Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to either JKR or Charles Dickens.  Dedicated to Lynn…for being a great friend.

A Hogwarts Carol

Lucius Malfoy was dead. Dead as a doornail. Severus Snape was grumpy. Very, very grumpy. Since the fall of Voldemort and the unfortunate dispatching of his former friend, Severus had become somewhat more reclusive and misanthropic than had previously been thought imaginable. He was sitting in his cold little room in the cold dungeons of Hogwarts and sipped at his cold gruel with the airs of a martyr whose penance had been well earned through a lifetime of misdeeds.

He smiled thinly as he thought of the invitation to Christmas dinner he had turned down.

"She should not have invited me," he practically snarled to his reflection in the oft-repaired mirror (he had an unfortunate habit of throwing things at it).

The sound of clunking chains made him turn around, ready with a colourful metaphor for the resident poltergeist, Peeves, who dared to disturb his melancholy.

Only…it was not Peeves.

"Lucius?" Severus whispered, standing up quickly and dropping his plate of gruel on the floor.

"Severus," the ghostly apparition moaned pitifully.

"Oh, for pity's sake, stop with the dramatics. Why are you here? Couldn't you go haunt Potter or that fool of a Sirius Black?" Severus smirked, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the befuddled specter.

"Severus," the ghost moaned again.

"I do know my name…kindly depart this earthly plane and leave me to my dinner," Severus grunted. "I'd open the door for you but, since you are dead, you can simply float through it, can you not?"

A very loud clunking of chains accompanied the ghost of Lucius as he walked…or floated…or whatever it was that damned souls did…closer to Severus.

"You did not die," the ghost pointed a long, bony finger at Severus who automatically tried to bat it away but…encountering nothing but a slight drop in temperature, found that to be a useless gesture.

"No…and I am dreadfully sorry to miss out on all the fun in the afterlife…you appear to be having quite the time haunting the living."

"You are a fool, Severus Snape, to squander the great gift that has been given to you," the ghost waggled its pale finger in front of the Potion Master's face.

"And what gift would that be, Lucius? The gift of living with people who mistrust me…despise me…loathe my very presence? I fail to see that as a gift," Severus turned to a nearby window and looked up at the cloudy sky. It was snowing.

"You have shut yourself away, allowed yourself to become as cold as the dungeons you live in. You are in grave danger of dying before dying."

"Now I know that the house elves have put something in my gruel. You are making no sense at all, Lucius."

"It is possible, Severus, for a person's soul to die before the body dies…and it is also true that this does not only happen through the Dementor's Kiss," the ghost sighed sadly.

Severus turned to face the spectral image of someone he had once been close to.

"It is too late for me, Lucius…"

"She does not think so."

Severus clenched his fists and turned away…not bothering to question how the ghost could possibly know about her. Apparently there were no secrets in the afterlife…among the dead or the living. It was a rather disconcerting thought.

"It is too late," Severus repeated quietly.

"You will fall asleep shortly, Severus and, during the course of the night, you will have three visitors. Heed what they say…for it is never too late…until you are dead."

"A ghost with a sarcastic sense of humour…will wonders never cease?" Severus smirked.

"Remember, Severus…open your heart and mind," the ghost's voice seemed to fade and, when Severus turned around, he found himself alone.

"Damn him," Severus swore under his breath. "I must have gotten a whiff of that potion Longbottom was brewing. Why he became the new Herbology professor I have no idea. Having her on staff is enough of a penance but Longbottom…it is truly maddening."

Stomping around his room, Severus quickly changed into his nondescript grey nightshirt and climbed into his cold bed. Shivering slightly, he allowed himself to think of her…for only a moment.

"It can never be…I have told her this and she must abide by my decision," he thought to himself as he closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.

It was a long time before his body complied.

2:00 am

It sounded like a blasted fellytone…ringing and ringing in an annoyingly high-pitched sound.

"I am not at home," Severus mumbled sleepily as he turned over on his bed and tried to pull his nightcap over his ears.

"Well, I wouldn't call this much of a home but I suppose one must make allowances for morose Potions Masters," a cheerful voice grated on Severus' nerves and he sat bolt upright in his bed. The sight before him made his eyes widen with disbelief.

"Lockhart?"

