Severus Snape sat cross legged in front of the fire. He stared into it with a frown on his face. Every so often he would rip a piece of the parchment that he held in his lap and toss it into the fire, watching as the paper exploded into bright flames. If there was any holiday he hated with a passion, it was Christmas.
Here it was Christmas Eve and he was alone again. He thought of all the teachers and children at Hogwarts, most of which had left for the holidays. They would be enjoying the company of their families, opening presents tonight or tomorrow, and feasting on wassail and Yorkshire pudding. His frown deepened.
Even when he was a boy, he had never been lucky enough to have a Christmas like that. Usually his Father would drink himself into a stupor and he and his mother would be lucky to escape the holiday unscathed. There was never enough money for presents. He would usually only receive some wrapped up hand me downs from his older cousin.
His adult life's Christmas memories were none the better. The type of friends he had associated with for most of his life were not the gift giving type. Of course, he usually got small things from his fellow teachers, at least from those who didn't care that he wouldn't get them a gift in return. Dumbledore and McGonagall would send him a small gift each year. The other teachers had slowly stopped sending him things as it usually made his demeanor even sourer to have to thank them when he had not reciprocated the gift. Albus and Minerva never seemed to get flustered by him though, and kept the tradition going. He was sure their two gifts would be waiting for him when he awoke tomorrow.
He heaved a great sigh. He just hated all of the fake pleasantries that surrounded this holiday. People who normally wouldn't give you a second glance were all of a sudden your best friend. Maybe if they would pay more attention to him during the year he would feel less reluctant to be such a grump all of the time.
Frowning he threw another small piece of parchment onto the flames. His eyes lit up with the outburst from the fire. His mind wandered to Eliza. He wondered what she was doing for Christmas. Eliza Hemingway was the new Muggle Studies teacher. Despite his greatest efforts at keeping his distance from her, she nevertheless had gotten under his skin. When he scowled at her, she smiled at him. When he barked at her, she replied evenly and with gentleness in her voice. When he ignored her completely, she waltzed up to him and started a conversation. The woman was insufferable. Couldn't she tell he wanted to be left alone?
Obviously she didn't because she turned up everywhere. Finally he had given up trying to avoid her and they had wound up having an amiable relationship. She was very intelligent, and in spite of being in love with everything Muggle, she was an accomplished witch. The one thing that annoyed him completely was that the woman was too darn happy. She was always making him feel better about things when all he wanted to do was stew in his own anger. It was completely infuriating.
The woman was insufferable. She was always happy. She literally pranced around the corridors, her blonde curls bouncing after her and her deep blue eyes sparkling. The vision of her face had burned itself into his memory and she even haunted his dreams with her happy laugh and beautiful smile.
He crumpled what was left of the parchment and threw it into the fire in disgust. He had been fighting his feelings for months now. He couldn't stop thinking of her because he was in love with her. All of the things that had once annoyed him he now found to be endearing. He scoffed at himself. He couldn't remember the last time he thought anyone's traits had been endearing, and now he was totally gaga over this woman who he knew did not return the same feelings.
She had come to Hogwarts fresh from breaking up with her fiancée. She had found the jerk cheating on her with someone he worked with. Even the misery of that breakup had not kept her from being positive about life. As he had gotten to know her, though, she had revealed to him her heartbreak and grief at being jilted. Although she maintained a chipper exterior, she had had a very hard few months. As she told him more of her old relationship, the more he wanted to hunt down her ex-fiancée and murder him, or at least cause him bodily harm. How anyone could give up such a wonderful woman was beyond him.
He had offered to go after the man for her, but she had looked at him oddly and told him that wasn't necessary. Then she had burst out laughing. He didn't think she knew how upset he had been by her circumstance.
She had only gotten angry at him once. It had been early in the year. She had stumbled upon Severus chastising a first year for exploding his cauldron. He had removed him into the corridor, and was yelling as loud as he could at the boy. Evidentally, he had been yelling very loudly, because Eliza had come storming down the stairs, a look of fury in her eyes.
"Professor Snape, a word, please?" she had demanded.
"I will be finished here in a moment, Professor Hemingway," he had tersely answered.
"NOW!" she had retorted.
He stared at her in shock. Very few people ever spoke to him like that. Even fewer repeated their mistake. He shooed the student back into the room and closed the door so they could talk without being overheard by a bunch of dullard brats.
"Professor," she said without preamble, "how can you speak to one of your students like that? Especially a student in his first year?"
"What I do with my students is none of your concern!" he sneered.
"How can you say that? That boy is here to learn. He's going to make mistakes. He does not deserve to be ripped to shreds every time he makes one in your class."
Anger filled him. "Professor Hemingway, I do not tell you how to teach your classes, I expect the same respect."
"You'll get my respect, Professor Snape, when you've earned it. I would hope that you can control your temper from now on!"
