Spring is in the Air…

By ShadowBallad

A/N: This is just a little fic that popped into my head while on Christmas holiday. The plot bunny has been nibbling at my brain for a while, so I finally surrendered and am now writing it. Rated T for insinuated nudity, mature themes and some language.

It will also be SS/MM and slight, female-sided SS/PS and SS/RH. If this isn't your cuppa, don't drink and blame me for the bad taste if leaves in your mouth.

Timeframe: AU Spring sixth year

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and friends (and enemies). If I did, I would be rich instead of dirt poor.

Chapter One: Aches, Pains and "Hufflepuff" Temptations

All in all, it was turning out to be a rather horrid day for Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

First period with first-year Ravenclaws wasn't helping his mood much. Oh, the other teachers all loved Ravenclaws. They praised them for their curiosity, their love of learning, and their inquisitive minds.

Severus didn't mind them much, usually. Only when certain Inquisitive Minds thought that they knew more than he did about Potions, and thus decided to experiment by tossing Essence of Yew, powdered bicorn horn and a jar of rat spleens into a cauldron, did he start to get frustrated.

By the time the cauldron exploded, green sap covered the entire classroom, and an ominous foul-smelling gas made students become violently ill, he began to hate them.

A lot.

After nearly screaming himself hoarse, he managed to get all the students out of the classroom. Another ranting was due to the Inquisitive Mind who caused the mess (as well as a 35 House point deduction and weekend detention) before he sent the students off early to their dormitory. Loaded, of course, with much more homework than usual and a rather nasty essay on top of it all.

Then came the task of making the dungeons inhabitable within half an hour.

Oh, the little joys of teaching.

He really didn't want to go back inside. If truth be told, the gas had made him quite ill as well. "Bullocks," he sighed as he resigned himself to a dirty morning.

Carefully Severus opened the door and was immediately struck by the awful stench. He quickly covered his nose with one black robe sleeve, but not before he caught a slight whiff of rotten eggs, week-old sewage and something else too disgusting to contemplate.

Cursing students and their unlimited ability to wreak havoc, the professor drew his wand from his sleeve and dispelled the gas with an irritable flick. The moment it was gone he dropped the sleeve and inhaled the air tentatively.

And promptly became violently ill over a puddle of green sap at his feet.

"Bloody hell and damnation!" he rasped when his stomach ad finished emptying itself of his breakfast of toast and coffee. Snape, who discovered that sometime during his illness he had fallen to his knees, transfigured a sludge pile nearby into a handkerchief and dabbed at his mouth. All the while, he was careful not to breathe in through his nose for fear of vomiting again.

The rough, cold stone was uncomfortable against his hands, but upon attempting to rise his stomach flip-flopped and he was back on the ground. Muttering obscene words in every language he knew, he slowly waited for the nausea to pass.

It took another good five minutes before the Potions Master could stand without gagging again. He ran a shaky hand through his shoulder-length black hair, surveying the mess with renewed distaste.

"I should have taken more points than 35," Snape grumbled to himself before retrieving his wand from the cobbles at his feet.

"Evanesco!" he shouted, pointing the black wand at the pile of sludge that was covered in his sickness. He felt a little queasy as he cleaned up the rest of the green slime, and hated himself for being so weak.

Finally everything was cleaned up. Severus strode moodily to the door and opened it, so as to let clean air from the outside corridor mingle with the air inside the dungeon. It still smelt a bit of nasty things.

This done, he plopped unceremoniously down into his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose between his right index finger and thumb. His head ached; his back ached; he still felt a bit nauseous, and to top it all off, his immaculate black robes were flecked with green goo. Severus absently picked at a large blob on his thigh, but it resolutely refused to come off. Blasting the stubborn slime only earned him a singed hole in his trousers, which put him in an even fouler mood than before.

Midmorning break found him kneading throbbing temples and downing a large mug of tea. And, of course, cursing students and their multitudinous ways of making his life miserable.

The bell to sound second period rang what seemed far too short a time later, and the dungeons were soon filled with Hufflepuffs. Snape suppressed a moan and got to his feet.

"Today we are brewing an Anti-Venom Drought that purged venom caused by an animal bite from the bloodstream. I must also stress use the correct amount of bicorn horn; too much could – yes, Mr. Winston?" Snape snapped as the third-year tentatively raised his hand. If there was anything Snape hated more than students fooling around in his class, it was students who interrupted him while he was speaking.

"Uh…Sir? I smell something weird," said Winston nervously. Someone tittered in the back of the class.

Severus, however, was not amused. Not in the least. Oh no. Not amused at all.

"Perhaps it is your body odour you smell, Mr. Winston?" he grated between clenched teeth. The student's face flushed crimson and he sunk lower in his chair.

