A/N: This is a Christmas offering for those people who enjoy reading about Snape and Dumbledore and the relationship that they share. This has been in my head since Christmas Eve and I sat down today and wrote it...so hopefully it will please those and keep them happy whilst they are waiting for The Phoenix Guardian to be published...which is very near the end now, I promise! It's so close but I want to finish before starting to publish...so I ask you for a little more of your wonderful patience! I hope to have it up by the New Year though! Anyway. Please, please, if you have time, a review would be greatly appreciated as they really do make writing worthwhile! Thank you!
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Severus Snape. Which is a right shame! I also do not own Albus Dumbledore or the Harry Potter universe. If I did, things would be different!
He still remembered that day. It had been cold—the snow had been fresh on the ground. But it had not been as cold as his eyes as he had told the story. He had felt his heart freeze and then break painfully in his chest—simply by the acceptance of what had happened. Things were better now. They shared warmth and laughter and stories. But every year on this day, he contemplated how things could have been very different he had not known.
Five years ago:
Albus Dumbledore could not believe that Severus Snape seemed more miserable at Christmas. Whereas all the other teachers and students were light hearted, the dark and brooding Potions Master was even more withdrawn and cold.
Dumbledore was contemplating his Severus enigma as he meandered through Hogsmeade on the final scheduled trip before Christmas. Snow was fresh and crisp on the ground and the sound of carols reached his ears. He smiled in a bemused way and stopped outside a shop window, glancing inside. Something caught his eye—and he felt a jerk in his chest. That was perfect for Severus! He rushed inside, fumbling for his luridly coloured magenta purse.
Back at Hogwarts, however, Dumbledore was not so sure about his purchase. Snape had been at Hogwarts for three years now, and not once had he received or indeed given a gift. What if he hated it? Dumbledore looked down at the present, carefully wrapped in silver paper and addressed with a gift tag. He was so sure that Snape would like it...but the teacher was not good with personal interactions. Dumbledore sighed—but he had made his decision. He had to give it to him. It might shed some light on this interesting person that Dumbledore had acquired.
Christmas Day dawned bright and cold. It was Dumbledore's favourite day of the year—and while students were allowed to sleep late and unwrap gifts. The staff had breakfast together with mince pies and other treats to accompany their frivolity.
But of course, one man was absent. Dumbledore received several books and other such...treats...from his fellow colleagues—he was disappointed not to receive any socks, but still. As soon as he could, he excused himself and ventured down into the dungeons. The dark corridors seemed devoid of any cheer and merriness—Dumbledore exhaled sadly through his teeth and headed for the Potions Master's office. He knocked politely.
"I'm busy." A curt and emotionless reply.
"Severus, it's Albus. Can I come in?"
A pause—then the door unlocked and Dumbledore entered the room. The fire was out and the room was cold. Snape was sat by his desk, marking.
"Merry Christmas Severus." Dumbledore said softly, approaching the other warily.
"Indeed." Snape replied, not looking up.
Dumbledore could clearly see dark lines under Snape's eyes—the other had not slept. "Today is a holiday Severus. You should come and mingle with us upstairs—instead of shutting yourself away."
"I have lots of work to do, Headmaster. I refuse to waste my time on such menial festivities." Snape barely glanced up.
"Your marking will still be here when you get back Severus." Dumbledore teased. He looked around the dark office, "You need to brighten this office up, Severus. Three years you have lived here, and still it feels like you are just a guest."
"Just because I do not feel the need to paint the walls pink and have lurid obscene furniture does not mean I do not belong here!" Snape shouted, throwing his quill down angrily. "All right?" he sighed loudly and put his head in his hands dejectedly. "Excuse me, Headmaster. I am rarely filled with so-called Christmas cheer. I find it a rather depressing time of year."
