Grasping at Shadows

by shadowycat

Spoilers for Book 6 The Half-Blood Prince

Disclaimer: All characters and settings in this story belong to JK Rowling, not me.

A barely perceptible breeze ruffled the curtain at the window and made the room's single candle flicker faintly. A dark figure stepped into the bedroom and with a wave of his wand, silently placed warding spells around the room. Once that was done, he slowly crossed the floor to stand quietly next to the bed and look down on its slumbering occupant.

One of Minerva's hands rested against her forehead as her face turned into the surface of her pillow while the other grasped a fistful of covers tightly. The lightweight coverlet that outlined her figure rose and fell with her every breath. He didn't want to wake her, but he couldn't stay too long. It wouldn't be safe. As much as he'd wanted to see her again, he knew this wouldn't be a pleasant conversation. Best to make it as brief as possible.

Slowly, he extended a hand, but before he could touch her, she woke herself with a start and an inarticulate cry. Bad dreams…or had he betrayed his presence to her somehow? It hardly mattered. Before she could do more than turn her head and frown uncertainly into the dim closeness of the room, he extended his wand and silently bound her form to the bed.

Shock flitted across her face as she suddenly found herself unable to move, and as she struggled fruitlessly, he stepped closer still to the side of the bed and into the weak circle of light spilling from the nearby candle.

Minerva stopped struggling and stared up at him from a pale and careworn face. "Severus," she whispered through stiff lips. "How did you get in here?"

"I know more about this castle than anyone alive. Getting in was child's play," he stated quietly.

"Getting out again will not be as easy," she warned grimly.

"That depends on you. I'll let you up if you promise to listen to me…and not hinder my leaving."

"Listen to you!" she exclaimed incredulously. "Why should anyone listen to anything that you have to say? You've proved yourself to be unworthy of even the most hesitant trust."

"You aren't even a little curious about why I've gone to the trouble to come here alone in the middle of the night to see you?" His voice taunted her, pushing hard on the word curious.

She stared at him coldly for a moment as conflicting feelings and thoughts rushed to jumble together within her, trying to reach a consensus on a course of action. Finally, she responded as he no doubt wished.

"Let me up. I won't talk to you bound up like this."

His eyes flickered from her face to her nightstand. With a swift movement, he took a step and snatched up her wand with his free hand before stepping back again. "You'll listen to me? You won't do anything noble and foolish?" His tone mocked her lightly.

"I will listen," she said simply. Promising more would be the truly foolish thing.

Satisfied that he was unlikely to get any further concessions from her, he waved his wand again and silently removed her bonds.

Able to move once more, Minerva sat up with a profound sense of relief. She forced her clenched hand to release the bedclothes and let them fall around her before thrusting them off her body so she could slide from the bed, yanking the thin summer weight material of her nightgown firmly down over her exposed thigh as she did so.

Snape's eyes gleamed faintly in the candlelight as he watched her move swiftly to a nearby chair where she snatched up a lightweight robe and belted it around her slender form. Her hands clutched the lapels close to her throat protectively, decently covering the slice of bosom that her thin gown had momentarily revealed to him. He laughed shortly as she turned to face him once more.

"What's your hurry? There's nothing lurking beneath that robe that I haven't seen before, you know," he exclaimed in a brittle voice.

Unable to control the flush that instantly stained her cheeks, she firmly raised her chin and stared straight at him until she saw his smirk falter slightly under her contemptuous gaze.

"Why are you here? How could you dare to show your face here again after what you did?" Her voice slapped angrily at him as her tightly clenched hands could not.

Ignoring her second question, he answered the first blandly, "I'm here to deliver a warning."

A harsh laugh escaped her lips as she curled them in disdain. "From murderer to errand boy… You've come down in the world, Severus." Bitterness crackled like old parchment in her tone, and she watched him carefully, noting that his face twitched slightly as if he had to work hard to keep it expressionless.

They stared wordlessly at one another for the space of two violent heartbeats, then, with a sigh, she found herself whispering…pleading for an answer that made sense, "How could you kill him? How could you do it to him of all people? He believed in you." Her throat narrowed with pain, and her voice trailed away, "He trusted you…"

The mask of Snape's face hardened, and his voice betrayed nothing of what might be going on beneath it. "I understand that you're considering closing Hogwarts."

Surprise flitted through her eyes, but she kept her lips firmly shut.

"There are spies everywhere, Minerva. You should know that." The haughty tone was back. "Closing the school would be a mistake. It's important to the Dark Lord. You'd be handing him a prize on a silver platter."

Drawing her brows together firmly, she shook her head in disbelief. "How can you expect me to believe anything you say? I can't trust you anymore, Severus. Your telling me not to close the school is just one more reason for me to do it."

Gesturing impatiently, he stepped closer to her, his eyes full of intensity in the dim, wavering light. "Think, Minerva! So many of the Dark Lord's actions and plans have revolved around Hogwarts. It's a powerful symbol to him, as are its Founders. He doesn't turn his focus here simply because of…Dumbledore's presence…or Potter's." His tone turned momentarily sour. "He needs to return here. It won't be a victory for him until he does. Don't abandon the school!"

Doubt crept into her gaze as she stared at him. He seemed so sincere, but then he so often did, didn't he? "It's up to the Board," she said softly.

"You are the Headmistress now. Your voice…your opinion will matter. Make them listen to you. Don't close the school. Protect it."

Uncertain, she nervously licked her lips and furrowed her brow. Her eyes continued to bore into his, searching for the truth. If only she had his ability to see into the minds of others, but that wasn't a talent she possessed, and never had she wished for it more.

Without warning, he made a violent move towards her, grasping her roughly in his arms and pulling her body against his. His lips dropped to hers, searing them with a kiss full of passion. For a moment frozen in time, she responded instinctively to the desire within her before going cold and still in his embrace. When she abruptly shoved him away with both hands, he didn't resist. Nor did he respond when she slowly raised the back of her hand to her mouth and wiped the taste of him from her lips with a sharp gesture.

With a slow, halting exhalation of breath, he moved away from her to the door. Turning back, he stared at her for a moment before stating harshly once more, "Don't abandon the school. Goodbye, Minerva."

Then he dropped her wand to the floor and turned away to move swiftly through the barrier he'd erected and disappear from her sight.

A trembling coldness swept through her in a wave, holding her in place as she stared into the darkness where he'd vanished. Finally, she forced herself to walk across the floor, moving stiffly, pausing to bend down and grab her wand before straightening up to aim it at the barrier whose shimmering surface she could barely make out in the shadowy room.

She stood with her arm extended for what seemed like eternity then finally, she lowered it without casting a spell. Instead, she moved closer, reaching out to touch the wall of magic that looked so insubstantial but felt so firm. When it suddenly vanished from beneath her fingertips, she knew he was gone…for good.

Dropping her hand to her side, she turned away to walk over to the window. Gently, she pushed the curtain aside and leaned her head wearily against the casement as she stared out over the faintly silvered grounds towards the lake. Albus' tomb glistened white in the distance, one shining spot in a sea of unfathomable darkness.

"Goodbye, Severus," she whispered softly into the uncertain vastness of the night.