Nobody ever asked my birthday

The last practice before Christmas

"Well, Snape, I had a thought," Harry said, trying not to fidget too much, and to remember he wasn't supposed to call Snape sir in front of Malfoy, even if he (deservedly) got in trouble for lack of respect.

"Joy. A Potter has a thought." Snape said this with a perfectly straight face and completely bland affect - a very precise level of biting sarcasm. "How, precisely, does this vanishingly rare state lead to my being summoned by the Matron to the Infirmary, at the cost of several potions I was brewing with care?" Snape's eyes flashed malevolently at Harry. At least I'm not getting lectured on my insolence.

"Since this was the practice before Christmas, I thought that Malfoy, here, might appreciate a valid reason to not return to Malfoy Manor." Harry would have ordinarily tried for a more scheming tone, but - as a Gryffindor surrounded by snakes, he supposed he might as well be bold. Harry trained his green eyes on Snape's dark ones, "It turns out that he's not as ... enthusiastic ... about his homecoming as he was as a child."

Draco nodded, slowly, confirming without necessarily agreeing.

Harry grinned, a tight small thing that bespoke tension without actually revealing it, "I think rules meant for children chafe young men, and that a Christmas spent at Hogwarts will lead to better behavior in the coming semester."

Snape looked down at Harry, "Does this imaginary, if not imaginative thought, apply to you as well?"

Harry nodded, firmly.

Snape smirked, "You may yet get your wish. Now, continue with your story." Harry had to admire how Snape could simply put emphasis to characterize his entire tale as a worthless fabrication.

Harry continued, "We decided to fake a Quiddich injury. Apparently that was cause for a mob of students to rush the Quiddich Pitch."

Snape looked like he wanted to cradle his head in his hands, "I'm surprised there weren't injuries from that fiasco."

Draco Malfoy said, smirking, "Oh, there were. Mostly from the repeated applications of Protego by Potter. Methinks that they're receiving medical treatment from housemates rather than brave the Rampaging Gryffindor in the Infirmary."

Harry blinked, and, soft as a whisper, asked, "Is that what people think?"

Draco Malfoy looked back, and sotto voce, "Well, they do now. Rumors are easy in a vacuum."

Even easier when your friends decide it'll be amusing to start throwing gasoline on the fire. Not that Malfoy knew what gasoline was...

Snape sighed, "Small mercies, I suppose."

Remembering that Snape was in the room, Harry and Draco stared up at his tall form. Then, Snape laced his hands behind his back, and started to pace. "I ought to wring your worthless necks. As if I don't have enough to fix." Snape turned towards them, black eyes flashing, and stomped towards Malfoy's bed, "I ought to ban you from Quiddich." Spinning around (robes flaring), Snape said to Harry, "And that goes doubly so for you."

Snape then turned himself so that he wasn't facing either of them, his hand nearest to Harry clearly flexing, as if he was picturing throttling him. (Harry had quite a few pictures like that imprinted in his own mind. Uncle Vernon was a ... demonstrative man, when it came to punishments.)

"Unfortunately," Snape said with a sigh that sounded like stone, "I am forced to conclude that barring you from the open sky would lead to more scenes such as the one I find myself in tonight. Or worse, you'd decided to make a mungy* muddle out of my Potions Classroom. Again."

"You two will be confined to the hospital wing until the Madam says that you are both fit as fiddles." Snape said firmly. "Malfoy, I suggest you take the time to instill some semblance of manners into Potter."

Harry wanted to sigh at that - if books weren't bad enough, having Malfoy as a tutor... His only consolation was that Malfoy looked even worse.

"Only a Gryffindor could come up with such a cotton-headed plan." Snape snarled, before composing himself. "Mister Malfoy, if in the future, you yearn for the August Halls of Hogwarts so avidly, you had only to ask." Snape paused, and said, "Of course, to ask, you'd need to give... an honest reason."

There was a silence in the room, that seemed to grow bigger and weigh heavier by the second. So many seconds ticked down that Harry lost track of how many there were.

Draco, his face turned toward the floor, offered, weakly, "It's my aunt, sir. She's doing poorly - doesn't seem to recognize me half the time." He looked up at Snape, "She - she gets so mad at me, and her voice makes my skin crawl." Draco Malfoy seemed to shake himself, "If that was all, I would do it, for the glory- but, sir, - she's not mad at me."

Snape gently prompted (and Harry hadn't really thought Snape could do gentle), "Who is she mad at?"

"She calls me Sirius, sir," Draco Malfoy said.

Harry goggled at this, his mind truly baffled. There was, maybe, a slight familial resemblance. Draco's hair was fair as flax, and Sirius' was dark as night. Draco's eyes were some sort of washed out grey (steel, maybe?), Sirius' had been a bright blue.

Snape snapped, "Then you should have come to me. You will spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day at the Manor. After that..." Snape let his voice trail off, "After that, I will request your presence to aid me in a few delicate potions."

Draco's mouth had dropped open. Had he really expected he'd need to bargain further? Knowing the truth was enough of a piece, Harry thought, if truth it was. More likely Draco doesn't want to be around Dark Lord Tom.

Snape continued, "You didn't think it coincidence that I've had your skill in potions bandied about? I'll let a few hints drop to my dear friend Lucius on the matter of a Potions apprenticeship - which will not materialize, but no matter."

"Potter, you really ought to consider not saving your enemies," Snape said in a low drawl. "The line is about forgiving your enemies as the best way to vex them."

Right, I'm in the middle of a conspiracy with two Slytherins, and one of them doesn't know the other is in on it. At least I hope that's the picture, and that they aren't both playing me for fools.

"I'll ... modify ... the word around the castle, so that you two will have been in a scruffy fight. At least you two weren't fighting over the Mudblood." Snape drawled, his eyes carefully trained on them both.

They both sat up straight, and Harry rushed in before Draco could say something... unfortunate. "No fear of that, Snape."

Apparently Draco had time to reconsider what he'd been about to say, because he just let out a low chuckle.

"Were that to be the case, many more than your father would be displeased." Snape hissed to Draco, "Watch your eyes, ward your thoughts, close your ears."

Draco nodded, as if that was a mantra often repeated.

Snape unlocked the doors, and the sound from outside reverberated inward, for only a moment, until Snape stalked out the door. A quiet sort of hush followed him.

Harry just figured that most of the 'wellwishers' (gawkers) had fled.

*Adjective form of munge. Also, apparently a neologism. Why doesn't anyone ever use my words?!

[a/n: Leave a review? Are you surprised that Snape hasn't snapped at being addressed just by his last name?]