Herbert Henry Asquith
It Started With a Simple Tonic
Severus Snape never had much use for people. Since he believed most to be petty, egotistical, hateful, intolerant fools, he didn't think he was missing much. Luckily for him, his new home - a hundred miles or more from his nearest neighbor - afforded him the peace and solitude that his life had previously lacked. There were no egomaniacal oppressors looking for world domination, roomsful of disinterested, brainless students sucking the lifeblood out of him, no vengeful mob of reprobates rallying for his head to be mounted on a stick and paraded around town.
It had been an interesting life.
These days he was content with tending to his garden, experimenting in his small laboratory, and reading by the light of a warm fire; the last of that list being his most favorite, as his previous life in a dungeon hadn't been conducive to warmth of any kind.
He hadn't seen another human being in over three years. Most would have gone mad leading such a solitary life, but to Severus Snape it was Nirvana. Severus would go weeks without uttering a word, relishing the gentle sounds of life emanating from the woods just outside his door. Other times he would talk out his thoughts or read aloud just for the novelty of hearing his own voice which, he had to admit, was rather rich and resonant. He enjoyed not having to answer inane questions, keep up idiotic conversation, or make an oath to uphold a tradition of murderous bedlam. It was a glorious thing.
Then came the knock upon his door.
At first he thought he was hearing things. He was in the middle of nowhere; save a family of deer, some birds and squirrels, and a bear who knew better than to come and visit again, no one came anywhere near his cottage.
Yet, there was another knock on his door.
It had to be his imagination. Perhaps he had spent too much time alone and he was starting to hallucinate. But then he heard the knock again, and while he hadn't always made the best choices in his life, he never doubted his mental facilities so much as to think he'd imagined the same occurrence three times. He still didn't answer the door, however. Visitors, imaginary or otherwise, were not welcomed.
The knocking persisted and grew in intensity. Now Severus wasn't answering out of sheer principle. This was his home, and if didn't want anyone to invade his personal space then that was his choice. The nerve of some people; wasn't the fact that he had chosen to live miles and miles from civilization a sign that he didn't want any company? He would have to rethink the disemboweling wards he's planned on installing when he first moved in. Granted, they were messy things, but there was no better deterrent of trespassers. Perhaps a pack of crazed dogs could stand guard. But then he'd have to feed the beasts when they lacked imprudent intruders to munch upon, and really, who had time for that. A moat! He'd always fancied a moat.
"Severus," a small voice called out. "I know you're in there. Please answer the door."
Unless he was mistaken, and he seldom was about these sort of things, that was the voice of a small child. Severus had been around the diminutive bastards long enough to recognize their annoying little tenor. But what child would know him now, when he hadn't taught for over a decade? And what bloody child would have the audacity to call him by his first name? This was utterly insane.
"Severus, open this door immediately," bellowed a youthful, and inexplicably stern, voice.
That was the last straw. He rushed to the door and threw it open. "Who the hell are you give me orders?" he said angrily. He'd had enough of that to last three lifetimes, he wasn't about to let this snot-nosed brat speak to him in such a manner. No one was ever - ever - going to speak to him like that again.
"It's about time. It's freezing out here."
Severus looked down at the young girl with his mouth hanging open and his brow knitted deeply. She looked frightfully familiar but he couldn't quite place her. A pair of rather intense blue eyes watched him as she stood on his doorstep waiting for him to say something. "Did you miss the part about it being freezing out here?" she said impatiently. "Are you going to let me in or not?"
She was a frail thing, lanky and thin with long arms and knobby legs. Small square glasses sat atop a long, pointed nose. It was the hair, however, that gave her away. Black and shiny, combed tightly to her head, and wrapped in a bun at the nape of her neck.
"Professor McGonagall?" He felt like a fool just saying it, but when she pursed her lips into a razor-thin line he knew it could be no other.
"Professor, indeed," she mumbled. "Can we make introductions inside, please, Severus? I'm not dressed properly for this climate and I'd rather not have to deal with frost bite on top of everything else." It was his former colleague's words, but to hear them said in such a high pitched, childish voice was disorienting.
His anger at having his solitude invaded quickly waned as his curiosity took over. He had always tolerated Minerva McGonagall more than most; unlike almost everyone else at Hogwarts, she had earned his respect. She was a strict disciplinarian and a staunch follower of the rules, and as such Severus was compelled to find out what she had done to get herself into this current predicament. If this encounter yielded nothing else, it would provide a great story.
Severus said nothing as he stepped aside, allowing her entrance. She hurried inside and walked directly to the fireplace, which he had lit only moments before.
"Could I trouble you for some tea?" she asked, and she situated herself in front of the fire.
"Tea?" he said weakly. "Of course." It suddenly occurred to Severus that he had no idea how to accommodate guests. He couldn't even remember the last time he played host to anyone. As he scoured his cupboard for two tea cups he thought he might have been better off just letting her freeze outside. Her own fault, anyway, being outside and dressed in a nothing but a school uniform when it was nearly winter.
