Disclaimer: None of the characters, or anything else you recognise for that matter, belong to me (though it is my birthday relatively soon….)
Summary: Set just after the close of GoF, SS takes his turn to be the practical one for a change.
A/N: Apologies if there are as many type-ohs and/or spelling mistakes in this as I suspect there may be but my beta has not only gone and got herself a job but also developed a life. Now of course I'm over the moon for her but it does impact somewhat on the turn around time for fics and well… I'm impatient today.
In any case - Enjoy
Severus Snape had to walk around the Quidditch stands, and the setting for the third task, when he returned from his visit to the Dark Lord. He could hardly believe how simply the whole proceeding had gone. He had left the school as soon as the Headmaster had asked him to do what they had both known was going to be necessary. Holding his mark he had Apparated to Voldemort's side expecting the worst. Instead of punishment though, for not arriving when he was called, he had been received and after proffering his apologies he had all but been sent away immediately. It seemed that Voldemort had not taken his defeat well but had a greater desire to find out what was going on back at the school than to punish one he seemed to think still faithful. Of course he had agreed readily and after a few short hours he was back on Hogwarts grounds. He had told him of what Dumbledore had found out regarding his 'faithful servant' and about what the dementor had done to him. It was odd, he had been someway behind the group, bringing up the rear so to speak, and so had not even entered the room when the Kiss occurred but even still he had felt the unnatural chill that had followed. The memory made him shudder.
The castle was eerily quiet, but he supposed that it wasn't very surprising considering it was close to two in the morning. As he climbed the main staircase it occurred to him that Albus might not be in his rooms for him to report to, so took a detour into the staff room to look at the rather useful clock that was situated there. There were seven hands on this clock and no numbers, with each of the hands being marked with the name of either one of the Heads of House, the Headmaster, Poppy Pomfrey and Argus Filch. At this moment, Dumbledore's pointed to a label that simply said Off School Grounds. His second choice was obviously Minerva McGonagall and as he looked up her marker moved from the Hospital wing through to Private Quarters so he set off swiftly towards the tower. The journey was one he had made more than once before and although the illusion that none of the staff knew where the other houses were situated was just that – an illusion. Severus was quite well aware of the passwords to the other common rooms for simple safety reasons. When he approached the door a few feet down from the portrait of the Fat Lady he knocked swiftly on the door, hoping that he wasn't going to be waking her up.
"Come in." Came the familiar voice from inside as the door swung open.
"For Merlin's sake Minerva – you ought to be a little more careful to whom you open your door to at this time of night! Today of all days." He said as he swept characteristically into the room. His host was sitting on a rug in front of the hearth, legs drawn up under her chin and hands held out towards the blazing fire. Even still though, he could see even from this distance that she was shivering.
"Sorry Severus." She replied standing sounding far less like herself than he had thought from through the door. Obviously his odd look didn't go unnoticed.
"I just can't seem to get warm all of a sudden." She explained with a little smile. Something seemed to dawn then though and her expression changed entirely. "Oh, sit down won't you, you are alright aren't you? How did it go? I wasn't expecting you back so soon…" The stream of questions halted as after she had guided him into a chair by the fire she stopped and stood back a little. She was right on one account - she was cold, her hands had been like ice when they touched his own. "Tea or maybe something stronger?" She asked, her words still far more hurried and well, agitated than was normal. "I'm sure I have a bottle of Laphroaig around here somewhere." She continued already halfway across the room.
"Tea will be just fine thank you." He told her.
"Right. Of course." She conjured a tea set as she returned to where he was sat and placed it down on a little table. As she began to pour he noticed that she was shaking so much that she barely avoided dropping the china.
