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Severus stepped down off the train and glanced around Hogsmeade station. He hadn't been on this platform since he was 18. The memory of seeing Lily climbing into the carriage with James hit him hard and he shook it away quickly. He could see the heavy set outline of someone approaching from the smoke coming from the train and he frowned, hadn't Dumbledore said McGonagall would be meeting him? His hand automatically reached for his wand, knowing the outline wasn't the deputy and prepared to duel should he need to.
"Don't just stand there lad, it's raining!" Professor Sprout emerged from the smoke and beckoned him over.
"I thought Professor McGonagall was meeting me?" He shouted over the whistle of the train as it began to make its way back to London.
"Something came up," the professor said and walked towards the station gates. Severus noted the sinking feeling in his stomach, for some reason he'd been looking forward to seeing his old professor again, she'd been one of the few that he had liked. "Come on!" Professor Sprout shouted and Severus quickly walked to join her.
Professor Sprout didn't say anything to him, she barely looked at him and that was fine with him. He shouldered his small bag containing the few belongings he wanted with him and quickened his pace. He noticed Professor Sprout panting a little to catch up with him but he didn't slow down. Finally they reached the carriages and Severus stopped, staring at the Thestrals. The last time he'd seen the carriages he hadn't been able to see the Thestrals...
"I expect things will be different this time 'round," Professor Sprout said, noticing him staring and guessing at the reason. Her tone was hard and when Severus looked at her there was something in her eyes... it was accusatory. So she knew what had happened to Jacob Daniels. She gave him one last severe look then climbed into the carriage. Severus let out a breath and climbed in after her, welcoming the silence that led them towards the castle.
When he stepped out onto the front steps of the castle he was greeted by Dumbledore, who wrapped his arms around Severus and embraced him. Severus was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of safety and when he glanced up at the castle something welled up inside him.
"Welcome home Severus," Dumbledore said with a smile.
Home. That's exactly what Hogwarts had always felt like to him. He was glad to be back.
"Come inside," Dumbledore led the way and Severus slowly followed. He noticed, without surprise, that Professor Sprout had left. No doubt she had returned to the greenhouses. "How was your journey?"
"Fine," Severus said.
"Did you have any trouble with the train time?" He asked and Severus knew he wasn't referring to the train time. Did you have any trouble with the Dark Lord? That is what he'd really asked.
"Good," Dumbledore led them up to his office and Severus paused, remembering the last time he had been here. "Severus?" Dumbledore had already entered the office and Severus forced himself to follow him.
When he finally managed to drag himself into the Headmasters office he walked straight towards the desk where Dumbledore was sitting, a blank piece of parchment rolled out in front of him.
"Your contract," he said and words began to appear onto the page in Severus's own hand, as if he was writing the words himself. "If you'd like to read it and you consent to everything in writing then sign the contract." Dumbledore handed him a black raven quill that was old and worn. Severus signed the contract without reading it, blind trust for the man that had given him his second chance. Dumbledore nodded and after taking the quill from Severus, signed the contract himself.
"What now?" Severus said, looking to Dumbledore.
"Now I sign it," a voice from behind Severus startled him and he spun around just in time to see Professor McGonagall stand from the lavish armchair by the fire. He hadn't seen her tucked away behind the office door and judging from the Headmaster's expression, he wasn't at all surprised to see her there. She walked towards them, her eyes focused on Dumbledore and Severus thought she looked as though she were trying to stop herself from saying something.
"Professor McGonagall," Dumbledore said her name softly. She gave a dry laugh and snatched the quill from his out stretched hand. She signed her name, graceful swirls showing up beautifully next to his and the other mans scrawl.
"Is that all?" She asked impatiently and Severus knew she was probably there under duress.
"Just one last thing Professor." Dumbledore had that glint in his eyes that meant he was planning something and Severus felt Minerva stiffen beside him. "Would you be so kind as to show Professor Snape to his new quarters?" He was met with a cold silence but he continued to look at McGonagall with that same joyful expression he always had.
"Of course," she smiled and Severus thought it looked as though it took a lot of effort.
"Get settled in, I'll send someone by to bring you to the Great Hall for dinner." Dumbledore patted Severus on the shoulder and walked them towards the door. McGonagall headed for the stairs without a word to either of the men and Severus followed her quickly.
They walked in silence and Severus had no trouble in keeping up with her long strides. He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes and noticed she looked different. She wore glasses now, making her eyes seem small and her cheeks hollow. Her hair was as black as ever but the faint lines across her face told him that recent times had taken their toll on her. Severus quickly looked away when she noticed him starring at her.
"You'll be in Professor Slughorn's old quarters. The furniture has been left as it was but should you want to change anything, summon a house elf and they will know what to do." She stopped outside what Severus recognised as the former Head of Slytherin's office.
He followed her inside, the rich overpowering decor just as repulsive as it had been the last time he'd been in here. He stopped to look at the bookshelf, Professor Slughorn had left a lot of books and Severus wondered if he'd be allowed to read a few of them.
"These books..." he started but the Deputy had already disappeared behind the curtain that hung behind the large desk. He quickly walked after her and ran down the small dark corridor to where she was waiting outside his chamber doors.
"This room no longer has a master, you must enter it first to show that you wish to reside there. Once you're settled in you can cast your own protective enchantments and the room itself will have a few, which once you have declared your authority, will reveal themselves." She stepped aside and Severus eyed the door cautiously before opening it and stepping inside. "I'll wait here."
The door slammed shut before he could reply to her and a large bright light shone in his eyes. He tried to block it with his hands but it was too strong and he turned away.
"Who dares enter my chamber?" Came a hissing, haunting voice and Severus looked around blindly for where it was coming from.
"It is Severus Snape," He shouted. The light shone even more brightly and the voice grew angrier.
"I am Severus Snape!" He shouted back, looking straight into the light. It started to fade a little and he felt his confidence grow as he continued. "I am of loyal Slytherin House," he walked towards the light and it started to recede into the shadows. "I was born a Prince and I am Master of this chamber!" He shouted and the air seemed to be sucked into the light as it vanished. Severus stood in the dark for a few seconds before the door flew open, making him jump slightly. Professor McGonagall eyed him curiously, as if trying to decide whether or not to congratulate him. Finally she settled for a small nod and entered the room.
"You were quicker than most," she said kindly, as she lit the candles in the room with a sweep of her wand.
"Is that a compliment?" It came out as a sneer, not at all how he'd meant it.
"Merely an observation," she said, her voice becoming cold again. "I trust you don't need me to remind you of the layout of the castle, it hasn't changed much since you were last here."
"I believe I'm competent enough to find my own way around, yes." The Professor gave him a cold stare and began to leave. As she reached the door she turned back to look at him, her eyes filled with the same accusation as Professor Sprout had earlier.
"Why did you do it?" She asked.
Severus stared back at her. Why did he do it? He wasn't sure anymore. He watched the accusation turn to hurt and he found it almost unbearable to look at her, but he kept his gaze steady on hers.
"All those people," she shook her head.
"I..." he stopped, unsure what he should say. Was he sorry? Did he wish he could take it all back? He closed his eyes. The truth was, if he hadn't wanted to save Lily's life... he'd probably still be with the other Death Eaters. He shuddered.
"Why did you come back to us?" Severus opened his eyes to see Professor McGonagall standing in front of him.
"I wanted a second chance," he whispered. And it was true. He did want a second chance, but what he longed for a second chance with was no longer available to him. He'd made the mistake before and he wasn't going to do it again. Dumbledore had given him a second chance to redeem himself and he knew one way or another, he'd probably die trying.
Professor McGonagall searched for the lie in his eyes but she found none. He could see her thinking things through in her head, trying to process his words. She gave a small nod and turned for the door again. Once again she stopped and turned to look at him, Severus braced himself for what he knew was coming.
"Did you have a hand in what happened to them?" He knew she was talking about her Gryffindors.
The Longbottoms... the Prewett's... she had been fond of them all.
He drew a deep breath. He may not have been directly responsible for what happened to them but he had certainly been involved in most. He'd watched Bella torture the Longbottom's, she'd taken her time with Alice. They had all watched her slowly go insane, drank over Bella's performance while the broken witch lay in a pool of her own blood and piss. Fabian Prewett had been brave, there was no denying it. Both brothers had been hard to defeat and the story of the Death Eater's success was shared with triumph. It was soon after this that he'd flown into the safe confidence of Albus Dumbledore, pleading with him to save the one person he'd ever truly cared about.
He glanced up to look at his former teacher and she was watching him with heart-rending eyes. He opened his mouth to say something but she raised her hand and shook her head. Something in the way she looked at him told him she'd somehow received the answer she needed.
"Albus wishes you to attend dinner with us at 7. You have a few hours to get settled in." And with that she left, leaving Severus staring at the door feeling confused. What had she seen in him that had left her looking at him with such... sadness? Or had it been pity? Perhaps disappointment?
He ran a hand over his hair, brushing it out of his eyes and looked around his room. He explored the lavish bedroom and bathroom and summoned an elf.
"Remove everything but the bare essentials." The elf nodded and bowed low to the ground before setting to work. In a matter of minutes the rooms were ready and Severus looked around in approval. The bathroom contained the bath, a toilet and a small mirror. His bedroom held a bed and nothing else. A bookshelf, sofa and desk occupied his living room.
"Would master be needing anything else, Sir?"
"No." The elf disappeared. Severus opened his bag and began to place his few belongings around his new home.
It was time for a new beginning.
Minerva had practically run back to her own quarters after showing Severus to his room. She was grateful that she hadn't seen anyone on the way and once she was in her chamber, she slammed the door shut behind her and sank down to the floor with her head resting on her knees. She felt the pain searing through her body and the old dull ache in the deep scars across her back as memories flooded into her mind. Losing so many people that had become friends, people she had fought beside hit too close to home and she closed her eyes trying to banish memories of old faces. She let out a deep growl and tried to stand up but her legs wouldn't move.
"Get up," she said quietly. She tried again but still her legs remained motionless. "Get up!" She said it with a renewed sense of resolve and finally she rose up from the ground. She brushed the few tears that had escaped from her eyes and straightened out her robes. She'd just managed to pull herself together when a knock sounded at her door. She paused a few seconds, giving the impression she had had to walk across the room, then opened the door.
"Well?" Filius asked, his arms folded across his chest.
"Well what?" She said, letting him walk past her into her living room.
"The boy. Pomona said he didn't say much when she brought him here, did you have any luck?" Filius was determined to accept Severus back into the fold, his good and friendly nature over-looking what everyone else could not. In any other circumstance she would have loved him for it.
"He always seemed to like you when he was a student here Minerva, perhaps you should try harder too..."
"Do not presume that I will take your advice on this Filius. I did not sanction his return and I certainly do not wish to talk to him." She knew she was being rude but her anger and hurt overpowered any resolve she had to stop herself. "If you're so intent on making him feel welcome then I suggest you go down and talk to the traitor yourself." Filius waited patiently for her to finish.
"Are you done?" He asked, softy.
"I..." She let out a long sigh, trying to gain control of years of pent up anger. "Yes."
"Good." He sat down on her sofa and Teensy, her house elf, appeared with a tray of tea just the way she liked it. She gave a small smile of thanks to the elf and to Filius, then joined him on the sofa. "He's here now Minerva. He must regret what he's done or else he wouldn't be here."
"I'd say it was an opportunity. The Governor's board allowed him to come here because Dumbledore swore he'd pledged his allegiance to us. Of course he had, what was he going to say to Albus when he questioned his reasons? I'm here because He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named sent me?" She gave a dry sarcastic laugh. "No one is foolish enough to welcome the confines of Azkaban, no matter where their loyalties lie."
"You condemn him too soon my friend, give him a chance and I'll think he'll surprise us all." Filius handed Minerva a cup of hot tea and welcomed it's warmth as it ran down her throat.
"I wish I could see the good in people as you do Filius."
"When I taught you as a child you were." He smiled at her and Minerva fixed him with a hard stare.
"That was before I learnt what people are capable of." Her hidden memories plaguing her mind.
"I feel you've lost faith in the people of this world." Filius said, bringing her out of her thoughts. "Don't be so quick to shut everyone out. Perhaps if you can learn to trust our new professor you might just find yourself regaining the ability to believe." Minerva rolled her eyes and smiled.
"Have you been talking to Albus?" Filius laughed.
"I think you'll find all wizards become voices of wisdom in their later years."He quickly drained his cup and stood up. "I should get going, things to do." He walked towards the door and Minerva followed him to see him out.
"Thank you Filius," she said, holding the door open for him.
"May I suggest a walk in the grounds before dinner, just to clear your head?" He winked and set off quickly down the halls. Minerva rolled her eyes again and shut the door. She knew what he meant. Walk the anger off, no one wanted her sitting in a brooding mood all through their first dinner back after summer. He was right.
The elf had already taken the tea away and her cloak was waiting for her on the sofa, it seemed Filius had taken care of everything before talking to her. She smiled as his constancy.
"It's raining Miss Neva," Teensy said from behind her.
"That's alright Teensy, you know I enjoy the rain." She patted the elf on the head as she walked past her. "Perhaps you can get the fire going for when I get back." Teensy nodded eagerly but her worried eyes followed her mistress. "I'll be fine."
With that Minerva made her way to the courtyard and slowly walked down the stone steps towards the Black Lake. The air was cool, promising the winter bite that was looming in the months to follow. She pulled her cloak around her tightly and increased the speed of her walk, hoping to generate some amount of heat. As she got to the lake she watched the Giant Squid making ripples on the water and she scanned the bank for drift wood. Instead she found a large dead tree, it must have been there for a while for even the insects had abandoned it. She waved her wand over it and it lifted into the air. She moved it over the lake and it hovered above the ripples, teasing the monster that lay underneath it. Suddenly a huge tentacle rose out of the water and made to grab the tree but Minerva was too fast for him. She continued to play with the squid for some time, something she'd done since being a student at Hogwarts. Finally the squid took hold of the tree and dragged it down into the depths to its final resting place.
She continued her walk, making her way back towards the castle. She stopped to look out over the loch, it was peacefully quiet and she basked in its glory. She stepped towards the large boulders and rocks that lined the cliff and climbed onto them to get a better look. The wind and rain was gentle against her face and she closed her eyes for a second. The sound of a twig breaking under someone's foot made her turn around quickly and she lost her balance. Her eyes spun around to see how close the edge of the cliff was and her heart exploded in her chest as her heeled shoes slid on the slippery rocks. She heard someone run towards her and whoever it was grabbed her arm and pulled her towards their body. She clung to whoever it was and hid her face in their robes.
"You should be more careful Professor," Severus said and Minerva's eyes snapped up to look at him. "You shouldn't have been up on the rocks."
"Well, you shouldn't be sneaking up on people," she said, moving away.
"You could have fallen."
"If you hadn't startled me I wouldn't have lost my balance." She swept a few wet strands of hair from her face and noticed her bun had come loose in the struggle.
"That wasn't my fault," Severus said, his voice and eyes dark. Minerva sighed, knowing he was right.
"What are you doing out here?" She asked, finally.
"Same as you I'd imagine."
"But it's raining."
"I could say the same to you." His face was unreadable and it infuriated her.
"Yes and I'm heading back inside now." She lifted a foot to step away from him and realised she was still standing on the rocks. She stumbled and once again Severus caught her. She straightened herself up and tried to pull her arm from him but he kept tight hold of her. He pulled her down off the rocks and once her feet hit the solid ground he let go of her arm. "Thank you," she said, a little reluctantly. Severus nodded but remained silent.
Minerva walked briskly back to the castle and headed for the dungeon entrance instead of walking back up the stone steps. She berated herself for her foolish behaviour and cursed Severus for not only pulling her back from the edge but having to do so twice. Twice! How could she be so careless? She walked along the freezing cold corridor and when she glanced back she saw Severus had followed her.
"Professor?" She stopped when he called her and turned to look at him.
"What is it?" She snapped and Severus faltered slightly before speaking.
"You hate me." It was a statement and it unnerved her to see his eyes void of emotion. She studied him for a moment and let the words filter into her mind. Did she hate him? Yes!Her mind screamed for her to say yes but she found she couldn't. Had Filius's words got under her skin without her realising? Don't be so quick to shut everyone out he'd said but she was reluctant to take his advice and she knew it had everything to do with the man standing in front of her. She took a deep breath and untangled her damp hair from around her neck.
"No." She said and Severus jerked oddly as if she'd slapped him.
"No?" He asked, eyeing her suspiciously as though he thought she was playing some sort of trick on him.
"No, I don't hate you." He gaped at her for a few seconds but Minerva continued before he could say anything. "Don't get me wrong, I dislike you... intensely. You are wicked and manipulative and untrustworthy." His black eyes bore into hers, drinking in every truthful word she spoke. "But I do trust Albus, and in this instance, I feel I must put my own prejudice aside and... believe in my friends' judgement." Perhaps if you can learn to trust our new professor you might just find yourself regaining the ability to believe.Damn Filius and his capability to get to her!
"Thank you, Professor." Severus said, quietly. It seemed alien to her to see him so unguarded and... desolate. It was out of character and it threw her. An uneasy wave of guilt swept over her and although she had spoke the truth, part of her regretted being so cold. If this young man had indeed done as he claimed and returned to their side then she should be encouraging and hospitable. But that wasn't her and she knew deep down that she couldn't do it.
"Dinner will be served soon, I suggest you go back to your room and change before coming to the Great Hall." She turned, intending to do the same thing, leaving Severus alone in the cold corridor.
She walked quickly, not wanting to give Severus chance to catch up in case he questioned her again. In the safety of her chamber she quickly changed her robes and forced herself not to think about the man that was, unbeknownst to her, thinking about her too.
It was 7.05 and Severus was still wandering the halls. He growled his frustration and turned back the way he had come. He'd been wandering the corridors from some time now and although he'd managed to make his way out of the dungeons, actually getting to the Great Hall was slightly more difficult. Not for the first time that night his thoughts turned back to his former Transfigurations professor. She'd told him the castle hadn't changed much since he'd left. She lied. He twisted and turned through the halls, not recognising anything. He knew Professor McGonagall had been angry that he was here but he didn't think she would do this to him. She would have made a perfect Slytherin. The thought made him smirk and he found himself almost pleased to discover that the other teacher had a mean streak to her. It was somewhat reassuring, although he could safely bet that he couldn't compare his traits to hers.
"You're lost my boy," a voice came from the portrait to his left and Severus turned to see an old man following him through the neighbouring paintings.
"I'm not lost."
"Maybe I can be of service." Severus stopped and looked at the man who was now standing in a painting with fire breathing dragons.
"Perhaps you should do yourself a service and watch what you walk into." Severus smirked as the old man scurried out of the painting, his wand doing nothing to ward off the dragons. Severus found him a few paintings down, bent double and breathing heavily.
"You should have warned me!" He shouted between breaths.
"You said you could help me?" Severus had no time for this, he was already 10 minutes late and he hated being late. The painted man straightened his robes and looked Severus up and down.
"Well I'm not bloody helping you now, not after -" Severus shrugged and started to walk away. The man followed him, running as quickly as his long robes would allow him. "Wait!"
"Yes?" Severus turned to look at him.
"I'll take you to the Great Hall if you wish it." The old wizard said reluctantly. Severus eyed him suspiciously; nobody helped anyone else without expecting something in return.
"And what do you want?" He asked. The man scoffed and looked indignant.
"I'm not offering my services out of some kind of -" Severus began to walk away again and the man stopped talking. After taking a deep defeated breath he called out again. "Fine!" Severus smirked, he knew he'd been right. "Every new teacher must replace the portrait hanging over the door to their private quarters." Severus frowned.
"I don't have a portrait hanging over my door." This was a waste of time and the longer the old man kept him here, the later he was going to be.
"And they said you were smart," the old man scoffed and Severus scowled at him, an insult on the tip of his tongue but before he could spit it out, the man continued. "The portrait that once lived there was taken down when his master left and it's become tradition here to take it with you when you leave. We portraits can find out a lot of information about the home they protect... and the people inside it." The man winked at Severus and he suddenly felt uneasy at the thought that the painted dead could retrieve such information. He shook his head, not wanting to hear anymore from the man as he already knew where it was leading to.