A few minutes later he was placing a tray of hot tea, and a tin of biscuits that he remembered she had a taste for, on a small table in his sitting room.
"Thank you," she said with a sigh as spooned sugar into her cup. "I never thought I'd get here."
"Why are you here?" he asked. "And why are you nine?"
She huffed. "I'm twelve, thank you kindly, and I'm here because I was hoping you could help me not be."
She let out a long breath as she shook her head. "It started with a simple tonic," she bit into a biscuit and wiped the crumbs off her mouth with her hand, "if you can believe it."
He had half a mind to tell her not to speak with food in her mouth but stopped himself. "A tonic?"
"I'd been feeling my age, Severus," she said sadly. "It took everything I had to rebuild Hogwarts and keep it up and running. I had been losing energy for some time but the aches and pains that I was living with were only getting worse. I woke up one day a few months ago and my bones creaked as I rose out of bed. My vision was getting worse by the day, and my shoulders were starting to stoop like a wharf hag. I had to do something." She picked her teacup up with both hands and took several quick sips.
"So you made yourself a child?"
"It wasn't my intent," she said firmly. "I told you it started with a simple tonic. I just wanted to revitalize myself, replenish the energy that I'd lost. It worked well for a few weeks but I soon noticed that the dosage wasn't enough."
His hands tightened at his sides. "You tampered with the potion, didn't you?" Of all the idiotic… "I'd expect that from a first year, but really, Professor - "
"The last thing I need is to be reprimanded by you, Severus," she snapped, "and for the sake of my sanity, will you please call me Minerva. I feel like a right arse and I'd rather not be referred to as Professor anything. "
It was disarming to hear those words coming out of the mouth of a little girl. He very nearly smiled. "What did you do to the potion?" he asked after his temper calmed.
Her shoulders dropped. "Well, that's sort of the problem. I don't remember."
"Stop right there. I have chastised myself enough for this. I don't need to hear it from you as well. I only changed it a little at first. Then a bit more and a bit more until I don't know what I did. Then a few days ago I woke up like this. For whatever reason my body is that of a twelve year old, but my mind is still that of a woman over fifty and I haven't the foggiest idea how to change it back."
"It is possible that the effect will just wear off," he said. She was clearly getting agitated and Severus never did well with overly emotional children.
"Not likely," she said sheepishly. " I…I…added dahlia root to the potion the last time around."
His eyes nearly popped out of his head. "You did what!"
"Stop, please," she stated. "Do not shout at me. I thought that by doing so I'd make the effects permanent so that I didn't keep having to make the potion everyday."
Severus threw his hands in the air. "Well, you did make the damned effect permanent!"
"Stop shouting, I bloody well know I did," she barked back. "I just didn't know which effect…exactly."
"A small detail," he growled. "So you came here to have me clean up your mess?"
She suddenly looked hurt. "I came here for help. You are the only person I know who could fix this."
If it were anyone else he'd have told them to be on their way, to live with it as a constant reminder of their own stupidity. But this was Minerva McGonagall and he felt he owed her a bit of a debt. She was the only person who had spoken on his behalf at his trial. Without her…. "I don't know if this can be fixed. Do you have a sample of the potion?"
"I haven't any left."
"What about the flask you kept it in, there may be a trace - "
She shook her head. "Gone."
He let out a frustrated breath. "Without knowing exactly what you did, I won't know how to make the antidote."
"We'll just have to recreate it then," she said determinedly.
He blinked several times. "That could take weeks."
"Then I suppose you have a new houseguest," she said with a small smile, and took another bite of her biscuit.
It was with the first light of the morning that they began their work. Severus was delighted to learn that, like himself, Minerva was an early riser. Despite voluntarily getting out of bed so early, however, they were also both incredibly cranky in the morning. This was also gratifying: he had feared he'd have to make idle conversation when all he really wanted to do was drink his preferred tar-like coffee and blink until fully conscious.
Minerva took a sip of the morning's brew and noticeably winced. "Severus," she began apprehensively, "Do you any juice or cider?"
He blinked three more times before turning to her. "I only ever imbibe coffee or distilled water, and on rare occasions, tea. Anything else you'll have to get yourself."
"Get myself? Where? You live in the middle of nowhere; the nearest town is a hundred miles away."
"One hundred and twenty three. And while you're out there get something warmer to wear."
She remained in her seat, running her finger around the edge of her cup. After a few minutes she spoke up. "I can't go."
"And why is that?" he asked, but in truth he really didn't care.
She squared her shoulders and folded her hands on her lap. "I can't Apparate very well and I wouldn't be able to carry anything back."
"What are you talking about? I've personally seen you Apparate dozens of times."