Dumbledore made his decision in a moment. He pulled his wand out and cast it at the marking piles on Snape's desk. Instantly, they disappeared. A roaring fire flared in the hearth, conjuring light to spill across the room and an intense sudden warmth. "Listen to me, Severus. You cannot work every day of the year." Dumbledore looked at the two armchairs by the fire. "Now. Sit." He waved a hand at one of the chairs. Snape looked disgruntled, "I really don't enjoy Christmas, Headmaster. Can't you just take your infuriating spirit somewhere else?"
Dumbledore sat down in his own armchair, leaving Snape's empty. "Christmas is about bringing warmth to those who need it, Severus. I think you need it." He gestured again at the chair opposite him, "Come and sit! I can get some food and wine, and we can just relax. I won't go around saying that you have been light and jolly—but still. I want to spend Christmas with a friend..."
It was as if he had said the magic words. Snape stood up and jerkily made his way over to the chair—when he sat down, his back was bolt upright and his fists tense. Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, "Sometimes you really are an enigma, Severus Snape." He waved his wand again, and conjured a plate of mince pies, steaming hot, from thin air. He offered one to the younger wizard, who stared at him for a long moment, before accepting. He looked uncomfortable beneath Dumbledore's gaze, but did start to eat the pudding. Dumbledore took his eyes off Snape and looked into the fire. "So do you not like Christmas, Severus, or is it simply against all your principles to be happy and jolly?" To anyone else, his words would have stung. But he was trying to prove to Snape that he was attempting to understand the boy.
Snape glanced at him. "Do not try to turn this into another one of your counselling sessions, Headmaster, I tire of them." His words were, mostly, light hearted.
Dumbledore grinned, "I simply try to understand you, Severus." His blue eyes were twinkling but serious.
Snape looked at him for a long moment, absentmindedly cleaning his now empty fingers on the side of the armchair to remove the crumbs from his mince pie. "No one has ever tried that before. Well." He paused for thought. "No one has ever successfully tried that."
Dumbledore folded his arms, "I have a knack for understanding people, Severus. So. Do you like the idea of Christmas?"
Snape shrugged. "I don't really understand the idea of Christmas." He shook his head, "It means nothing to me."
Dumbledore caught a flicker of something in the boy's eyes. "Are you sure, Severus? Because it seems to me that you do know what Christmas is. You grew up in a Muggle family, did you not? Your father must have celebrated it with you?"
A short derisive laugh. "My father? He did not know the meaning of the word charity! Or celebrate—unless it was something he had done. Like score with some new bird, behind my mother's back."
Dumbledore was slightly taken aback, simply at Snape's use of slang. The younger man always spoke in formal English, and often chastised the younger students (and staff) for their use of informal grammar and language. He tried not to show this on his face, waiting to see if Snape was going to any further, or if he would have to press the matter himself.
A long silence. Dumbledore was about to ask another question when Snape chose to speak himself. "Yes, Headmaster, I do know what Christmas is. I remember..." He looked into the fire. "I remember looking at all the other children around me at Christmas. They talked non-stop about the day throughout November and December, and how excited they were. At Muggle school, it was all I ever heard about. I remember looking into the windows of houses and seeing pretty candles and trees...all with the packages underneath. I remember thinking, every year, maybe this year, I might actually receive something from my parents. But no." He paused again, this time with a short sigh between sentences. "One year, I was old enough to understand that it was just my father being cruel to me that meant I received nothing. It was not because we were too poor, because there were others who were much poorer!" He shook his head, almost sadly. "I looked into our living room, empty and bare...and I felt so angry! I was nine at the time, I went back to school after the holidays, and there were all the other boys and girls with all sorts of wonderful things—and I had nothing."
He clasped his hands together, "But it doesn't end there. For I made a mistake...some of the other students, clearly under the influence of happiness and too much food, asked me why I had no new toys. One happened to tease me about my father not believing in Christmas. So I told them that I had lots of new toys but I had left them at home because I did not want to lose them—and I told them that they ought to come to my house and play with them sometime." He scoffed at himself, "I don't know what was wrong with me. Maybe I thought they would not come round? Or maybe I just was sick of the teasing?"
Dumbledore sat back in his armchair, "So what happened? Did they come round?"
