Christmas morning had dawned once more on Hogwarts; tinsel and holly wrapped every banister of the groaning moving staircases, twinkling fairy lights illuminated normally shadowed nooks, and Hagrid’s dozen giant Christmas trees perched in the Great Hall more richly decorated than ever before. Students had woken up hours earlier than they normally would have on a non-school day to dive into the teetering mounds of presents stacked at the ends of their dormitory beds. Valiant owls braved the snowy storm outside to deliver slightly damp Christmas greetings to children and adults alike.
However, for Professor Severus Snape, the day began just like any other. He showered, shaved, and dressed in several layers of stark black to keep out the chill of his dungeon quarters. He ate a solitary breakfast in his parlour while reading the headlines of the morning’s Daily Prophet. The only thing out of the ordinary was the presence of a thin white envelope that had magically appeared on his mantelpiece sometime in the night. Snape didn’t bother to open it yet since he already knew it contained his Christmas bonus from the headmaster. He silently wondered how much it would be this time; Dumbledore increased it slightly as each year passed, perhaps as a consolation for the fact that he couldn’t give Snape the job he truly desired.
Once his breakfast dishes were Vanished, Snape sat himself at his desk, its gleaming, polished top completely bare since all of the students’ work had been marked and filed away the first day of the winter break. Snape sat still and silently for a moment, his posture rigid as he listened for any sound of footsteps in the corridor outside. When he deemed himself unlikely to be interrupted, Snape ran several long, thin fingers across the smooth face of one of the desk’s ordinary looking drawers. An almost indiscernible click altered the Potions master that it was now unlocked, and he slid the drawer open.
The drawer was completely empty except for a single, tightly sealed steel box. Another quick brush of his fingers snapped the box open as well, and Snape was hit with a brief rush of escaping air. He sighed quietly in a resigned way when the scent of that air carried nothing more to him than the brief, dry whiff of old paper. The airtight chamber had managed to keep the sweet hint of perfume captive for a long while, but it had been several years now since Snape had last breathed in the once comfortingly familiar scent. That small loss didn’t really matter. Time eventually took everything away from him. Snape was already quite resigned to that.
With the box square in front of him, Snape peeled away a few layers of faded pine-green tissue paper to reveal a carefully folded pile of grey knitting. With his heart heavy, Snape picked up the scarf as delicately as he could and held the soft wool against his cold lips for a moment before placing it tenderly to the side. He then fetched from the box the one remaining item left, a small, square, cream-coloured envelope. On the face of the envelope, a single word was written in a slanted, feminine script: Sev.
Slowly and carefully, as though he were performing that grisly, bloody art Muggles called “surgery,” Snape extracted the envelope from its nest of dry, crumbling tissue paper and opened it. He pulled out a single note card, the front of which bore an illustration of a country cottage covered in snow. Snape opened the card and read.
I hope that this letter finds you well. I know that it’s been years since we last talked, but I just simply couldn’t let another Christmas go by without writing to you. In these troubled days we’re living in, it’s foolish to take for granted that there will be plenty of time later to catch up on things. I hope you’re well, but I already said that, didn’t I? Sorry. Harry’s still not sleeping all the way through the night, so I find myself a little frayed around the edges sometimes. Since we’ve gone into hiding, I’ve rather lost touch with what’s going on in the outside world. Dumbledore visits us occasionally with updates. He told me that you’re going to start teaching Potions at Hogwarts in the fall. So I guess old Slughorn finally retired, eh? I’m sure you’ll be a brilliant teacher. Who knows, maybe you’ll have Harry in class someday!
Anyway, since I’m not allowed to leave the house anymore, I’ve had lots of time to fill. I knitted this scarf for you last week, after Dumbledore’s visit. I thought you might need it if those school dungeons are still as cold as I remember. I don’t know what else to write… I hope you’ve been taking care of yourself. I know a bit about what you’ve been doing, and it worries me sick. I know it’s probably pointless to say, but try to stay safe, all right? I pray every night that all of this will be over soon. When it is, we should get together and talk about the old times. You don’t have to see James, but I really want you to meet Harry.
And, Sev, for what you did, I forgive you. I hope that someday you’ll be able to forgive yourself. Please try, for me.
Snape’s eyes lingered on the last two words of the letter. He only allowed himself this one time of weakness a year to read Lily’s words, knowing that to do so more often would be simply wallowing in the past. Finally, with a quick shake of his head to clear his thoughts, Snape carefully packed up the letter and the scarf. As he locked them back securely in his desk once more, Lily’s words circled through his mind over and over.
“I hope that someday you’ll be able to forgive yourself…”