"I know how to, but I can't." She turned to him. " You remember what it was like before Hogwarts, right? When your magic was new and …unpredictable. It's like that for me. I'd been doing magic for so long that I'd stopped thinking about how to do it, I just did what needed to be done. I don't have that luxury anymore. It takes all my focus to perform the most simple of spells. It took me a week to get here and even then I couldn't bring anything more than the clothes I was wearing. And that was after several attempts, mind you. The first time I'd only managed to go from my office to the Quidditch pitch, and I was stark naked when I got there."
Severus noted how red her cheeks had gone. He quickly realized that it was the middle of Quidditch season and chances were she hadn't been the only person on pitch that day. "That's why you don't have a cloak with you… you couldn't Apparate it. " Things made much more sense now. "How did you manage to Apparate within Hogwarts?"
"It's one of the perks of being Head Mistress," she said derisively. "Aren't I a lucky bint?"
He nearly smiled again. "Why didn't you ask someone to help you?"
"No one knows."
His eyes shot open. "No one? No one knows you're here?"
Her cheeks got redder. "I couldn't tell anyone. Can you imagine how parents would react when they found that a twelve-year-old girl was running the place? As if things weren't difficult enough, I'd have to convince them that it's all right to leave their progeny in the charge of a fool who doesn't know enough not to tamper with potions."
"Who's watching them now?"
"Filius is in charge. I left him a note saying I had to rush off for health reason and I'd be gone for some time. He and Pomona will look after the place together."
Flitwick and Sprout, now that was an odd combination. He trusted Minerva enough to know that she would never leave the school to anyone that wouldn't care for it as much as she did. It did, however, seem so unlike her to run off like that. "What about your family?"
She shrugged and shook her head. "My sister died three years ago and my brother six years before that. There's no one else left." There was no sadness in her voice, no regret, no excuses. Just the bleak honesty of one who had come to terms with her situation long ago. She was alone.
He stared at her for a moment; she suddenly seemed less foreign, less dissimilar. After a few moments he spoke: " I will Apparate us both to the nearest town. We'll find a shop and purchase some items for you and return here." He paused for a moment. "I have a cloak that you can wear."
She smiled and nodded her head. "That'll be perfect. Thank you."
Severus turned back to his coffee, which was now cold and slightly congealed. He was getting soft, and he didn't like it.
Augury Meadows was a Wizarding suburb of some over-populated Muggle city just a few miles to its south. Severus had come to the town once, when he first moved to his current home. He had placed a standing order with the local grocer and, now, every first of the month, Severus got three boxfuls of supplies without ever having to speak to another person. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, as the grocer didn't really want Severus in the store; he scared the other customers.
The first stop was a clothier that specialized in young girls apparel. Minerva was going to be there a while; she needed a change of knickers.
Severus wasn't one for shopping. He never went anywhere without knowing exactly what he wanted to purchase. It was important to have a plan of action and to stick to it…and be home as quickly as possible. Minerva had other ideas. She had nothing but the school uniform she had liberated from the laundry that was too big for her thin frame, and an old cloak he had transfigured to her size and made violet, as 'she didn't look good in black'.
"Isn't this pretty?" Minerva pressed a yellow dress against her body and stared at herself in the mirror. "You know, they didn't have clothes like this when I was a child." She began to pick through the racks like a vulture picking at carrion. "Oh, look at this."
This was going to take a while. "Minerva," he called, putting his hand on her shoulder to get her attention. "You have one hour and 26 galleons. I'll be at the apothecary down the street." Severus bolted out the door, only to turn around and return to where he had left her; he felt the need to stress that when he said an hour he meant an hour. He was convinced that the proprietor had put something in the air that compelled young women to try every garment in the store, and he didn't want to waste the entire day. Severus paused when he heard Minerva speaking to a sales girl.
"…and I practically need a new wardrobe," she remarked.
A shrill, and incredibly delighted, voice replied, "Wonderful. I'll start rounding up some things in your size: trousers, jumpers, shoes, and coats -"
"Not coats," Minerva interrupted. "I've grown rather attached to this one. But everything else, please. And knickers. I've been explicitly instructed to get new knickers."
Without saying anything, Severus left. He went to the apothecary shop, but could not recall what he needed to purchase there. Instead he wondered why he was so pleased that Minerva didn't want another coat.
Later that day, the trip to the grocer's proved to be an experience all on its own. Minerva, who used to eat yellow squash as a treat, had filled his cart with boxes of cookies, bags of crisps, and anything that contained coma-inducing amounts of sugar and fat. He supposed her magic wasn't the only thing that had regressed back to its adolescent state. After adjusting his monthly order for the time being to account for his guest's peculiar diet, they went home.
There wasn't any time to begin brewing the potion that day, so instead they sat in his parlor and pored over Severus's books, trying to find the exact potion Minerva had used. It was an old family recipe that she had written in a book, still back at Hogwarts. Minerva refused to ask for help from anyone at the school, and under no circumstance was Severus ever going to return there, so instead they sat in silence, looking though dozens of books.
