Severus looked down at the fence post under his cold hands, feeling a bit embarrassed; there was a distinct, tingling warmth flushing his cheeks and the tips of his ears, despite the fact that it was snowing outside. He tapped a small tattoo on the frozen wood. Lily stood attentively at his left shoulder, looking up at him boldly, demanding an answer. He wished she wouldn’t.
“Mum and Dad just never had time, I guess,” he mumbled at last. “I mean, some years I’ll get new socks, or something handed down from Dad’s closet, but it’s not like… what you’re thinking of.” He withdrew his hands to his coat pockets, although they weren’t much warmer than if he’d left them on the post; the thin fabric of the coat had long since been worn down, and any sort of protection is might have once afforded was now nonexistent.
“No presents? No tree? No hot cider by the fireplace?” Lily persisted, her own hands, wrapped snugly in red-and-white-striped mittens, clenched firmly before her. Her hair was tucked under a matching cap that clashed horribly. Severus shook his head the barest degree, the heat of humiliation creeping steadily higher.
Lily’s face fell, and she frowned slightly, tracing small patterns in the frost with the thumb of her right mitten. “How sad,” she said matter-of-factly. The toe of one small Wellington boot tapped up and down, up and down on the ground behind her. For a moment there was nothing else but the sort of heavy silence that comes with snowfall.
“You could come to my house for Christmas,” she began, but Severus cut her off before the thought was fully formed, even going so far as to back away a few steps.
“Your sister hates me,” he said, and Lily didn’t even try and argue against the fact. “Besides, I – I don’t want to have a Christmas.” But even as he tried to convince himself of this, he knew that what he wanted more than anything at that moment was to spend the following day with Lily, doing everything that she talked about – the tree, the cider. He didn’t even need the presents, if he could be awarded that. “And,” he continued, “we’ll have Christmas at Hogwarts.”
Lily’s face brightened as she rubbed her nose with one of her mitten-covered hands; it had turned pink with the cold. “Really?”
Severus nodded again, remembering vaguely his mother mentioning it once. It was the first time he’d actually heard that Christmas was something more than a day for hand-me-downs. Lily beamed.
“Well, then, that’ll be fun, having Christmas with you there,” she said, and another surge of warmth that had nothing to do with embarrassment spread through his insides. “Still,” she added, the frown returning in an instant, “I wish you could have a proper one this year.”
There were a few more moments of thick, cottony silence, and Lily continued to trace frost patterns and tap the toe of her boot on the ground. She gasped so suddenly that Severus started, again stumbling back a step or two, which he had just gained back to lean on the post again.
“I’ve got an idea,” she said, her eyes darting over her shoulder in the direction of her own house, although it couldn’t be seen from the fence – it was halfway between the house and Severus’s own. “Can you meet me back here tomorrow evening? Seven o’ clock?”
Severus nodded; he had nothing else to do. “Seven o’ clock,” he confirmed, and Lily stuck out her hand for a handshake. It was a quirk she had, liking each verbal agreement the pair of them made to feel official. Severus took the mitten-clad offering and grinned, and they shook once. He watched her wave, turn, and disappear into the snow.
The next evening, at the same fence, found Severus already waiting anxiously by seven o’ clock. The town’s clock had already chimed seven bells for the house, and he was now shivering slightly – even more snow had fallen overnight, and the temperature had plummeted accordingly. He stamped his feet to try and get some of the feeling back into them.
Where was Lily?
He spotted her at last – a flash of red hair against the whiteness of the snow behind, bent double as though she were carrying something. He frowned, getting a suspicious sort of feeling, watching with no small amount of apprehension as she drew nearer.
“What are you doing?” he said as soon as she was within earshot, fighting the smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Lily stopped in front of him, wearing the same striped hat and mittens, grinning proudly at whatever sort of odd and lumpy thing was hidden under her coat.
“Merry Christmas!” she said in a cheerful sing-song, fishing around under her coat and finally withdrawing a hastily-wrapped present, papered in green paper patterned with miniature renditions of what Muggles apparently considered to be elves. She thrust the parcel at him, brushing a strand of snow-covered hair out of her face with slight difficulty.
“I didn’t get you anything,” Severus said sullenly, not willing to take the present while feeling incredibly touched that she had gone to the effort to wrap something for him. Lily blew an exasperated sigh through pursed lips and jiggled the parcel around.
“Take it,” she said firmly. “I don’t need a present.” Hesitantly, Severus reached out and took the package, that familiar hot feeling creeping its way into his cheeks. Lily watched him, eyes bright, hands folded beneath her chin, as he slowly removed the wrapping paper, folding it carefully and tucking it into his pocket. Just in case.
A thin, well-loved paperback book fell into his hands, and he looked at it, studying the cover intently. “Pride and Prejudice,” Lily said earnestly, standing on her tiptoes to look at the cover upside-down, as though she hadn’t already seen it. “It’s – it’s one of my favorite books.” She suddenly sounded unsure of herself, as though maybe she had gotten him the wrong sort of gift. But he could not have imagined a more perfect one.
“It’s fantastic,” he said sincerely, turning it over and over in his hands. He looked up at her and locked his own eyes with her bright green ones, smiling as wide as he thought he ever had. “You just wait. Next year, at Hogwarts, I’ll get you the best present ever.”
Lily grinned cheekily, sticking out her hand and wiggling her fingers inside the mitten. “Promise?”
Severus grinned back and took her hand, small and warm in his.
That Christmas, and every Christmas after for the rest of his life, Severus Snape read the small, well-loved paperback, the first real Christmas present he’d ever received. It was, after all, Lily’s favorite.
A/N: I knew I wanted to write a one-shot for the Secret Santa exchange even before I'd been assigned someone to exchange with, and when I found out I'd get the chance to write Snape/Lily, I got more excited than is perhaps acceptable. They're a pairing I've wanted to write for a while, and haven't really had an excuse to. So merry Christmas, Hannah, and I hope you had a lovely one! I have very much enjoyed getting to know you more this year!