Author's Note: Hello and greetings, you wonderful folks! This was written for the SSHG-Prompfest for Winter 2014. I was so, so lucky to get my first choice for claims, a lovely prompt (at the end) by savine-snape on Livejournal. As the reveal has passed, I thought I'd be sure to post it here for you. Many thanks to Sterling and my beloved Cloney for your eyes, and the input of Healer. This is my very first promptfest, and I hope you all enjoy reading this: it was great fun to write!

Out of Practice

It was common knowledge in the halls of the school – and in fact, the entire wizarding world – that Severus Snape Did Not Do Christmas. He did not like the music, the decor or holiday delicacies, nor the festive atmosphere. He did not embrace good will towards his fellow witches and wizards, nor did he tolerate pathetic seasonal gestures. The staff had long given up attempting to give him anything – there were not enough Galleons in Gringotts to make them even try to do so. Even saying "Happy Christmas" in passing to Severus Snape was enough to cause one fall under his Rather Terrifying Scowl. And if one was a student, well, at best your House lost a mere five points. (Not that that stopped him from attempting to take points from his colleagues as well.) No concessions were made for his students in terms of work load – if anything, it doubled. He did not like Christmas. He did not care about Christmas.

Which made it all the more odd that the man in question was pacing his quarters on the very Eve of the aforementioned holiday, absolutely at a loss.

His hair, usually somewhat greasy, was positively slick with sweat from his palms, which ran through or tugged on the inky strands every few moments as he pondered. His sallow complexion was more on the pale side this night, his cheeks flushed from exertion. Really, it was no small wonder that he hadn't paced a groove in his stone flooring.

The problem was not that he'd (rather unexpectedly) been given a gift, no. The problem was that Severus Snape had no idea what to get for Hermione Granger. No, Minerva hadn't instituted some daft holiday ritual (well, she'd tried, but every time she put it on the staff meeting agenda someone had slipped her an incontinence potion that seemed to take effect just before she reached that point, and you were all bloody welcome), nor had he developed – he sneered at the thought - feelings for the witch. This last was thought with a scowl.

(It should be noted, however, that in the process of attempting to Protect Himself, he had become more than adept at Lying To Himself.)

Professor Hermione Granger was the current Bane Of His Existence. The bossy chit had breezed onto the staff like she belonged there, and had had the audacity to address him by his given name! without any permission whatsoever. She'd stalked him through the corridors, corralled him in the library, and followed him into his office in her pathetic attempts to talk to him to the point he'd found four grey hairs sprouting from his temples.

And he was far too young to be going grey!

Worse than her following him around like he was her new project, she'd chattered at him constantly. Trying to gauge his opinions on articles or this-and-that, goading him into an argument when he'd refused to Play Nicely. (That had entirely rankled him. He hadn't slept properly for a week when he'd realised the witch had manipulated him into what amounted to a discussion.) In the end, it had been easier to give in and indulge her with an hour (or four) of Acceptable Conversation On Academic Topics than to try to dodge and avoid her outside of mealtime or staff meetings.

He'd long given up attempting to bar her from his office; she'd only wait outside until he emerged, after all, and the hidden tunnel he'd used as a spy had been long since caved in, collapsing during the Final Battle and not of enough import to repair. Morning attempts to become human by drinking his body weight in tea in peace were blighted by the cheerful wretch dropping into the seat next to him with a fluff of bushy brown curls as she chirped her 'good morning's. And her hair got everywhere. He'd found a strand in his teacup one morn, but she'd merely blushed, shrugged, and apologised. She was worse than any pet, for she shed all over his office and his private quarters. (He'd attempted to distract her with his book collection, to no avail – she merely took it as a bloody invitation to return as she pleased, or to sit in his quarters and read! Preposterous!)

So it had not been too terribly much of a great surprise to find her in his office tonight once he'd finished supervising a well-deserved detention handed out to a handful of troublemakers who'd stepped too far out of line even for a holiday. And yet... she'd given him that impish smile that he utterly loathed and thrust a gaily-wrapped box into his hands. Shock had prevented him from saying anything at first, and her smile faltered as she waited.

A rapid succession of spells soothed his wary mind – no traps, no curses, not hexes or even a measly jinx. It was almost insulting, the innocent little package in his hands. Grudgingly, he'd sat behind his desk, ignoring the way she leaned forward with anticipation, showing just a hint of cleavage that he was absolutely uninterested in. Not that he was looking, of course. He merely noticed such minor details. Habit, you know.

'I do not celebrate Christmas,' he told her in a clipped voice, sure that his tone would fulfill the task of informing the witch that Reciprocation Would Not Occur.

