Harry slipped out of the warm embrace of his lover's arms and out of their bed. He crept stealthily across the cold stone floor, shivering in the cold midwinter night. He quickly pulled on his slippers and robe and left the room, quietly hoping not to disturb the man who still slept soundly on the bed.
Pale torchlight barely illuminated the passageway, as he walked through the empty corridors of the castle. He met no one on his journey, not even Mrs. Filch. He gave a small sigh of relief as he came to his destination, and the side door to the Great Hall opened soundlessly. This was his own private ritual and he didn't wish to be disturbed.
There, beneath the charmed ceiling that reflected the moonlit, winter sky was a huge Christmas tree, beautifully decorated, proclaiming the season. The charmed star at its apex twinkled, and seemed to hover above the tree like the beacon of yore. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and he sat down before it, his warm robe, the only protection from the cool stones of the floor.
This was always his favorite time of year. It was a time of peace and hope in a way that was absent in so much of his life. The twinkling lights and the sharp smell of evergreen surrounded him like a blanket of comfort. The towering branches full of candies and ornaments and tinsel were a safe place where nothing could harm him, and he could dream and wish without guilt.
He knew the stories of the season, but he had never really gone to church. His family was more for keeping up appearances, than devout believers. As such, they attended mass only at Christmas and Easter and Ash Wednesday and paid lip service the rest of the year. Like all family events, he wasn't included, even in this.
Once, though, when he had been about six, they had just gotten a new parish priest. The new cleric had heard of the young orphan staying with the Dursley's and had asked after him, praising them for their good deed. He hadn't yet heard the whispers and rumors about the strange, troubled young boy, the one that was not to be spoken of. In his home, Harry was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Still, affronted that someone had actually asked after their charge, and emboldened by the praise of their good deed, they took him along with them to Midnight Mass that Christmas Eve. He was dressed neatly; his unruly hair combed almost into submission, and warned strongly that his uncle would not tolerate any nonsense. He was to be on his best behavior, as if he were ever anything else.
For Dudley, this was a Christmas gift come early, the perfect opportunity to needle and bully him into trouble. Dudley, of course, could do no wrong and was as pampered as a new infant. That night, however, not even Dudley could faze him.
The chapel was aglow with hundreds of candles, more beautiful to him than his first glimpse of Hogwarts’ Great Hall, years later. Bells tinkled in the air, blending melodiously with the deep resonance of the organ and the sweet harmonies of the choir. They sang words of joy and peace, hope and celebration.
The priest came down the aisle with two little boys in white robes that looked like angels, and men carrying incense and a large wooden cross. They reached the raised platform at the front. The priest spoke and everyone answered. Harry didn't know the words, but that was okay. It was comforting just to be amidst this beautiful ritual.
Most of the details of that night escaped him, in the warm glow that surrounded the memory, but there was one thing that he never forgot. The priest had spoken of family and blessings and walked over to a beautiful Nativity. A mother, a father, and a child were all represented in beautiful ivory, resting in a manger. Three wise men stood behind them and reminded Harry of something, three men standing by and looking over this perfect family.
It was a fantasy of course. There was no one, no memories of his family, the mother and family that were lost to him when he was just a babe. He had no one to watch over him, no mother and father or wise men to keep him safe. Even if his home were a manger-like cupboard and the only family he had the Dursleys, it was enough for now. It was enough, because frankincense and myrrh and starlight reminded him that there was hope. Ritual words and little boys dressed like angels showed him that there was magic in this world after all.
That was the thought that comforted him, and that propelled him to sneak out of his cupboard later, after everyone had finally gone to sleep. He had the briefest of times to himself. Luckily, they didn't lock the cupboard door any more, unless he was being actively punished. How else was he to get out to make breakfast for them, or do his chores?
He crept into the living room and paused briefly to listen for the various snores and wheezes that assured him that all were asleep, snug in their beds. Reassured, he crept over and plugged in the lights for the tree. They shone beautifully, little pinpricks of starlight, captured in the branches, reflected off of red balls, glass snowflakes, silver tinsel and striped candy canes - candy canes that Dudley would grasp in his meaty fist and count obsessively tomorrow, not caring if he destroyed this beautiful picture in the process.
Dozens of gaily-wrapped presents were stuffed under the tree. Most of them bore his cousin's name, a few his aunt's and uncle's. Harry knew that there were none for him, and he had stopped expecting any. For the first time he didn't mind. Instead, he thought of guiding stars and family, of hope and love and magic. For him, this was Christmas.
It still was. This was a ritual that he repeated every year, even after he had come to Hogwarts and there were suddenly gifts with his name on them. He appreciated each one, but it was for the family and friends that gave them, that he truly gave thanks. It was this magic, even more than that discovered within these walls, that enchanted him, and made him realize that all things were truly possible.
Hope and love and magic were even more real to him now, and family had new meaning. These were no longer things to meditate on once a year. More than the seasonal decorations above him and his midnight ritual, he had new proof of them, a daily reminder in the arms of the man who protected and cared for and loved him. That was his true blessing.
He smiled as he felt his lover settle down onto the floor behind him and wrap them both in a warm blanket. He had never explained to Severus why it was that he did this each year, but he seemed to understand anyway. Harry settled back against the older man's chest, with a contented sigh, and shared the moment with him.
Maybe, when you wished upon a star, your dreams really did come true. Maybe, that's what magic really was, and maybe, Christmas didn't have to come only once a year.