Minerva sat across from him in one of her new outfits, a pair of Muggle denims and a blue jumper. He had to give her credit; she had stretched her budget and managed to come out of the store with eight bags full of new clothes. There was some comfort in the fact hat she didn't hadn't completely reverted to a scatter-brained juvenile despite the fact that she was currently eating the largest bowl of ice cream he has ever seen one person ingest.
"I found it," she shrieked. "Here it is." She brought the book over to him and stood proudly besides him.
He examined the formula - an archaic one - and pursed his lips. "All right," he announced, "first thing tomorrow we'll recreate this. In the meanwhile try and get some sleep."
"Sleep?" her smile dropped. "It's eight o'clock."
"And we have to get up early in the morning."
"But I'm not tired."
"That doesn't excuse the fact that we will be getting up at dawn. Perhaps you should stop eating that mountain of frozen sludge and begin to get ready for bed. "
She looked thoroughly confused. "This is mocha fudge gelato, " she informed him.
"Fine. Stop eating that mocha fudge gelato and get ready for bed."
"Have you ever had mocha fudge gelato?"
He winced. "Of course not. It looks positively vile."
She dug her spoon in and scooped out a chuck. "Try it."
He flinched. "I most certainly will not."
"It won't hurt you."
"I'm not interested. "
Minerva paused and dropped the spoon. "Come to think of it, you never ate sweets at Hogwarts, did you? Are you allergic?"
"No, I just dislike sweets."
"You dislike sweets." That seemed to confuse her even more. "I didn't think that was possible. Have you ever had ice cream at all?"
"No. And I haven't had gelato either. "
"Then you will try it now."
"Are you daft. I said -"
And before he could say another word Minerva had shoved a spoon full of the accursed mocha fudge into his mouth. He sat stunned for a moment, unsure of exactly what had just happened. All he knew was that there was something cold and sweet in his mouth. Something rich and creamy and heavenly in his mouth. Something he wanted much more of.
"What do you think?" she asked excitedly.
He swallowed and licked his lips. "It's repugnant."
She gave him a knowing smile. "That wasn't really a fair test," she said after some consideration. "I think perhaps you need to try a bit more before making a final decision." She scooped out another heaping spoonful.
He eyed it hungrily. "Well… if you insist."
They didn't quite get up at the first light of dawn. It was more like-- half past dawn. After they'd eaten all the ice cream in the house, they had moved onto cookies - first the chocolate chip, then the iced sugar, and finally the macaroons - and ended with half a pie that Severus didn't even remember buying. Before the he knew it, a month's supply of sweets was gone and had fallen into the deepest sleep of his life. The next morning, still groggy from blacking out after ingesting enough sugar to kill a large hippogriff, he sat in his seat and sipped his normal morning brew. He was beginning to have feeling in his toes again when Minerva came bounding down the steps.
"Good morning, " she sang. She poured herself a large glass of pumpkin juice, cut a thick slice of bread that she loaded with butter and marmalade, and sat down across form Severus. "Wasn't that marvelous last night?"
Severus was still too bleary to speak, so he merely nodded in her general direction.
"I was never allowed to do that as a child," she said wistfully. "My mother was so strict about what we ate. Everything was so bland and. …healthy. I've been on my own since I was eighteen and I only realized yesterday that I could bloody well eat anything I want."
Severus wanted to tell her that that was just her adolescent bravado talking. That her youthful spontaneity and rebellion was taking over her adult judgment and reasoning. He wanted to tell her, but he didn't, primarily because he had felt exactly as she did and he didn't have the excuse of being thrust into a second childhood.
He, too, had never been allowed to eat the things that most adolescents ate. Not one bowl of ice cream , not one blasted cookie. Unlike Minerva, however, his mother hadn't been trying to keep him healthy, she just hadn't liked it when he smiled. He understood that it was probably better for his health, but damn if that it hadn't been wasn't the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted. "It wouldn't be wise to do that again."
"Oh, I know. If I keep that up I won't be able to fit into all the clothes you were so generous to let me buy. But it was fun to do, just once." She happily bit into her breakfast.
After cleaning up, they headed to his laboratory. It was a simple potion, not a terribly common one, but easy to make nonetheless; he even had most of the ingredients on hand. "We'll have to do a bit of foraging today."
"Foraging?" she asked. There was a glint of something mischievous in her eyes - it was a warning sign that Severus had learned to recognize during his years of teaching. It meant trouble was coming and, most likely, a cauldron would explode at some point in the day.
"We'll need fresh crocus root and betony box leaves."
"And you'll find them in the forest?"
"Luckily for you, we should. They are common in this part of the world. It is late in the season, however, so they may take some time to find. I suggest we do not dawdle."
The part of the girl that was Minerva McGonagall stayed focused on the mission at hand: retrieve the roots and leaves, head back to the laboratory, brew potion, fix potion, get back to normal. As far as plans went, it was a good one.
