Levels of Comfort.
by Spyke

(From the Harry Potter-verse)

~*~

It helps that he's the potions master at Hogwarts, but more important, she trusts his skill, so he avoids embarrassment by making their own... aids. It's another veil around their secret, though they both know and do not discuss how all-seeing Dumbledore has turned a blind, disappointed eye to their relations.

Her matter-of-fact acknowledgement of ageing physiology laves his ego and soothes the hurt, little-boy core of him that will always believe him inadequate of holding the attention of such a being as Minerva is - or he would be soothed except deep down inside he is always aware of the treacherous days, hours and minutes that separate her from him. He knows witches live far longer than wizards; he knows too that his undercover activities and dark past have brought him far closer to Death's razor edge than her age ever will. But he also knows he cannot live without her and that he will not die for the world unless he is certain that she will go on living in it.

She can live, without him. They've never discussed it but he knows it to be true. He also knows that she knows and sometimes shies away from the depth of his regard for her; so deep, so broad that he cannot speak it, he will not give in to it except perhaps those moments when her body willingly receives him and for a moment he cannot see her face because his eyes have misted from the exertion. By day he channels his feelings into rivalry between their houses; he seizes on every pro-Gryffindor curl of her lips and memorises it so that he can have the satisfaction of exorcising it at night. At night he uses his body as a weapon, focused and glistening with anticipation as every thrust of his hips or slick movement of his fingers draws a moan from her or a soft whispering sigh. But after that, exhausted, slumping on her body, shaking with fear, he will feel her hands combing his hair, petting him, soothing him, "Ssh..."

I'm here, Severus. I'm always here.

And that is when he buries his head in the crook of her arm and bites his lip to steady himself so he will only kiss her flesh and not give in to tears.

There were years when he hated her, when he used the intensity of his feelings to fuel a campaign against the wizard she seemed to adore. He would take every one of those years and return them to her if he didn't know that it was the dark knowledge they brought that allowed him to be her equal of sorts. When he left Hogwarts, he was a mere boy, a Byronic by-product... an idiot. But when he returned, weary and footsore, he became irresistible. Redemption of the fallen is one sure key to a woman's heart, just as debauching the innocent is the other. Sometimes he wonders if perhaps those years and their aftermath had been some twisted romantic plan, but then he knows with a surge of pained guilt that no, he had indeed been - an idiot.

But now, oh now she draws his head to her breast and gentles him in the aftermath of their loving and for a moment he allows himself to relax, to let the final shudders pass from his body so he can breathe and let someone else feel for a while.

It still amazes him that their roles do indeed reverse on occasion. It amazes him that she can cry in front of him, sag gently into the - comfort? - of his embrace as easily as he can... so perhaps it isn't that easy, for either of them, but it can be done and that is a marvel. Marvellous like everything about her, the tight restraints of her bun that fall so easily undone with a careless flick of her fingers or gently untwined by his. Marvellous like the sound of her deep-throated laughter when he makes a wry remark about a student they both heartily dislike, or when Sybil Trelawney has upset her again by predicting death. He knows it bothers her because she fears his mortality the way he fears hers - and again, that is marvellous. Not that somebody cares, but that she - she, Minerva McGonagall - cares. It is riches he never dreamed of when a black-browed idiot reading morose poetry in the lower fork of his favourite apple tree and sharing an apple with the cat on his feet.

"It was you?" he'd repeated, unable to believe it the first time she told him. Blushing, scowling, she'd reminded him that colour charms were easy enough for the Transfigurations mistress. That was the first time he'd believed, a little, that yes, perhaps she had always loved him the way he'd always loved her. Perhaps, yes, she too had fought against the 'unnatural attraction' between teacher and student -

"Unnatural?" he'd asked, quite offended.

"I was in loco parentis to you, Severus," she'd told him, blissfully unaware that he stood behind her, gaping like a fish. "And you were the most annoying brat I ever had the misfortune to teach. Of course it seemed unnatural."

"And now?"

Her answer stopped his mouth and indeed his thoughts for a while, but they'd been together months then and she'd learnt his body rather well.

