2012 Update: Minor changes only
Disclaimer: All rights reserved by JKR and Charles Dickens.
Professor Snape feebly listened to the table conversation as he toyed with his fig pudding. The teachers were all aglow over the holiday decorations and complimented the Headmistress on a job well done. McGonagall had insisted on using vibrant colors that year and encouraged the House Elves not to skimp on the holly red and gold. They did not disappoint. Even the tree was gold! A deep, romantic gold with brilliant gold ornaments and holly red trim.
Incidentally, the decorations blended very well with the room's wood motif, but it amazed Severus that no one noticed how much it favored Gryffindor. It was as if Godric Gryffindor himself defecated the whole thing into existence! How typical.
"Is the pudding to your liking, Severus?" asked Minerva, noting that he had barely touched his dessert except to stir it about.
Snape mustered just enough esteem to force a semi-smile. "Yes … it's fine," he answered; his tone void of any real sincerity.
"I think it's the colors," the Runes Professor jokingly interjected. "I'm sure that Professor Snape hates them. They probably strike him as Gryffindor-ish."
Snape shot Granger a contemptuous scowl. Yes, what she said was true, but that didn't give her the right to say it! More importantly, the Headmistress was addressing him!
"Nonsense! Severus, tell Hermione that isn't true," said Minerva under a chortle. After a moment of silence, the table slowly looked over. "Severus?"
"True?" he stalled, glancing to and from the instigator testily. "Yes – to a large degree, the colors favor Gryffindor House. Some might even suggest on purpose. Not that I ever would."
"Aloud," Hermione coughed, drawing another scornful look from the Potions Master.
The lines on McGonagall's face deepened.
"Professor, don't be ridiculous!" She said indignantly. "I would never show favoritism!"
For the most part, the table agreed, but there were a few, namely Flitwick and Pomfrey, who did not. The Headmistress observed their unwillingness to nod and confronted their suspicions with an explanation.
"I instructed the elves to be more vibrant this year. Yes, I encouraged them to select from a certain palette, but they are holiday colors!" She ardently defended.
"Mm, I don't see any green," said Snape, taking full advantage of the wavering support. "Isn't green a Christmas color?"
"Green would clash," Hermione offered. "The overall effect works much better the way it is. Next, I suppose you'll recommend silver and bronze decorations? Maybe black?"
Severus set down his fork and reached for his wine glass. "Interior decoration isn't my forte. I humbly submit to your expertise, but do not deny that this room has a Gryffindor theme," he said calmly, his voice dripping with rich subtext.
Both witches swelled with indignation.
"Severus! You find something to complain about every Christmas! Last year, you had a fit when I asked you to assist Hagrid with the gifts. Must you be so … so …" the Headmistress hedged, desperate for the right word.
"So miserable!" Hermione finished.
"Thank you, Professor," she nobly added.
Snape gawked at the angry hens for several seconds, and then slowly, his rhythmic breathing morphed into a sinister chuckle. The season for giving his colleagues a hard time was not complete until he got under Minerva's skin. He was beginning to doubt whether he would be successful that year. Since the arrival of Little-Miss-Perfect, he was finding it more and more difficult to challenge the natural optimism that followed her wherever she went.
Hermione blushed with regret when she realized what the Professor had done. He had lured them out of the Christmas spirit and into his grey mindset. Now they were just as annoyed as he was! His mockery only made his victory that much worse.
Scoffing loudly, Hermione looked away and returned to her dessert. Minerva happily followed her example and dropped the debate. Neither was willing to serve as the Grinch's entertainment.
Professor Snape patrolled the midnight corridor in search of anything suspicious. Contrary to wide belief, he was not the disciplinarian he had been in his younger days. He had grown older, more settled, and far less interested in the affairs of students; however, that fact didn't prevent him from doing his job or protecting the brats against their will. He preferred to spend his free time reading, or contemplating new spells, rather than dishing out nonsensical assignments to everyday boneheads. Only real troublemakers warranted detention with him anymore, but rarely did he forgo a browbeating.
Severus found the hallways, niches, and classrooms in order. Not surprising considering most of the student body was on holiday leave, but lucky for him, he did happen across a couple of second years sneaking up the stairwell. This little discovery would go onto support his argument that night and morning patrols were necessary. Perhaps after he had collected enough examples, Minerva would mandate it!
