Disclaimer: Stating the obvious, round 7: I'm not JKR, nor any of her publishers, affiliates, etc. I'm not trying to steal her characters, and I'm not making money. I am, however, having fun playing in her world, and hope you are, too. ;)

Author's Note: Well, here it is—the last chapter. It's again much longer than usual, which I hope you will take as an acceptable apology for the long wait on this one. It gave me a great deal more trouble than I thought, and I'm still not particularly happy with it, but I hope you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Oh, and there's a bit of a torture warning for this one; I tried not to make it too explicit. If anyone is particularly offended by that section, let me know and I will of course up the rating for this story.


He kept his eyes closed, more to give himself a split second to clear his mind than to avoid his surroundings. It was likely only Malfoy Manor, again, anyway, judging by the perfume clinging to the rug.

"My Lord," he said smoothly, kneeling; yes, it was the Malfoys'; the old dining room, it looked like. He dared not raise his head to see more before the Dark Lord gave him permission.

"You are late, my faithful," said Voldemort coldly, and there was a muffled rumble of voices from around the room.

"My Lord, Dumbledore proved himself more of an obstacle tonight; it was difficult to get away from the castle—"


"I had to make sure he wouldn't see this," said Severus quickly, pulling the phial from his robes; Voldemort's voice had risen to warning level. The room held its breath as Voldemort took the potion from his hands—and began to laugh.

"Well done," he cackled. "Well done. Do you not see, all of you? He does the impossible, for me. I confess I did not expect he would finish this before this meeting, and yet, here it is. He does the impossible for his Lord. Why do not all of you?"

His laughter stopped abruptly. Severus remained where he was. The Dark Lord was in a very dangerous mood…it was not a good idea to bring more attention to himself. Apparently, not everyone had learned this lesson.

"My Lord," someone called hesitantly, "with all due respect, not even he could fulfil your wishes exactly; he is, as you said, late, as well as—"

"You dare tell me with whom I should be pleased, Jugson?" Voldemort hissed. "After your failure? Crucio!"

Severus screwed his eyes shut. He was grateful it wasn't him, but that could always change in a heartbeat—and Jugson had a particularly ear-splitting scream. Mercifully, it stopped within seconds.

"I warned you all of the punishment for failing me," said Voldemort calmly. "And yet…he is right. You were late, Severus. I do not like to be kept waiting. Crucio!"

Severus writhed. There was something to be said for his potion, he thought dully, if it managed to cause pain worse than this…

Not that that was a good thing. He blocked the thought quickly as he lay there, panting; he could not afford to appear anything but suitably chastened. There was a rustle of fabric as the Dark Lord circled him.

"I am not pleased," said Voldemort, "that Dumbledore detained you. Would you allow him to keep you from me?"

"My Lord—"


He had probably deserved it, for speaking up, Severus thought grimly, but still…oh, Merlin, he was getting too old for this; this had to stop…just let it stop…

"You accept your punishment gracefully," said Voldemort. "That is truly impressive. Can you say the same, Jugson? Or you, Avery? Travers?"

Severus winced as he listened to more screams that were not his own; Voldemort was truly in rare form. That was not at all encouraging. Someone was going to die, at this rate….

He hoped to God it wasn't him.

"But enough chatter. Get up, all of you. Up. Up! You see, my friends? Severus has brought me a truly wonderful gift. A few drops alone are worth hours of entertainment, as well as—other—values to our cause. Information, perhaps. Would you like to see it in action?"

Well, that settled it. Someone was going to die. Severus merely nodded with the rest of them, however, as no one would dare to refuse anything the Dark Lord suggested.

"Severus, you brought me this present. Perhaps, as a reward, you would like to choose your guinea pig?"

Oh, shit. The attention was back on him—and it was precisely the kind of attention he didn't want. If he chose the wrong person…. "My Lord," he said carefully, "I don't think it is for me to decide."

