"Professor Snape, I've finished."
There would be no need to check. Longbottom was good at cleaning cauldrons. Not, of course, as adept as he was at destroying them, but still . . .
Sometimes Snape wondered if he was doing it deliberately, if he obtained some perverse satisfaction from the violence and mess that resulted from a mismanaged potion.
Living with the woman with the hat might well create the need for some kind of outlet. And Longbottom, somehow, consistently managed to produce quite exceptional results with the unlikeliest and least volatile of ingredients.
Certainly such a conclusion would be supported by the unmusical but not unhappy noises that had, for some time, been emanating from the direction of the sinks.
He stared at the boy. "Very well, you may go."
Longbottom fled. Severus Snape locked the cabinets and the cupboards and, finally, the door behind him and commenced his long ascent through the castle.
Passing through the great hall he found no one either on or under the tables and the sky clear. It would be necessary at some point this evening to visit the astronomy tower.
Up on the third floor corridor the tingle of magic alerted him to the presence of a concealment charm, the removal of which revealed a delicate bluish-purple potion in its final stages of development. Fortunately, they never seemed to realise that it might be more effective simply to shove whatever it was that they wished to hide under a table. He thought for moment and then, from within his robes, he withdrew a small vial.
He swept into the light of the hospital wing. "Madam Pomfrey, you inquired . . ."
"Professor Snape." Hooch. Oh Good.
"Severus." Sinistra. Even better.
A starspatter splash of blue glass and potion reached under the beds. "Dreamless Sleep" he noted absently as its pungent scent filled the air.
"Oops." Madame Pomfrey's hand flew to her mouth. Sneering he watched as warmth rose in her eyes. To his perpetual amazement the woman was fond of him. He shook his head darkly but refrained from comment. He would see to it that the spilt potion was replaced before tomorrow's classes began.
Hooch stood before him, arresting him, her hand over his heart.
"Severus," she smiled, her yellow raptors eyes gazing into his, "how about a midnight game of Quiddich? Flitwick has volunteered to be the Quaffle."
No, he did not want to think about that. He felt Sinistra's hand begin to mount slowly up his back. Hooch's fingers in his, he brushed her knuckles against his mouth. "Not tonight."
Turning quickly he placed all three in front of him and the door behind. "Witches . . . " He took his leave, not breaking step even as the stairs moved to his requirement.
There had been a party then, as there had been tonight, and he had sat quietly in a corner of the Three Broomsticks watching as someone he did not recognise, but rather thought to be the seeker of the reigning Quiddich team, flirted outrageously with Professor McGonagall. Her birthday he had supposed. When they had risen to leave he had slipped out ahead of them to wait, by the crossroads, on the Hogwarts Road.
At the top of the Astronomy Tower he discovered that it was raining.
For a very long time he gazed down on the raw mass of wet rock and magic that was Hogwarts. From the parapet he considered the blur of lights and listened to the roar of the dark forests that surrounded Hogwarts. While water flooded down his face and hands, it failed to penetrate his magically warded clothing and he ignored it.
They would be drinking hot chocolate and bickering . . . Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall . . . sometime Potions Professor and Transfiguration's Mistress . . . Headmaster and the Head of Gryffindor. . .
He thought back to the evening that he had followed them, and sworn, by the awful power of Hogwarts itself, to obey the headmaster, to protect the students and to serve the school to the utmost of his abilities. This of his own freewill and volition. There could be no argument whatsoever. None that he would care to bring forward in a court of law.
Finally he turned to begin his descent, down the long, long familiar flights of stone.
In one of the many galleries, he paused to gaze out over the Quiddich pitch. He would ask Dobby to deliver the Hangover Potions as well as the "Dreamless Sleep".
Severus Snape had never been a particularly cruel man. When he strode, masked and robed, from behind a broken wall it had not been his intention to injure Minerva McGonagall, only to humiliate her and thus to send a message to the Headmaster. She had drawn her wand and quickly been disarmed. Her companion simply raised his hands to Snape's casting and offered "Protego" in a voice that was entirely too familiar.
Sighing inaudibly, he turned to continue his rounds, onward through the darkened halls, lights flaring ahead of and dying behind him. In about an hour he would pause in the kitchens where he would eat a late supper and argue with Dobby. Snape got on well with the house-elves. It had been a long time since he had been sufficiently foolish to antagonise those who were responsible for his food and his laundry, and house elves got everywhere and house elves talked.
Severus Snape - erstwhile Death Eater - present day Potions Master and Spy understood the value of accurate and timely information.
That evening's celebration had not been for the anniversary of Minerva McGonagall's birth but of her marriage, her husband, of course, being the man on the chocolate frog cards . . . the beloved former mentor, for whom a celebrity Quiddich player would volunteer hair for use in a potion made only for an evening's entertainment . . . perhaps, the most powerful wizard alive.
Not for the first time he contemplated the complete and utter unwisdom of attempting to cast "Imperius" upon Albus Dumbledore.
notes: Of course Snape gets on well with the house-elves - miffed
menials can do far worse than put a dirty grey sock into the wash
along with one's nice white undies, and
Polyjuice (for those who really do need to get some sleep).