"I assume that it wasn't as dramatic a return as we had thought it might be?" She asked in a much more normal fashion after both of them were settled with their tea. Severus drunk deeply from the cup and was again amused to realise how much better the Deputy's tea was to her superior's. He supposed it came from the fact they both drank it the same - strong with just a dash of milk and no sugar in sight. He gave her a brief rundown of what had gone on all the time aware that her hands never rested and that although the tremors dissipated, they did not stop entirely. She nodded at appropriate points but he was never entirely convinced he had her entire focus.
"How did your assignment go?" He asked leaning forward in order to refill both cups.
"Hmm? What? Sorry…" She said snapping back into reality.
"I just asked how your assignment was." He replied sitting back.
"Oh, not too badly. Both Hagrid and Madame Maxine agreed to visit the Headmaster. I checked in on my students and spent a while in the Tower, I keep noticing the extreme lack of Gryffindors on the staff and it's not that I don't trust the prefects but…." He nodded. He could be secure in the knowledge that Vectra would have an eye on his charges as long as he was indisposed but apart from the Headmaster, and well Hagrid, Minerva really was the only Gryffindor. "Albus came down and found me though, to ask if I'd go and speak to some of the members of the Order that were provinga little hard to track down. I changed and then Apparated down to London and managed to locate Mundungus, in a pub." She gave him another smile at this and he returned it knowing it was quite possible considering whom they were talking about. He also noticed though, now that she was sitting with her face in the light that as pale as she usually was she looked positively unhealthy now with a sheen of sweat having formed on her brow. If he hadn't known better he might have said that she was ill or perhaps…
"Minerva?" He asked, again shaking her from her thoughts. "Did you think to have something to eat this evening - perhaps some chocolate?" He suggested in a style more like that he reserved for the students.
"What?" She was standing and her temper seemed to be back full force. "When in sweet Circe's name do you suggest I ought to have sat down to supper!? While we waited for Mr Potter and Mr Diggory to return?" She was livid but her voice hitched at the end and even as she said their former pupil's name Severus could see her eyes widen. She almost fell back down into her seat. He crossed the short distance and settled on the floor in front of her.
"Minerva? Look at me please?" He asked quietly, regretting his previous outburst. He had little trouble remembering the look on her face when he had arrived in the center of the maze. She had been the first to arrive when both Hogwarts champions had disappeared, her feline form delving beneath the hedges in less time than it took the others to blow them apart. But if anything, as she met his eyes now she looked more terrified than in that instant. She pulled herself together quickly though and was soon stood again, pacing frantically.
"I just don't know what to do with myself." She said wringing her hands. Severus suspected that the best idea would be to feed her a large quantity of chocolate, heavily laced with a sleeping draught and to send her to bed for the next twenty-four hours, but somehow he suspected it wouldn't work quite like that. "This is so stupid. I know that they're all safe here, well apart from…." She trailed off but she continued to pace. "I just don't know what's wrong with me."
"It's called delayed shock." He told her matter-of-factly taking her by the arm and steering her back into her chair by the fire. "It's hardly surprising considering the kind of day it's been."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm just a little shaken. That's all."
"Which is why you're looking like death warmed over." He replied absentmindedly noting that her pulse was racing beneath his fingers. He stood and poured some more tea, his basic first aid training kicking in - it was hot and liquid both good and large amounts of sugar could be added.
"Don't you dare!" He made a great show of dropping two large sugar lumps in and stirring it thoroughly before handing the cup over. She gripped it carefully in both her hands. He refreshed his own cup hoping to make her feel more comfortable and perched on the end of the coffee table.
"This is ridiculous." She muttered quietly into her teacup.
"I think you'll find that it's a perfectly natural reaction." He replied gently.
"Of course it's perfectly natural that I've just gone to pieces when everyone else has managed to get on with things. You haven't seen Poppy break down in tears, if anyone has a right to be in shock it's you, or well Rose…oh I should go and see if there's anything…!"
"Sit down." Severus said firmly rising to put his hands on his shoulders.
"But nothing. I can assure you that there are more than enough hands down in the Set tonight. And before you say anything else – I want you to acknowledge that you were the only person to see what happened to our impostor tonight. Witnessing a dementor perform a Kiss is not an experience to be taken lightly."
