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Twenty-fifth of December – Pencil crayons

25th december

Harry stretches awake, reaches up to ruffle his sleep-flattered hair and lets out a hiss of pain. His eyes fly open in surprise and he looks around dazedly at the blurred colours of the dormitory and then at Draco, who seems to be regarding him with interest from just inches away.

“What’s the matter?”

Harry touches the back of his head again, more gently this time. “Ah,” he mumbles after a moment. “Paint tins.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Never mind,” Harry says, groping across his bedside for his glasses and shoving them onto his nose. Now that he can see more clearly, he realises that Draco has reached over to Ron’s cabinet and retrieved his framed family photograph, which he is staring at intently.

“Didn’t he want to take this with him?” he asks, poking gently at Percy Weasley, who stops waving and folds his arms instead. “It has his brother in it,” he adds, lifting the frame closer to his face to examine the twins.

Harry laughs and Draco looks at him, affronted.

“What?”

Harry shakes his head and props himself up on one elbow. “If you’d seen... when you see the Burrow, you’ll understand.”

Draco’s eyebrows climb up under his dishevelled fringe. “Why?”

“They have pictures of Fred everywhere,” Harry explains. “There probably isn’t even room for that one.”

“Portraits,” Draco says, seeming to understand.

“No, mostly photographs. Portraits are kind of... they cost...” Harry stops, pride cutting off the words before they escape, but it’s too late.

“They’re poor,” Draco says, frowning.

Harry bristles. “Well... relatively, yeah, but—”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Draco interrupts. He sighs and glances at Harry for a split second before turning his eyes back to the photograph. “I’m sorry. I only meant... well, they don’t seem to have a lot but they always look so happy.”

Something about his quiet confusion pulls a smile from Harry and he shifts closer in the bed, resting one hand on Draco’s bare abdomen. “Yeah. They’re pretty happy people generally. Grateful for what they have... which, in terms of stuff, isn’t all that much, but in terms of what’s really important... I think they have more than most and they know that.”

Harry watches Draco, waiting for a sharp retort or a prickly accusation of cliché-ridden soppiness, but he says nothing, just continues to gaze at the picture as though lost in thought.

“Lucius hated them,” he says eventually, voice contemptuous.

“I know.”

“I probably owe them an apology.”

“Probably,” Harry agrees without thinking.

Draco smiles slowly. “Well, maybe next year.”

“You’re going to wait a whole week?” Harry teases, pressing his mouth to Draco’s shoulder.

“Oh, you’re funny,” Draco mutters. “He thinks he’s funny,” he tells the photograph solemnly. “But he’s not. He’s got a tiny little Gryffindor brain, rattling around in his head like a loose walnut. It’s really quite fortunate that he’s so good in bed.”

“And I love you, too,” Harry snorts.

Draco’s eyes flick to him immediately and his heart lurches. “Do you?”

Harry opens his mouth to reply but the words seem stuck, as though every one of them has tried to push its way out into the expectant silence at the same time and caused a pile up in his throat. Instead, he does the only thing he can do; he seizes the glittering warmth that is creeping through his veins and he smiles at Draco, hoping to show him everything that he can’t yet say. Slowly, Draco smiles back, eyes silver-bright and warm, and he places the photograph back on Ron’s bedside with the utmost care before dragging Harry into a dizzying kiss.

Several minutes later, they wander down the stairs to the empty common room. In light of the fact that all the other Gryffindors have gone home for Christmas and therefore cannot mock him, Draco has been persuaded into a spare pair of Harry’s pyjamas—blue and white checked flannel—and a thick towelling dressing gown that, together with his uncharacteristically messy hair and slightly startled expression, makes him look so ordinary and un-Malfoy that Harry doesn’t know whether to hug him or take his picture for posterity.

In the end, he just pokes him onto the hearthrug in front of a fire that the house-elves have apparently seen fit to make just for Harry, and heads for the leather chair to retrieve the presents. When he gets there, he stops, astonished. The pile of gifts seems to have multiplied in the night and now includes several packages with tags in Molly’s handwriting and a couple of items that appear to have been wrapped in the dark by the Giant Squid and can only have come from Hagrid. Harry adds his own gifts to the pile and floats the whole lot over to the hearthrug, all the while trying not to think of how the person or elf who delivered the extra gifts knew where to find Draco.

