Disclaimer: None of these characters or settings belong to me. Everything is the creation of J. K. Rowling. I'm just playing around with them for my own amusement.
Chapter 6: All's Well That Ends
Remus Lupin took his seat at the breakfast table with a weary sigh. This had been the longest twenty-four hours he could ever remember living through, though he knew it had probably been much worse for both Snape and McGonagall than it had been for him. Still, he felt horribly guilty for putting them both through all this and would be so glad when it was finally over. Just a few more hours to go…hopefully.
A small shiver of trepidation squirmed through his stomach as he found himself wondering what would happen if they were wrong. What if the spell didn't dissipate as promised? What would happen if Snape and McGonagall weren't returned safely to their own bodies at the end of the allotted time?
He could certainly guess, and it wasn't pleasant to contemplate. Tempers were already strained to the snapping point, and he didn't want any more snapping to be directed at him. It had to work out the way the literature said it would. Surely not all of those books would be wrong on the same very important point. He just needed to have more faith. Really, what other choice did he have, anyway?
After dinner last night, even Albus seemed to have lost some of his amusement at the predicament that his staff found themselves in. If for some reason, the spell didn't end as promised, he could probably count on finding himself on the next Hogwarts Express heading straight back to London. Hopefully he'd be occupying a seat and not be stuffed into a box in a storage bin, which is where he'd no doubt be if either Snape or McGonagall had their way. They might even collaborate on his sendoff…not a pleasant prospect at all.
While Lupin was filling his plate with eggs and sausages, he glanced up just in time to witness the afflicted professors entering the Great Hall at the same time…though hardly together. As they unexpectedly found themselves face to face in the doorway, the two of them came to a dead stop and stared awkwardly at each other for a long moment. Then, without a single word being exchanged between them, both of their faces reddened noticeably, and they quickly looked away from each other.
Lupin was amazed. He'd seen McGonagall blush once or twice, usually when she'd had more to drink than was prudent, but he'd certainly never seen the slightest hint of embarrassment on Snape's face before. Of course, it wasn't exactly Snape's face at the moment, was it? It was on reluctant loan.
After that very brief uncomfortable exchange, the two professors ignored each other and walked the length of the hall in uneasy silence to take their usual places at the head table. As McGonagall took Snape's seat next to him, the anxious Lupin ventured a friendly greeting to test out the waters.
He'd left the hall rather hurriedly the night before and was pretty certain that the woman he'd left behind had been fuming with barely concealed rage when he'd made his escape. Hopefully, a night's sleep and being that much closer to the end of all this had sweetened McGonagall's mood at least slightly.
"Good, morning," he said with a smile. "I trust you slept well."
McGonagall skewered him with a glance that didn't look even a smidgen less hostile than yesterday and then returned her attention to her plate without answering. So much for the magic of time healing all wounds.
"Ah…well, I'll just hope that you had a pleasant evening then," Lupin muttered softly as he returned his own attention to his breakfast though it had rather lost its appeal.
The two of them sat there in frosty silence for a few moments longer, then Lupin set his fork down and tried once more.
"Look, I'm really sorry about all of this. I never meant to cause either of you any trouble. It was just unfortunate timing that you and…that the two of you came into the staff room when you did." He sighed. "And I'm sorry about Peeves, too."
"Yes," McGonagall hissed in a low voice, seizing on that comment like a dog with a tasty bone. "What was that abominable song about anyway?" It and its disturbing implications had haunted her dreams all night long.
Lupin lowered his voice and leaned closer. "Well, you know that Severus was having problems with your shoes."
McGonagall rolled her eyes in answer but refrained from commenting.
"I was just trying to be helpful. Really. I offered him a foot massage. I'm rather good at them, as it turns out, and while I was massaging his feet, Peeves came in intent on causing trouble. Severus had his eyes closed and had leaned back in his chair. Peeves dribbled cold water on his face, which not surprisingly, startled him up onto his feet. Naturally, he tripped over me, because I still had a grip on his foot, and we ended up tangled together on the floor. Peeves thought that was immensely funny, so I suppose you can imagine the rest," he finished reluctantly.
She could. In fact, she did; the images that his words conjured in her mind brought forth a sharp snort of laughter and a huge smile for a brief instant before she managed to smother the expression behind her napkin. Minerva spent an uncomfortable couple of moments trying to get her sense of the ridiculous back under her control. While Snape could sneer and snipe at anyone with impunity, he couldn't get away with laughing out loud in public without making everyone think something was wrong. A point on which she clearly had the advantage. Perhaps it all balanced out in the end.
