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Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
The beginning of December had come quickly and with it had come the snow. Ten inches of the bluish white glittering fluff covered every area of the castle grounds. It was beautiful.
Minerva was thankful for her fur-lined cloak and matching hand muff, its insulation protecting her from freezing temperatures. She pushed her hands deeper inside the muff and continued her walk toward the lake.
She smiled when she saw some of the students skating on the ice and she was reminded of her own days at Hogwarts and the exciting build up to Christmas. She stopped to watch them for awhile and she could hear the children's laughter as they twirled and threw snowballs at each other. Just as she was about to turn back she noticed something in the forest out of the corner of her eye. She gasped in surprise but relaxed instantly when the Potions Master nodded in greeting.
"Severus!" She breathed, pressing a hand to her chest but smiling none the less. "You startled me."
"Good evening Professor," Severus said stiffly and Minerva frowned, her smile fading quickly.
For the most part of November, after the defeat of You-Know-Who, Severus had regularly sought her company. He never wanted to talk, just content to sit with her in the staff room and read while she'd work on her research paper for The Future of Transfiguration. They had not ventured into each other's rooms since that night he'd played the piano for her and she was fine with the arrangement. However, sometime in the last week of November, she'd lost him. He became withdrawn and haughty, much like he was when he first arrived at the school. She couldn't imagine what had brought on such a change in temperament.
She could feel Severus' eyes on her for a few seconds but she didn't want to be the first to speak. After another few seconds when it became clear that he wasn't going to say anything more she opened her mouth to say something. Before she could however, Severus turned on his heels and began marching back toward the castle. Minerva was furious.
"Severus Snape!" Her tone was the one she reserved for reprimanding her students and although she made it a rule to never use it in regards to a colleague, she was pleased to see Severus stop in his tracks. "What has become of you?" She asked, hopping through the deep snow to stand beside him.
"I have no idea to what you are referring," he said in a severe voice.
"You know perfectly well to what I am referring!" She said stepping in front of him as he tried to continue his walk. "I don't understand what happened... did I offend you?" She asked, taking note of Severus' surprised expression.
"No... no of course not." He frowned at her as if she'd gone mad.
"Then why have you been avoiding me?" She forced herself to calm down with long steady breaths.
"I... I haven't..." Minerva raised an eyebrow at him and he shrugged his shoulders. "The trials have been..."
"Albus told me they've been questioning you." Severus grimaced at her words.
"I asked him not to tell you," he sighed and Minerva looked at him curiously.
"Why?" She asked but Severus pursed his lips together slightly and she knew she wasn't going to get an answer. "I don't need protecting Severus, if that's what you're doing."
"I'm perfectly aware that you can take care of yourself but that isn't what this is about."
"Would you care for some tea?" He asked suddenly and Minerva flinched at his words. Even Severus himself seemed surprised by them.
"I... yes." She managed to say through a clouded mind. Had she just missed something?
"Perhaps we can head down to the kitchens?" He began to walk but Minerva stayed where she was, looking at him a slight worried expression. "Do not worry about me Professor," he said taking hold of her elbow and gently pulling her toward the castle. She brought one her hands out of the fur muff and laced her fingers with his. He didn't seem to mind and after a few steps he tightened his hold on her hand tenderly as they made their way back into the castle using the dungeon entrance.
When they entered the kitchens Severus shed his thick heavy winter cloak and an elf appeared immediately to take his belongings back to his quarters. Minerva meanwhile was having trouble with the fastener on her own cloak. She tugged at it with an impatient laugh but froze when Severus put his hands on top of hers. She dropped her arms down by her sides as Severus worked at the knot. His skilful strong hands making short work of the mess she'd made.
"Can't take you anywhere," he mumbled as he pulled the robe from her body and handed it to Teensy who was waiting patiently, the matching muff already clutched in her tiny hands. Minerva felt herself heat at Severus' light teasing and she smiled.
"Thank you," she said and he nodded.
The elves jumped at the chance to make them tea, offering up plates of freshly baked pastries and bread to which Severus helped himself to a cream puff. She smirked as she watched him add a heaped spoon of sugar to his strong tea.
"I didn't take you as the sweet tooth kind," she said with a slight admonishment of his sugar in take. Severus merely raised an eyebrow at her.
"At least they're better than Ginger Newts," he said with a snap before taking a large bite from his pastry.
