A/N: I saw this one challenge/story (can't remember which) and was inspired to write this. FYI: Dumbledore didn't die during the war, but everything else is pretty much HB-DH compliant.
Deck the halls with gasoline
Fa-la la-la la, la la, la, la
Strike a match and watch it gleam
Fa-la la-la la, la la, la, la
Watch our exams burn to ashes
Fa-la la-la la, la la, la, la
Now we've learned to play with matches
Fa-la la-la la, la la, la, la!
"Eggnog, my boy?"
Turning away from the mass of merry-making students, Severus Snape's foul mood was worsened by the goblet of vomitous-looking yellow substance being thrust under his nose.
"No thank you, Headmaster," he replied, taking a deliberate sip of his wine. He was determined to consume just enough alcohol to where he lost feeling in his fingers and possibly his sense of nausea, but no more and no less than that. He didn't need another pointless beverage to distract him from his measurements.
But the old fool would have none of that. Dumbledore waved the goblet in front of him (Almost as if it was something to be desired, Severus thought), and pleaded:—
"Come now, Severus. Just a sip— ?"
"It's very sweet—"
"All the more reason," he retorted, squaring his shoulders brusquely. He brought his own goblet to his thin lips again and cast his gaze once more like a net over the sea of students. The Christmas Eve buzz filling the air was unmistakably sickening, and it would have sent him into a fit of scowling had he not reminded himself that this was the most jovial any of them had been for well over a year. Normally, even that failed to evoke his pathos; but, in light of recent events, he too— yes, he, the greasy, bat-like, thought-traitorous git— saw fit to cut them all some slack.
Are they still in shock? he wondered, black eyes moving between rosy, laughing faces, wildly ecstatic smiles, and the occasional mask made of roughly applied whipped cream. They all seem so nonchalant. Careless. The same bloody scenario of all Christmas' past— with noticeably more enthusiasm (he added this hastily, having just caught a glimpse of the graceless Longbottom being sandwiched by two Hufflepuff girls). Had it truly dawned on them the momentous nature of an occurrence some three months prior?
Was it even right to be celebrating? His gazed strayed to the Gryffindor table, their number inconspicuously but desolately fewer than those of their neighbors. They all had thrown themselves fully into the festivities as much as the other houses, but their faces were grimmer, smiles tighter, laughter strained. The only house whose gloom surpassed that of the lions' was his own, Slytherin. Their numbers were even less than their former enemies, filling up little more than half the table; the empty spots jeered at them as they talked in small circles where jocular activities of any kind sounded awkward and were immediately squashed. Severus knew for a fact that the other three houses were still debating the true source of the Slytherin's despondency: whether it was that they, as a house and social class, had lost the war or that they had suffered more casualties than all else. More than half of the few who had not died fighting were orphans now, parents and relatives either dead or serving out life sentences in Azkaban.
And he had to wonder: with as many lives lost, was there really any cause for celebration?
From out of the heady sea, a head of unruly dark hair bobbed up. Brilliant green eyes flashed in Severus' direction.
He blinked, unfazed. Then he returned to the Headmaster once more.
"Did you say something, Albus?"
The elderly man laughed, and his jolliness couldn't fail to remind Severus of a certain denominational Christmas icon (without the benefit of a baby Baby Ruth growing inside his belly).
"I was asking, Severus, if anything on earth could possibly warm that icy demeanor of yours?"
"It's unlikely," he replied, standing from his seat. He gave a slight bow and said, "If you will excuse me, Headmaster, I have some business to attend to. . . ."
Ignoring the blustering entreaties from the living relic with tooth decay that would give any troll a run for its money, he straightened, whirled, and glided off, opening a convenient side door and slipping out. A last swish of his billowing cloak, and the door closed shut.
From the Gryffindor table, a single student rose. Whereas before he would have been bombarded with stares and questions, his actions went unseen in the thick of the rollicking. Giving a quick word to his right and left wings, he walked quickly down the rows, and opened one of the great doors by a crack. He too slipped out of sight.
