Merry Christmas to all my readers. You are wonderful people - I care so much for you all, and without you I would not exist. Here's to next year and a year of writing and getting to know you all. Yours, in debt. SS19

Twas the night before Christmas, and not a creature was stirring, not even an owl. The lights in the Headmaster's office were dark as a solitary figure dozed lightly on the sofa. The fire had died to dull embers, and the office was comfortably warm. He had been asleep for several hours, and did not stir when the clock - on the mantlepiece beside him - softly began to chime for midnight.

It was the rustling and sudden shuffling and thudding that threw him from sleep with a startled gasp. He sat up on the sofa, throwing the cloak away, blinking into the darkness.

There was coughing. "I am getting too old for this."

He got to his feet and peered into the blackness, "Who's there?"

A pause, and then, "Ah. In all my many years, I have never awoken anyone. I must be losing my touch."

He wanted to reach for the lights, but something stopped him. The intruder's voice indicated that he was smiling, "That would ruin the magic, putting the lights on." Another hesitation, "Might I ask for your name, child?"

"Child? I am no child. And I might ask for your name." He raised his head, and the intruder replied. "Ah, but of course. Only one person could challenge me in such a way. You are Severus Snape, are you not?"

Severus bristled. "And why should I not put the lights on?"

"Because, as I say. That would ruin the magic. Do you know who I am, yet?"

Severus narrowed his eyes, "No."

"Oh, I think you do. Who else travels around in the dead of night on Christmas Eve?"

Severus folded his arms over his chest. "Do not be so ridiculous. You are just a legend. A myth, told to children to ensure they behave themselves during the year."

"Did he ever visit you?"

"No. But then again. I was never a good child." Severus shook his hair back from his face, "You cannot be him."

"Your logical and perceptive mind cannot comprehend what is stood before you? Are you not a Potioneer, Severus? Surely pure fact outweighs your superstitions?"

Severus shook his head. "No. It cannot. I cannot see you, after all. For all I know, this could be some dream."

"But wouldn't you like it to be real? Just this once? Wouldn't you like something you believe in to be real?" The voice paused, "Because I know you believe in Father Christmas, Severus Snape."

Severus did not answer straight away. "I believe in a saviour who will lead us from the darkness. I never said anything about Father Christmas."

"I think in your mind, they are one and the same."

Severus reached out, just once. His fingers brushed against a soft beard and he wanted to clutch at it - but he pulled his hand away instead. "This is not real. I am asleep."

"You are such a sad child, Severus. It would be nice, once in a while, to see you smile." He reached into his sack, at his side, and pulled out the final present. "Maybe, this can accomplish at least one person's Christmas wish?"

Severus took the package from him and brushed a hand against his shoulder uncomfortably. "Thank you."

The figure brushed one hand against Severus' cheek in a way that was almost familiar to the younger man, before turning away. "I must be gone. It is long past midnight - and Christmas Day dawns. Merry Christmas, Severus."

Severus held onto his present, trying to rationalise the situation - but before he could speak again, he was alone. "Hello?" He spoke into the darkness, "Hello?"

"Are you quite all right, my boy? Nightmares, again?" Albus' voice reached him from the doorway to his rooms.

Severus whirled to face him, and Albus switched on the lights to find Severus stood, holding a present, looking rather bewildered. It was an amusing image. He smiled and came closer to Severus. "Severus?"

"I - ah - " Severus shook his head, and then lowered himself to sit on the sofa. "I must be hallucinating."

Albus touched his hand as he sat next to Severus, "I am very real." He looked at the package, "Who is this from?"

"Uh." Severus breathed out slowly. "Father Christmas."

Albus almost laughed, "I did not know you believed in him."

Severus looked at him. "I - I -" He smiled. "He told me I needed to smile more. That it was someone's Christmas wish."

Albus tightened his fingers around Severus'. "It's late. You should be sleeping." He coaxed Severus to lie back down and covered him with his cloak. "Sleep well, my child."

Severus didn't let go of his hand straight away, "Merry Christmas, Albus."

"Merry Christmas, Severus." He waited until Severus' breathing had levelled once more before standing and once more returning toward his room. He closed his door and wandered to his bed. He glanced inside the trunk that remained open, glimpsing the red fabric and the white trim. He half smiled, before closing the lid.

He would not be needing it for another year, after all.