The best laid plans of mice and [wo]men gang aft agley...|
I had intended to write this story for the LJ community Close Contrast's 'Severus and Minerva MiniFest,' but life got in the way, as it so often does. However, here - a mere five months later than planned - is the story I would have posted if I had actually written it on time.
Many thanks to Luthien for beta and for prodding me to actually finish the story.
The table had been in the McGonagall family for seven generations. Solid, but slightly scarred and faded after almost two centuries of constant use, the table was made of common oak and boasted no distinctive decorative features. The only thing that was uncommon about the table was its ability to maintain whatever transfigured size and shape was required of it at any given time.
When Minerva retired from teaching in the summer of 2000, she returned to the family home on the Isle of Gigha, where her sister Constance had lived alone since the death of their parents many years earlier. During Minerva's childhood - before time and Grindelwald took their tolls on the McGonagall family - the old oak table seated ten, but Constance had long since transfigured it into something small and round and just right for the two remaining sisters and their occasional guests.
A decade later, shortly after Constance had passed away and Severus had moved in, Minerva was certain the old table would need no new alterations. However, after three weeks worth of meals, during which Minerva found it inexplicably difficult to speak to a man she had known for almost forty years, and Severus was so uncomfortable he could barely lift his eyes from his plate to meet her gaze, Minerva knew something had to be done, so that evening, she transfigured the oak table into a rectangle which seated six.
When Severus arrived at the table the following morning, Minerva was already seated and was reading the Quidditch results in the Daily Prophet. Severus paused for a moment at the head of the table, then seated himself beside Minerva, a spot he'd occupied for almost twenty years of his adult life.
"Would you care for some honey, Severus?" Minerva asked, indicating the small blue pottery bowl sitting in the center of the table.
Severus scowled. "If I live to be two hundred, I'll never understand why you insist on ruining a perfectly good blend of tea with that cloying substance."
Minerva smiled. It appeared that things were back to normal.
Severus raised one black brow. "Had you retained the barest knowledge of common flowering plants from your school days, you would have remembered that rhododendrons are poisonous when ingested."
"Lambkill?" Minerva offered after a moment.
He narrowed his eyes. "That's just another name for rhododendron, which I'm certain you already know. Try again."
Minerva raised her glass and took another swallow of the amber liquid.
Severus snorted, as he topped up his own glass.
"You're just not trying anymore, are you? Catbane doesn't exist. Although," he said with a smirk, "it sounds like quite a useful ingredient at the moment."
Minerva considered attempting to formulate an appropriately cutting response, but he was right; she was well beyond the point where she could hope to isolate whatever new ingredient Severus had seen fit to add to the already potent drink.
Unlike the vast majority of their former colleagues, neither she nor Severus habitually imbibed spirits. Severus, however, had discovered an untapped talent in recent years for distilling alcohol, compared to which even the most perfectly aged Firewhiskey was little more than Butterbeer with an attitude. Word of mouth had created an extremely loyal and well-paying market for his concoctions, but Minerva and Severus were in complete agreement that to release a new batch into the world without first confirming its quality would be tantamount to committing a criminal act.
Thus, once a month, the two of them retired to the parlor, bottles in hand - and got pissed as newts.
Care of Magical Creatures
Witches and Wizards who had been sorted into Gryffindor during Minerva McGonagall's tenure very rarely came back to Hogwarts solely to visit their former Head of House.
Filius and Pomona regularly had former Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs dropping by to chat about how their work was going or where they had traveled or which of their children were most likely to be sorted into their old House when the time came for them to attend Hogwarts, and even Severus had the occasional visit from former Slytherins, although he was never terribly forthcoming about the purpose of their visits. But Minerva's Gryffindors, well . . . perhaps it was just part of the nature of the children sorted into her House to set their sights firmly on the challenges of the future and not to seek the comforts of nostalgia.
Then again, Minerva thought, perhaps it was just that she wasn't a particularly comforting presence.