"I do not require a portrait; I have exemplary protective enchantments on my rooms. Enchantments much more adequate than an oil painting." The old man lifted his nose and stormed away, taking offence at his words.
"Good luck finding the Great Hall," he shot over his shoulder and Severus growled. He didn't need anyone to show him the way. How difficult could it be?
Severus checked his time piece, it was 7.35 and he was still wandering the halls. At one point he almost admitted defeat and returned to his rooms to floo someone, the only thing that prevented him was his inability to locate said rooms. Part of him was glad.
"Bloody castle!" He shouted through clenched teeth and he punched the air.
"Are you sure you don't require a portrait?" Severus paused and took a deep breath before turning to locate the old wizard. The man was reclining on a sofa, a dozen naked women fawning over him, caressing his hair and feeding him. The man winked again at Severus and he frowned.
"If..." he paused, disappointed in himself for giving in. The man jumped up and ran to press his face against the front of the frame, scattering the women in his haste. "If I allow you to protect my quarters, you'll show me the way to the Great Hall?"
"You allow me to guard your secrets and I'll do anything you ask. It is the portraits honour code." Severus hesitated.
"What's your name?"
"I'm Sir John Colquhorn. You may call me Sir John," he made a funny little bow and Severus nodded. This may have been a mistake of colossal proportions but he'd deal with that later.
"Fine, Sir John, I'll have an elf move you tomorrow morning." He didn't dare look at his time piece to see how long this had taken; he just wanted to get going.
"Excellent, follow me!" Sir John moved with amazing speed through the frames and Severus had a difficult time keeping up with him. "Come on!" Sir John called from the top of some very steep stairs. Severus was climbing as fast as he could.
"If you don't stop calling me like that I'll rip your frame down and have you-" he crashed into someone at the top of the stairs and it took a few minutes for him to focus his oxygen deprived brain on the person in front of him.
"You're late," was her smooth, irritated reaction and he was immediately transported back to her classroom.
"I was on my way," he said, pulling himself up and trying to get his breath under control. He watched her take in his appearance and knew she had guessed what had really happened.
"Who were talking to?" She asked, looking at him curiously. Severus glanced at the portraits but found no sign of Sir John.
"No one," he lied. Severus caught her roll her eyes as she turned and walked back down the corridor.
"You should have called if you were lost." Severus jogged to fall in step with her.
"I wasn't lost," he snapped, trying to secretly remember where they were walking for future reference.
"I'll get you a map," she said with an amused tilt of the head. Severus frowned. He was becoming increasingly irritated with this woman and it was her fault he was in this situation in the first place.
"I don't need a map," he said through gritted teeth, which seemed to amuse her more and make him even angrier.
Minerva pushed the door open and entered; Severus remained in the doorway to take it all in. It was exactly the same and yet, something felt different. He wasn't sure what. The tables had been moved to the side, leaving one table for them sit around just like it was at Christmas. The familiar gold plates and goblets were set out in front of each person. There was music playing from the old gramophone placed on a stand behind the table. His former teachers were talking loudly, completely relaxed in their environment and enjoying every minute of it. It felt strange to see them like this. As an adult he knew better than to think his professors had no life out of school hours but watching professor Sprout pinch professor Flitwick's cheek playfully was almost too much for him to process.
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat and everyone turned her way, the joy and laughter dying in their eyes when they noticed him standing next to her. He scowled, unable to stop the practised action and professor McGonagall moved to her seat.
"Come Severus, sit with us." Professor Flitwick stood up and offered his seat to him. Severus took it reluctantly and felt the people on either side of him shrink away. Something tightened in his chest, making him feel like he'd swallowed a large ball and his scowl deepened.
"Where is the Headmaster?" He asked, noticing the older man's absence.
"Something came up," Professor Sprout said in that same cold, dismissive tone she'd used earlier when he asked about professor McGonagall's whereabouts. Professor Flitwick bristled and managed to wedge a chair between Severus and the Head of Hufflepuff.
"He can't be here for dinner but he promised to join us for drinks in Minerva's room." The man smiled as he filled their glasses with wine. Severus frowned. Drinks in Minerva's room? Professor Flitwick must have noticed his confusion and Severus saw him turn angry eyes towards the deputy but she turned away from him. "You are invited of course," Flitwick said, patting Severus on the back.
"Thank you professor but it's..." Professor Flitwick shook his head and smiled.
"We won't take no for an answer," he chuckled and passed a bowl of potatoes over to him. "And please call me Filius." Severus glanced around the table and he knew none of them but the Charms Professor wanted him there. They hated him. It was nothing new, it was something he'd gotten used to but he'd never had to share drinks or cohabit with those people. It was going to be a long night, he thought.
Once everyone had begun to eat Severus glanced over at Professor McGonagall and watched her talking animatedly with Professor Vector. She glanced up suddenly and she caught him staring at her. She frowned slightly but instead of averting his eyes he held her gaze. She let her eyes drop to her plate and Severus watched her move the food around with her fork.
"Tell us Professor Snape," she said all of a sudden and quite loudly. The staff went immediately silent, their eyes focusing on the deputy. "How did you come to be here?" He hesitated for a split second, trying to decide his words carefully while fully aware that everyone was now staring at him.
"I wanted to teach," he said finally.
"But you never showed an interest for teaching as a student. As I recall you showed only a passion for the dark arts." There was a hushed murmur around the table but he sensed Filius's disapproval like heat coming from his body. Professor McGonagall waited patiently for his response, never once taking her eyes from him.
"You are correct Professor," he nodded in her direction. "But I realised that my decisions were poor when I graduated and I would hope that by teaching, I can help other wandering individuals avoid making the same mistake." Some of the staff smiled slightly at his words, fooled into believing him just like the Headmaster had predicted.
"I'll drink to that," Filius's said, taking a long swig of his wine and Severus noticed some of the teachers follow suit. Unsurprisingly, Professor McGonagall didn't.
"A well rehearsed speech, how long did it take Albus to come up with it?"
"That's enough Minerva," Filius admonished and to Severus's surprise she smirked. He watched her shake her head, push her food away and stand up.
"Excuse me," she said and headed for the door.
"But you've barely touched your food," Madame Pomfrey called after her.
"I'm no longer hungry," she shouted over her shoulder as she left. Severus watched her go and felt the ball in his chest drop into his stomach.
"You'll have to pardon Minerva; this time of year is very stressful for her." Filius said with an ease that made it sound as though he was used to apologising for her. Filius smiled reassuringly at him but Severus couldn't find him it in him to return it. The smaller man didn't seem to mind.
The rest of dinner passed uneventfully and Severus was pleased that no one other than Filius tried to engage him in conversation. He didn't know what it was about the older man but something about him made Severus want to talk. A very dangerous trait should he ask about his deal with Dumbledore. Thankfully he hadn't. Once the last piece of treacle pudding was eaten the staff made their way to Professor McGonagall's quarters. Severus lingered at the back, knowing nobody would notice of he slipped back to his own rooms but he hadn't counted on Filius's ever watchful eyes. As Severus turned to walk in the opposite direction a voice held him in his tracks.
"You're coming with us boy," Filius said with a friendly smile that signalled he'd already had a little too much to drink. But as Severus looked down at the other man, he knew he couldn't say no. He took a deep breath before joining Filius to make the rest of the journey to Professor McGonagall's chambers.
When they arrived the portrait to Professor McGonagall's room was empty and Filius stepped up to knock on the door. Suddenly a large magnificent male lion walked into the frame and stretched as though he'd been woken up. His yellow eyes observed the group and he let out a powerful roar before opening the door to allow them entry. It was an amazing display, one that left you with no doubt as to what kind of person lived behind the door. Only a Gryffindor, Severus thought with an amused shake of the head.
Severus followed Filius into the pleasantly decorated room. He looked around at the red oak furniture, it's creams and dark reds making the room warm and welcoming. He wasn't sure what he'd expected to see but this wasn't it. Filius appeared next to him with a glass of whiskey and smiled.
"It'll help with the nerves," he said quietly before joining everyone else already comfortable on the sofas. He watched his former teachers and took a sip of his whiskey, enjoying the warmth that spread through his chest.
He didn't fit in here. It was clear in the way everyone looked at him, even those that had joined Filius's toast at dinner. He'd become accustomed to not fitting in but he thought he'd left the strong desire be part of a group behind when he'd left school. Apparently not. He could feel the familiar pang of jealousy as he watched his teachers together and a horrifying longing to be back with the Death Eaters seeped into his gut.
"You're not doing yourself any favours." Severus turned to see Professor McGonagall standing beside him, jolting him out of his thoughts. He did a double take when he registered her appearance. Her hair was loose, curling in waves down to her lower back. She no longer wore her glasses and Severus found himself looking into the dark grey-blue eyes he remembered from his youth.
"Is that what you were doing at dinner? Helping me make friends?" He asked sarcastically.
"I'm not here to help you," she said with a smirk and drained the last of her wine from the glass in her hand. Severus was confused. Was she playing with him?
"If your colleagues don't like me then that's their problem. I'll keep to my own as long as they do the same." It was just as cold as he'd meant it and Professor McGonagall nodded, unfazed by his rudeness. She reached for the wine bottle that floated past on a tray and refilled her glass. As she placed it back on the tray the sleeve of her robe lifted and Severus caught a glimpse of a long thin scar running up her forearm. It was old and he couldn't help staring at it.
"Surely you've seen scars before," she snapped. Severus looked away quickly.
"I just..." he paused, having no idea what to say. She shrugged and pulled her sleeve down her arm.
"We all have secrets." She glanced over at her colleagues and turned back him. "You have to work at it."
"Work at what?" He asked, unable to take his eyes off her. She gave a dry laugh and shook her head, reminding him of time when he'd asked an innate question in his fifth year. She walked around him in the direction of the other teachers but stopped behind him and leaned into his ear.
"My colleagues..." she said, repeating his earlier words, "are your colleagues too." And with that she left him to join the others. Severus watched her; you have to work at it. He observed the other teachers and sighed. He understood but no matter how much he longed to, he just couldn't bring himself to try.
A/N: Dolor Altor – is the title given to paintings that guard an entry way. It means painted protector.
Minerva woke and blinked her eyes blearily in the faint morning light coming in through her window. She lifted her arms above her head and stretched, pointing her toes and enjoying the release in her muscles. She heard a noise coming from somewhere in the direction of her living room and she propped herself up to look through the open doors. Teensy appeared, a tray of dirty glasses piled high on her head while she cleaned. Minerva smiled.
"You don't need to do that," she said gently to avoid startling the elf.
"Teensy wanted everything to be nice for Miss Neva when she woke." Minerva chuckled and started to get out of bed.
"That's very kind of you Teensy, but you didn't need to."The elf gave a toothy grin and resumed her cleaning. Minerva sat up and reached for her dressing gown, the thin strapped night gown letting the chilled air cling to her skin. She wrapped the dressing gown tightly around her and got out of bed.
"Headmaster left Miss Neva a note," Teensy bounded over and handed her the note. "I is getting your tea now." She disappeared before Minerva could respond. She turned the note over in her fingers with a frown. Albus hadn't shown up at all last night and thinking about it, she wasn't sure if he'd returned to the castle after his late night visit to the Ministry. She stepped into her living room and found the letter opener that had been her father's on her desk.
I ran into an old friend at the Ministry, would you take care of my usual morning duties?
I may be in the mood for pineapple jam when I get back, make sure the elf's leave some out.
And one last thing, could you give our newest resident a hand with his lesson plans? I'll have him meet you at 10am.
Minerva clenched the note in her hand and shook her head. That man was infuriating! Of course, the 'old friend' meant he was attending to Order business. She was only too happy to see to anything that needed to be done but did she really have to see to Mr Snape too? At that moment Teensy returned with a tray of peppermint tea and set it down next to the fire place.
"Would Miss Neva like the fire lit?" Teensy asked, pouring tea into a cup as Minerva took a seat.
"No thank you, Teens. I'd like some time to myself, if that's ok?" Teensy nodded, with that uneasy look on her face and Minerva found it amusing that even after all these years, the elf still wasn't used to being treated like an equal.
"Of Course mistress, Teensy has plenty to do." And after collecting the last of the dirty pots she disappeared.
Minerva nursed the steaming cup between her hands, the peppermint smell taking her back to her childhood in Lailoken. She closed her eyes, hearing her father's voice and took a few minutes to remember him. She sipped her tea and enjoyed the feeling of it trickling down her throat after last night's round of drinks. She opened her eyes and chuckled, remembering how much fun she'd had with the others but wishing she hadn't let it go on so late. It had been after 4am by the time everyone started to leave and as she brought her cup back to her mouth she paused, remembering the way he'd looked at her. Severus had been the last to leave and she recalled wondering why he'd stayed so long. He definitely hadn't enjoyed the night, refusing to join in their conversations or play their silly games, no matter how hard Filius tried to coax him into it.
"There's someone wanting to come in," a deep, gruff voice said behind her, breaking her thoughts. She turned to the double sided portrait on her door to see Leander, staring at her. He was tall, blonde and god like. The kind of man that Minerva knew had been worshipped when he was alive. His usual form took that of a lion and she'd picked him for that. He had turned out to be compassionate, humble and very loyal, but something inside her told her when he'd been alive, he probably hadn't been any of those things.
"Who is it?" She asked, sipping her tea.
"I don't know," Leander replied, his deep growl vibrating through her body. She turned to him with a frown.
"You don't know?"
"Wouldn't tell me his name," Leander leaned against the edge of his frame, his shirt opening to show his impressive muscles. He brushed a lock of golden hair out of his eyes. "He's bad-mannered and callous, said you were expecting him. Something I should know?" He asked, that jealous glint in his eyes that Minerva had come to expect. She sighed.
"It has nothing to do with what's going on in that mind of yours. I suggest you let him in." Leander observed her for a few seconds. "Now, Leander!" The man scowled and shifted into his lion form before walking towards the back of his portrait.
Minerva quickly vanished the last of the mess from the night before and reheated the tea. She secured her dressing gown and watched the door slowly open to reveal the young teacher. Professor Snape stepped in cautiously, giving the door an evil look as he passed through it and it shut quickly, scrapping the back of his heels.
"Your portrait is difficult." He stated, standing by the door and not showing any sign of moving further into the room. Leander reappeared in his animal body and growled.
"I'm only as difficult as –"
"That's enough Leander," Minerva gave him a stern look and the lion twitched his tail angrily before stalking away.
"Are all portraits like that?" He asked.
"Over time they become protective of their charges, have you been approached by a portrait?" She indicated to the tea pot and he nodded.
"Yes. An old wizard, said his name was John Cul...Cog... something beginning with a C." He shrugged his shoulders and Minerva felt her fists tighten as she poured the tea.
"John Colquhorn?" She asked, so desperately wanting him to say no.
"Yes," he frowned. "You've heard of him?"
"Oh yes, I've heard of him." She sighed, unsure why she felt uneasy about it. "Don't believe a word he tells you." She noticed Severus smirk but she ignored him.
"You know him well?" He asked, his voice annoyingly smooth. He'd made his way over to her and she pushed the teacup into his hands.
"If you must know," she let out a deep breath; he was going to find out anyway. The old coot couldn't keep his mouth shut. "I am a descendant, my family lives on the land he once owned." She glanced up to see him observing her curiously.
"'Sir' John, that's what he prefers to be called." Minerva bristled as he connected the dots in his head. "What does that make you?"
"You're early." She stated, ignoring his questioning stare.
"The headmaster told me to be here for 10am." He sat down in the chair Minerva had been in earlier and sipped his tea. Minerva glanced at the clock on top of the fire place, it was just after 10. Had she really slept so late? Trying to avoid admitting that she'd lost track of time she decided not to comment.
"Then I should change, I trust I can leave you out here on your own?" She made her way towards her bedroom.
"I'm no longer your student, Professor," he said, staring into the fire.
"I bed your pardon?" She noticed his icy tone.
"Do not treat me like I'm still your student!" He turned to look her, his steely eyes cutting into her.
"Then why do you still call professor?" She asked angrily but not really sure why she'd issued the question.
"I refer to you as Professor out of respect." That surprised her and it took her a minute to recover. "And you haven't given me permission to address you by your first name." She knew she should give it to him but she couldn't bring herself to say the words. The thought of hearing him say her given name made her shudder and she turned away from him.
"Keep an eye on him Leander," she said, knowing the man in the portrait would be listening and entered her bedroom.
She closed the door behind her and sighed. This was impossible. How was she supposed to live and work with this man when she couldn't even bare him to use her name? She allowed her head to flop back against the door and closed her eyes. You have to work at it, her own words came back to haunt her and she growled in the back of her throat. There was nothing for her to work at, she had her colleagues, she was at home in the castle and she was... happy. She opened her eyes and sighed. Was she happy?
"Stop it Neva!" She said out loud and pushed herself away from the door. She quickly changed into a long sleeved dress and chose to forgo her robes, knowing she wouldn't need them in her own rooms. She pulled her hair up into a clip, slightly less formal than her usual bun and started to head back out to see to the difficult boy sitting in her living room. Man, her mind reminded her and she froze with her hand on the door handle. He had been just a boy when he'd left this castle, when he'd joined their side but he returned to the castle a man. She thought back to her conversation with Filius the previous day and understood how right he'd been. He was here, that's got to count for something.
"He's gone," Leander said, walking into a still life painting above her dressing table.
"Gone where?" She asked the man.
"I don't care, he's gone." Leander gave her a reproachful look and disappeared from the frame.
"Leander!" She flung the door open and dashed after him as he made his way through the paintings. "What did you do?" She vanished his frame, trapping him in the neighbouring portrait.
"I didn't do anything," he said, with a snap.
"And what do you mean by that?" She asked, angrily.
"It means, dear Neva that he left because of you. You weren't exactly... friendly." Friendly! How dare he? And how dare Severus just leave her rooms like that? She replaced Leander's portrait and stormed towards her door. "Where are you going?" He asked, running after her towards the door.
"Where do you think?"
"I don't think that would be wise, my Lady." Leander stood in his portrait before her, his irritating handsome smile brightening his eyes.
"When I want your opinion I'll ask for it." She swung the door open and she glanced back to see he had turned back into the lion. "And seeing as though I haven't, I suggest you keep your mouth shut!" As she walked away she heard the big cat grumble his displeasure and she suddenly felt guilty. She shouldn't be taking out her anger on him and come to think of it, why was she so angry? She stopped walking and clenched her fists. She knew she was in the wrong, she had been rude and unpleasant the entire time he had been here. She turned towards her room and slowly walked back. She chewed on her thumb nail, deep in thought.
"I'd thought your mother beat that bad habit out of you." Minerva glanced up to see Sir John Colquhorn standing in the portrait with Leander. She dropped her hand away from her mouth and crossed her arms over her chest.
"What do you want?" It came out a lot harsher then she intended but at that moment she didn't really care.
"I came to see what you'd done to upset the boy so much." There was a look that passed between the two painted men that told Minerva they'd already been discussing recent events.
"I doubt my actions will have disturbed Professor Snape, you're just here to get in on the gossip," she pushed her way back into her room and shut the door, she'd had enough of Sir John for the time being.
"The advantage of being a Dolor Altor is that I can now freely roam the entire castle." Sir John was in the portrait above the fire places and she shook her head.
"Yes, how wonderful for me." She gave him a rueful stare and he smiled brightly from behind his dark full beard. She made her way over to the chairs in front of her fire and flopped down in one. "What did he say to you?" She asked, unsure if she wanted the answer or not.
"He didn't say anything, merely mumbled something about 'insufferable, elite women' and I could only assume he was talking about you." Sir John sat down on a log in the painting and she could feel him watching her.
"That's not who I am," she said softly and when she looked up at her great grandfather he was smiling.
