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Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
Severus had just dismissed his last class for the day. The students had left so quickly that he found it difficult to believe that only two minutes earlier there were 15 cauldrons scattered about the classroom threatening to boil over. He stood up from behind his desk after noticing a book on the nearest table and made his way over to it. Just as he was about to pick it up a boy suddenly appeared in the doorway. Severus picked up the book and he watched the boy pale as he held it out for him to collect. It amused Severus to see the boy practically dash from the classroom once he'd collected it with a mumbled thanks.
As Severus made his way back to his desk someone cleared their throat. He turned to see Albus watching him with a bemused stare and he knew he wouldn't be getting out of here anytime soon.
"Can I help you Headmaster?" He asked in a clipped tone as he sat back down behind his desk.
"I just came by to see how you were getting along." Severus looked down at the papers on his desk.
"Checking up on me?" He asked, glancing up to see that Albus had made his way into the classroom. "Don't you trust me with your students?" The annoyances clear in his voice. Albus kept his face expressionless but Severus could sense the frustration the older man felt.
"How many times are we to do this my boy?" He asked, sitting down at one of the desks and folding his hands on top of it. "I believed your reasons for returning. You have my complete trust." The look Albus gave him made Severus feel stupid. He knew he'd been disrespectful to the Headmaster and although it was in his nature to mistrust people, he knew he should have no doubt in this one.
"As you can see Headmaster, I'm doing just fine." He said after a few seconds and Albus nodded.
"Yes. However," he glanced toward the door where the young student had disappeared. "You could be a little easier on the students." Severus scowled.
"We each have our own way of teaching Headmaster," Severus retorted. Albus held his hands up in surrender and stepped closer to Severus.
"Of course, of course," he said with a friendly smile. Severus let out a sigh; he wasn't sure why he was being so hostile but for some reason he just couldn't hold his tongue.
"Was there something you needed?" He asked, unable to keep the impatience from his voice.
"I think the time has come to inform the Order of the Phoenix of your current situation." Albus' voice had turned serious and Severus felt his body tense as the other man talked of business.
"Why?" Severus asked, narrowing his eyes.
"I would like you to get into the habit of feeding back information to the whole group."
"But you said I was to report to you..."Albus nodded and interrupted him.
"Yes and that still applies but I also want you to attend our gatherings. You won't need to be present for every meeting," he added quickly and Severus guessed the Headmaster must have seen a flicker of panic in his eyes. "Just when it is necessary."
Severus stared at the floor deep in thought. There would be people in the Order that he didn't want to see, people from his past that he hoped he'd never have to see again. His thoughts immediately went to Lily. He had agreed to the deal with Albus to save her life and he would do anything to ensure her continued protection. But still, the thought of becoming part of the Order and seeing its members made him feel uneasy. He suddenly felt a moment of panic and his eyes shot up to the older wizard.
"Will they be told of my reasons for being here?" He asked carefully, belying the alarm he actually felt.
"Not if you do not wish me to," Albus said.
"You may tell them anything but that," he whispered. "When is the meeting?"
"Tonight?" Severus wasn't ready to face the Order on such short notice. "But I..."
"I will be introducing you to the members. They already know everything you have told me but I feel that it is important for them to realise who it was that supplied it. Will you attend?" Severus took a deep sigh. He knew he couldn't refuse.
"Good, I'll come by for you at 6.30." Severus grimaced slightly when Albus patted him on the shoulder and he watched the older man walk from his classroom without another word.
Severus slowly collected his things made his way to his chambers. He was dreading the meeting. Despite his quiet nature he had never had issues with talking in front of a group people but the thought of having to do it tonight, with those kinds of people, set his nerves on fire. As he reached his office door Sir John was waiting for him with a twinkle in his eyes. Severus bristled knowing what that look signified, he had no patience for games today.
"Open the door!" He snapped and the door swung open immediately. As he passed through the doorway he glanced up at the man in the portrait to see him smiling broadly. "What are you smiling at?" He snapped again, snarling when he heard Sir John chuckle as he left the frame.