Voldemort laughed again, slit-like nostrils flaring. "So respectful. So wonderful. He does as you all should—looks to me for all things. Obeys me in all things. Why, he would even drink that potion himself, should I ask it." The red eyes stared at him challengingly.


"My Lord?" he said quietly, though he uncapped the phial. "There—there is no antidote."


Severus stared at the transparent potion, sloshing in its glass as though it were innocuous as water. How utterly stupid, to brew one's own poison, he thought. Pathetic way to die, really. He pushed away the images of Albus and Minerva's faces, and drank.

He nearly dropped the phial. He wished he had. Others might have been spared this—this—oh, gods, he couldn't breathe, something was surely tearing at his insides—

He did not remember falling, but he was curled on the ground with a scream locked in his throat, hearing Voldemort laugh between memories of his mother, unsure if any of it was real—

"Amusing, is it not?"

"—stupid useless boy, just like your father—"

"—a good price for failure—"

"—should knock sense into you, like he does—"

"—shame to lose any wizard with talent—"

"—talentless brat, I was casting that charm when I was three!"

"—phoenix tears, but only enough for one of them—"

"—never could love you, you worthless bugger—"

"I leave it to you to choose."

The voices grated painfully against Severus's ears, or perhaps it was the screaming—was that him? He tried to force the image of his mother away, but Albus and Minerva had returned; this time, they were sneering, staring at him with utter disgust as he thrashed and clawed at his middle.

"Filth. Coward," Minerva spat, her beautiful features twisted in a snarl. "Can't even face what he would use on others."

"No, Minerva, you must trust him," jeered Albus. "We need someone like him—I won't send someone truly important off to Voldemort. It's better if they're unloved and expendable. He won't be missed if something goes wrong."

It's not true, it's not true… Severus told himself, but somehow Albus's words only added to the pain ripping so sharply into his chest—dammit, he needed to breathe—Minerva was smirking at him pitilessly, while his father appeared behind her and began shouting things he couldn't understand—

Abruptly, they vanished. The pain faded. Severus took in great gulps of perfumed air as the ache receded from his limbs; he felt the soft rug beneath his fingertips and wondered when precisely he had squeezed his eyes shut.


A woman's voice. He slit his eyelids open to see a mess of white-blonde hair and a pale, frightened face; Voldemort's red eyes hovered over her shoulder.

"Narcissa—how did I—I thought—"

"A reward for your faithfulness," said the Dark Lord, pushing Narcissa aside. "For completing my orders regardless of impossibility, and obedience unto death." He held up a smaller empty phial. "It took me a great deal of trouble to obtain phoenix tears, but you, especially, know that no poison can stand against them. Due to their rarity, however, antidotes are generally more widely used. It is unfortunate for Jugson that there is now no more of either available."

Dimly, Severus realised that the screaming had not ceased; he sat up carefully and looked round to see Jugson tearing at himself in agony. He swallowed, and managed a half bow in Voldemort's direction. "Indeed. My thanks, my Lord, for your mercy in sparing me."

Voldemort shook his head. "Thank your comrades," he said coldly. "They chose to save you over him. Let us hope you can assure them they did not make a mistake."

"Never, my Lord. Thank you."

Severus glanced around at the circle; the other Death Eaters were silent, watching either him or Jugson with an air of detachment. Voldemort surveyed them all, radiating powerful annoyance.

"You want the world," he hissed. "The world is within our grasp. We are past the time for failure—consider this your last warning. But I have been harsh. Go back to your friends and families. Enjoy yourselves. Next time, we begin anew—and we will do so without mistakes."

"Oh, Albus, what have I done?" said Minerva fretfully. Albus sighed as he watched his deputy pace.

"You've done nothing wrong, my dear," he said.

"But I have!" she cried. She could not forget the look on Severus's face when she had confronted him—or, worse yet, when he'd left. With every passing moment, she wished she'd said something, anything, just in case…and it was quite late. Very late, in fact. If Severus had simply been delivering his potion, he was long overdue. The thought made her pace more vigorously.

