Author Notes: Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas or Season's Greetings, and a Happy New Year!

This is a one shot for my favourite HP pairing which takes place during Harry's seventh year. It's essentially PWP fluff done in first person POV and disregards Albus' death and the hunt for horcruxes.

Summary: It is Christmas morning and Severus Snape brews a potion. He knows it will always end in success, unlike hoping that Potter will ever return his feelings.

Appreciation: A belated thank you to my beta Vine Verrine for looking over something that is too short and too fluffy. I appreciate it, girl! *hugs*

Rating: 'T'

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the brainchild of JK Rowlings.

- Story Start -

Finally, I have Hogwarts almost all to myself. The majority of students have left school three days ago to spend the Christmas holidays with their families. Only some of the staff and a handful of students have stayed behind this time.

Once, Potter would have been one of them. But just like the past two years, he, Weasley and Granger will spend this Christmas at the Burrow. With too many redheads, too much food, too many presents and of course, total bedlam.

Not that I care. I have no wish to celebrate Yuletide. It is not fitting for a double spy to indulge in nauseating cheer, maudlin carols, horrible eggnog and the crass commercialism of it all.

No. I would rather enjoy the solitude of my dungeons while it lasts. I would rather read my latest Potions Monthly on Christmas Eve. I would rather brew Sleeping Draught on Christmas morning. It was Sleeping Draught last year as well. And the year before that. I have developed a most wretched case of insomnia that only acts up as Christmas approaches.

One vial for each night that Potter spends away from Hogwarts.

One vial for each night that I wonder how he is and what he is doing.

I always use the last vial on the night of Christmas Eve so I brew a new batch on Christmas Day. It is my own personal... tradition, if you like. And it isn't addictive, unlike this strange fixation on - well.

So here I am in my potions lab on Christmas morning with all the ingredients for Sleeping Draught on the table, arranged exactly in the order they are to be added. I have brewed it a hundred times by now, mostly for the Infirmary. I know every single step like the back of my hand.

The preparation of the potion calms me. I need the calm. I need it even more this year because the weight inside my chest has grown heavier. Another calendar year will end in just a handful of days. With each passing day, a certain black haired and green eyed boy grows closer to adulthood and further away from me. I mean, from Hogwarts.

But this morning, the familiar and methodical steps fail to ground me. The crushing feeling is stronger. I steadfastly ignore it. Christmas Day will be the same as it has been for the past twenty years. There will be nothing different save for the increasing hopelessness I have felt for the past couple of years.

For as that brat grows up, I grow older.

A quiet knock at the door makes me look up and scowl. Then I sigh and bid my visitor enter. No doubt Albus wants to remind me in person that I have to put in an appearance for Christmas dinner. But it is Potter who stands there instead, green eyes staring at me from under the white faux fur of a Santa hat perched rakishly atop his unbearably messy hair. I wonder what he has been imbibing so early in the morning to render his eyes this bright, this brilliant. I wonder how I can be maudlin on just a cup of my usual coffee.

"Happy Christmas, Professor Snape," he says with a smile.

"Happy Christmas," I reply. I note that his tone has gotten more respectful since that fateful Christmas Eve three years ago.

The night he went up to the Headmaster's office just after I had vacated it to visit the bathroom to cool my burning eyes. The night he noticed the Pensieve on the desk, 'accidentally' fell in and saw the memory I had put in there not half an hour ago.

I was horrified, humiliated and flushing three shades of red when I pulled him out and yelled at him for giving me additional proof that he was an arrogant, sneaky brat just like his father was.

He shook off my hold and shouted back that I shouldn't have been careless enough to leave my memories lying around.

I snarled at him that I didn't know he'd come sneaking into the Headmaster's office.

He insisted that he wasn't in the least bit sorry he'd found out.

I flushed another two shades of red and yelled at him to get the hell out.

He folded his arms and said he wasn't going to.

We spent the next five minutes glaring at each other while all the past Headmasters and Headmistresses goggled at us from their portraits.

I finally asked him what he was going to do with the knowledge that I had not only loved his mother, but begged her on bended knee to return my feelings, all the while shuddering at visions of my pathetic and unrequited love splashed across the front page of the Prophet. When he replied "Nothing", it was another minute before I could speak again. I asked what could he possibly mean.

He shrugged and told me that my love for his mother made him realise I was more than just the greasy bat of the dungeons, more than just the snarky Potions Master of Hogwarts.

I was stunned, to put it mildly. I think he was as well, for he left without saying anything else.

I stored the memory back in my head and put the Pensieve away. I was awake the whole of that night, wondering what Potter meant by that one word – 'Nothing'. I had put the sharpest blade that existed in his hand, practically invited him to stab me in the chest.

I was resolved to ignore him completely until he left school. I should have known better for he stayed back after our first potions lesson when classes resumed. Once again, he refused to leave even after I shouted at him. After yet another five minutes of silent glares, he sighed. Then he shook his head.

When I saw him smile, I thought he had the blade ready in his hand.