Severus dumped his class notes on his desk and moved through the tapestry to his quarters. To his approval, Sir John had opened the main door to his chambers in anticipation of his arrival. As he stepped into his quarters he glanced around the room for his Dolor Altor and instead his eyes fell on the magnificent piano in the corner of his room.
"Beauty isn't it?" Sir John asked from a portrait behind him but Severus couldn't seem to find his voice. "It was a very great present when it was originally bought, so I've heard. I believe it was made especially for the Lord of Lailoken to give to his eldest son. A very generous gift," Sir John had continued while Severus had slowly made his way over to the piano. He ran his fingers across the smooth wood.
"What is it doing in my rooms?" He asked out loud and Sir John laughed heartily.
"I assume the Deputy Headmistress wanted you to have it," he said. "I thought that would have been apparent."
"But why?" Severus looked up at the portrait opposite him where Sir John now resided.
"I thought that would have been apparent too."
Severus sat down on the piano stool and placed his fingers lightly over the keys. He was surprised to find his mood had lightened slightly. He tested the keys gently, pressing random keys to make a string of pleasing notes. Eventually he began to press the keys in order of his favourite piece and the more he played the more he felt his spirits lift.
Suddenly he stopped, as if just realising what he was doing. He could hear Sir John saying something behind him but he wasn't listening. He summoned a house elf and one appeared instantly.
"Have Professor McGonagall's elf come see me now," he ordered, unable to take his eyes off the piano and a pop signalled the elf's disappearance.
"What is it Severus?" Severus looked up at Sir John and shook his head.
"I shouldn't keep this."
"But she gave it to you!" Sir John protested indignantly.
"And she shouldn't have!" Severus replied just as heatedly. "She doesn't know me," he stood up abruptly and gently closed the lid over the pristine keys.
"Master summoned Teensy?" Teensy asked, appearing with a pop in front of the fire place.
"This is your mistress's piano, correct?" Severus asked, indicating to the instrument. The elf nodded enthusiastically with a large grin.
"Yes master, she is asking me to bring it." Severus sighed, he couldn't keep it, no matter what his heart wanted.
"Take it back." He turned his back on the piano and started to make his way to his bedroom. He heard Sir John gasp and shout something, while Teensy ran after him.
"Master Snape is not happy with it?" She asked, her ears flopping down by her shoulders.
"I'm..." Severus stopped walking and turned to look at the elf. Of course he was happy with the piano. No one had ever given him something so precious but still, he couldn't keep it. "I don't want it, take it back."
With that he strode to his bedroom, ignoring the confused stammering from Sir John and the elf and slammed his door shut. He slowly walked over to his bed and sat down with his head in his hands.
Why had she given him such an astounding gift? Was it some sort of game? Or perhaps a test? Whatever the reason, he couldn't accept the piano. In his experience, no one had ever given him something for free. There was always a catch. And this time, he wasn't falling for it.
At 6.25pm Severus made his way to the door when he heard Sir John and the Headmaster laughing jovially on the other side of the main door. He pulled it open and Sir John grumbled angrily as the sudden movement caused him to stumble.
"You didn't tell me Sir John was your Dolor Altor," the Headmaster said with a bright smile.
"You never asked," Severus replied through gritted teeth as he joined the older man in the corridor.
"Don't mind this one, he's been in a foul mood all day," Sir John huffed in the background as the door swung closed and Severus detested the patronising way with which he said it.
"Watch your tongue Sir John or you'll wind up in the cellar!" Severus spat but Sir John chuckled as if he were a petulant child.
"My great granddaughter gave my piano to the ingrate, can you believe it?" Sir John asked Albus but Severus froze. "I honestly have no idea what she sees in him!" Severus stared at Sir John and deep down he knew his Dolor Altor was trying to get him worked up... it was working.
"You're Professor McGonagall's great grandfather?" Severus asked, hoping the others hadn't noticed the way his voice had hitched when he said her name.
"Didn't you know?" Albus asked with that annoying twinkle that told Severus he was being played with.
"I knew you were related but I..." Severus looked up at Sir John who shrugged.
"You never asked," the painted said and Severus bristled at the sound of his own words being thrown back at him.