And with that, she wheeled away, leaving him staring after her in fury and yet he was amazed that she had stood up to him.
He laughed to himself, but at the time he had been livid. If she had not been a Professor he probably would have sent a hex at her. They didn't speak or even look at each other for a week. Then, the most surprising thing happened. She apologized. She told him that she had been wrong to question his methods and that she had been out of line. She did mention that she hated seeing first years being belittled and ask him to rethink his severity of punishments. Then she said that in reality she respected him very much for his knowledge and abilities.
He had still not spoken to her for another week, but she had slowly broken down his defenses with her smiles and chipper prattle. Before he knew it he was responding to her questions about his well being and, the horror of it, even smiling at her now and again.
He should have realized he was doomed right then and there. She was just too beautiful and friendly to resist. They went from smiles in the corridors to sitting next to each other at dinner, visiting in the teacher's lounge for hours on end, and taking an occasional trip to Hogsmeade.
After a while, he realized that his thoughts were wandering to Eliza more often. He thought of her several times a day, wondering where she was. Then came the dreams. Blissful dreams where they embraced and kissed and told of their love for one another.
But these were only dreams. He knew she could not feel for him as he felt for her. She was still getting over her breakup and he was too much of a grump to ever receive the affection of such a woman as Eliza Hemingway. His past had been too dark. He had done too many terrible things.
He, of course, had told her of his past. She actually hadn't seemed to care. He had seen other people shrink back when they found out he had been a Death Eater, but she just acted like there was nothing different. He had been immensely relieved at that.
She had her own secrets. She admitted to being a terrible prankster in her younger years, actually turning Professor Dumbledore purple with a magical candy. The gag had backfired and after a night in the infirmary he remained purple for about a week. She was thankful that he was the forgiving sort and hadn't expelled her immediately. She had completed her years at Hogwarts without further incident, but to this day still enjoyed a good prank. She seemed to enjoy the Weasley twins immensely. She had been apprehensive about applying for the Muggle Studies job, thinking that Dumbledore might hold a grudge, but Albus had never spoken of the prank again during her school years and had eagerly agreed to hire her.
Severus' thoughts turned to the week before holiday break. He had asked her what she was doing for the holidays and had been surprised that she was remaining at Hogwarts. Her family was going to Greece and she didn't want to join them. She had said something about not being able to leave his side, and he had chuckled at that. She had remained relatively quiet for the rest of the evening.
They had gone into Hogsmeade yesterday and she had shopped for last minute presents for her parents. She had told him that they had always been hard to find gifts for. Eventually she settled on a beautiful brooch for her mother and a wand stand for her father. After sending them off at the owl post, they had hurried back to Hogwarts to get warm by the fire in his room.
As he had settled on the couch he noticed her looking at him oddly.
"What's the matter?" he had asked.
She snapped out of whatever thoughts she had been thinking. Shaking her head, she said, "Oh, nothing!" She smiled at him. "I was just thinking about Christmas. I always love this time of year."
His eyebrows furrowed. "You like shopping frantically for gifts for people who probably won't even like what you got them?" he asked.
"Well, when you put it that way," she had harrumphed at him.
She had invited him to a private Christmas breakfast in her room, but he declined. Spending time with her on Christmas would just remind him that he couldn't have her. Severus was sure it would put him in a nastier mood than usual. She, of course, was unable to understand why anyone would want to be alone on Christmas Day and made her feelings known.
He had made some stupid excuse to end the afternoon at that point and shooed her out of his room. He regretted it immediately, for then he felt a sudden emptiness at her absence. He just couldn't win. Either he was feeling miserable in her presence because they couldn't be more than friends, or he was feeling miserable when she wasn't around, because he missed her being close to him. He frowned again at the fire.
There was a loud rap at the door, startling Severus out of his misery for a moment.
"Enter," he yelled gruffly. He couldn't imagine who it could be as there was only a handful of staff left in the whole castle.
The door opened and Eliza walked in, looking a bit sheepish. "Hi there!" she said.
His heart leapt within him, but he only grunted at her and turned back to the fire.
She strode in with a box in her hand. "I know that you want your solitude for Christmas and I'm probably interrupting some very important agonizing of yours, but I need to give you your present, and I couldn't wait until tomorrow." She sat down next to him on the rug and flashed him a brilliant smile.
Looking at her crossly, he said, "You know I hate presents. Besides, you could have had a house elf deliver that. That's what we usually do to give gifts around here."
"Oh, I know," she said quickly. "I just wanted to see you open this." She handed him a small golden box with a green bow on the top of it.
Curiously Severus took the box from her, eyeing her suspiciously. There was a small tag hanging from the side. He lifted it and read Have a Cranky Christmas, Love, Eliza. He couldn't help but smile to himself as he opened the box. Lying inside were a handsome set of cuff links. They were onyx with small diamonds surrounding them. His eyes widened as he took them out of the box.