Finally, having regained a measure of self-control, she sighed and lowered her napkin, scowling out over the hall just in case any curious students were still looking her way. Once she was reasonably certain that no one was watching, she turned back to look at Lupin with a slightly kinder glint in her dark eyes.
"Then, I'm forgiven?" asked Lupin plaintively.
"You're forgiven," she said. As he sighed in relief, she added a caveat. "As long as nothing else happens to make the situation worse. I just hope the spell ends around noontime as promised."
Lupin nodded. "It will. All the books say it will…should…will." He nodded again. "Will."
"It better," Minerva sighed wearily. Spending the rest of her life as Severus Snape wasn't appealing to her in the least.
"Do you have any other obligations this morning?" asked Lupin cautiously.
"No, I don't, but Minerva has office hours to attend. I hope that my students can survive it. I can't imagine that Severus will be overly sympathetic towards them when they bring him their problems."
Remembering that, in the past, she hadn't always been overly sympathetic herself when brought student problems, Lupin nevertheless wisely kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself. Having learned his lesson, he contented himself with a vague murmur of agreement and a noncommittal smile.
Snape wandered around McGonagall's office feeling decidedly restless. Facing the woman at breakfast had been down right embarrassing. Spending the night in the body of another was both so uncomfortable and yet, so instructive, that it was difficult to put his feelings into words. Perhaps once he and Minerva were back where they belonged and a bit of time had passed to allow them to process the experience, they could have an interesting evening discussing it over a bottle of single malt whisky. Until then, though, it was probably best not to dwell on it any longer than necessary.
His eyes strayed to the clock on the mantle. It was a quarter past eleven. Sometime in the next hour he should be himself once again. It couldn't happen soon enough for him. Momentary doubt assailed him. What if it didn't work? What if he was forced to spend the rest of his life as Minerva McGonagall? He shivered and turned to scowl darkly out the window. The only worse fate that he could imagine would be to have to spend the rest of his life in the body of that no good, incompetent werewolf. At least, when Minerva turned into an animal, it was done at her command…not against her will once every month.
He sighed and sank into the chair behind Minerva's desk. Office hours were almost over, and so far none of her annoying students had shown up to whine about any of her assignments. One small thing to be grateful for.
Just as that thought crossed his mind, a timid knock sounded on the door. Typical, thought Snape as he growled for whoever it was to come in.
The door opened and Neville Longbottom edged into the room, crossing over to stand somewhat nervously in front of Minerva's desk. As well he might be nervous, thought Snape testily, considering the number of times he'd stomped on her feet the night before. Actually, it showed a fair amount of courage and much more stupidity to be showing his fat face to her this soon after practically sending her to the infirmary with squashed toes and a damaged ankle. He buried an inner smirk; revenge might come sooner than he'd anticipated.
Leaning back in his chair, Snape contemplated his student for a long silent moment, as he watched the nervous young man fidget uncomfortably.
Finally, he spoke in a cold edged voice. "Yes, Mr. Longbottom, what can I do for you this morning?" Please say something asinine enough to be worthy of a detention…
Neville swallowed noisily and forged ahead. "I wanted to apologize for being such a klutz at dancing last night, Professor. My Gran always did say that I was born with two left feet."
"Your grandmother is a remarkably perceptive woman."
As Neville looked slightly distressed at that comment, Snape hurried on. He couldn't be too obvious about his true feelings after all, he didn't want to give the game away now when he was so close to escaping this nightmare. "However, I think that all you really need to excel at dancing is a bit more practice. Apology accepted."
Neville brightened but as he didn't turn to leave, Snape continued, "Is there anything else that I can help you with?"
"Yes, please," Neville began, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. "It's not about dancing or about class though. It's sort of personal."
Oh, god, could this get any worse, wondered Snape with a silent groan. The last thing he needed to listen to was Longbottom's puerile insecurities about girls or spots or lack of facial hair or magical ability. The boy was a twit; he should just accept that fact and move on.
Snape gestured towards the chair next to Neville. "Well, then have a seat and tell me how I can help you, Mr. Longbottom."
Neville nodded anxiously and perched on the very edge of the hard wooden chair. "You know about my parents," he said in a soft voice. When McGonagall nodded without commenting, he rushed onward. "I really want to make them proud of me. I want to become an Auror, just like them, when I leave school."