In any case, apart from the odd Gryffindor who found his or her way back to Hogwarts to join the teaching staff or those few who had been members of the Order of the Phoenix, when the Order was still active, Minerva rarely knew how the children of her House were faring out in the wide world unless she happened to read about them in The Daily Prophet.
The sole exception (as she had been in so many other ways) was Hermione Granger. The young witch had stopped by out of the blue the day after completing her first year at Cambridge, where she was reading Chemistry and Biology. Not unexpectedly, Hermione was extremely enthusiastic about her studies. Minerva, who knew little about Muggle sciences, couldn't understand one word in five, however the visit was so pleasant that Minerva found herself inviting the girl to visit her and Constance later in the summer. Hermione was only the second former student to whom Minerva had issued an invitation to the family home - and the first who had actually accepted such an invitation.
When Minerva left Hogwarts the following year, Hermione became a regular visitor to the McGonagall home, visiting frequently during her time at university and throughout the years of her apprenticeship to Ethylena Brixton, and when Hermione married Ian Holmes, a Muggle physician she'd met at a dinner party hosted by Ian's young cousin Terry Boot, Minerva was an honored guest, sitting beside Hermione's parents as proudly as if the young woman were her own daughter.
Their friendship continued to flourish, although once Severus moved into Minerva's home, Hermione expressed some concern about whether her presence was as unwelcome to her former Potions teacher as it seemed to be. Hermione, who was writing a book about the relationship between Muggle and Wizarding medical practices, now had a young daughter of her own, and finding time to write was becoming increasingly difficult. Although Minerva repeatedly expressed her willingness to watch over three year old Tessa, who had already begun to manifest magical abilities, Hermione was wary of leaving her daughter around a man who'd made his dislike for children so plain for so many years.
"Severus doesn't actually dislike children, you know."
Hermione snorted, then helped herself to another biscuit. "No? Well, if not, he's certainly a fantastic actor."
Minerva smiled. "Yes, well . . . perhaps I was overstating the case. Let's just say that Severus doesn't dislike children any more than he dislikes most people. In any case, Tessa would be spending her time with me, which would be my pleasure, and you, my dear, would have some time to work unencumbered."
"It's not that I don't appreciate the offer, Minerva," said Hermione. "Lord knows my parents aren't equipped to look after my precocious little witch. They could barely handle my bursts of magic, and I was much older than Tessa when my powers started to appear. It's just . . . "
Hermione frowned and looked around the room. "Tessa? Oh bugger! Where's she gone now?"
"Don't you use a tracking charm on her?"
Hermione looked aghast. "Of course not! She's a little girl, not a piece of property. I wouldn't . . . oh, hell. I really should be, shouldn't I?"
"Perhaps we can discuss comparative childminding philosophies after we see where Tessa's got to. I don't suppose she might have wandered off to Severus's lab?"
"God, I hope not," Hermione said, jumping up from the sofa. "She's in a phase where she's putting everything in her mouth to see what it tastes like - 'sperimenting,' she says - and I can't imagine the ingredients he keeps out on the counter are any less disgusting than they used to be when we were at school."
"I'm sure Tessa's just fine, Hermione. As my great-grandmother used to say, don't borrow trouble until it comes dressed as a ten foot partridge to stomp your door down."
Hermione stopped short in in the doorway and turned around, wearing a look of confusion. "She really used to say that?"
Minerva smiled. "After she'd become senile, yes. Now let's see where that girl of yours has gone."
Tessa was not in Severus's lab, for which Hermione was very thankful. However, neither was she in the bedrooms, the attic, hiding under the furniture, or anywhere else the two of them looked in the house.
"I swear," Hermione said, a note of panic in her voice, "when I find that girl . . . forget the tracking charm, I'm buying a dog lead."
"Hermione," Minerva called out. "Come into the kitchen."
"Is she there? I thought we'd already . . . "
"Not precisely. Just come in dear."