"Albus, I accused him of murder. I all but called him a coward to his face! And I didn't—oh, Albus, if it's the last he ever heard from me—"

"Severus can take care of himself," said Albus quietly, then revised, "well, amongst the Death Eaters. I am sure Poppy would disagree otherwise."

"As she should," Minerva sniffed. "His sense of self-preservation is somewhat lacking."

"And yet, he somehow survives," said Albus. "And—if I may say so—he does so even better under pressure. I would never dream of telling you not to worry, but do not give up hope. There is a good chance he will be perfectly all right. Come, sit." He patted the spot beside him where he sat on the stairs.

Minerva shook her head. "You know, Albus, I tend to tell you that you are right, more often than not. Don't let this be one of the exceptions."

"My dear, I wish for nothing el—" He broke off suddenly, standing. Minerva stared at him in alarm.

"Albus, what—?"

"The wards. Unless I am mistaken, Severus has returned."

Minerva almost let out a sigh of relief—almost. She exchanged a glance with Albus and knew he was thinking the same thing: Did Severus's return mean he was all right? Would he come through the doors in a matter of minutes, or was he again in too poor of a condition to make it up to the castle—or, worse yet—what if he wasn't coming at all, and it had simply been his body thrown at the gates?

Unable to bear the thought, Minerva reached for the doors, and tugged her robes more tightly about her as the icy January air threatened to make her shiver. She squinted into the darkness, trying to watch for movement against the snow—there. That had to be him. The dark splotch moved quickly; he didn't seem to be hurt, at any rate, but there was something about the set of his shoulders she didn't like as he drew nearer.

"Severus," she said quietly, and he looked up, raising an eyebrow tiredly; he was paler than ever, but otherwise seemed unharmed. On impulse, she wrapped her arms around him briefly. "Oh, Severus, thank God—I thought—"

"I'm fine," he muttered. "It's all right. I'm fine, Minerva—Headmaster." He extricated himself from Minerva's grip, albeit more gently than he normally would have. Minerva frowned at the realisation.

"Inside," said Albus firmly, though relief clearly lightened his face. "This is no place to talk. It's freezing. Would you care for a cup of hot chocolate?"

"No," said Severus quickly. Too quickly. Minerva pursed her lips; the dim light of the Entrance Hall made it very obvious that he was avoiding looking at either of them. But what…?

"There is nothing new to report, Headmaster. He—enjoyed—the potion. Whatever plans he has made, he has not yet shared with any of us," Severus continued, shifting, ever so slightly, towards his dungeons.

"Very well. Are you quite sure—?"

"No, thank you. Forgive me, Headmaster; I am tired. I think I shall go to bed."

And with that, he disappeared, before either Minerva or Albus could so much as wish him goodnight. She gaped after him.

"Something's wrong, isn't it?" she said, after a moment.

"Perhaps," said Albus, frowning, "but he would never lie to get out of a report. It has been a trying day; it is quite likely he wanted to retire as quickly as possible. I cannot blame him for being short with us."

"Albus, he wouldn't even look at us!"

"I am sure he has his reasons, Minerva—especially if Voldemort did indeed enjoy the potion."

Oh. Minerva could have kicked herself. "He—he killed someone, then?" she said quietly.

"In all likelihood, yes. If he does not consider the name worth mentioning, I have found it best not to press. It is hard enough on him as it is."

"I see," she said, yawning. "Well, he had one thing right, at any rate—it's very late. I think I'll turn in as well. Goodnight, Albus."

"Goodnight, my dear."

Minerva waited until they had parted ways on the second floor before turning back the way they'd come. She'd be damned if she let Severus sulk, alone, without ever having even offered him an apology; she had been harsh.

And she'd bet a good amount that, if what Albus said was true, Severus would not be sleeping in any case.


