Severus Snape's Last Christmas

The elf-made wine was rich and full-bodied, felt smooth on his tongue and – once he had drunk a couple of glasses – left him with a warm glow that would have been pleasant nostalgia in a happier man. But for Severus Snape, nostalgia was not a pleasant feeling.

It was Christmas night, and he was alone. Not that that was anything new. Apart from the few brief years when he had a friend, a real friend, he had always been alone.

He looked round the headmaster's study with something approaching disdain. There had been a time when he would have been happy to have the right to be here as Headmaster of Hogwarts. The boy from Spinners End, the one with no friends, the ultimate failure, Headmaster of one of the most prestigious schools in the wizarding world? But it should not have happened like this. He was Headmaster by default, because those now in authority thought he would toe the new party line. He supposed he should be proud that his acting and subterfuge were so good that they truly believed it, but that was a bitter victory if it could be called a victory at all. This study still felt to him as if it were Dumbledore's, as if he had usurped his place, the place of the man he had killed. Apart from the absence of the Phoenix, Fawkes, the room still looked as it had when it was Albus Dumbledore's. Severus had done nothing to make the room his own. He felt he had not the right.

Even the wine was Dumbledore's.

He poured another glass for himself and swallowed it in one gulp. It tasted of regret, of loss, of being alone. And he remembered.

The first Christmas that he remembered he would have been four or five years old. It was Christmas Eve. He was cowering in his bed in the dark (he hated the dark) listening to the sounds of his parents arguing downstairs. He was used to it; Mother and Father were always arguing. He winced and slid further down beneath the thin blankets as he heard the crash of something being thrown at the wall. It was always like this when Father had been drinking. Part of him, the tiny brave part, wanted to rush down the narrow stairs and stand there with his mother, to try and defend her. His mother, tired and defeated although she was, was his idol and his rock. It was she who whispered stories to him of rich houses and happy people and meals that did not leave you feeling hungry when you finished them; it was she who gave him the food from her own plate when the money was even shorter than usual; it was she who told him he was clever, handsome, special; it was she who loved him. It was she too who shared the difference that made them stand apart from the other people in this dirty little town, apart from his fierce and angry father; it was she who shared the magic.

Severus was just old enough to understand that it was this above all else that made his father so angry.

"He is just like you!" was an accusation coming from his father to his mother when talking about their son, not a fond and loving affirmation as it would be in a more ordinary family. Severus knew, with his child's mind, that his father could not forgive him – or more importantly, his mother – for the difference that set him apart.

The brave part of him wanted to stand with his mother against the tyrant who both hated and loved her, but the rest of him, the part that was scared and hungry and lonely and sad so much of the time, wanted to lie here in bed and pretend it was not happening, to pretend that he had a mother and father who loved each other and who loved him, to pretend that he would wake in the morning as other children did to a pile of presents and a sparkling Christmas tree, and a dinner that would fill him so full he could scarcely move. He slid further down in the bed and closed his eyes tight. If he tried hard enough and long enough, he could will himself to sleep and oblivion.

Severus shook himself free of the memories he could not ever get rid of completely. He hated Christmas with its overtones of family togetherness and goodwill to all men. When had he known anything of either? Christmas was not a time for such as he.

He set down his glass with a bang, and walked over to the window. It was a clear bright night. It had snowed earlier, and the grounds glowed with the reflection of the almost full moon. There had been a time when he loved Hogwarts and would have rejoiced at the beauty before him. That was the time when school was an escape from home, where he was not the freak, the weirdo, the one with the difference that set him apart. And that was the time when he had had a friend.

"It's not much…" Lily's face, turned upwards to him was anxious, which was not like her. She was always the confident one, the one who would encourage him and tell him to believe in himself. Perhaps she was aware, as he was, that they were growing apart despite themselves. They were fifth years now, with OWLs before them, and the prospect of leaving school and deciding their futures not so very far away. And more, there was a war in progress, a war in which they would have to take sides sooner or later. She was a Gryffindor, he was a Slytherin. He knew she feared, as he did, that they would choose different sides. But he could not change who he was, even for Lily. And he would not wish her to change for him. He loved her.

He took the silk-wrapped gift she gave him and smiled down at her. "Thank you," he said gravely. "I do not have anything for you. I am sorry."

She shook her head, her eyes sparkling and her hair rippling around her head in a way that made him want to drop the gift and run his fingers through it. He could not remember a time when he had not been in love with her. "It doesn't matter," she said. "Have a happy Christmas, Sev. I'll miss you." She reached up and kissed him briefly on the cheek and then turned and was gone.

That had been the last Christmas when they were friends.

Severus felt tears on his cheeks and cursed himself for his weakness. Why had wizards, with all their magic and cleverness, not come up with a memory charm that would take away the hurt in remembering? He could not think of Lily without regret, without hating himself for how he had failed and betrayed her, but he did not want to forget. The remembrance of her love was all he had, and was the reason he was here now, why he was doing what he did, why he lived this life of deceit and betrayal, with no man or woman truly his friend or his confidant.

Perhaps it would be over soon. Perhaps the end would come. He felt now that he scarcely cared which side won and which lost. All he wanted was an end to it, and for himself either peace or oblivion. He thought and feared that they were probably the same thing, however it ended.

At least he had the skills now to procure himself a temporary respite. He strode over to the cabinet by the desk and withdrew a tiny bottle. He poured the dregs of the wine into the glass and added two or three drops of the potion. With a grim smile he composed himself in the Headmaster's chair, wrapped his cloak around himself, and drained the glass. The glass fell to the floor and shattered as he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

When Severus woke, it was late afternoon and a voice behind him was saying his name over and over in a low but insistent voice.

"Severus! Severus, wake up! It is time."

He shook himself into wakefulness and stood up, his cloak falling to the ground. He turned to face the portrait of Dumbledore behind the desk.

"It is time Severus. The sword…"

"But Headmaster, where…?" Severus did not finish the sentence. Phineas Nigellus was back in his frame and talking to him. The Forest of Dean, they were in the Forest of Dean.

Severus moved without really thinking about it. This had been planned for so long. He picked up his cloak and put it on, only half hearing Albus Dumbledore's words of instruction and caution. He knew what he had to do.

The sword felt heavy in his hand. The grip felt wrong. He was not a Gryffindor – it was not his to wield.

Still, as he tucked it beneath his cloak and turned to leave the study, he heard two voices in his head, as clearly as if the speakers had been there with him.

"My son. My brave, clever son. Mama loves you, Severus."

"Happy Christmas, Sev. Thank you for doing this for my Harry."

Severus shook his head to clear it. They were dead, they were both dead.

And he had a job to do.