Only, it was a slightly different Lockhart. Oh yes, he was smiling that award-winning smile and he was ringing a little bell…but even Gilderoy Lockhart had never traipsed around the dungeons in a gleaming white toga, golden sandals and a laurel wreath around his fair brow.

"I am the ghost of your past," the lilting voice of the former Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher echoed off the cold walls of Severus' room.

"Is that so? I would have imagined that a ghost of my past would look…well…rather hideous…not that you don't, mind you…that attire is entirely frightful," Severus smirked as he climbed out of bed and put on his slippers.

The ghost laughed…golden curls jiggling with merriment.

"I am here to take you on a journey, Severus Snape," the ghost said in a singsong voice.

"I refuse to go anywhere…leave me to my misery and I will leave you to your bad fashion sense," Severus glared.

The ghost seemed unconcerned. "There is much to learn and very little time, Severus. Take the hem of my toga and we will begin."

"And if I refuse?"

"You get a matching toga."

Severus quickly reached out and pinched a bit of the shimmering cloth at the shoulder. "You always were a nuisance, Lockhart…it does not comfort me that this has not changed in the afterlife."

The ghost laughed merrily as Severus' rooms disappeared in a whirl of technicolour lights.

"Where are we going?" Severus asked in a tight voice. Flying on a broomstick was bad enough…flying through time and space was infinitely worse…in an ironic sort of way.

"You mean when are we going."

"Yes, of course…that is exactly what I meant…fool of a ghost," Severus whispered under his breath. The ghost appeared not to notice.

The shimmering lights seemed to move by quickly at first and then more slowly. Severus could now make out images from his past…some were happy and some were not.

"Ah yes…I believe that this is the spot. We shall alight here," the ghost had pulled out an item that looked suspiciously like a pocket watch. They slowed to a stop and Severus was surprised to find himself…

"In my rooms? We're back in my rooms," Severus gaped at the familiar surroundings.

"Ah…I suppose that it would appear that we were back where we started," the ghost smiled.

"You mean when we started, do you not?" Severus smirked. The ghost blushed bright silver.

"You are a quick study, my dear dour Potions Master," the ghost lilted as he took Severus' hand and pulled him through the door.

They soon found themselves in the Hogwarts infirmary where a young woman was tending a patient whose face was bandaged. Severus gasped in amazed recognition.

"I would assume that you know what the situation is?" The ghost asked mockingly.

"It was the night I was attacked…the night Voldemort discovered my betrayal," Severus replied in a quiet monotone. He watched the young mediwitch tend to him carefully…every movement both graceful and purposeful…power resonating from the quiet spells she spoke to knit together torn flesh…mend broken bone…ease away the pain of bruising that seemed to be everywhere. The patient's breathing became less laboured as healing sleep did what magic could not do. The mediwitch looked at her patient with tears in her eyes as she held his hand and stayed by his side.

"She shows tremendous capacity for healing, does she not?" The ghost asked.

"She saved my life…I did not deserve to be saved…not after the years of torment I inflicted on her while she was a student."

"You always were hard on your students. You thought they had to be ready for the harsh world outside. Most of them thought you were a miserable old bastard but she didn't…she seemed to understand you…"

"She betrayed me as well…she saved my life and killed my heart in one fell swoop," Severus hissed through clenched jaws.

The ghost consulted his pocket watch. "That is our next destination."

The shimmering lights twirled once again and, when they stopped, Severus found himself just outside one of the laboratories.

"Where are we?" Severus asked nervously, looking around the corridor.

"At the scene of your so-called betrayal."

Severus paled in anger and horror as he saw himself, a few years older than before, walking along the corridor with a beaker of silver liquid in his hands. The sound of hushed voices suddenly emanated from the laboratory. A man and a woman were talking.

"How do you stand it, working with him everyday? I know you have to make all the various healing potions but…honestly…I smell burnt dragon droppings every time I walk by him," the red-haired man said to his companion.

"You're being uncharitable," she remonstrated quietly.

"What you need is a real man…someone who will take care of you."

"What do you know about what I need? I am quite happy, you know."

And Severus watched as the red-haired man suddenly grabbed the woman and pulled her into an embrace just as his other self reached the open doorway. The same pain…the same gnawing pain raced through his heart as he watched the expression on his own face change from anger to grief to disappointment. The other self disappeared down the corridor without saying a word.