Snape, however, was not to be deterred when a victim had volunteered himself. He thundered over to Mr. Winston's desk in a fit rage. "I. Do. Not. Care. What. You. Smell!" he snarled, nearly nose-to-nose with the frightened student. "Unless you want to fail this class, I suggest you plug your nose and get to work!" The Hufflepuff meeped and scrambled to the potions supply cabinet to collect the necessary ingredients. Snape watched him the entire way there with a particularly vengeful sneer on his thin face.

"And 5 points from Hufflepuff for your inappropriate comment, Mr. Winston," he added silkily as the student returned to his desk, face still red with embarrassment.

"What!" Winston howled, along with a good portion of the class. The professor pivoted on his heel and stood behind his own desk to face a room full of enraged faces.

"Unless you want it to be 15, I suggest you shut up!" Snape bellowed, flaming his fists onto his desk with a loud BANG!

The classroom became absolutely silent. The only noises to be heard were the pleasant crackling of flames beneath cauldrons, and Essence of Yew being carefully measured and poured into them.

With a grunt of frustration Severus plopped down into his chair once more. His headache had gotten progressively worse and now required extensive kneading of temples to feel even the slightest bit better. Long, slender fingers groped about to his left until they alighted upon a stack of un-graded essays. Another exploration found a jar of red ink and his quill.

For the remainder of the period, Professor Snape amused himself by taking out his bad mood on the equally bad essays in front of him. He marked every paper with so much red ink that that it appeared the parchments were bleeding.

"Severus, what is wrong?" someone (he didn't care who) asked.

Severus didn't bother to reply. He was tired, achy, and the sight of the food on his plate was threatening to make him sick.

A finger sharply prodded his right side, and with an oath he turned to meet the concerned face of Minerva McGonagall. Well, it had been concerned. Now she just seemed appalled by his word choice.

Minerva clucked her tongue disapprovingly and shook her head at him. "Language, Severus; really! What if one of the students had heard you?" she scolded, peering at him over the rims of her glasses.

"I don't bloody care at the bloody moment," he said sullenly. His fork prodded at some green beans, but they reminded him too much of the green sap from earlier that morning for him to even consider eating them.

Minerva ignored his comment and watched him poke around his food, never taking any to his mouth. He dearly wished the woman would mind her own business, and leave him be. But, live was never that simple for him.

"You haven't taken a single bite," she said with a hint of disappointment in her lilting Scottish accent.

"Astute observation, Minerva," he snapped with a little more venom than he meant. The Gryffindor Head of House was not to be deterred by snark, however. She continued to stare pointedly at him until he became exceedingly uncomfortable under her gaze and put his fork down altogether.

"Disagreeable morning," he grunted, taking a sip of water to moisten his dry throat.

She reached out to pat his arm, but a warning glare halted her in mid-movement. She made a vexed sound but quickly returned to Caring Colleague mode.

"Aren't they always?" Severus didn't care for the slightly teasing quality to her voice, but chose to be too miserable in his bodily aches and pains to comment on it.

Instead, he gave a noncommittal grunt and drained the rest of his water in one gulp.

Once again, Minerva refused to be brushed aside so easily. "Whenever I feel a bit down, I find that taking a nice long bath in the Heads of House bathroom to be a wonderful way to relax," she said after taking a prim bite of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Damn the woman! Didn't she know to leave well enough alone? Snape grunted again, determined to be antisocial. Besides, watching her eat made him feel a right bit ill.

McGonagall was having none of his standoffishness, however. "I do hope you feel better, Severus," she said with sincere compassion. Severus granted her with a rather rude snort, but she ignored this like everything else. "It might not relieve your attitude, but your body will thank you."

Before he could supply a deliciously nasty retort, the black-haired witch gracefully rose from the table and left him seething in his chair.

Severus's conversation with Minerva during lunch only served to make his mood even nastier. The next class – Double Potions with the Gryffindors and Slytherins – was doomed to receive his wrath.

Had a certain Gryffindor boy by the name of Harry Potter realised that his professor was in an even fouler mood than usual, he might have decided to not show up to class. That would have made said professor infinitely happier. But alas, Life decided to play him foul (once again), and Potter did indeed come to class.

Just the sight of the Golden Trio waltzing into his classroom made Snape's headache even nastier than before.

Well, Granger was admittedly not that bad; just a tad bit annoying with her know-it-all antics.

Weasley; well, Weasley was just stupid.

Then there was Potter. The Boy-Who-Lived-To-Irritate-Him. If Snape thought any more on that subject, he was likely to burst a vein.