'So?' Granger had replied, seemingly puzzled. The witch herself was dressed for going out, gloves and a somewhat-lopsided handmade knit cap deposited in the second chair with a purse. She was wearing Muggle garb, which looked positively far too revealing in the jeans and unbuttoned pea coat paired with Highly Impractical Footwear Of A Feminine Nature and a scoop-necked jumper that showed Too Much Skin For a Proper Professor. (Never mind that it was the hols, and even professors could relax their standards when they were leaving the castle, as she clearly was, and not everyone shared his rather antiquated aesthetic.) 'It's a gift, Severus, not a damned social obligation.'

The paper had given way beneath his questing fingers then, and he'd broken eye contact before he could snap a suitable retort in order to look at the gift she'd bestowed upon him. Phials. She'd given him bloody potion phials.

How original.

'I suppose,' he sneered, 'that this is where I thank you for your oh-so-observant generosity and thoughtfulness in regards to the season.'

She was gaping like a fish now, her mouth opening and closing. Finally, he'd found a way to shut the woman up!

''s Christmas,' she told him blankly. He raised a brow, crossing his arms over his thin, wool-clad chest. 'That's all. I give my friends gifts, you git.'

He snorted – in hindsight, this was the Wrong Thing To Do Indeed, for the bright smile was gone, replaced by a very suspicious glimmer in her eyes. A breath was sucked in, and she rose stiffly from the intentionally-uncomfortable chairs he kept for morons too stupid to cast a Cushioning Charm on.

'Well,' Granger had replied, pretty pink lower lip trembling. 'I'm very sorry to have bothered you, Professor Snape. Have a happy Christmas, sir, nonetheless.' And she snatched her things off the other chair and left his office in blessed, blessed silence... but not before he caught the look of complete devastation written across her face.

Damn Gryffindors and their expressive natures – she looked as if he'd skinned her wretched excuse of a cat, stuffed it, then promptly used it as the Quaffle in the latest Quidditch match.

Severus had then proceeded to ponder her expression and the muffled sobs he'd heard echoing down the empty dungeon corridor, as if some Terrible Tragedy had befallen her on what she clearly (and mistakenly) thought was to be a Joyous Occasion. So the chit had brought him glass phials. He had a whole stockroom full. Simple corks, blown glass, cheap to purchase, easy to replace when Inept Dunderheads Inevitably Dropped Them... His fingers brushed over the glass, and he'd frozen in place.

They were enchanted. Heavily. Granger's magic wove through the phials, around them – a more impressive display of wand-work than he'd seen in quite some time. A double-helix ward, designed to strengthen the glass and stopper without affecting the efficacy of the potion stored inside. Charms to allow only he to open the phials, and a cantrip designed to obey nonverbal commands, such as to stop them from rolling off the table... or levitate just over Rolanda's coffee to dose her with something foul after she'd Particularly Annoyed him.

Perplexed, he'd inspected them again and again. Surely he'd misunderstood? These couldn't be for him. This had required a great deal of time and magic... In lifting the box, he discovered that he'd missed the existence of a folded bit that passed as the gift tag.

'To Severus', it read. 'Happy Christmas. Love, Hermione'. Well shite, bugger, and fuck to all Seven Hells.

And this, of course, brings us full-circle.

Severus Snape did not enjoy Christmas in any way. He was a lonely, solitary man with few joys and fewer vices. He did not have friends (or so he'd thought), and he did not care about the feelings of one Hermione Granger, he told himself firmly as he continued to pace.

Alright, he admitted finally. It was not outside the Realm of Possibility that he...well...thought of Granger differently. As a friend, he was quick to assure his own psyche. He turned again in his pacing, eleven-and-a-half strides across the length of his quarters.

Crestfallen. That was the term to describe her as she'd left him for Parts Unknown (albeit likely to her parents' – the one good thing about having Hermione on staff was that he'd learned that she'd grown somewhat apart from her childhood friends and he would not be subjected to them at every opportunity). She had been devastated by his reaction. Did the silly witch not realise that he had not properly inspected his gift before running off?

(Obviously not.)

Really, he should make some gesture, give some token, to her. Not to apologise, that wasn't the right way to go about things. He'd done nothing wrong, after all. Hermione was the one who'd left, abandoning the chair she'd cast a very powerful Cushioning Charm on in her haste. Severus sat in his armchair, then on his sofa, and even tried to perch on the ottoman, all to no avail. Every time he thought he'd worked it out, the image of her face intruded – the trembling lip and teary eyes – along with the sound of her sob, and he'd be up and pacing again in a Fit Of Self-Recrimination.

Damn it all, he missed that charming smile of hers.

