Severus Snape turned and frowned at the smiling face of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. The old man had replaced the tall conical hat that he usually wore with a red Santa cap trimmed with ermine fur. On the table between the two men was a jester's cap festooned with bells. It had popped out of the Christmas cracker that had been on Snape's plate. Dumbledore had insisted on pulling it open with him. The headmaster had looked at the hat and smiled at Snape. Dumbledore could smile all he wanted; there was no way that he was going to put on that ridiculous hat. He was no one's fool, regardless of what the headmaster might think.
"What is there to smile and laugh about? Do you think that the students who are stuck here for Christmas are happy?" he retorted as he indicated the small group of students at the table in front of the staff table. Not many students had opted to spend the Christmas holiday at Hogwarts this year, therefore they were all seated at one table. There were three Slytherins, four Ravenclaws and two Gryffindors. No Hufflepuffs this year--most of them came from stable, loving homes.
"They seem to be having a good time!" Dumbledore replied cheerfully. "When you cannot go home for Christmas, Christmas will come to you at Hogwarts!"
What an inane thing to say. As a boy he had spent many Christmases at Hogwarts. It was more of a home than his real home and a safer one. However the festive decorations had reminded him of the lack of the same at his house and the small, simple gift that his mother would send by owl would instill feelings of guilt for not going home to her. He also felt Lily's absence keenly, knowing that she was celebrating with her family and visiting her Muggle friends during the holiday week.
Severus looked at the children seated at the students' table. To his surprise, they were having a good time. They were examining the gifts which had burst from the crackers and were tucking into their pudding. One of the Ravenclaws had received a tiny flute and she was tooting out a popular Christmas carol while her House mates sang.
He looked over at the other teachers and staff who had remained at Hogwarts. Hagrid and Professor McGonagall were both flushed after several cups of eggnog. They laughed as Professor Flitwick stood on the table and aimed his wand at the Christmas trees, making the candles shoot sparklers up to the ceiling. Madam Pince covered her mouth to suppress either a smile or a belch, although Severus suspected the latter. Argus Filch sat in stony silence, concentrating on the food in front of him and only looking up to indicate that his cup needed refilling. He was on his sixth mug of mead. That was nothing. Severus knew that the lonely squib was no stranger to alcohol; he would walk away from the table straighter than the rest of them.
Professor Dumbledore stood up and raised his glass. The rest of the staff and the students did likewise.
"The Hogwarts staff and I would like to wish all of you a very Happy Christmas!" Dumbledore said. "Enjoy the rest of the day! The House Elves will bring you dinner in your respective Common Rooms this evening. Meals will continue on the regular school schedule tomorrow."
The students gathered up their gifts and left the Great Hall; the staff did the same. Severus pushed the gifts which had come from his cracker--the hat, ivory dice and a book of antique magic maps over towards Hagrid.
"You can take these. I have no use for them." The giant groundskeeper looked at him in surprise then gave him a wide smile.
"Thanks kindly, Professor Snape! Happy Christmas!" Hagrid picked up the gifts and followed the others towards the door.
Severus pushed his chair in, planning to go back to his room and grade the end of term papers. No need for this day to be different than any of the others, save for the absence of most of the students. He was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder.
"Come up to my office for a moment, Severus. I have something to show you. The papers can certainly wait." Dumbledore said.
Severus reluctantly followed the headmaster to his office. Just as he had suspected, it was festooned with holly and fir boughs. A small tree stood in the corner, decorated with glass ornaments in the shapes of the House symbols. His sharp eyes noticed that there were only two Slytherin ornaments.
"I received a bottle of elf- made wine from my old friend Horace Slughorn," Dumbledore said cheerfully. "A very strong vintage which is best shared, not to be drunk alone. Here's to your health, Severus!"
Severus stared at the dark liquid in his glass. He had never drunk elf-made wine before. It was rare and expensive. He swirled the wine in his glass and raised it to his lips. It was dark and smooth, with an intense, rich flavor. It left a subtle, but very pleasant burning sensation in his mouth and throat. He felt his body relax but willed his mind to stay alert.
"I was going through some old photographs of past Christmases here at Hogwarts," Dumbledore continued. "I have some here that I wanted to show you."
Severus gingerly accepted the photos and looked down at the first one. It was a photo of him at age thirteen, the first year that he had stayed at Hogwarts for Christmas. He was wearing the green and silver cap that Lily had knitted for him. It was the first gift that he had opened on Christmas morning and he had worn it all day.
He had been in the process of practicing Sectumsempra on a snowman which bore a strong resemblance to James Potter when the photo was taken. Severus looked at his startled face squinting in the sunlight, the snowman's head rolling at his feet.