“You go first,” he says, settling on the rug next to Draco.

Draco stares at him. “I’ve got presents?”

Harry grins, revelling in his surprise and laughing as he repeats the answer that Ron had given him all those years ago.

“What did you expect, turnips?”

Draco gives him an odd look but Harry doesn’t care. He grabs the packages addressed to Draco and dumps them in front of him in a small pile. For a moment, he stares down at them in astonished delight and then his face falls.

“I really wasn’t expecting anything,” he says, sounding quite horrified. “All I bought was that painting for Mother and a book for you, and that was really more of a—”

“You got me a book?” Harry interrupts, amused.

“Yes, but...” Draco trails off, defeated, and sighs. “Do you want it?”

“Of course,” Harry says.

Cautiously, Draco draws a neatly-wrapped package from the pocket of his borrowed dressing gown and passes it to Harry, who thanks him and tears into it with enthusiasm. When he pulls the book free of its wrappings and sees the cover, he bursts into laughter.

“I didn’t think it would amuse you that much,” Draco says, regarding him with bewilderment.

“Open this one,” Harry says, grinning as he leans over to extract one of the gifts from Draco’s pile.

He complies, all the while gazing at Harry as though he has lost his marbles, but when he reveals the contents, he smiles, understanding at last.

“‘Keeping the Constant – a guide to non-hermaphroditic snail breeding’,” he murmurs, running his fingers over the embossed words. “We bought each other the same book. Well, that’s enough Christmas for me, I think...”

“Don’t be a miserable bugger,” Harry laughs, thwapping him gently with his new copy of ‘Keeping the Constant’. “Maybe it’s a good omen.”

“It’s a weird omen,” Draco says, but he is already leaning forward to inspect the other presents in his pile.

“If you like,” Harry says. “And believe me, none of the people who’ve sent you these things have done it because of what they might get back, so just let them be nice to you.”

“It’s that easy?”

“Yes,” Harry says, trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “Just... give it a go.”

Draco looks at his presents as though waiting for one of them to explode, but after a minute or two, he picks one of them up and opens it, seeming genuinely surprised to find something pleasant inside. Harry works his way through his own things, watching Draco out of the corner of his eye as he opens the box of sweets from Ron, a tin of chocolate shortbread from Molly, and a long green scarf with a snail pattern from Hermione; Harry’s leather gloves are received with grave thanks and tried on immediately, and soon there is only one present left to be opened.

Harry leans over to fling his wrapping paper into the fire, and when he turns back to Draco, he is holding a small, round bottle containing something that glitters in the soft light.

“What is it?” he asks.

Draco lets out a long breath. “Frost trails.”

“Hagrid?” Harry asks softly.

Draco nods and hands him a scrap of parchment that is still clinging to the wrappings with a bit of Spellotape.

I recon this is your job now. Thats what he would of wanted. Merry Christmas, Hagrid x

Harry shivers and wraps his arms around Draco, fingers clenched into soft fabric and mouth pressed against warm skin. Draco grips the bottle tightly and brings one hand up to cover Harry’s. The fire roars at their back; outside, the snow continues to fall, and they sit, tangled together on the hearthrug, until the flames die down and the savoury aromas of Christmas lunch begin to drift up the stairs.

**~*~**

As Harry hurries across the Entrance Hall towards the warm smell of roasted meats and spices with Draco trailing just behind him, he can already hear the laughter and chatter of what sounds like at least a hundred people, and, for a moment, he finds himself wondering if all his friends have changed their minds and decided to return to the castle for lunch. When he reaches the Great Hall, he is startled to realise that the babble is being produced by a single table-full of people, at least one third of them Hogwarts staff, and that he and Draco are apparently the last to arrive. There are only two places left at the table, one between a couple of Slytherin first-years and the other beside McGonagall, who is sitting at the head of the table and regarding them with sly amusement.

“She’s laughing at my jumper,” Draco whispers, scandalised.

“She wouldn’t dare,” Harry says, grinning at him and then taking the seat next to McGonagall.

