("Suddenly Severus" Christmas scene, posted Dec. 18, 2009. Santa hat Snape stolen from Pennswoods.)

            In spite of the largesse, the numerous orphans who would be staying at Hogwarts over the holiday were warned not to expect Christmas gifts. Fuel and supplies had been ordered in abundance and would arrive the morning after Boxing Day; the entire castle-bound population looked forward to a belated feast within hours of their arrival, to be eaten in a substantially warmer Great Hall while wearing fully-elasticized underwear free of patches or holes. But there were just too many orphans now to remember them all on birthdays and holidays.
            If carefully managed, the recent windfall would provide food, uniforms, fuel, supplies, books, and salaries for a full contingent of students and staff in perpetuity. And Snape and McGonagall intended to make darn sure the anonymous donation was well-managed. There would be no indulgent sprees, for orphans or anybody else.
            Truth be told, the prospect of finally being well provided-for was more than enough to fill students and staff with joy this holiday season. They'd been traversing the castle with a spring in their step and a song in their hearts for days. Still, at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, Violet could not resist marching into the Great Hall with a well-worn stocking clutched in her hand. She hung it resolutely on the mantle above the enormous central fireplace before turning to face the head table, arms akimbo.
            "Ya gotta believe," was all she said when both Snape and McGonagall raised eyebrows at her. Without another word, she spun around and marched to her seat for a generous helping of cheesy noodle casserole.
            The administrators pondered the tattered garment hanging limply over the flames.
            "Why in here?" Minerva wondered.
            By the end of luncheon she had her answer as, one by one, the orphans and other students remaining at the castle for the holidays raced off to their houses, returning with stockings to add to the ever-expanding row. Only the Great Hall fireplace could have accommodated them all.
            Fine by me, the headmistress thought to herself when, hours later, she retrieved a carefully hidden sack from her parlour. It makes my job that much easier.
            She crept quietly along the deserted corridors, enjoying the burden she'd slung so appropriately over her back. It was quite late; most of the castle's inhabitants had snuggled into bed long ago. She was startled, therefore, to discover another member of staff already present when she entered the Great Hall a few minutes later. Alone on a comfortable sofa before the fire, pondering the Christmas trees as they shimmered and glowed in the darkness, sat Severus Snape. Minerva nearly dropped her sack in surprise.
            Her loyal deputy turned his profile into the glow of the fire.
            "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," was all he offered to explain his presence before returning his attention to the festive decorations.
            Smiling to herself, the headmistress set down her burden and approached her second-in-command, arms folded across her chest in mock severity.
            "In that case," she assured Snape crisply, "I insist."
            The potions master's lips twitched, stifling a grin before it could form. With the calmest of airs and only the slightest lift of one eyebrow, he revealed,
            "I am waiting up...for Harry Potter."
            The teenager, they both knew, was with his team, visiting a hospital or appearing at some charitable function as was the custom of professional quidditch players on Christmas Eve. When his obligations were complete, he would return post haste to the castle to enjoy the rest of Christmas Eve.
            "I thought it would please him to find someone waiting up," Snape reported in a charmingly clipped and succinct manner. "So...I am waiting up."
            Not even the shadows of the darkened hall could hide Minerva's delight.
            "May I join you?" she inquired, her formal manner barely concealing her pleasure at the prospect.
            "Please do."
            The headmistress attended to her sack first. She was surprised, upon approaching the stockings, to discover the toes were already full. Reaching inside the nearest one, she pulled out a chocolate frog.
            "It's cold!" she gasped, dropping the item back into the sock.
            "A freezing charm," Snape noted, "to keep the fire from melting the chocolate."
            Minerva nodded. "Very clever! But I didn't notice a tag."
            In the glow of the fire, Snape's mouth twitched again.
            "I can't imagine the recipients will have any difficulty deducing the identity of the donor."
            Minerva waited but Snape refused to say another word. Not until the headmistress began tapping her toe impatiently did he finally capitulate.
            "I placed a special order," he confessed. "Every single frog contains a Severus Snape rookie card and one in a series of ten secrets for successful brewing."
            Minerva laughed out loud, that high, tinkling laugh that contrasted so sharply with her stern demeanor. She set about filling the stockings, holding up a sample of her own offering to show Snape.