"There's nothing wrong with Ginger Newts," she snapped back but she couldn't hide the amusement in her eyes.
"When was the last time you ate a cream puff?" He asked her abruptly and Minerva wasn't surprised to find that she couldn't remember. It must have shown on her face as Severus suddenly lifted his hand to her mouth and offered the pastry to her. She gave him a wary look and lifted her hand to take it from him but he batted her hand away.
"Once you get a taste you'll want to keep it. This one's mine," he said, his eyes flashing brightly which Minerva now understood as a sign of amusement. He pushed the pastry against her lips and to Minerva it felt oddly intrusive. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling.
She opened her mouth a few centimetres and bit down on the sweet dough. The effect was immediate. The smooth, rich taste of the vanilla cream filling her senses and she smiled as Severus pulled the treat away from her.
"You were right, I do want one now." She said with a chuckle and noticed that Severus was looking at her strangely. He placed the pastry on the table where they sat and reached a hand to her face, brushing his thumb across her bottom lip. Minerva opened her lips automatically with a sharp intake of breath. Her lips tingled pleasantly and she bit down gently on her bottom lip.
"You had cream on your lip," he said as he pulled his hand away from her. His voice was as dark as his eyes, which were focused on her lips as she licked them nervously.
"Thank you," she added, feeling slightly self-conscious under his watchful eyes. They were silent for a moment and Minerva absentmindedly pulled the pastry apart which had just been placed in front of her by one of the elves.
She wasn't sure what was happening with her colleague. One minute he didn't want anything to do with her, avoiding conversation and making snide remarks whenever she approached him. And now, he was very attentive. Inviting her for tea, helping her remove her winter cloak and even taking the liberty of feeding her! She had never met anyone who could switch from being almost callous to being as affectionate as a lover. It made her head spin.
"Have you – "
They both started talking at the same time and Minerva let out a small laugh. Severus, on the other hand, let out a small sigh and shook his head. To anyone else he would have seemed annoyed but she knew he was laughing inside.
"Go ahead," she said, taking a sip of her tea.
"Have you heard anything of Sirius Black's trial?" He asked, taking a chunk of her pastry and eating it. Minerva froze at his question. She still couldn't believe Sirius was guilty of what they had charged him with. To kill one of his oldest friends and all those muggles... she didn't want to believe it of a man she had grown so fond of. "You liked him." Severus stated and Minerva glanced up to see his own eyes focused on the piece of pastry he still held between his fingers.
"Yes, I liked him very much." She said and Severus nodded.
"He seemed to like you too," he glanced over at her and Minerva felt herself blush. She'd always known that Sirius had harboured a crush for her. Even during his school years, some of the staff would tease her about it but it was merely a young man's crush. He was still considerate and often flirted with her but it was harmless fun, she knew not to take any of his advances seriously.
"It was nothing more than harmless fun," she stated with a shrug and Severus looked at her sceptically. Had he noticed something she hadn't?
"Do you think he did it?" He asked. Minerva couldn't help but think he was digging, like he was trying to gauge her awareness of something.
"I don't want to believe it... but the evidence against him is insurmountable." She took a deep breath, fighting the urge to cry. "Despite what I once thought of him... to kill Peter..."
"Pettigrew deserved what he got," Severus said suddenly, his eyes angry.
"How can you say such a thing? Peter..."
"You'd be surprised what people are capable of." Minerva studied his profile. He couldn't have been talking about little Peter Pettigrew, he wouldn't hurt a fly!
"Are you speaking of yourself?" She asked carefully.
"You cannot compare Peter Pettigrew and myself. There are something's Professor, that are unforgiveable." Minerva watched him drain the last of his tea and she pondered his words. She wasn't sure if he had been referring to something he himself had done or...
"Severus, do you know something?" She asked as she watched him stand from the table.
"Of course not." He took their empty cups and saucers to the sink where an elf jumped up to take them from him.
"Because if you do – "
Severus spun around to face her, a snarl disfiguring his face and fire behind his eyes.
"The bastard will go to Azkaban Prison where he belongs and even if I could help... I wouldn't." And with that he strode out of the kitchen leaving Minerva feeling rather perplexed.
"Severus..." she marched after him but it was too late, he'd already gone.
Minerva carefully braided both sides of her hair and joined them into one long braid at the nape of her neck. She was carefully rolling the braid under to make a chignon when Leander appeared behind her.
