't do it anymore, couldn't face yet another "friendly discussion" conducted in granite-edged tones at the dinner table between Neville, Hermione and Draco, whilst their respective spouses hid their dismay behind tight smiles. Couldn't pretend to take refuge with Molly and Arthur whilst Harry and Ron escaped to the children's table, ostensibly to supervise their antics, but mostly it was to avoid the bickering. Couldn't listen to one more ear-splitting shriek without hexing someone senseless.

This was their eighth Christmas together, his eighth Christmas of struggling to rein in his temper and trying for Harry's sake to fit in with the ever-growing Weasley brood. This year, Ginny was pregnant with her third and had elevated waspishness to an art form. As a consequence, Neville was doing his best to deflect the worst of his wife's temper, but he and Neville got along like chalk and cheese.

Severus felt eyes upon him and looked around to find Frank Longbottom staring in his direction, book in one hand, blanket in the other. His lip was quivering and tears still stained his cheeks, but his mother was busy with baby Algernon. No, he was not going to be coerced into reading another wretched nursery story to the little urchin. He placed a finger over his lips, turned on the spot and Apparated soundlessly, vanishing without a word to anybody.

~*~


Second Beat

The turkey came out of the oven, the ham was nearly done and the roast beef had barely cooked to rare by the time the children quieted enough to be heard over the din. Arthur and Charlie disappeared with Bill and Percy into the kitchen to open wine and help Molly with the hundred different things that needed to be done before the meal could be served and for a moment, the Burrow was merely noisy.

Harry turned towards Severus' chair to ask what he wanted to drink with dinner, but the smile died on his face when he saw that it was empty. "Severus?" He glanced around, but it became apparent that Severus wasn't in the room. His brow furrowed as he checked the kitchen, the dining room and the downstairs loo, only to discover that Severus wasn't in any of those places.

"Ron, have you seen Severus?" he asked quietly, not wanting to bring attention to the fact that his partner was missing.

Ron looked up from the chessboard and glanced into the corner where Severus usually sat. "Not there?" His blue eyes travelled over the room, seeing clusters of people in their usual configurations, but no Severus Snape. "No idea, mate. Maybe he ran upstairs for something?"

"He disappeared," said Frank solemnly, watching his uncles with the same reserve Neville had shown during his first year at Hogwarts.

Harry crouched down so he was eye-level with his nephew. "What do you mean, 'he disappeared'?"

"He was in the corner and then he wasn't," replied Frank. "I don't know where Uncle Sev'rus gone."

"Went," corrected Neville. He unfolded his lanky frame from his chair and walked over to where Harry knelt with Frank. "But if it helps any, I haven't seen Severus for the last half hour or so. I figured he'd gone for a walk or something, but now I'm not so sure."

"It's okay, Frankie," said Harry with a reassuring smile. "I think Uncle Severus needed some quiet time." He dropped a kiss on the top of Frank's auburn hair and resisted the urge to sigh when Frank made a beeline for the safety of his daddy's arms. Frank had reached the stage when he was cautious around people he didn't see regularly, which included Harry, but oddly enough, not Severus.

"If he disappeared, then he probably Apparated," said Neville, "instead of travelling by Floo, though I didn't hear anyone leave. Does that help any?"

"Not really," said Harry as he came to his feet. "But thanks anyway. I'll just nip over to the house and see if he's gone home. Tell Molly not to hold up dinner for us, will you?"

Neville's dark eyes filled with concern. "Is everything alright, Harry? Between you and Severus?"

Harry's smile was open and utterly without guile. "We're fine, Neville. This is as hellish for Severus as it's heavenly for Arthur and Molly, and I know he does it for me. There's nearly thirty people here and a good third of them are under the age of eight. Two of them are babies and Louis is no one's idea of easy." His lips curved upwards in an easy grin. "Thank Merlin that Algie thinks sleeping is the best thing ever."

"Go on home, Harry. I'll make your excuses."

"There may not be any to make," replied Harry, "but I'll send a Patronus if I won't be back." He strode over to the fireplace and tossed some Floo powder on the flames. "Half-blood Prince," he murmured as the fire carried him away.

The lights were off in their front room. The curtains were drawn and the house had that sad, sorry air that hours upon hours of vacancy brought. A single bulb flickered in a lamp left on in the kitchen, but the hob was cold and Severus' favourite teacup still lay upside down in the drainer.

A quiet thump on the nearby sideboard caught Harry's attention and he moved through the kitchen and into the dining room where Xerxes rumbled out a purr at seeing him. "Hey there," he said as he picked the cat up and cradled him in his arms. "Is Sev here?" he cooed as his fingers found the spot under Xerxes chin that turned the red-point Siamese into a puddle of contentment. "Hmm? Have you seen him?"

