A/N: I own nothing. Please don't sue me.

This is a Christmas-themed SS/HG one-shot. I am aware that it is more than a little OOC, and I'm sorry (so don't flame me), but it's Christmas! Enjoy!

It was Christmas Eve.

Snow was falling in the dark, blanketing the roads, the fields, the houses of the tiny village nestled between two hills as though it was itself seeking shelter. A stillness had descended upon the village in the hours since night had fallen, adding a seemingly unnatural hush to the road upon which several thatched cottages sat, and they too were in darkness. It was only in a house set further away from the others, a cottage that appeared resistant to the picture-postcard groupings of the others, that a light could be seen in the window. If anyone had been awake to see it then they would have watched it dwindle away to a faint orange glow as the minutes and hours of time marched on towards midnight.

But no one saw. The village, and all of it's occupants were asleep. All save for one.

Severus Snape sat in front of the embers of his dying fire, his chin resting in a pale, elegant hand as he observed, but did not really see, the contents of the fireplace. He was hunched in a wingback chair, relying on the extensive layers of black which he wore to provide adequate insulation, as the fire was certainly not producing enough heat to warm the chill that he felt, and thought that he would perhaps always feel, all the way through to the core of his being.

Black eyes blinked once, and then again as he turned his attention to the window and noticed the small flakes of snow dancing against the glass, seemingly seeking entrance into the room, oblivious of the fact that it would melt them. He was on his feet in a single fluid motion, silently pacing the five steps that brought him to the window in order that he could see the snow better.

What he could see from his window was almost entirely white; the snow had coated everything and yet continued to fall from a sky heavy with it. A hill rolled away and up from his window, and nothing was moving except the snow.

Snape's heart felt suddenly heavy, and he fidgeted uncomfortably against a sensation he had not experienced in the longest time. He knew what it was to be alone, but had always assumed it to be more of a state of mind, not something to be influenced by what went on without, not for him. Staring at the snow, he could not understand why it should affect him so on a cold Christmas Eve in the middle of nowhere.

Ah, but Severus, the whispery voice of Albus Dumbledore admonished him from a time and place so far removed that he could barely remember it, nobody should be alone at Christmas!

Unconsciously now, his hands were gripping the edge of the window ledge. It was not a sentiment that he would ever have agreed with, and yet…and yet…

Snape knew himself changed in the years since the old headmaster's death, made over into something more than he had ever wanted to be, made over into someone who could care about other people…someone who let love and affection into his life for the first time…someone who ultimately pushed it all away in favour of a self-imposed purgatory when there was just the smallest chance that his happiness could be sustained…

He did not know it, as he gazed unseeingly out of his window, but his face had turned as white as the snow that fell silently before him.

He did not know how long he stood there, mulling over the remains of a life he had single-handedly ruined, but it was the sudden and solemn ring of a bell, somewhere over the hill, which startled him from his reverie. Wheeling away from the window he moved instead to the heavy wooden cottage door, dragging it open with a strength that belied his wiry frame.

He stared cautiously out of the door, feeling the cold air wrapping itself around his face and making his eyes water as he waited for them to adjust to the darkness, hearing the continued ringing of the bell through the otherwise silent air as he looked first up and then down the road that connected his cottage to the rest of the village. There was no one there, no telltale footprints marred the smooth snowfall, and even the bell fell silent again as he closed to door, only to lean heavily against it.

He did not understand why he had thought someone outside, coming for him. He decided that he was delusional. There was not one person in the world who cared for the fact that he even existed, just who was he trying to fool?

Oh but my boy, Dumbledore's voice echoed back to him again, you have no one to blame for that except yourself, do you?

"No." Snape's voice, rough from lack of use, and unexpected, cut through the silence with an almost arrogant ease. "No, I don't. Do you have any other pearls of wisdom for me, old man?"

The voice was of course silent, and the only response he was to receive was the harsh sound of his own bitter laughter. He realised now, far, far too late, that after sharing your life with someone you could never simply slide back into being alone as if it did not matter.

She had left him, and it did matter. He had busied himself with every other thing he could think of in the few weeks since she had gone, stubbornly refusing the olive branch she had later offered, preferring instead to flee Hogwarts to his cottage, cutting off all communication with anybody who really mattered, and most especially with the woman who had shown him a side of himself he did not know could ever exist, and a side of himself which he could no longer deny, even after it had slipped through his fingers…

He closed his eyes, wincing.

I can't marry you, Severus, her voice floated back to him from a far-off place, and the flinch he gave then was a mirror image of the one he had given when she had first spoken those words.

Why not? He remembered demanding, feeling something wither and die in his soul even as he did so. Her eyes had filled with tears, for herself or for him, he could not decide.

Because you don't love me, she had said.