"Sit down and shut up!" he snapped, thundering to the front of the classroom to take role. A quick black-eyed sweep of the class saw no one absent. Joy, oh joy. Longbottom was here.

A sharp flick of his wand revealed the instructions for the day's lesson on the blackboard (a particularly nasty healing potion). He heard a few groans, mainly from the Gryffindors, and took points accordingly.

Even though his headache was back in force, he dared not miss his usual swooping among the cauldrons to take points, sneer at Gryffindors and praise the Slytherins. Longbottom, predictably, had gotten the potion completely fouled up.

"Green, Longbottom," said Snape with a dangerous air to his voice. Neville fidgeted under the black stare and refused to meet his teacher's gaze. "Can you tell me what colour it's supposed to be? Or is that a bit too difficult for your tiny brain to comprehend?"

A few of the Slytherins chuckled at this comment, while most of the Gryffindors turned red with anger. Typical. Let's see; how far could he push them before he got an excuse to take away more points?

Not very far, most assuredly. As he turned to glide away to check on those in the back, he distinctively heard Weasley mutter, "Greasy git."

Immediately Snape was upon the red-haired boy, hardly two inches away from his face and giving him a glare that could freeze daisies in summer. "10 points from Gryffindor, Mr. Weasley, for failing to show a teacher proper respect," he said silkily. The boy's face flushed a brilliant red to clash horribly with his hair.

"If the teacher deserved respect, Ron would show it," said Potter defiantly.

Severus's lip curled into a nasty sneer. "Another 10 points, Potter, and a detention with Filch as well." Potter glared at him, but Granger elbowed him in the ribs and he wisely held his tongue.

Feeling particularly vengeful today, Snape lingered a moment longer than necessary over the boys' cauldrons, just so their potions couldn't possibly be correct when they turned them in at the end of the period. Granger noticed and frowned, but since when did the most feared teacher in Hogwarts care if a student made a face at him? Since he couldn't take points away from her, he graced her with a leer and moved on.

After billowing about the dungeons for another ten minutes, Severus alighted at his desk and sat down. He didn't plop this time, but was completely dignified throughout the entire procedure. This was something to be proud of, as his head and backaches had each discovered new heights in regards to pain.

Still, he had his glorious reputation to uphold, and thus kept his back ramrod straight when he dearly wished to hunch over his desk and sleep. Instead of kneading his temples and pinching at the bridge of his nose, he kept a sharp eye on the students and managed to take away 15 more points the Trio before the period finally ended.

"I want four feet on the properties of the healing potion, due next class," Severus announced just before the bell rang. "And do not complain, or I shall make it six!" he added, giving the room of students a terrible glower before they hurriedly exited the classroom to dinner.

Snape sighed in relief and lowered himself gingerly into his chair once again. This time he held no qualms about laying his head onto the cool wood of his desk.

"Bullocks," he muttered to no one in particular, as there was no one there to hear him. He heaved a sigh and sat up, his back groaning in protest. With yet another sigh he began a sort of self-massage on the back of his neck, but this proved unsatisfactory and he soon ceased.

Snape unwillingly found his mind wondering to the Heads of House bathroom. It explored the many different scented soaps and shampoos available (yes, dammit, he washed his hair just like everyone else!), and the wonderfully soothing hot water.

He gazed dreamily at a jar of something green and nasty, his mind awash in images of soaking for an hour or two, before he realized what he was doing and snapped out of it. "I'm behaving like a bloody Hufflepuff," he groaned to himself, blearily rubbing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose again.

The more he sat there, however, and tried not to think about soap bubbles, hot water and fluffy white towels, the more they began to frolic in his mind.

He tried giving himself a smack to banish the images, but that only made his headache worse. Which, in turn, made the bubbles, water and towels all the more appealing.

Five minutes later he gave an indignant roar that rattled the students' potions vials on his desk. He then moodily picked himself up from his chair and skulked his way to the fifth floor, where the bathroom was located (near the prefect's bathroom).

All the way Snape stayed to the shadows, determined not to be seen going to indulge himself in something as Hufflepuff as a long, relaxing bath.

Minerva covered her mouth with one hand, concealing a rather large yawn. Today her classes had been rather well-behaved; except for one first-year Ravenclaw who came in smelling too horrible to stay in the classroom. She suspected that this student was part of Severus's "disagreeable morning" he had reluctantly told her about at lunch.

She gave a small grin, wondering just how Poppy Pomfrey had dealt with that particular boy. McGonagall had seen him during her break, wearing a new uniform and looking as if he had gone through one of those Muggle contraptions; what did they all them? Ah, carwashes!

The house elves had prepared a delicious meal tonight of broiled chicken, vegetables and rice pilaf, but the Head of Gryffindor found herself unable to concentrate on her food.