"An admirable goal," Snape commented blandly. Silently adding that it was also a totally unreachable one.
"Unfortunately, I don't have much chance of reaching that goal," stated Neville, unconsciously mirroring his teacher's thoughts. Snape nodded at the unexpected flash of reality that had somehow penetrated the boy's thinking. Maybe he wasn't quite the idiot that he'd thought.
"I'd need to greatly improve my performance in both Transfiguration and Potions to be able to pursue this as a career," Neville continued.
Snape nodded again, now beginning to wonder what the boy expected him to do about any of this. Somehow, he doubted that Neville was here simply to get his Head of House's agreement with the fact that he wasn't cut out to be an Auror.
"I'm almost finished with the extra credit assignment that you gave me, Professor, and I wanted to thank you again for giving me that chance to pull up my grade, but I realized today that if I can't manage to succeed in Potions, too, I still won't have a chance of reaching my goal."
Ha! Now he knew what was up. The little brat wanted McGonagall to intercede for him. He was trying to get one teacher to gang up on another one. Lots of luck with that, Longbottom. You chose the wrong teacher for your games this time. Actually, even if it had been Minerva McGonagall sitting here in front of him, Snape doubted that such obvious tactics would have worked, but they were definitely doomed under current circumstances. Longbottom's next words surprised him, however.
"So I wanted to ask your advice. I always get so nervous in Potions class that I can't concentrate on my work. I really like Potions as a subject, and I want to do well. I work hard on my assignments, and even Professor Snape would have to admit that the papers I turn in are fine. It's just my class work that's so bad, and I really think it's just because I get so scared when he hovers over me watching for errors.
"When I'm at home, I often mix up potions that my Gran needs, and they always work just fine. In a way, Potions has a lot in common with Herbology, which I love and do really well in, but it's just so much easier to face Professor Sprout than it is Professor Snape. Anyway, I was hoping that you could give me some advice on what would be the best way to approach Professor Snape when I ask him for an extra assignment. I don't think he likes me very much, and I'm afraid that he won't believe that I'm sincere in my desire for extra work, but I just have to convince him somehow. It's the only way I can achieve my goals. The only way I can believe that I made my parents proud of me."
Neville finished in a rush of words and sat back, relieved to have managed to get all of the words out without tripping over them. Then he waited for the person he thought was his Head of House to give her opinion.
The current occupant of her seat wasn't at all certain how to reply, however and was simply sitting there staring back at him as if he'd never seen him before. "And are you sincere, Mr. Longbottom?" asked Snape softly.
"Yes," exclaimed Neville fervently. "I am."
To his astonishment, Snape couldn't help but believe him. This put him in the extremely unheard of position of offering sincere advice to a Gryffindor, something he'd never live down if it ever became public knowledge, which thankfully, as things currently stood, it wouldn't.
"Professor Snape sets a high standard in his classes, which is intended to benefit the students who study with him. If they succeed in his classes, they will be more than properly prepared to do well on their exams and to do well in any careers that require skill in potion making," he began and was heartened to see Neville nod solemnly if a little dejectedly.
"If you approach him as you have me and explain your sincere desire to improve your grade, I'm sure that he will give you a similar opportunity to prove your sincerity and willingness to work hard to attain your goal."
Neville looked doubtful. They were discussing Severus Snape after all, the most fearsome and reviled teacher in the entire school, but he could hardly contradict his Head of House. "You really think he'll listen to me?" he asked.
"Yes," stated Snape firmly. "I really do." Though you'd better prepare to work harder than you ever have before, he thought with satisfaction. If revenge wasn't possible one way…another would do.
"Okay, I'll try it. Thank you, Professor," Neville said as he got to his feet with a huge sigh and a fleeting smile.
As the relieved boy left the office, Snape sat back in his chair and frowned thoughtfully at the closed door. Who'd have ever thought that Longbottom of all people really wanted to succeed in Potions class? He'd always assumed that the idiot boy hadn't even been trying, but perhaps there was a bit more to him than he'd thought. Changing bodies with Minerva had had its interesting and illuminating moments; nevertheless, he'd had enough and was more than ready for it to be over.
He glanced at the clock, which now read five minutes to twelve. Nothing yet, unfortunately.
Suddenly, the door opened without warning and Minerva herself stepped inside.
"I thought we might as well wait this out together," she said as she took the chair so recently vacated by Neville Longbottom.