She had not really expected him to answer, but she sighed at the lack of response nonetheless. After a moment, she frowned.

"Severus, it's Minerva. May I come in?"

Silence. Perhaps he was in the bath? Feeling slightly guilty, she tapped the door with her wand and murmured his password; after all, this could very well be considered a matter of personal safety…

"Severus, where are you?" she called softly, stepping into his sitting room. It was still dimly lit, as though he had not yet gone to bed, but neither did he respond. "Are you all right?"

The next second, she jumped; she peered into the corner where she had seen movement, and sighed in relief when she noticed it was only Severus. His dark dressing gown blended almost perfectly with the shadows, but she was disconcerted to see that he was paler than ever and trembling slightly as he stepped into the light—and, more disturbing, that he was lowering his wand. She eyed him carefully.

"I'm sorry, Severus; I didn't mean to startle you. I just wanted to see whether—"

"—I was all right, I know. I heard you." His wand disappeared from sight, but he still studied her warily. "If I may ask…why, precisely, would you care about what happens to a coward like me?"

She blinked. "I—"

"Filth. That's what you called me," he whispered. "Someone who can't face what I would do to others."

"Severus, I said some things earlier today that I never should have—and I'm sorry. But I never called you filth. And whatever I may have wrongly implied, I would never call you a coward."

Her alarm grew as he simply stared at her, shaking worse than ever, his complexion fading to greyish green. "But you—and Albus. Albus said—he said I—wasn't important. Unloved. Ex—expendable."

Oh, Merlin. She should never have let him walk away in the Entrance Hall; she knew something was wrong…what the hell had happened? "Severus…" she said cautiously, approaching him like she would a wounded animal, "what did You-Know-Who do? What happened tonight?"

He blinked several times, as though trying to clear his head. "He…called us. I gave him a potion. The potion." He suddenly looked up, his eyes far more lucid than before, though he looked no less horrified. "Oh, no, Minerva, I'm sorry—I didn't mean—it's just…he was very displeased with us. Some more than others," he added bitterly. "But he quite enjoyed the potion; so much so that he tested it…on me."

Minerva felt as though she were going to be sick. She had read the book herself, seen what it could do… "What?" she breathed.

"Well, me and Jugson," said Severus miserably. "He gave it to both of us, and left it to the rest of them to decide which of us he would save. Me, obviously. I don't remember much…but I saw you. And you said…" He trailed away again.

"I said terrible things," finished Minerva quietly. Of course. It made so much sense now. "The potion twists your memories…of course it would. Oh, Severus, I'm so sorry."

"I thought I was going mad," he said. "I saw my mother—and I'm fairly certain I'd once really heard her say—well, what she was saying—"

"—so you saw us and couldn't help but assume the same. It's all right. I understand."

"I'm sorry. I knew it wasn't—you—but then seeing you so soon after—"

"I know. It's all right."

"No. It's not. I saw you both and I couldn't—I couldn't bear looking at you, not knowing whether you'd ever actually said—" He shuddered. "Oh, God, I'm going mad."

Minerva squeezed his shoulder gently. "No, you're not. You've just had a very stressful day, and are still recovering from a hallucinogenic poison—a poison which, by all rights, should have killed you."

"Sorry it didn't?"

"Never," said Minerva firmly. "Severus, I was so worried…and to see you come back like this…"

He snorted, but the slightest bit of colour had returned to his cheeks, and he had stopped shaking quite so badly. "You don't even like me," he said. "We can't even stand each other most of the time—"

"Well, that's something that we'll have to change, won't we? I am perfectly happy to continue loathing you in public, of course," said Minerva quickly. "Makes things easier. And I won't pretend that you don't have a knack for annoying me like none other. But you are a good man, Severus, and I would be a fool if I let you continue trying to do everything alone. Even you need friends, you know."