"Eliza, these are beautiful. You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble." Immediately he put them on and displayed them for her.
"They look nice on you Severus," she told him.
He stood and put out a hand to help her up.
"I suppose I should give you my present now then, since you couldn't wait to give me mine." He had a slight twinkle in his eye.
"Severus Snape, I didn't think you got anybody presents!"
"Well, I make an exception now and then," he countered, winking at her.
He took out his wand and waved it a bit. A Christmas tree about four feet high appeared. Eliza gasped.
"You got me a Christmas tree?" she said in wonder.
"Oh, I'm not done yet." He waved his wand again and the tree was fully decorated, but not with the usual magical ornaments found throughout the castle. This tree was decorated entirely with Muggle decorations. Golden deer, small Santa Clauses, and silver stars adorned the tree. Lights went from top to bottom twinkling in different patterns. It was breathtaking.
Eliza's eyes grew large. "You got me a Muggle Christmas tree?" She threw her arms around him and gave him a giant hug. "Oh thank you so much! You couldn't have chosen a better gift!"
He stood in shock for a minute, and then he slowly hugged her back. He inhaled the sweet scent of her hair and closed his eyes. Snapping back to reality, he pushed her away gently and told her he was glad she liked it. She gave him a puzzled look and followed him as he walked over to the couch. They both sat down and she grinned at him.
"Don't tell me you didn't have fun thinking up that gift," she chided him.
He rolled his eyes. "Please! I knew you would like it, so I got it. It's as simple as that."
"Oh, and you gave no further thought whatsoever to it?" she asked coyly.
"It's just a present, Eliza," he replied.
"I think you don't want me to know how much you enjoyed getting me that, so you're making light of it."
"Eliza, you're jumping to conclusions."
"Oh I am, am I? Then why did your eyes sparkle before you gave me that?"
"My eyes did no such thing. It must have been the firelight."
"You are such a liar! You weren't even looking into the fire at that moment. You were excited to give me that gift, admit it."
"I told you it was just a gift," he said matter of factly.
"Admit it," she demanded.
"No," he retorted.
"Admit it, or you'll be sorry," she threatened with a smile on her face.
"I was just giving you a present; I certainly wasn't excited about it. I was just fulfilling my holiday obligation."
"Holiday obligation? You don't need to feel obligated to give me anything. I'm your friend, remember. Friends don't do things because they feel obligated." She seemed a bit disappointed. Then she brightened. "Come on, admit you were excited." She looked at him more seriously, "This is your last warning."
He scoffed at her and called her a silly child. Before he knew it she had jumped on him and was tickling him.
"I'll show you a silly child!" she cried as she attacked his stomach and then under his arms. He fought as hard as he could and they were both reduced to giggles and laughs as they found each other's ticklish spots. They got so engrossed in their fight that they forgot they were on the couch and soon tumbled to the ground. Ignoring the dull ache on his side from slamming into the floor, Severus continued his onslaught. But she tickled him so viciously that he wrapped himself into a ball. Taking advantage, she straddled him, turned him on his back, and pushed his shoulders to the floor. He stared wide eyed at her as she put her head inches from his.
"Do you admit it, Severus?" she demanded once again one eyebrow shooting up. She positioned herself to be able to attack him again.
"Yes! No more attacks, I give up!" he pleaded with her. "I admit I enjoyed getting you that gift!"
She smiled at him, still keeping close to his face. Then, a strange feeling came over him. Without really even thinking about it he pulled her to him and entwined his fingers in her hair. Before he knew it he was kissing her. Her lips parted and his kiss deepened. It was a heavenly sensation. He couldn't believe after all of this time he was actually kissing her. Suddenly fear gripped him. He pulled away from her and sat up, sending Eliza tumbling off of him and crashing to the floor. He spun around and put his back to her, cradling his head in his hands.
Eliza caught her breath for a minute, and then slowly sat up. "Well, I think that was the strangest kiss I have ever been given. Do you always end them so abruptly?" She raised her eyebrows in mock curiosity while rubbing an injured elbow.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I kissed you, I shouldn't have done that." Severus said weakly.
"Why not?" Eliza asked, "Am I that awful a kisser?"
He spun back around and gaped at her. "No, of course not. You're a wonderful kisser; I just shouldn't have done that."
"Does this have something to do with your past? You can't always hide from your future just because you did things in your past that you regret, you know!" she retorted.
He pondered that for a moment, admitting she had a point, but then his head overruled his heart and he countered, "I took advantage. You're still getting over John. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done it." Leaning back against the couch he cast his eyes down at the floor. He couldn't believe he had dropped his guard like that.