"But I wasn't the only one there." She protested somewhat predictably if not so convincingly.
"Neither the Minister nor I were inside the room when it happened and I know how it made me feel so…" he trailed off to a moments silence.
"I was just so angry." She said staring into the depths of her cup. "So angry about what it had done that I ignored everything else. Then Albus asked me to go and raise the alarm about what had happened and when I came back I checked the Tower again and then I went to the Hospital wing to see Mr Potter but Molly was there so I came back here."
"And it all caught back up with you." He inserted. She gave a little nod. He could tell she was being drawn into the memory and though he knew he ought to be calming her down even if he had neither chocolate nor sleeping draught to hand, he also knew that she needed the catharsis of this discussion. "What did you see Minerva?" He prompted softly.
"I…" She began, seeming to have to force the word out. "I was… back there. I was back doing, looking for…. The attack in Yorkshire. I was doing search and rescue again. I knew I'd been at it for hours – my paws were killing me and nose was itchy with the dust. The whole block had come down. I kept…I kept seeing Frank and Alice they… I'd found them under…in what had been the basement I suppose. I knew there was something…I'd smelt their fear so strongly and…All I could think of was the castle and Grindelwald and… I never saw it. I never saw what he did… to the house… the boys…my brothers…they were so young. They'd never done anything to harm anyone…" He knew little of his colleague's past apart from the fact that she was the last remaining member of the clan and had been for some time. This would seem to explain that situation at least a little. "…and then there were... I found these two little boys curled round one another. Their house had caught fire…. They couldn't have been six yet and they were only muggles… But the looks on their faces…" Severus had seen the last remnants of colour fade from her face over the last few minutes as tears welled up in her eyes and fell down her cheeks. She withdrew her hands from where he had held them between his own and brought them to her face.
"Oh Merlin." She murmured clamping a hand over her mouth and standing so quickly that her chair fell backwards to the ground as she ran for the bathroom.
In any other circumstance he might have given her privacy enough to throw up on her own but he had a horrible vision for her passing out and doing herself some serious damage, so after righting the furniture and picking up the tartan blanket that was lying over the back of the small sofa on the other side of the room he followed her. When he entered the dimly lit room he found Minerva where he suspected he would – kneeling in front of the toilet throwing up everything but her toenails. He knelt down next to her pulling the strands that had come loose form her hair up and out of her face. Instead of repining them into the disintegrating bun though he refastened the long length into a simple braid. Placing a reassuring hand on her back he summoned a damp cloth from the basin and wiped her face. As her retching subsided, he draped the blanket over her shoulders and conjured a glass of water, which she took silently, washing her mouth out before hitting the flush. As she reeled a little, Severus shuffled closer so that she could lean back on him and they sat like that for some time. She was still shaking but it seemed to be more exhaustion than emotional now, though Severus had little doubt that she was still somewhat fragile.
"Feel up to finding somewhere a little more comfortable?" He asked softly.
"Think so." Came the hoarse reply. He stood easily as she tried to lever herself up using the tiled wall. Slipping an arm around her back he took most of her weight and headed for the second door in the bathroom. "What…?" She asked lifting her head up. As a Head of House he was not inexperienced in dealing with ill children and though his Slytherins had their moments he was genuinely glad that he wasn't regularly charged with the Gryffindors if they were all as difficult as their Professor.
"I think we'd be far better off getting you into bed, don't you?" Severus was certain that if she'd had the energy she would have argued, but her protests were feeble.
Her bedroom was more or less what he had expected, having never actually been inside this part of Minerva's sanctum before. It was simple, stone flags being overlaid with rugs at either side of what, for the castle, was a modest four-poster. The drapes, both at the narrow window and the bed were heavy velvet in what was also a fairly sedate maroon. Other furniture was sparse and functional but there were personal touches here and there, like the stuffed lion lying on the pillows of the perfectly made linen.