The part of Minerva McGonagall that was a girl however, had other ideas, ideas that involved much dawdling. There were rabbits to chase and trees to climb and flowers to pick for a bouquet that, apparently, the house desperately needed - actually they were more like weeds, as it was fall and there weren't many flowers left to be picked. Severus found himself saying things like, "leave that diseased rodent alone", "get down from there before you fall and break every bone in your body," and "don't you dare eat that." He nearly wept when, after three hours, they had found the ingredients they needed.
"Finally, " he murmured after he filled a basket with enough flora to ensure they would never have to forage again. "Let's go."
She looked up from where she was picking the last few weeds left in the forest. "Go where?"
"Where? Back to the cottage?"
"Back? I don't want to go back," she sulked.
He gave a long, rather dramatic sigh. "Believe it or not, it matters very little what you want. We are going back."
"But I like the forest. It's so much fun. Can't we stay a bit longer?"
"To what purpose?" This was absurd. Hadn't they spent enough time there already?
She blinked behind her glasses. "Does there have to be a purpose? Can't we just stay here because it's a lovely place?"
"I haven't the time for picturesque hikes. We're going back."
That mischievous glint was back and mocking him. "You have to catch me first." Before Severus could even register what she'd said, she'd darted through the forest and out of sight.
"Ms. McGonagall," he called out. "Ms. Mc….Minerva. Get back here this instant."
As if he hadn't already been inconvenienced enough, it would appear he'd been goaded into playing 'Hide and Seek' in the middle of a bloody forest. Severus had had quite enough of this nonsense and began to storm back to the cottage. If she thought he was about to run through the forest like some - he froze. He distinctly heard the snapping of a twig somewhere east. Than another. And another. Now she was heading south. After another pause he thought he heard the splashing of water. She must be by the creek that ran through the woods.
As a child, Severus had often gone hunting with his father. Killing small animals was one of the few things they had ever done together. Severus had discovered early on that he had a knack for that sort of thing, for tracking and stalking prey; moreover, he liked the hunt. If Minerva thought she could out-maneuver him she had another thing coming.
Without making a sound, he was able to veritably float though the dense patch of trees towards where she was hiding, probably secure in the foolish notion that she wouldn't get caught. He was contemplating stunning her immobile with his wand, if for no other reason than relish the look of shock and fear that would most assuredly run across her face.
He followed a set of small footprints and a trail of broken branches to a small clearing by the creek. He stood behind a large tree and waited for Minerva to make her next move. After about three minutes he heard the rustling of dry leaves coming from the north. Slowly and silently, he pulled out his wand and held it tight to chest. The leaves rustled again and he sprang out from his hiding spot, drew out his wand, and shouted, "Incarerous!" Ropes flew from the edge of his wand and darted across the clearing to where they tightly fastened themselves around…a tree.
Then he was hit in the head by a rock.
Severus made a stiff "oof" noise as he fell to the ground. He looked up to see Minerva holding her sides and laughing. "You hit me with a rock!" he screeched.
She paused to wipe a tear form her face. "Yeah, well, you tried to tie me up like a wild boar so I reckon we're even."
"You hit me with a rock!"
"I must have hit you pretty hard, you're repeating yourself."
"Yes, I know – I hit you with a rock. I had to do something. You were just standing behind that tree, doing nothing. And there were all these rocks around me….."
Severus, it seemed, had underestimated his prey. "Enough of this. Let's go back to the cottage."
His head was throbbing again. "And why not?"
"Because it's your turn to hide."
"My turn to… Are you insane?"
"Aw, come on. It'll be fun. Unless you're crap at that as well."
He stiffened. "What did you say?"
"Well, you were pretty awful with the finding part. Who's to say you'll be any better at hiding."
She cocked her head to the side. "Wow, I really hit you hard."
His blood was beginning to boil. "I…I…I found you in minutes," he stammered.
Minerva gave him a crooked smile. "And all I had to do was throw some rocks onto some dry leaves to fool you."
Severus went to reply but stopped. She was right. The little bitch.
This entire development was revolting. He needed to restore decorum, to gain back control. He needed to tell Minerva that they were not here to play foolish games. There was a plan. A good plan. And they had to follow it. It was up to him to guide Minerva back from the immature tendencies that seemed to be eating her brain. He would have to the be the one to show restraint and bring back discipline and order.
That was what he was thinking as he ran through the forest. He'd show her who was crap at hiding.
The next morning he came downstairs to that find Minerva was already up and making breakfast.
"You're up early," he mumbled as he stumbled to the coffeepot.
"Fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow last night.," she said happily. "I can't remember ever being so tired. I suppose spending a day playing in the forest will do that to you."
"We weren't playing, " Severus spat indignantly. "We were…reviewing survival techniques. One must never forget how to defend oneself….against….those looking to ….do him harm…."
She smiled over the eggs she was frying. "Survival techniques?"
"Oh, stuff it," he murmured as he poured his coffee. "No more distractions. No more excuses. It's straight to the laboratory this morning."
"Yes, sir," she said, as she saluted him with a spatula.
