A/N: Warnings: dub-con, mild bdsm, snarky!portraits, overall darkness/angst
by Kelly Chambliss
Disclaimer: As if.
Chaper 1: Sprout
". . . what I think would be best -- that is, if you agree, Pomona. . ."
Start-of-school checklist in hand, Minerva McGonagall disappeared around the corner near the Charms classroom, her voice fading as she left Pomona Sprout farther behind. Pomona sighed and tried to hurry her short legs a little faster: when Minerva was in this "organizing" mood, there was no persuading her to slow down. Oh, she'd make the effort for a minute or two, but then energy and purpose would drive her on at a speed all her own. It was easier just to puff along in her wake as best one could. . .
But when Pomona turned the corner herself, she nearly cannoned into Minerva, who was standing rigid in the middle of the corridor.
She held up a hand to stop Sprout's advance. "The wards. . .they just shifted. . ." she whispered.
Pomona stood silently. Minerva had always been more attuned to the magic of the castle than Sprout had, and now that she was Headmistress, McGonagall had even more access to Hogwarts' secrets. As the new Deputy Head, Pomona had gained some powers, too, but she hadn't felt any change in the wards just now. She hoped the castle wasn't trying to tell her she wasn't up to the deputy's job. Not now, only a day before the students arrived for the new term.
Finally Minerva shook her head, frustrated. "Someone's got into the Headmaster's office, I'm sure of it," she said. "But I can't sense anything more; it's very strange. . ."
Even now, weeks after Albus's funeral, Minerva didn't call the Head's office her own, and she spent as little time there as possible, mostly only when she needed to meet official visitors. Pomona assumed that Minerva stayed away because she couldn't bear to be surrounded by painful reminders of Dumbledore and their long friendship, but when she'd said as much, Minerva had replied, "Yes, there is a great deal of Albus in that office."
In thinking about it later, Pomona saw that this answer was more open to interpretation than she had initially realised. She put it out of her mind, though: Minerva would take over the office when she wanted to and not before, and in the meantime, they had more important worries. Like the one facing them at this moment -- an intruder? Last time there'd been intruders in Hogwarts, the Headmaster had died. Please let this be just a mistake, Pomona thought. Please.
"Come." Shrinking her checklist to pocket-size, Minerva turned and headed in the direction of the Head's office.
"Minerva, wait!" Pomona called. "Don't you think we should get someone to go with us? Just in case. . ."
McGonagall swept on, without pause, without reply. Sighing again, Pomona hustled after her.
When Sprout reached the office, the door next to the stone gargoyle was already open, but the circular stairs were unmoving. Minerva had flattened herself against the wall next to the opening, her wand out. Waiting just until Pomona fell in behind her, she began cautiously to ascend, using a mirror charm to see the stair beyond her as she climbed.
They reached the top without incident. "Ostendo," Minerva whispered, and the heavy oak door slowly grew transparent.
As far as Pomona could tell, the office looked exactly as it had when Albus had been alive. No one seemed to be present; nothing had been disturbed.
"There was someone here, I know it," Minerva said, in closer to her usual tones. Waving the wood back to its normal state, she held her wand before her as she opened the door a crack and slipped through.
Convinced now that it was a false alarm, Pomona followed, in time to hear Minerva cry out, "You!"
Turning from one of the cabinets on the side wall, his face a mask of disdain, was Severus Snape.
"Professor McGonagall. Professor Sprout. What are you doing in my office uninvited?"
"Your office?" Pomona gasped. She was surprised she found breath enough to speak, her heart was pounding that fast. But Minerva, made of sterner stuff, was able to say nothing; Pomona couldn't help but admire her control.
Ignoring Sprout, Snape handed Minerva a parchment bristling with the sort of Ministry seals charmed to open to only one wand: hers, apparently. She touched each one quickly and read the official-looking scroll with a mix of emotions crossing her face: surprise, anger, and finally a bitter amusement.
"I see," she said at last, looking at Snape. "Your office, indeed. Let us go, Pomona." Without another word, she turned to leave.
