A very wet and bedraggled looking Minerva McGonagall opened the door to the castle and slipped inside to stand dripping rather loudly on the flagstones of the entrance hall. It was almost nine in the evening. Dinner was obviously long over, and there wasn't a sound to be heard from anywhere. Even the usual rustlings and mutterings of all the paintings in the cavernous space were absent for some reason.

With a deep sigh, she started slowly up the staircase hoping grumpily that the stairs didn't choose this moment to go through their annoying switching routine. She was tired. She was cold. She was hungry, and she was in no mood to put up with any more foolishness from anyone, sentient or not.

What a horrid day she'd had. Although she'd tried to get out of it, she'd been forced into giving a talk on Animagi at a small, fortunately one day, conference in Bath. If she hadn't owed the organizer a favor, she might have been able to wiggle out of it, but unfortunately for her, despite her trying, he'd been rather pointed in his reminders that she was in his debt, so, although it galled her no end, there simply hadn't been anything that she could do to avoid it.

Thus despite it being her birthday, she'd gone. That had been her first mistake. After that there'd just been too many to count. Her talk had gone reasonably well, if you overlooked the fact that she'd been scheduled dead last on the list of presenters. Not for a moment had she bought into her colleague's reasoning that hers would be the most important talk of the day, so naturally it should cap it all off. That was nothing but codswallop! The man obviously wanted to be sure that she suffered the maximum penalty for trying to get out of participating, despite owing him a favor. Yes, without a doubt that was the true reason for her having to wait around while so many others finished up and left early with relieved expressions on their faces.

She'd found herself hoping that everyone would duck out early, for then there wouldn't have even been a reason to give the talk, but alas that wasn't to be either. All those whom she'd least wanted to see and talk to hung on to the bitter end. Just one more bright bit of sunshine to complete her day.

Lunch had been dreadful, and she'd thought longingly of the wonderful meal that was sitting on the table back at school being consumed by people who didn't realize how good they had it. She'd counted the minutes until she could finally escape and return here for a nice dinner and a leisurely evening, perhaps with a bit of birthday cake thrown in, if Albus could be relied on, and when it came to celebrations with cake and festive party favors, he usually could.

However, fate simply seemed to be against her. At the conclusion of the conference, she'd been forced into conversation with Graham Nottingham. Who was somewhat akin to Gilderoy Lockhart but wasn't anywhere near as snappy a dresser. He'd droned on and on about nothing, for so long, that once she'd finally been able to escape from his clutches, she'd missed the last Portkey to Scotland.

She'd considered simply Apparating back, but she was so tired after the dismal day she'd had that she was afraid she'd have ended up splinched into a tree or something, and the embarrassment of that would have ruined what little was left of her day. So she'd gritted her teeth and taken the Knight Bus instead.

All the way to Scotland she'd had to listen to the intimate details of Helda Slipperoot's gallstones, and how she'd magically encouraged them to grow so she could have enough of them to make into a three foot long necklace with matching ear bobs. Once she'd escaped onto the grounds of the castle, it had begun to pour, and she'd managed to slightly twist an ankle on a loose cobble in the courtyard as she was scurrying up to the front door as quickly as possible. That slowed her down just enough to get her thoroughly soaked.

Happy birthday, Minerva, she thought sadly to herself as she turned the knob on her door and finally slipped into her silent room. Wearily she leaned back against the door with a profound sigh of relief. A low fire burned warmly in the grate and cast a rosy glow into the darkness of the rest of the room. Removing her sodden cloak, she hung it on a brass cloak rack that stood by the door, then kicking off her drenched shoes, she limped across the room to sink blissfully onto her sofa before the hearth and close her eyes.

Slowly she became aware that soft music was playing somewhere, and she could smell something wonderful that caused her stomach to growl with impatience at not being filled immediately. Then suddenly hands descended onto her shoulders and began to massage away their stiffness. She let her head droop forward and sighed at the wonderful feeling only to have a shiver run through her as the hands were joined by a pair of lips that began to plant soft kisses along the nape of her neck.

With a smile she tilted her head to the side and looked up to see the amused countenance of the Potions master looking back at her with a cocked eyebrow and a small smirk.

"I take it it's been a difficult day?" he asked dryly.

"Difficult doesn't begin to describe it. It's been one of the longest, dreariest, most tedious days I've had in years."

"A three Longbottom day then."

She huffed slightly and pulled back to look at him chidingly. "Severus! That's an awful thing to say."

He crossed his arms and shook his head. "You only say that because you haven't had him blow up your entire classroom and send half your students off to the infirmary, singeing your eyebrows, and ruining your best robe at the same time."

A small smile appeared briefly and vanished again, as she fought to keep a disapproving expression on her face. "Well… no, I suppose not, but I still say it's not a nice thing to say," she murmured softly.

He shrugged and walked around the sofa to sit beside her on the cushions as he offered her a snifter of brandy. "Perhaps not… but then who ever said I was nice."

She accepted the brandy gratefully and took a sip, letting the liquid course through her body and warm her from head to toe. "Oh, I think you can manage nice if you really try. For example, this is exactly what I needed after the day, I've had, and so I'd have to say it would definitely qualify as nice. Sorry."

A confident smirk teased the corner of his lips. "As long as you promise not to tell, I suppose I can live with that."

"Mum's the word," she promised as she took another, slightly larger, sip of her brandy.

Then she leaned back against the comfortable cushions of the couch and closed her eyes. "Oh, I think I could go right to sleep at the moment."

