Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any. Opinions expressed by the characters may or may not be those of the author. Price subject to change without you noticing. Void where there's a vacuum.

Still new to this fandom; still assuming that it's all been done already. Any unoriginality is accidental.

A bit of Christmas fluff; the reader is invited to make up their own explanation. Cincoflex created the lovely banner on the spur of the moment!

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It was the scraping sound that alerted him.

Snape snapped out of the shallow evening doze that had become all too easy since his injuries, and palmed his wand, as wide-awake now as he had been half-dreaming an instant before. Who dares?

The scrapes grew louder, and a drift of soot floated out of the chimney, snowing down over the glowing coals that were all that was left of his sitting-room fire. Snape tensed. Whoever or whatever was invading his home had somehow made it past his excellent wards, which meant that the intruder was very skilled or very powerful, or—

Or, Snape thought as the heavy hem of green appeared above the black boots, swinging with the weight of its fur lining, it's someone to whom the rules simply don't apply.

He didn't relax, exactly, but he did lower his wand, leaning back in his shabby armchair and murmuring a word that lit the stubby candles in the lamp. The light was enough to illumine the tall figure that dropped onto the hearth with a thump, ducking out of the chimney with the ease of long, long practice.

The man was broad-shouldered and strong, wearing the old-fashioned green robe with the air of a king, though his only ornament was the wide black belt holding the robe closed. His smile was a flash of white in an equally white beard, and his flowing hair bore no trace of ash. "Happy Christmas, Severus," he said.

"And to you," Snape replied automatically, though he could see nothing happy about it. In truth, he had forgotten that it was Christmas, now that there was no interminable Hogwarts feast to remind him.

All in all, I'd have preferred to go on forgetting.

Still, there were proprieties to be observed. "Will you sit?" he asked, nodding at the chair opposite his own.

Father Christmas smiled more widely, and took the seat. "You seem surprised," he said. "Don't tell me you've succumbed to the Muggle idea that I don't exist!"

Snape ignored the way ivy was climbing up the shadowed bookcases, concentrating instead on the figure before him. "I would never be so foolish," he countered. "But even in the wizarding world, you usually only attend children."

The noble head inclined, though the smile didn't abate, and the back of Snape's mind noted that he should have found all the relentless cheer irritating. But an older reverence held sway; this was an ancient Power, and was to be respected.

"True enough," Father Christmas said. The ivy was joined by holly, and Snape's sensitive nose detected a hint of fir. "But there are by times exceptions."

Snape raised a brow. "I've done nothing to earn such favour," he said drily. "By rights I should be dead."

"That can be said for a great many people," Father Christmas murmured. "Many of whom owe their continued life to you."

Snape's mouth twisted bitterly. "None of that makes up for what I've done."

For a long moment the past seemed to hang in the still air of the room, as real as the additional candles that had appeared and far darker. Betrayal heaped on disaster and laced with a lifetime of pain, and most recently the Resurrection Stone's silent, inexorable summons back to a life he didn't want. Damn Potter anyway.

"That's not for you to judge." The wise, ageless gaze rested on Snape, making him want to twitch. "You know why I am here."

Snape scowled. "I don't want your gifts," he said. "What I want, I can't have."

Father Christmas didn't reply immediately, instead looking around the dim space. The bookshelves nearest the hearth were invisible under a layer of greenery now, and Snape was almost certain he heard the chirp of birds. For an instant, he imagined the vines and leaves swallowing the narrow house, and himself, entirely. No one would care if I vanished, he thought wearily. And it would be a relief.

The gusty sigh from the other chair drew Snape's attention back. "Severus, the magic of Christmas is an ancient and powerful thing. Be prudent, and do not scorn it."

Snape grimaced, and opened one hand in acquiescence. Father Christmas grinned hugely. "You have been very good indeed," he said softly, and Snape felt his throat constrict at the words, all unexpected after a lifetime spent under evil's aegis. "You have fought, and bled, and endured, without reward or praise. Severus Snape, you deserve this gift, and because Christmas is also a time of mercy, I ask that you accept it without arguing."

That startled Snape into a cough of humour. "Very well," he muttered. This would be over faster if he just gave in. "As you like."

The grin got even wider, if that were possible. "Splendid!" Father Christmas boomed, and Snape swore he could feel the floor vibrate in response. Father Christmas rose majestically to his feet, and a wren darted out of the greenery to land on his shoulder and peer cheekily at Snape. The big figure strode back to the fireplace, bending down.

"Er..." Snape hesitated, confused. "What..."

"What you wanted," Father Christmas said, his grin just as blinding upside down. The wren flitted up the chimney. "A second chance."

And with that he stepped into the coals and was gone, rising up after the wren as if he were as light. A last puff of ash heralded his departure, and then the room was silent.

Snape exhaled, and looked around. The holly and the ivy were gone, as was the scent of fir, but the extra candles remained, smelling faintly of honeyed beeswax. He rubbed his eyes with one hand, puzzled and tired. What was all that in aid of?

He was not fool enough to take Father Christmas' appearance as a dream, but he couldn't fathom what a second chance might be for him in a world where all he loved was long dead. I suppose I'll find out.

Suddenly the room seemed stifling. Snape stood, snuffing all the candles with one gesture, and collected his cloak on the way to the front door. A walk in the cold air would do him good, and afterwards perhaps he could sleep properly, without nightmares or dreams.

Taking down the wards was a moment's work, and he pulled open the door without thought, which made the presence of a figure on his doorstep—hand poised to knock—all the more startling.

They stared at each other for a long, long moment, eyes wide and disbelieving, and then Snape found his arms full of—but how could it be—Lily?

"You're alive, you're alive," she was gasping into his shoulder, holding him tightly. "We thought you were dead, Sev, oh—"

His own arms closed around her without conscious thought, and Snape stared down bewildered at the head so close to his own, some part of him noting the silver threads mixed with the red. "Lily," he said, or tried to; all that came out was a croak.

She lifted her face, and her green eyes were wet, and something in him broke at the joy shining behind the tears; broke clean, a painless giving way. Snape lifted a trembling hand to wipe away the moisture trailing down her cheek. "I..."

Don't understand was what he was going to say, but Lily leaned up and pressed her mouth to his, and all his thoughts scattered like birds taking wing.

When breath and sense returned, Snape realised that he still didn't know what exactly had happened, but also that he didn't care in the slightest. "Will you come inside?" he managed, and Lily laughed and kissed him again, brief and sweet.

"Try and stop me," she said. "You have some explaining to do, love."

His face felt very strange; it had been so long since he'd smiled. Snape stepped backward, bringing Lily with him, hearing the echo of a rich chuckle as he did so.

"Happy Christmas," he murmured, and swung the door shut.

End.