She chuckled. "Oh, I've been over him for a long time. I realized that I deserved much better than a cheating louse like him. It still hurts to think about, but I'm over him. Besides, I found someone else to care about." She looked at him tentatively.
Severus' heart fell. She was attracted to someone else. "That's even more of a reason for me to apologize," he said slowly. "I didn't know, and I would never come between you and anyone else."
Her eyes narrowed at him for a moment. "With all those brains in your head, you're still a bit of a dunderhead when it comes to romance, huh?"
His eyes shot towards her. People had called him many things, but never a dunderhead.
She stared at him a bit apprehensively. When he made no attempt at conversation she finally heaved a great sigh.
"Here goes nothing." She cleared her throat and spoke rather quickly. "Severus, I'm in love with you. I have been for a while now." She locked eyes with his, "From your actions the last few months, I think you have feelings for me too, and that kiss seems to have proven it."
His eyes showed mild surprise, and then he retreated behind his mask again. He couldn't say a word. He just stared at her. He couldn't believe that she had just confessed to loving him.
The apprehension in Eliza's face turned to genuine fear. She frowned at him. "Well, aren't you going to say anything?"
Severus could only open and close his mouth like a dying fish.
Eliza stood. Her cheeks had turned bright red. "I…I must have been mistaken. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to embarrass you. I…I think I'll just go back to my…room. Please forget I said anything!" And with that she wheeled around and ran from the room.
Severus stared after her, still in shock. He was unable to move or speak for another few minutes. He would have never guessed that she had feelings for him like that. What could she see in, as she had put it, a dunderhead like him? But she had confessed her love to him, and all he could do was gape at her like a moron. How pathetic was that. He really must be a dunderhead to act like that. He slowly rose and retired to his bedroom. He would speak to her in the morning. His mind was too befuddled right now for him to say or think anything coherent.
Severus stood in front of Eliza's door. He had been there for five minutes now, trying to get the courage to knock on it. He had not slept well, dreaming of her when he was actually asleep and agonizing over what he would say to her now when he was awake. Finally, he could stand his indecisiveness no more. He lifted his hand and rapped on the door loudly.
"Come in," he heard Eliza say.
He opened the door and strode in, trying to appear in control.
Eliza turned and looked rather astonished to see him there. "Happy Christmas," she finally said before turning and placing a sweater in a backpack that lay on the couch.
"Are you going somewhere?" Severus asked.
"I'm going to join my family. They seem to be having a splendid time in Greece and I find I miss their company."
It took him a few steps to close the distance between them. "Did you only stay here because of me?" he asked her.
She turned back to him and pleaded, "Severus, can we just drop it? I already feel like a big enough fool without having to rehash my reasons for staying here for Christmas."
"You're no fool," he whispered. He bent down and kissed her softly. She pushed herself away from him and gave him a look of despair.
"Why are you teasing me? You know I care about you! I would have never thought you could be so cruel! Please just leave me alone so I can get over it and go on with my life." A single tear fell down her cheek.
His hand went up to her face and he wiped the tear away. "I'm not teasing you, Eliza. I'm in love with you too. I'm sorry I went mute last night. I was just so shocked that you had feelings for me at all that I couldn't say anything. I don't think I moved for at least five minutes after you left." He looked into her eyes and caressed her cheek again.
She looked back at him and saw that the mask that he usually wore was gone. He was staring lovingly at her. She gave him a tentative smile as he went on.
"I love you, Eliza. I have ever since you chastised me about that student. Anyone who could stand up to me like that was worth my attention. I knew you were getting over John so I tried to ignore my feelings for a while, but eventually I had to admit that I couldn't stop thinking about you. I've been pretty miserable, thinking that I could never have you." He embraced her and held her close. "I'm sorry I made you think I didn't care. That was the last thing I wanted you to think. I would have come to my senses eventually, yesterday, you just ran out before I had a chance to process what you had said to me. I never imagined that you could care for me like that. Not that I'm not complaining."
"Severus," Eliza said looking up at him, "don't babble."
Standing on tip toe, she kissed him. He was still shocked by her affection, but that disappeared in the passion that was behind her kiss. He reveled in her touch. He couldn't get enough of her soft body next to his. Finally they broke apart. She led him to the couch and tossed the backpack aside so they could sit down. She curled herself up next to him and he held her close. They sat in contented silence for some time.
Eliza moved herself so she was even closer to Severus and was able to look at him.
"I hope you can find something to like about Christmas now," she said with a smile on her face.
"There are some Christmas traditions I find to be rather nice," he responded as he drew out his wand and waved it above his head. Looking up he only said, "Oh look, mistletoe."
She glanced up and sure enough there was mistletoe growing above their heads. Severus kissed her outstretched neck and whispered into her ear, "I love you."
"I love you too," she replied before their lips met and they kissed under the blooming mistletoe.