"You've shut yourself away for too long Neva, it's time to let go of the past. He's not to blame for what happened to you... or to Robert." She felt tears fill her eyes and run down her face.
"Every time I look at him, knowing what he has done to my friends," a sob racked her body and she felt like she couldn't breathe. "I don't want him here." The truth was coming out of her so quickly and so suddenly that it was difficult to understand.
"He may be responsible for someone's death, but he's not responsible for Robert's." Minerva looked up at Sir John, tears still streaming across her face.
"I miss you," she whispered and Sir John nodded.
"I'll be close by." He gave her a gentle, loving smile and Minerva felt her chest tighten. How much she longed to be held by him, to feel his scratchy beard on her cheek as he kissed her goodnight. He stood up and began to move through the portraits.
"How is he?" She asked, watching him go.
"He's lost," he said and with one last sad smile he left her quarters. Minerva stared into space, remembering how he'd once said the same thing to her and it dawned on her that she'd never really found her way back. Not completely.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and thought over their conversation. For the past two days she had been odious to the young man that had once excelled in her classes, a man that had once questioned her so brilliantly that she had had to look the answers up. Sir John was right, what happened to her wasn't his fault but she'd been blaming him this whole time anyway. She sniffled and wiped the last of her tears away before setting to work for the day. As she headed for the door she stopped at her bookshelf and pulled down an old, worn muggle book and opened it. Inside laid a still photo of a man and she felt hot tears sting her eyes as she followed his smiling gaze to small boy sat at his feet. She slammed the book closed and forced back her tears as she headed up to the Headmaster's office.
Severus closed the door to the staff room behind him and sank into it. It was finally Friday! He'd just completed his first full week of teaching and although it had gone better than he had expected, he was glad to be done with it. He'd had a shaky start, especially with some of the older students who had come to expect special treatment from Professor Slughorn but once they had figured he wasn't to be messed with, the rest of the week sped past smoothly.
"How was it?" Filius asked from behind his newspaper.
"Gruelling." Severus walked to the chair near Filius, flopped down into it and propped his feet on the chair in front of him. "The seventh year students are nowhere near the standard they should be considering they have their NEWT's coming up."
"They've just come back from their summer holidays. It takes them awhile to get back into the swing of things but once they do, you'll find that they'll do just fine." Severus scoffed quietly at the older man's words but remained silent. He'd been at the school for nearly a week now and Filius was still the only one that engaged him in conversation. It suited him fine but for some reason he found himself half hoping Professor McGonagall would say something to him, she'd even stopped with the snide comments.
He could hear hundreds of footsteps outside the door as students finished their lessons and made their way back to their common rooms and he found himself looking towards the door to see if she would appear. He didn't have to wait long. She swept into the room with Professor Sprout and she was laughing about something, her eyes shining and cheeks flushed. She glanced over at him and something passed over her features as if she were about to say something but deciding against it, she followed Professor Sprout. He wasn't surprised; she'd been doing the same thing since his outburst that day in her rooms. He turned his head towards Filius and watched the words on the newspaper move around without reading them.
"How was your first week?" Severus turned around to see Professor McGonagall standing beside him with two cups of tea.
"I'm sorry?" He asked, unable to keep the surprise from his voice. She'd never done this before.
"Your first week," she handed him one of the cups. She'd definitely never done this before. "How was it?"
"Fine," he managed to squeeze out. She nodded and waited for him to continue but he was lost for words. When she looked like she was going to walk away he did something that even amazed himself. "Would you like to sit down?" He removed his feet from the chair and ran his hand over it to make sure there was nothing on it.
"Thank you," she said as she sat down. Severus saw her glance behind him and he guessed the rest of the staff were watching her every move. They were quiet for a few seconds and Severus watched her take a sip of her tea.
"My first week..." His words came out sharp and loud and the sound of it made him nervous. "It was..."
"First weeks always are," Professor McGonagall said with a knowing smile and Severus heard Filius mumble something in agreement from behind his paper. It was quiet again and Severus racked his brain for something to say, why was he trying so hard?
"Thank you for the tea," he added, feeling somewhat idiotic.
"Of course," she said, as if the act was a natural thing. Severus focused on the hot liquid in his cup. For anyone else, sharing a cup of tea was a normal everyday thing but for him... no one had ever willing brought him tea. He looked up at his former teacher; what did it mean?
Filius put down his paper and picked up his own cup. Severus could feel him observing them and he knew Filius was going to try to keep the conversation going, something he'd tried, unsuccessfully, with other teachers.
"Severus was just telling me that he thinks the seventh year students are behind," Filius said and Severus felt Professor McGonagall's eyes land on him.
"Is that so?" She asked and Severus nodded, his eyes lifting to meet hers. "They all performed very well in their final exams earlier this year, they wouldn't be in your class if they hadn't." She added and Severus noticed the way she had shifted in her seat to face him properly, giving him her full attention.
"I just don't believe they are ready." He said and although he tried to keep the tension from his voice it still sounded hard. Thankfully it didn't deter the other Professor.
"Of course they are not ready." She chuckled slightly which surprised him. "That's why they have you, to prepare them for what is to come." Severus observed her, thinking about what she'd just said. When he had been at Hogwarts, he had always made sure that he had a good understanding of what was to come in the following year. He always felt it gave him a solid ground to build his learning on.
"When I was a student..." He started but Professor McGonagall cut him off with a look of understanding.
"You were an exception. You'll discover that they come along every once in awhile." She gave him a kind smile that he didn't feel he deserved and placed her empty cup on the table on the table. "If you will excuse me, I have a meeting with Albus."
Severus wasn't sure what to say as she got up but his eyes followed her until she disappeared from the room. He glanced back at Filius to find the older man smiling slightly and wondered what could have brought it on. Before he could question it any further a few of the other teachers followed Minerva's suit and sat down next to him. Overwhelmed by their sudden interest he abruptly excused himself, knowing full well that by doing so he was taking away his chance to be finally included in the staff's friendly circle. He found himself regretting it as soon as he closed the staff room door behind himself.
Severus had woken up on Saturday morning with a headache and he knew straight away that it was due to lack of sleep. He'd tossed and turned all night, worrying about the Dark Lord's plans for Lily and knowing that his stay in the castle was keeping him out of touch with what was going on within the Death Eater's circle. He got up and padded across the cold floor into his living area to check for post. There was a letter from Lucius Malfoy but it contained nothing of importance and no sign of a summons. Severus let it fall into the empty fire place and set fire to it. He knew the Headmaster was becoming restless and frustrated at the lack of information he had been able to obtain but sometimes he felt Albus had misjudged his level of importance within the trusted circle that reported directly to the Dark Lord. He was a grunt, a no one, someone who cleaned up after the others. The only thing that set him aside was his connection to the Black's and the Lestrange's, and he knew the only reason the Dark Lord hadn't cast him aside was because he had been vouched for by Lucius. He knew that the time would come when he would have to try to attain some sort of information, anything to do with the Dark Lord's future plans and he realised how dangerous his task would be.
Severus walked back to his bedroom, feeling slightly sick at the thought of what he must one day do. He quickly changed, deciding on taking a walk to clear his head. He glanced outside to see the grey clouds darkening and he pulled a thick robe from his closet. He made his way of out of his room and up the winding staircase and as he approached the heavy oak doors he heard heels clicking on the stone floor behind him.
"Good morning Professor Snape," Professor McGonagall said as she made her way down the wide staircase behind him.
"Good morning." He mumbled.
"Would you care to join me for a walk into Hogsmeade?" She asked and although Severus knew he should accept her offer, part of him couldn't.
"It's raining," he said and he knew from the way her eyes travelled over his thick robes that she knew he was planning on taking a walk.
"Barely," she said, ignoring the fact that he'd tried to brush her off. "I'm meeting my sister and her son, I'm sure they'd like to meet you."
"I'm sure you are mistaken Professor." His voice was clipped, the kind of tone he used when trying to make sure people left him alone.
"Come, one drink and then if you wish to leave, you can." Severus shook his head, she just wouldn't give up.
"I..." he sighed and looked into her eyes. "I have things to do here." He said finally, unable to accept her offer when his frame of mind was so dark.
"Then perhaps you can meet us there?" She said, looking at him with encouraging eyes. "We'll be in The Three Broomsticks."
"Perhaps," he said, quietly. Professor McGonagall nodded and as she stepped towards the door he pushed it and held it open for her. She brushed past him, wrapping her long black shawl around her head and shoulders and Severus froze when he felt her hand land gently on his shoulder. He looked into her eyes that shone brightly from under the shadows of her cloak and he felt something in him relax. He watched her run gracefully across the courtyard then closed the door once she had disappeared from sight.
He wasn't sure what had passed between them but something had. He began to walk aimlessly along the corridor. He couldn't allow himself to be distracted, he had to find a way into the Dark Lord's inner circle but no matter how hard he tried, his mind was already in Hogsmeade. He shook himself, what was happening to him? More importantly, what should he do about it? For some reason Professor McGonagall was reaching out to him and although every fibre of his body was telling him to pull away, there was one small neglected part of him that longed for her company.
Just one drink... he took a deep sigh and ran his hand through his hair. Somehow she'd gotten to him. He growled deep in his chest and turned on his heel to make his way back to the main doors. He pulled it open forcefully and began to march towards Hogsmeade.
As he pushed the door open to The Three Broomsticks he was immediately greeted by loud cheerful voices and he had the sudden urge to leave. He tried to back-pedal out of the family pub but a large group pushed their way in, dragging Severus with them. He managed to free himself from the group and bumped into a nearby table. He mumbled a quick apology and headed for the door when he suddenly spotted her in the corner of the room. She was sitting with her sister, who shared similar features with the professor but had short light brown hair. Severus had already made up his mind to leave the bar when she suddenly looked up. Their eyes met for a second and she smiled brightly as he slowly made his way over to her.
"Professor Snape, I didn't think..." She was obviously surprised at his appearance and a fleeting shot of panic swept through his body.
"If you wish to withdraw your invitation..." He watched her shake her head quickly.
"No, not at all! I'm glad you decided to join us. Would you like a drink? Logan has just gone to get us some tea..."
"That's alright, I can buy my own." He almost ran to the bar. He couldn't understand the change in the deputy's behaviour, why was she suddenly being so nice to him? But was this not what he wanted? When he came back to Hogwarts he was looking forward to speaking to his former professor but she had been anything but the fair and admired teacher he had once known. But now she was more than that and in addition, she was welcoming him into her life. He ordered a strong cup of coffee and made his way back to the table where he noticed a man with dark wavy hair sitting with Professor McGonagall.
"Professor Snape, I'm Lydia." The sister reached a hand out to Severus when he joined them and he shook it. "This is my son, Logan." He shook hands with the other man and Severus thought he couldn't have been much older than himself. He was long and thin but he had what his mother would have called 'broad worker shoulders'. His face shared the same square jaw and eyes as his aunt but his overall face resembled his mother.
"Good to meet you Professor Snape," Logan said as they shook hands.
"Severus, my name is Severus. Taking into account that we are sharing a drink I think it appropriate to use my first name." As he said it he noticed Professor McGonagall look at him at little surprised. He wasn't even sure why he'd said it.
They lapsed into an easy conversation and Severus was glad that he wasn't expected to join in too often. He found Logan easy to talk to and they were soon discussing the other man's Auror training.
"He's doing wonderfully," Lydia said proudly, brushing her hand through her son's dark locks. He brushed her hand away playfully.
"With the amount of time he's wasting visiting friends, he'll be lucky to pass his exams this year." Severus turned to see Professor McGonagall fixing her nephew with a firm look.
"Oh sister, you're too tough on the boy." Lydia said, filling her son's cup with fresh tea.
"And you're not tough enough, dear sister." Professor McGonagall said with a forced sweet smile.
"My aunt believes in all work and no play," Logan said with a chuckle.
"There's always time to 'play' later," she responded to her nephew, "but you only have one chance to pass these exams. Studying hard for four years during your training will allow you to live your life as you wish."
"Your aunt is right," Severus heard himself say. "I believe that kind of thinking will make a successful individual and your aunt is living proof of that. Perhaps you should take on her advice; I know I wish I'd had someone giving me that kind of counsel." Severus could feel everyone watching him closely so he peered down into his empty cup. After a few seconds Lydia spoke to her son and the conversation started again. When Severus finally lifted his head he caught the deputy looking at him with an expression that he couldn't quite place.
An hour later they left the pub and after a long goodbye Severus finally began the walk back to school with Professor McGonagall.
"Did you enjoy yourself?" She asked and although he had, he didn't feel he could admit it to her.
"It was better than the marking I had planned for this morning." He glanced to his side to see her shake her head but she wore a slight smile. Something deep within him jumped at the thought he'd put that smile there.
They carried on walking in companionable silence and Severus found it odd that he felt so at ease with her. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye and noticed she was frowning. He wanted to say something to her but he could think of nothing. Suddenly she stopped and he turned to look at her.
"Did you really mean what you said back there?" She asked, eyeing him carefully as if waiting to catch the lie in him. He wasn't sure what she was referring to. "That you think I'm successful?" She asked, jogging his memory.
"I don't just think it, it's factual." He kept his voice neutral, like he didn't really care about what he was saying. "You are a powerful, successful witch that is held in high regard." He watched the frown deepen on her face.
"I've never felt..." she whispered, almost to herself.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing, it doesn't matter." She shook her head and began to walk past him.
"Professor..." He grabbed her arm and turned her back to face him. As he did, her arm twisted slightly and the sleeve on her dress fell away to reveal the scar there. She hadn't noticed.
"We should head back -" She started quietly.
"How did you get that scar?" He cut her off forcefully and her eyes snapped down at her arm.
"What does it matter?" She jerked her arm away from him and he let her go.
"Do you have others?" he asked, feeling foolishly brave.
"This is personal, I do not..." Severus could see she was becoming uncomfortable but he kept questioning her.
"Does the rest of the staff know about it?"
"No they don't and that's how it will stay." She gave him a distrustful stare and started to walk away from him. He knew he'd ruined it, messed up his chance at getting to know her a little better. There was one last question burning on the tip of his tongue... how much more damage could he do?
"Did you do it to yourself?" He called after her and she spun around to face him, eyes blazing with fury as she marched back to him.
"I'm no coward Professor Snape! I may be plenty of things but I would never take the easy way out of any predicament, no matter how desperate I felt." Severus could see her rebuilding the walls around her that she had let down for him and he felt almost sorry for it.
"Who did it to you?" He asked, unable to stop his curiosity. The deputy gave a dry laugh and shook her head.
"We are not friends professor Snape, not by a long shot." Her words were cruel and he ignored the clenching in his stomach. "You are not privy to this information and nor should you expect an answer to your presumptuous questions." She wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and began walking towards the school. Severus stayed still, watching her walk away.
He knew he'd made a mistake, a mistake that hadn't even been worth making. It had got him nothing. He'd just chased away the only person who had reached out to him after Filius and he regretted it. He seemed to be regretting a lot lately. He looked down at the floor and kicked some of the stones before taking a deep breath and heading back towards the castle himself.
She'd finally made progress with him, it had taken her a week to work up the courage to approach him and here she was, storming away from him. The boy had responded well, he'd come down to the Three Broomsticks and in one well worded sentence she'd ruined it all, sending them straight back to square one. She glanced behind her and she could see Severus in the distance, his long robes billowing in the unusually strong summer wind.
She felt bad. He'd only been curious but it was still a hurtful topic, even after all these years. She guessed that seeing Logan had brought feelings she thought she'd managed to suppress. Upon reflection, she'd taken out her angst on the new Professor. She slowed her steps and glanced back again. Severus had his head down and Minerva stopped to allow him to catch up.
"Professor Snape..." His head snapped up and she realised he had been so deep in thought that she'd startled him. "I'm sorry," she said, not only apologising for surprising him but also her outburst earlier. He nodded and began to walk past her. She followed him.
"Professor Snape..." he whipped around to face her so fast that she nearly walked into him.
"I asked you to call me Severus." He was standing so close to her that she could feel his breath on her cheeks when he spoke. Minerva licked her lips nervously and noticed his eyes shift to them. She waited for him to step away but when he didn't move she took a step back and swiped an imaginary piece of hair behind her ear.
"Alright Severus." She took a deep breath, unnerved by his closeness. "Let me explain..."
"You have nothing to explain. You were right. We are not friends." She understood the look in his eye was a challenge for her to deny his statement.
"No we're not," she heard herself say and Severus let out a snort as he turned back towards the castle. "But I would like to be." He froze and spoke with his back to her.
"Because I think we could both use a friend, don't you?" She waited patiently while he slowly turned around and she felt uncomfortable under his intense gaze.
"Will you tell me what happened to you?" He asked. It almost sounded like a test.
"No." His eyes bore into hers as if hoping she'd buckle under his gaze but she held strong. Realising that she wasn't going to get a response she took his continued presence to mean that he wasn't completely in opposition to being... friends. She walked past him and felt him turn to walk with her towards the castle. They remained silent until Severus closed the door behind them.
"Are you heading to the Great Hall?" Minerva asked, removing her shawl.
"I was going to take dinner in my own room." Severus said, his eyes watching her every movement.
"Perhaps tomorrow," she said, giving a slight smile.
She watched him walk away and a few first year Hufflepuff students scurried out of his way. Minerva shook her head and walked across the corridor towards the Great Hall. As she made her way to the staff table Albus looked up at her with a smile.
"You're late for lunch," he said, pulling out her chair for her sit down.
"Yes, a slight delay in my schedule." She could feel his eyes on her as she took off her outdoor robe and helped herself to a bowl of soup.
"You saw Lydia today," he stated and Minerva looked up at him surprised.
"How did you..?"
"I spoke to Rosmerta," he smiled and Minerva chuckled.
"Did she also tell you..?"
"That Logan was there?" Albus cut her off again and Minerva shook her head disbelievingly. "Yes. Said he's looking more and more like his aunt as he's getting older." He turned to look at her properly but she couldn't look at him.
"Yes, I thought so too." She whispered quietly, desperately wanting her mentor to stop talking.
"Has a lot of his father in him." At that Minerva's eyes snapped to his and she suddenly lost her appetite.
"Yes." She wasn't sure why he was bringing this up but she wished that he would leave it alone. Of course he understood her needs without her having to speak them aloud and after a gentle pat on her hand, he changed the subject.
"I heard Severus was at the pub too. Did you speak to him?" Minerva smiled. She knew this was his way of letting her control the conversation.
"You know very well that I did." She pushed her food away and leaned back in her chair. "He was there on my invite."
"And how was it?" He asked his expression unreadable.
"Fine. He's..." She shrugged her shoulders. "He's different." Albus frowned.
"Everybody changes, with what he has been..." Minerva shook her head.
"No you misunderstand me. I meant, he's different to what I expected him to be, considering what he's been through. He's actually more like the boy I taught." Albus nodded thoughtfully.
"Except he's a grown man now." He looked at her pointedly and she avoided his eyes.
"He has surprised you?"
"He said something today..." She paused, letting their conversation play through her head and smiled slightly. "Yes, he surprised me." Albus smiled too.
"I think he will continue to surprise you Minerva, just don't pull away." She frowned at him but before she could ask his meaning, he was pulled into another conversation.
Later in the evening Minerva was in the library collecting books for a research project she had started. She checked her list and made her way over to the Restricted Section, a pile of books floating along behind her.
"You've been hiding," a voice suddenly said and Minerva peered between the books to see Pomona's friendly smile. Minerva shook her head and moved a book to cover the gap the other teacher was peering through.
"I have not been hiding," Minerva said as she added a book to the pile. "Merely busy," she turned around to see Pomona leaning against the bookshelf looking at her with a sceptical look.
"Yes, making friends with the new professor." Minerva moved along to the next row but she frowned back at her friend when she heard the malice in her voice.
"Really Pomona, never have I heard you be so cold toward new teachers." Of course, Minerva knew why her friend was behaving so hostile but it was still very out of character for the normally warm and welcoming Hufflepuff to show such disdain.