When Hermione joined Minerva, her friend was standing by the open kitchen door and looking out into the back garden with a smile on her face.
There, clinging to the leg of Severus Snape, was Tessa.
With one hand Severus held a basket in which he'd been collecting samples from the back garden; with the other, he was tugging at the fabric of his robes, trying to dislodge the small giggling child.
"Thank God," Hermione said with relief. "I suppose I should retrieve her, shouldn't I?"
"Oh heavens no," cackled Minerva. "This is far more entertaining."
"Will you kindly unhand me?" they heard Severus say.
"Nope!" Tessa said, grinning widely, then she pulled the basket toward her and looked inside. "Oh! I know what that is! It's a puffball. That's a kind of mushroom. My mum and dad cook with that!"
"Indeed," Severus said, glaring down at the child. "And what if I were to tell you that you were incorrect in your assumption and that it is, in actuality, an amanita?"
Tessa frowned, then shook her head. "That's silly! Mum says amanitas are . . . poison. You wouldn't want to touch poison."
"You'd be surprised," Severus muttered.
"Anyway," Tessa said. "Puffballs are more . . . puffy, like Mr. Betty."
"And who might Mr. Betty be?"
"My stuffed dog. He has a missing ear. Did you know that dogs and wolves are related? My daddy gave me a book all about dogs and wolves. I can almost read it myself!"
"Why does this not surprise me, you little know-it-all?"
"You're funny! Are there other mushrooms back by the trees?"
Severus glanced in the basket, then looked back at Tessa. "Yes. However, little girls who refuse to remove their grubby little hands from people's clothing do not get to see them."
Instantly, Tessa released him. "There! Now will you show them to me? Especially the poison ones? I like them!"
Severus stared at her for a moment, then nodded.
"Come along then."
Tessa grinned, then reached up for his hand and held it tightly in her own as they walked off together.
Hermione shook her head as she watched her daughter walk off hand in hand with the man who'd been the most feared teacher at her school.
"I suppose I should be concerned that Professor Snape is taking my child off to look at poisonous mushrooms, but somehow I'm not."
Minerva smiled. "Right then: shall we say Mondays and Wednesdays as Tessa's days to stay here?"
Minerva's announcement that she was going to retire from teaching two years after the Wizarding World was released from the threat of the Dark Lord came as a shock to most of the Hogwarts community. She supposed she couldn't fault them; after all, she hadn't even reached eighty (barely middle age for a typical witch or wizard), and she was well aware that most people saw her as a natural successor to Albus Dumbledore, who had begun to look increasingly frail in recent years.
Many of those who knew the headmaster well (although perhaps a little less well than they believed) thought privately that he had been keeping himself alive through sheer force of will until Harry Potter could finally defeat Lord Voldemort for good, and now that the prophesy had been fulfilled, his final wish would naturally be to see the care of Hogwarts and its children placed in the capable hands of his longtime deputy.
Minerva, however, had no intention of doing any such thing.
"I am sorry, Albus. I know my decision must seem rather sudden, but . . . I'm tired."
"No one could fault you for feeling so, Minerva," Albus said. "Least of all me. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty over the years, both in your work for the school and in your efforts for the Order."
"I do hate to leave you in the lurch. Perhaps I could see my way clear to remaining a further year, just until . . . "
He leaned forward and placed his hand atop hers. "There's no need, my dear. I've heard the talk in the staff room, but I'm not ready to be packed off to Maude Pratchett's Home for Feeble Wizards just yet. Although," Albus said with a smile, "Maude is still a fine figure of a woman, and . . . ah, well, in any case, I'm sure we shall be able to muddle through somehow."
"Have you given any thought to who you might ask to replace me? Perhaps Severus could . . . "
"No, I don't believe that would be the right . . . fit. I'll ask Filius in the morning; I'm certain he'll be amenable, at least for the time being." Albus paused for a long moment, then said, "Have you spoken with Severus yet about your plans?"