"Oh yes." Snape answered, and a twinge of sadness had entered his soft voice. "They did. My father answered the door. I wasn't quick enough—and of course, I was found out to be lying. I didn't care what my stupid classmates were going to think of me...but I did care about my father." Snape laughed humourlessly, "More specifically, his talent for inflicting pain on a boy who didn't known any different."
Dumbledore knew the background of Snape's childhood; he knew it had been violent. But it still hurt him to hear Snape talk about it so matter-of-factly. He winced. Snape looked up at him, "I'll spare you the details, Headmaster. He punished me for lying, as any good parent would." The words were sarcastic. "Needless to say, I didn't go to school for the next two days." He shook his head, "But he pinned me against the wall and told me that one day he would get me back for tarnishing his honour. I don't think I knew what those words meant when I was younger. But it was a threat I knew he would take seriously."
Dumbledore interrupted, confused about one element. "Severus. You don't have to answer if you don't want to...but...where was your mother in all this? Didn't she try to stop your father? Couldn't she have taken you away?"
"My mother was overworked and underpaid. I never wanted her to get hurt, and he often threatened to turn on her if I was really naughty. I would never let that happen, so I simply let him hurt me and hardly ever told her of what was happening. I left it up to him to cover the bruises and the cuts. You know...."Oh, Severus is so clumsy, isn't he?"" Snape shook his head, almost in anger, "She didn't know what had really been happening until the day she..." His voice cracked, and he fought to regain his neutral tone. "Until the day she died."
Dumbledore knew that was a topic no one discussed with Snape. So he quickly diverted the course of the conversation, "So. Did he ever fulfil his threat?" He thought this must be the reason why Snape hated Christmas and wanted to press the story out of the younger man, so he could help him get over it.
Snape rose up from his chair and stood closer to the fire so he was staring into its depths, eyes unfocused. "He did." His voice was hesitant, like these memories were distant and painful for him to consider. "But I forgot about it, after living in fear for my life for a few weeks afterwards, he seemed to have put it to one side. My tenth birthday came and went in the usual, forgotten and uncelebrated way...and I was accepted into Hogwarts school. I remember writing a letter home to my mother one of the weeks I was here, telling her about this new game that I was really interested in—which was chess. I was obsessed with it at Hogwarts, for it was something I could play alone, and also a game of strategy and logic...it fitted with my Potions training." He raised his eyes to look at Dumbledore, "Do you remember that Christmas? My first year at Hogwarts?"
Dumbledore knew he looked guilty.
"I don't blame you, Headmaster. You had no reason to believe me. I know I was a deceptive child at Hogwarts so I could fit in with the other Slytherins around me. I don't hold your decision against you." He turned his head back to the fire, "And so I went home. There was nothing different in the house at all—my mother was happy to see me, and she looked better than she had for a while...I was convinced that my going away was best for the Snape family. My father was of course absolutely delighted to see me..."
Dumbledore half laughed at Snape's joke.
Snape turned, "No, I mean it. He was. He..." Snape winced, the words difficult for him. He started to pace agitatedly, "He embraced me. It was too tight...but I just wanted to believe that he had changed. That he had finally realised that all I ever wanted to do was make him proud of me." Snape continued to pace, "But no. It was all an act, as I was about to realise. Christmas Day...fourteen years ago...it dawned as it has done today, with a fresh covering of freezing cold snow on the house—where we had no heating, so it was cold in our house. I was quite content to lie in bed, where it was warm, with one of my textbooks. But my father shouted me downstairs—and it wasn't a good idea to disobey him." He leaned against the wall, "The first thing I noticed was the fire in the fireplace—we never had a fire. I should have guessed that there was something wrong. But no, I was more interested in the way my mother and father were stood, smiling, my father wrapping one snake like arm around my mother's waist. Both of them smiling. At me." He started to pace again. "My mother gave me this box, wrapped up in brown paper. A gift—a Christmas present." He turned to look at Dumbledore. "Yes, mock me if you so wish. I was too old to be excited by Christmas presents."