"Right." He sat her down of the on the edge of the bed and went to take off her outer robes but she batted his hand away.
"I'm not completely incapable you know?" The effect of this would have been much increased had her words not slurred slightly with sleep. She did however manage to shrug off the robes leaving her wearing what he assumed she had donned to go searching for Fletcher. The simple black ensemble would likely fit in well enough in a muggle bar and, he noted absentmindedly, would be comfortable enough to sleep in. Toeing off her shoes she kicked them haphazardly off and pretty much fell onto her side. Severus repressed a smile at the sight of her looking up at him from the pillow, decidedly doe eyed, as he pulled her robe free from beneath her and pulled the covers up to her shoulder, placing the previously discarded blanket on the top of them. He chuckled softly as the lion he had noticed earlier seemed to wake-up stretch and prance it's way over the covers, climb over Minerva's shoulder and then settle back down next to her as she wrapped and arm around it pulling it close. Before the stuffed creature had closed it's eyes however, it's owner seemed to be asleep. Severus knew she wasn't right yet but as he also knew there was no chocolate in the near vascinity and as long as she slept for even a short while it would leave him enough time to get a little better organised. He stood quietly and folded the green velvet roughly and draping it over the back of the chair in front of the vanity, the surface of which was clear save for a matching silver hairbrush, comb and hand-mirror, which reminded him of his grandmother, and two photo frames. One held a picture of the Gryffindor graduating class that seemed to rotate through all the years she had been their Head. The other was a picture of Albus and Alistor Moody. Though he couldn't be sure, he was fairly certain it had been taken when they had both just been given their Order of Merlin awards. He headed back into the living room only dimming the lights a little, sure that waking up in the pitch black was unlikely to help anyone or anything. First off he shut the door then opened it again a crack just so that he would hear her if she began to stir. That done he walked calmly over to the fireplace and after searching for a moment or two found the discreet little button that all the professors had located somewhere around their rooms. He pressed it and held it down for a few seconds and just as he let go one of the house elves appeared in front of him. He raised a hand to stall the typical stream of greetings that flowed from the creature's mouth.
"Shhh. I need you to be very quiet for me." He said sternly. Thankfully the house elves had learned to take him seriously so this particular specimen simply nodded excessively up and down. "Right. I need you to do two things for me – one, fetch a slab of chocolate, do you think that you can manage that?" He asked quietly. Again she nodded looking quite pleased with herself. "and secondly and most importantly, I need you to go into my stores and collect something for me." The creature's eyes widened dramatically at this. Severus was glad to know that his extreme dislike of anyone interfering with his private workroom had made itself known to all the elves. "You know where they are…?" He trailed off not having a clue what her name was.
"Grable." She whispered then nodded yes, she did know where they were.
"In which case I need you to find a bottle labelled Morpheus' gift. It will be on the third shelf just on the left as you go in." He refrained from handing out another threat judging that Grable seemed more intelligent than some examples he had come across.
"If that is all Professor Sir?" She asked remembering to keep her voice hushed.
"Yes, I think so." The elf seemed about to leave when she looked back up.
"Is Professor McGonagall going to be alrighty?" She asked, and Severus was struck by the concern that the elf was showing.
"She'll be just fine. Now be off with you." She nodded once more, looking much happier having been reassured and popped out of existence.
Severus didn't expect that her tasks would take Grable long but while she was away he took the time to borrow parchment and ink for Minerva's desk in front of the bay window and wrote a quick note. Carefully replacing everything he had moved he stood and blowing lightly on the sheet set about to peruse the bookshelves that lined almost every inch of wall space in the room. There was no doubting, when you took into account the hundreds upon hundreds of well-thumbed books that filled the room, that she was an avid reader of, well just about anything and everything. He was just pulling out an intriguing muggle volume called Catch 22 when the house elf returned. Returned far more laden than he had expected. There was a tray hovering in front of her that held not only one of the largest slabs of chocolate he'd ever seen but two bowls a tourine and a basket of rolls.