"That does seem reasonable." Snape agreed willingly.
After sitting in silence for a few moments, Snape smirked over at his colleague and said, "You know, I was quite intrigued to see that you have a tattoo in a most interesting place…"
Before he could get any further, Minerva stiffened in her chair, scowled and shot back, "I don't think you really wish to compare tattoos, now do you, Severus?"
He smothered a smile; it was always enjoyable to ruffle her feathers a bit. "Perhaps not," he conceded.
After a further few moments of silence, Snape tried again in a rather more serious tone. "I do think this has been a valuable experience overall, though, much to my surprise."
A bit startled to hear her colleague admit out loud what she'd been thinking privately, Minerva nodded in agreement. "I'd have to agree. Perhaps once this is behind us, we can get together for a drink and compare notes on the experience."
It was Snape's turn to nod in agreement. "I'd be willing…provided that it is possible to put this behind us. If for some reason this spell does not come to an end as we've been promised, I propose that we get together and plot a painful end for that miserable excuse for a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"I'll drink to that," Minerva stated firmly, as they grinned at each other.
Before she could utter another word, though, everything abruptly became hazy and insubstantial, and she suddenly blacked out. When she came back to consciousness once more, she raised her head with a groan and found herself seated in her own chair behind her own desk and staring across at the frowning and slightly groggy looking figure of Severus Snape.
Was it over? If Snape was over there, then… Abruptly she sat up and looked down at herself. Yes, she was back in her own body once more. It had worked. The books had been right. "Oh, thank Merlin. It worked," she exclaimed happily.
"Yes, I guess that lets Lupin off the hook." Snape looked decidedly disappointed.
"It was an accident, Severus, and he is extremely sorry." Now that the nightmare was over, she was prepared to be generous.
"Yes," said Snape dryly. "I've always said that he was a very sorry wizard."
Minerva hid a smile behind an expression of relief as Snape rose to his feet.
"I'll be going now, I think. Goodness knows how much work I'll find waiting for me in my office. I assume that you didn't attempt to grade any of the papers that were due yesterday."
"Certainly not. They're all waiting for you, Severus. I knew you wouldn't want me to do anything more than collect them." She smiled pleasantly up at him.
He grunted in response and opened the door. "No, of course not, then I'd best get to them. I'd say it was a pleasure, but frankly, it wasn't. No offense."
"None taken, since I feel exactly the same," she agreed. A smile lingered on her lips until he left her alone in her office, then she gave a huge sigh and dropped her head down onto her crossed arms in the middle of her desk. Now that it was all over, she was utterly exhausted and quite suddenly, her feet ached dreadfully.
In fact, it felt as if she could sleep for a week, which wasn't a bad idea at all. Since office hours were now over, there wasn't anything else she had to do for the rest of the day. Even lunch didn't have the appeal of a nap in her own bed.
As she got up and headed for the door to her office, she found herself frowning discontentedly. Something nagged at the back of her mind as she stepped out into the corridor and began to walk. She was forgetting something, she was sure of it, but no matter how hard she tried to remember, nothing came to mind. Hopefully, whatever she'd forgotten wasn't that important. It would come to her sooner or later, she was quite certain of that.
Suddenly, she heard voices coming from around the next bend in the corridor and instinctively she slowed her steps.
"There you are, Severus! I've been looking for you. I know you said to wait until after lunch, but here we are together with no one else around. It seems like fate to me," Sybill's voice gushed enthusiastically.
Snape's response was puzzled. "What are you blathering about, Sybill? You're making even less sense than usual."
"Oh, Severus. You're such a kidder. Surely you haven't forgotten our little assignation in the corridors of the dungeon so quickly. Here, let me refresh your memory for you."
Sounds of scuffling filled the air along with Snape's harried voice. "What do you think you're doi… mmmmph! Sybill! Mmmph! Stop it!"
Sybill's plaintive and confused voice echoed through the halls. "But you told me yesterday that you loved a forceful woman."
"MINERVA!" Snape's incensed voice rang out loud and strong, freezing McGonagall in her tracks.
Sybill! McGonagall grimaced in horror. That was what she'd forgotten! It was too late to do anything about it now, though, and not being a total fool, she wasn't about to round that corner and face the irate Snape and the highly confused and disappointed Trelawney. So, knowing it for the cowardly but prudent move that it was, she turned on her heel and sped up the corridor in the opposite direction just as quickly as her rather sore feet could carry her.