Dumbledore laughed, "Severus Snape, I still get excited now and I am much older than you!"
"We are very different, Headmaster."
"I don't think so, Severus."
"Anyway." Snape continued his story, now seemingly determined to finish, considering he had started. "So I had this present. The excitement was...potent of course. I remember feeling my heart pound in my chest, and my hands were shaking. I remember taking a while to open the paper, unwilling to rip it off at once...but finally I got it open." He paused for a long moment, lost in the memory. "A chess set. My own chess set, not the second hand ones I had been using at school. I knew it had to be mother—she was on such low pay, she must have saved for weeks for it. I was happy...really happy. I gave her a hug to show her. My father patted my shoulder and told me that he hoped I liked it."
Dumbledore could sense this tale was going to turn dark.
"Of course I started to play right away. I didn't need a partner...I could just play with myself. I could hear my parents in the kitchen, laughing and joking—and then my father telling my mother to go out and collect some supplies from the corner shop—clearly he had produced some money—he told her to treat herself, and to take her time as it was slippery outside. The front door closed—but did I notice that I was alone with him? No. I was too absorbed in moving the pieces across the chequered board." He had gone back to his pacing. "My father came into the room and sat down opposite me. He said he wanted to play. I asked him if he knew how to play. He said he did. So I set the pieces up on the board."
His voice had turned monotonous, which Dumbledore knew meant Snape was hiding emotions deep within his chest to maintain his icy facade. He swallowed, his dry throat hurting slightly with the movement of the muscles.
"I remember that the chess set was beautifully made. It must have cost my mother a fortune. Each piece was carved from wood—wood!—and they had little faces and arms and legs. The knight was my favourite piece. It still is. My strongest piece because it can jump. It isn't stopped by any walls, or opponents. It leaps straight over them. I wish I had been able to do that. Anyway. The knight had a horse and a rider, and I remember thinking how real it looked." He sank back into the armchair, folding his arms. "My father was looking at one of the pieces. He was holding it in his large, violent fists. He asked me what to do with it. It was a pawn, so I said that they got to move first. He was white—what an ironic coincidence. He said he disagreed. He knew what to do with it. And before I could stop him...he had thrown the pawn into the roaring fireplace. I remember being taken aback, unable to believe what he had done. But it was all confirmed when he grabbed a handful of the pieces, my pieces, off the chess set and hurled them towards the flames."
Dumbledore had known the ending of the tale was going to be unpleasant. He felt his eyes prick as he saw the depth of the sadness in Snape's eyes. But the younger wizard hadn't finished.
"In the time that I had had it, that chess set had become the most important thing I owned because it was a gift from my mother, whom I loved more than anything else in the world. And. To see it burning in the fireplace, becoming nothing more than ashes...I lost it. I snatched up the remaining pieces from the set, desperate to save them. He grabbed me and hit me. I wouldn't let go of the pieces in my hands—and I was determined to fight back. I kicked out and caught him in the face—there was blood everywhere—but mostly mine as he knew how to scratch and hurt me. But still. I was only ten. He locked me in his arms and dragged me over to the fireplace—I thought he was going to throw me in too, and for that second I welcomed that fate—I wanted to die—but no. He just told me to drop the other pieces into the fire." He leapt up from his chair, angry beyond belief, "I could see some of the other pieces in that fire, Headmaster! Just little pieces left that the flames had not yet destroyed. I tried to tell him I wouldn't, but he was too strong for me. He always was. He twisted my wrist back until it broke. The noise and the agony—terrible. My pieces tumbled into the fireplace. He left me there to watch them burn. He told my mother, when she got home, that I had a blind tantrum and had thrown the chess set into the fire—it wasn't worth standing up to him about it. So I was sent to my room, and I stayed there for the remainder of my holiday, trying to nurse a broken wrist and not throw myself out of the upper storey window as well."