"Grable is thinksing that maybe Professors who is up so late on nasty night might be needing proper food too." She said matter-of-factly in a hushed whisper as she lowered the tray down onto the table. For once Severus didn't feel the need to scold her initiative.
"I assume you got the potion I asked you to fetch?" He asked curtly though, making himself feel slightly better, wouldn't do to have them all thinking he was soft now would it? She held out the bottle that she had been treasuring close to her chest. "Thank you."
"Is that's all Professor sir?"
"Not quite," he remembered at the last minute pulling the note he had written earlier from his pocket. "could you insure that the Headmaster gets this as soon as he gets back?" She took the parchment and with a little bow disappeared from view once more. Severus had thought this would be the best way to inform the headmaster of what had happened to his deputy. He had thought to send an owl but knowing that Albus would be busier than anyone that added stress about his close friend was unlikely to help. This way he could prevent the older man from worrying until he could at least stop by to visit and see her and yet keep him informed all the same. Now however he was left with a dilemma. He was more than aware that though Minerva was asleep, having not had anything to counteract the effects of her earlier experience, it was unlikely to be peaceful. The sweet tea would likely have done some good, but only if her body had had some time to absorb the glucose before she had been ill. If she hadn't, then sleeping probably wasn't what she should be doing. Stamping down firmly on this upsurge in irrational fear, he picked up the chocolate and took that and the sleeping draught into the bedroom. The brighter light from behind him fell into the room and illuminated a wedge of the floor and warped his shadow. He stood there for a moment simply listening; the silence was interrupted only by the sound of moving sheets but these alone were enough to tell him that the beds inhabitants rest was troubled. He crossed the room in three long strides and knelt so that he was at about the same level as the bed. He carefully put his cargo down on the floor and placed a hand on the shoulder closest to him. She had rolled onto her back at some stage knocking the blanket free from the bed and leaving her stuffed lion trying to climb up the covers and back to it's owner. The sheets were twisted around her and even though her skin was still cold to the touch she was once again drenched in sweat.
"Minerva?" He called urgently as she tried to pull away from his hand. He held on to her manoeuvring so that he could grip her other shoulder also. Despite his repeated calling though she didn't wake until he shook her quite viciously and when her eyes opened they were wide with fear. "It's ok. It was only a dream." He reassured her automatically, his experience as Head of House once again coming into play. She looked at him quite blankly as tears he had failed to notice before continued to role down her cheeks. "It's ok." He repeated on instinct letting go of her shoulders only to lean forward and welcome her into his arms. She almost fell into them as the down-right sobs she had been repressing since he had arrived finally broke through. Neither of them said a word as he simply held her until she seemed to have calmed enough to pull back and try and retrieve her mask from the wreckage.
"Oh, Merlin, I'm sorry Severus…" She said wiping furiously at her eyes.
"You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for." He interrupted, "Apart, perhaps from lacking the common sense to gorge your self on this before now." Reaching down he retrieved the chocolate. She did look somewhat sheepish but she took the confection without protest. They sat in silence for a minute as she toyed with it. He gave a little cough so that she looked in his direction then blasted her with a scowl. Murmuring something about petrified first years she did break through the wrapper and having snapped off a few squares began to eat.
"This is actually quite good." She commented after a few moments and held the bar towards him. Deciding that it would probably be easiest he accepted and began to nibble. She was right in that it was far more edible than some of the chocolate he had encountered over the years and as he felt the warmth spread from the tips of his toes upward he acknowledged, inwardly at least, that perhaps he to had needed this. Their companionable silence extended for a few more minutes before Severus spoke again.
"Tea? Or Grable brought some soup up if you fancied it." The colour that had been to return to Minerva's cheeks faded somewhat at the mention of proper food. "Or not." He added and received a smile in return.