On second thought, she probably could have left off embracing him until he didn't look quite so overwhelmed—Merlin knew, he had probably never heard anything of the sort before—but she had thrown her arms around his bony, bathrobe-clad shoulders before she could stop herself, and was gratified to feel him relax ever so slightly. Still, he frowned as she pulled away.

"Minerva, if you would tell me—I know you have not been privy to every conversation between the headmaster and I, but if you know he's said this—" He swallowed. "When I 'saw' him, he said—that I had always been the best to go and spy on the Dark Lord, because—because I wouldn't really be missed if something went wrong."

Minerva raised an eyebrow. "You tell me, Severus. Is that the sort of thing Albus is likely to say?"

"I don't know!" he replied, his brow creasing in agitation. "It doesn't—no, but I won't pretend we haven't had our differences—and sometimes it feels as though—"

"Severus. That's quite enough. You know Albus would never say such a thing. And if he ever did, he would be sorely mistaken."


"Hush. I've just told you how much I was worried, haven't I? Go to bed, Severus. You need rest. It will look much better in the morning; I promise."

She couldn't help but smile at the familiar scowl that crossed his face as she smoothed the hair out of his eyes. After making sure he could safely take a dose of Dreamless Sleep, she left him to it and retired to her own rooms.

Finally, a night where they could all rest without imminent worry. And she intended to make the most of it.

"Back again, Mr. Wilkinson? I hope this is not going to remain a habit," sighed Poppy, ushering the miserable second year into her ward. She glanced up at his escort. "What happened, Minerva?"

"Classroom accident," said Minerva crisply. "A few unintentionally transfigured body parts here and there…I put everything back in its proper place, but he said he felt ill, so I took the precaution of bringing him here."

"Yes, very good," said Poppy absently, already engrossed with her new patient. "I'll take it from here…what's the matter, precisely, Mr. Wilkinson?"

Minerva granted the hapless Hufflepuff an encouraging smile before she turned away and stifled a sigh. Really, the boy was nearly a menace in the transfiguration classroom; it was kindest to let such things be with a minimum of fuss. Thankfully, the period had nearly been over, and so she merely sent everyone else away early and decided to deal with it herself. She would definitely have to schedule a talk with Pomona about getting some extra tutoring for the boy, though…

Minerva nearly ran into the person entering the ward as she left. Fortunately, the floating crate of potions preceded him through the doors, and she was able to step out of the way and still maintain the proper level of dignity.

"Professor Snape," she said curtly, straightening her spectacles.

"Professor McGonagall." He nodded, then directed the crate over to rest near one of Poppy's overflowing supply shelves. "Bit of trouble from your favourite second year, I see?" he added with a very faint sneer.

She shot him a warning look, not surprised to see that he completely ignored it. "There has been no harm done, and Poppy is just making sure he's perfectly all right. Speaking of which…welcome back, Professor. Your classes have missed you—I take it your illness was not too serious, then?"

Severus returned her raised eyebrow with a level look of his own. "I am—completely recovered in every way," he said, but Minerva did not miss the significance of his raised hand, or the slight flexing of his fingers, as he apparently rubbed at an invisible stain on his skin.

"I am glad to hear it," she said shortly, and nodded to him as he held open the door. She supposed she was one of the few who truly was happy to have him back, even at the cost of his constant sniping at others, and the thought almost made her smile. She headed for the Great Hall before she could give herself away.

"Professor?" Severus called. "There are a few things I need to discuss with you. Is eight o'clock in my office acceptable?"

"Of course."

"Then I will be waiting. We shall see if the Gryffindors' Head of House is more punctual than her students, or if their habits arise from example."

The sneer was unmistakeable; Minerva looked around to glare at him, thoroughly amused by the sight of the students in the Entrance Hall scurrying for cover. She could hardly blame them—Severus's smirk was quite an evil thing to behold, but his eyes glittered faintly with a teasing warmth before going back to their usual flatness.

"We shall indeed," answered Minerva smoothly. "I hope you are not too disappointed by what we discover on that account, Professor. Good day."

