Severus Snape stood watching the crowd that, according to Lucius Malfoy at least, was gathered in his honour. He had come to Malfoy Manor tonight despite his better judgement in an effort to avoid the awkward clinking of glasses at the teacher's table, to fend off any attempt Albus Dumbledore might make to talk, to escape the noisiness of the Great Hall for this one night of the school year at least.
He should have known (as he had, if he was honest with himself) that his self-declared friend would turn this occasion around as he did any other, into an opportunity to socialize with all and sunder.
So here he was clad in his best Slytherin robes, and no-one had really talked to him all evening. It was probably just as well, as the candidates roaming the Manor's Ball Room didn't exactly promise intelligent conversation.
A sudden silence from below his right elbow caught his attention. Looking downwards, he noticed the meticuously green-clad miniature Malfoy haughtily staring up at him. The imitation of his father's measured politeness was spoiled by the impatience shining clearly through the grey eyes. Taking the offered glass with a glare that made the boy cringe, Severus returned his gaze to the crowd and wished he was back in the dungeons.
Taking his seat between Albus and Minerva at the teachers' table, Severus Snape eyed the plates laid out before him, daring anyone to comment on the inexplicable mellowness he was feeling today.
Part of it was surely that a snowball fight among the Gryffindors had left Longbottom soaked to the bones, fending off a bad cold in the Hospital Wing. Teaching the incompetent boy's slightly less incompetent classmates, Severus hadn't had to worry quite as much as usual about potentially exploding cauldrons. That, or Albus had managed to put something undetectable in his tea this afternoon.
During lunch, several of his colleagues had been sending his Slytherins puzzled looks, but when Severus wearily had asked, they had answered (Lupin good-natured, Sprout confused) that "No, I've had no trouble".
Well. He'd always known that both Millicent Bulstrode and Theodore Nott could answer questions almost as fast as the Granger girl.
Despite the Werewolf being exasperatingly cheerful due to the nearness of the new moon, the day was actually promising to end quite well, as birthdays went. It even looked like someone had told the house-elves to dish out with most of Severus' favourite food.
Very carefully not smiling to himself, he returned Flitwick's greeting and dipped his spoon into the soup.
They were halfway through the third of five courses of yet another of Augusta Longottom's house-elf's delicious dinners, and Severus Snape was still struck silent with wonderment. Dabbing his upper lip delicately with a silken napkin and sipping his wine, he was more than content to let Remus' son dominate the conversation. Time was he might have been irritated, but now he couldn't find fault with Teddy's comments on everything he was seeing and touching and putting into his mouth, all wrapped up into a constant babbling stream.
None of the anticipation he had felt at the boys' not-so-secret planning had prepared him for the moment after the bell had sounded through the Manor, for the moment after he'd cautiously done as Draco had told him and opened the door.
This, this was something he would never have imagined. Severus had always been a decidedly vocal person, but in light of the sheer magnitude of what Draco and Neville had done for him, he was at a loss for words, stunned. Stunned by the boys' thoughtfulness, stunned by Remus' mere presence, stunned by Remus' happiness to see him, house-bound and still injured but alive.
For the first time since June, he felt the fact singing through his veins - alive, alive, alive.
He was thirty-nine years old, he was celebrating his birthday among friends, and he was - happy.