"I remember that!" he snarled. "Lupin was hiding in the hedges and snapped the photo. I knew that he was going to give it to Potter after the new year! I chased him all the way to the staircase which led to Gryffindor tower..."
"Which is where I waylaid the two of you," Dumbledore said with a smile. "I believe that was the first time that you had tea in my office."
"It was," Severus said grudgingly as he sipped the wine. The Headmaster had not punished either one of them. He had taken the incriminating photo from Lupin who had promptly (and rather insincerely, in Severus' opinion) apologized. He had then invited the boys to join him for Christmas tea. It was the second fancy tea that Severus had attended, but he did not have to dress up for this one. He found out that Lupin had spent the last two Christmases at Hogwarts and for the briefest of moments he did not hate him.
"You kept that photo all this time?" he asked archly.
"I only found it last week when I was cleaning out my cupboard," Dumbledore said as he poured Severus another glass of wine. "I finally decided to get rid of the collection of Extendable Ears, Sneak-o-Scopes and other confiscated items that I had accumulated over the years. Amazing how things that have been lost for years have a way of turning up! I also found this one behind another photo in a frame that I was cleaning."
Severus examined the photo. He was fourteen. This photo had also been taken outside. The bright white snow was a sharp contrast to the large red nose that poked out above the great fur coat which swallowed his entire body. He looked like some sort of strange subspecies of yeti.
"That was Hagrid's coat!" Severus exclaimed. He swallowed too fast and coughed as he choked down the wine and held out his glass for a refill.
"It was freezing that day. I don't think that many students stayed for Christmas that year."
"The great blizzard of 1974," Dumbledore remarked. "One of the worst in living memory. Yet the storm stopped on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning it was a truly breathtaking sight!"
"Yes," Severus said as he drank his wine. "The other students were outside playing in the snow. I wanted to join them but it was too cold."
The day had been bright and glorious and the students, who had not ventured outdoors for days, leaped into the snow. They made angels, built snowmen and forts and pelted each other with snowballs. Severus had watched from a window. He longed to go outside, but his thin, patchy coat was not suitable to protect him from the freezing cold. He had the hat that Lily had knitted for him the previous year, a long matching scarf which she had knitted for him this year, and a lumpy pair of mittens that his mother had sent to him. Those were most likely from a charity bin at the city community center. He had also obtained a pair of boots from a Slytherin House mate who had outgrown them. The boy had placed them on the rubbish pile. When no one was looking, Severus had quietly taken them for his own. They were slightly big, but they were warm and he would grow into them. If he only had a proper coat!
"Happy Christmas, Hagrid! Care to join Minerva, Filius and me for a cup of wine?" Dumbledore's voice echoed through the hallway.
Severus peered into the hallway and saw the giant groundskeeper following the headmaster upstairs. Hagrid had left his great fur coat hanging on one of the gryphon balustrades at the foot of the staircase. It was covered with melting snow which was dripping onto the stone floor. Just the thing to keep him warm! Surely Hagrid would not miss it while he was toasting the holiday in the headmaster's office.
Severus grunted from the weight of the heavy coat as he lifted it from the balustrade and wrapped it around his gaunt frame. The hem pooled around his feet and the sleeves extended several inches past his arms. The furry collar hid half of his face and tickled his mouth. It smelled funny.
"What type of beast did this come from?" he wondered.
Severus slowly and laboriously made his way out the door and up the hill where he had last spotted four of his Slytherin House mates who had also stayed on for Christmas. None of them were in his year and he only knew them by name. It was difficult to move with the heavy coat. He stood up at the top of the hill to catch his breath. He looked down and saw his House mates in the midst of an intense snowball fight with the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. A Ravenclaw had joined them, but they were severely outnumbered. Surely they could use some help.
A Hufflepuff First year stood up and waved his wand around a fresh snowball, giving it a good spin. He looked up in Severus' direction and dropped the snowball.
"Troll!" he shouted in alarm. The other students froze in place and stared at him.
Severus took a step forward, lost his footing and rolled down the hill, a speedy uncontrollable mass of snow and fur. He bowled into the Gryffindor/Hufflepuff team, scattering them like nine pins. He lay spread eagled in the snow, dazed and unable to get up from the weight of the coat. Strong hands grabbed his shoulders and pulled him upright. He looked up fearfully expecting to meet his fate at the hands of an angry Gryffindor, but instead looked into the smiling face of Hagrid.
"That's one way to win a snowball fight, although I prefer a more traditional approach! You certainly are a sight, boy! Stand still while I take yer picture!"
"Hagrid told me to ask next time I wanted to borrow his coat--as if I ever would want to after that!" Severus mumbled.
"He brought that photo up to me later and told me that you were the hero of the snowball battle--thanks to his coat!" Dumbledore laughed as he poured more wine. "Thankfully the Christmas that you spent the following year did not involve any mishaps in the snow!"