It has taken him at least fifteen minutes to persuade Draco to wear his Weasley jumper to Christmas lunch, and there no way he is going to admit that, yes, perhaps the headmistress is a little amused by the sight of it. He suspects that Molly and Hermione have been comparing knitting projects, because like Draco’s new scarf, the jumper is a rich, forest green and absolutely covered in little bobbly snails. It is quite a work of art, and Harry can’t seem to stop glancing over at Draco as he settles himself at the table and pours himself a glass of mulled punch.

“Is that a real snail?” asks one of the first-years, gazing up at Draco’s shoulder with wide eyes.

“Yes,” Draco says, seeming surprised to be addressed by such a tiny person. “His name is Solomon.”

“Hello, Solomon!” Hagrid booms, lifting his goblet in the direction of the little snail.

“Of course there is a snail at the dinner table,” McGonagall says faintly. “I should have expected nothing less.”

“He ran down to get him this morning,” Harry explains, still watching Draco, who is now holding Solomon in his cupped hands and talking quietly to both of the first-years. “They’ll all be moving on soon, and Draco... well, I think he’s going to miss that one. He’s become sort of a pet.”

“Perhaps I only have myself to blame,” McGonagall says drily.

“Don’ be like that, Professor, them snails are wonderful things,” Hagrid puts in, picking up a cracker and offering her one end.

“I’m sure they are, but—not on the tablecloth, Mr Malfoy!” she calls, and Draco looks up.

“Of course not,” he says innocently, and McGonagall sighs.

“Very well, Hagrid, Merry Christmas,” she declares, seizing the cracker and fixing Hagrid with an impish smile before tugging hard and ripping the paper apart with a loud bang.

Hagrid grins and wipes glitter from his face. Harry picks up his cracker and pulls it with Professor Flitwick, who tumbles off his seat but emerges victorious with several fluorescent beetles, a miniature Christmas pudding and a velvet top hat. Halfway down the table, Draco wins a horned helmet from one of the first-years, which they immediately insist that he wears, and a little set of colour-changing all surface pencil crayons, which he shows to Harry with a smile.

“Here you are, Mr Malfoy,” says McGonagall, fishing a tiny sketchpad from her cracker and throwing it to him. “Perhaps you can use this to develop your artistic talent before there are no blank walls left in Hogwarts.”

Draco catches the sketchpad neatly and stares at her.

Harry scowls. “She said she wouldn’t tell,” he mutters to himself.

“I have no idea who you are talking about, Potter, but nobody told me anything,” McGonagall says calmly. “There are, however, only sixteen students left in the school. I merely put two and two together.”

Harry looks at her, startled. She looks right back, sharp eyes steady, and then she turns away to take the end of another cracker held out to her by a hopeful younger student. When he is certain that she is distracted, Harry glances over at Draco, who is looking at his sketchbook and pencils with amused interest, and then at Sharma, who is watching him from the other end of the table and smiling with an impressive amount of dignity for a person who is wearing a sequinned sombrero.

When McGonagall stands to carve the enormous, glistening turkey, Harry’s stomach grumbles impatiently and he scans the long table in an attempt to decide what to put onto his plate first. In the end, he takes some of everything he can reach and then swaps dishes and platters with teachers and students further down the table, heaping roast potatoes and parsnips next to carrots, balls of herby stuffing and sausages wrapped in bacon, roast duck and turkey and Brussels sprouts, covered in pools of steaming, fragrant gravy.

He eats until he is full to bursting and then eats some more, chatting away to everyone around him and glancing over at Draco as often as he dares. He, too, seems to be putting away more food than Harry has ever seen, every now and then feeding a little bit of parsnip or carrot to a softly-popping Solomon. His hair is sparkling with magical snow and his pale skin is lightly pinked with good food and laughter and Molly’s heavy-duty knitting.

Harry turns back to his plate, relieved when the last traces of his meal fade away to be replaced by an unnecessarily large serving of Christmas pudding and a heap of brandy butter so strongly alcoholic that it makes his eyes water. It is, of course, delicious, but he barely manages half of it before he has to push his plate away with a groan. Hagrid, flushed and glittering, swaps their plates without a word and dispatches Harry’s pudding within seconds.

Glancing at Draco and receiving a subtle nod, Harry excuses himself from the table and walks slowly out into the Entrance Hall where he slumps against the cool stone wall, clutching his stomach.

“I told you not to eat too much,” Draco says, slipping out to join him five minutes later.