His voice murmured softly, "You don't really mean that now, do you? I've waited all day to give you your present; it wouldn't be very flattering to have you fall asleep on me before I can, now would it?" His hands grasped her feet and lifted them into his lap as he began to massage the ache from her muscles, beginning at the arches of her feet and moving slowly up to her ankles and then her calves.

She sighed with pleasure and opened her eyes to look at him. "No, I suppose not. What is that wonderful aroma I smell? It wouldn't be dinner, would it? I'm starving."

"Yes, I'm sure you are." Reluctantly removing his hands from beneath her skirt, he got to his feet and reached down a hand to pull her up to join him, then he waved his hand and the candles in the rest of the room flared to life, illuminating a small table set next to the balcony doors across the room. Heavy burgundy drapes were drawn against the cold and rain and the candles reflected warmly off their soft surface. The table itself was set with elegant china and crystal, and there were several warming dishes that appeared to contain some of her very favorite foods.

Minerva smiled up at the man standing next to her. "This was very thoughtful of you, Severus. I should change though before eating, I'm still so damp from the rain."

In answer, the wizard summoned up a warming charm to dry her from head to toes. As she gasped at the heat that flooded through her so completely, he smiled in return. "There's really no point to removing your clothing now and then putting more on. It'll only have to come off again after we eat."

She shivered at the look simmering deeply in his eyes and her smile broadened. "I suppose you're right," she murmured softly as a blush crept up to stain her cheeks.

Dinner was eaten quickly. The food was delicious, but both of them were now rather anxious to get to dessert. Over time, Minerva had found more and more to be pleased with concerning her new arrangement with the Potions master. The sex had always been wonderful, right from the start, but she was fast discovering that there was a lot more hiding beneath that buttoned up exterior of his than she'd ever imagined. His thoughtfulness at providing her with dinner, not to mention the wonderful brandy, was more than she'd have expected from him, even if it was her birthday. After all, it wasn't as if theirs was a love affair.

Once dinner was over, he'd swept her off into the bedroom where the bed had been turned down and another fire had been lit in the fireplace there to give the room a cheery glow that gleamed pleasantly off their naked skin, giving, even the rather pale Potions master, a warm cast to his complexion.

Minerva found it so easy to lose herself in the sensation of having his strong hands stroking slowly over her body. Warmth radiated from his touch as he slid his long fingers down across her torso, caressing her breasts gently with soft accompanying kisses, gliding slowly across her abdomen and stroking tenderly along her inner thighs causing her to gasp with pleasure. He insisted on massaging every inch of her from the tight muscles of her shoulders and neck down the length of her back and down each of her long legs… neglecting nothing.

So relaxed had she become, that she'd almost fallen asleep under his touch when she was abruptly brought back to wakefulness by the sudden shock of his warm questing mouth between her thighs. His insistent tongue sent shivers of desire rocketing through her whole body… sleep completely forgotten. Intense waves of feeling built faster and faster, radiating outward from his talented mouth, warming her from the inside out and finally resulting in a release so strong she could barely keep her body on the sheets as she arched upward and gasped out his name to the stars that glimmered outside her window now that the storm had passed.

Pleased at her reaction, he crawled up the length of her body to lie next to her as she sighed in contentment. "Happy birthday, Minerva," he murmured as he took her face between his hands and kissed her fervently. She returned the kiss with evident enjoyment, running her hands down over his body to stroke him caressingly.

Her lips left his to glide down his throat and nibble softly at the crook of his shoulder and the nipples of his chest, while her hand glided along the length of him feeling him harden and grow within her grasp. With a groan he raised his body up above her and pressed her back against the pillows as his mouth sought hers once more. With a shiver of pleasure, she felt him slide between her legs and deep within her.

Once they'd both found their pleasure in each other and lay once more contentedly in each other's arms, Minerva smiled at him. "Thank you, Severus. That was quite the nicest birthday present anyone has given to me in a very long time."

He brushed a stray strand of dark hair from her cheek and let his fingers caress its softness. "You're welcome. It certainly has been an enjoyable evening for me as well."

"I'm glad. I do wonder why I haven't heard anything from anyone else, though. Frankly I expected to be interrupted far sooner than this. It isn't like Albus to simply forget all about my birthday. He's so fond of any excuse to have a party, after all."

Severus nodded and a slightly guilty look crossed his face. "Mmm… yes, well, Albus didn't exactly forget. He knew that you were going to be late, so he set the party for nine thirty… in the staff lounge. I told him I'd watch for you, and that I'd intercept you once you arrived and bring you down to the gathering."

Minerva raised herself up on her elbows and glanced at the clock that sat on her mantle. "Good heavens. It's almost a quarter to eleven. I'm surprised that they haven't come bursting in here demanding to know what's taking you so long."

"Well, no doubt they would… if they could get out of the lounge, but I charmed the door to keep them all inside until I released it. Not that they know that, of course. They'll assume that it's merely… stuck. Hooch was plying everyone with liquor when I left anyway. They're probably all so inebriated by now that they've forgotten exactly why they were there in the first place."

Minerva sat up, aghast. "Severus, we need to get down there. They'll wonder what on earth we've been doing all this time."

He pulled her back down into his arms. "Nonsense." Slowly he began to nibble at her neck. "You didn't even arrive back until almost ten thirty. Then you had to change clothes, and you insisted on eating something. It was after eleven before I could coax you into the lounge to be surprised by the waiting horde."

"After eleven, you say…" She sighed and arched her back as she bent her neck to the side to allow him greater access.

"At least," he murmured softly, pulling her firmly against him once more.