There was a long pause. Snape was sat back in his chair, staring determinately into the fire. Dumbledore could see a glistening to his eyes that the older wizard had not noticed before, and realised that the other must have been close to tears. It was, after all, a quite horrific story. Dumbledore felt angry—and he was glad that Snape's father had died in those unknown circumstances in Snape's sixth year. Yes, it had left the boy as an orphan—but Tobias Snape had been a plague on the world.
Snape stood up, slightly shaky. "Now you understand why I don't like this time of year, Headmaster? Because the moment it seemed to go right, it was made into one of the worst days of my life." He moved over to his desk, "So forgive me if I am not filled with Christmas spirit—it is just memories to me." He was fumbling with something in his desk—Dumbledore glanced over at the younger wizard. "Of course, Severus. But you can still attempt to make Christmas better."
Snape came back to the chair with a small box. He handed it to Dumbledore—"See. All that remains of the only Christmas I ever celebrated."
Dumbledore opened the box. Inside was a piece of black wood. Dumbledore lifted it out—it was a horse. The rider had been broken off, snapped by the legs, because half of him still remained. But the horse was mostly intact. Snape looked at it in Dumbledore's hand, "I don't use it. The Malfoys, when I was a Death Eater, invited me to stay with them before Draco was born. Lucius knew of my love of chess, so he gave me one of their old sets. But I kept that as a memory. I managed to save it from the wrath of my father. Even it did not emerge unscathed."
Dumbledore frowned, leaning forward on steepled fingers. "You realise that these wounds can be healed, Severus? Just, try and forget about him. You have freed yourself of his captivity, Severus. You deserve, more than most people, to be rewarded at this time of year!"
Snape sighed. "It is difficult. I never chose to celebrate it again."
"Well." Dumbledore reached into one of the deep pockets of his robes and pulled out Snape's present. "Here we are. Merry Christmas, Severus." He pushed it into one of Snape's cold hands. "Open it."
Snape looked down at it, unsure of how to react. "I can't accept this."
"Yes, you can." Dumbledore said gently.
"I don't have anything to give in return!" eaHeHH
"Christmas is not a reciprocal thing, Severus. It's about giving something to people you love. You have a very good reason for not giving a gift at Christmas time—or indeed at any time, Severus. But I wanted you to know that there are people who care for you. I understand the sacrifice that you have made, Severus, to come back here. I know the last three years have been tough for you. But I want to show you how much I do care for you."
Snape stared at Dumbledore for a long moment. A flicker of a smile touched his face, and for a moment he looked very different. "In that case, thank you, Headmaster." He fiddled with the paper, "Shall I open it?"
"Yes...I think you should. I do hope you like it."
Pausing, Snape continued to play with the paper. "What do you ask for, at Christmas?"
Dumbledore knew this was a delaying tactic—"Socks, mainly."
Snape cast his eyes up in surprise, "Socks? But you are the great Albus Dumbledore...surely...you would want..."
Dumbledore was touched at the word "great"—and he smiled at Snape, "Severus, dear boy, everyone always buys me books and other such works. One day I would just like a pair of socks...it's a simple pleasure that people overlook. Every year!"
Snape looked amused, "You surprise me everyday, Headmaster."
"As do you, Severus." Dumbledore smiled, "Now, please, just open it."
Snape gently pulled the paper apart at one of the corners, unwilling to destroy the silver wrapping. But finally curiosity got the better of him and he carefully slid one finger through the spellotape, to open the gift.
Underneath the silver paper was a scarf—dark emerald green with a hint of silver running through the thick cotton. The Slytherin House colours.
"Well, you do like to sit in draughty classrooms, Severus, so to stop you catching any colds...do you like it?"
Snape didn't say a word for a moment, simply staring down at the scarf in his lap.
Dumbledore wondered if he had committed some grave sin, "Severus?"
Snape shook his head as if lost in a daydream, "Sorry—no, no, Headmaster, it's beautiful, thank you. I'm...honoured."
"Glad to hear it!" Dumbledore reached across the gap between them and placed one of his hands on top of Snape's, "All I want to do is make you feel like you belong here, Severus. You are very important to me...thank you for sharing that story with me. I ask one thing of you now."