She whirled and ushered a few of the bolder students into the Great Hall for lunch, feeling Severus's amused stare all the way up to the High Table. Albus chuckled as she took her seat beside him.

"Trying day, Minerva?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied loftily. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Oh, just the third years taking bets on whether you or Severus will kill the other first."


"Indeed. I must admit, however, it is quite good to see him back and as—er, enthusiastic—as ever."

Minerva sniffed and reached for the rolls. "I hope you mean that in the worst sense of the word. Although—" she softened slightly. "It is good to have him back, regardless. Now you've both got me worrying every time he's called away…I suppose he'll be free from that for a while?"

"There is no way of knowing," said Albus grimly. "He will always be at the mercy of Voldemort's whim, Minerva. But I am hopeful he will be given at least a temporary reprieve before he must do anything quite so trying again."

"And I am hopeful that always will be cut short to never again, sooner rather than later," Minerva sighed. "But I suppose there is nothing more I can do on that count."

"You can be his friend, Minerva," said Albus gently. "So much hinges on Severus's success—and this past week has made it clear to me that he needs more support than even he believes. Poppy will of course be around to do what she can, but he seemed to respond to you much more favourably."

"Perhaps because he has never been afraid to snap at me like he would not to either of you," Minerva muttered, but she had to fight a smirk nonetheless. "He's been in rare form, today, you know. I can't blame the students…but I should probably stop them from gambling about the behaviour of their professors. It's simply not appropriate."

Albus shook his head, eyes twinkling. "Ah, let them have their fun; it does no harm and keeps their minds off more troubling matters. Besides, Filius and I may have made a wager or two ourselves."

"Albus!" said Minerva, shocked. "Really, I don't think—what—what did you say?"

He chuckled. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"Ah, good, Severus! I meant to thank you for the extra Pepperup earlier, but I was a bit preoccupied with a student…"

"I could see that," said Severus, smirking as he set another box of potions on the nearest bed. "You ought to prepare in advance. He's in my class first thing Thursday morning, and I don't doubt he'll find some way to cause mass destruction and land half the class here. I'm tempted to skip the Hair-Raising Potion and give a remedial lecture on burn salves instead."

"And yet, you won't," said Poppy, smiling. "I'm sure he'll perform just fine, Severus, given you don't frighten him half to death. Speaking of salves…your hands…?"

Severus glanced down at them, flexing his fingers. "Fine. I must admit, I was becoming a bit concerned…but the extra salve has helped. They're as good as new." He looked up at the matron awkwardly. "I—thank you."

Poppy nodded, treasuring the rare words of gratitude. "It was far less than what I should have done, Severus, but—you're very welcome."

She bent to inspect the newest additions to her stock, marvelling at the quality. It was quite difficult to brew such a large batch of Wiggenweld and still maintain perfect consistency… She shook her head, glad, for more than one reason, he had not suffered permanent damage from his latest misadventure.

"These are wonderful, Severus, thank you. And—well—" she eyed him cautiously, unsure as to how he would react— "you're—you're always welcome to stop by, Severus. Even if you don't think you need to. Actually—no. It's most likely especially when you don't think you need to." Her cheeks reddened under his stare.

"Your point?" he said coolly.

Poppy sighed in exasperation. "I know you've probably heard it from Albus and Minerva by now, but—be careful, Severus. I don't ever want to see you being brought to me in that condition ever again. Do you understand?"

"I do," he said, but despite his very faint sneer, he nodded seriously.

Knowing him, Poppy thought sadly, he would 'forget' within a month. But he had nodded all the same, and for now, that was enough.

Minerva knocked on Severus's office door at precisely eight o'clock, and hid a smile at the slightly disgruntled 'enter' she heard from within.

"I told you not to be too disappointed in my punctuality, Severus," she said drily, as she wandered over to his desk. He stood and lifted an eyebrow.

"In all fairness to my argument, Minerva, there is always the old saying: 'If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late.'"