"Why have you done this to me?" Severus asked…and he could not be entirely certain if he was asking the ghost or her.

"Wait…and learn."

The woman suddenly stepped on the man's toes, causing him to let go of her and yell in pain.

"Bloody hell…what did you go and do that for?"

The woman turned to him in anger. "If you ever try something like that again, I'll remove the means for you to father children. How dare you walk in here after so many years of not returning my owls and thinking that you just had to shower me with a bit of your charm in order to win me over again. Well, I have a bit of news for you…I am not one of those harlots that hang by your robes. I am my own person and I love someone else."

"Him?"

"He has never asked me to be something I am not."

The young man smirked. "He is a poor choice…former Death Eater…traitor…slimy git."

"He has been many dark and dangerous things in the past and that is exactly where I will leave them…in the past. I can't expect you to understand what I feel for him since I can barely understand it myself. What I do know is that he is a part of me now…and I feel he always will be."

"He's not capable of loving anyone."

The young woman sighed, looking down and fiddling with her robes. "I can always hope, can't I?"

"Hope won't keep you warm at night."

"That's what fireplaces were built for."

Severus wanted to reach out to the woman but found the scene shifting once again.

"Where are we going now? I wanted to stay…I never realized…I didn't know."

The ghost turned to him and, for the first time, Severus saw a grim look on the angelic face.

"You never tried…you never gave her the benefit of the doubt. You were so wrapped up in the macabre allure of your betrayal that nothing could alter your interpretation of those events. And what has come of this? You are alone and, unless you truly see the error of your ways, you always will be alone."

Severus could not think of anything to say in reply.

"I am returning you to your own place and time. Remember what I said and wait for the next visitor. She should be arriving shortly," the ghost smiled as he began to fade away.

Severus found himself in his own room and, within moments, was fast asleep on his bed.

4:00 am

Laughter…so much laughter. That soft contralto voice that could only belong to one person.

Severus opened his tired eyes and was immediately forced to close them due to the brilliance of the room.

"Rosmerta? Is that you?" He asked in a painful moan.

"Aye, it's me, Snape. And I have to say, you are looking positively miserable," the comely matron replied.

"Thank you for the compliment," Severus opened his eyes just a touch and waited for his eyes to adjust to the newfound brightness. "Who exactly are you?"

"I am the ghost of your present," she smiled broadly as she polished a pocket watch with the hem of her robes.

"Of course…I didn't think that you would be here…I was perhaps expecting Voldemort himself or, even better, a Dementor," he smirked. "Business not good at the Three Broomsticks? Doing a little moonlighting on the side in the business of saving souls?"

"There are some that think yours is worth saving," the matron replied casually, looking at her pocket watch.

"I do not consider myself to be a member of that happy company," he answered snidely. "Where are you taking me?"

"Our first destination is the Potter household in Godric's Hollow. Come along. Take the sash of my apron if you want to come along…not that you have much choice."

"Another hope dashed," Severus moaned dramatically as his surroundings began to blur in a now familiar manner. The lights seemed much brighter this time and they zoomed by very quickly. Feeling slightly sick to his stomach, Severus was rather glad when the motion stopped and the surroundings became clear.

They were in a cozy parlour where a fireplace crackled with life and a small table was set with an assortment of holiday treats and mugs of steaming cocoa. A plate of lemon drops was also present. Severus knew whom those were for and couldn't help but smile.

"I thought you'd forgotten how to smile," Rosmerta grinned, thumping him on the back in a friendly way. Severus immediately glared at her and turned his attention to the two children running into the room.

"Mum's made toffee dragon eggs and marzipan wands and…oh look, gingerbread snitches," the younger of the two boys was practically drooling over the afore-mentioned treats.

"And Mum will turn you into a snitch if you touch anything before Professor Dumbledore gets here," the older boy swatted his younger sibling on the head. They promptly fell to wrestling one another on the floor, bringing in an irate witch with flaming red hair and a temper to match.

"Rooms. Now," She pointed towards a staircase that led, presumably, to Rooms.

They looked sheepish. "Yes, Mum," they chorused in unison as they trudged up the stairs.

"Can't we have at least a lemon drop?" The younger one asked but a quick glance at his mother's expression confirmed that the said lemon drops were not to be had.

