Disclaimer: Not mine. Any characters or references you recognise belong to JK Rowling.
Summary: Headmistress Minerva McGonagall encounters an old colleague and takes the opportunity to make an offer that might change the Wizarding World forever. Set after DH but AU for two rather self explanatory reasons.
Minerva didn't have many vices, she was a glutton for anything with rhubarb and/or ginger, she liked a good dram before she went to bed and she was known to, on occasion, smoke the odd cigarette. Those occasions however, had been more frequent over the last few years than she would like to admit, even to herself, she conceded as she conjured a small flame and shielding it from the wind brought it to her face.
Breathing deeply, she held the smoke in her lungs as she leant back against the cold stone of the building behind her, garnering what shelter she could from the crisp autumn wind.
"Of all the people I expected to find skulking out here…" A familiar drawl next to her left ear made her jump.
"Severus!" she scolded, keeping her voice hushed and glancing past him in the direction they had both come from. She took another draw from her cigarette as her heartbeat returned to normal. "You should count yourself lucky I didn't hex your…"
"I notice you didn't though."
"Yes, well, apparently my subconscious mind is better at recognising your stealthy approaches than my conscious one."
"Well, none the less- 'Constant…'"
"Don't." She cut him off sharply, flicking ash down the steps in front of them.
"Sorry." he responded more softly. "Strange day all round I suppose. I've never been particularly good at…" he gestured behind him to where, inside the recently refurbished Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, a new monument to those who had given their lives in battle had just been dedicated.
"Join the club. After Grindlewald, it was Alastor and I that were skulking – he still wasn't terribly good with crowds…"
They slipped into a silence that was not awkward so much as weighty, punctuating a conversation where more was left unsaid than was admitted. Not wanting to dwell on any of those shared experiences that hung in the air around them, Minerva removed the cigarette packet from her pocket and offered it to Severus.
"No. Thank you. I think between both of my previous careers, I've been exposed to enough harmful substances to last a lifetime."
"Fair enough." She conceded. "But if you're going to be my Deputy then you're going to have to put up with my intermittent smoking."
This made him start, turning his head towards her so quickly that she wondered that he didn't give himself whiplash.
"Wh… I… I hadn't thought…"
"What?" she asked. "That you'd come back to Hogwarts?"
"Or that I'd be invited back to teach, never mind…" he countered, studying something fascinating on the ground.
"Well I haven't exactly been swamped with applicants for when we re-open in January – but even if I were you'd be near the top of my list. Obviously, the choice is entirely up to you, but I can offer you reasonable pay, a roof over your head that happens to come with in-built anti-journalism wards, and the opportunity to re-build Slytherin house."
"Potions or DADA?" he shot at her obviously getting over his initial shock.
"Whichever you prefer."
"Potions." He continued after a minute. "It would be Potions."
"Well thank Merlin for that. I'd already offered DADA to…"
"If you say Potter I'm walking away now."
"Don't be ridiculous – he's still a child." She retorted, burying her hands in her pockets and wishing she had something to transfigure into gloves. "I gave the position to Miss Granger." She added and managed to suppress her laughter until she'd seen Severus' face.
"Very droll. I assume you were not being entirely serious."
"No. I've asked Remus."
"Small mercies I suppose."
"He won't be resident within the castle, what with Tonks and… well the other."
"Not eliminating the risk." Severus countered.
"But reducing it. Filius has chosen to retire – I'm not sure if you'd heard."
"No – good for him."
"Indeed. Pomona's staying thankfully, but if there's one thing the last six months of rebuilding have taught me, taught us, it's that the two of us do not make a good team."
Severus was the one to snort this time.
"No, I don't imagine that you would."
"She's one of my closest friends and professionally I respect her a great deal, however we've reached an understanding."
"Does that understanding stretch to me being the one to become your Deputy?"
"We may not work well together but Pomona can still read me like a book." She replied, pausing to remember the Hufflepuff's gentle urging and quiet reaffirmation of what it was she had been thinking of for some time.
"There will be opposition." He warned her needlessly.