"Indeed. Well, if we're going to argue semantics…. In fairness to me, your terms were never defined clearly, and therefore left me no possibility of winning. If I had come early, you would have said I was being rude; if on time, you would pull out that ridiculous old phrase. So, you see, it does not really matter. I am, quite literally, 'on time,' and Gryffindor is spared any slights that may have resulted from me being otherwise, due to your own lack of specification."

Severus smirked, and gestured to the door of his quarters. "For the record, Minerva, Gryffindor will never be spared any deserved slights. Would you care to come in? I'd rather discuss this comfortably, if you don't mind."

"Certainly," she said in surprise; she had only once before seen the inside of Severus's personal quarters, and that because he had been particularly surly and refused to move from his armchair just to receive a new Quidditch schedule.

"Sit," he said curtly, nodding towards the furniture grouped around his fireplace as he toed off his boots. Minerva tactfully avoided the most worn leather armchair and settled herself on the settee instead, looking around at the overflowing bookshelves with mild interest. She wondered whether he kept any books purely for enjoyment, and whether he ever had any time to stop to read them…He cleared his throat pointedly, and she started at finding he was standing before her, holding a very familiar bottle of Ogden's.

"Would you care to join me for a drink?"

"I—Severus, I would, of course, but that was a gift—you need not share it with me."

"And with whom, exactly, would I share it, Minerva? I believe I owe you a drink, and now is as good a time as any to try this. In any case, you have already given me a far greater gift than I could ever have expected."

"I don't understand."

The sneering mask he had worn for most of the day was gone, replaced with the intensely curious look he had often sported in his week of preparing Voldemort's poison. Minerva felt herself going pink at the scrutiny.

"You saved my life," he said quietly. "And more than once. You found me, that night I returned—"

"I was only with Albus!"

"—but you were the one that got him looking for me in the first place. He told me that himself. You found me; you helped look after me when it was still not certain whether I would survive; you helped prepare a potion that—well, were it not for you—I would not be standing here." He paused, frowning slightly.

"I—am not good at this sort of thing, Minerva, and I don't expect I ever shall be. But—thank you."

Minerva had to wait a full several seconds to swallow her shock before she could even think of formulating a response. True, his words sounded slightly rehearsed—and, all things considered, they probably were—but it was the thought that counted. She suspected it would be the most open thank-you she would ever receive from him, and was touched by the gesture. She nodded.

"Duly noted. But if I may say so, Severus…it is not as though you would not have done the same. I hardly deserve all that—"

"Of course I would have done the same, if it were you. Anyone would have. But not everyone would have saved me."


"Will you just take the damn drink?" he snapped finally, holding out the glass, face set firmly in a scowl.

She smiled. "Of course. I am sorry I could not get it to you sooner. For what it's worth…Happy Birthday. Just think, only fifty more weeks until your next."

"Don't remind me," he growled. "I may not live that long."

"If I have something to say about it, you will," said Minerva firmly. She raised her tumbler and an eyebrow, daring him to contradict her. "To your good health, then, Severus, and to many more birthdays to come. May they be nowhere near as eventful as this one."

"I will drink to that," he said, smirking slightly. He eyed her curiously as they steadily drank their way through the bottle and opened another. She wasn't half bad, really... In fact, she even treated him almost like a—friend. Perhaps she always had, and he had never noticed.

But even plastered as he was, he could clearly see that this year was shaping up to be much better than the last.


Author's Note: And to think, I had originally planned to have this finished not long after January... *shakes head*

Yes, so I could have broken this into a few chapters—but I didn't want to make a liar out of myself yet again. :) If you're still here and reading, congratulations, and, as always, thank you so much for your time. I hoped you enjoyed it, but whatever your thoughts, feel free to share them with me. To those of you that have particularly enjoyed the Minerva/Severus interaction, never fear; there will be plenty more in fics to come!

Thanks again for reading, and have a nice day. :)