A small sound escaped his lips, but it was muffled by her mouth gently pressed against his. He wasn't moving at all and she was about to pull away, then felt his hesitant fingers grip the edge of her robes near the base of her neck.
When she finally withdrew, he whispered, "Are you positive it's been that long since you've entertained smitten admirers?"
"Oh, quite." But she was smiling. "Though I think we've had enough excitement for one day." She looked at his ankle. "You're sure you'll be all right?"
"I'll be fine. I may even have a sweet dream or two now, thanks to you." He shut his eyes.
"Go lie down before you fall asleep in your chair."
"I suspect you're right," he said, and with a little help from McGonagall, got to his feet. She gave him his cane and they stared at each other for a few moments.
"I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast?" he finally said.
"Glad to hear you're leaving your reclusive habits behind you."
"The incentives are becoming more difficult to resist. Good night, Minerva."
"Good night, Severus."
He watched her exit his quarters, then slowly limped to his bedroom where he changed into a nightgown and curled on the bed. Exhausted by all the day's momentous events, he soon drifted off to sleep. His last conscious thought was that he could no longer bear to be unhappy.
The next morning, when Snape awoke, he made a decision: his old life was over. He would forgive himself for the many mistakes he'd made in the past. He would rediscover whoever had lain buried underneath all those layers of bitterness, hurt and anger he'd spent most of his life building.
He rose and walked to the bathroom. Instead of avoiding the mirror as he'd so often done, he studied his reflection, trying to see himself the way McGonagall had described him the evening before.
An attractive younger man.
A smirk threatened to twist his mouth, but he squelched it. He knew she hadn't been lying. He gazed at his features.
Maybe... there was some truth to her words.
If so, he should take better care of himself.
He filled the bath with hot water, stepped in, and reclined against the porcelain surface. Then he murmured a charm, and the steam that was wafting from the tub was infused with the scent of cinnamon, cloves and ginger. He breathed deeply, and relaxed even more.
Relaxation. That was nice.
Almost as nice as the children's eagerness to speak to him, to be with him. Even though it'd been against his will, once his protective barriers were destroyed and his exposed wounds treated, isolation was revealed as the cause of all that had ailed him from the very beginning.
It was better to be loved. He couldn't deny it anymore.
It was better to love...
He washed himself, then put on his bathrobe and went to his closet.
"Time for a change, I think."
He waved his hand across a set of black robes and said, "Veritas coloris." Immediately the thick cloth turned into an emerald shade of green.
An amused smile wavered on his lips.
He dressed, grabbed his cane, and left the dungeons.
Thank you for reading... I hope you enjoyed my little story.