Instead, he summoned that eccentric house elf Dobby, and ordered tea for two.

I sat down, but only because I had run out of things to say and I wasn't about to leave my own classroom. It was a good thing that I had no further classes that afternoon. It would never do for anyone to see Potter having tea with me.

Over sandwiches and buttered scones, and in between some incredibly stilted conversation, he made a request. He lifted those eyes to mine and earnestly asked me not to see him as James Potter, but as Harry. Just Harry.

Later that afternoon, I wondered if that brat had slipped something in my tea. He couldn't have because I had been a spy for seventeen years. There was no way a then fourteen year old boy could have slipped anything past me. But he must have because from that moment on, I ceased to see him as the offspring of that arrogant bully of my childhood, something that Albus himself failed to teach me.

Instead, I see him as a child on the brink of adulthood, a boy who is almost a man, a soul who grew up neglected and unloved yet possessing the astonishing capacity to love, to forgive and to protect. I see a person I have grown to admire and respect. I see someone who, no matter how tiring his day had been with classes, assignments and Quidditch practices, has never failed to visit me once a week, usually twice, for an hour of tea, scones, dry wit, light repartee and surprising chuckles. I see someone who has learnt to look past the cruel treatment, sarcastic remarks and taciturn disposition of yours truly to see the craving for companionship and understanding, something no one else has, save for one - the very person he inherited those green eyes from.

And here he stands right in front of me now, just when I have steeled myself for a week without him. I wonder what he wants. I know it will not be me. I would not hope for such an impossible thing.

I ask why is he here and not at the Burrow.

He says Molly Weasley is out of Hangover Remedy. Knowing in advance she will need some, she has asked him to get some lacewing flies for the twins to brew the potion for her.

I ask why doesn't he buy them from Hogsmeade.

He blinks at me and says it's Christmas. All the shops are closed.

I open my mouth and close it again.

He blinks those enormous green eyes at me.

"Fine," I mutter.

He thanks me politely and goes to the back of the lab where the store cupboard is.

I add the powdered night jasmine to the cauldron and let it simmer for sixty seconds exactly. No more, no less. There's a scrabbling sound in the cupboard and the clink of jars being moved carelessly. It sets my teeth on edge.

"Potter," I hiss. "Can you not give the impression that a rampaging hippogriff is inspecting my store cupboard?"

He apologises cheerfully. I turn back to my cauldron.

Fifty seconds left. There is total silence behind me. I resist the urge to look behind. I strain my ears.

Forty seconds left. I hear the soft clink of glass against glass as if Potter is being very, very careful. I should be relieved. But I'm not.

"Potter, what is that rampaging hippogriff doing now?" I ask.

He says woodenly that it's already taken an Anti Rampaging potion. I blink. Then I stop my lips from twitching upwards.

Thirty seconds left. I hear the dry rustling of crushed beetle legs followed by an almost inaudible "Oops".

"Potter," I hiss. "What has that calm hippogriff done now?"

He says casually that it might have knocked over a jar of crushed beetle legs with its leg. I blink again. Then I advise him to give it an Anti Clumsiness Draught. At his quiet chuckle, I again stop my lips from twitching upwards. I remember crushed beetle legs can be saved, unlike liquid which once spilled is lost forever.

Twenty seconds left. I hear a louder clink of glass against glass followed by a suspicious splashing sound and an even more suspicious sound of liquid dripping. It is followed by a louder "Oops". I curse myself for my earlier thought. My fingers clench hard on the edge of the table.

"Potter," I ground out. "What has that calm and supposedly careful hippogriff done now?"

He says hesitatingly that it might have swished a wing too hard against a bottle of essence of filtered rosewater. Five galleons for half a pint! My eyes almost bulge out. I grind my teeth and spit out that it's a pity I don't have a Wing Removing potion in there.

He apologises readily.

I unclench my fingers and tell him in no uncertain terms that he owes me a new bottle.

He agrees cheerfully.

Ten seconds left. I force my mind to remain blank, to not imagine the other contents of my store cupboard. Definitely not the volatile Red Flame leaves, carefully wrapped in protective snake skins on the top shelf, nor the precious ruby dust in the tiny glass jar tucked right into the corner of the – no. Stop.

I hear nothing. I hold my breath. My heart is racing. I strain my ears. I still hear nothing. Perhaps – perhaps Potter is being careful at last. But a Slytherin does not do something so foolish as to hope.

Five seconds to go. Four. Three. Two. One.

"Found it!" Potter crows right in my ear. I jump a foot in the air and almost drop the stirrer. For some insane reason which probably only someone like Albus Dumbledore would know, Potter is standing behind me.

I stir the potion two times clockwise, willing my hand not to shake. Then I put down the stirrer. Now the potion needs to steep for another sixty seconds before I add the next ingredient. I wait for Potter to leave. He can have no reason to stay here anymore.

But he doesn't.

I spin around to snarl at him that he's well into my personal space. When I find myself looking into brilliant green eyes, I turn back to my cauldron without a single word leaving my lips. So he's still standing behind me. Closer than he has ever stood.