"Do you remember Jacob Daniels?" Pomona asked angrily as she followed Minerva to the library desk to sign her books out on the register. "They slaughtered him in front of his family!" Pomona's words slowly filtered into Minerva's head and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she felt bile rise in her throat. "They tortured him because he married a muggle girl! Murdered his children and left the poor muggle girl with crazy with grief." As she continued to talk Minerva could feel a familiar burning in her chest and the dull memory of pain throughout her body. She turned to face her friend, hoping that she wouldn't be able to read anything in her features.
"Was Severus there?" She asked and Pomona jerked back in surprise, at the question or the use of his given name Minerva didn't know.
"What has that -"
"It obvious that he didn't do anything to prevent their demise but you can't be sure he was involved." Pomona was looking at her with incredulous eyes and Minerva couldn't quite believe what she was saying herself. "He may have their deaths on his conscious but his hands are clean." She signed the rest of her books out and Pomona just stared at her in silence for a few seconds before speaking.
"They murdered him Minerva, his wife..." Minerva could feel her palms begin to sweat and her mouth became dry. "Do you have any idea how she must feel?" Pomona's voice was full of emotion. Minerva looked at the other teacher and smiled as she shook her head. "What is it?" Pomona asked and Minerva suddenly felt a bubble of angry laughter rise through her chest.
"Do I know how it feels?" She asked through manic laughter and Pomona looked on with worried eyes. "I would imagine that it was terrible. It was probably the worst moment in her life." She wiped tears from her eyes furiously as her inappropriate laughter subsided and her voice took on a harsh tone. "She would have felt helpless; she had no wand, no other means of protecting her husband and children. I would imagine they tied her down, made her watch as they beat him to a pulp. I can feel her agony as she looked into her husband's eyes and the utter devastation from knowing that it was her fault. I know how it feels, because I have to live with it every day." She wasn't sure why but part of her enjoyed the horrified look of shock on Pomona's face. "I'm sorry Rebecca had to see that, I truly am but don't you dare lecture me on her feelings. You have no idea what it's like." Pomona reached out a careful hand towards Minerva but she angrily pushed it away as she stormed towards the library doors.
As she was about to leave a small movement caught her eye and with horror she turned to see Severus starring at her. Oh Merlin, what had she done? Her eyes fell to the floor but she could feel his intense gaze burning into her skin. How could she be so foolish? Minerva couldn't bring herself to look at the young man and in a violent wave of panic she fled through the doors, leaving Severus to stare after her with a thousand things running through his head.
Severus made his way back to his room, taking the back stairs to avoid seeing anyone in the corridors. He wanted answers but he knew that talking to Professor McGonagall was probably the only way he'd find them. As he approached his door he noticed the frame was empty and he frowned. Where was Sir John? He took out his wand and after a few complex spells the door finally swung open, allowing him access. By now, Severus was in a bad mood and he stomped into his quarters to find the old man.
"Come on... come with me..." Severus could here Sir John's voice but he couldn't see him anywhere. He heard a girlish giggle and followed the sound into his bedroom, where he found Sir John trying to coax a buxom woman over to his portrait.
"Sir John!" Severus called his name and the woman jumped away.
"Not now boy!" Sir John said, with a dismissive hand.
"I am master of this chamber and you are my Dolor Altor. When I arrive at my door I expect to be greeted by you," his voice was dark and he watched the woman scamper back to her own portrait.
"Listen here lad, I don't appreciate being talked to like that..."
"If you don't like it, I'm sure I can find a replacement." Severus knew his words would put a stop to the old man's anger.
"You're right, I'm sorry." Sir John bowed and mumbled something under his breath. Severus eyed him icily and Sir John should have been glad that he couldn't hear him because if he had...
Severus shook his head and turned back to his living room. He sat down at his desk with his collection of books.
"Did you get everything you were looking for?" Sir John asked, after a few minutes. His gentle tone told Severus he'd had time to cool off.
"Not everything, someone was..." Severus paused and lifted his head to look at the portrait on his wall to his left. He wanted answers to what Professor McGonagall had said... "What happened to her?" Severus watched Sir John for a second.
"Who?" The wizard asked slowly.
"You know who I am referring to." Severus could see it in the other man's manner.
"It is not my place to say. If you want to know about it, I would suggest talking to Minerva." Severus snorted and shook his head.
"Do you honestly think she would confide in me?" Severus took the silence to mean what he had already guessed. "Were you there?" He asked.
"If you're asking if I was alive... yes...and no." The man walked from his current frame and Severus frowned. What did he mean?
"What did you mean by that?" Severus asked, running after him.
"You should talk to her about it. I cannot tell you."
"I order you to tell me what you know," he knew Sir John wouldn't be able to refuse his order.
"She'll never forgive me," Sir John said with a deep sigh. Had Severus been anyone else he would have let the old wizard off but unlucky for Sir John, he wasn't. Severus wanted answers and if this was what he had to do to get them, then so be it.
"She needn't know," Severus said as he sat down on his sofa and waited for Sir John to speak.
"What is it you want to know?" Sir John asked with a defeated sigh.
"What happened to her?" Severus asked eagerly, wanting the wizard to continue.
"A man came to the house. Wanted Minerva for one of his sons but she didn't want to marry. She was only 17, she had her own ideas but during those times, she was expected to marry well.
Apparently she discussed the marriage with the chosen son and they agreed against the arrangement. Of course, the father was furious and although the decision was mutual, he spread the word that she had refused him. Shed a bad light on her in the eyes of the magic community." Sir John moved to chair in his current painting and sat down heavily. "A few months later, the man returned with friends and tried to force her into marriage. But when she refused, they attacked her." Severus frowned, he was no stranger to violence but for some reason this made him feel uneasy. Maybe it was because he knew the person... or more than likely, it was the thought of something like that happening to Professor McGonagall.
"They attacked her because she didn't want to marry his son?" Sir John nodded, solemnly.
"Yes, I suppose he thought he could frighten her into it. He certainly underestimated her." Severus noticed Sir John smile fondly at the thought of his relative.
"Why was he so insistent?"
"Well I'd imagine it was the estate he wanted." Severus stared in confusion at the painted man.
"What estate?" Sir John suddenly fixed Severus with an icy stare.
"Oh yes, everyone always perks up when they learn of the estate." Severus eyed him darkly, angry that the man was judging his interest. Sir John remained silent while Severus was deep in thought. An estate? Of course! Severus berated himself for not thinking of it sooner. Sir John. If he was given the title or inherited it then there would be land, not to mention a large sum of money to go with it.
"So she was an heiress," he said, more to himself than the painting.
"She was sole heir to everything her father owned and at that moment in time, she had just inherited the whole lot upon his death." Severus didn't know what to do with the information he'd just received. He stared at Sir John, unsure what to say.
"So no one knows about this?"
"Oh I'd imagine a lot of people know about it." Sir John said with a shrug and Severus frowned. Professor McGonagall had said no one knew of it.
"Well in those days, she was quite the celebrity." Sir John smiled. "Everyone watched her, wanted to know what she was doing, what she was wearing." He paused a second and when he continued Severus noted a hint of bitterness in his voice. "When people heard she turned down a marriage proposal it was a huge scandal and everyone turned their backs on her. But once they learned of the attack and how bravely she defended herself... well, everyone soon changed their tunes. She was everyone's daughter, sister... suddenly they wanted what was best for her." He gave a sceptical laugh and shook his head. "But when she disappeared..."
"Wait, she disappeared?" Severus asked shifting forward in his seat eagerly.
"I'm not sure of the details, I died just before then but..."
"What do you mean she disappeared?" Severus asked again, cutting the older man off for a second time. Sir John frowned at Severus and took a few minutes to respond.
"She left, disappeared. She signed her sisters' name as caretaker for the estate and left." He said, sounding a little angry at Severus' impatience to gather information.
"Where?" Sir John shrugged.
"I left her a small cottage, I suppose she could have gone there." Sir John began moving through the frames towards his own portrait and Severus followed him. He still had questions.
"I don't know." Severus caught the wizard's eyes shift slightly and he noticed the way he hastened his steps.
"You're lying." He stated.
"Look," Sir John stopped in his portrait and turned to look at Severus. "It's not my place. I've told you what I can but if you desire more, you have to find it some other way."
"But..." Sir John shook his head and gave a slight bow.
"Now if you'll excuse me..." Severus watched Sir John walk into the distance of his portrait and growled in the back of his throat.
So Professor McGonagall had been attacked when she was younger. Could that be the reason for the scars? Sir John had said most people knew that had happened to her but she had stated earlier that no one knew of it.
He walked back to his desk deep in thought. This was all interesting information but how did it relate to what the deputy had said in the library?
Suddenly he realised with a note of anger that Sir John had not supplied the information he needed, the wizard had tricked him, giving him information he could have probably found in the library.
Severus' lips curled and he let out a dry laugh. He had to hand it to the old man, he was an intelligent trickster.
Severus stored away the information he had learned and sat down behind his desk. Just as he was about to pick up a book he felt a tingle on his left arm and he froze. He pulled back his sleeve to show the graceful grey swirling lines of the Dark Mark. It tingled for a few seconds then stopped, it didn't burn, it didn't turn black... what did it mean?
He suddenly felt sick at the thought of being summoned and pulled the sleeve down over it quickly. He knew he should contact someone in the Dark Lord's circle but he was hesitant. Maybe he should talk to Albus.
He stared at his covered arm for a few minutes before standing up and heading in search of the Headmaster.
Severus made his way along the corridor toward the large eagle that would escort him to the Headmasters office. He was only halfway towards it when the man himself appeared from behind a tapestry, whistling happily.
"Severus, I haven't seen you in the Great Hall recently." Albus said with a wide smile. Severus stopped and gave a deep sigh.
"Yes and there is a reason for that, Headmaster." They walked towards the eagle together.
"I do not wish to sit in a room full of people that do not like me."
"Not everyone feels that way." Severus rolled his eyes at the slightly teasing tone the older used.
"Filius doesn't count," he said as he followed Albus up the stairs.
"Then what about Minerva?" Severus caught his foot on the next step and stumbled slightly.
"What about her?" He asked, recovering quickly. Albus smiled, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses.
"Is she not making more effort to get to know you?" He asked, beckoning Severus inside his office.
"Well yes but..." Severus paused in the doorway. How had he known that? A sudden nervous feeling spread through his stomach. "Did you send her?" He managed to ask.
"I'm sorry?" Albus had sat down behind his desk and was peering up at Severus.
"Did you order her to keep an eye on me?" He stepped into the office, his temper beginning to flare. "I'd do the same thing if I there was someone around me I didn't trust." Albus' eyes lost their sparkle and Severus knew he'd spoken out of turn.
"You and I both know I did no such thing," his voice held the same strict tone it had when Severus had first come to him for help. Then, as if it hadn't happened, he smiled. "Besides, as you get to know my deputy, you'll understand that she is not one to do something just because I asked her." Severus snorted.
"I may not know her well, sir but I know she would do anything you asked of her."
"But this is personal, she wouldn't do this." Severus sat down as Albus offered him a chair. He stared at the older wizard, wondering just how well he knew Professor McGonagall.
"How long have you known Professor McGonagall?" Severus asked.
"Almost her whole life." Albus leaned back in his chair and smiled slightly, Severus wasn't sure why. "I taught her here as a student and she became my assistant before she eventually took over my position."
"What can you tell me about her?" He asked, knowing this was his chance to get real information.
"Why the sudden interest?" Albus asked and Severus noticed, with a touch of panic, that the annoying twinkle had returned to the Headmasters gaze.
"No real interest, we were merely talking about her..." He shrugged his shoulders, hoping to give the impression that he didn't really care.
"Minerva is a gifted witch who has always strived to do good for children. Whether it's their quality of living or their education."
"What brought her here?"
"I did." For some reason that surprised Severus and he frowned.
"Like I said, she is a gifted witch and I knew she would make a tremendous teacher." Albus crossed his hands over his chest as if he thought this conversation might go on awhile.
"What did she do before that?" He asked, looking down at the floor. Albus was silent for a second and Severus finally looked up to see him staring at him.
"Why don't you ask her?" Severus shifted uncomfortably in his seat under the Headmaster's eyes. "You should be trying to befriend your colleagues and this is the kind of topic you should bring up with them. Shows you have an interest in that person, I'm sure it will reflect well on you." Albus smiled encouragingly but Severus sneered and let out a deep sigh. They were quiet for a few seconds before Albus spoke again. "Did you need something Severus, or did you merely come to question me about Minerva?" Severus started out of his thoughts and frowned at the amused look Albus had.
"I think I may be summoned soon." Severus was pleased to see that that brought the older man back to his senses.
"Do you know why?" He asked, leaning forward onto his desk.
"No Sir, I felt..." He gripped his left arm for a second and he noticed Albus' eyes flicker over. "I think I will be summoned but I can't be sure."
"What does this mean?"
"I can only think he'll want a report of on-goings here."
"Do you know what to give him?" Albus asked, as he stood up and began pacing the room.
"I have an idea sir yes." Severus watched him move back and forth over the well worn rug. The Headmaster seemed almost as agitated as he felt.
"And you have been practicing..?"
"Of course I have." Severus interrupted with an annoyed frown. He'd been working on becoming a master of Occlumency long before he returned to the castle.
"Then you have my permission to leave whenever you need to. Aberforth has a place for staff to apparate to and from, you should use that." Severus nodded and stood up. He turned to leave but Albus reached out and grabbed his arm forcefully. "I want you to report to me as soon as you get back." Severus nodded again but the older man's grip tightened on his arm. It was painful. "I will be the first person you see." He slowly let go of his arm and Severus eyed him curiously.
"Yes Sir." He replied and bowed slightly as he left the room.
Severus was about to head back down toward the dungeons but before he started down the stairs, he looked down the hallway towards Professor McGonagall's rooms. For some reason his feet moved in that direction and he found himself being taken there. When he arrived outside the door the great lion raised his head and gave a low threatening growl.
"My mistress does not wish to be disturbed," the lion said in that deep reverberating voice.
"I don't want to see her," Severus said and he wasn't sure if it was the entire truth.
"Then why are you here?" It asked, its ears flattened against his head as if preparing to hunt. But before Severus could answer him the door suddenly swung open causing the lion to stumble and Severus to step back.
"Severus..." Professor McGonagall stood before him in a navy, long sleeved dress. It looked the sort thing she would wear under her teaching robes as the material was thin and as he looked at her, he could see every movement her slim body made under the flimsy fabric. "What can I do for you?" She asked, crossing her arms over her chest. At the action Severus' eyes were drawn to her chest and he could see the swell of her small breasts peeking up just above the scooped neck line.
"I..." What was happening to him? He never noticed this sort thing on any other woman apart from... He suddenly felt sick at the thought of Lily.
"Severus?" He looked up to see his former professor peering at him with worried eyes. Once again she wasn't wearing her glasses.
"Are you alright?" Severus felt one of her hands fall on his shoulder as if it were on fire. All of a sudden he had an overwhelming need to tell her everything, about his deal with Dumbledore, about what had happened to his scar, about the possibility of being summoned... but he knew he couldn't.
"I'm perfectly alright," he said, his voice clipped. "I don't need you smothering me." He shrugged her hand away and ignored the cold spot it left behind.
"Was there something you needed?" She asked, her voice matching his.
Severus wanted to talk about what he'd over heard in the library but he knew it was pointless to even try. He watched her for a second, trying to think of the right way to approach this situation he'd found himself in.
"Will you be taking breakfast in the Great Hall tomorrow?" He asked, although he already knew the answer.
"Perhaps..." He was about to ask her if they could sit together but at the last minute he realised how childish it would have sounded. Although when it came to becoming better acquainted with someone, he did still feel like a nervous adolescent sometimes. He cleared his throat, readying himself to try again.
"Will you be sitting with us?" Professor McGonagall asked before he could say anything else. He nodded. "Then I shall try to save you a seat." Severus nodded again and upon realising that he had nothing to say, turned away and headed off down the corridor.
"Severus." He turned back to look at her. "You may want to arrive early or you may end up sitting between Cuthbert and Sybil." She smiled slightly before closing the door but Severus was left frowning.
Minerva arrived at breakfast the next morning and saw to her ultimate amusement that Severus was sitting between Cuthbert and Sybil. Dear Cuthbert was a gentle soul and she did indeed like him but he had a great tendency to droll on. Sybil on the other hand... well, upon her first encounter with the 'Seer' she attempted to read her 'aura', something Sybil soon regretted.
Every now and then Minerva would glance down the table and at one point she caught Sybil trying to read Severus' aura. Once Minerva was finished with breakfast she stood up to leave the table and noticed Severus do the same thing. She walked out of the Great Hall, fully aware of the potions master behind her. Once outside she turned to him.
"Did I not tell you to arrive early?" She said to him and Severus huffed.
"You didn't tell me I needed to be here at breaking light. Apart from your customary seat, that was the only one left." He moved past her to walk down the corridor but she noticed he stalled just enough to signal that he wouldn't mind her joining him.
"I'll talk to Filius; perhaps the two of you can swap. He finds Sybil interesting, I'm sure he wouldn't mind," she said as they both walked along the quiet corridor.
"Rather Filius than myself. One more minute of her telling me about my unfortunate past and I would not have been able to control my actions." He suddenly stopped and turned to her as if thinking she might have taken his words the wrong way. She chuckled lightly to let him know she had taken it as the joke he had meant it to be.
"I feel the same," she said as they continued walking. They approached Minerva's quarters and when she stopped, she hesitated for a second before speaking. "Would you care for some tea?" She watched his body stiffen and his eyes shifted uneasily.
"In there?" He asked, looking towards her door. He looked so uncomfortable. She shrugged her shoulders and looked down the corridor from where they had come.
"Well, we could always go to the staff room if you'd feel..." His quick head shake drew her attention back to him.
"No, no. This... will be fine." Minerva nodded and motioned for Leander, who had been watching them closely, to open the door. The lion growled softly as Severus walked by him and she shot him a scornful look.
Minerva heard the door shut gently behind them as she walked into her living room. She noticed that Teensy had already set out the tea as she always did for Minerva's return after Sunday breakfast. She took off her outer robes and hung them over the back of the sofa. She glanced back to see Severus still hovering near the door and she smiled slightly. He looked like a nervous student who'd been summoned to her office.
"Make yourself at home," she said as she made them both a cup of tea. She could hear Severus moving around behind her and although she was intrigued to see what he was up to, she didn't want him to feel like she was 'keeping an eye on him'. As she finished making the tea his voice brought her attention to him.
"This is a magnificent set," he said, looking down at her chess set.
"Do you play?" She asked as she made her way over to him. She handed him his cup of tea.
"No, my mother used to though." He bent down to look closely at the pieces. "What is it made from?"
"Ivory," she took note of his lifted eyebrows. "It's been passed down through my family for centuries and then my father gave it to me when I was 10."
"It must have been made with great care, look at the delicate features on the faces." He lifted one very carefully between his fingers and Minerva was taken in by his intense curiosity and appreciation of something she had almost forgotten.
"We should play sometime," she said and Severus shook his head.
"It was more my mother's talent." He placed the piece back carefully and continued to move around her room.
"I can teach you," she said, taking a sip of tea. Severus stopped and looked back at her with an amused look.
"Perhaps another time." Minerva watched him and she suddenly felt awkward. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. They'd only been in the same room for ten minutes and already they had run out of things to talk about. She continued to sip from her cup, more out of giving herself something to do while Severus examined her belongings. Just as the silence was becoming too much for her he spoke once again.
"You have a piano." He stated, running his fingers across the ancient wood. "Broad and Sons, made in London... early 1800's?" He looked over at her but she couldn't answer him. She didn't know the answers. She had to admit to being impressed by his knowledge and she made her way over to the piano.
"It was my fathers." She said, putting her tea cup down on the side table where Severus had put his.
"Can you play it?" He asked his eyes almost alive with excitement and Minerva was reminded of the tiny 11 year old boy that once sat in her classes.