"... therefore, children have no business wandering the castle at night," he finished, wrapping up a five-minute lecture on past mishaps. "Twenty points from Hufflepuff, Bennett – and the same for you, Cullen! Now back to bed!"
The frightened youths turned and scurried back downstairs.
"Nice one, Professor ... but scaring them into believing they could disappear, never to be seen or heard from again was a little harsh."
Snape closed his eyes and cringed. His patrol had been going quite smoothly until then. Leave it to the Runes Professor to find him in the home stretch.
"Oh, it's you," he sourly commented, swinging back towards the witch. "I suppose you feel sorry for them?"
"It's Christmas Eve! They're excited. They want to experience the magic!"
"Is there some reason why they can't do that in their dormitory?"
Hermione shook her head and smiled. The wizard had not changed an iota since graduation, or school for that matter! Yes, everyone viewed him with kinder, more sympathetic eyes, despite his efforts to dispel the words 'loving hero' from their lips, but he was still a testy git.
"Honestly, Professor Snape, I have to wonder if you were ever a child!"
Sighing, the wizard rolled away and began a heavy march down the corridor.
"Is that McGonagall, I hear? Perhaps, you should run along and see if her hat needs fluffing," he sneered.
The hint should have served as a warning to the witch, but like many Gryffindors, she did not heed it. Why was he such an arse? Did he ever break from being a jerk, even on Christmas? She had always treated him with respect, even more now that she was his equal, but he still regarded her with distain.
Hermione broke from her spot and caught up to the wizard.
"Why do you insist on ruining Christmas? Do you hate it that much? And while we're on the subject, why don't you like me? What have I ever done to you?" she asked, twisting to see his hawkish profile as she struggled to match his stride.
Amused by her frankness, Severus stopped and faced the witch. He had struck a chord, a very tender cord, he wagered. Could it be that she desired his approval? Though this tickled him a bit, he was clever enough not to show it; at least, not until he had drawn blood.
"For starters," he exhaled. "I do not hate Christmas, nor do I set out to ruin it for the students. Those boys were breaking the rules! I punished them as 'we' teachers are required to do. Furthermore, Christmas is a useless holiday, esteemed by sentimental fools and greedy entrepreneurs!"
Hermione launched a retort, but a single finger cut her short.
"As for your other questions, you only just arrived at Hogwarts and already, you are dictating to others how they should think and behave. Just last week, you arrogantly suggested to Hagrid that he should utilize a written lesson plan. Lest my memory fails me, you also rearranged the House Elves work schedule in an effort to make them more efficient. If that wasn't bad enough, you're always babbling on about your ridiculously boring classes, as if anyone cared, and you demand respect rather than waiting your turn!"
"Granger, I'm sure that you are a competent educator, but Merlin as my witness you are the most self-righteous, boring, pretentious, know-it-all ever to have graced this school! Now, ask me again why it is that I do not like you!"
Snape folded his arms and swiveled knowingly. His smirk was as meaningful as his words and twice as ruthless.
Hermione searched for a reply. "I ... I had no idea that you felt that way," she said in a wounded voice. "No idea at all."
In her youth, Snape's bite was commonplace, legendary even, but she had long forgotten the burning feel of its venom. It was dismantling to say the least. Without meaning too, her thoughts and feelings surfaced in her deflated expression, satisfying Snape's need to win the disagreement.
"Are we finished?" he asked.
Unable to say 'no', the witch nodded.
"Good. Now, if you'll excuse me," he snipped, resuming his course.
Hermione chewed over her next words carefully. She realized it was the equivalent to throwing a verbal snowball, but what the hell.
"Severus …" she called out.
The wizard halted, taking with it the effect of his swollen robe.
"Merry Christmas," she smiled.
Severus was numb to the salutation, but the use of his given name was galling. He was forced to remember that she was not a student and within her right to be informal. Still, the word struck him like a brick to the back of the head!
"Professor, what if you're wrong about me? And those boys? And Christmas! What if fate, or whatever it is that drives our existence, gives up on you the way you've given up on everything else …" she said quickly, her voice trailing at the end.
Snape slowly wheeled around, allowing his unruly locks to fall conveniently over his eyes. His face was neutral, but his lips trembled somewhere between fiery insult and silent scorn. He wasn't the least bit moved by her attempt to rail him into the 'moment', but it did give him cause to think. Knowing the good-doer the way he did, perhaps a splash of subtly was in order. It might be more effective than a contemptuous blast.