“It’s Christmas,” Harry says by way of explanation and closes his eyes.

Draco leans against the wall beside him and sighs. “Maybe we should do this another time.”

Harry opens one eye. “What? Why?”

“We’ve only just had that drama with Filch, and now McGonagall knows it was us that painted the wall... I probably shouldn’t get myself into any more trouble for a while.”

Harry turns to face him, both eyes open now. “That’s where you’re wrong,” he says firmly. “You might as well do it now, in for a Knut, in for a Sickle, and all that... besides, when’s the next time you’re going to have the chance to sneak into McGonagall’s office while she’s a bit sozzled? Never, that’s when.”

Reluctant amusement flickers in Draco’s eyes. “There’s some sort of logic to that, I suppose.”

“Of course there is,” Harry says. “Come on.”

He grabs Draco’s hand and pulls him in the direction of the headmistress’s office, attempting to ignore the discomfort in his overfull stomach as he jogs up the stairs. By the time they reach the stone gargoyle, he has a painful stitch in his side, but he doesn’t care.

Catching his breath, he casts around for the password he heard Filch use just the other night.

“Coltsfoot rock,” he says, and Draco arches an eyebrow.

“Is that a Muggle sweet, too?”

“Yep,” Harry says, as the stone staircase begins to grind its way open.

“Sounds horrible.”

Harry laughs and the sound reverberates around them as they step onto the staircase and it begins to carry them upwards. Once inside the office they move quickly and quietly, trying not to disturb the other snoozing portraits. Snape is sleeping peacefully when Draco grasps his frame and lifts him from the wall, but the movement wakes him and he startles, black eyes darting from side to side and thin mouth flattened into a disapproving line.

“Put me back this instant, Potter,” he snaps, glaring at Harry. “Don’t think for a moment that I can’t still take points.”

“Can he?” Harry asks, unconcerned but curious.

Draco shrugs and Snape turns in his frame, attempting to see who Harry is talking to.

“Well, I suppose we’ll find out, won’t we?” Harry says.

Snape lets out a furious sort of growl and from behind Harry comes the sound of familiar soft laughter.

“Is someone attempting to hijack you, Severus?”

“Albus, please see to it that Potter puts me back where he found me at once,” Snape hisses. “He might listen to you.”

“I fear there is very little I can do from here,” Dumbledore says mildly. “These frames are rather restrictive, you see. Hello, there, Draco,” he adds, and Snape’s eyes go entertainingly wide.

“Draco?”

“Sorry, Severus,” Draco says, peering over the top of the frame so that Snape can see him. “I just want to show you something. We’ll bring him right back,” he adds, looking at Dumbledore.

The pale blue eyes watch them with interest all the way back to the office door, and the portrait of Snape complains bitterly all the way through the castle and down to the dungeons. Draco holds him carefully, making sure his frame is level and that he can see every step of their journey, and Harry walks quickly ahead of them, ensuring that the way ahead is clear of teachers and curious students.

“I know you’re probably going to go mad at me for damaging school property,” Draco says, just before they turn the corner and reveal the painted wall, “but I don’t care, because you are a part of this school and I don’t want anyone to ever forget that... including you. So, here it is.”

Draco takes a deep breath and steps around the corner. He tightens his fingers around the edges of the frame, letting the portrait rest against his body, and waits. Harry watches Snape’s painted features anxiously, silently pleading for a reaction. He stands perfectly still, heart slamming against his ribcage, wondering helplessly what would be worse—anger, disappointment, or nothing at all. When he glances at Draco, he isn’t looking at Snape at all, but straight ahead, directly at the shimmering silver words, face white and lip caught painfully in his teeth.

Snape’s dark eyes flit over the wall, over the message, his name, the dates that mark his life.

“You did this, Draco?” he says at last, and his voice is quieter than usual.

“Harry and I did it,” Draco replies, and as though in compensation, his voice is just a little too loud.

Snape’s eyes fix on Harry, seeming to pin him to the spot.

“I see that the two of you are something of a... team now,” he says slowly.

Harry shifts uncomfortably. “Er, yeah. Professor,” he adds.

Snape nods, and just for a moment, the inscrutable mask slips away, and something all at once insignificant and staggering passes between them before he slides his eyes back to the wall.

“Thank you,” he says simply, and Draco’s eyes close in relief.