"Is there anything else I ought to know?" He asked, his voice dangerously low.
"That you ought to know?" Severus watched Sir John glance at the Headmaster and they shared a smirk. "No." And with that Sir John smiled knowingly and slinked out of the frame. Severus growled and resisted the urge to kick the door in his frustration.
"Let's go my lad," Albus laid a gentle hand on Severus's shoulder. "We have places to be." The older wizard began walking away and Severus reluctantly followed him silently.
"Where are we?" Severus asked looking at his surroundings.
Albus had taken him through side-along apparition to a deserted meadow. There was nothing for miles, all he could see were fields and the odd tree here and there. It reminded him of his childhood in Spinners End... the thought made his blood boil.
"I'm not sure," Albus said with an air of vagueness as he took a deep breath. "Isn't the country side beautiful?" He asked and Severus just stared at him. "You know, Minerva enjoys the country side, it reminds her of her childhood." Severus narrowed his eyes at the older man but said nothing of the connection he'd made in his own head of the Headmaster's words and his own previous thought.
"What are we doing here?" Severus asked after a second and Albus smiled.
"Order Headquarters." Albus scanned the field and gave a slight gasp of triumph as though he'd spotted something. Severus couldn't see a thing and his patience with the old man was wearing thin. He followed him anyway. "Ah, here it is!" A door suddenly appeared in front of him and Severus pulled his wand out in surprise. "You won't need that in here," Albus said as he pushed the wand away gently.
"Only you can find the door?" Severus asked, quickly pocketing his wand and covering up his embarrassment by turning their attention to the wooden door.
"Only once you've passed through these doors can you find it on your return. It's our way of making sure that the people in this room are trustworthy. Only a select few of the order congregate here. Once information and plans have been settled here it is then distributed accordingly to who needs to be informed." Severus nodded as he followed the Headmaster through the door, agreeing with the way Albus was running the Order. Trust only those you know for sure and keep your secrets close to your chest. After all, it was how he had survived amongst the Death Eaters.
They walked along a narrow corridor for what seemed like an eternity, the only light coming from Albus' wand casting eerie shadows across the wall. Suddenly Albus stopped when they met a dead end and pressed his hand to the cold stone wall. A bright light appeared under his hand and broke away to form the outline of another door. Albus pushed it open and stepped through. After a moment's hesitation, Severus followed.
The room they entered was not what he had expected. It was well furnished, with several tables and enough chairs for everyone to use. There was a small kitchen, nothing outstanding but it would serve its purpose. There was an empty fire place and next to it a bookshelf and wardrobe. The floors were wooden and they creaked under their weight as Severus continued to follow Albus.
"Good evening everyone," Albus said and Severus tore his eyes from his surroundings to see where the Headmaster was now looking. He froze. In front of them were a dozen people and Severus noted with some contempt that there were more than a few faces he recognised.
Sirius Black was leaning over a sofa, talking animatedly into someone's ear. He clenched his fists, trying to keep his anger under control but suddenly Sirius looked up. When the other man realised who stood behind Albus he raced forward, wand drawn. Severus drew his own wand and prepared for an attack.
"You!" Sirius shouted, ignoring Albus's attempt to stand in his way. He lifted his wand and Severus mimicked his movement but suddenly Sirius stopped. He turned to look at the person at his side; Professor McGonagall had wrapped her hand around the wrist of his wand arm and was slowly pushing the wand down. She remained silent but her focus was on Sirius alone, calming the man's anger and trying to make him understand that there was no threat. "He's a Death Eater, Minerva," Sirius said quietly to her. Severus watched her and her eyes flickered to him causing his heart to flutter slightly.
"Albus wouldn't have brought a Death Eater into our fold, you know that Sirius." She locked eyes with Albus and he nodded once. Severus noticed Sirius' body stiffen at her words and he looked down at her in disbelief.
"No one ever stops being a Death Eater, no one!" He shrugged her hand off his arm and skulked away. Once he'd gone Severus became aware of a number of eyes on him and he turned to see that everyone in the room was watching him. He felt Albus squeeze his shoulder tightly as he stepped forward to address the group.