"Tea would be good actually, but first I want to jump under the shower and get out of these." She said indicating her clothes as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She stood up and almostmanaged to cover the dizziness that just about brought her back down. He thought about arguing with her, it was after all half past two in the morning and he suspected that a shower could wait but instead he just called a warning after her.
"Leave the door open." She turned around to scowl at him but when he simply smiled in return she gave up. She didn't however close the bathroom door. Taking advantage of her absence he conjured a tea set and after mixing a little tea with a lot of milk he added a liberal dosage of the sleeping draught before concealing it in a pocket of his robes. He cast a simple charm, ensuring that it wouldn't get cold he returned to the living room and picked up Catch 22 from where he had left it on the coffee table. Hearing the water being turned off he headed back through to the bedroom and settled himself in the rocking chair by the window and opened his book. Five minutes later he was drawn back out of the pages.
"Oh, that book irritated me – you ought to like it though." She said refastening the end of her hair into a much neater braid. He raised an eyebrow. "You'll understand later." She replied and for the first time he noticed the silk pyjamas she had donned.
"What?" She asked
"Nothing – Just thought you were more of a nightdress girl." He added turning his gaze back to the book in his lap.
"Twenty years as a head of house teaches you something about practical nightwear." She replied lightly. "This one mine?" She asked picking up the cup he'd poured earlier.
"Yes." He replied after a quick glance and watched out of the corner of his eye as she looked down at the photos. She was done quickly and having put her cup down, seemed to be about to put on her robe back on. "What are you doing?" He asked standing up whilst trying to figure out how long he had till the draught kicked in.
"I'm just going to check in on the tower." She told him.
"No, you're not." He said just as adamantly, striding across the room.
"What do you mean?! I'm a grown woman Severus, and believe it or not I don't intend on letting you stop me from doing my…." She trailed off from enraged to somewhat dozy in the space of a sentence and by the time she was face-to-face with him she was having to fight to keep her eyes open. "Conniving bastard." Was all she said as realisation of what he had done hit.
"Why thank you." He replied as for the second time that night he all but carried her towards the bed.
After ensuring that she was tucked neatly under the blankets, and that her stuffed lion was once more nestled down next to her, Severus lowered the lights and quietly left the room. It was late but he knew she would sleep through now at least until someone or something woke her that morning. With this reassurance he felt fairly comfortable in leaving for his own room and after writing a short note, telling her to call him if she needed anything he headed back down towards the dungeons. A quick visit back to his own quarters resulted in finding a similar note from Vanessa Vectra telling him that all was well amongst his Slytherins and though it had taken sometime, they were all bedded for the night. He did pay a cursory delve into the common room and dorms just to ensure that all was still quiet but not long after Severus to was ensconced in his own bed. The sun was shining through the small rectangular window at the top of his bedroom wall when he awoke. It was still relatively early, around six-thirty, but this was anything but unusual for the potions master. He showered and dressed before once more heading toward his charges domain. Though this time there were a few students up, they were occupying themselves with books or games of chess and after spending a few moments talking to them he left them be. His next stop was Minerva's rooms, purely because he wanted to borrow the book he had begun the night before, and of course make sure that she had slept through. After all, if she hadn't then there must have something wrong his Morpheus' gift and he would need to know that, he reasoned with himself. When he entered, the living room seemed much as he had left it, the door to the bedroom however was open and after a quick inspection Severus spotted a heavy travelling cloak with a polka dot lining flung carelessly on the sofa. With a small smile to himself he crept closer to the darkened room which was just bright enough that he could see that two figures were now curled together in the bed, one nigh on impossible to distinguish from the other. The Headmaster and his deputy, as far as he could tell were both sleeping soundly, the tableaux screaming of comfort established over many years. Deciding that the book would wait he turned and left the couple in peace.
A/N: REVIEW!!!!!! ( please) grin