AN: Hello everyone!
This idea was born when Loten asked for Christmas themed promts for a one-shot. She didn't use mine in the end, and I got an inspiration for it myself, so here it is...
I don't own them!
Severus didn't enter the Hogwarts library often.
Virtually every relevant book on both Potions and the Dark Arts that was ever published was in his library, either at Hogwarts or in Spinner's End, with the exception of the ridiculously expensive ones – and those were in Malfoy Manor. The Manor had several advantages over the Hogwarts library, namely that it contained friendly Narcissa and Lucius with a tumbler of whisky, and the only student there was his godson. It was imminently preferable.
However, unfortunate as it was, from time to time, specifically whenever he ventured out of his own comfort zone in his work, he had to make use of the semi-public institution, thus venturing out of his comfort zone physically, too. At least this time he was able to wait till the Christmas holidays, meaning the number of students present was severely limited. In these dangerous times, everyone wanted to have their children at home, and never mind that Hogwarts was the safest place where they could possibly be. Sentimentality invariably overrode common sense in most people, Severus knew.
In fact, there was only a single student present in the library: Hermione Granger.
Severus's lip curled of its own volition. Of course. If she could, she would undoubtedly be here during the summer holidays too.
The only thing surprising about this was that she wasn't away somewhere with Potter and Weasley. But then again, not even that. Weasley and she apparently argued some time before Christmas, and even though Severus considered it much more likely that the fault lied with the redheaded moron, Potter obviously didn't hesitate to accompany him home for the break, leaving his other supposed best friend alone at Hogwarts. How charming. Also, how typical.
She was sitting next to the Charms section, which made him feel relief that at least whatever overly-long essay she was working on was for Flitwick and not for him. It was also the section where he was headed, so he glanced over her shoulder as he passed her and saw the chapter heading: Undetectable Extension Charm.
It gave him a mental pause. Charms were far from being his field of expertise, but he was pretty certain that this was something Flitwick covered just before NEWTs, and then only if he had an exceptionally talented class, as a chance to earn extra credit on the exam. Of course everybody knew that Granger studied ahead, but he hadn't thought she went that far – he'd have expected her to be reading this next Christmas, or next summer at the earliest.
Out of curiosity, he glanced at the titles that were stacked up on her table, and barely avoided staring. Those were all highly advanced books, and he was reasonably certain Flitwick didn't require their content from any Hogwarts student. Severus himself had a NEWT in Charms – he got an E, even – and he was an academic, and only ever opened few of these books in his life.
He mused about it on his way out of the library and back to his rooms. Of course, she was a compulsive reader, and it was possible that she was just reading anything she came across, but those, at least the ones he knew, were highly technical books and an unlikely choice for a random reading. Undetectable extension charm was practical no doubt, but bloody complicated – there was a reason those bags and trunks were so expensive. It seemed unlikely that Granger would look it up just for the hell of it. And the rest of the books were themed very specifically too. The ones he knew were somehow loosely related to survival or defence, and the ones he didn't sounded like they weren't too far off either.
No, there was only one solution that fitted all the facts: she was preparing for the war.
It was only a hypothesis, but a rather likely one. Interested, Severus looked for Granger a day later when he came back to return the books, and sure enough, she was there again, this time sitting by the Defence section, and if he needed any more confirmation, reading precisely the sorts of books he would have predicted. Losing himself among the shelves, Severus thought about it.
He should have known that she would be the only student in the whole school who actually realized – really realized – what was going on and was preparing for it. It surprised him, but it shouldn't have. He knew that Defence club last year had been her idea, after all. What he felt he had full right to be surprised about, however, was how much she realized.
Because those books weren't about shield charms and defence strategies, they weren't reading about various Death Eaters' background, or about Dark Lord himself...they were, just as the day before, survival books. They implied that Granger was preparing to last on the run, without the protection of Hogwarts or, probably, the help of the Order. In short, it meant she had a very good idea of what was going to happen at the end of this year. She saw Dumbledore's hand, she knew about Potter's sessions with him, and she put two and two together.
Severus analyzed his feelings about it. After the initial shock wore off – it was supposed to be a secret, after all - he was mainly uncomfortable. He underestimated her, and that happened to him rarely, because when you were a spy, these were the kinds of mistakes that were deadly. But as much as he hated to admit it even to himself, he was also feeling a kind of – dare he say it? – kinship with her, because he was time and again frustrated by being the only one who realized what was going on in the Order.
Of course in one sense that was precisely how it was supposed to be. The others weren't technically meant to know. And they couldn't really know about his part in it, obviously – frankly it was so absurd he still had problems believing it himself – but if a sixteen-year-old girl was able to figure it out, that the best minds in Britain, the experts in the Order, certainly should be capable of the same thing. It wasn't that difficult! They all saw Dumbledore's hand, they all knew that a curse that strong that couldn't be healed was always lethal, and could hardly ever be contained.
But that really showed the most important quality Granger had and they lacked. It wasn't intelligence – she was clever, sure, but there were a lot of other clever people in the Order – and not even work ethics, thought hers were exceptional. It was a certain deep realism, the ability to see reality as it really was, without the comforting illusions other people usually indulged in. Most members of the wizarding world dealt with the idea of house-elf servitude by simply pretending it didn't exist; Granger, on the other hand, immediately saw the monstrosity of it and went to tackle the problem, however puerile her methods might have been. And it was the same in this case. She had the same clues as everyone in the Order – possibly even less – and she managed to draw the correct conclusions not because she was cleverer than them, but because she didn't flinch from the obvious result of her examination.
He wondered if she told Potter and Weasley. Somehow, he thought not.
He never really understood why she was friends with them, but only now he could appreciate how dreadful an experience it must be for her. Like him and the Order, whose blindness made him want to tear his hair out, only she had to deal with them on a day-to-day basis. He didn't know how she hadn't gone mad yet. He really felt sorry for her, something quite unexpected for him. While she lived in the stark, harsh reality, Potter and his sidekick lived in an alternate universe where Gryffindor foolishness solved all problems, and where Potter's hero aura was enough to prevent anything from happening to him. Admittedly it had seemed to work up to now, but then again he wasn't sure how much of that was luck and how much was Granger's work in the background. Certainly she must have forced the brat to learn everything he knew.
Severus wandered back to her table, and caught her muttering angrily: "Yes, but how! Vague information like that is bloody useless, for crying out loud!"
He almost laughed at her frustration. He knew the feeling perfectly well from his young years at Hogwarts. Almost all books about Defence were written in this way, so afraid of saying too much they said nothing at all in the end. It was actually one of the main reasons he dabbled in the Dark Arts later in life – he wanted to fully understand what those books were talking about.
He glanced over her shoulder again. Yes, the book she was reading was notorious for this, being at the same time comprehensive and woefully incomplete – it mentioned a number of things one couldn't find in any other non-clandestine source, but it mentioned them so vaguely it was almost useless.
Severus left the library, turning an idea in his head...
And so it happened that Severus Snape gave a student a Christmas gift for the first time in his life.
AN: Anonymously, of course. Who do you take him for?
I like to imagine there were some information about Horcruxes in the book(s) he gave her, too, which made the Trio's life much easier later on.