But what to do? It was far too late at night for him to make a foray to the Muggle world – surely the shops would be closed – and there was no way he would be caught dead attempting to purchase some frivolous trinket in this world. He'd never hear the end of it. The media would surely catch wind of Severus Snape out on Christmas Eve, shopping. They would howl for the story, things would be Blown Horrendously Out Of Proportion, and there was no way in Merlin's name he would allow such a wretched turn of events to come to pass.

It didn't matter, anyway, he tried to assure himself. After all, he hadn't given a gift since Lily, and that had admittedly been a Very Long Time Ago. At first, it had been things he could make or find: a shiny pebble worn smooth, bunches of dried flowers, a scavenged quill from his mother's old school things as he taught her to use one properly. Then it was items he could charm or make, such as meticulously crafted potions that she'd pointedly mentioned as desiring... The first and only present he'd been able to purchase for her had been the winter just before his OWLs – he'd spent the entire summer working in secret, attempting to hide as much of the money from his father's addiction as possible. He'd bought her a wonderful little bracelet – nothing much, not with his meagre savings, but enough that she'd been flushed and delighted in the attention it had brought her (before Potter had replaced it the following year with something better and shinier) to the point that she'd been bloody wearing it the day she'd turned her back on him.

Typical Lily.

Hermione was not Lily, however, and given to liking expensive jewelry as she had been. If Hermione wanted a rare and exotic potion, she went and brewed it herself, rather than hoping someone would help their dormmates with papers for a handful of Sickles in order to purchase ingredients before spending hours over a cauldron earning small nicks and burns...

(Don't worry – he was Not Bitter over any of these past events, and they had not coloured his opinion towards Christmas in the slightest.)

(Alright, that was a lie.)

In short, he was at a loss because it was apparent to him that the way to rectify his error was to procure for the witch a suitable gift that would ensure her of his high regard for her... and he was woefully Out Of Practice at such a social convention.

Worse, at this juncture there was Nothing He Could Feasibly Do. It was definitely Too Late, and Severus would lose the friend he hadn't realised he'd had. In contrast to what he'd thought he'd wanted, he suffered an Introspective Holiday Revelation that he would miss her. He would miss their long talks on potions and charms, even the bits on arithmancy or when her eyes glazed over a bit as he lectured on runes. He would miss her fearless greetings and the way she brought him books she thought he'd enjoy or academic journals that he hadn't gotten around to subscribing to yet. He'd miss her hair on the back of his sofa or lurking interwoven with the knit blanket tossed over one arm. He'd miss the ways her eyes flashed in the midst of a debate, or even that slight tilt of her graceful neck as she considered his argument.

He'd even miss the way she smiled at him.

Severus sighed, attempting to sit once more in his worn armchair. It curved comfortably to his arse with its years of experience and he frowned, contemplating the coffee table he'd shoved out of the way for restless pacing.

This had to be fixable. Not even Fate could be so cruel as to allow itself to be repeated thus. What Horrible Sequence Of Events had brought him here? True, he'd been incredibly harsh on her as student, never giving her the grades she'd deserved – marking her papers with E's rather than O's had been painful to the educator in him – and had been deliberately cruel in order to afford her some meager protection despite her proximity to the Boy Who Found Trouble Like A Bloody Magnet as well as to give her some humility, since his then-coworkers had tried so hard to deify her. As a colleague he'd dismissed her. Snarled and grumped and tried his best to drive her away – and therein lay his thin sliver of hope.

No matter how much he'd tried (and he told himself he'd tried very hard indeed), Hermione Granger had been difficult to avoid, circumvent, or shoot down. She'd pestered him for the last almost-year after Filius's abrupt breakdown at the staff New Year's 'party' (if you could call the annual debacle of watching Sybil get more drunk than usual a party), and had proven unshakeable. Until now. He'd have to make her smile again somehow, and that meant obtaining a bloody Christmas gift for the witch as some sort of Grand Gesture of his esteemed gratitude and respect.

Last minute.

Merlin, but he was out of his depth here.

Scrubbing at his face, he poured himself a measure of Ogden's finest, thought better of it and poured it back, then poured it again. Damn it all, he would sit and enjoy the rare peace and quiet before returning to contemplating his dilemma.

Taking a long sip of the beverage, Severus reached for the latest issue of Charms Monthly that Hermione had brought him. She'd seemed so eager to give it to him, so pleased... for a little while, at least, he could forget about his Grievous Error and her heartbroken face by submerging himself in academia.

He was feeling pleasantly warm and sufficiently distracted nearly a half-hour later as he came to the last section of the journal, where well-respected papers were published. As he was uninterested in the prattling of old men arguing for proven theorems he nearly skipped it, until he caught sight of the first article, the bound parchment pages crinkling in his grip.