Minerva sighed. "I did try, Albus, but the one time we were actually alone, he just sneered and said it was likely a ploy on my part to keep him from recouping his recent Quidditch Cup losses, and since then we haven't had a moment to ourselves."
If most people were surprised that Minerva was leaving Hogwarts so soon after Voldemort's defeat, they were astounded to discover that Severus Snape was not. Even Albus seemed at a loss to understand why Severus, who had spent much of the past two decades complaining about teaching, had not instantly availed himself of the opportunity to leave now that his dual role was no longer necessary.
Minerva let the headmaster use her as a sounding board, as she had done for decades, but she believed she knew precisely why Severus was staying, even if Albus hadn't a clue. Not that Severus had said anything to her about his decision to remain, of course. Finding out anything of a personal nature from that man was as difficult as squeezing blood from a stone. In fact, Minerva often imagined that stones would be rather more forthcoming than her friend and colleague if only they had mouths with which to speak.
At first, Minerva thought Severus might be staying simply because he felt he had nowhere else to go. If the Snape family had ever possessed a vault full of galleons or a comfortable home, those days were long gone, so Minerva asked Severus if he'd like to move in with her and Constance. After all, there was always room for one more in a wizarding home.
This wasn't the first time Minerva had extended such an invitation to Severus. While most Hogwarts students tended to believe that their teachers knew nothing about their lives away from the school, the truth was that in a relatively closed community such as the British wizarding world, it was quite impossible to keep secrets for long, particularly from people who had little but gossip to break the endless cycle of preparing lesson plans, teaching, and grading essays.
By the end of Severus Snape's first year at school, staff-room tattle had already differentiated between what was fiction and what was fact where the home life of the smallest and grubbiest of the new Slytherins was concerned. With a family like his, Minerva often thought, it was little wonder that the boy always seemed to be on the brink of tears.
It wasn't as if the Snapes stinted on providing young Severus with the necessities for his schooling. No personal broom, of course - not even when he'd reached the upper forms - but his books and potions equipment were, if not top of the line, perfectly serviceable, and his clothes were in reasonably good repair (although the school had been treated to more than one demonstration of the sorry state of his undergarments).
However, not once during Severus's seven years at Hogwarts, did he go home at any time other than the summer holidays, and after spending three years watching the solitary boy haunt the halls between terms, Minerva approached him privately and asked if he would like to join her for a small break at her home.
For a moment he just stared at her as if he couldn't quite understand the words she had spoken, then he shook his head slowly.
"I appreciate the offer, Professor McGonagall," he said firmly, "but I have a number of projects that need seeing to, and I don't see how I could possibly leave them at this time. No offense, I hope, ma'am."
Minerva considered pressing the point - after all, what could a fourteen year old boy be working on that couldn't be put aside for a few days? However, Severus had always been very stubborn, and the last thing she wanted was to get into a battle of wills with someone who was still little more than a child.
"I understand, Mr. Snape, and there's certainly no offense taken. If you should change your mind, however - if you should ever change your mind - you will always be welcome at my home."
The boy nodded.
"Thank you, Professor," he said solemnly. "I'll remember."
Minerva wasn't quite sure that she had made the right decision in allowing the matter to drop so easily, but when she returned from her break, she was relieved to see that Severus was in relatively good spirits, although it seemed that he had taken to trailing along after Albus whenever the headmaster wasn't occupied with administrative matters.
Minerva invited Severus to her home twice more while he was in school and once during the summer after he had returned to Albus's side following his catastrophic experience with the Death Eaters, but each time, he politely refused her invitation, and it was with little hope of success that she drew him aside during her farewell party to make one last attempt.
"I appreciate the offer, Minerva," he said, but she could still hear the echo of that long-ago 'Professor McGonagall' in his voice.
"We have the room, Severus . . . and you know that Constance would be pleased to have you living with us. She never has trusted my tea-making abilities."