He sat down and she placed a plate of food in front of him. Two fried eggs and a strip of bacon strategically placed to make a smiling face. Severus quickly picked up a piece of toast and began to stab his breakfast in the eyes. Only after it was a runny mess all over his plate was he able to eat it.
After breakfast they headed to Severus' laboratory. He began to spread out all the ingredients, placing them in small bowls across his worktable. Minerva grabbed a cauldron and began setting it up. She walked to over to where Severus was chopping the crocus roots they had harvested yesterday. "Well, that doesn't looking right."
"What?" he asked, knowing already that this conversation would not end well.
"Those roots don't look like the ones I used."
"Are you sure you used crocus roots?"
"Yes, but they were darker than that, nearly brown. And they were softer. I think they were dried and not fresh."
Severus briefly considered sticking his head in the cauldron and keeping it there until the next ice age. "When you say brown, was it more of an off-white, a beige color, or was it closer to chestnut brown?"
She thought for moment " More like mocha gelato."
Of course. Why not. "This is no good, then. We need to make sure the ingredients are exactly as you used them."
"So, I suppose we won't be brewing the potion today," she said carefully.
He closed his eyes in defeat. "That would appear to be the case."
"How long before the root is ready to use?"
"It will take a few days to get it to the 'mocha gelato' phase."
"That's long time, Severus." She gave him a dazzling smile. "I think that calls for another trip into town. "
It took a full day before Gringotts would forward Minerva money from her account. In the interim, they prepared all the other ingredients, making sure they were the exact size, shape and texture that Minerva had used in her original concoction. The next morning, the express owl arrived with her galleons. Minerva grabbed Severus's hand and they headed back to Augury Meadows.
Severus quickly learned that there were few things in this world as frightening as a young girl with disposable income. Minerva insisted on going into every store, picking up every bottle and every book, talking to the sales people, and chatting with other customers. Severus was relegated to following her lead, carrying bags, and sighing loudly. After two hours, Severus was being crushed by the weight of the purchases and insisted on waiting for her on a bench outside. He knew he'd be just sitting there for hours but at least then she'd have to carry her own goods and might be deterred from buying everything she laid her hands on.
It was dinnertime when she finally showed up. She wasn't carrying a single bag. Severus's triumph was short-lived, however, when he noticed three young men standing beside her, all carrying parcels and all looking at Minerva in a way that made him very uncomfortable. He realized then that Minerva wasn't wearing her glasses, she and she had let her hair loose from its tight bun and was letting it fall freely down her back. The effect was startling. "Hello, Severus," she said with a cheeky smile. She turned to her moony-eyed entourage. "Thank you all so much. I don't know what I would have done without your help."
The boys placed the packages around Severus, trapping him behind a wall of bags and brown paper bricks covered in ribbon. He sat behind the partition and listened as the boys attempted to extract information from Minerva: where she lived, when she'd be back in town, did she have a boyfriend. At this Severus jumped up from the bench and sent parcels flying across the road. "That's enough, boys. Minerva is leaving now." They looked crestfallen.
"But I'll be back," she interjected. "In about a week." They made tentative plans to meet again while Severus stood there, fuming.
Later, after they had gathered all the day's acquisitions and got everything back to the cottage after three trips, Severus turned to Minerva, "Do you really think it's wise to be making dates at this time?"
She looked up from the floor where she was emptying bags. "Dates? They weren't dates."
"You agreed to meet up with three boys next Saturday and go out together. What would you call it?"
"Making friends," she said simply.
"Those boys were not interested in being your friend."
Minerva looked at him oddly and broke out into a wide smile. "You're jealous."
"Wha…jeal…you've lost your mind." Severus stormed out of the room telling himself over and over that she was not currently giggling at him and he was most certainly not blushing.
Severus didn't join Minerva for dinner. Somewhere between drying crocus roots and an ill-advised blush, he had lost his appetite. Minerva wasn't his daughter, and even though she looked like a child she was still an adult who was fully capable of making her own decisions, even if they were inconceivably stupid decisions. Nonetheless, Severus retreated to his bedroom, where he remained for the night.
This whole situation was out of hand. Soon, however, she'd be gone. They'd figure out what had gone wrong with the potion, fix it, and she'd be on her way.
Once again Severus could return to the life he had so carefully fashioned for himself. The one where he avoided people and emotions and …life. He sighed out loud.
Why didn't that sound as appealing as he had hoped?
The next morning Severus saw no real reason to get out of bed. It would be another day before they could even get started on the potion and he wasn't up to any of Minerva's shenanigans today. No silly games, no shopping sprees, no junk food binges. Today he would be an adult and do adults did when they wished to avoid the world - he would hide under the covers and feign illness.
"Are you ever coming out of there?" a familiar voice called from the other side of his door.
"I've made breakfast," she said in an attempt to entice him to leave the warm confines of his bed.
Not bloody likely. "I'm not hungry."
She wasn't giving up. "How about some coffee?"
He paused for a moment. He could go for a cup or two. "No…thank you."
