Author's Note: This is a slight revision which I've been meaning to do for ages - ever since Kirinin commented about six months ago, in actual fact! She was right - it was a sloppy and lazy piece, but I've tried to tighten it a little, though oddly, have ignored large chunks of her advice. All the same, big thanks go to her for actually criticising - compliments are nice, but criticism is better! ;-D Thanks. - Kat.


The Scent Of Coffee.

Funny thing - she burnt the coffee this morning. She hadn't smelt burnt coffee in such a long time. It had been the strangest feeling, to walk into the staff room that morning, like every morning, and find it so empty, so ordinary. The cusions of Filius's squashy armchair were rumpled, the low oak table beside it stained with milky rings from unwashed mugs. A stack of half-marked papers still sat, precariously balanced on one of the couches, Rolanda's Quidditch Weekly lay open on another, alongside an empty packet of sherbet lemons. The House Elves had not been in to tidy.

There was no fire in the grate, and the high-winged black leather armchair beside it was empty. The only smell was the chill, before-dawn breeze from the still-open window.

You don't have to have loved someone to miss them when they're gone. She learnt that a long time ago. She'd never thought that she would have to learn again.

Minerva tapped her wand absently at the coffee pot on the bench, her tired eyes unaccountably repulsed by the sight of the teapot beside it, plump and cheerful in its garishly knitted cosy. She stepped away from the bench, staring out of the high tower windows. The sun was just rising, wan and tired through a pale, washed-out sky. The light glinted half-heartedly upon the rippleless obsidian of the lake. Somehow, she had expected it to be raining. From her vantage point, Minerva could see the smoke rising in delicate curls from Hagrid's cabin, this morning like every morning. Except that today, the smoke did not rise from the chimney. There wasn't a chimney any more. The pot on the stove boiled, and suddenly the staffroom was filled with the all-pervading scent of coffee, rich and smooth and heart-breaking. The bitterness caught in the back of her throat, choking her, and her eyes stung from the chill of the morning air.

It had been a tradition, of sorts. Since that very first day, all those years ago. She had come into the staffroom early, as she always did, and been startled to find him already there, hunched in the black armchair beside the fire. The coffee pot had grown cold, so she had tapped it again with her wand before turning to confront him. She cannot even remember now what she had said, but the pot on the stove had boiled over, filling the room with acrid curls of smoke, and he had sneered that from now on he hoped she'd stick to tea.

And so, it had become their tradition. Every morning when Minerva came downstairs, he would be there, curled languidly in his black armchair, his shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow exposing the barest outline of a faded scar, a mug of black coffee in his hand, and a pot of freshly brewed tea beside her own chair. He never accepted her thanks for it, only nodded impassively from behind dark eyes. Sometimes he would talk, sometimes even laugh, low and wryly, but more often than not they would merely sit, reading in companionable silence until Irma or Poppy bustled in and banished the coffee smell with a tidy flick of a wand. Strange, how you can see a person every day, live with him, fight with him constantly, laugh at his sly, self-depreciating wit, tease and provoke and infuriate him just to see the glint in his eyes, and still not know a thing about him. Not a damn thing.

Her eyes were stinging from the wind again, and she really should raise her wand to close the window, but she found that she couldn't, so she just stood with her head bowed, trying not to see outside, with her hands gripping the sill in front of her so tightly that it hurt, and the traitorous tears prickling in the corners of her eyes.

She didn't cry for Albus. Not really. Her tears for him were long shed. He had played her too long, too hard, not trusted where he should. No... she cried for him. Her dark, furious child-turned-man, with his mocking glare, and his twisted sneer, and his eyes... And it doesn't matter that she never liked him, fought with him about the stupidest of things, hated his cruel, sarcastic bark of a laugh, his elegant, scarred, white hands, his infantile refusal to drink anything but sugarless black coffee, never mind the fact that he despised it... You don't have to have loved a person to miss him like hell.

Funny thing - she burnt the coffee. Acrid tendrils clutching at her, twining like the smoke from Hagrid's cabin, invading the fragile, terrible sanctity of the day. Her grief rose unchecked, tears slipping from her eyes to stain the numbed cheeks; taste of salt on her cold lips, taste of ashes in the frigid air.

Severus had always hated the smell of burning coffee.