"My Lady, the Potions Master is waiting in your living room." He said disapprovingly and Minerva wondered what Severus had threatened her Dolor Altor with in order to be allowed entrance into her chambers.
"Tell him to wait," she said brusquely. She was still angry with him for his behaviour yesterday down in the kitchens. She was beginning to grow tired of his near schizophrenic behaviour. She began carefully placing pins in her hair to keep it in place when the doors to her bedroom flung open.
"I am here for a reason Professor McGonagall and I do not appreciate being kept waiting. I recognize that my manners in the past few weeks have been unpredictable but I..." Minerva watched him freeze as his eyes took in what he was seeing. She silently placed the last of the pins in her hair and then stood to face him. She was wearing her under dress, a beautiful black silk and lace piece with a bodice that nipped and pushed at all the right places. It was more ornate than the ones she usually wore under her robes but tonight was different. Teensy suddenly appeared with the evening dress Minerva had chosen and froze at the sight of Severus.
"My mistress is not decent!" Teensy squeaked as she dashed at Severus and began to chase him out of the room. Before he moved Minerva called out to her elf.
"That's alright Teensy, I think Professor Snape had something he wished to tell me." She looked at him expectantly, very aware of his eyes skimming across her undergarments. Teensy looked horrified but dutifully made her way over to her mistress's bed and laid the dress she was clutching out flat.
"It can wait," Severus said, his eyes finally resting on hers and then shifting to look at the floor quickly.
"Obviously it couldn't or else you wouldn't be standing in room, addressing me while I'm in my underwear." Severus blushed, not overly so but she could see the pink flush under his collar.
"I can wait." And he practically ran from the room, closing the doors behind him.
Minerva couldn't help the small smile that crossed her lips. She never thought she'd see the day when Severus Snape blushed and yet there he was, practically tripping over his own feet in his haste to get out of such an awkward position.
"Miss Neva, is not right for a man to see you like this," Teensy said, reminding Minerva of the rules she once abided when she was a young girl.
"I'm sure it's nothing he hasn't seen before," Minerva said, with a slight chuckle at Teensy's wide eyes.
She made her way to the long mirror inside her wardrobe and turned so she could see the back of herself. She breathed a sigh of relief when she noticed that the slip didn't show the faded scars on her back. She turned around to look at her chest and up close she could see a tiny white scar peeking out just above her left breast. She knew Severus wouldn't have been able to see it and she relaxed.
"You wish to dress now?" Teensy said, drawing up a high stool out of thin air and climbing up onto it.
Minerva lifted her arms above her head as Teensy used a quick spell to lower the gown onto her. The dress was beautiful. Edwardian styled, chocolate brown silk - it had been made especially for her a few years ago but she knew it would never go out of fashion, whether she be in muggle society or among wizarding folk. The skirt reached down to the floor and it moved smoothly with her body when she walked. Its elbow length lace sleeves and chiffon stooped neckline that continued over her shoulders to drape loosely down her back added to the overall effect. Teensy laced up the back with delicate ribbon and Minerva stepped into her plain black heels.
She glanced at her reflection one last time, rather pleased with what she saw and smiled. Teensy looked up at her in the mirror and smiled too. She handed Minerva a black pendant necklace and began tidying up the room.
"Thank you, Teens," Minerva said as she stepped out of her bedroom to deal with the difficult man on the other side.
Severus was leaning against the fire place on one arm, looking down into the flames as his other hand twirled a time piece between his fingers. He hadn't realised she was walking toward him and she took a moment to study his profile which was illuminated in the fire light. He looked tired, his cheeks hollowed and dark circles under his eyes. And yet despite that, the cheery glow from the fire made him seem more alive than she'd him in the past few weeks.
"You wished to speak to me?" She enquired, clearly taking him by surprise as his hand slipped on the mantle and he stumbled slightly. His wide eyes took in her dress and Minerva couldn't help but enjoy his obvious admiration.
"Am... am I keeping you from something?" He asked, bringing his eyes up to hers ad keeping them there.
"Not yet, I still have a few moments." She sat down carefully on her sofa and indicated for him to do the same. He remained standing.
"I wanted to..." he took a deep breath as if what he was about to say caused him some discomfort. "I wanted to apologise for my outburst in the kitchens... and... for the way I have treated you in the past few weeks." He ran his hand over the back of his head and Minerva just watched him carefully.