"Severus is my way into Voldemort's inner circle." Albus paused as the group broke out in a hushed murmur but Severus was watching Professor McGonagall who was studying him with attentive eyes. She was the only one not talking and for some reason, it comforted him.
"We can't trust him!" Sirius said as he came rushing toward him again, his wand pointing into his face. Severus reacted instantly and the two men now stood face to face with their wands ready to duel.
"Severus came to me and swore his allegiance!" Albus said loudly. "His reasons will stay between the two of us, all that you need to know is that I have given my full support and I expect you to do the same." Albus looked at Sirius with a pointed stare until he lowered his wand. "What is important is that is that he has agreed to continue his role as a Death Eater and feed back any information he is able to obtain." Severus listened as the group began to protest the Headmaster's words. He glared at them all as they voiced their agreement with Black but when his eyes found the Deputy, he noticed that she still remained silent.
"Yeah, I bet he has! And what happens when..." Sirius began but before he could say anything else Albus threw his hands in the air making everyone stop dead.
"Enough!" He shouted angrily, in that deep booming voice that could terrify even the most formidable wizards. Severus felt a moment of smugness as the tone Albus used caused Sirius to back down. "Severus has my absolute trust! He has proven to me his loyalty and it was he who supplied the information about the Potters. He is the reason they are in hiding, he is the reason they are safe." There was another spatter of murmurs around the room but this time Severus could hear a less reproachful tone in their voices. However, Severus couldn't allow himself to be pleased about that, for the fact still remained that he was the actual reason for them needing to go into hiding in the first place. If only he hadn't told the Dark Lord of the prophecy...
"Let us welcome Severus into the Order, he is one of us." Albus patted Severus on the shoulder again and pushed him gently toward the group but only one person strode forward and offered his hand.
"Welcome back Severus, it's good to see you again." Severus hesitated before shaking the man's hand.
"Lupin," he said with a slight nod. Remus smiled slightly but didn't offer any other words for which Severus was glad. Severus looked over Remus' shoulder to see Sirius lean toward Professor McGonagall and whisper something in her ear. She frowned and snapped something back before turning sharply and moving away from him. Severus felt a smirk tug at his lips and he quickly stepped around the werewolf to find a chair away from the group. He sat down across from the others which allowed him to observe them all and pocketed his wand as Albus set the start of the meeting into motion.
The never ending meeting seemed to drag on for hours and Severus found his concentration wandering. His eyes scanned the group until he came across Professor McGonagall. She was sitting on high backed wooden chair, one leg crossed over the other, her hands neatly folded in her lap and her back erect as she gave her full attention to the person now giving a report on their latest mission. She was completely absorbed in what everyone had to say and she failed to notice him staring at her. As any Slytherin would, he took full advantage of the situation at hand.
It was odd to see her out of school. And although he'd joined her in the Three Broomsticks he didn't count it as he'd always associated Hogsmeade with school life. But this was a completely different setting. There was no history here. They had both walked into the room as equals and that thought caused a spread of warmth to spread through his chest. He ignored its implications.
His thoughts were distracted when she lifted a hand to unfasten the top few buttons on her robe and underneath he spied a deep plum coloured dress. He watched her hand as she pressed it against her chest unconsciously while she listened to the speaker. He licked his lips, his mouth felt dry. The expanse of flesh he could see was smooth and he noticed her fingers toy with a thin silver chain that held a small pendant around her neck.
Severus allowed his eyes to travel up her long neck until he reached her face. Professor McGonagall wasn't an obviously pretty woman in the way that Lily was but she seemed to exude something so powerful that she had captured him entirely. Her square jaw held years of experience and good breeding, her thin nose of noble ancestry and sharp eyes that suited her namesake. He never fully realised it before, or perhaps he had never taken the time to find out but she was the embodiment of the Roman Goddess Minerva. Could it be this observation that drew him to her or could it be that he was actually attracted to her?
He shook himself suddenly as if he'd been splashed with ice cold water. His movement must have been bigger than he'd thought as Professor McGonagall turned her eyes to look at him. He could read the concern in her eyes and he found the genuine look to be somewhat unsettling. He nodded once and she took one last moment to look him over before turning her attention back to the speaker.