"Very ill I'm afraid," she said with a slight chuckle. After their brief conversation they were silent again and while she racked her mind for something to say, she just couldn't find the right words. Her hands fiddled with the hem on her long sleeves and she couldn't stop it when she suddenly found herself chewing her thumb nail. What was about him that made her so awkward? She shook her head and forced her arm down by her side.
Seeing that Severus was completely engrossed in the old piano she quietly excused herself and almost ran to her bedroom. She wasn't ready for this, for him being in her living room, it was a mistake. As she was pacing the floor thinking of a way to politely get rid of him her thoughts were interrupted by soft solemn music.
She listened for a while. Whatever the piece was it was beautiful. She slowly opened her bedroom door and stood in the doorway to listen. Severus was playing, his eyes were closed and his expression was almost painful. Although they were in her quarters she felt like she was intruding on something personal but she couldn't look away. She carefully made her way over to him and stood next to him so she could see his well practised hands glide over the keys. As he came slowly to the end, Minerva watched him open his eyes and although he was looking at her, he seemed to seeing something different. She wasn't sure what to say to him and for a second they both stared at each other.
"You play very beautifully." She said, after awhile and she noticed the way her words seemed to shake him out of whatever he was seeing. He stood up abruptly and Minerva took a step back.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..." Minerva placed a gentle hand on his arm and he froze immediately.
"Nonsense. It is neglected by me, so if you can find some use for it then by all means play." She followed his eyes as he stared at her hand and she quickly dropped it to her side and moved away from him.
"My father hated music." He said suddenly and she turned back to face him.
"How did you learn to play?"
"He worked nights. My mother would teach me in the evenings." He moved back to the piano as if drawn in by it and Minerva watched him finger the keys. "Did you know her?" He asked, without looking up. Minerva frowned for a second before realising what it was he was asking her.
"She would have been around the same age as you."
"She was," she nodded and made her way back over to the piano to lean against it. "And yes, I did know her. Not well but... our families moved in the same circles."
"What can you tell me about her?" His eyes were completely focused on the keys as he played a made up tune quietly.
"She was a nice girl, gentle and always very polite." For some reason she felt uncomfortable talking about Eileen. Although they didn't know each other very well there was one thing they shared in common.
"Why did she marry my father?" Severus asked but Minerva shrugged her shoulders.
"I think she was in love with him." She watched Severus scowl and his hands tightened into fists.
"Is it true I could have been a Black?" Minerva's heart skipped a beat and her answer faltered slightly.
"Yes... I think so," she said, not sure how much to reveal to him.
"Then why didn't she marry him?"
"For the same reason as the rest of us. We were sick of people telling us what we should and shouldn't do." She watched Severus' face suddenly change with interest and she realised she'd said too much. She moved away from the piano quickly and when she spoke her voice was that which she used with difficult students. "Your mother was a good woman Severus, I know you may have heard differently but I liked her well." She turned back to face him and he was watching her intently. As she observed him she realised that it wasn't Eileen she was uncomfortable talking about... it was having this conversation with her son. She took a deep breath.
"Thank you," he said suddenly before turning his attention back to the piano.
"Are you alright?" She asked, sensing vulnerability in him that she would never have associated with the boy.
"The last time I played the piano was for her." When he looked up at her Minerva had a strong urge to go to him but she knew she couldn't. Not only would he refuse her comfort but she still wasn't ready to pass that line in their friendship. For Minerva this conversation was too personal and she wanted to leave the discussion behind.
"Would you like some more tea?" She asked, stepping towards the tea pot.
"I should go." She turned to see him making his way to the door and felt both relief and disappointment at his departure.
"Certainly," she said, seeing him to the door. As he stepped into the corridor he turned back to look at her and she waited while he seemed to mull something over in his head.
"Thank you for the tea," he nodded politely and Minerva smiled slightly. Just as he was about to leave he glanced over at the piano with a longing she found touching. Then without further delay he turned and was marching through the halls before she could say anything else.
Minerva watched him for a second before closing the door quietly behind her. Their conversation had been strange and unsettling and Minerva was left wondering about what exactly Severus had been through as a child. She had no doubt Eileen would have been a good mother but there had always been rumours surrounding the young couple when they wed. Of course, Minerva believed very little of them but once Severus came to Hogwarts she couldn't help but wonder at the truth in the gossip. She hoped for Severus' sake that they were indeed not as bad as rumour had it.
She moved over to her piano and sat down where Severus had played so beautifully. She stroked the keys gently and summoned her elf.
"Miss Neva summoned Teensy?" The elf asked, bowing slightly and Minerva smiled.
"I have a favour to ask of you and you must do it tomorrow."
The next morning Minerva was walking back from breakfast with the intention of finding Teensy to see if she had indeed done as she had asked. As she made her way back to her own room she could heard footsteps behind her.
"I've been looking for you." A voice said, making Minerva jump slightly. She turned around to see Pomona walking briskly toward her and she sighed.
"Really? I've been avoiding you." Minerva replied without really thinking. She hadn't spoken to her friend since their conversation in the library and although Minerva wasn't one to run from anything, she desperately didn't want to have this conversation.
"I just..." Minerva watched the other woman shrug her shoulders helplessly and although she was angry, she couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her friend. After all, what did one say to someone like herself? "I wanted to say I was sorry." Pomona said with a slight shake of her head as if knowing that nothing she could say would make the past any less painful to bear.
"You have nothing to apologise for. I never told you, so how were you to know?" Minerva gave her a friendly smile but Pomona eyes were still filled with guilt.
"I still feel bad." She said.
"Don't." Minerva placed a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. If anyone should be apologising it should be me." She leaned in closely to Pomona and whispered, "But if you don't mind, I'm still not quite ready." Minerva winked and Pomona laughed, obviously pleased that the tension had been broken.
"I'll be here when you are." She said and Minerva laughed too but they both knew they would never really talk about this again. "I've been thinking about what you said." Minerva glanced sideways at the other woman as they walked down the corridor together.
"What did I say?"
"Oh?" For some reason she felt her whole body stiffen at the sound of his name and apprehensive of what Pomona was going to say.
"I can't accept him as easily as you have." Minerva let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd held as Pomona played with the frayed sleeve of her old gardening robes.
"You think it was easy?" Minerva asked with a dry laugh. Pomona frowned.
"You and Filius..."
"It wasn't easy Pomona and it still isn't. It's a constant struggle." She stopped and turned to face her friend. "I've spent the last three days trying to..." What exactly had she been trying to do with him? She threw her hands up in the air in frustration. "... trying to at least talk to him and only yesterday did I manage to hold a conversation with him that didn't end in an argument." She brushed a hand over her hair not really sure why she was getting so worked up about this.
"I wish I was as forgiving as you."
"He has done nothing to us, there is nothing to forgive." Minerva said, echoing Sir John's wise words and hoping they would help Pomona find it in herself to give the boy a chance. Pomona shook her head and gave Minerva a distrustful look.
"I don't see it like that." She said and although Minerva wanted to argue her point she didn't want to be on bad terms with one of her oldest friends.
"Please Pomona; I don't want to argue again." Pomona relaxed, seeming to understand the slight pleading in Minerva's voice.
"Neither do I." There was a slight pause, both wondering what they should say next when Albus suddenly appeared, breaking the silence.
"Ah there you are, Minerva." He said with a joyful smile, oblivious to what was going on between the two women and Minerva thanked the Gods for his timely arrival. "Good morning Pomona, would you mind if I stole Minerva away from you?"
"Not at all Headmaster. I'll see you both at lunch." Minerva smiled when she felt the other woman squeeze her hand as she passed.
Minerva stared at the Headmaster waiting for him to talk but his eyes were on the Herbology professor as he watched her walk out of sight. Minerva was about to question him when he suddenly steered her outside with a hand on her lower back.
"Severus was asking about you yesterday." He said as they approached the fountain in the middle courtyard. Minerva turned around to face him with a frown.
"He seems quite intrigued." Albus said, watching the stone gargoyles jumping into the water from the top of the fountain. She knew what he was doing. Pretend not to care, make others come to him.
"I doubt that." She said, turning her eyes from him and refusing to rise to the bait no matter how innocent or playful his tactics were.
"Are you still making an effort with him?" She wiped around to look him fully in the eye.
"Why are you pushing us together so insistently?"
"I think Severus needs someone to talk to, he always seemed fond of you when he was a student and you always spoke so highly of him."
"He was very talented, you know that," she said, probably sounding more defensive than was necessary.
"I do, I do." Albus said nodding knowingly and Minerva watched him play with the wispy ends of his beard. She hated herself for what she about to do; she was rising to the bait.
"There's something you're not telling me."
"There's a meeting tonight that I'd like you to attend." Minerva frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. There was only one meeting he could be talking about.
"You're finally allowing me to join the order?" There was nothing to read on the man's face and it annoyed Minerva that he still refused to talk about it.
"No." Minerva shook her head angrily; she knew he'd say that.
"There's something I'd like you to hear," he said, turning to her slightly. Minerva frowned, her mind racing.
"What..?" But Albus held up his hand to stop her from talking.
"You'll find out tonight. It starts at 7pm," he began to walk away but he turned slightly to talk over his shoulder. "Try not to be late." Minerva clenched her fists and she knew that this time Albus was winding her up.
"I'm never late." She replied and it infuriated her even more to see him chuckle as he re-entered the castle.
Minerva stared into the water trying to get her emotions under control. Of course, she knew why he still denied her request to officially join the Order but it still made her furious. She sighed and summoned Teensy to her.
"Good morning Miss Neva," she said, her wide eyes brimming with excitement.
"Is it done?" Minerva asked, trying to work up the enthusiasm that Teensy showed.
"Yes Miss Neva, Teensy did as you asked." Minerva smiled genuinely then and she nodded to her elf.
"Thank you Teensy, let's hope he uses it more than I did." The elf bowed and disappeared and Minerva headed back towards her rooms before the start of her first lesson.
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.
Minerva folded the corner of her page back and closed the book she had been reading. She'd had a long day, a very long day. And although she had always enjoyed the Halloween Feast, this year's festivities were rather more rambunctious than usual. She'd found many students out of bed trying to play tricks on opposing houses and one or two couples in various empty classrooms. Now however, she had finished her patrolling shift and all that had troubled her was someone else's problem. She didn't normally like to pass off responsibilities onto other staff members but tonight she pushed all those thoughts from her mind. She looked up at the portrait above her fire place and found that Leander was already asleep in his lion form. It must have been a lot later than she thought if he'd fallen asleep while she was still awake. She placed her book on the table beside her sofa and with a stretch, made her way toward her bedroom.
Minerva quickly went about her nightly routine and she slipped into a long sleeved white cotton nightgown that was perhaps a little too thin for the end of October. She sat down in front of the old mirror on top of the equally old vanity desk and pulled the pins from her bun. She began combing her fingers through her hair, taking away the days tension and then ran a brush through her dark tresses. She closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation and then began to braid her long hair. She had just tied off the end when she heard Leander speak from behind her.
"My Lady," he panted, his handsome face contorted with concern and alarm.
"What is it?" Minerva asked, feeling a dark sense of foreboding in her stomach.
"The Headmaster has sent for you, he asked you to meet him in the courtyard. Do not waste time my Lady!" Leander said, stopping Minerva from collecting her dressing gown. "Make haste!" Leander dashed from the portrait and Minerva rushed into the living room.
"The Headmaster has asked for your help Neva," the man said, interrupting her. "Now go, quickly!" The door to her quarters swung open and Minerva ran into the corridor, her wand gripped tightly in her hand.
The cold autumn air hit her like a ton of bricks when she burst through the main doors and into the courtyard. She ran to the walk way, slipping on the rain soaked stones and she realised she was bare foot. She was about to use a warming charm on her freezing cold feet when she caught sight of something ahead of her.
Albus was staggering toward her through the mist that had gathered around the castle and Minerva ran toward him when she realised he was half carrying someone with him.
"Albus!" As she neared him he stopped, exhausted and gently let the person he was supporting fall to the floor.
"Take him home Minerva," Albus said, touching her shoulder gently. "Take him home and care for him. He's been through enough tonight." Albus strode away from them and Minerva watched him disappear into the fog again. She slowly knelt down in front of the man and nudged his hair away from his face.
"Come Severus," she whispered affectionately. "Let us go home." She was surprised at how willingly he took hold of her hand and she helped him up into a standing position. At his first step his knees gave way and he gripped Minerva tightly. Minerva stumbled and she heard her nightgown tear as he pulled on her but she managed to keep them both up right. "You need to go to the hospital wing," she said but Severus shook his head violently.
"Bed." That was all he said and Minerva pressed her lips together.
"Hold onto me," she said as she pulled one of his arms over her shoulder and she felt him grip her arms tightly. She knew she'd have bruises tomorrow. They slowly made their way back to the castle and Minerva struggled to keep her feet from slipping on the stones.
Finally they reached the main doors and they stumbled inside. Minerva quickly grabbed Severus before he fell face first in the wall and she helped him along the corridor. Severus made a beeline for the dungeons but Minerva knew they'd never make it down the stairs in his condition. After making a quick decision she helped him up the stairs to the first floor and pulled him toward her quarters.
Leander was pacing back and forth in his portrait and when they approached him he stood stock still, watching them carefully.
"Open the door now!" Minerva shouted and the door flew open instantly. Despite his slim frame, Severus was dead weight around her neck and she was beginning to weaken under the strain. As they entered the warmth of her chambers Severus tried to head for the nearest chair but with her last ounce of strength, Minerva steered him toward her bedroom. She pushed him toward her bed and he fell into it heavily while Minerva fell onto her knees on the floor in front of him. She took a few deep breaths before standing on shaky legs and leaning over him to check that he was alright. He slowly looked up into her eyes and Minerva hoped she was successful at holding back the shock she felt at what she saw.
Severus looked completely broken. He was pale and his eyes seemed empty. He was lost. It was a look she remembered on herself long ago when she peered into the mirror.
"He promised..." His breath caught in his throat as he tried to speak.
"Severus..." she brushed a hand across his forehead and she watched as tears fell across his cheeks.
"He promised..." he tried again but his voice was hoarse as if he'd been screaming for hours. "He promised to keep them... it's all my fault." He closed his eyes tightly and then surprised Minerva by sitting up sharply and grabbing her shoulder tightly.
"Severus..." She felt a twinge of fear in her chest at the intensity on his face.
"The Potters are dead," he said with a surreal calmness that made Minerva just stare at him for a second until his words actually sunk into her mind. "They're dead." He repeated. There was no emotion to his voice, nothing in his eyes. He was a blank canvass and Minerva wasn't sure what upset her more, the death of her favourite students or her colleague's complete and utter despair. "It's all my fault," he said quietly, more to himself than to her.
"I don't believe that," Minerva said, shaking her head and feeling her own tears splash down her cheeks. "You came to us... you've told us things... they went into hiding because you..." Severus flinched at her words and she stopped talking.
"Yes, they were in hiding... because of..." He swallowed hard and his eyes fell to her neck. "It's my fault." Minerva tried to read what was in his eyes but he'd closed himself off to her.
"The Potter's death is not your fault. No one could have stopped him!"
"I should have tried harder! I should have pressed him for more details... I should have pushed further into his thoughts..."
"But then you would be dead too!" Minerva exclaimed, holding his face between her hands, making him look at her. Severus closed his eyes, more tears spilling from under his lashes. They fell silent for a moment until Severus opened his eyes and looked at her.
"The boy... Lily's – " his breath caught. "Lily's son survived."
"What?" But Minerva knew she'd heard him correctly. She shook her head slightly in disbelief. "But how..?"
"I don't know," Severus said with an unconcerned shrug. "But I think... I think the Dark Lord... I think he's dead."
Minerva stared at him in amazement. Could it be true? She felt her body jump up from the bed and a sudden wave of dizziness washed over her. She knocked into the bedside table and she felt Severus' hands reached out for her waist to steady her. She tried to hold back the first sob that racked her body, unable to let herself believe in what Severus thought might have happened. Could he really be dead? Could all this really be over?
"Minerva..?" She quickly wiped away her tears and took a deep breath before turning back to face Severus.
"You need to rest," she said, unclenching his fists from her nightgown. "Stay here, I'll be right back." She threw on an emerald green teaching robe over her nightgown and slipped into her shoes as she headed for the door. As she was about to exit her quarters she turned back to see Severus standing at the doorway to her bedroom, watching her carefully. She opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it and fled into the corridor.
Minerva was running toward Albus' office when someone nearly collided into her. She stopped short and held her hand over her heart as her eyes travelled up the large body of Hagrid.
"Hagrid, you gave me a fright!" She exclaimed and Hagrid looked down at the floor.
"Sorry Professor," he said, wringing his hands together. "I need to get to Professor Dumbledore's office."
"I'm heading right there now," Minerva said as she and Hagrid quickly walked the rest of the way.
"Have yer heard?" Hagrid asked after a second. "'bout the Potters?"
"Yes," Minerva said with a twinge of sadness and she looked up at Hagrid who blew his nose into his large spotty handkerchief. She watched him out the corner of her eye, waiting to see if he had heard anything of You-Know-Who or the Potter boy but he remained silent.
"They were a nice couple," he muttered when he managed to get his emotions under control.
They reached the Headmaster's office and Minerva shouted the password as she jumped onto the stairs and ran the rest of way. She burst into Albus' office and although she knew he probably wouldn't be there she couldn't help but feel frustrated at the same time.
"Do you know where he is?" She asked as she turned to look at Hagrid.
"No... he sent Fawkes." Hagrid pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. "Said to bring the 'package' Sirius had to Privet Drive, does it mean anythin' to yer?"
"Privet Drive? No, it doesn't." She handed the note back and headed for the stairs. "You should floo straight to Godric's Hollow, Sirius will be waiting for you," she said as she passed Hagrid and he touched her shoulder.
"Is everythin' alrigh' Professor?" He asked and she nodded. She looked up into his eyes and she knew he could tell she was lying but just as always, he never pushed. He'd find out soon enough anyway, she thought as she made her way down the stairs and headed for her quarters.
When she made her way back into chambers Leander was nowhere in sight and she guessed he must have gone to find out the gossip now working its way around the castle. She hoped he would be discreet on who currently resided in her rooms. Thinking of Severus she made her way to her bedroom and found the young man sitting in her window seat fast asleep.
She slowly made her way over to him and sat next to him, careful not wake him. She looked at his face and even in sleep he seemed pained. She brushed a piece of hair from his face and his eyes fluttered open when her finger tips brushed his skin.
"Where'd you go?" He asked in a whisper.
"To look for Albus," she said, pulling the throw from her bed and covering Severus with it.
"Did you find him?" She shook her head and Severus turned to look out of the window.
"But I know where he'll be going," she said and he slowly turned to look at her.
"I want to come with you," he said, knowing she was planning on looking for the Headmaster but she shook her head.
"I think it's best if you stay here," she said and he grabbed her arm.
"Do you trust me Professor?" He asked in a sudden outburst, his voice bordering on desperation.
Minerva froze and stared at him for a few seconds. Did she trust him? She knew what he was worried about. His master had been vanquished, leaving behind his followers to face the consequences. His hands clenched tighter on her arms and she squirmed uncomfortably. He must have seen her unease as suddenly his face went blank and he dropped his hands from her arms.
"Perhaps I do deserve to go to Azkaban. The things I've seen..."
"Listen to me Severus Snape," she said interrupting him. She may be undecided on her level of trust of him but she knew he didn't deserve a life amongst the dregs of society. "Azkaban prison is no place for you. Yes you may have played witness to some atrocities but you have a long life ahead of you to redeem yourself. This will be your fresh start and you should grasp it with both hands." She took hold of his hands and squeezed them tightly. "Albus will stand by you, Severus, you know he will." His eyes dropped to the floor as if he was embarrassed by what she was saying and when he spoke his voice was so quiet she had to strain to hear him.
"Will you?" He looked up at her when she didn't answer straight away. "Will you stand by me?"