Severus looked at the next photo. It was not taken on Christmas day. It was a picture of him and Lily at the Slug Club Christmas party. They were fifteen. Lily's red hair flowed over her shoulders and she was laughing. Severus was wearing dark green dress robes which he had borrowed from a wealthy House mate. Lily had performed a quick altering charm on them to ensure a proper fit. He had endured a shampoo earlier that day and made sure that his fingernails were trimmed and free of dirt.
"Let's go together as friends, Severus!" Lily had exclaimed when she found out that he had also been invited. "Make sure that you look smart--there will be a lot of important people there!"
He had taken special pains to look smart, but he did not care about any of the so-called important people. He was going to the party with Lily. They were going as friends, but to him it was so much more. They had not been getting along lately. Lily had always stood up for him when her Gryffindor friends (who hated him) spoke against him. However lately she had been sharply critical of his Slytherin friends and had voiced her displeasure on more than one occasion.
"Why are you being so judgmental?" he had asked irritably. "Your friends hate me and not once have I ever criticized you for being with them!"
"My friends don't practice the Dark Arts and aren't followers of Lord Voldemort!" Lily retorted angrily.
They had not spoken for weeks after that. Things started to thaw out between them as Christmas approached. His heart had leapt when she asked him to the party. This was the time to fix things between them. This was the time to explain to her that the Dark Arts were not wholly evil, but could also be beautiful and mysterious. He would tell her that although he was impressed with the greatness of Lord Voldemort that did not lessen his love for her. She was the exception.
He remembered that moment in front of the roaring fireplace in the photo. They were both drinking eggnog that had been lightly laced with spirits, courtesy of Sirius Black. Professor Slughorn had introduced Severus to several important people, including Abraxus Malfoy. Lucius' father had given Severus his card.
"It is good to see you again, Severus. I can see why my son speaks so highly of you. Please send me an owl after the new year. I would like to introduce you to some of my colleagues at Malfoy Manor if you are available during the Easter holidays."
Severus could not believe his luck. Abraxus Malfoy was a wealthy and influential man. He knew several people who were in highly placed government positions. Students whispered that he knew Lord Voldemort personally. He was impressed with Severus and would introduce him to the right people. He would help him attain greatness. He would finally have money, power and respect. He would have all of the things to build a life for himself and Lily. A life that they both deserved.
"You're smiling, Severus," she remarked as they returned to their spot by the fireplace. "What did that man say to you?"
"Only good things, Lily! Things are going to change! Everything is going as planned!"
"Really? Oh, do tell me!" Her green eyes shone and her lips parted in a smile. She was beaming, happy for him.
He wanted to tell her that he loved her. He wanted to tell her about his plans for their future. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her. Instead he just smiled.
"Not now, Lily. It's a surprise! I promise that I will tell you once everything has fallen into place!"
"Promise?" she asked with a teasing smile.
"Yes!" he replied happily.
"Look over here and smile you two!" Professor Slughorn boomed as he snapped their photo.
"I promise," Severus murmured as he stared into Lily's smiling green eyes which blinked at him from the photo. He was smiling too, the only photo that had ever captured him confident and happy. That was the moment of perfect happiness for him, unaware of the changes that would take place in his life within the upcoming months.
Severus blinked at the photo. The combination of the wine and the roaring fire in the headmaster's office had filled him with a pleasant, drowsy, feeling. He looked up at Dumbledore.
"I cannot believe that Professor Slughorn gave you this photo. He loved Lily."
"He didn't give it up easily. I convinced him that because it was the last photo taken of the two of you, you should have it. He finally relented."
"That was the best party that I ever attended," Severus said. He gathered up the photos and handed them back to Dumbledore.
"Keep all of them, Severus. They are yours. Just a reminder of good Christmases past. Here's a toast to a Happy Christmas at present, and happy future Christmases!"
"Happy Christmas, Albus," Severus responded as he raised his glass.
I'm so glad that you liked it! I loved writing it since I love these two guys! Yes, Severus had a rough life, but I tried to set it so that Dumbledore could tease some of the good memories out of him.
I'm glad that you noticed the little details. In my head canon Filch is a drunk and much as I dislike him, I do feel sorry for him and would not hold his alcoholism against him.
Yeah, I love Hagrid! I haven't written much about him in my other fics; I will have to change that! Ahaha--I have to admit that the image of Severus rolling down the hill as an out-of-control ball of fur and snow was probably inspired by watching too many Warner Brothers cartoons!
Writing about Severus and Lily is difficult for me for lots of reasons. I always try to keep as close to canon as possible. JKR gives hints that their friendship was already fraying before it ended, but I decided to give them one good last time together. What better place than the Slug Club party?