"Come on, Severus. I bought you a gift yesterday and I've been dying to give it to you."
This was not what Severus was expecting to hear. Thinly veiled threats maybe. A tantrum, perhaps. But the thought that she…that anyone would buy him a gift was the most incentive he'd had to get out bed in a long time. "I'll be downstairs in a minute.
It was more than a minute, as he decided to shower and shave and try to determine if he needed a haircut and, if so, how should he cut it. As soon as he realized what he was thinking, he stormed out of the bathroom. Would there be no end to this?
When he finally arrived at the table, Minerva placed a plate in from of him. Two eggs again, but this time the bacon was placed on top to resemble a pair of cross eyebrows. Damn it….he smiled.
"I'm glad you came down," she said with a broad grin. "I thought you'd stay up there all day."
"Don't be ridiculous," he said as he sipped his coffee. "I simply decided that I had earned a bit of extra sleep." He looked at her from the corner of his eyes. "It's been a trying week."
Her smile softened. "Yes, I could tell you're miserable. That why I brought you this." She reached under the table and pulled out a long thin box.
He knew immediately what it was. "You must be joking."
"You haven't even looked at it yet," she teased. Minerva removed the lid and took out the racing broom that sat inside. "Isn't it beautiful?"
He supposed it was, as far as implements of torture went. Sleek and black with tapered bristles making it perfectly aerodynamic. It looked like the fastest broom he'd ever seen. "I'm not getting on that thing."
Minerva looked at him pitiably. "Afraid, eh. I can understand. I don't blame you. Lots of people are terrified of ever leaving the ground."
He dug his fists into the table. "Do you think I don't realize that you are trying to provoke me. That you are trying to manipulate me into mounting that death trap."
She ignored this and kept speaking, "I know you're old and it's probably been decades since you've been on one… if you've ever been on one. It does take a decent amount of balance to fly on these properly and with your advance years that might be too much to ask. Maybe I should have gotten you something more practical and more your speed, like a rocking chair or knitting lessons."
Severus rose from the table and snatched the broom. "You are truly, truly evil," he spat as he sprinted outside.
Without looking back to see if she had followed, he mounted the aforementioned death trap and shot off the ground, rocketing into the air. It had been decades since he'd been on one, and he did feel a bit queasy when he first launched, but it was mere seconds before he realized how much he missed flying. There was something about the wind whipping against his face and the feel of being surrounded by nothing but acres of open air that made him feel like a child again. The excited buzz that energized the very cells of his skin, the exuberant high that made him want to laugh at everything - something else he hadn't felt in decades.
Severus looked out over the landscape, at the mountains to the east, the forest below him, and the small clearing in the middle of it all where he had been living these last few years. It looked very different from so high in the air. It struck him all of a sudden how much he'd missed by locking himself away from the world. It wasn't all so horrid, after all.
Minerva remained on the ground, watching him. He turned the broom around, carefully aimed, and raced toward her. He didn't let up at all as he headed to the spot where she remained firmly planted on solid ground. The Earth was coming up to meet him quickly but he kept to his path. Suddenly, Minerva mounted a broom of her own, blasted off the ground, and sped past Severus in the opposite direction. The rush of wind that she left in her wake was nearly enough to spin Severus on his broom. Quickly, he changed direction and soon was speeding toward her.
Later that night they sat in front of the fire in his parlor. Minerva sat on the thin rug in front of the hearth, watching the flames flicker as a thick log turned to ash. Severus sat in the armchair across from her, nursing his sore muscles and aching joints with a glass of brandy and a pair of terse lips. They had flown for hour upon hour and his body was letting him know he had overdone it. He cared little, however, what his cursed bones felt. He'd had fun. And fun wasn't a word often found in the Snape vernacular.
He watched Minerva closely. She had said precious little since they'd returned. The silence that was the trademark of this house before her arrival seemed horribly out of place now and he found he had the ill-advised urge to start a conversation. "Everything should be ready for us to begin tomorrow."
Minerva's gaze remained steadfast on the fire. " That's good," she said plainly.
"You don't sound pleased."
"I am….it's just…well, I've rather enjoyed my time here."
Neither spoke for a while. Minerva watched the flames dance, Severus swirled the brandy in its glass.
"Did you ever wish you could go back, Severus?" she said suddenly. "Start over, from the beginning? Only knowing what you know now. Knowing that the petty things that feel like the end of the world really aren't, because you truly understand what the end of the world feels like. Taking nothing for granted because you know how quickly it can disappear, how quickly it can slip through your fingers. Having the energy to fix the things you know need to be fixed. Knowing what truly matters and appreciating it. Not being so damn foolish."
Severus looked down at the glass in his hand and the amber liquid that it contained. He had thought about it actually. He thought about it all the time. "Part of being young," he began, "is not knowing those things. It's still believing that nothing can could harm you. That you are simply invincible. It's still believing that opportunity is infinite. One can't truly be young without that. Besides, what is the point of having a young body if your mind is already a thousand years old?"