A ringing bell turned her attention elsewhere. With a frantic look around the room, she hurried to the door and opened it. In stepped an older man, dressed in an outlandish purple robe and sporting a beard that nearly touched the ground.

"Happy Christmas, Professor Dumbledore. It's lovely to see you. Come in…please come in," the woman stood aside to let the older man in.

"Lovely to see you as well…you are looking beautiful as always," he leaned forward to kiss the woman on the cheek, causing her to blush.

"Let me call Harry in…he's so anxious to see you. Have a seat in the parlour…cocoa is ready and should warm you right up."

The ghost turned to Severus. "Seems like a cozy little house they have here."

Severus did not answer.

"It's my understanding that Harry had invited you to join them," the ghost persisted.

"I do not need anyone's pity," he replied caustically.

The scene progressed as more visitors arrived at the household. Soon the little parlour was full of witches and wizards. However, Severus noticed that one was absent.

"She's not here," the ghost replied.

"Why not? I thought she was looking forward to this night."

"She was."

Severus turned to the ghost with barely repressed frustration.

"She wanted you to be there with her…sharing the holidays with her."

"Where is she?"

In answer, the ghost merely looked at her pocket watch and Severus rolled his eyes to the capricious heavens. The scene blurred and the dancing lights began to move in curious patterns. In moments, they were in another place entirely.

The fireplace was not lit and there was only the light of a single candle in the entire room. She was huddled over a desk, writing on a piece of parchment with a quill that had seen better days. Even from his vantage point, he could see that she was crying.

"What is she doing here?"

"She did not want to go to her friend's home without you. You declined the invitation…threw her love for you back into her face. Accused her of many things…undeservedly. You killed her."

"She is not dead," Severus began to feel cold tendrils of fear surround his heart as he came closer to her and tried to read what she was writing.

"Not yet…but soon. You have destroyed the hope that was left in her heart. She cannot live without that hope."

"But…she is not…she cannot possibly be considering…"

"I foresee an empty seat in the Great Hall when the school year resumes. I foresee many tears among colleagues and friends. I foresee emptiness and despair."

"No!" Severus shouted as he tried to approach the woman writing so desperately. "Stop! You must not throw your life away because of me. I will not allow it! I will not! Stop! Stop this instant!"

But he found he could not get any closer to her. Collapsing to the floor, he began to weep uncontrollably.

"You thought she had betrayed you. You thought she did not love you. You were wrong," the ghost said in a cool voice.

For a moment, Severus could not speak. "These things…they are not fixed in stone. They might yet be altered. She is not fated to die!"

"That is not for me to decide. Some things are mutable and others are not. My lot is to simply show you…what you do with this knowledge is entirely up to you."

Severus felt the familiar sensation of being flung through time and space and soon found himself in his own bed.

Rosmerta was fading.

"The third visitor will be here soon. Remember what you have seen and remember what I have told you," she warned, her very image becoming translucent.

"Please stay a little while yet…there is so much for me to know. Please…"

But the ghost had vanished and Severus, suddenly feeling exhausted, swooned backwards on his bed and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

5:30 am

It suddenly felt so cold. Bitterly cold. Severus began to shiver uncontrollably and drew his thin blankets in a futile attempt to warm himself.  Looking around, he saw that the fireplace was empty…looking as if it had not been graced by a fire for some time.  Getting out of bed, he suddenly realized that he was not alone.

"Ollivander?" Severus asked incredulously.  "What on earth are you doing here?"

The thin and pale figure simply looked at him with that piercing stare that Severus had always found so disconcerting.

"Are you here to show me my future life?  To peer through the shroud of tomorrow and witness what may yet be?"

The ghost merely held out a thin hand which Severus, hesitating momentarily from sheer nausea, took.

Instead of the whirling lights of the past and present, Severus found himself floating along the corridors of Hogwarts very slowly.  Looking around curiously, he could not imagine where they were going.

"Where are you taking me?" He asked in a trembling voice.

The ghost did not reply…merely raising a hand and pointing.  Severus felt so cold…the ghost's touch was like ice and the Potions Master found himself, oddly enough, wishing for a mug of the Headmaster's infamous hot cocoa.  Hell, even a mug of butterbeer with Sirius Black sounded inviting at the moment.