"Yes," she said without thinking, surprising herself at the genuine feeling of loyalty toward him. "Yes I will." Severus closed his eyes and nodded with a sigh of relief.
"I..." he shook his head as if dismissing what he was about to say and opened his eyes to look her. She could read his appreciation in his eyes and she nodded.
"I have to go," she said after a second. "Try and get some rest."
Severus said nothing more and turned his head to look out the window again. Minerva glanced over her shoulder at him before stepping into her living room. She took out her wand and summoned a patronus.
"Severus is in my quarters, please watch over him while I find Albus." She said before sending the small tabby cat to relay the message to Filius. She took a small amount of floo powder into her hand and threw it into the fire before stepping into the green flame.
"The Hogs Head!"
The next night, Minerva and Albus stepped out of the fireplace into his office. Albus moved straight to his desk and sat down while Minerva remained by the fire. She folded her arms over her chest and watched the Headmaster sort through a pile of letters as if nothing had happened.
"This isn't right Albus," she said with a hard edge to her voice. Albus looked up at her as if he were surprised to see her there.
"It is imperative he remain anonymous, he cannot grow up famous. Living with his aunt and uncle will give him the protection he needs. Here, in our world, his life is still in danger. Sending Harry away was the only way to ensure his survival." Albus took a breath and Minerva looked away from him but she could still feel his eyes on her. "I thought you of all people would have understood my reasons."
At that Minerva's head spun around to face him and she narrowed her eyes at him. How could he do this to her? How could he dredge up a past that she'd tried so hard to put behind her? Minerva felt her anger simmering under her skin and she turned toward the door, wanting to head to her quarters before she said something she'd later regret.
"How is Severus?" Albus asked before she could open the door. Minerva sighed and turned to look at him over her shoulder. He was looking at her with an apology in his eyes and she swallowed deeply before answering him. She knew he hadn't meant to upset her.
"Fine... shaken," she added after a second. "When I left him he was thinking about what would happen to him now that..."
"Yes," Albus gave a remorseful nod. "I have already had pressure from the Governors Board."
"They've asked you to remove him from the staff?" She asked carefully and when he nodded she felt outraged. "But you're not going to..." He held up a hand to interrupt her with a slight smile.
"Do not worry my dear," he said. "I do not intend to remove him from his post but it is regrettable that he will still have to stand trial."
"Stand trial?" Minerva shook her head. "But he..." She stopped and took a deep breath. If Severus were to stand trial he wouldn't stand a chance. They'd send him to Azkaban Prison for sure.
"I will speak on his behalf. I will give evidence of his allegiance; you have nothing to worry about Minerva. He will not go to Azkaban." Minerva couldn't help the breath of relief that she let out and Albus smiled over at her gently. "I do believe you have become rather fond of our Potions Master, Neva."
"I think fond is too strong a word Albus, perhaps tolerant is a better one. We have learned to tolerate each other." She avoided his eyes because she knew he could hear the white lie in her words. She had indeed become fond of the young man. In fact, she had been fond of him at school and despite what she'd heard of his past, she was pleased to see that deep down, he had not much changed since his school days. Of course there were things about him that she did not know and would never wish to know, but that didn't change the fact that she often sought out his company during meal times.
"Well whatever you wish to call it," he said looking down at his letters. "I think he will come to depend on it in the coming weeks." Minerva watched him pick up his quill and he began to reply to a letter he had just opened. "There are celebratory festivities in the Great Hall, you should go enjoy yourself." Minerva wanted to say more but she knew she had been dismissed. She shook her head affectionately and gave a slight laugh.
"Goodnight Headmaster," she said and she heard his sing song reply just as she was closing the door behind her.
As Minerva headed back to her quarters she couldn't help but think about the man she had left there. Severus hadn't said much after his return but she could tell that whatever had really happened on Hallows Eve had shaken him more than he would ever admit. She knew from his school days that he had once been friendly with Lily but their friendship seemed to dwindle as they progressed through the school. She knew Severus probably mourned the death of his childhood friend but it wouldn't account for his desolate behaviour. Or had the children's bond been stronger than she had ever noticed?
As she drew near her door she noticed Leander was still missing. No doubt he would be celebrating with the rest of the school. She let herself into her quarters as quietly as she could and the first thing she spotted was Filius fast asleep in the armchair in front of her fire. As she made her way over to him she noticed the fire had burned out and the air was beginning to chill. She conjured a woollen throw and carefully draped it over him to keep him warm. She didn't have the heart to wake him but she took the fact that he was still here to mean that he had stayed with Severus for the whole day. She was grateful to think that Severus hadn't been left alone.
After making sure Filius was still asleep she made her way into her bedroom in search of her other colleague. She knocked gently, even though the door was open and entered slowly. She looked toward the bed but instead found him at the window, in the exact same place as she'd left him. Had it not been for the crumbled bed she'd have wondered if he'd moved at all since she'd left him last night. She stepped toward him and he turned to look at her.
"I'm not a child Professor, there was no need to send a babysitter." Minerva stopped at the contemptible look on his face and she took a minute to choose her words carefully.
"It was for my own peace of mind Severus, I meant no harm by it." Severus studied her warily and he shifted in the window seat, leaving space for another person. She took it as a sign of forgiveness.
"Filius lost his son in the Second World War, did you know?" He asked as she sat down beside him.
"Yes I did."
"And his wife died soon after," he added, his eyes trained on the trees outside. "Did you know that too?"
"Yes." She had a nervousness feeling in her stomach when he turned to look at her. Filius had shared the same story with her when she had first arrived at Hogwarts and she knew the older man would not have betrayed her confidence and informed Severus of what she had confided in him. But she could already see the burning questions in Severus' eyes and she dreaded his next words.
"Your scar... is it to do with your husband dying?"
"Yes." She realised it was all she had been able to say for the last ten minutes but she didn't trust her voice to keep the emotion out of her words. He nodded and reached out a hand to gently take her wrist. Her pulled back her robe and turned her arm over so that he could see the long thin scar. He traced his finger lightly across it and Minerva shuddered under his touch, sending sparks down her spine and stirring up feelings she hadn't let herself experience in a long time.
"You must be tired," he said, looking up into her face. His fingers were still tracing her marred skin and she managed to shake her head. Despite spending the better part of an entire day sitting on a cold stone wall in her animagus form, she felt wide awake. There was too much on her mind.
"I don't think sleep would come tonight," she whispered. Severus lifted his fingers from her skin for a second before replacing his index finger, followed by his thumb, then his index finger again. She kept her eyes on his as she felt him tap his fingers across her scar until she suddenly realised what he was doing. He was playing something on her arm, as if there were keys tattooed on her skin and she smiled softly. "What are you playing?" She asked, knowing from the look in his eyes that he could hear the tune in his mind.
"I want to show you," he whispered. He laid his hand securely on her own and pulled her up from the window seat. He grabbed the throw she had given him earlier and draped it across her shoulders. They slowly made their way into her living room, trying to be as quiet as possible as they made their way to the door. Severus turned to Minerva and took hold of her hand again, he squeezed it gently and she let him lead her down into the cold, dark dungeons.
Severus made his way into the Lestrange household, nodding his greeting as he passed Wilkes and Avery.
"We're hunting tonight my friend," Wilkes said as he slung an arm over Severus' shoulder.
"Hunting?" Severus said, trying to sound interested.
"Benji Fenwick," Avery said as he joined them.
"Benji..?" Severus stopped walking and turned to look at his former school friends. "He's one of..."
"Dumbledore's?" Wilkes finished for him with a broad grin. "Yeah he is, been causing a lot of trouble for us at the Ministry."
"What do you say Snape? Up for some fun?" Avery clapped a heavy hand on his back and Severus forced out a slight smirk.
"I must see our Master first, then perhaps..." He left his sentence open as he left Wilkes and Avery jostling with each other in anticipation of tonight's activities.
Severus slowly stepped into the study and Bellatrix turned on him instantly.
"Here he is... Dumbledore's lapdog!" She spat gleefully and waved her wand dangerously under Severus' neck.
"Silence!" The Dark Lord's voice rang through the room and Bellatrix immediately stepped away from Severus. "You have information for me Severus?" He asked, beckoning Severus over to him.
"You asked me to track the Order's movements tonight my Lord." The Dark Lord looked pleased at the prospect of news and he leaned forward in his chair to look at Severus. "Most members of the Order will be away tonight, they think they have information on where you are hiding." The Dark Lord barked a laugh and indicated for Severus to continue. "I can tell you my Lord that the Ministry will be unprotected tonight. Benji Fenwick and Alastor Moody are the only Order members there. If my Lord wishes to make an attack, tonight would be the most opportunistic."
"Excellent!" The Dark Lord stood from his chair and sneered at his followers. "Go Bellatrix; take the group to the Ministry!" Severus watched the crazed witch fly from the room. His mind was whirling. The trap these people would be walking into wouldn't fail but he couldn't help but wonder what would happen to Fenwick.
"You are not going with them my Lord?" Severus asked carefully, surprised that he wouldn't be joining such an epic milestone in his plan to take over the wizarding authorities.
"No my faithful servant, tonight, I have more important matters to attend to." He drifted across the room and Severus followed him, keeping a cautious few steps behind him.
"Please my Lord, may I ask..?" The Dark Lord whipped around to look at Severus and he tried not to flinch at the sudden movement but he still took a step back.
"I," he said in a sing song way. "Am searching for the chosen one," he said with bright eyes. "I know where they are Severus..." And with that the Dark Lord vanished.
Severus felt as if his chest had caved in on itself. He couldn't mean... He raced down the hall, heading for the fire place when someone stepped out of the shadows.
"You!" Severus shouted, pointing his wand into the other man's face.
"Yes Severus, it is I..." Peter Pettigrew smiled maliciously and pushed Severus' wand away from his face.
"What are you doing here?" Severus asked suspiciously. Albus had not said anything about sending another spy into their fold.
"Serving our Master," he whispered. "I have given him there the whereabouts of the Potters, he will kill them Severus and then... nothing will be in his way!" Wormtail laughed, his eyes rolling back in his head making him seem insane.
Severus didn't know what to say to Wormtail's revelation. He was stunned! How could he... a Gryffindor, betray his friends? Severus shook his head, he had to stop this! He grabbed the front of Wormtail's robes and pushed him up against the wall.
"Where are they Pettigrew?" He asked, furiously. "Where did you send him?"
"God... Godric's Hollow..." He stammered, alarmed and confused at Severus' outburst.
"You will take me there!" Severus pulled Wormtail into the fire place that took them to Borgin and Burkes. He continued to drag the traitorous snitch out of the shop and the two of them apparated to Godric's Hollow.
As soon as his feet hit the floor Severus looked up to see a small house in front of him. Wormtail pointed to it.
"There, that's it!" He said, looking up at Severus with terror in his eyes.
Severus looked up at a small window and took a step toward the house. There was a sudden flash of green light and his heart stopped. NO! Please Gods, no! He went to take another step when he saw another flash of green and suddenly the pain in his left arm was unbearable. He collapsed on the floor with an agonised scream, his eyes clenched shut and he could hear the cries of Wormtail behind him as he too fell to the floor. Severus forced his eyes open and he looked up just in time to see the side of the house explode; glass and wood rained down on him as a screaming shadow passed over them and disappeared into the night sky. Severus staggered to his feet and in the background he could hear Wormtail muttering something.
"Get out of here!" Severus barked at him and Wormtail immediately took off. Severus looked up at the house and time seemed to slow down as he headed inside, searching of what his desolate heart already knew he would find.
Severus opened his eyes to see that they were standing outside the door to his office. Sir John was looking at him with a worried expression but he knew it hadn't been his voice that had brought him out of his dark thoughts.
"Severus?" He suddenly realised that there was a warm hand in his and he closed his eyes again, taking something, he didn't know what, from the security of its sturdiness. He turned to the person next to him and opened his eyes. He had expected to see pity or apprehension in her expression but instead, Professor McGonagall stood before him as confidently and unyielding as ever. It was good to know there was still some certainty in his world.
He turned his attention to his Dolor Altor and nodded his head. Sir John opened the door for them and when Severus led his former Professor through the door and the tapestry in his office he heard the door to his private chambers open too. Sir John remained quiet the whole time for which Severus was glad. Despite some of the things he often threatened Sir John with; he did actually like the painted man.
"I'll give you some space lad," Sir John said with a comforting smile. "You know where to find me should you need anything." Severus nodded and was surprised when Sir John gave him a slight bow.
"Thank you Sir John," Severus muttered. He stood in the middle of his rooms, not sure what to do with himself. He felt her thumb stoke his knuckles once and he looked down at the hand he still clasped in his own. He knew he should drop it, he should let go of her but he couldn't. He once let go of Lily's hand and look where that had gotten him...
"Severus," her voice was soothing and warm. "Will you play for me?" She asked, brushing her thumb over his knuckles again. He nodded, remembering why he brought her here in the first place and led her over to the piano.
Severus withdrew his wand and extended the piano stool before pulling Professor McGonagall down onto the seat with him. They both sat facing the piano for a moment, hand in hand, lost in their own thoughts. Severus placed his other hand on top of hers and once again began to tap his fingers across her skin. When he'd been in her rooms he hadn't quite realised what he'd been doing until she spoke to him. He'd never done it to another person before. When he was a child the action had been a comforting way to block out the sounds of his father's voice, it was his way to escape the reality of what was happening around him. He hadn't done this since the night he finally left his father's house for the last time. He'd been 18.
"Do you know Chopin?" He asked, placing his right hand on the keys while he kept hold of her hand with the other.
"Not as well as I should like," she answered quietly and Severus nodded.
"Chopin wrote a series of Preludes... I found them once in the library in – Spinner's End," he choked on the name of the village where he grew up but moved on quickly. "Opus 28, number 4."
Severus finally untangled his hand from hers and began to play. The music was just as haunting and wonderful as he remembered, the simple melody changing back and forth between two notes before descending. He hadn't played like this in a long time. He closed his eyes when there was a pause in the music and he took a breath. He could feel the tension building in his chest, the previous day's emotion making him press the keys harder than was necessary. He poured everything he was feeling into the music. He continued with the piece, returning to the beginning but this time going through a different string of harmonies. It built in him, the music soaring to a bittersweet climax before descending again, falling into the three-chord ending. It was exquisite... he was exhausted.
"Suffocation," he said, removing his hands from the keys. "That's what people call it." He turned to look at his former teacher beside him. Her eyes were closed but tears streamed down her face as she cried silently.
Severus felt something break inside his chest when she finally opened her eyes to look at him. He could see exactly what he was feeling in her eyes, she mirrored him completely. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to touch her and after a moment's hesitation he brought his hand to her face and brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. Her eyes fluttered closed and she did something that he least expected. She leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder. He froze for a second until he felt one of her arms circle around his back and he found his own wrapping around her slight frame.
Just over 24 hours ago he'd done the same thing with Lily. He'd held her as her flesh cooled under his fingers, her lifeless arms dangled by her side. Severus breathed deeply, swallowing his tears and he pressed his nose into Professor McGonagall's hair. She was still warm, the arm around his waist tightened and the other slowly lifted to the piano. He watched her fingers dance across the keys lightly, barely making a noise but Severus could hear every note clearly in his head. He tightened his arms around her, bringing one hand up to brush across her neck and he could feel the reassuring pulse under his finger tips. The image of Lily's unresponsive body on the floor of the nursery slowly filtering from his mind as he allowed himself to fall against the woman he held. Holding her close he listened to her steady breathing and concentrated on the rhythmic pulse under his fingers...
Severus woke with a start, forcing his body to sit up quickly and he found himself being wrapped in someone's arms. He relaxed as soon as he felt her hands rubbing circles across his back. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her neck as he tried to push the images out of his mind.
"Don't ignore them Severus," she whispered into his ear as if she knew what he was thinking. "You must confront whatever it is that you're feeling." He pulled back to look into her eyes and he knew instantly that she didn't know. For a second he had wondered if Albus had told her of Lily, told her why he was there... but looking at her now he could see the uncertainty. She had a feeling, but true to her character she wouldn't make the leap without the facts.
"Is that what you did?" Severus moved away from her slightly and realised he was in bed. He couldn't remember how he got there.
"No." She said, sadly. "And because of that... I still live it every day."
"What happened to him?" Severus asked, feeling drawn to her in that moment. "Your husband?"
"He was murdered Severus," she said in a factual tone that surprised him. "Murdered at our home..."
"In front of you," he stated, remembering what he'd over heard in the library that day.
"Who did it?"
"Adelwolf Rosier and his friends." Her eyes studied him, waiting for the connection to drop and Severus blanched slightly when the realisation hit him.
"Evan Rosier's father?" He stared at Professor McGonagall, horrified at her information. He had been close friends with Evan when they had attended Hogwarts together, what must she think of him? "Was it... did the Dark Lord send them?" He asked, leaning toward her, knowing that Adelwolf had had strong ties within the Dark Lord's followers.
"I doubt that he did," she said with a wry smile. "I don't think You-Know-Who cared about the details of my marriage."
"Then why –"
"Because I married a muggle." She said cutting him off. Severus had to admit he was taken aback. He thought back to what Sir John had said to him all that time ago.
"She left, disappeared. She signed her sisters' name as caretaker for the estate and left."
Had her muggle husband been the reason for her disappearance? Had she done it to protect him?
"You seem surprised," she said softly, a ghost of a smile playing on her lips.
"There are lots of us who..." he paused, catching what he'd said. Us. "There are many witches and wizards who fall in love with muggles, why would you be any different?"
"I was destined to marry well," she said with a dry laugh. If she'd heard his slip, she didn't give him any indication that she had. "In other words, I was expected to marry a pure blood."
"They killed your husband because they didn't like your decision?" There must have been more to it. He watched his colleague study him for a second and from the way she was looking at him, he thought she wasn't going to tell him anything more.
"I believe they killed him as punishment. I was what they called 'reckless' in those days and recklessness in women was not tolerated amongst pure blood families."
"Did they give you that scar too?" He asked and he knew he was pushing too far but Professor McGonagall gave him a gentle smile.
"Not this one," she said softly.
This one? There were more? Severus was about to question her further but she suddenly stood up from his bed.
"You should rest; I doubt you've had much sleep." She placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him down under the covers. He opened his mouth to say something but she placed her index finger on his lips. "Not tonight Severus, I can't talk about this tonight."
There was something in her eyes, a sadness so deep that he believed he could almost see her soul weeping. Just as she was about to leave he grabbed the hand that was pulling away from his lips and held it flat against his cheek. Professor McGonagall turned back to him and this time he could see pity in her eyes. That wasn't what he wanted. She brushed his cheek with her thumb and ran her other hand over his forehead affectionately. As Severus looked up into her breathtaking face he couldn't help the longing he felt for her. He desperately wanted to touch her lips.
"Sleep, Severus," she whispered, breaking his thoughts. He nodded and let go of her hand allowing her to move away from him. He felt both relieved and disappointed at the loss of her warmth but he ignored it. His thoughts were chaotic as he looked up at her.
He missed Lily... he was feeling this because he missed her... he was grieving her death... it had to be about Lily...it was all about Lily...
He watched Professor McGonagall leave his bedroom and the longing for her touch returned. He closed his eyes.
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.
The Royal Albert Hall was even grander than he had expected. Severus stood in the foyer and glanced up at the glittering chandeliers that hung from the ceiling all around the corridor. The red and gold decoration reminding him a little too much of what he always imagined the Gryffindor common room to look like, but in this instance he was willing to let the colour scheme go. It added to the theatres majesty.
Severus turned to see Professor McGonagall walking up the steps toward him. Her black hair glittered in the light in a way he'd never seen hair shine and he briefly wondered what it would feel like in his hands. The dress she wore moved fluidly with every step and it accentuated her slim figure. He couldn't help but picture what she wore underneath it which he hadn't quite forgotten about. She was glorious.
"Let's go to the bar," she said as she stepped up beside him. "My friends are gathering for a champagne reception. It would be nice to see them before we go in." She gave him a soft smile and Severus felt himself leaning unconsciously toward her.