No, I am not hoping. I have never hoped. Hope is for Gryffindors.

I can smell him though. Sweet Merlin, he smells like... I close my eyes and inhale shakily. Like a warm summer breeze after it has traveled through cool forests and freshly cut grass and newly rained on wildflowers.

Yes, an unfortunate side effect of that potion he must have slipped into my tea three years ago is the utterly sentimental drivel I spout, thankfully only in my head.

"Are you all right, Professor?" he asks. His voice is soft. Concerned. For yet another insane reason, Potter takes a step closer to me. So close his body touches mine.

I am not hoping. Nothing can come of it. Nothing has ever come from hoping so why bother now?

I can feel him though. Sweet Merlin, he feels like... I bite my lip and exhale shakily. Like the warmest, softest flannel blanket after it has been heated and wrapped around chilled and shivering limbs that have never known warmth.

Damned side effect.

"Are you cold, Professor?" he asks in that same soft voice. His breath brushes against the back of my neck because I have tied my hair back. I only tie my hair during the Christmas holidays when the Potter brat isn't around, because the severe hairstyle makes my nose appear even bigger. If you must know, I suffer in silence for the rest of the year, when my long hair frames my face in an attempt to make it more... palatable.

"No, I'm not cold," I grit out. I'm miserable. Not that he would want to know. When warm arms enfold me, my eyes flutter closed. I'm sure I'm dreaming. Potter would never put his arms around me. Never.

"Open your eyes."

Potter's voice is trembling. I obey and find myself staring at a small gift wrapped box, held in two hands that tremble as well.

"What is it?" I demand. I'm not hoping. I'm not.

He stays silent for a long moment before he speaks.

"Open it and find out."

I note that his voice is still shaking. I reach out a hand that is thankfully steady, but stained with years of working with potion ingredients. I open the box without even checking it for joke spells or hexes. Must be the coffee on an empty stomach. Or Potter's proximity. There's a scrap of parchment stuck onto the velvet cushion, adorned with Potter's untidy scrawl.

"Read it," he whispers.

I already have.

Turn around to receive your gift.

I shake my head. I can't turn around. Not again. My hair is still tied back, you see.

"Turn around," he whispers.

I shake my head again. I can't. I can't hope either. To hope is to hurt. To hope is to open up your heart and offer it to the one person who can choose to chop it up into little pieces. To hope is to give voice to the knowledge that you will never be what a young, nubile and charming Gryffindor wants for Christmas.

"Please, turn around," he implores with his voice trembling.

I don't know why I listen to him this time. Perhaps it's because his voice is shaking. No. It's because he has put down the box and his hands are on my waist and spinning me around urgently.

"Open your eyes."

I screw them even tighter and shake my head.

Don't laugh, Potter. Be gentle. I know I have not been gentle. But I am not as young as you, nor as resilient, nor as strong.

"Professor? You can't be... scared?"

Of course I'm not. But I find myself nodding anyway.

"Don't be," he reassures in that husky whisper. I feel gentle hands frame my face and warm my ears.

I finally open my eyes to see those brilliant green eyes looking at me. I dare not blink, not even when they smile, crinkling ever so slightly at the corners. All I know is they are seeing what I see in the mirror every morning. The sallow skin, the permanent frown, the thin lips, the lines beside them deepened by years of snarling, and the nose that a blind man cannot miss because my hair is tied back.

Then those eyes come so close to mine, they blur. Lips press against mine. Warm, firm lips that remind me of a flannel blanket that has flown through forests and grass and wildflowers before being warmed by the fire. Lips that insist I open my mouth to accept their kiss. This must be the final effect of that potion Potter slipped in my tea three years ago because all I can do is cling to him and obey. The moan I give when his tongue meets mine is a bonus, I suppose.

"Why," I ask breathlessly the moment the kiss ends.

Potter stares at me with his head cocked a little to the side.

"Because I have hoped," he replies candidly.

I stare at him in astonishment.

"You should hope for better," I tell him seriously.

He smiles like one who knows a secret no one else does.

"I have always hoped for the best," he announces with his chin lifted and his voice filled with pride.

And in his eyes, I finally see what he sees. A man scarred by abuse and hurt by neglect. A man fortified by adversity and toughened by torture. A man with courage and determination and knowledge. A man with honour and principles.

I... I don't see the permanent frown or the lines of discontent or even the nose. I see only respect, admiration, love and above all, hope.

"Happy Christmas, Severus," he says softly.

"Happy Christmas, Harry," I reply. Then I kiss him. Once, twice, thrice before I reluctantly remind him that Molly is waiting for her lacewing flies.

He smiles and says she doesn't need any.

I raise an eyebrow at him and he grins at me.

I sigh and spare a glance for the cauldron on the table behind me. The Sleeping Draught is ruined. I had forgotten to add the rest of the ingredients. But I won't be needing it. Not for this holiday. Or any of our future ones.

Christmas, you see, has finally come to me.

- Story End -