            "Everlasting wand pops," she boasted. The lollipop had a wooden handle just like that of a wand and a shaft segmented into six different flavors. "When consumed down to the handle, it regenerates with six new flavors."
            Snape was impressed.
            "Is it really everlasting?"
            "No," admitted Minerva. "There are a total of sixty flavors."
            She dropped the last lolly into the final stocking and joined him on the sofa.
            "This is nice," she murmured, stroking the soft fabric. "Where did it come from?"
            "No idea," Snape replied. "It was here when I arrived. Where's my gift?"
            "Where's your stocking?" the headmistress retorted, jerking her head at the fireplace with a teasing smile. It was customary for the head of the school to remember employees during the holidays, especially house staff. And there was usually a private exchange between deputy and head. But Minerva let Snape stew for a few moments, just as he'd let her stew about the frogs, before sticking her wand in the air to silently summon a package. It arrived in short order, soft and square, wrapped in brown mailing paper.
            Snape looked confused when she handed it to him, almost as if he suspected some sort of mistake. But he tore it open and, upon discovering the contents, let out a surprised and delighted gasp. She'd bought him his very own set of Dumbledorian long underwear, warm and soft and black as coal.
            "Even with the endowment," she explained, "the castle is never going to be truly warm in winter..."
            There was more than pleasure and gratitude in his eyes when he looked up at her. Minerva couldn't quite decipher the additional emotion. Amusement, perhaps? She couldn't image why. She'd been thinking of nothing but his comfort. But when he stuck his own wand in the air and summoned another soft, square package wrapped in brown mailing paper, she understood. She ripped it open to reveal a second set of adult-sized Dumbledorian long underwear, this time in tartan plaid.
            "I'm so pleased!" she cried.
            "As am I, Headmistress," returned Snape.
            They settled back into the depths of the sofa, their fingers entwined in the folds of the wonderful garments on their laps. The fire crackled and snapped while, all around them, Christmas trees sparkled and glowed in the darkness.
            "Do you know," Minerva murmured after several minutes of quiet contemplation, "I've always wanted to do this."
            Snape turned to her in surprise.
            "Me, too!" he cried.
            "I've always wanted to sit in the Great Hall on Christmas Eve, watching the trees and enjoying the fire. But I've never been able to manage it. There's always been some crisis, or catastrophe, or obligation, and by the time it's sorted, I'm knackered."
            "Me, too!" Snape cried.
            They laughed together, perhaps recalling how often their own students had been the source of all the trouble. Minerva gave Snape a nudge with her elbow.
            "Do you remember the time we tried to change houses with Pomona and Filius?"
            "'Teddy bears and study bugs,'" Snape quoted from that November evening three years earler. "Only the heads of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw would have time on Christmas Eve to..."
            He broke off as something occurred to him.
            "What?" Minerva prompted.
            Snape's brow furrowed.
            "I think I just figured out who conjured this sofa!"
            As if on cue, two cheery voices called from the doorway.
            "Merry Christmas!"
            The loungers turned in unison to discover Sprout and Flitwick, cozily attired in nightclothes and robes, standing at the entrance to the Great Hall. At her side, Pomona carried a small hamper.
            "Don't get up," insisted Filius as the two made their way to the fireplace. He conjured another sofa with a flick of his wrist, right beside the first one.
            Show-off, thought Snape.
            The heads of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw settled themselves on the new sofa, pulling their feet up beneath them. Clearly, they were old hands at this. From the hamper, Pomona withdrew a pot of hot chocolate and two mugs.
            "We do this every year," she explained as she conjured two more cups for Snape and McGonagall.
            "Every year?"
            There was no denying the envy in Minerva's tone. Snape took hold of the hot pot, doling out the cocoa as he demanded,
            "Why didn't you invite us?"
            The heads of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff chuckled at what they assumed was a self-deprecating joke...until their mirth was quelled the stony countenances of their counterparts.
            "Are you serious?" Filius finally demanded of his petulant neighbors on the next sofa.
            The top-ranking administrators exchanged scowls.
            "Well, Bah," decided Minerva as she held up her cup for Snape to fill. "It appears we have presented ourselves as less than jovial through the years."
            "Nonsense, Humbug!" Snape topped her off, then clinked her mug with his in toast. "I assure you, we've been nothing but tidings of comfort and joy. And don't call me Sirius!"