Severus covered his mouth with his hand - a gesture that Minerva had begun to see as oddly charming in recent years - and laughed quietly, then he glanced across the room to where the headmaster was speaking with Poppy.
"Perhaps someday I'll take you up on your offer, but for the time being, I'm afraid I must refuse."
And that was that.
Minerva had known Severus for more than three decades, and he could still be as stubborn as he had been when he was just a boy, at least when there was something that mattered deeply to him.
They kept in touch - regular correspondence by owl and occasional luncheons in Hogsmeade when his duties allowed - and it seemed as if this state of affairs might continue forever.
However, nothing lasts forever.
As Albus Dumbledore's biographers would later write, one minute the old wizard was welcoming his colleagues to an end of term staff meeting, and the next, his phoenix Fawkes burst into flames. When the startled teachers turned their attention back to the headmaster, they knew immediately that he had passed away.
Albus had spoken no final words, but many were spoken on his behalf at the funeral that consigned his spirit to the unknown. Minerva was one of the first people called upon to speak, of course, and thanks to a bit of medicinal brandy earlier in the afternoon, she was able to get through her memorial speech with a minimum of sniffling. Severus, who stood beside her as she spoke, was also asked if he wished to say a few words, but he just scowled and shook his head, and when Minerva looked for him amidst the crowd later, he was nowhere to be found.
Minerva returned home after the service ended and, after eating a light supper and reading for a bit, went to sleep, however she was woken in the middle of the night by a soft, but persistent tapping.
Wand in hand, Minerva opened the door, and there on the doorstep was Severus, looking rather the worse for wear. In one hand he carried a small valise, and he was leaning heavily against the doorpost.
"Severus?" Minerva said quietly. "Are you all right?"
"Of course," he said, his dark eyes glittering brightly in the moonlight. "I just . . . is the invitation still open?"
Without a word, Minerva ushered her old friend into her home.
Long before Minerva encountered her first Muggle or Muggleborn, she had been taught by her parents that there was nothing inherently wrong with occasionally employing non-magical means to take care of one?s daily tasks. Tea, for example, always seemed to taste better if the water had been allowed to boil at a non-magically accelerated pace, although why this should be so was a mystery. However, Minerva was honestly surprised to discover how much Severus relied on non-magical means to accomplish even the most monotonous chores.
What made it most surprising - quite apart from the fact that he came from a family noted for scorning anything that hinted of the Muggle world - was that Severus was actually quite a powerful wizard. Not only did his talent for both Occlumency and Legilimency set him apart from the majority of his peers, but he was, by all accounts, amongst the best Potions makers in Europe, and he was generally able to give even Filius (who was an acknowledged master of the art) a run for his Galleons in dueling. However, he was inexplicably clumsy at casting charms that were second nature to most wizards and witches long before they left adolescence behind.
It was a pity that Filius had been on sabbatical during Severus?s first years at school. The substitute Charms instructor Albus had engaged was talented in his way, but was absolutely useless as a teacher for children who had little or no natural aptitude for his discipline. Rather like Severus himself, Minerva thought with a sigh.
Perhaps if he were to receive additional training? One was never too old to hone one?s magical abilities, even if most witches and wizards chose not to develop their skills after leaving school.
But no; this was Severus, after all. Even if he could be made to understand intellectually that a bit of tutoring would be advantageous, he would surely reject any such offer out of hand. Damned Slytherins and their ridiculous pride.
Although . . . what if he were not actually aware that he was actually receiving instruction in wand technique? Never let it be said that a Gryffindor could not be subtle when the situation called for it.
Early the following morning, Minerva set her plan into motion.
Magic involving wand work was so integral to Minerva's very being that it had been decades since she had paid particular attention to her technique or had needed to worry about enunciating the words associated with most common charms, but if she were to correct the poor foundation Severus had been given in Charms and aid him in developing his skills, he would need to be given clear examples.