Cold. The snow crunched under his boots much more loudly than he would have liked, and the chill, late December air attacked his pallid flesh. He knew that he should have put on something more agreeable to the weather— something warmer, per say— but the lack of wind took away any real necessity for warmth. Some nights, it was just as cold in the dungeons. The presence of snow didn't make much of a difference.
But damn, was it loud.
He winced at every foot fall, hearing the grinding of his steps through ice and the way it traveled the wide expanse of the grounds, resounding. Surely, it was a sound to wake the dead. God knew there had been plenty of bloodshed upon this frozen earth; the very ground upon which he now walked had before been piled high with bodies only two months before, stinking and rotting as survivors milled about in search of their loved ones. Every step he took was a crunch of bones.
Which was why it surprised him that he did not hear the young man approach him through the drifts of snow.
Severus looked up, mildly startled to see Potter standing a few feet away, having just halted under an oak tree. A red and yellow Gryffindor scarf was wound around his neck and his hands were shoved deep into his pockets. Behind ridiculous round glasses, green eyes watched him solemnly.
"Always, Potter. But you knew that, I trust."
A tiny smile crept onto the boy's face and he drew closer, feet making little to no sound. Only a slight sloshing led him to stand a few feet away from where the bat-like potions professor had stopped.
"Yeah, well, Christmas and all. Thought you might turn a cheek for the occasion." He kicked at a clump of snow, scattering the crystals. "Guess some things never change."
"You would not be the first to try and pester me into a cheery mood."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Why are you not at the feast, Potter?" Severus was having a hard time figuring out why he was talking to the boy in such an informal fashion; and in nearly polite terms, as well. He felt one harsh black eyebrow shoot up, contorting like a question mark. When, precisely, did that happen?
In answer to his question, the boy shrugged his narrow shoulders. "Dunno. Curiosity, I guess— or, what did you call it? 'Assumed god-given right to be informed on everything'? Something like that. But you can't really blame me this time, though."
"And why not?"
"The most important spy in the whole damn war sits through the celebratory feast consuming one goblet of wine after another, and then just up and scarpers. Can't expect to not be noticed with that kind of behavior. You were bound to turn one or two heads."
Severus could not help but be impressed. Potter's observational skills had certainly sharpened over the years. As had his social grace, it would seem. Maybe the latter could be attributed to a ll the parties and gatherings and (inevitably) funerals he'd gone to in the past two months; the cause of his keen sight was rather obvious.
"And you," he mocked, "would care enough to follow me, Potter? How touching."
The effect of his iciness was immediately recognized. The boy stiffened, muscles in his face and neck contracting almost painfully. His green eyes, amazing in the innocence they managed to retain, fell to the sparkling white ground. He did not reply.
Severus nodded to himself. Just as he'd thought. It was just as well, too, that the conversation end here before Potter heard any more unpleasantness and other things he ought not know; here where the ice was thin but still not fractured. Yes, it was best . . . but he could not walk away. Some unfathomable notion was rooting him to the spot, keeping him drawn to this tormented man-child, the flesh and blood of both his greatest rival and closest friend, the one he had sworn to both hate and protect at all costs. He who had conquered the Dark Lord, who stood before him now, shivering unremarkably in the cold.
In a voice that was barely audible, the boy said:—
"We won, you know."
Severus sneered, bitter malice curling up inside him. "Truly? And I thought our losing was the cause of all this mindless festivity—"
"If you know then why aren't you reaping the rewards?!"
The gale that shot from his trembling blue lips cracked through the veil of stillness. Severus felt his eyes widen minutely, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Never before did he recall the boy speaking with such fervor.
"You act like we're still in the tick of it," he said in a quieter voice. "Like you expect to be summoned any minute. Don't you get it? He's dead. Gone! So stop brooding and live a little. I'm not saying that you have to sing carols and chug eggnog and hug every bloody person you see! But at least—"
He couldn't take it.
"Silence, Potter!" he barked. No. This bratty, insufferable little ingrate would not be giving him advice. He had just been on the verge of commending the boy's senses, and now this daftness? Was he blind?