"I wouldn't expect anything less." She countered. "I'm not a fool Severus. If I chose to I could turn my back on what's happened. I could choose not to approach the delicate subjects, not to appoint members of staff to whom there could be any possible objection." It was almost as though, having uncorked her carefully controlled passions she could no longer suppress them, as she continued to talk her tone even more intense than before. "I could keep on running Hogwarts the way it's always been run and turn a blind eye to the recriminations children will throw at each other regarding their parents' actions and hope I die peacefully in my bed before the next dark lord rises. But I've never been terribly good at turning my back on a challenge."
"That was quite possibly the most extreme understatement I have ever heard you utter." Severus pointed out, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards. "If there is one thing that I learned during my tumultuous time as Headmaster it is that Minerva McGonagall doesn't back down from anything."
"Yes, well, I promise not to be too derogatory about your cancer sticks if you promise not to mention that particular incarnation of our working relationship." He was trying to make light of what had gone on between them the previous year, but Minerva could feel the tension rolling off of him and instantly regretted bringing it up. Obviously it was still too soon to joke about some things.
"In any case," she continued trying to move the subject on, "I might have all the resolution in the world but I'm not so stubborn to believe that I can change everything on my own. Your help would be a good start but only if you're will to give it. If there's anyone I can think of that deserves the right to do whatever their heart desires, it's you. We all used you once before and I will not be party to doing it again."
"You know fine well that I've been stir crazy since they left me to my own devices."
"Just because you've yet to decide upon a future course of action, doesn't mean that this is you're only option."
"Changing your mind?" he asked her, quirking his eyebrow.
"Not at all, but I told you before that I won't have you agreeing to this just because you feel you have to."
"In many ways it's too late for me now Minerva." He began without a hint of malice or pity. "I'm never going to have a 'normal' life, but that doesn't mean I can't do some good with it. It's not too late for them though, for the students. We may not be able to overcome centuries of segregation and prejudice in a single generation but we can make a start."
Minerva didn't know what she would have said in response had she been given the opportunity, but the guests at the dedication had started to leave, pouring down the steps and joining the general throng on the streets and making it impossible for her to even hear herself think.
"You look like you could use a drink." Severus commented after several moments, in what for him she supposed constituted an amused tone.
Shaking herself, Minerva lifted her gaze from the throng of people now filling the street below.
"Yes, I suppose I could." She said pushing herself away from the wall. Severus joined her and in an act of gallantry that she was not really surprised by, placed a hand at her elbow and guided her down the steps.
"Just so you know," Severus began leaning in toward her ear. "Just because I declined your offer of a cigarette doesn't mean that I would also decline the offer of a drink from your legendary whisky collection."
"No, I don't suppose you would Severus." She said patting the hand resting in the crook of her arm. "Shall we?" she asked, as they reached an official apparition point.
"After you." He gestured, allowing her to disapparate before him.
When she reappeared, she found herself staring up at the school and was suddenly engulfed by the enormity of what it was she had spoken to Severus about. By the time Severus appeared next to her, the cigarette box was already in her hands.
Snape said nothing but the way he raised his eyebrows made her feel so damn guilty that she put them back again.
"Just so you know Severus," she said with a scowl that wouldn't stay in place. "I was looking to hire a Deputy not a Nanny."
"A wise woman once told me that sometimes she wondered if there was much difference between the two."
She snorted at this but couldn't disagree.
"Well come on then. If I'm not going to be allowed to smoke I might as well share a dram with you. We've a lot to discuss Mr Snape starting, I think, with what duties fall within your remit."
"Well just remember Minerva – I've had that job once and I have no desire ever to have to do it again, so it is in my interests to make sure the Headmistress's tenure is not cut short due to her inability to look after her own health."
It was her turn to look at him this time.
"And just remember that as well as controlling your pay and conditions I also have more than 30 very fine examples of the best amber nectar that Scotland can provide to distribute in my will, so you had better stay on my good side."
And with that she strode off towards the castle, a smile creeping across her face and a little of the constant pressure that had been gathering for so long lift from her shoulders.
A/N: Well I hope you enjoyed this little piece but either way, I always love to hear from you - It makes my day!