"And?" She prompted, having not actually heard any form of apology from him.
"And what?" He asked, confused.
"Apologise!" She said, with a slight smirk.
"Ok, I'm sorry!" He slumped down into the arm chair closest to him and glared at her. "You are a difficult woman, Professor McGonagall, do you know that?"
"You're only scratching the surface Severus," she said with a small laugh. "I accept your apology and thank you for coming to see me." She smoothed her hands over her dress and checked the clock on her mantle piece.
"Are you going somewhere tonight?" Severus asked, quietly and Minerva had to bite back a witty remark. Severus was obviously trying to right things and she didn't want anything she said to be taken the wrong way.
"An old muggle friend is hosting a party at his home in London for the new members of the London Symphony Orchestra; his grandson is making his debut as the second violinist."
"Sounds... interesting," he said unable to keep the monotony from his voice. Minerva smiled.
"There will be a performance at the Royal Albert Hall beforehand. Then it's a short walk to my friend's home." Minerva looked down into her hands and saw the pendant still there. She stood up from the sofa and made her way over to small mirror on the wall.
"Do you know what they will be playing?" Severus asked and Minerva could feel his eyes on her as she struggled with the tiny clasp.
"Rachmaniov, Piano Concerto No.2," she said, trying to look back at what her fingers were doing. Suddenly she felt his cool hands on her bare neck and he rubbed his thumbs across her skin. Minerva looked up into the mirror to Severus standing behind her and she was surprised that he was looking into her eyes.
"When I was a child I would sit in our local library and pour over every piece of sheet music I could find. I was never allowed to listen to the music so I would try to imagine the cellos, the violins, the percussion... when I played the piano, that's what I could hear in the background. My favourite was Rachmaniov's Piano Concerto No.2, 3rd movement." He took the silver chain from her hands and fastened the clasp easily. He laid the chain flat against her sensitive skin and ran his finger across it. "My mother always told me Rachmaniov was the most beautiful music to listen to live but I've never had the chance." Minerva looked at him through the mirror but his eyes were focused on the small black pendant now resting on her chest.
"Why don't you come with us?" She asked without fully realising that she was talking. Severus' eyes snapped back to hers through the mirror and she turned to look at him properly.
"You..." He paused in what he was going to say and took a step back from her. "You don't want me to come with you."
"I beg your pardon?" She didn't quite know what she had expected him to say but that had definitely been at the bottom of the list.
"Why would you want me there?"
"First of all, why are questioning my motives? I have done nothing to lead to such distrust from you. Secondly, I can see how much you truly love music. Your mother is right, hearing this piece live is wonderful and if I can share that with you then it would be my pleasure to take you." She took a breath. Severus opened his mouth to say something but she placed her fingers on his open lips. "And lastly, it would be rather nice to have some company during the evening."
Minerva could feel his hot breath against her fingers and she quickly removed them. Severus just stared at her and she could almost see the conflicting emotions on his face as his mind weighed out the pros and cons.
"What would I wear?" He asked suddenly and Minerva smiled broadly.
"Hold your arms out," she said as she picked up her wand from the small table by the sofa. He did as he was told and Minerva began to transfigure his black robes into a tuxedo. Once the suit had finished reshaping she stepped back and nodded her head in approval.
"Very nice," she said giving him a smile and pulling him toward the mirror so he could see her work. "Not that much different from your own clothes." He pulled at the sleeves slightly and Minerva held back a laugh at his self-conscious action. The tux was exactly like the one all the men would be wearing at the concert. Black tails with a black bow tie and white waist coat.
"It feels..." He pulled at the shirt collar slightly and brushed his hands down his chest. "Good."
Leander appeared in the portrait above the fire place.
"The Portkey is ready my Lady." His eyes took in Severus' appearance and he glowered at him. Severus was unaware of what the Dolor Altor was doing but Minerva could see him and she cleared her throat. "You look very beautiful my Lady," Leander said with a winning smile. Minerva shook her head at him and went into her bedroom to fetch her cloak. She quickly transfigured one of her school robes into a winter over coat for Severus and handed it to him on their way out.
"I've never been to anything like this before," he said as he followed her to the Headmaster's office to use the Portkey.
"Not to worry Severus, just stick by me." She smiled at him over her shoulder before stepping onto the winding steps leading to the Headmaster's office.