Hermione's first published paper.

Intrigued by her premise on the Savoury Theorem being disproved by Sweet's Tantigilation of Charms (which the next paper in the section scoffed at before quickly proving her right, albeit unintentionally), he found himself enthralled. She truly was brilliant. Utterly brilliant and gorgeous and so deserving of a better man than he.

Severus gnawed indecisively on one knuckle, debating, before Summoning to his side what he required. This was eminently doable.

Christmas Day morning saw Hermione Granger back at school, looking drab and unhappy despite the crisp snowfall and caroling suits of armor in the entrance. Not even the cheery glow of the candles on the evergreen trees she'd so admired not twenty hours prior could dent the aura of sadness around her. Without thinking, she dropped into her usual seat next to Severus, who took a fortifying sip of tea.

'Morning,' he murmured quietly.

Down the table, Minerva dropped her fork into her eggs and Pomona knocked over a tureen of sausages in shock. Severus cringed internally – so he'd spoken willingly, had initiated conversation. Why on Earth did they have to turn it into an existential crisis?

'Morning,' Hermione replied. She was Resolutely Not Looking At Him, never a good sign.

'Before you pester me any further,' Severus said in a low voice, trying to put as much scathing dislike in his tone as possible, 'I have indeed finished with your bloody copy of Charms Monthly, and you can have the ruddy thing back.'

Hermione froze as he placed the publication in question on the table between them, jug of pumpkin juice halfway to her goblet. Thankfully, Minerva and the rest lost interest in their conversation. 'I will stop by your quarters shortly before lunch,' he continued coldly, 'to reclaim my copy of Potions Chameliae.'

'Of course,' she managed. Juice poured, the journal disappeared into her purse. Breakfast was then eaten in uneasy quiet by their end of the table – no chattering from Hermione about her holiday, and no one risked his ire to engage her in conversation by speaking across him. All too soon he finished his own meal and departed in a flurry of perfectly billowing robes after reminding her he'd be dropping by and that he needed the tome in question for a few brews.

(Which was a blatant lie. It was a purely theoretical book with no basis in any actual brewing, merely a collection of disproved theories.)

(He was a very accomplished liar.)

Hermione's quarters, he discovered an hour before lunch, were neatly-kept, warm, and welcoming. Severus was surprised to realise he'd never taken the chance to visit her before as she opened the door to his brisk knock.

She looked lovely in a jumper of a soft-looking forest green, the hint of a camisole peeping out of the v-neckline. For some reason, he didn't mind that she was barefoot with her Muggle jeans, her feet with their pink-painted toes sinking into the plush carpet covering her sitting room floor. It suited her.

'What did you think of the tome?' Severus inquired as she placed it carefully in his hands. He was loathe to leave the bright room with the faint scent of sugar biscuits – the soft, chewy kind – without knowing with Absolute Certainty that he'd repaired his error.

Her fingertips brushed his, her mouth curving upwards. 'Thank you for lending it to me, Severus. It was... Outstanding.'

Her smile was dazzling, unsure, and she glanced at the mantle. He followed her warm brown gaze to find a collection of frames – photographs magical and Muggle, a few shadow boxes containing Items Of Significant Nostalgic Value – but it was the centerpiece displayed with great pride in what was clearly a large and newly-conjured frame that caught his eye.

It was a familiar bit of parchment, a paper written and published by one Hermione Granger torn from the just-returned Charms Monthly, with an even more familiar spiky red scrawl of 'O' at the top in the crimson ink he preferred for his grading. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief to see such a small thing so cherished as he turned back to her, only to stiffen in shock as she pressed her lips (as warm and smooth as he'd thought they'd be) to the corner of his mouth.

'Happy Christmas, Severus.' She was smiling at him again, eyes bright with happiness and something else.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably as her cheeks pinkened, feeling his mouth twitch into something that he was only mostly-certain was a disused smile as Deep Emotion welled up inside him and his face warmed. Perhaps he wasn't as out of practice as he'd thought.'Yes. Well. Happy Christmas, Hermione.'

The End

Author's Note 2: Thank you so much for reading! For those curious, the original prompt was "Severus hasn't given a Christmas present since his friendship with Lily ended now he feels an overwhelming desire to see Hermione smile because of a present he has given her. How does he go about putting a smile on Hermione's face? SS and HG with potential for future SS/HG." I saw it and KNEW I had to write it, then this thing just poured out in its silly little style. I hope that you enjoyed reading, and if you've never joined livejournal for promptfests and whatnot, I highly recommend it! There's some fantastic stuff going on there. ;)