A/N: I don't know WHAT possessed me to write this. I don't really like it, so...why did I write it?? Let me explain something first -- in the world of this particular fanfic, the people mentioned are all in the same house together, even though that may seem improbable. It works with the story. *shrugs* Oh, and I own nothing. Except a strawberry sceneted candle! *g*




She stared out of one of the curtained windows, gray sky meeting her gaze. Bleak, brown, lifeless.....she hated winter. Even Christmas....well, she didn't really hate Christmas. She just hated all the pain and humiliation that seemed to come with it, year after year.

With a sigh, she walked over to a mirror hanging on the opposite wall and studied her reflection. Dark hair framed a pale face with large, haunted eyes and faded ruby lips. Her appearance seemed to fit well with both the weather and her own mood: bleak, brown, lifeless.

Christmas Eve. This was exactly how she had spent Christmas Eve for the past twenty three years. Alone, shut up in her quarters. It hadn't always been like that....oh, no, she remember the Christmases she used to spend with her friends at Hogwarts. "But that was a long time ago." she thought, lighting a dusty, strawberry-scented candle sitting on her dresser. Retrieving those memories was like looking at a lost storybook from her childhood; she remembered the way the lines went, but it didn't seem like any of it ever happened to her.


~*~*~*~*~*~


"I keep telling you, you can't roast marshmallows like that!" Sixth year Rita said bossily, tossing her thick blonde hair over her shoulder. Minerva only pursed her lips silently, sticking her tongue out the corner of her mouth in concentration as she tried to balance the fluffy white marshmallow over a flickering pink candle.

Rolling her eyes, Rita pulled out her wand and pointed it towards another marshmallow. "Inflammo!" she said confidantly, only to have the marshmellow explode into a quick burst of blue flame, leaving only a small pile of ashes behind. She pouted for a moment, then turned around to face Sibyll. "Will you kindly explain to Minnie --

"I did not give you permission to call me that."

"Sorry. Will you kindly explain to Min-er-va that you can't roast marshmallows on a candle flame?"

Sibyll glanced up from the book she was reading and shrugged. "Hate to break this to you, Rita, but hers looks a heck of a lot better than yours turned out." It was true; Minerva's candy had turned a golden brown color, compared to the black crumbs Rita's wand had left behind.

"If you don't mind my asking...why don't you just roast them in the fireplace?" a voice interupted them. Three heads turned to see Remus and Sirius, two first years, sitting at a checkerboard in the corner of the common room. Remus had spoken quite solemnly, but it was obvious he was trying to hide a grin. Sirius didn't bother hiding his own amusement.

"Because....because it's more fun this way." Minerva said haughtily. After a slight pause, she blew the candle out quickly. "The whole room smells like strawberries, and it's making me sick." she explained.

"Oh, I think it smells lovely.....I love candles. They make things smell like spring, even at Christmas." Sibyll said mistily, her eyes glazing over in a dazelike expression that was familiar for her. Minerva shook her head.

"Earth to Sibyll, wake up from your little dreamland. If you like candles so much, why'd you give one to ME for Christmas?" she laughed. Snapping out of her trance, Sibyll returned the grin.

"Well, explain why YOU gave ME boots that are a size too big?" she retorted teasingly. Minerva replied promptly,

"So I can borrow them, of course. Which is exactly the same reason you gave me the candle."

Meanwhile, Rita had become upset at losing her spot as the center of attention. "My sweet little Severus got me this." she said loudly, holding out her hand. A polished red stone rested in a silver band around her middle finger. Not an expensive ring, but pretty, and flashy enough for Rita's tastes. "Isn't that just the nicest gift you ever saw a boy give a girl in all your LIFE?" she gushed, making sure she was speaking loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. Minerva rolled her eyes.

"Rita, he's a Slytherin, and he's even mean for one of them. I don't know why you insist on dating him." she sighed, shaking her head.

"Oh, come on, Min. He's not all that bad." Sibyll said, then paused. "Okay, so maybe he's a little pale -- "

"Can you both please stop talking about my boyfriend that way?" Rita whined, turning the ring around on her finger.

"No." Minerva replied automatically. Rita pouted.

"Well, FINE then. I'm going to bed." she said. "And a merry Christmas to you, too!" With that, she retreated to the girl's dormitory in a huff. By then, everyone else had left the common room except Minerva and Sibyll; Sirius had run off in disgust at the first mention of Severus Snape, and Remus had followed as soon as he had cleared the checkerboard.

"It's getting late, we might as well turn in. Merry Christmas, Sibyll." Minerva said, getting to her feet. Grinning, she handed the candle back to her friend. "Here, you'll use this more than I will."

Laughing, Sibyll returned the boots, as well. "Next year, why don't we just give each other money? It'd make a lot more sense."

"Deal."


~*~*~*~*~*~*~


They never had a next year. Sibyll had grown more distant and dreaming over the next year, shutting herself away from all her old friends. That angered Minerva, and so they quarrelled.....the quarrell never got made up. Both of them were too stubborn to admit that they might have been wrong. It could have been so much different.....


Laughter from the floor below jerked her out of her thoughts. Christmas Eve. They were all having the time of their lives down there, drinking wine and telling stories. No one ever bothered to come see if she wanted to join in. No one ever bothered to send her a gift, or even a card, for that matter. With the exception of Dumbledore, of course.....he made sure everyone on the staff got a little something.......but the only thing she really wanted was something she was too proud to ask for: forgiveness.

A sharp knock on the trap door echoed loudly in the silence. "Who is it?" she called, the misty tone that she normally put in her voice absent for a change. There was no reply. She paused, then swept over to the door, pulling it open.

A bag of marshmallows sat on the top step, along with a pink candle. A tag was attached to the candle jar. Stooping, she picked up both items and tearfully read the message scrawled in green ink on the note:


Merry Christmas, Sibyll.