"I have truly lost my precarious grip on sanity if I am considering that time spent with that infernally bothersome mutt would be enjoyable," he thought to himself.

They floated onwards and upwards and suddenly Severus realized where he was…the entrance to the office of the Headmaster himself.

"Why have you brought me here?" Severus asked.

The ghost did not answer but pointed at the gargoyle, which had already opened the door.  Gulping slightly, Severus climbed onto the revolving stairs and soon found himself in the office of his friend.

Rather surprised to be suddenly left alone, Severus walked quietly among the stacks of books and other magical apparatus in an attempt to discover the reason for being brought here.  It made no sense.  He saw the sword of Godric Gryffindor.  He glanced at the Pensieve, gleaming in the moonlight.  He smirked at the Sorting Hat, remembering how it had originally wanted to place him in Ravenclaw.

"Perhaps I should have listened," he found himself thinking, not for the first time.

Severus became aware of a slight movement near the window.  Turning suddenly, he saw his friend, Albus Dumbledore, looking out into the night sky holding a mug of steaming cocoa.  Coming closer, Severus was startled to see tears on his friend's face.

"We do not know what hold we have on others until we let go of them ourselves," Albus sighed, wiping at his tears with a shaking finger.  "It was something you never learned and now you are lost as well."

Severus was confused.  What was Albus talking about?

Turning, the older man made his way hesitantly to his chair.  Severus realized, not without some anxiety, that Albus looked older…tired…worn out.  He looked as if…he were quite willing to die.

"If only…you had listened.  If only you had been less proud…less determined to wallow in your self-induced misery.  Every act of kindness was transformed into base pity.  Every kind remark had some hidden sting.  Whenever someone wanted you to join them…you tried to discover their true intentions.  You could never believe that anyone cared about you.  You shut yourself away," Albus took a sip of the cocoa, looking at the mug pensively.

Severus did not know what to say.  Was the older man talking about him?

"You let yourself die on the inside…and now…now, it is too late," the older man's eyes welled with tears and he picked up a handkerchief from his desk.  "It was all in vain…everything we did…everything I tried to do.  I failed you, just as I failed her."

Severus felt his heart break into a thousand pieces at the sight of this man in such agony of spirit.

"You did not fail me, Albus," he whispered shakingly.  "I failed myself and, if anyone is to be blamed for her…it is me."

A chill in the air made Severus turn around.  The ghost had returned, beckoning him towards the staircase.  Turning back to his friend, Severus was surprised to see that he had vanished.  In his place, Minerva was putting up a portrait of Albus Dumbledore.

"No!  This cannot be happening!"  Spirit, wait!  Tell me that this is not his fate…to die in such sorrow!" Severus screamed, running after the ghost in an attempt to reach it.  He tripped and felt himself falling…falling…falling…

"I suppose I will not stop falling until I reach hell itself," he thought to himself, closing his eyes and waiting for the impact he knew would come shortly.

The impact came, but it was not so hard and did not hurt nearly as much as he might have thought.  Opening his eyes cautiously, Severus discovered that he was in a graveyard and it was mid-afternoon, judging by the position of the sun in the sky.  There was a small group of people around one headstone so Severus got up, brushed the dirt off of his nightshirt and walked over to them.  It was freezing cold and there was snow on the ground but Severus no longer felt it and his sense of terror increased as he approached the group.

"I still don't understand," a wizard with messy black hair stood forlornly, holding the hand of a red-haired witch.  "Why did she do this?"

Severus looked at the headstone and gasped.

"You read her letter…she had lost all hope.  When your heart is wrenched with sorrow and pain, death becomes quite appealing.  It is not rational…but, then again, she was not rational," an older man in patched robes spoke quietly as he placed some flowers in front of the headstone.  "Death becomes the only option…living is merely equated with pain.  It is difficult…almost impossible…to see past that."

"It's all his fault," another older man with black hair and a scowling expression spoke angrily, gesturing somewhere behind him.

"It's not his fault either.  He could not see past his own misery…his own despair.  In many ways, they were very much alike," his companion remonstrated mildly.

"But she loved him…and he refused to believe it," the red-haired witch spoke up.

"He was incapable of believing it," the man in the patched robes replied.