An hour later the meeting finally came to end. Severus was grateful that apart from his introduction at the beginning of the night, very little had been said of him. As Albus and Professor McGonagall circulated the room, talking and interacting with the other members, Severus lurked by the door more than ready to leave.
He observed the group talking and after a few seconds he spotted Sirius weaving through the group and stop right next to Professor McGonagall. Severus watched in mild delight as Sirius tried to engage her in conversation but she smiled politely and walked away from him. Sirius followed her closely as she began to move toward Severus.
"Severus, I'm heading back to the school, Albus said you are free to leave with me if you wish. He has a few other things to attend to here," Minerva said as she stopped in front of him. Severus nodded enthusiastically but lowered his eyes to the floor. He didn't quite trust himself around her after his thoughts earlier in the night.
"Minerva..." Black appeared again and Severus felt as though his heart was pumping searing hot lead through his veins at the sound of her name coming from a man he despised more than any other. "I'm sorry if I offended you earlier, I wasn't thinking..."
"Clearly," she barked and Sirius immediately went quiet. "We have to go Sirius, but it was good to see you." She patted his arm gently and swept from the room. Severus noticed the way Sirius held his hand over his arm where the Professor's hand been and he frowned.
"What are you looking at?" Sirius snapped and Severus snorted in disgust as he followed Professor McGonagall into the narrow corridor. Something's never change.
They had apparated to Hogsmeade. Severus watched Professor McGonagall make polite conversation with the Apparition Point Guard and he tugged his cloak tighter around his body, the summer nights fading into winter leaving the air with a stinging chill. Finally they began the walk back to the castle and Professor McGonagall was the first to break the silence.
"You returned my piano," she said, looking straight ahead of them.
"I can't accept it," Severus was watching her from the corner of his eye when she stopped all of a sudden and turned to look up at him.
"You said it had been in your family for decades," he said, deciding to leave what Sir John had said out of the conversation.
"Yes," was all she said. She continued to look up at him and Severus tugged at his cloak nervously. What was she doing? Her unreadable expression made it difficult to judge what he should say next.
"Then you should keep it in the family." Professor McGonagall shrugged and continued the walk but at a slower pace than last time. Severus followed her.
"There is no longer anyone in my family who would derive any pleasure from it. I'd like to think that by giving it to you it would be going to a better home." Severus still couldn't figure what she was up to. Although her reasons for giving him the piano were believable he still found himself being cautious.
"What if I refuse to take it?" He asked, testing her. Professor McGonagall stopped walking again and when she spoke this time she was frowning.
"Do you not like it?" Severus wasn't quite expecting the seriousness of her question and he shrugged, hoping to give the impression that he was indifferent.
"It is a beautiful instrument, the finest I've ever seen in fact." Professor McGonagall seemed pleased with his answer and she nodded, her frown quickly disappearing.
"When you arrive at your chambers you'll find that I have already taken the liberty of having it reinstalled." Severus almost laughed at her audacity but he was able to stop himself just in time.
"No doubt with a permanent sticking charm this time," he stated, making her smile.
"Not permanent but you certainly have the right idea." Severus paused for a second and gazed down at his former teacher. There was a sudden unfamiliar tightness in his chest and he couldn't stop the next words that tumbled out of his mouth.
"I don't know what to say to such... kindness." Professor McGonagall's smile brightened and she touched his arm briefly before quickly pulling away.
"You don't have to say anything, just promise me you'll use it." She said and he nodded in agreement of the promise as they started to walk again.
With a burst of confidence and an unnatural willingness to keep the conversation going, Severus found himself asking the Deputy a question that had been burning at the back of his mind since Albus had suggested it.
"What did you do before coming to Hogwarts?" Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow at his question and he knew he'd surprised her with his interest.
"Why do you ask?"
"I just wondered."
"I was a nurse," she said after a second and Severus could feel her eyes on him as if waiting for a reaction but he wasn't why.
"At St. Mungo's?" He asked, a little uneasy under her gaze but she shook her head.