"Does your friend know about..?" He left the question open knowing she would understand what he was asking. He took hold of her elbow gently and led her toward the stairs.
"Yes, he does." Severus raised his eyes at her, his next question forming in his mind but she answered it before he asked it. "He's not a wizard and neither is any of his family."
"Then how –"
"He's my brother-in-law." She kept her eyes straight ahead but Severus stopped on the stairs. He wasn't entirely sure why he felt uncomfortable about meeting his colleague's bother in law but he did.
"Your brother-in-law..." he whispered, looking into her eyes when she turned to look at him. "Your husband's brother?"
"Yes. Older brother. You're blocking the way Severus."
He frowned at her, confused by what she'd said until he felt someone brush passed him. He jumped forward, muttering a quick apology to the growing line behind him trying to get up the stairs. It was just as he was turning back to look at his colleague when he realised what he'd done. In his rush to get out of everyone's way he'd pushed Professor McGonagall up against the banister, their bodies now pressed together, faces inches from each other. Severus looked down at her, her lips parted slightly and her eyes were focused on his chest. She'd completely frozen underneath him but Severus felt an unwanted heat intruding on his body. He jumped back from her, knocking into someone on the stairs and almost knocked back into the woman he'd just moved away from. Suddenly he felt her hand on his and she pulled him up the rest of the stairs. Once they were at the top, Professor McGonagall ran her hands over her dress but avoided his eyes. She must have felt it too.
"Are you alright?" He asked, running a hand over his head. She nodded, glancing at him tentatively and turned quickly on her heel, leading the way to the bar.
"Neva!" The booming voice met Severus' ears as soon they entered the bar. The voice belonged to a older man or perhaps he would be best described as a beast. He was huge! He must have been at least 7 feet tall, his broad shoulders and muscular arms belying his true age. If this man was Professor McGonagall's brother-in-law, he had to be in his fifties, if not sixties. His hair was still dark but there were slithers of grey peeking through. His neatly trimmed thick beard going the same way as his hair added to the effect that this man could easily be a werewolf.
Severus watched as Professor McGonagall's eyes lit up excitedly at the sight of him. Her remarkable features attracting more than a few pairs of eyes in the room and Severus was surprised he'd even been watching other people's reactions to her. Professor McGonagall hugged the older man tightly and then she turned her incredible smile back to Severus.
"Severus I'd like you to meet Pete Hartley." Severus watched her untangle her arm from the older man and place a hand on his own shoulder. "Peter, I'd like you to meet Severus Snape."
"Severus, ey?" Pete stuck his hand out for Severus to shake and he almost regretted taking it, the larger man almost crushed his hand. "Mighty nice to meet ya son." Pete smiled warmly and despite himself, Severus took an instant liking to the burly man.
"Severus has just started teaching at the school," Professor McGonagall said and Pete clapped Severus on the back. He stumbled slightly from the force of it and he glanced at his former professor who gave him a sympathetic smile.
"How are you finding it?" Pete asked as he took them over to the bar. Severus was about to respond but Pete cut him off. "You can't have been out of school yourself all that long, were you taught by our Neva?" He handed the first glass to Professor McGonagall then gave one to Severus.
"Yes I was sir and I'm finding teaching to be an admirable occupation." Severus mumbled, feeling slightly out of place in front the large boisterous man that seemed unaware of the attention of his voice was bringing to their small group.
"Is she a good teacher? I can imagine it, although I can also imagine her being quite the disciplinarian too, ey?" Pete wrapped an affectionate arm around the woman he was talking about and Severus noticed the way she rolled her eyes.
"Ignore him Severus, Peter takes great pleasure in tormenting those that he apparently loves." She chuckled softly but it was drowned by the sound of Pete's roar of pretend outrage.
"Actually Professor McGonagall was one the best teachers Hogwarts has ever had. Yes she was strict but she was fair, she wouldn't treat you any differently no matter your background, what house you were in or your ability. She has great talent and taught me most of what I know today. She is well respected in our community and although I tend to dislike most Gryffindor's, I can't deny that this one at least, has good taste in music." Severus took a sip of his champagne. He wasn't entirely sure why he'd said what he'd said. He knew Pete was joking around with his former professor, almost like a sibling rivalry he had envied as a child, but he still couldn't resist the urge to stand up for her. He actually thought she might be angry, just yesterday she lectured him on not needing his protection and now here was, doing just that.
"Well now!" Pete smiled broadly and clapped a friendly hand on Severus' shoulder. Severus was pleased that it was a little gentler than the clap on his back earlier. "You're gonna fit in perfectly around here son, the ladies rule the roost. Us men, well, we just fall in line." He laughed and nudged Severus with his elbow. Severus watched the man kiss Professor McGonagall's cheek and with a mock bow, he left them alone.
"I should hate everything about him..." Severus said as he watched Pete greet a few other guests with as much gusto as he'd greeted his sister-in-law. "And yet I find myself drawn to him... what does that say about me?" He turned to look at his former teacher and she smiled.
"He has that effect on everyone; you can't help but adore him." She placed her untouched drink back on the bar and Severus noticed when she looked at him again, she'd grown serious. "Thank you for what you said."
"I was only speaking the truth," he said with a shrug. He meant every word he'd said.
"That is the second time you've spoken of me so highly," she gave him a sad smile and looked down at the floor. "I do not deserve such praise from you Severus." He couldn't help but frown.
"You do not deserve..? Professor I..."
"There was one time when I sided with those in my house, I brushed an incident off as a childish prank and I..." she took a deep breath. Severus froze as the unbearable memory she spoke of came rushing back to him. There was no denying he was angry, he'd always be angry about it but he didn't blame her. Not anymore. "I let you down, Severus and for that I..."
"I do not need anything from you Professor. When I... I said what I said because it is how I truly feel. Having Professor Slughorn as a Head of House... he was only interested in power... sometimes I wonder if I'd had someone looking out me, like you did with your Gryffindor's, would I have turned out the way I did?" He could feel something rising in his chest, a feeling he wasn't used to experiencing but it was somehow akin to how he'd felt when Lily died. He suddenly felt a hand in his and he looked up to see Professor McGonagall watching him carefully. She looked like she was about to say something but a part of him didn't want to listen to her. "Professor..."
"Minerva," she said quietly. Severus frowned at her, wondering if he'd heard her correctly but she offered no comforting smile or reassuring gestures. "You can call me Minerva," she said again. Severus supposed the act in itself was an encouraging gesture and he nodded.
Severus couldn't help but feel like something had just happened. Like they had just crossed some invisible hurdle, but he wasn't sure what it signified or what it would mean to them. All he knew was that in this moment, something good had happened.
Severus followed Minerva up the stairs toward one of the private boxes that they would be sitting in. Pete waited for them at the top of the stairs and grasped Severus' hand again, shaking it and his whole arm in the process.
"You'll be in here with Neva," Pete said as he watched Minerva walk into the box and he leaned into Severus with a whisper. "You'll be seated with Michael Boulton, a drunk and a fool with too many hands, if you know what I'm saying." He fixed Severus with a pointed stare and Severus glanced into the box to see a middle aged man trying to engage the professor in conversation.
"You want me to keep an eye out for your sister-in-law?" Severus asked, turning back to look at Pete. He wondered if Minerva had ever given her brother-in-law the lecture on 'not needing to be protected'.
"Well I suppose," Pete said with a slight chuckle. "But mostly, I'd like you to just make sure she doesn't kill him. She dislikes the man even when he's sober but when he's drunk... she abhors him!" He added in a loud whisper.
"I'll do my best sir, but I can't make any promises." Severus smirked and Pete winked conspiringly as he patted his back.
"That's a good lad."
Severus stepped into the box and glared at the man seated next to his colleague. Michael Boulton looked to be in his 50's. He was bald, enormously fat and extremely red faced. He glanced up at Severus and stumbled out of the seat he was currently in. Severus hoped the other man understood his glare to mean back off. Michael muttered something to Minerva and retreated to a seat behind their own. Severus gave him one last glare and sat down next to his companion.
"Pete seems to have taken quite a liking to you," she said, her nose buried in her programme.
"Yes, he does." Severus said, not sure what he was supposed to say to such a comment.
"When he asks you how I behaved with Mr Boulton tonight, would you kindly ask him to keep his nose out of my business?" She looked up at him over the top of the programme and Severus smirked.
Without warning the lights dimmed. Severus glanced over at his colleague, she was still engrossed in the programme. He was excited at the prospect of seeing his first concert and his eyes flickered toward Minerva again. He was trying not to seem too eager, resisting the urge to slip onto the edge of his seat and rest his elbows on the rail like the children were in the box next to them. Minerva seemed relaxed, reclining in the plush red velvet seat, the programme delicately resting in her right hand while her left arm rested on the arm rest between them. Severus couldn't help the smile that crossed his lips. She'd obviously done this a million times before.
There was a spattering of applause before the whole auditorium joined in and Severus quickly averted his eyes from his colleague as she looked up to toward the stage. The orchestra players had taken their places and the Conductor and Solo Pianist were shaking hands.
After a moment, it began.
The solo, solitary piano began, its deep bell-like resonance echoing around the hall and then suddenly, the orchestra came to life. Severus felt something rise in his chest and his hands clutched the arm rests tightly. He felt Minerva move slightly beside him but he couldn't take his eyes away from the stage. The music drew him into the moment so intimately it was like becoming aquatinted with a new lover for the first time.
The bittersweet solo flute began and Severus was overwhelmed with a sense of hope that he'd never felt in his life. He felt his worries drifting from him, his dealings with the Ministry Hearings, his guilt and self torture and any lingering thoughts of Lily slowly fading until he was left with nothing but a solid warmth under his hands and a complete sense of calm. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to memorise the feeling. He opened his eyes to see the pianist reaching the pinnacle, his body contorting with the pure passion only another musician could understand. Severus listened regretfully as the final movement came to its end, the piano sounding out over everything else and awakening something inside his chest. He tightened his hands on the arm rests, his breathing heavy.
And then suddenly, with a resounding finality, it ended. Severus felt his body explode with the piece, leaving him completely satisfied and yet, craving more at the same time. Severus turned, for the first time since the piece started, to look at his companion. She smiled warmly at him. He felt something move under his fingers, which were still tightly gripping the arm rests and he looked down at his hand. Minerva's arm lay under his, his fingers wrapped firmly around her tiny wrist. He quickly removed his hand from hers, thinking he should apologise but before he could utter a word she smiled briefly and stood up to clap enthusiastically with the rest of the audience.
Severus felt oddly dazed, like he'd just woken from a deep, dreamless sleep. He struggled to his feet and began to clap too. He glanced over at Minerva who was beaming; her eyes alight with pleasure and exhilaration. Severus felt a small smile tug at the corner of his lips at the sight, this night was glorious.
Severus stood by the window in the large three storey Victorian townhouse that he was astonished to learn that Pete owned. He sipped his glass of wine while he watched the rich and the glamorous mill around, talking of nothing that interested him. At the beginning of the night people had approached him enthusiastically, apparently his young age was an endearing attribute to the older muggles. Everyone wanted his opinion on the performance and they all seemed so enthralled by anything they had to say. Thankfully, Minerva had led most of the conversations, the muggles taking him for being shy but he knew Minerva was probably more cautious of what he might say to them. He had to admit, her wariness was not for naught, he'd barely held his tongue on many occasions.
After what seemed like an eternity Severus was able to sneak away from the group. Pete had met him as he tried to make his escape and Severus was relieved when the older man chuckled, handed him a glass of wine and sent him on his way. Which is how he had ended up standing alone by the window. The situation suited him perfectly fine.
Minerva seemed to be enjoying her night. She conversed easily and seemed so at home amongst these people. Severus wondered if this had been her life before she returned to Hogwarts.
"Are you a friend of Minerva's?" A female voice asked, breaking his thoughts and causing him to avert his eyes from his former teacher.
"A colleague," he muttered. The woman now standing beside him was possibly in her late 50's, immaculately put together with her curly blonde hair held at the nape of her neck with a clip. Her features were pleasant enough but the snobbish way she turned her nose up when she looked over at Minerva made her look like she smelt something rotting. It made him angry.
"Our dear Minerva has never brought anyone with her before," she added, smiling sweetly up at him. Severus noted the patronising way she'd said 'dear Minerva' and he frowned, this woman was digging for something.
"Who are you?" He asked, not caring if his abrupt question sounded rude.
"I'm Mrs. Peter Hartley but you can call me Nora," she held her hand out and Severus wondered what she'd do if he ignored it. But this was Pete's wife and he liked the older man... After a second Severus shook her hand once and let go. He turned his attention back to the room to find that Minerva had disappeared and his eyes searched the room for her. "Don't worry, she hasn't left... probably gone for a quiet talk with Pete... we all know how close they are." Severus turned his head sharply to look at Nora at her insinuation and the smug smile on her lips grew. That couldn't be true. Minerva isn't that sort person... is she? Of course, he didn't actually know what kind person she was, he barely knew her. "Well, I do sincerely hope you are enjoying yourself tonight." Nora patted his arm in what Severus assumed was supposed to be a comforting gesture but coupled with the triumphant smile on her lips, it came off as condescending.
Severus placed his glass on the window ledge and made his way into the crowd. He knew it was none of his business what his colleague got up to in her own time but for some reason he felt compelled to find her. As he continued to scope the room he could feel Nora's eyes on him but he refused to look at her. He thought back to the smile she'd given before he walked away from her and he could see that she thought she'd set something into motion. Perhaps she thought she had caused troubled for Minerva. In truth, Severus wasn't sure what Nora had been up to and nor did he know why he was currently looking for his colleague.
"Severus," Minerva was suddenly standing in front of him with a smile. "Are you alright?" She asked, touching his hand softly. He brushed it away and moved into the empty hallway where they would be able to talk freely. "What is it?" Minerva asked as Severus turned to face her.
"Where have you been?" He asked, unable to hide the darkness from his voice.
"What do you mean?" She asked with an amused frown. "I was in the room talking with Mrs. McNamee."
"The whole night?" He asked and Minerva's eyes suddenly grew dark.
"What is it you are asking me Severus?" Severus felt his anger seep away instantly and he reluctantly backed down. He glanced at her eyes and there was something there that he couldn't quite place. "Have you been talking to Nora?"
"Yes..." Severus said slowly, growing even more suspicious of the woman he'd just met.
"That blasted woman!" Minerva clenched her fists and pressed them into her eyes as she let out an angry growl. Severus pursed his lips and raised a slight eyebrow as he watched the woman in front of him flush with anger. She began to pace up and down the wooden floorboards as she seethed. "How dare she...? Bringing you into... the nerve of that... Insufferable, conceited..." Severus couldn't help the laugh that escaped him and Minerva turned to look him, redirecting her anger at him. "You're laughing at me?"
"Yes I am. I've never seen you like this... nor did I ever think I would." Minerva opened her mouth to say something but Severus placed his hand on her shoulder. "Judging from your reaction, I can guess what kind of woman Mrs. Hartley is and I can assure you, that whatever she may have implied in our brief conversation has been entirely dismissed from my head. I can see how much she bothers you." Minerva let out a breath and she shook her head with a slight laugh.
"Let's go home Severus, I have no more desire to spend another minute with these people."
Severus couldn't have been happier when Minerva had suggested that they leave. They said a quick goodbye to Pete, who made Severus promise that they would meet again soon and managed to escape the crowd without much incident. Once they got outside, Minerva flagged a black cab taxi and Severus held the door open while Minerva climbed inside. They rode in relative silence, each enjoying the quiet company of one another compared to the bustling house they'd just left. It wasn't long before they were driving alongside Buckingham Palace and Severus inclined his head so he could see the Royal Flag blowing lightly in the wind above the stately home. As they were heading along the Mall, Minerva suddenly sat forward in her seat, looking out of her window properly. Severus ducked his head to try and see what it was that she was looking at but he couldn't see anything of importance.
They drove for a few seconds more before Minerva opened the hatch to talk to the driver.
"Could you let us out here?" She asked and the taxi driver pulled over.
"What are we doing?" Severus asked as he followed Minerva out of the taxi after she'd paid the fare.
"Come with me," she said excitedly. Severus felt her take his hand and he willingly let her pull him toward a large fountain. It took a few seconds to realise where he was. He wasn't particularly familiar with London, only having ever visited Diagon Alley and never ventured outside of the magic enchantments but he knew this place. They were in Trafalgar Square.
Severus stopped and looked up at the large lion monuments and he felt Minerva's hand slip out of his as she continued toward the fountain. He watched her lean against the fountain wall and he slowly made his way over to her. He watched her brush her fingers across the water, her face lit up by the underwater lights as she leaned over the wall. Severus leaned his back against the wall and watched her curiously. She seemed so different here. He supposed she had done all night. She seemed younger, happier... she seemed liberated. She straightened up and turned to look him, the lights from the fountain making her eyes a bright cobalt blue.
"Don't you just love London?" She asked and Severus felt an overwhelming need to agree with her.
"It's over crowded and dirty," he said instead. Minerva let out a laugh and Severus felt something flourish against his ribcage.
"It's after midnight Severus, there are only three other people in our vicinity and its dark, you can't see the dirt." Severus smirked at her words, she was right. There was no arguing with her on this one. Minerva turned back to the fountain, she walked around the wall, trailing her fingers over the cool stone and Severus noticed the way she seemed to contemplating something in her head. Suddenly she stopped and leaned her back against the fountain so she could look up the large lion statues.
"I stood here, in this very same spot when I heard that the Second World War had ended." She said suddenly, turning her eyes to look at him. Severus made his way over to her and stood next to her, shoulders bumping slightly. "A man came running out of that building over there, crying with happiness." She smiled slightly at the memory. "Another came from that building, and then that one until everyone was cheering and crying and... it was a glorious day for muggles and magic folk alike and yet, as I stood here with my muggle friends, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to our people. What had happened to my friends from school... my friends who had just become Aurors... what of Albus?"
"Did you know what he was doing?" He asked, becoming intrigued at the sound of the Headmaster's name.
"Yes. He didn't confide in me as he does now but I knew some of his plans." Minerva continued to gaze up at the statues but Severus' mind was racing.
"Were you here on his orders?" He asked, his eyes looking up at the tall column in front of him. He noticed something tiny floating in the air in the air above them.
"Yes I was." She said and Severus glanced back to see her looking at him. "As you know I was a nurse. I was undertaking my training during the war and although I had my own responsibility here, ultimately, I worked for the Headmaster."
Severus nodded and turned away from her. He felt as though she were trying to tell him something but he wasn't sure what it was. If she was working for Albus... had he sent her here with a purpose? And if he had, what would he have..? Unless he wanted information. Information that only those coming back from the front lines would know... Severus froze and his eyes flickered back to hers. Had she been a spy?
"It's snowing," Minerva said softly, lifting her head to the heavens. Severus studied her profile, her sharp, elegant nose and pouted lips. He tucked his hands inside his coat pockets, afraid of what they'd do if he wasn't on his guard. "Let's go home." She said and Severus knew that if there were a chance to question her on what she'd just implied, he'd now missed it.
The snow began falling quickly and Minerva pulled the hood from her cloak over her head and led the way to The Leaky Cauldron. Once inside Severus brushed the snow from his coat and glanced over at Minerva. Her cheeks were flushed and the tip of her nose was pink from the cold. He tapped it gently with his index finger and she glanced up at him, wrinkling her nose with a slight smile.
"You first," he said, throwing some floo powder into the fire for Minerva to step into. Severus followed a few moments later and they exited The Hog's Head. The snow was even worse in Hogsmeade, the open country side offering no shelter from the elements as the tightly packed buildings had in London. Severus tugged his coat around himself trying to keep some warmth and when he glanced at his companion he noticed she was having difficulty securing a barrier against the winds. He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her gently toward him as they walked. She put up no resistance and he was somewhat surprised when he felt one of her hands land on his chest. They marched quickly up toward the castle, huddled together against the biting wind. It was clear in the way that she walked that all that was on Minerva's mind was getting into the warmth of the castle, Severus on the other hand, was only aware of the warm hand pressing into his chest. Her fingers moved against him every time she took a step, making him acutely aware of every movement her body made as he held it to him. Had they been any other people, at any other time, in any other place, this moment would have been almost tender.