"If only he had listened to me…I was trying to be a friend," the younger man shook his head sadly.  "He had saved my life so many times…I wanted him to be happy.  I wanted her to be happy.  Why did those two things seem to him to be mutually exclusive?"

"He loved her…of that, I am certain," the witch replied, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.

"Well, isn't that nice?  She loved him and he loved her.  Where did that get either one of them?" the black-haired older man shouted.

There was silence and Severus watched as the little group huddled together and began whispering to one another quietly.  He saw the older black-haired wizard point to a headstone some distance away and immediately walked over.

The ghost was waiting for him there, pointing at the headstone and fixing him with a cold glare that made goosebumps break out all over Severus' body.  Swallowing compulsively, Severus forced himself to look down.

Sacred to the memory of

Severus Snape

Our Friend

May you find the peace that has so long eluded you.

Practically blinded by tears, Severus fell to the ground and wept uncontrollably.

"If only it had been me…I should not have pushed you away.  What have I done, sweet Merlin, what have I done?" He moaned as he cried.

The ghost merely watched impassively.

"Tell me these things may yet change, spirit!  Tell me that I will have the chance to right these grievous wrongs.  I can change.  I can be a better person.  I can try to make amends.  Please tell me that it is not hopeless…that these events are fated to be.  Tell me that I can save her!"  He screamed as he got up and approached the ghost.  Trying to grab the spectral image of Ollivander and failing, Severus again fell to the ground and closed his eyes, crying as he tried to clutch the fabric of the ghost's robes.

"I can change…I will keep the spirit of the holiday season alive in my heart all year long.  I will appreciate the gift that has been bestowed upon me and not squander it or try to qualify it.  Please tell me that I can do these things…that it is not already too late!"

He cried harder, tears wetting the cold, hard ground but Severus did not care.  All he wanted was a second chance.  He curled into a fetal position and sobbed brokenly, weariness overcoming him as he cried.  Within moments, he had lost consciousness…and the wind whirled around him…

…and he was gone.

9:00 am

The warmth of the morning sun was the first thing Severus became aware of.  He slowly stretched in his bed and reveled in the stiffness that the early morning invariably brought.  The tiny aches and pains of a body that had not rested well…it meant that he was alive and he was immensely grateful.  Opening his eyes, he noticed a small pile of gifts at the foot of his bed. 

"It is Christmas…I have not missed it.  There is time yet!"

Clapping his hands in delight, he proceeded to open his presents by tearing into the paper with the reckless abandon of a child…pieces of pretty paper floating to the ground in a kaleidoscope of colours.

"How lovely…a slab of Honeydukes chocolate from Remus," Severus exclaimed excitedly.  "I will have to invite him to tea and share it with him.  And look, a set of crystal potions vials from Harry…really, very thoughtful.  I think I will brew him some of that Colic tonic he had asked for…that new baby, sweet as she is, isn't giving either of her parents a moment's rest.  Poor little thing.  Why Minerva…a subscription to 'New England Journal of Potions".  Simply wonderful.  And Albus…now this is too much…the newest edition of 'Moste Potente Potions'.  I will certainly have to thank him for this wonderful gift.  Even Sirius Black has sent me a package of dung bombs…I will have to think of how I can surprise him best with these little beauties."

But it was a small parcel with green paper and silver bow that caught his attention.  With shaking hands, he opened it carefully, setting the paper aside as if it were a gift unto itself.  Inside was a small picture frame wrought in pewter.  And in the picture frame was a picture of the two of them, holding hands outside, just beyond the Quidditch pitch.  They were both smiling and holding each other closely.

"And this…this is the best present of all," he whispered as he touched the woman's face lovingly.

Throwing on his old Slytherin robe and donning his slippers once again, Severus practically ran over to a small table and picked up the small parcel that was sitting upon it.  Throwing it into his pocket, he exited his chambers quickly and raced down the corridor to where he knew her rooms to be.

He pounded on the door in earnest, not stopping and not caring if everyone in Hogwarts heard him.  He had something to say and he didn't care if Sirius Black himself was watching.

The door slowly opened and a young witch, pale and with terrible bags under her eyes, looked at him in sleepy confusion.

"What…why are you pounding on my door, Severus?" She asked, rubbing at her eyes like a sleepy child.