“We’d better take him back before...” Harry starts, but there are sharp, clicking footsteps on the stone and he sighs, bracing himself for the worst.

“Sharma?” Draco whispers hopefully.

Snape smirks in his frame and Harry shakes his head.

“Albus said I might find you down here,” McGonagall says, striding towards them and swiftly reclaiming the portrait from Draco. “I take it you are unharmed, Severus?”

“Let’s not be too hasty,” Snape mutters, and Harry has the sudden feeling that McGonagall is trying not to smile. Even as she peers sternly at them over the top of her spectacles, her cheeks are pink and her hair is beginning to escape from its usual severe knot.

“Have you two quite finished, or shall I expect to be roused at midnight because you have started a full-scale riot?” she asks.

“I haven’t got anything like that planned,” Harry says, fighting to keep a straight face.

“And you, Mr Malfoy?”

Harry looks over at Draco, who is fiddling with the sleeves of his snail jumper and attempting to look contrite.

“No. I mean, yes, I have quite finished,” he says after a moment.

“I’m glad to hear it. You know, Mr Potter, you still owe me a piece of homework,” she says, and despite her flushed cheeks and bright eyes, Harry has the impression that he had better find out what it is and hand it in on the very first day of term or reap the consequences.

“Sorry, Professor,” he says solemnly, crossing his fingers behind his back as he adds: “I’ll start it tomorrow.”

McGonagall gives each of them a sharp look and then stalks away. “Come along, Severus,” she says as she disappears out of sight. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of excitement...”

**~*~**

Ten minutes later, they are lighting the lanterns and the fire inside the tent and curling up on their cushions with cups of tea. Both Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms have been considered and dismissed, and the lure of their own little space has been more than strong enough to overpower the thought of a trek through the snow and ice. With boots kicked off and socks charm-dried, they pull up the blanket and huddle beneath it, spelling the plant back from the tripudium and talking lazily as they watch the curious baby snails.

The circle is strewn with delicate little frost trails and each tiny snail is now leaving a perfect, glittering path wherever it goes. Harry is caught between pride and overwhelming sadness, and though he knows that Draco has noticed the trails, too, neither one of them says a word. Solomon sits on his piece of silk at the mouth of the tent, watching the other snails and stretching out his eyestalks pleasurably whenever Draco strokes his shell.

Letting go is never easy, Harry thinks, watching Draco and Solomon and feeling heavy with love for them both. He’s going to miss the snails, with their popping and their waving and their odd little personalities, and he’s going to miss sitting down here every night with Draco and hiding from the world. Perhaps, though, they don’t need to hide from the world any more. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and now that he considers it, no one seems to be upset about them at all—at least, no one who matters.

And yes, there’s still a very significant part of him that wants to remain at Hogwarts forever, but if these tiny, fragile snails can plunge out into the world then so can he. He’s not alone and he’s not incapable, just a little bit uncertain, and maybe that’s absolutely fine.

“I think that’s his serious face but it’s difficult to tell,” Draco says quietly and Solomon pops.

Harry tries to look offended and then gives up and smiles. “It’s my thinking face, and if Solomon must know, I’m wondering what I’m going to do when I leave here.”

“Anything,” Draco says, looking at him as though he has said something very strange indeed.

“Anything?”

“Yes,” Draco says firmly. “You can do anything, don’t you realise that? You can be a Healer or an Auror or one of those people who sells cakes from a cart in the street. You can raise yourself an army of frost snails and take over the world. You can play professional Quidditch. You can come back and teach here; I’m sure McGonagall would be thrilled to have you. I don’t think you realise the ridiculous number of opportunities that you have.”

“Yeah, well...” Harry mutters, taken aback. “So do you.”

To his surprise, Draco grins. “I know. I just haven’t decided whether I want to be disgustingly successful or just let you keep me.”

“Oh, really?” Harry laughs.

“No,” Draco says, eyes bright with amusement. “I think I’d be bored stiff if I didn’t have something to do, and when I’m bored I get a bit...”

“Dangerous? Explosive? Really, really annoying?” Harry suggests.

“Saved by Sorrento,” Draco sighs, turning to break off a piece of gingerbread for the owl that has just swooped into the tent.