            This last, directed at Filius with a peevish snap, elicited chuckles all around.
            "Sorry, Severus," the tiny wizard apologized, to which Professor Sprout added a hasty but sincere,
            "Please don't beat us."
            Snape's eyebrows leapt up above the rim of his cup. They were teasing, of course; he could see it in their eyes. But he didn't quite get the joke. He set down his cocoa and turned to Minerva for clarification.
            "It's Christmas Eve," she prompted. "For the past few years...on Christmas Eve..."
            Snape frowned. He had no idea what she was talking about. He hadn't even been here last year, until that wretched late appearance had obligated him to flog the entire student body. The year before? Oh, yes! That was the year the Gryffindors gave Minerva the cold shoulder and he wound up flogging the entire population of their common room for it. And the year before that? That was so long ago, he must surely have confined his activities to the general vicinity of Slytherin House. What had his little snakes been up to that year? Interfering with his usual Christmas Eve callers, perhaps? No! Now he remembered! That was the year Malfoy and Montague tied Violet Guilford in the Shrieking Shack! Minerva had come scurrying down from her tower to try and prevent him flogging his entire...entire...
            "Oh!" Snape murmured. Oh, my! He glanced a bit ruefully at his counterparts. "There is rather a pattern, isn't there?"
            "We figured the house staff had to be next," Flitwick confessed. Beside him, an earnest Sprout bobbed her head in agreement, eliciting a belly laugh from Snape.
            "I wouldn't worry," he reassured them. "I imagine I got it out of my system for the year the day the carriages were late."
            "Poor Bill!" Flitwick shook his hoary head. "He must have turned as green as...as..."
            "...as a Slytherin quidditch robe," smirked Pomona triumphantly.
            Snape cut his eyes at her. "Actually," he murmured with just a touch of menace, "it was more like the wick of a freshly cut switch from the Whomping Willow."
            Pomona responded with a satisfying gasp, but Filius just slapped his knee and cackled.
            "I can't believe you kept that same switch all these years, Severus!" he crowed.
            Pomona gave a little shudder. "I nearly toppled over when I saw it in the Great Hall," she admitted, taking them instantly back to that dreadful evening when Snape had been forced to publicly flog a second-year Violet.
            "What did you think I'd use?" the deputy demanded. "What did you think I was going to use when Branstone and Cauldwell tried to replace the Hufflepuff house points hourglass?"
            Pomona took a bolstering sip of chocolate. "I didn't care to think," she insisted. "There were a number of days that term when I didn't care to think."
            She and Flitwick described at length that dark holiday season when their students had been so angry with them, when every hour of every day had been filled with censure and reproach, when only Snape had had the children's confidence.
            "Rather enjoyed that, didn't you?" accused Filius lightly, to which Snape replied simply,
            "It was my turn."
            But in the brief silence that followed, he realized something.
            "I didn't, actually. It doesn't work that way. The innocent don't revel in seeing their tormentors get their comeuppance. It doesn't fix the past, after all."
            He thought about his toxic relationship with Albus Dumbledore. The longer he'd stayed at Hogwarts, the more the two men had come to believe they needed each other to defeat Voldemort. He recalled the moment when he'd first realized Dumbledore would never fire him. The elderly wizard had become convinced he could not triumph over the Dark Lord without Snape. The realization had given Snape power, power he'd used to strengthen his house. But it had come at a price. It had escalated the tension between him and the other house staff, for starters. And it had widened the gulf between him and the headmaster. The two men had grown angrier and angrier with one another, constantly seeking new and more vicious ways to torture each other.
            I wonder if there was a point of no return, mused Snape, a moment before which he could have left Hogwarts, saving himself and everyone in this room years of torment while still allowing Dumbledore to defeat Voldemort? He wasn't sure. But one thing he did know for certain.
            The four adults currently gathered in the Great Hall could never have enjoyed a moment like this if Dumbledore were still in the castle.
            They had so many years to look back on now, the four of them together. It was fascinating to hear Sprout's and Flitwick's perspectives on his and Minerva's activities, to learn what folks on the other side of the castle had been thinking and speculating.