"Wait," Snape ordered. "I want to make a few things clear."
Minerva turned back. "Yes, Severus?" She kept her voice even, although Pomona thought it probably cost her some effort.
"You shall address me as 'Headmaster,'" said Snape, equaling her uninflected calm.
Pomona choked. Headmaster?
Minerva's lips twitched, as if she found this pretension funny, but she inclined her head solemnly. "Headmaster," she agreed, and waited silently for him to continue.
Amazing, Pomona thought. If she were in Minerva's situation, she'd be chattering like a nervous flitterbird, she knew she would. Ousted from her position by Severus Snape? Who was now apparently the Headmaster of Hogwarts? How on earth could that be?
"The Ministry expects you to remain as Deputy Headmistress, Minerva," Snape announced. "And as Headmaster, I expect your complete loyalty and obedience, even if I am" -- here he smirked -- "Dumbledore's murderer."
"I don't offer loyalty or obedience on command," Minerva snapped. "I'm not your pet dog. And you are not Albus's murderer."
Pomona felt her eyes widen. Not Albus's murderer? Of course he was. Harry Potter had seen him, up on the ramparts of the highest tower: Snape had sent a Killing Curse into the Headmaster in cold blood. Cold blood. Everyone knew that. Whatever was Minerva talking about?
Evidently Snape was wondering the same thing. His eyes narrowed. "Not his murderer? But didn't you hear Potter's report? Do you mean that you, of all people, don't accept the word of The Chosen One?"
"Oh, you killed Albus, without question. But I don't believe for a moment that you murdered him. I believe you did exactly what Albus wanted you to do, the way you always did. As too many of us always did." She shot a look at Dumbledore's portrait, and Pomona was shocked at the depth of hurt and resentment she saw in her friend's face.
"No," she breathed, reaching out her hand almost involuntarily. . .Minerva idolized Albus, everyone knew that, too. "Minerva, don't say that. . ."
But the others seemed to have forgotten Sprout's presence.
"Why would Albus want me to kill him?" Snape was asking Minerva silkily, and Pomona shivered at how dangerous he sounded.
Minerva, however, was unfazed. "Do you think Albus ever deigned to tell me why he wanted anything? Or what he planned? I was a tool to him, Severus, just as you are. Or you used to be. I don't know what you are now. You and Dumbledore are both playing some damned dark game of your own. You're treating this war as if it's a grand Wizard chess match for the lads. With the rest of us as pawns. It's the sort of sport Albus always liked best, but I'd hoped for better from you."
"No!" This was just too much. Pomona couldn't stay quiet, no matter how frightening Snape looked. He was just Severus, after all, she reminded herself; she'd known him since he was a child.
"No!" she shouted again, and at last her colleagues looked at her. "That's not true, Minerva. Albus wasn't like that. He cared about you, he cared about both of you, he did. . ."
"Oh, no doubt," said Minerva impatiently. She turned to the portrait. "You cared, didn't you, Albus?" she asked, grief and anger making her voice raw. "The way you'd care about a puppy. Because pets have their uses, don't they? They provide constant love. They can be trained. Made to heel. Even given simple tasks. . ."
"Minerva. . ." said Albus's portrait, and the pain in his voice just wrung Pomona's heart. "I'm sorry. . ."
"Enough." Snape sounded deadly now, and Minerva, too, was back in charge of herself. She stared at the new headmaster levelly.
Pomona twisted her hands together and looked at the floor.
"Professor McGonagall, I ask you again," Snape said. "Will you give me your unconditional loyalty and obedience?"
"I will do my job with the utmost professionalism, of that you may be assured. If that's not sufficient, then I will write my resignation letter now."
Snape shrugged, seeming unconcerned. "As you please. The choice is yours, Professor. You are free to go if you wish."
"I should hope so. . .Headmaster." She edged the word with just the hint of a Snapian sneer. "This is still Hogwarts, not Azkaban. Yet."