Because you don't love me. That unspoken truth, which for months had hovered between them, had finally been given voice and it had ruined everything. If she had hoped that he might contradict her, she was sadly mistaken. He would not lie to her, could not even try because he knew that she would not believe him. She was the brightest witch he had ever known; he did not suppose her a fool, not for one moment.

The old anger had returned then, accompanied by an intensified bitterness that made him lash out blindly, pushing her away and forcing her out of his life without any further discussion. He remembered her tears, the broken protestations…

Please don't make me leave, she had begged him, and then when he would not respond and he knew her desperation was at it's highest: why won't you try?

All alone in his cottage in the first few minutes of Christmas Day, Severus Snape shivered uncontrollably.

She had been right, of course. He had not tried, not at all, so satisfied was he with the fact that she had loved him enough to tolerate his strange moods and caustic sarcasm. Looking back, he was surprised that she had stayed so long, but he knew what it was that had kept her by his side, as it was something that had kept him alive for many years.

Hope.

She had hoped that one day he might love her, and he regretted terribly that he had never even entertained the possibility. It was too late now, of course, and he was all too aware of the pain that his selfish and arrogant behaviour had caused.

We can always change, Dumbledore seemed to be whispering in his ear, it is never too late, Severus.

He opened his eyes then, and made his way back to the fireplace. Adding wood from the basket that sat next to it, he warmed his hands on the growing blaze, wondering if it wasn't too late for him to find her, to convince her that he would try…

He had fallen asleep in the chair and the fire had again burned down to almost nothing when the knock at the door startled him into wakefulness. The faint pink light at the window told him that dawn was fast approaching, and that it had stopped snowing.

Wand in hand, he approached the door cautiously, opening it just enough to see outside, surprised for the second time to find nothing. Risking opening the door a little wider, he frowned, wondering if he had dreamed the knocking. Christmas morning was as still and silent as a tomb. Then looked down and saw the footprints.

They came from the road, snaking a path through the garden to stop right in front of him. He narrowed his eyes.

"Potter?" His voice was a low hiss. "Remove that cloak and show yourself immediately. I know that you are here."

He could not have prepared himself for what happened next.

The air seemed to shimmer for a moment, before the invisibility cloak was removed to reveal not Harry Potter, but Hermione Granger. She was staring at him unflinchingly, warmly wrapped in robes of heavy velvet.

"Not quite, Severus," she smiled and inclined her head slightly. He looked at her blankly, not quite willing to believe that she was really standing in front of him.

"What are you doing here, Miss Granger?" His voice, when he finally found it, was strangely toneless. She raised her eyebrows, chocolate brown eyes showing some of the hurt she was desperately trying to hide.

"Miss Granger, is it now?"

"Hermione, then." He snapped.

"I'm here to see you, Severus," she said quietly, dropping her eyes from his. He felt something twist inside him then, staring at the top of her curly head. The door creaked as he opened it wide enough so that she might gain admittance. He did not turn to see if she was following as he returned to the fireplace, but as he busied himself with the fire he could feel her presence close by, hovering somewhere behind his left shoulder.

Her hand, so warm against his back, came as such a surprise that he immediately wheeled about to face her, finding her so close that they were standing almost shoulder to shoulder, and as she was looking up at him with such an expression of longing he felt entirely justified in wrapping his arms around her to hold her close.

He felt her warmth seep into him as she rested her forehead against his throat and returned his embrace. His wand slipped from his nerveless fingers and clattered noisily onto the floor. She whimpered, a sound mixed of despair and relief, and squeezed him so hard that he struggled to breathe.

When she finally pulled away in order to look up at him her eyes were damp with tears, but she was smiling. He touched her cheek fleetingly.

"How did you find me?" He asked her softly. She shrugged.

"The ministry."

He sneered.

"Potter and Weasley."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I don't know." She laughed, the sound wobbling precariously, threatening to give way to more tears. "I just had to see you…" She lifted her warm hands to place them against his cold, pale face. "I just had to know…"

He bent his head to kiss her once, chastely.

"Know what?" His voice was gravelly, his eyes dark. She stared at him for such a time he did not think that she would give him an answer.

"I was hoping that you might change your mind about -"

"Trying, yes." He nodded at her.

"And?"

He sighed, unable to bite back a smile at her expectant expression.

"It will not be easy…" he warned.

"I never expected it to be," she countered.

"I cannot promise you anything…"

She frowned.

"I can't live without you, Severus. I've tried and I just can't. Come back to Hogwarts, come back with me."

He paused, wondering if what she proposed was any good for either of them, and abruptly decided that whatever happened now he would rather try to love the woman he held in his arms and have her love him than be alone.

"Come to the window with me, Hermione," he invited, steering her over to it. She stood next to him, her head on his chest, his arms around her, and they watched the sun rise together. The world around them slowly began to waken, and he had made his decision.

He looked down at her, and she up at him.

"Happy Christmas, Hermione," he whispered.

She smiled.

"Happy Christmas, Severus."

THE END