He takes the letter and spreads it out on his knees to read it, while Harry gently strokes Sorrento’s soft feathers. After several minutes of silent reading, Draco hands him the last page of the letter. Harry takes it, admiring the elegant script and the thick, heavy parchment.

brought so many challenges. I promise you, Draco, that this coming year will be brighter for all of us, and we will have a different sort of Christmas. Thank you again for the beautiful painting. I have hung it in my kitchen so that I may look at it as I wait for my tea to steep and think of all the new chances that lie ahead of you.

Please give my best wishes to Harry and Solomon.

With love,

Mother

“She knows about Solomon?” Harry asks, smiling.

Draco takes the page back. “She knows about everything,” he says, and when Sorrento hoots and takes off for the Owlery, he tugs Harry down under the blanket and kisses him, catching him up in a warm, loose embrace that is all trailing fingers and closed eyes and contentment.

As darkness falls, the soft sound of popping rouses Harry, and he grabs his wand to roll out the thermo scroll, but when he looks, he realises with a jolt that the snails are beginning to leave the circle. Those at the head of the exodus, behind old bossy-shell herself, are already making their way along the lakeside, glittering in the moonlight with their young at their sides.

“Draco,” he whispers, throat dry, and Draco looks up.

“They’re leaving,” he says, and he sounds so sad that Harry wants to Accio all the snails back into the circle and make them stay there. Instead, he just threads his fingers through Draco’s and nods.

“Yeah,” he says quietly.

Draco sighs. He picks up Solomon and gets to his feet, ducking out of the tent and walking to the edge of the circle where several snails are still tacking themselves onto the end of the procession. Harry watches for a moment as Draco mumbles to the snail and strokes his gleaming shell before following him out into the cold air.

“We’ll miss you,” Harry says, surprised to find himself stingy-eyed when an eyestalk stretches out to touch the palm of his hand. “But, you know, you have to choose your family now, so you can go off and do snail things.”

“That’s right,” Draco says firmly. “You must come back next year. Goodbye, Solomon, you’ve been a very good snail.”

With a gentle sigh, Draco places Solomon on the ground inside the circle.

“I think I want to go back now,” he says to Harry, chin lifted proudly. “They don’t need us for this.”

Harry’s chest aches. “Okay. Just give me a minute.”

Draco turns away to look at the castle in the distance and Harry darts around, turning out the lights and sealing up the tent. He can’t quite bring himself to get rid of it, even if they aren’t going to need it for watching snails any more. Taking one last look at the glittering carpet of shells creeping along the edge of the lake, he turns to Draco and takes his hand, gripping hard.

“Let’s go.”

Draco nods and grips back. They have barely taken two steps when the most heartbreaking popping Harry has ever heard stops them in their tracks. He and Draco look at each other and then whip around to see that Solomon has made his way out of the circle and onto the snow, and he is sliding towards them as fast as he can, eyestalks waving in desperation. He pops and pops and pops as he forces himself forward, finally sliding onto Draco’s boot and popping even more frantically.

Astonished, Draco leans down to pick him up, barely even seeming to notice the damage to his shoe leather.

“What are you doing?” he asks, as Solomon lets out one last loud POP and settles into silence.

Harry stares at them, a grin creeping onto his face. “They choose their families.”

Pale eyes snap to his. “What?”

“That’s what Hagrid said. He said that frost snails choose which other snails they want to live with. You might not be a snail, but I think he’s chosen you.”

Draco stares at him and then at Solomon, who is waving his eyestalks from side to side with obvious contentment. Slowly, Draco draws the salamander silk from his pocket and drapes it over his shoulder before setting Solomon carefully on top.

“He’s chosen us,” he says, blinking rapidly and letting out a ripple of delighted laughter. “He’s mad.”

“Probably,” Harry agrees, tugging Draco up the hill and onto the lawn. “Maybe we should hang onto the tent for a bit longer.”

“About six months, do you think?” Draco says.

Harry grins. Through the snowfall, he can see the lights of the castle glowing in the distance, and he can already feel the warmth from the common room fireplace and the hot chocolate that the house-elves probably won’t let him make by himself. Draco’s hand is cold in his but their fingers weave together as though they’ve been made that way, and on Draco’s shoulder, Solomon pops at snowflakes and reminds Harry of just how far they have come.

It’s still only the beginning.