"Simply because we won, does not mean that all are victorious," he seethed, trying to keep most of his outrage at bay, though it bubbled blackly in his throat. "In case it did not reach your precious ears, people have died, Potter. You remember what this place looked like a month ago?!" He gestured roughly at the serene, sloping white hills, glistening blamelessly.
And he didn't have to say anything.
Corpses. Decaying persons littered everywhere, leaving little enough clear space to walk in, like a scene out of Dante's Inferno. He didn't have to say anything— he saw it reflected in Potter's own eyes— but he couldn't resist. He'd been holding onto it for too long.
"Witches, wizards, muggles, Deatheaters, men, women, children— dead." He spate the word like venom. "All mangled, all bloody, and any patch of skin not overflowing with lesions was ashen." Piled like sardines, a mesh of flesh and bone. He threw an accusing finger at the tree to his right, the one that Potter had just been standing under. "That very tree was ornamented with severed heads."
And if he closed his eyes, he knew he'd be able to see it, them. Hung by their hair, perched in limbs, eyes closed, skin dirty, mouths open in stupid awe. Severus blinked, dazed. When he was able to focus again, he settled on the twin emeralds watching him from a pale face.
"Those who did survive are haunted by ghosts, bare their scars." His bottomless jet-colored eyes flashed.
"And those scars will not fade."
The boy was silent for a blissful moment as the air discharged itself of the Potions Master's wrathful tirade. As the latter let his breathing slow, restoring his own calm, he witnessed the conflict that rose and mingled in his pupil's expression.
"That doesn't mean we can't be happy," he croaked.
Severus kept his motuh shut, waiting for him to continue.
"Nobody said we aren't hurting." He took a brave step closer, and the details in his face were sung out like a melody. "Those people in there," he nodded to the school, its lights twinkling back at them, "half of them were bawling their eyes out before they came downstairs. Some of them are still crying through their laughter. And I know it doesn't seem right. . . ." his voiced lowered at this, as though it was hard to admit.
". . . but why were we fighting in the first place? To laugh again, to live without fear and, yeah, to cry, because now there's finally time again. But it's not the time for tears, not now; now," he said with new courage, "now is the time to celebrate."
Astonishingly enough, Severus had nothing to say to this. No sneers, or contradictory remarks, no addendums or comments on Potter's brash and wasted optimism. No. A peaceful look cam across the professor's ordinarily strict features, and he nodded to himself, eyes wandering away to waltz the length of the grounds, lost in thought.
Because he realized that, despite everything, maybe the boy was right.
Maybe this was the way it was supposed to end.
Is if sensing his professor's decisive thoughts, the boy asked brazenly: "Satisfied?"
Severus tore himself from the land, bringing his attentions back to Potter. Midnight irises bored into emerald, neither backing down.
Finally, Severus nodded.
"I suppose so."
A brilliant smile broke out onto the younger man's face, giving him a childish cast. He seemed to glow with an inner light, a pale beacon in the dim.
But Severus merely gave him another look; then turned heel. He began marching slowly back towards the castle. He was not surprised in the slightest to hear another, lighter pair of footsteps catch up with him.
"Good," the boy affirmed, matching strides. "Now let's tackle something else."
"Such as . . . ?"
"Why you don't like Christmas."
Severus grimaced. "Potter, the sole fact that I have yet to hand you a detention does not make us, in any way, 'friends' or on any terms related to such. Therefore, I do not feel inclined—"
"Oh, come on, Professor," he wheedled, knowing he was pushing it, but not seeing why he should particularly care. "Telling me is better than telling Dr. Phil?"
"Never mind. Did your parents hate Christmas?"
"Was it something my dad did?" he asked, somewhat anxiously.
Severus trudged on. "No."
"Would you tell me if it was?"
"Then was it a bad experience with eggnog?" he tried, remembering Snape refusing the cup that Dumbledore had offered him at the feast.
"Now you are grasping at straws—"
"Well, there's got to be some reason. I mean, I know you're pessimistic but everybody likes Christmas— "