He moved through the house, the cat still nestled against his chest. "Sev? Are you here?" he called as he trotted up the stairs and into their bedroom. The lights were off and the patterned duvet undisturbed. He checked their bathroom and found it empty as well. The library was dark, as were the guest rooms and their shared study.

There was nothing about their house Harry didn't like and he glanced around in contentment before heading back downstairs. It was large enough to feel spacious, but not so big that they felt lost in it. There were picture windows in the primary rooms and sash windows in the bedrooms and bathrooms, which gave it a sense of airiness. Casual area rugs covered walnut floors, except in the kitchen where Severus had insisted on stone. Harry chose the colour, warm caramel, which went well with the pale oatmeal tile counter tops.

He checked the hall closet for Severus' cloak, but its usual hanger was empty. Brow furrowed in consternation, he passed a pair of comfortable wing chairs on his way back to the stone fireplace that nearly always had a fire burning, and the subjects of the photographs that dotted the mantelpiece waved and smiled as usual. Where would Severus have gone?

"Catalypso." Harry stepped back into emerald flames and spun past dozens of fireplaces on his way to Severus' shop on Diagon Alley. That it had a Floo at all had been a point of contention, but it wasn't on the Floo network and was only accessible from their house in Cheltenham and the Burrow, so Harry capitulated and Severus was able to move easily from laboratory to home without bringing the flotsam and jetsam of potions production along with him.

The shop was as empty as the house. No malodorous fumes rose from the brewing stations in the back and the stasis charms that protected the inventory set out for display were undisturbed. Harry cast a couple of detection spells, hoping that his magic didn't set off any protective enchantments Severus might have set, but there was no sign of his partner here, either.


Severus was meticulous and predictable, though he would be loath to admit it, and those were amongst the qualities Harry admired most. He always put his cloak in the closet. He always fixed a pot of tea when arriving home. He always gave Xerxes a treat and set his toy mouse on the newel post at the foot of the stairs for the cat to find. Xerxes never pulled it down until he'd had the requisite amount of attention from his people, so it should have still been there. There had been no sign any of those things had taken place, so Harry put their house back at the bottom of his list.

Harry paced up and down the Herbaceous aisle, scrubbing his hand over his face as he worked out where Severus might have gone. The shop was clean and orderly, though someone who knew Severus well would see signs of Harry's influence. A box of Chocolate Frogs sat near the antique cash register. There were packets of flavouring ingredients that would make certain potions taste better.

Most important, there was a photograph of the two of them walking with their arms slung around each other under the eaves of a sprawling maple tree hanging on the wall next to Severus' business license. Ginny had taken it early in their relationship as proof that they belonged to each other. He glanced at it as he approached the near end of the aisle and he knew where he had to go.

~*~


Upbeat

Harry materialised in the orchard with a sharp crack, startling a nesting pair of doves into flight. He strode over to the old walnut tree that marked the centre of the orchard and walked around it, surprised that Severus wasn't there. They'd reconciled under that tree after a particularly horrible argument that nearly crushed Harry's soul and they'd each ended up under it a time or two when they needed a moment of solace.

Pale light streaming from the shed caught Harry's attention and he headed in that direction. Could Severus have taken refuge there? It was quiet, Harry would give him that, but it was also dusty and cluttered, a jumbled mess of Muggle devices Arthur had disassembled to find the magic hidden inside. It was the sort of place that made Severus' skin crawl.

Harry found Severus sitting in Arthur's chair with his left foot propped up on a box. His boot was off and the leg of his trousers was rolled up to the knee. Severus had a book in his lap and a makeshift bandage oozing blood was wrapped tightly around his foot and ankle. "Are you alright?" cried Harry in alarm. He dashed to Severus' side, pulling his wand and falling to his knees the instant he arrived.

"I will recover," replied Severus in a subdued voice. "I apologise for my hasty departure. I requ—"

"It was bedlam in there," interrupted Harry, his worried eyes searching Severus' face. "I'm sorry it took me so long to work out where you'd gone." He unwrapped the bandage and gasped. An angry red line bisected Severus' foot and ran clear up to his knee. Blood streamed from the top of his foot, his ankle, and spots along his shin where Severus' attempts at healing himself weren't up to the task. "Did you Splinch yourself?" he asked in amazement.

Severus nodded as Harry rose quickly to dig through the shelves for the dark green fishing tackle box he knew resided on there somewhere. "Accio first aid kit," he said when his first search proved to be fruitless. The box sailed from the opposite corner and Harry dug out the Essence of Dittany and a blood replenishing potion just in case. "What happened?"

"I was not determined enough to leave," replied Severus as he reached out to touch Harry's cheek. "I found myself wanting to go home, but realised in that moment that home is wherever you are. Thus I found myself in the orchard, Splinched. I came here because I couldn't go in there." He shuddered as he envisioned the chaos that would have ensued had he walked back into the Burrow bleeding.