The large heavy oak doors to Hogwarts finally came into their line of sight and Severus felt Minerva give a sigh of relief. It felt like they'd been walking for an eternity. Minerva pushed the doors open and the pair of them fell inside and closed the door behind them. Severus quickly shrugged out of his coat, welcoming whatever warming charms Filius had placed around the castle. He turned to look at Minerva who had just removed her cloak. Her hair was falling out of place, the long dark tendrils falling around her shoulders and she brought her fingers up to fiddle with the ends. He watched her fold the cloak over the crook of her elbow and reached her hands behind her head to put her hair back in place.
Before he could stop himself Severus was standing in front of her with his hands on hers. He pulled them down, ignoring her confused frown and reached around her to pull the large pin from what was left of the roll at the back of her neck.
"Severus..." She glanced up at his eyes but Severus merely shook his head as he used his fingers to bring the hair over her shoulders. He realised what he was doing was an exceedingly intimate act but he couldn't stop himself. Perhaps it was because he didn't want to stop. He toyed with the ends of her hair, it was as soft as he'd imagined. It was thick and heavy, completely different to Lily's. At the thought of the other Gryffindor he reluctantly pulled his fingers away from Minerva's hair. He hadn't thought about Lily all evening, his thoughts had been occupied by the woman he had accompanied and for that, he felt guilty.
"Thank you for tonight Minerva," he said softly, avoiding her confused and rather curious stare.
"It was my pleasure, I'm just happy you enjoyed it." She said and Severus nodded. They stood there for a few minutes, Severus could feel her eyes on him but he kept his on the floor. "Severus I..."
What she was going to say he didn't get chance to hear as there was a loud noise coming from the corridor up ahead. Minerva stepped forward to see who it was. Three large men in Ministry robes were striding along the hall, Albus walking silently beside them while Filius protested to them.
"... all this poppycock about him running away... we told you where he was and when he'd be coming back... and here he is, just as we said!" Filius puffed as he struggled to keep up with the others.
"You!" One of the Ministry officials pointed at Severus and he took an unconscious step back. "Are you Severus Snape?"
"Yes, I am." Severus said, planting his feet firmly on the floor.
"There is no need for this!" Albus said as the three men rushed toward Severus. He glanced to his side to see that Minerva was still standing close to him and he pushed her out of the way of the bustling men as they grabbed him roughly.
"What on earth..!" Minerva's outraged cry rang through the hall as one of the men stamped his foot on the back of Severus' knees causing him to fall to the floor.
"Severus Snape, in the name of the Ministry of Magic, I hereby place you under arrest as an accessory to murder!"
"Severus Snape, in the name of the Ministry of Magic, I hereby place you under arrest as an accessory to murder!"
Minerva froze, leaning heavily against the wall into which Severus had pushed her when the three Ministry workers made their descent on him. She watched one of the Ministry officials hold Severus’ arms behind his back while another secured his wrists with a magical bond. There was a ringing in Minerva’s ears, blocking out Albus’ outraged arguments as he loomed over the smallest of the three men.
Of course she knew there were many aspects to Severus’ life that she didn’t know about but could he really be capable of taking a life?
“I’m sorry, Headmaster,” the smallest man said as he looked up at Albus. “I have orders from the Minister and Mr Crouch to bring him in. There’s nothing more I can tell you.” Minerva observed that the man, whose name she suddenly recalled as Walter Harrison, looked genuinely sorry. The other two larger built men were quite the opposite; they looked like they were enjoying themselves.
“You’ll get what you deserve,” one of them sneered quietly in Severus’ ear so the other’s couldn’t hear but Minerva did. The same man planted his hands on Severus’ shoulders and stamped his foot into the back of his knees, making the Potions Master fall to the ground with a grunt. And when Severus tried to struggle back to his feet the other man jabbed a well placed knee into his back, sending him down to the floor again.
“Stop it!” It didn’t sound like her voice. Before she realised what she was doing, Minerva rushed forward and knelt down at Severus’ side. She pushed the man who was standing behind Severus with one hand as hard as she could. “He’s not resisting! You have no right to treat him like this!” The two burly men at each other and immediately drew their wands on her.
“Now see here!” Filius exclaimed as he scurried to stand between them. “This is a school! There is to none of this behaviour here!” Minerva wrapped her arms around Severus’ shoulder and she helped him into a sitting position on his knees. She glanced over at Filius, whose chest was puffed out in a defensive manor and was pleased to see Albus step forward.
“As Headmaster I will not allow you to abuse my staff.” His voice was calm but full of warning of what could happen if they fought his decisions. Minerva noticed the way the burly men seemed to shrink under his gaze. Harrison rushed forward and made an awkward bow in front of them.
“Of course Headmaster and I’m sorry for my colleagues rather zealous behaviour of this...” Harrison cleared his throat. “Your staff,” he finished, not quite disguising his slip. Minerva wondered what he’d been about to say. This man? This Criminal? This murderer? She shuddered involuntary and she felt Severus turn slightly to look at her. Harrison continued, “You have my word Headmaster, Professor Snape will not be harmed at Hogwarts.”
Minerva’s head shot up at that last statement and she glared at Harrison’s back as he and the Albus made their way up to the Headmaster’s office. As the two large Ministry workers made their way toward them, Severus softly nudged her with his shoulder so she would be out of harm’s way.
“It’s ok,” he whispered when she looked at him with worry.
“Severus...”she whispered his name and gently tilted his head up with her fingers so she could fully see his face. She couldn’t read his expression or the fire in his eyes. Of course, part of it would be anger, that she could understand but it was the other part she couldn’t quite figure out.
“Come on Professor!” One of the officials said, trying to keep his gruff voice respectful but failing miserably as they dragged Severus to his feet.
“We’ll get you out Severus,” Filius said and Minerva felt the older wizard pull her out of the workers way.
They followed Albus and Harrison up the stairs, Filius and Minerva bringing up the rear with Severus and his guards in between. Minerva was chewing nervously on her thumb nail, her body jittery and tense. When Filius placed his hand on her lower back she gasped and jumped away from him until she realised who it was.
As they waited at the bottom of the spiral staircase leading to Albus’ office, Minerva noticed Severus sneak a glance back at her. She wanted to go to him, to tell him that things would be fine... but the truth was, things wouldn’t be fine. Her stomach felt like it had sunk into her knees.
Before Minerva was even aware of it their small group were standing in the Headmaster’s office. Harrison handed Albus the official papers and they readied Severus for floo travel. As they passed Minerva, Severus stopped in front of her, his eyes focused on the pendant around her neck.
“I’m sorry Minerva.”
And with that he was pushed into the fireplace, hands reaching from the other side to drag him to the Ministry prisons. A new sense of dread washed over her as she watched Severus’ dark eyes vanish behind the green flames. She felt Filius’ hand squeeze her own and she clenched back, finding some comfort in his touch. The two Ministry officials followed Severus and Harrison soon joined them after talking with the Headmaster.
“Albus?” Minerva turned to look at him as he headed to his desk to retrieve the heavy cloak draped over the back of his chair.
“I shall go with him,” Albus said as he slipped into his cloak. “I’ll send word as soon as I know the charges.”
“I’m coming with you,” Minerva said as she stepped toward him.
“You must stay here, Professor McGonagall.” Minerva knew the Headmaster used her professional title for a reason; a gentle reminder of her responsibilities. “I will not allow them to take him to Azkaban Prison, you have my word Minerva.” He added with a soft tone before stepping into the fire and following Severus’ and his guards to the Ministry.
“And what am I to do?” Minerva asked, turning around to look at Filius in outrage. “Does he expect me to stand by while..?”
“You know you must my dear,” Filius said quietly.
“No I do not!” Minerva cried and she began to pace up and down the worn carpet in front of the fireplace. “Why must I?” She watched Filius out of the corner of her eye as she continued to pace and he shook his head.
“There is nothing you can do for him right now; you must let Albus do what he has to.” He fixed her with a stare but said nothing more. She knew he was right.
After a short while Minerva stopped her pacing and began to chew her thumb nail as she let her thoughts wander. She couldn’t quite get her mind around what had happened. Everything had been fine, better than fine. The evening had gone wonderfully well and she’d found herself enjoying the young Potion Master’s company. And there had been more than a few moments when she could tell Severus’ had been enjoying himself too.
Severus Snape. A man she once described as being ‘wicked, manipulative and untrustworthy’ and although she had no doubt that the man could still show those traits in his everyday dealings, she was no longer felt that they ruled his personality. She had discovered a side of him that had surprised her.
“Neva my dear, please sit down you’re making me nervous.” Filius said and Minerva blushed slightly when she realised she had almost forgot he was there.
“I need an occupation Filius, I can’t just sit here.” She balled her fists up in the gown she still wore and Filius turned to look at her.
“We should hear from Albus soon,” he said and Minerva huffed impatiently. She began pacing again. “I know you are worried for the young man but Albus will sort it out. Just you wait, it will all be a misunderstanding.” Minerva stopped and turned to her friend.
“A misunderstanding?” She asked, incredulously. “You think he’s innocent?” Filius’ eyebrows shot up in surprise at her words and in truth she’d surprised herself.
“Don’t you?” He asked and Minerva looked away from him.
What did she think about Severus’ situation? There was no doubt that the ex-Death Eater could have been presented plenty of opportunities to murder and she was certain that he had probably played witness to a number of them. But the question was; did she think Severus was capable of it?
“I don’t know,” she answered finally, looking up at Filius and trying to stop the flow of tears ready to fall at any moment. He sat back in his chair and fixed his eyes on her.
“Then I think before you can truly help the boy, you need to figure out your own thoughts on the matter.”
Minerva nodded and before she could answer Filius the fire suddenly turned green. Albus stepped out and although he’d only been gone half an hour, he looked exhausted.
“Well?” Minerva asked straight away, not allowing the Headmaster a moment or two to catch his breath.“What did they say? What will happen to him?”
“It seems that they have evidence that Severus was at the Potter’s house the night they were murdered.” He said, sitting heavily in an armchair by the fire.
“But he wasn’t, you brought...” Minerva stopped when Albus began to shake his head. “He was there?” She felt a sudden compression on her chest and she had to concentrate hard on breathing.
“Yes he was,” Albus said, accepting the cup of tea Filius handed to him.
“But he wasn’t part of it, was he Albus?” Filius asked and although the question was directed at the Headmaster, Minerva could feel his eyes on her. She kept her own on Albus.
“No he wasn’t,” he said and Filius let out a sigh of relief.
“How do you know Albus?” Minerva asked, needing the facts from her mentor not just his word.
“Because I know that he wasn’t Minerva, Severus arrived in Godric’s Hollow just as the curse backfired on Voldemort. Think about it, if he’d been in close proximity of the incident, he would have at the very least, bore injuries too. You were the second person to see him after myself; you took care of him and watched over him.” He looked at her over his half moon glasses. “Now tell me, did he have any injuries that needed to be treated?” Minerva stared at Albus for a few seconds, trying to find a fault in his explanation.
“No,” she whispered, tentatively. “No, he had no physical injuries.”
“So the boy is innocent,” Filius said with a triumphant smile.
“But how did they know in the first place?” Minerva asked, ignoring Filius’ joy.
“It would seem that someone has told the Ministry that Severus was there. That he had been the reason Voldemort knew of the Potter’s whereabouts.” Albus said and Minerva frowned. “But he couldn’t have, Sirius Black was the Secret Keeper, only he knew of their location. And if indeed Sirius did tell Voldemort, he would not have informed Severus for he knew where his loyalties lie.”
“You sound as if you believe Sirius to be a murderer too, Headmaster.” Filius said, turning to look at him.
“It would seem the Potter’s put their faith in the wrong person,” Albus said as he stood up and made his way over to his desk. Minerva watched him take off his cloak as she slowly processed all the new information in her head.
“How did he know where to go Albus?” She asked suddenly and she noticed the way the old wizard tensed at her question. She waited for his answer but he said nothing, eventually he fixed his eyes on hers. “Filius, would you mind leaving us alone?” She asked abruptly. She kept her eyes on the Headmaster but in the background could hear Filius wish them both a goodnight before leaving the office.
“Minerva...” Albus started but she cut him off.
“How did he know they were in Godric’s Hollow?”
“Severus informed me that Voldemort himself revealed it to him.”
“Why?” Minerva asked, folding her arms over her chest.
“He was a trusted servant to –“
“You told us all yourself Albus, Severus wasn’t at the heart of the operation.” Albus nodded as he recalled his words. Minerva watched him touch his finger tips together and rest his chin upon them.
“I believe that toward the end he was. Severus had done what Tom Riddle could not, which was to gain access to Hogwarts.”
“But why was he there?” Minerva asked in frustration, leaning against her hands on the desk.
“He was trying to stop him, Minerva.” The silence that followed his statement was deafening and Minerva searched her friend’s face.
“Why?” She asked after a few moments.
“I believe Severus had had enough of the atrocities he had come to expect from his master and I believe that he was seeking forgiveness for his past mistakes. He did all that he could to save the Potter’s,” he said, his eyes watching her carefully. Minerva backed away from his desk and rubbed her hands over her face.
“I want to see him,” she said quietly, slowly looking up at him as she lowered her hands to rest at her sides.
“Severus does not want company; he demanded that no one but me be let in.” There was sympathy in Albus’ eyes and Minerva tried not to let the hurt show in her features.
“Then I shall go to bed,” she said, lifting her chin defiantly and turning toward the door. Just before she was about to leave Albus called her name. She paused, her hand resting on the door handle but she didn’t turn to face him.
“Despite the fact that there are some things that I still cannot tell you, Severus is innocent. Of this crime at least.” At that Minerva did turn to face him, the obvious question on her tongue but she decided it was best if she didn’t know. “Severus is not a murderer; that you can be assured of.”
Minerva nodded curtly and fled through the door.
Despite what Severus had said about receiving company, Minerva had taken it upon herself to visit him. The entire trip had been spontaneous and secret. Teensy was the only other living creature to know where she was heading. She took a deep breath and tucked her nervous hands into her robe pockets. As the gates to the holding prisons down in the depths of the Ministry opened, Minerva confidently stepped through and made her way toward the guard station. She found it to be empty, not surprising considering they wouldn’t be expecting visitors at six in the morning. She rang the large bell on the desk and she heard a heavy door bang closed from somewhere behind her. She spun around to find Paul Harris, a talented Hufflepuff she taught five years ago, walking toward her. He gave her a warm smile and she returned it.
“Professor McGonagall,” he said, offering his hand for her to shake. “It’s very good to see you again, how are you?”
“Very well thank you, Mr Harris,” she said and the younger man chuckled softly.
“You can call me Paul, Mr Harris always made me feel like I was in trouble.” He chuckled again and Minerva gave him a slight smile. “So what can I do for you at this early hour?” He asked and Minerva pursed her lips.
“I wish to see one your inmates,” she said carefully. “But my visit must be kept... covert.” Paul cocked his head in interest.
“Of course Professor,” he said. “I’ll keep it off the books but I must ask you to be no longer than 10 minutes, if I am to keep this quiet then I must ask you to respect my position here.” Minerva nodded enthusiastically in agreement. Minerva knew he could be punished for this; even lose his job over it and in any other circumstance, she wouldn’t ask anyone to do such a thing for her.
Minerva followed Paul down the winding corridors, the cold and damp seeping through her heavy clothes, making her to shiver. They stopped at the large gates leading to the prisons and Paul suggested that the current duty guard take a break. The young wizard made a hasty retreat, probably grateful for an excuse to get out of the cold dungeons. After making sure the young man had left, Paul led Minerva along the cells. She kept her eyes focused on her guides back, not wanting to see what lurked in the depths of the Ministry. Finally Paul stopped and opened a cell door with his wand.
“Call if you need me,” he said quietly and Minerva smiled her thanks. She slowly edged her way into the cell, her eyes falling on the figure sitting at the head of his cot, reading under a dying candle.
“I see you have plenty to read,” she said, resting her shoulder against the wall as the guard left them alone. Severus’ head shot up at her voice and he jumped up from his bed. His face was contorted with anger and for a fleeting second Minerva thought he might lash out.
“What are you doing here?” He asked, his smooth tone belying the fire in his eyes.
“I came to see you,” Minerva said, straightening her back and refusing to stand down.
“I don’t want visitors, leave this instant!” He said dangerously. He was looking down at her, his body close to hers and she could feel the warmth radiating from him in the cold cell.
“I don’t care if you don’t want visitors, I wanted to see you!” She retorted, keeping her eyes steady on his.
“You will associate with a murder?” He sneered, challenging her with his eyes.
“Is this self pity I see you wallowing in?” She asked as she folded her arms over her chest. He glared at her as if wanting to scare her away but she stood her ground. Eventually Severus scoffed and moved away from her. She missed his closeness.
“What do you want Professor McGonagall?” He asked, sitting back down on his cot and picking up his book.
“I wanted to see how you were,” she said, noticing the way he’d reverted back to using her title.
“Well you’ve seen me, now you can leave.”
Minerva felt anger bubble up through her chest and stepped toward him and snatched his book from his hands. He sat up straight in his bed, ready to argue with her but she gripped his head in her hands and made him look at her.
“Why are you always so difficult?!” She asked, feeling tears sting her eyes. “I am here as your friend Severus, I am here to enquire after your welfare. And contrary to belief, I am here for my own peace of mind as well as your own. You have no idea how worried I have been about you.”
“Minerva...” The sound of her name on his lips was the last straw and her tears suddenly started to fall. She lowered her hands from his face and she tried to turn away from him but Severus pulled her into his chest. Minerva froze at the awkward embrace and she felt him bury his face in the crook of her neck. She relaxed slightly at the comforting warm breath tickling her collarbone. Severus held her tightly and Minerva briefly wondered what could have brought on such an uncharacteristic display of affection.
"What have they done to you?" She asked, leaning further into his chest.
"Nothing," he sighed. "Yet." She didn't like the tone of his voice and she reluctantly pulled away from him.
"You'll be out of here before it comes to that," she said, hoping to seem more self-assured than she felt.
"I'm on trial for murder Minerva; they're not going to let me off that easily."
"But you're innocent," she argued and Severus gave a humourless smirk.
"What do you know of it?"
"I..." she faltered and Severus used her silence to stand up and pace in the tiny space in front of her. "Tell me you're innocent." She hoped she hadn't sounded as desperate as she felt.
"I deserve whatever punishment they decide on," he mumbled.
"Albus told me you were there when it happened." She noticed the intense anger in Severus' eyes when he froze and stared at her.
"What else did he tell you?" He asked in the low dangerous voice she had come to expect whenever he thought he was under attack.
"That you didn't do it, that you were there to stop him. That you want to atone for your past mistakes and try to save the family we were protecting." For some reason he seemed to relax as she spoke and he rubbed his hands over his face.
"I think you should go," he said gently after a few seconds.
"Are you kicking me out?" She asked with a slight smirk. Severus nodded, his own smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth. She let out a small sigh and he held his hand out for her to take. She slipped her hand into his and allowed him to pull her up.
"Take care of yourself Minerva," he said and she felt him brush the back of her hand with his thumb.
"We'll get you out of here," she whispered, leaning toward him and resting her forehead against his cheek. She felt Severus lean into her and his lips brushed her skin briefly making her flush with warmth.
"Go," he said gently, rubbing his stubbled cheek against her. And Minerva couldn't help the excited jolt in her stomach when she realised he didn't really want her to leave. He was enjoying the closeness just as much as she was.
After a second Minerva knew it was time to leave, people would begin to question her absence if she didn't return to the castle in time to be present for breakfast. She reluctantly pulled away from her young friend and patted his arm in an absurdly formal gesture after the way they had just been with each other.
"Good bye Severus," Minerva said suddenly, turning and making her way out of the cell.