The main reason being that the chair on her left was unoccupied. Her grin faded at that thought and a pensive look settled upon her visage.

"You've noticed too, haven't you," said Pomona Sprout from the other side of Severus's empty chair. Minerva, glad to have someone to talk to, nodded and shoved her plate out of her way.

"As a matter of fact, yes I have," she replied, leaning slightly towards Sprout. Sprout clucked her tongue.

"He seemed in a rather bad mood at lunch," she said, taking a liberal bite of chicken. Minerva waited for her to chew and swallow before carrying on the conversation.

"Severus is always in a bad mod," McGonagall said wryly. Sprout had to smile at that.

"More than usual is what I meant," she said with a wave of her hand. "The way he came in…all hunched up…seemed a right bit stressed." Minerva contemplated this statement and compared it to her own observations of the Potions Master's demeanour. Yes; it fit him perfectly.

At this point, Rolanda Hooch decided to butt into the women's conversation as she was leaving the table. "I wouldn't worry too much about him," she said in her characteristically gruff voice. "Man knows how to care for himself. If he didn't, he'd be a splatter on a dungeon wall years ago. Ta."

As the other walked away, Minerva allowed herself the mental image of a black puddle dripping slowly of the wall in Severus's classroom and had to give a short bark of laughter. Sprout giggled too – apparently her mental image was something similar – and the two women shared a good chuckle.

"Speaking of stress," said Sprout after they had each calmed down, "you look a bit wrung out yourself." The Head of Hufflepuff gave Minerva a knowing look before taking another bite of her meal.

Minerva's eyebrows shot up in surprise. Of all the things Pomona could say, that was the least expected of them all. "Me?" she repeated, her voice echoing her confusion. "But I don't feel the least bit off at all."

Sprout shook her head and swallowed whatever she had been previously chewing. "Perhaps not; but you look it, dear."

Alarmed at this news, Minerva surreptitiously cleared away the scant amount of food on her plate and performed a mirror spell on the china. Instantly her face gazed up at her.

Slightly beady eyes (she had always hated her eyes) looked at her from behind square glasses perched on the edge of a delicate nose. Slight lines in her face, coupled from aging gracefully and the stresses of teaching one of the most difficult subjects, marred otherwise smooth skin. Her slightly longer-than-shoulder-length black hair was pulled out of her face into a smart bun on the back of her head, but she could detect wisps around her ears and the back of her neck.

"I don't see anything –" she began plaintively, but Pomona interrupted.

"Your eyes, dear. Look at your eyes."

Obeying the other teacher's command, Minerva forced herself to look into her own brown orbs. As her most hated feature, she barely paid them any heed; but now, she could see that they definitely showed her as very stressed. Her eyelids dropped with fatigue, dark circles were forming beneath, and her eyes themselves were devoid of any life at all.

"Well," she said, and then, not able to find any words to express herself, closed her mouth and continued to peruse her face.

Sprout patted her arm. "See, dear? Maybe you should take your own advice and head to the Heads' bathroom."

This statement brought Minerva from her reverie, and she let the spell fade away in favour of looking at her friend. "Perhaps I should, at that." Then a sudden thought struck her, causing her cheeks to flush pink.

Sprout, amused by this expression on her usually stern companion's face, smiled. "What is it you're thinking of, Minerva?" she asked kindly, but not without delight.

Minerva refused to meet her gaze now. "What if… well… Severus is there?" She angled her head toward his empty chair. "After all, he certainly isn't here."

Pomona chuckled and gave McGonagall another pat on the arm. "I think you'll be safe in assuming that the Heads' bathroom is the last place in Hogwarts Severus would be," she said, laughter smiling in her voice. "After all, taking a long relaxing bath is quite a Hufflepuff thing to do."

Minerva grinned wryly. "Well, then call me a Hufflepuff," she quipped, "because that's where I'm going. Ta, Pomona." With that, she took a few bites of her meal (a bit cold, but delicious nonetheless) and bid her friend adieu.

"Have a nice time, dear," Pomona called after her as the Head of Gryffindor exited the Great Hall through the door near the Head Table. She nodded to Sprout, allowing a slight smile to grace her lips, before adopting her stern demeanour once again and striding through the door.

All the way to the fifth floor, visions of rose-scented soap (her very favourite) and a bathtub filled with enough hot water to swim in danced in her head. Oh, yes; and fluffy white towels. She grinned. This would be just what she needed.

A/N: Cliff-hanger! Oh no!

So…how do you like it? Good? Bad? Don't care? I'd like to know!

Oh…and for those reading my other story, I will update that! It was just hard to concentrate on that with this plot bunny hopping around in my head, demanding to be written.

Thanks for reading, and please review!