From the desk, she picked up quill and parchment, and Snape waited until she began to write before he said, conversationally, "Pride is such an. . .admirable Gryffindor trait. It sustains you well. I can only hope it will do the same for your students."
McGonagall looked up sharply. "Meaning. . .?"
"If I have to replace you in Transfiguration, I shall hire Rodolphus Lestrange. You were his teacher; I'm sure you know how well-qualified he is. And with the replacements in Muggle Studies and DADA, we will have three of the Dark Lord's supporters on the staff. They all believe in severe discipline for misbehaving or lazy students, especially for anyone not a Pureblood." He spoke slowly, watching her. "As headmaster, I wouldn't dream of interfering with the pedagogical methods of qualified teachers."
Minerva thrust the quill back onto the desk with such force that the point snapped. "Damn you, Severus," she said.
Snape crossed to her in two long strides and seized her wrist, pulling her towards him. "You shall call me 'Headmaster,'" he said, enunciating each word, "and you shall give me your total and unquestioning support. You are my subordinate, and you will be serving under me. In a variety of capacities. Do you understand me?"
Pomona wished she had the nerve to conjure herself a chair; she was shaking so badly she feared she'd fall right over. That couldn't possibly have been a sexual threat Severus had just made. . .could it?
Could it? Of course not, but. . .
But there had been a moment, some years ago now. . .only a moment, when she had wondered -- just fleetingly -- if Minerva and Severus had become something more than mere colleagues.
It had happened at Albus's annual Christmas social for the staff. There had been a great deal to drink -- Albus was always a generous host -- and as they had all prepared to leave, Snape had helped Minerva to her feet. This in itself wasn't completely unusual, since Severus had several times disarmed Pomona with unexpected courtliness.
But then he'd put his hand, ever so briefly, on Minerva's waist. He'd meant only to steady her, Pomona had assumed -- not that Minerva had seemed at all unsteady -- but he'd placed his hand just that much too high, closer to her breast than her waist, actually, and there had been something about that touch, something somehow intimate, that had made Pomona think, could they be. . .?
But that was nonsense, of course; Minerva was at least three decades older than Severus, and he'd once been her student, for Merlin's sake. It had just been an innocent slip of the hand, quickly rectified, and Pomona had chastised herself for her own grubby mind.
And now here she was, doing it again, reading sex into things even at a time like this. Pomona Sprout! she told herself sternly. Pull yourself together.
But what had Severus meant by "you'll serve under me"? The way he'd spoken -- it had been more than just a reminder to Minerva that she'd be his subordinate. It was a threat of some kind, Pomona was sure of it.
A threat to a colleague! From a man she'd once trusted, even grown fond of. Dear god, what was happening to them all? She wanted to say something, to protest, but no one was paying any attention to her.
Snape was still looking at Minerva, tightening his already-punishing grip on her arm. "Do you understand?" he repeated.
"Yes," she said finally, glaring at him.
He pushed her away so abruptly that she had to catch hold of the desk to regain her balance. Then she simply stood and watched him.
Anyone else, Pomona thought, would have rubbed their just-twisted wrist. But not Minerva McGonagall. She wouldn't give Severus the satisfaction of knowing he'd hurt her. Pomona respected that sort of determination, she supposed, even though she herself preferred to be a little more flexible in small things -- it made life more livable in the long run.
But still. Minerva wasn't the only brave one around here. Sprout was a war veteran, too, after all, and it was time to show what a Hufflepuff could do. Taking a deep breath, she spoke up. "Sev. . .I mean, Headmaster. I think you're being. . ."
Snape stepped to the door and opened it. "Get out, Pomona," he said, his eyes never leaving Minerva. "The Deputy and I have some business to discuss."
Sprout glanced at Minerva, who gave her the briefest of nods before turning immediately back to Severus.
The tension and apparent hatred that swirled around her colleagues made Pomona feel slightly ill, and it was with a sense of guilty relief that she ducked quickly past the new headmaster and hurried out, certain -- and hopeful -- that he would forget about her before she was halfway down the stairs.