There were a few tricky moments early on which seemed to rouse Severus's always suspicious nature (Minerva admitted to herself that it had not been particularly wise to try to invent a plausible reason for why she had needed to levitate three chicken feathers across the room and into the trash bin by using Wingardium Leviosa when Severus knew full well that a simple Evanesco would have done the job with far less bother), but as time passed, Severus seemed to pay a great deal of attention whenever Minerva employed a charm with which he was not entirely comfortable.
Finally came the morning when Minerva entered the kitchen to find Severus casually casting an absolutely perfect Drought Charm to dry up some water he'd spilled while filling the kettle, and she was so pleased that she couldn't contain herself.
"Well done, Mr. Snape!" Minerva cried. "Five points to Slytherin!"
Severus whirled around to face her and glared angrily before stalking out of the kitchen and slamming the door behind him.
Minerva stood stock still in the middle of the room, quite mortified by what she had just done. What had she been thinking, reacting as if Severus were still a First Year. Clearly she hadn't been thinking at all. He was never going to forgive her, was he?
Drawing a steadying breath, Minerva set off in pursuit of Severus, only to find him in the very next room, looking out the window with his back to her.
"Oh, Severus, I do apologize!"
Severus turned around, his arms crossed over his chest and a dark scowl lining his face.
Oh dear, it was going to be like that then, was it, Minerva thought resignedly, steeling herself for the explosion that was certain to follow, and then . . . he laughed. The insufferable man laughed out loud.
"Only five points, Professor McGonagall?" he asked, the trace of a smile still curling his lip. "I should have thought that was worth at least ten."
Defense Against the Dark Arts
The older she gets, the less sleep she needs and the less she wants. Sleep has long since ceased to be the comfort it was when she was younger, and although there are no noisy neighbors or nearby Muggle automobiles to disturb Minerva's rest, two or three nights each week she finds herself sitting bolt upright in bed, sweat beading on her forehead and limbs trembling in the wake of the most terrible dreams.
She never remembers precisely how these nightmares begin or end, but individual images are seared into her brain. A world engulfed in flames. Schoolchildren screaming, each small face a rictus of terror. A coiled serpent, its jeweled eyes gleaming silver in a red mist. Enraged lions, their mouths already dripping with blood as they set upon new prey.
Minerva has learned from long experience that it is impossible to return to sleep immediately after one of these nightmares - or if not impossible, then surely inadvisable - and so she puts on her dressing gown and makes her way to the kitchen to brew some chamomile tea.
No matter how quiet she is or how many silencing charms she employs, long before the tea water has boiled, Severus appears in the kitchen and takes his seat beside her at the old oak table.
Some nights they speak, usually of mundane matters - about how the comfrey is running low or how Tessa has caused another stir, this time by attending the Yule Ball with Theodora Smith - but more often they just sit and drink their tea.
By the time the kettle is empty, Minerva is ready to return to bed.
However, she is rarely ready to return there alone.
Minerva leaves Severus to see to the kitchen things as she walks through the quiet house, wandlight illuminating her steps. She removes her dressing gown and hangs it in the wardrobe, lights a single candle on the bedside table, then slips in between the sheets.
A familiar silhouette pauses in the doorway. Even after so many years, Severus waits until she nods and draws back the coverlet before entering the room, as if he is never quite certain of his welcome. Minerva has offered, more than once, to let him use Legilimency to see how very welcome he is, but Severus always declines; the associations with that particular form of magic call forth memories he would much rather forget.
Severus is no longer young and she is less so, yet even when they were in what passed for 'the full bloom of youth,' their bodies were never beautiful - far too spare of flesh and marred by scars - and aging has not brought about a magical transformation for either one of them. However, their bodies have always served them well, and they continue to do so as Severus turns on his side and draws Minerva into the embrace of his deceptively strong arms, his skin warm against her own.
Protective. Comforting. Loving.
There are very few people who would recognize Severus Snape in those words, but Minerva can no longer think of him in any other way.
When a soft breeze causes the flame of the candle to flicker, neither she nor Severus notice.
They do not dream.