In a display of mock-genteelness, Snape swept aside his robe, folded one arm over his sternum, and bowed.
"Thank you for that touching display of concern, Professor, but the Spirits of which you speak gave up on me a long time ago. They didn't give a flip about me then and they don't give a flip about me now. However, if you prefer to believe in such nonsense, be my guest. As for me, I have nothing to gain," he impassively replied.
Snape's bitter declaration pierced the veil between worlds and struck a blow to the heart of providence. In the span of a blink, everything he was, had become, and would ever become echoed through the Hall of Spirits and back again. Every soul that had ever crossed Severus Snape, felt the sting of his cry. Fate had dealt him a hard hand. This was true, but it was up to the wizard to make his life his own, to take responsibility for his actions, and to change his life – not destiny.
Hermione gasped when an unexplained breeze blew through the corridor, ushering in a cold mist from every direction. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
"Professor …" she muttered.
"It's not me!"
Together, the Professors drew their wands and readied themselves for battle. The breeze carried a soft voice, too soft for either to make out, but someone was definitely there.
"Who ARE you? Show yourself!" the wizard hissed.
Slowly, the mist contracted, drawing into itself the breeze and branches of vapor. It coiled around, becoming denser with each loop. Soon, a form began to take shape.
*Dong ... Dong ... Dong*
On the last stroke, the precise moment the clock struck 1:00 am, a mature woman with thick white hair emerged from the mist. She wore plain white robes, layered in the Roman-dignitary style and carried a silver lantern. Perhaps it was instinct, but something told Hermione to lower her wand. Snape made no such concession.
"Please do not be alarmed, Severus. I am the Spirit of Christmas Past, sent here to guide you on your journey."
Snape snorted for lack of a better response, although he found nothing about the woman's presence particularly amusing.
"Is this some kind of joke? Who put you up to this?" he snapped, noting that she too had addressed him by his given name.
"You claimed that the Spirits abandoned you … that we did not and do not care. I am here to show you the error of your ways."
Hermione's eyes flipped between the pair. How did she know that?
"Very good. You have excellent hearing, but I will ask the questions," said Snape. "Your name, Madam? How did you get into the school?"
The woman offered a pointless smile and said, "Please understand that no harm will come to you, but we must go. We have much to see. Take my hand ..."
Severus poised his wand.
A stream of red light sprung forth and bathed the Spirit in magic. The Professors gawked in disbelief when the spell evaporated before their eyes. Neither had ever seen a spell dissolve.
"Please, Severus, we don't have much time. You will have two more visitors tonight, the Spirit of Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. They will arrive soon. You must be ready."
"Granger," Snape said hollowly. "Come."
Hermione nearly toppled over herself when Snape snatched her wrist and yanked her forward. Together, they bolted down the corridor towards the Hall of Portraits. It was the quickest route to the Headmistress's chambers.
"I will wake the Headmistress, but I will need you to confirm what we saw! I can't have McGonagall believing I've gone mad!"
"Professor, I really don't think we should leave her alone," said Hermione, glancing back at the Spirit. "She could be dangerous!"
"I highly doubt it ... she doesn't have access to the dorms. I need you with me. We must find help if we want to battle a spell-dissolving Elemental!"
Hermione's eyes lit up. She had never heard of an Elemental.
"She's a what?"
Snape looked at his colleague peculiarly. It would seem the know-it-all didn't know everything. Obviously, she had never read, The Evolution of Magic, by Charles Dawkins. It was required reading for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of their world, what came before, and magical development after The Great Change.
"Then again, it may be a prank. I honestly can't say who or what she is, but I am sure someone is behind all of this ... a student by the looks of it. When I find out who it is, I'll have them expelled!"
Severus and Hermione reached the Hall of Portraits. Still clasping his colleague's wrist, Snape passed under the arch and into another, wholly different passageway. Not only was Hermione unfamiliar with the scene, but her mind was spinning with questions on how they got there.
This is NOT the Hall of Portraits, she thought.
Snape observed the murky hall with startled eyes. Though it had been years since he walked it last, he knew it well. The scent of peppered beans filled the small area along with the faint odor of rotten firewood two doors down. A type of dark opera played loudly in the main quarter, while dishes chimed in the kitchen.
"Where are we?" Hermione finally asked.
"Home," answered Severus in a stunned voice.