Harry paused his ministrations and caught Severus' hand to press a kiss to its palm. "I know the only reason we come here is because of me, but we don't have to, you know. We can stay home at Christmas."

"And take you from your family?" Severus shook his head. "I could never do that to you, nor will I." His lips curved slightly into a small smile, one that never failed to melt Harry's heart.

Harry felt his cheeks warm slightly as Severus wrapped strands of his hair around his fingers, and he turned his attention back to repairing the damage done to Severus' leg. "We're at the Burrow often enough, and the others are happy to come visit us at home. I know you don't enjoy being around kids—"

"No," said Severus sharply. "I don't enjoy being surrounded by a noisy mob. Did you truly not notice that Frank spent the better part of the day in my lap? Or that little Molly desired my help with her puzzle and received it?"

"I thought you'd been coerced," said Harry lightly. "That's how it usually works." He smoothed the Dittany into Severus' skin and cast some healing charms. "It might not hurt to have Draco take a look at this. I'm a fair hand at the rudimentary stuff, but he's the professional."

"I would like to marry you and submit the application."

Harry froze and he swallowed heavily. Marriage and the possibility of expanding their family was something they had agreed to disagree about. Striving for a light tone he said, "Did Charlie happen to say something to you? Or Fleur perhaps?" He kept his attention on Severus' leg, his fingers massaging the Dittany into his lacerated skin, but he couldn't disguise their trembling no matter how hard he tried.

"Is it impossible to believe I would agree to marriage without being strong-armed by family, no matter how well-intentioned they are?" said Severus, still sifting strands of Harry's black hair between his fingers.

There was an oddly distant tone to Severus' speech, one Harry had not heard before, and it gave him pause. He looked up and studied Severus' expression, taking in the slight wariness of his eyes, the firm set to his lips, the downward tilt to his head, the signs of fear so subtle another man might not have noticed them. This mattered to Severus and Harry wanted to know what changed. "You've turned me down more times than I care to think about."

"Enough that you no longer ask."

"You've made your position clear," said Harry, bending over the wound. "You've no use for marriage and don't see why we should bother with it." He regarded their disagreement as a generational thing; marriage between two men was unthinkable when Severus was his age. They'd made the necessary legal arrangements and Harry had given up swaying Severus to his side. "That's never changed how I feel about you."

"Nor I you," replied Severus, his dark eyes smouldering. "But I fear I must admit I missed the message, Harry. You said you wanted a family; I said you already had one."

Harry stood up and straddled Severus' lap, lacing his fingers behind his partner's neck. He smiled as Severus rested his hands at the peak of his hipbones and he leaned forward to press his lips against Severus'. "Mmmm. I love your kisses. Always have."

"That was hardly a kiss—and you're trying to change the subject. As delightful as I find you..." Harry arched a brow. "...and your kisses, I will not be swayed."

"A shame, that," murmured Harry before settling himself against Severus' chest and kissing him again.

"I am attempting to propose to you, you impudent whelp. The very least you could do is pay attention."

"I am paying attention," protested Harry as he nibbled at the corner of Severus' mouth. "And I'm trying to follow that convoluted nonsense you try to pass off as logic. But I'd rather kiss you senseless."

"If you do not accept my proposal, then it is my learned belief we will be turned down by the Wizarding Children's Services division of the Welfare of Magical Families Committee, thus ensuring we will never be declared suitable adoptive parents."

Harry rested his hands on Severus' shoulders and locked eyes with him. "Don't tease me about that, Severus," he whispered fiercely. "I can handle anything you throw at me, but not that."

Severus' hands came up to frame Harry's face. "Then you are not hearing me. I already said I would sign the papers. When I Splinched myself I realised I want to be wherever you are.—"

"You said that," continued Harry in an awestruck whisper.

"And it finally occurred to me that you did not mean that you wished to start a family with me and ignore the one you have, but that you wanted to expand on what we already enjoy."

The mask fell away and Severus gazed at Harry with such love, such adoration, that for a moment Harry couldn't breathe. "When I shut myself away in here, able to hear myself think for the first time today, I realised I could walk back into the house without having to defend my actions, without owing anyone—save you—an apology for needing a moment or two to collect my thoughts.

"Arthur would press a glass of wine into my hand, Bill would apologise for Louis sicking up all over you, Neville would thank me for reading to Frank and Draco would remind me yet again what an idiot I've been for refusing your proposals year after year.

"This is the first time in my life that I've been accepted as I am and I regret it has taken me until now to understand that I am part of this family in my own right and not as an extension of the great Harry Potter."

Harry's eyes were swimming. "Oh, Severus. There's not a person there who doesn't love you—, well, except Angelina and——"

"—and it is of no consequence. She has her reasons. I have mine." Severus searched Harry's face. "Will you marry me, Harry? Now that I've finally come to my senses?"

"I'll leave it to you to tell Molly," whispered Harry against Severus' lips. "That means yes."

-The End-


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