"I was a nurse, not a medi-witch." She said but he couldn't see the distinction between the two. "I trained and served at the London General Hospital for six years. After that I work part time at a local hospice which I continued until I came here."
Severus was deep in thought as she spoke, his brain trying to process and connect all the information he had on this woman. Was this the time Sir John had referred to when he said she'd disappeared? He didn't ask her.
"You worked with muggles?" He asked instead and he noticed the way she tensed as she continued to walk beside him.
"Yes I did. Is there a problem with that?"
"No," he answered quickly, for there really was no problem. "I was just making sure I was correct." They lapsed into a slightly awkward silence and Severus was a little angry at the conclusion she had so easily jumped to. Although given his history, he could hardly blame her for it. "What made you come back to Hogwarts?" He asked.
"Albus asked me to." That he already knew.
"But what was it that made you want to teach?" he asked.
"I..." she paused, her breath catching in her throat. "In my twelve years after graduating from Hogwarts I had seen too much death. It surrounded me and although at times I felt like I was making a difference, somewhere along the way it became... consuming." Severus watched her closely and there was a ghost of something in her bright blue eyes giving them a sadness that he never thought he'd see on her face. "Then of course," she continued, her voice suddenly strong, the sadness leaving her eyes and he watched as she rebuilt the walls around herself. "As you heard in the library, my husband died." Severus felt a jolt of guilt in his stomach at the mention of the library debacle. This was the first time they'd spoken of it and he had a strong wish to apologise.
"Professor, about that day... I wanted to apologise..."
"No need." She said, cutting him off. "The library is not the most appropriate place to have such a conversation." She gave a soft, barely audible laugh. "But if you'd asked me that day, it would have been you that was in the wrong." Severus scoffed slightly, fully believing her words.
They reached the main doors to the castle and Severus held it open for Professor McGonagall to step through first. The halls were deserted and he loved the castle at night for this particular reason. The pair walked along the corridor until they came to a flight of stairs leading to the first floor where Professor McGonagall's rooms where. She turned to him, placing her hand on his shoulder and halting his steps.
"Why didn't you tell me?" She asked, looking at him with a troubled frown.
"About what?" Severus asked, acutely aware of her hand still resting on his shoulder.
"About what you're doing for the Oder." Strangely, Severus had completely forgotten about the Order meeting tonight.
"Albus told me not to speak of it to anyone at the castle. To be honest I was surprised that you were at the meeting tonight." He admitted. Albus hadn't mentions that any of the other staff would be in attendance. He noticed the way his former professor's lips had thinned and her tone was brisk when she answered him.
"I'm not usually a part of it."
"Why is that?"
"Albus wants someone he can trust at the castle at all times," she said in a tense voice and Severus frowned.
"You're the only teacher he trusts here?"
"My argument precisely!" She snapped but he could tell by her face that she immediately regretted it.
"What's the real reason?" He asked, trying his luck. She'd revealed so much about herself tonight, perhaps she would continue to do so.
"You'll have to ask him," she said with a slight smile. Not so lucky he thought. They fell silent again and Severus felt Professor McGonagall's hand smooth out a crease in his robe and he felt a calmed existence wash over him. It made him think of Lily.
"Severus," she was looking up at him when she broke through his thoughts. "I think you're very brave. Not many people could do what you are doing."
Severus wasn't entirely sure what to say to that. No one had ever called him brave before. He watched her give him a warm smile and he nodded, still unable to respond to her. The Deputy turned and began to climb the stairs.
"Goodnight Professor," he called after her and she turned to look over her shoulder at him.
"Good night Severus." And with that she disappeared from his view.
Severus lingered at the bottom of the stairs He wondered what could have made Professor McGonagall take a job as a muggle nurse. With her skills and power surely she would have made an excellent Auror or perhaps even an 'unspeakable'. Whatever the reason, he found himself wanting to know more. As he made his way toward the dungeons he wondered why he was so curious. It surprised even him. He'd never really shown an interest in anyone other than Lily and it confused him to think about what it could mean.
But he couldn't dwell on it for long. All of a sudden the Dark Mark burned intensely on his forearm and when he tore back his sleeve the tattoo grew and pulsed black ink. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Something was going to happen.