Neither said anything else for the rest of the night. She didn't come out of her room the day after that. Early the following morning, they began working on the potion.
The tonic was prepared quickly, and they slowly went step by step, trying to recall exactly what Minerva added and when. Over the next week they worked on the potion without fail. Severus noticed a decided change in Minerva's demeanor with each day that passed. Her hair was back in place, as were her glasses. There was no talk of mocha gelato, no trips into town, and the brooms just collected dust on the floor. Finally, they added the dahlia root. The potion was done.
"It will take me some time to work out the antidote," he said as he finished bottling the prepared tonic.
Minerva looked at him for a moment before she answered. "That's…good. Thank you." She continued to clean up the workspace.
Severus watched her intently. "I could drop you in town. You never did go to meet up with your friends. You could show off your new broom."
"No, I think I'll just read or something."
The mischievous sparkle in her eyes had vanished days ago. With it had gone the lopsided smile. The sense of wonder. The vigor. The eagerness. Severus was suddenly struck by the fact the he missed the old Minerva…or rather the old young Minerva. The one who had force-fed him ice cream and chased him through the forest, the one who had raced him on a broom and hit him with a rock. "You don't have to take it if you don't want to."
She smiled forlornly, "Don't I?"
"No," he said firmly. "you don't."
"I have responsibilities, Severus. I -"
"You don't owe anyone anything, Minerva. You've done your duty. You've paid your dues. Your life is yours to live as you see fit."
Her hand ran over the table, her fingers skimmed across the smooth wood. "I thought about it, you know. About staying like this, in this body, but what's the point? Looking like a child doesn't make me one. I don't quite fit in with those who are my own true age, not in this body. It's a lonely life, Severus, and I don't think I care to live it." She turned to walk out of the laboratory.
"Minerva," he said stopping her before the crossed the threshold, "just answer me one question: Were you happy?"
She turned back. "What?"
"Those first few days. Here. With me. The afternoon in the woods, racing on broomsticks. Throughout it all, were you happy?"
She shrugged. "I don't see - "
"Were you happy?" he repeated.
"Yes," she said softly, and she turned and left the room.
Severus stood by the cauldron full of the potion that started the chain of events that led to this moment. He dropped a ladle into the thin fluid and stirred it about. How could such an innocuous-looking thing cause so much trouble? It was just a simple tonic, wasn't it?
It was time to make things right.
The next morning he was awakened by a scream.
"What did you do?"
Severus shifted in his bed and found that his nightclothes were terribly big on him. He lifted his hands to his face and to a smooth chin he hadn't felt in quite some time. "It…it worked."
"Oh, Severus," Minerva's eyes filled with tears, "what did you do?"
He got out of bed and walked across to the bathroom that had the only mirror in the house. The face that stared back at him was one he hardly recognized. His eyes were bright , his skin, unlined, his nose… well, the exact size it always was, but it didn't matter. It had worked.
Severus turned to Minerva. "Why should you be the only one having all the fun?"
"Fun?" she sighed. "You think this was fun?"
"Of course it was, unless the smiling and the laughter and making faces with breakfast food insinuates something else."
She brought her hand to her face and covered her eyes. "This is insane."
"Insane? No, my dear Minerva, this is the single sanest thing I have ever done. Insane would be trying to find a cure for the fountain of youth."
Minerva collapsed onto the edge of the bed. "What were you thinking? We can't live like this?"
He laughed. "Why ever not? "
She opened her mouth to answer but nothing came out. It appeared she didn't have an answer. "But Hogwarts - "
" - is thriving." He interrupted. "Don't think I didn't know that you've been sending owls to Filius and checking up on the school. They'll be fine. They are fine. The world is fine. There's nothing to worry about anymore. There's just you…. and me."
Minerva shook her head. "Whatever will we do?"
"How about Quidditch? We can recruit your friends from town. I was a fair beater in my day and I wouldn't mind using their heads for target practice."
Her eyes went wide and she let out a laugh. "You've lost your mind. You've bloody well lost your mind."
"Minerva." Severus walked over to her and took her trembling hand in his. "If you can honestly tell me that you would prefer to go back to Hogwarts and creaking bones then I will gladly work on an antidote. But if, instead, you'd like a second chance at life, a chance to be young and foolish then perhaps, we could try this for a bit." He gave her a small smile. "I mean, if you're afraid, I can understand. I don't blame you. Lots of people are terrified of ever leaving the ground."
She looked at the hand that held hers for moment and then up into the eyes that had been watching her intently. Severus could almost see the two Minervas battling with each other. One, the strict follower of rules. The sensible one, who knew that this whole idea was pure madness and would probably not end well. The one who was old well before her time. But there was this other Minerva as well, the one who never really got to have a childhood. The one who liked eating cookies for dinner and running through the woods for no other reason than it was fun.
"Let's grab our brooms and race to town," she said, with that wonderful glint back in her bright eyes. "I'm in the mood for some gelato."Finis