"Of course, there is always a request." Dumbledore couldn't work out if Snape was joking or not.
"Next Christmas, Severus, come up to my office and we'll play a game of chess. I have been looking for a worthy opponent for many years—perhaps finally I have found someone who can play a good game?"
Snape looked into his blue eyes, "I have never lost a game."
"Neither have I." Dumbledore answered. "So if you do come, then it looks like one of us will be learning something new."
They sat for a few moments more in a companionable silence. Then Dumbledore waved his wand at Snape's desk, and the marking reappeared. "I take my leave now, Severus; I have other duties to attend to. You may finish your marking." He stood up and moved towards the door.
Snape was left sitting in his armchair, contemplating. But he didn't stay still for long—almost instantly he jumped up and turned to his wardrobe.
Six hours later
After a quite interesting staff Christmas party, Dumbledore finally returned to his office. He was tired from a little too much dancing and mulled wine. He was going to walk straight through to his adjoining bedroom when he saw something new on his office desk. He raised an eyebrow—a present, wrapped up in gold and red paper. There was a small piece of white paper attached to the top—dark handwriting read: "Thank you, Headmaster."
Dumbledore smiled and unwrapped the small gift. He laughed delightedly when he realised he was holding a pair of red and gold socks.
Five years later
Things were very different now, then they had been on that Christmas. Instead of hiding away in his cold office, an older but still brooding Snape arrived at Dumbledore's office, at exactly six o clock in the evening. Things happened the same way as they always did—an intense game of chess.
"Pawn to E5."
"Ahhhh, very clever."
"But of course. You should have been expecting it."
"Always expecting such an underhand trick! Queen to D4."
"You realise you are playing right into my trap? Bishop to C5. Check."
"Do I have any choice? You seem to be forcing my hand, as well as playing your own. King to A6."
"Castle to F6. Check."
"Fiddlesticks! King to A4."
"Knight to C3. Check."
"Can I surrender?"
"No. Certainly not. Move your King."
"Damn. King to A3."
"Pawn to B2. Checkmate."
"You have been practicing, clearly."
The raven haired wizard was quietly triumphant, "No, Headmaster, your mind is simply failing you in old age. You could have beaten me much earlier on."
"Ah, but could I have chosen to leave that and let you win?" Dumbledore asked softly. "You will never know, Severus."
Snape frowned at him, "Why would you do that?"
Dumbledore paused with a small smile, "You know why, Severus."
A long pause.
"Because you are absolutely unbearable when you lose!"
"I am not!" Snape folded his arms, "I normally win! Only when my mind is distracted!"
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Of course. Another game?"
"No, thank you. I do not wish to ruin my winning streak. I may actually choose to retire in victory."
"Do not be ridiculous, Severus. I know that you like to win. It makes you feel good."
"Of course, Headmaster."
Dumbledore rose and poured the last of the red wine into his Christmas present from Snape—two ornately decorated wine glasses, from some unknown shop in the Middle East, where Snape had been during his summer holidays. He handed one of the glasses to Snape. "A toast, perhaps?"
Snape nodded, "What to?"
Snape scoffed, "How sentimental."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows, chastising the other, "I like toasting to friends."
A wicked look appeared in Snape's eyes, "How about to your health, Headmaster? It may need it!"
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes at the younger wizard—the glare was enough. "My apologies, Headmaster. A low joke."
"I know." Dumbledore raised his glass, "To Christmases past, to Christmases present, and to Christmases future. May they always be spent in warmth and happiness, just like today."
The glasses chinked together.
Ten years later:
Snape sat on his own in his Headmaster's office. The lights were dimmed, only a small fire in the hearth. Slumped in an armchair, his head was lowered. To anyone else, he looked like he was asleep.
But no. Clutched in his lap was a silver and green scarf, well worn and well loved. Right now it was wet from the salty water falling from Snape's black eyes.
Tears of terrible heartache.
For this Christmastime, he was totally alone.