They read together now, sometimes, cat and man in a tree, or man and woman by the flickering light of her fire, or sometimes she'll watch in tabby form as he stirs potions late into the night. Whenever they can, of course. It used to be many more times before Hogwarts went to war, and he realises he'd forgotten how much he appreciated her presence. Now of course she's rarely by his side, wrinkling her nose and switching her tail if he adds just a mite too much asphodel to a sleeping draught. He'd like her to be there, but he knows there are potions she doesn't like to watch being prepared. Especially those that bring intimations of mortality - they've never really discussed how she feels, being so much older, though she did once say, "The problem with living 300 years is that you reach 60 and your physiology stays there for the next two and a half centuries."

She has a rotten sense of humour, sometimes, and that remark had come as an effort to lighten the mood one painful night. He'd muttered, "I could..."

"Speak up, I can't hear you. These ears..." but it had been her eyes glistening, so he'd been encouraged to say, "I could make something to ease the discomfort... if you'd like."

She'd swallowed. He'd had to say, "Speak up, I can't hear you though my ears work as well as yours."

"I would like... would you?"

"Very much," he'd said, a little surprised when she took his hand and squeezed it strongly. It surprises him a little how comfortable she is with touching him. It surprises him how comfortable he is with touching her, even those times when they're preparing to be close. It surprises him still that afterwards, they fall asleep in the same bed.

An Animagus' sleep is never easy, and his dreams are rarely peaceful, but restless or not they sleep together, moving to their separate dressing rooms by day. At the back of his mind is a thought that perhaps, one day, after the war, they might consider a more permanent arrangement of their living quarters - then he finds queer glass bottles on his dresser and realises his razor strop is in her bathroom, and 'might' becomes 'will have to' so they can stop this ridiculous popping in and out of the Floo network when someone might see.

"Ah, Severus," Minerva says as he arrives in her fireplace, and she places the strop in his hand in exchange for her whatever-they-are. "Thank you."

"Thank you," he says, kissing her cheek perfunctorily and moving back to his rooms. Two nights ago he'd arrived bloodstained and torn after a trip to the Forbidden Forest, and she'd hauled him out of the fireplace with as much ceremony. He takes a moment to smile at the memory before lathering his face. As a result, the razor, when he uses it, slices a bit too close for comfort. Mopping his cheek, Snape stares at himself in the mirror.

"Ah, Severus," Minerva calls from the other room. "I'll just leave your aftershave in this alcove then."

"Thank you," he replies. "Don't forget to come cheer Gryffindor to defeat this evening."

"Wouldn't miss your tears for the world," she says, "and by the by, the losing house is pronounced Slytherin."

He wants to kill her for that, but more important, he wants her to live forever.

"Minerva?"

There's the sound of ash and logs disturbed and her dishevelled voice says tartly, "What?"

He has everything in the world to say and no voice, no words in which to say it.

"I shall see you at breakfast."

"Assuming Voldemort doesn't attack and the Weasley twins don't blow up the Gryffindor common room, yes, you shall. Stupid man," and she retreats in haste. He smiles slightly as he goes out to retrieve his aftershave because ... because Slytherin is going to win the house matches this evening and while she doesn't know it yet, Minerva McGonagall will end up owing him fifty galleons. Or he will owe her, and she will make him pay in kind. All in all, he is quite satisfied at how the night is shaping out to be.

With a little effort, so will she be. He makes a mental note to check on the stocks of willow fine. It helps of course that he is the Potions Master...

But regardless of titles and long-assumed adulthood, sometimes when she looks at him, he still wonders whose face or name she sees. The memory of his past youth is still fresh, waiting below the surface for a razor slicing too close for comfort.

"I always loved you," she told him once, and that once he had believed. But once she had called Headmaster Dumbledore by name, and he's noticed she rarely does that any longer. He wonders if she stopped for his sake or her own or if the last seven years have been some twisted scheme to keep him in the game, on the side of white...

After all, it never does to get too comfortable. And, as he well knows, she can and will go on living without him.

Unless of course she dies first...

... and then he smiles, lathering up again. There are times when he forgets that not only is he the Potions Master, but she trusts his skill.

It provides a measure of comfort to remember that.

~ End.

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