It was commonly thought that Severus did not like Christmas but that was wrong. He could remember quite clearly the Christmas when his father was in hospital with some mystery illness that no one liked to talk about in front of the child. The one he'd carefully engineered with a potion. His mother had to go up to see Toby every day and that left little time to look after a growing boy.

So he'd been trundled off to his paternal grandparents.

It had been a revelation to the boy. There had been sweets and toys, a fat turkey with all the trimmings but above all there had been presents. Books, Muggle books but books where people started in humble circumstances and rose to become rich and powerful. And there had been new clothes, clothes that fitted him. Where his ankles hadn't peeped out from his trousers and a jacket with sleeves that showed the right amount of cuff and with shiny gold buttons up the front. He'd loved that jacket for years. He still had the buttons somewhere, turning them into cuff links so that he could still remember the one happy Christmas he had had.

Up till now.

It started with a bright red box bound up in a golden ribbon sitting on his desk. The card said Happy Christmas, nothing more. The biscuits were home made, but delicious nonetheless. And in the bottom, there was a tiny figure wrapped in green tissue with a silver ribbon. It was a clockwork toy. A duellist in all black with a wee tiny dark wand and a wee tiny cloak, who upon winding, would lunge and parry across the desk, spitting little clouds of sparks and streaks of coloured light as it duelled some invisible opponent.

He was entranced. It was a silly little thing but he'd spent so much of his life being serious that he welcomed something whose role purpose was to entertain. The little figure looked so serious as it battled with invisible foes. Mrs. Norris had poked her nose into his room to see what the noise was about and had sparks shot across her nose.

The cat yowled, and fled, trailing wisps of smoke from her whiskers, leaving the door to his office open a crack. He saw a flicker of cobalt blue light dancing off the rack of beakers, and heard a tiny crack echo over the flagstones.

From the DADA classroom, he heard a tinny mechanical voice, female perhaps, issued an "En garde!" and the toy on his desk pivoted towards the sound.

The figure tilted its head, then turned to look at Severus. He found himself holding out his hand so that the toy could walk onto his palm. Once there, it pointed imperiously towards the direction the sound had originated. iThat way/i, it pointed, jabbing its wand. iNow!/i

Slightly bemused to be taking orders from something so small he did as he was directed.

He'd left the slate work bench bare before the holidays, and lucky thing. Someone had taken a stack of his hardbound periodicals and lain them flat in a long line, making an impromptu, toy-sized duelling strip.

The tiny clockwork figure at the far end wore the hood of its russet cloak up over its head, trying (not very successfully) to hide a mass of curls. Severus thought he recognized the tiny pale wand the figure wielded in challenge.

"It seems someone wants to test your mettle," he murmured to his champion. "And I wonder what the forfeit is for losing?"

His duellist shrugged. iWhy worry about that/i, it signalled. iI'm not going to lose./i

His challenger tapped her wand against the palm of her hand.

"Be careful little man," Severus said. "This looks like a trap." Again, the toy shrugged, then strode bravely forward onto the strip to meet his fate.

The witch duellist saluted her opponent, and then Severus. Severus was so amused by this he almost missed his own simulacrum saluting in the direction of a stool that had mysteriously wandered away from the wall.

The clockwork duellists began to exchange hexes, dodging and twisting, lunging and parrying, laughing in triumphant with tiny voices when a blow was struck. Well, the appearance of a blow anyway. The air filled with the tinge of ozone and sulfur, and the windows glittered, reflecting the flashing colours and spinning lights, but there seemed to be no real damage being inflicted.

His opponent's cloak fell back to reveal familiar bouncing curls and more besides. Whether it was a deliberate ploy or not, the effect was undoubted.

Little Severus faltered, distracted by the sight of curves and bumps that he didn't own.

Little Hermione struck instantly. She scored a touch, but Little Severus came back for two as she made the mistake of gloating.

Each touch he scored sent a ripple of magic spiralling toward the back stop (a copy of Most Potente Potions) and beyond, washing over the transparent silhouette seated on the stool and making it a bit more solid. Each touch Little Hermione scored, the invisibility charm reasserted itself. After a particularly furious exchange, Severus caught a glimpse of silk and curves.

"I see what the prize is now," he said softly. "Or, at least, I hope to." Now he had something to root for.

He exchanged a look with his combatant filled with understanding and the commitment to the long practised Slytherin habit of cheating. Big Severus waited until Little Hermione was at full extension and then moved, distracting her at the critical point of casting.

Little Severus took her wrist and swept Little Hermione into a tango dip, planting a kiss on her wooden lips that caused both figures to spark and crackle.

The resultant shock wave easily dissolved Hermione's invisibility charm. "Oy! Illegal move! Forfeit!" She was grinning at him, still wearing her fancy dress robes from the Yule Ball where he'd left her riding herd over a crop of overzealous firsties.

"I wasn't aware we'd specified rules," Severus said. "Nor does your little friend seen to object."

Little Hermione had not resisted at all and had gone some way to rendering as much assistance as she could to her erstwhile opponent, who was now being ruthlessly and enthusiastically snogged.

Hermione sighed, smirking at the toys. "Maybe we should let them.. OH!" She squeaked, jumping as the toys popped like a fire cracker, a tongue of blue flame licking up around them. "Oh I hope Reparo can fix that."

"Do you think the same thing would happen if I were to kiss you?" he asked, closing the gap between them suddenly.

Her cheeks coloured and she grinned like a fool. "Oh I hope not," she laughed. The laugh died away as he raised his hands to her face and she stood very still as he pushed the hood of her cloak back, her brown eyes wide with disbelief.

He brushed a kiss on her lips. "So far, so good," he murmured, and then kissed her again, lips more firmly pressed to hers.

She sighed, a sound of pure delight. He could taste mulled wine and sugared spice on her lips.

"Happy Christmas, Severus," she murmured against his cheek.

"Happy Christmas, Hermione," he replied. And then little was spoken for a long, sweet time.


Thank you very much to my co-author, shiv5468. May you all have a Happy Holiday, wherever you are.