            "I thought the whole ordeal was rather pathetic, in the end," he insisted, pulling his robes more snugly around him as he returned to the subject of Violet's public humiliation. "Was all the drama really necessary?"
            "You didn't see the look that child gave us!" Minerva cried, shuddering at the memory. She told him all about Violet's manipulative face full of woe, making Snape laugh so hard his eyes watered.
            "Brilliant!" he reveled, wiping the mirth from his cheeks.
            "At any rate, I thought it had to be dramatic to have the proper effect on the rest of the students," recalled Flitwick. "Wasn't that the point?"
            It was, and it reminded Snape of a question.
            "Whose idea was it," he demanded of Minerva, "yours or Albus's?"
            The former deputy pressed her lips together and shook her head. Snape understood. Most confidences between a deputy and a head would be kept forever, he knew. He and Minerva already had more than you could shake a wand at, things he would never tell another living soul, except for the idea he'd shared, in order to save her life, with...
            "Hello. Did you know it's snowing?"
            And there she was, standing in the doorway, flanked on either side by long-legged Draco and the thuggish Neville Longbottom, whose shoulders were hunched beneath his daunting leather jacket.
            "When do you take your leave, Miss Granger?" Snape asked as Hermione and her fellow lodgers scurried over to the sofa Flitwick had just conjured for them.
            "Tomorrow morning, after Ron brings Harry his Christmas sweater." If she was embarrassed to admit she was waiting to see Weasley before joining her parents for the holiday, she didn't show it. "Ginny took her apparition exam in Hogsmeade this morning but Mrs. Weasley doesn't want her to try it alone the first time, so she has to wait for Ron."
            "Why doesn't Bill accompany her?" wondered Draco, all the while tussling with Hermione over the blankets Flitwick had conjured along with the sofa. He'd produced some for the staff members, too; it seemed to be growing chillier in the hall.
            "I thought a housemaster could take time at Christmas if he had a head student staying behind in his house," added Hermione, supporting Malfoy's inquiry even as she yanked one of the blankets out of his hands. "Colin and Dennis are staying for the entire break."
            Snape rose to add another log to the fire. "The wind seems to be picking up," he observed.
            "It's howling around the towers," Hermione told him. "The alumni wing just kept getting colder and colder, so we decided to come down here."
            "Why didn't you just go to bed?" wondered Professor McGonagall.
            Hermione shook her head. "It didn't seem right, going to sleep on Christmas Eve before Harry got here."
            In his mind's eyes, Snape saw the three of them, keeping vigil in their isolated corner of the castle, their study doors propped open to spill some extra candlelight into the darkened corridor as they waited for the return of their absent neighbor. He imagined Hermione working tirelessly at her desk while, up the corridor, Draco sat with a Santa hat perched on his head, strumming his vihuela. Neville, meanwhile, reclined on his cot in his bomber jacket, fingers laced behind his head, his toad napping on his stomach.
            "Potter will be along shortly," he assured the young people who thrust their feet towards the fire he was feeding. "As for Professor Weasley, he has his wife with him, and that's enough to make a newlywed content anywhere on Christmas Eve."
            He turned his back as he poked the fire, determined to ignore any sniggering his observation might inspire. It occurred to him, as he watched the flames leap higher, that there was still time to retire to his quarters and stir up his own fire, toss in a little floo powder, and see who might be available to pop in from the Three Broomsticks to warm his bed this Christmas Eve.
            An ember popped, sending sparks flying into the room beyond the hearth. Following their path, Snape's eyes fell once more on the occupants of the three sofas. The three lodgers had finally settled down and were snuggled side by side under their blankets...neurotic but noble Hermione, perpetually selfish Draco, and the newly thuggish Neville Longbottom. On the middle sofa, Minerva was arranging his covers to keep his place warm while he tended the fire. Professor Sprout was waiting to hand her a bundle of candy canes to pass along while, beside her, Filius was resting his head on Pomona's arms, about to nod off as he gazed blinkingly into the fire. He was roused briefly by a distinct croak; Trevor had abandoned Neville's bomber jacket pocket to hop along the underside of the blanket until he could peer out from beneath a corner to conduct his own contemplation of the hearth.
            No, Snape decided as he took them all in, it would not be necessary to contact Hogsmeade tonight.
            There was no one else with whom he'd rather spend Christmas Eve.