"Happy Christmas…I came by to thank you for the lovely present and to give you something that had been…well, overlooked.  Might I come in?" He asked, suddenly feeling awkward at the wary expression on her face.

"Of course, Severus," she replied as she stepped aside to let him pass.  He walked in and stood, somewhat agitated, as she sat down in a small wing chair.

He winced at the hurt in her eyes.  She had spent much of the night crying.  He saw several torn pieces of parchment on a nearby desk and a quill that was snapped in two.

Not knowing what else to do, Severus suddenly kneeled down in front of her and took her cold hands in his.

"Can you forgive an old reprobate like myself?  Can you possibly forgive me for choosing the think the worst of you…take all your love for me and throw it back at you as if it meant nothing at all to me?  I have acted abominably…and I have hurt you dreadfully.  I have refused to listen…refused to talk…refused to believe that you cared about me at all.  In short, I acted like the slimy git of an overgrown bat that Sirius has always believed me to be."  Severus spoke quickly, looking deep into her eyes.

"But why?" Her eyes welled with tears.  "Why were you so willing to throw everything away…why did you think I was merely amusing myself?"

"I saw you in the laboratory," he looked down at the ground in shame. 

"You…you saw…but that…it was nothing but…"

"I realize that now," he looked up to her again, her brow furled with concern.  "But I did not realize it then.  I refused to give you the opportunity to explain, hiding in my mistaken belief that you did not love me.  I felt that you were using me…and I…I thought you wanted to flaunt me to your friends…the domesticated, emasculated Severus Snape."

She reached out to touch his hair softly.  "I would never do that to you…I had given up all hope…the pain in my heart…it was unbearable.  We had been through so much together…to have it tossed aside like an old rag doll was more than I could bear."

He embraced her tightly, breathing in the unique scent that was her own.  "I will never hurt you again."

"But you will, Severus…and I will hurt you also.  That is the nature of our humanity…but, we must never allow ourselves to fall into this trap of not communicating.  Assumptions are rarely correct," she murmured into his hair as she held him tightly.

There was nothing better than holding her in his arms.

Nothing.  And so he contented himself with simply holding her…for she was the most precious gift of all.

"I have brought you something," he finally said sometime later.

"I already have you…what more could I possibly want?"  She replied as she pulled away to look at him, her eyes no longer shining with tears but with happiness.

"That was for me to say, my dear," he tapped her on the nose playfully as he reached into his pocket with his other hand and pulled out the small box.  Her eyes went wide with wonder.

"What is this?" She asked as she took the box from his hand.

"That is for you to discover," he replied, with a raise of one eyebrow.

Blushing, she slowly unwrapped the little box and opened it.  Inside, was a beautiful hair comb, studded with emeralds.  She immediately took it out of the box and, twisting her hair expertly into a French roll, fastened it securely with the comb.

"It's beautiful…thank you so very much," she smiled as she stood up to look at herself in a nearby mirror.  The emeralds glinted in the light like living things.

"I will admit to having ulterior motives in the procuring of this particular gift," Severus smirked as he stood up, walking over to stand behind her.

"That is a very Slytherin sentiment," she smiled at their reflection.  "Tell me of your motives."

"Well, for one thing…the comb serves the undeniably wondrous purpose of exposing the nape of your neck to my attention," he leaned down to kiss the back of her neck, making her shiver.  He placed his arms around her waist and practically growled as she leaned into him.

"And is there another purpose?" She asked, leaning back and reaching up to caress his cheek.

"Yes, my dear…I can also pull it out and witness the cascading ripples of your beautiful hair," he practically purred as her hair settled itself around her shoulders, stray strands tickling his nose.  "So you see, my dear, I win either way."

"Another Slytherin sentiment…but I think I get to win as well," she turned to face him, kissing him deeply on the mouth.

"Typical Gryffindor arrogance.  How do you win?" He murmured against her lips.

Her eyes gleamed with playful mischief and Severus was forced to acknowledge that she was right, after all…

**********************************

"Happy Christmas, Hermione," he mumbled sleepily sometime later.

"Happy Christmas, Severus," she whispered as she snuggled closer to him.

"Merlin bless us…everyone," Severus thought with a small smile.  "Even Sirius Black."

A/N:  Happy Holidays to everyone…whatever holiday you celebrate!