The usual disclaimers apply.

Chapter 28

Leaning back in her chair, Professor McGonagall closed her eyes, taking deep breaths, willing her stiff shoulders to relax. Concentrating on the pleasant sensation of warm, smooth porcelain in her hands while gently blowing across the surface of the hot liquid and enjoying the olfactory joy of bergamot oil in her nostrils, she relished the anticipation of her drink's invigorating taste before taking the first sip from her tartan and thistle decorated china mug.

"Ah, tea," she exclaimed with a sigh of pleasure.

She would also have liked to kick off her shoes and put up her tired feet; however, this wasn't her private sitting-room, it was her office and one didn't let one's hair down while still on duty and under the scrutiny of all one's predecessors. Well, almost all one's predecessors; one of them was conspicuously absent from his frame. Anyway, there were plenty of duties to fulfill before she could allow herself to retire for the night. She had to make sure that lessons could start as usual the following day.

Taking another sip of her tea she sat up and with another sigh – a weary one this time – pulled a stack of parchments towards herself and reached for her quill.

"Administrative work is the most tedious of a headmaster's duties," said a voice behind her.

Professor McGonagall's hand jerked, causing her quill to produce a large blot of ink. Closing her eyes for a moment and pressing her lips into a firm line she put down her quill and turned in her chair.

"How nice to hear that you're back, Albus," she said, her glasses flashing angrily, her voice full of sarcasm. "You portrait has been empty for two days, where have you been?"

"Oh, here and there, there are plenty of paintings to visit, plenty of places and people to see in this castle." The white-haired wizard made a sweeping gesture, brushing his gilded frame with his wide, midnight-blue sleeve.

"Ah. Well, yes. Did you see him?" the witch inquired; she wasn't in the mood for roundabout approaches.

A strange expression passed the painted wizard's face, wiping out his smile, and he hesitated a moment before answering.

"Yes, I did. And Mrs McGregor, too. A most delightful woman, if you ask me."

"Did you speak to him?"

"Speak to him? Actually…,well, no, I didn't."

The headmistress frowned in surprise. Getting up and leaning against the edge of her desk, she faced the portrait.

"You didn't speak to him?" she asked incredulously. "But I thought that's what you intended to do."

"Well, I…" Dumbledore had taken off his spectacles and was polishing them with a large white handkerchief. He muttered something incomprehensible.

"Sorry?" Minerva McGonagall asked.

"On second thoughts I decided it would be better if I didn't intrude on him but stayed in the background, watching."

"You decided to stay in the background?" The witch laughed out loudly. "Well, Albus, that's a first. What, in Merlin's name, made you change your mind?"

"Well, I found it was just doing me fine seeing that he was well…"

"It… what?" Professor McGonagall leaned forward as if not believing her ears.

"Yes, you see, that was my main concern after all – his being well."

"His being well. Right."

The witch settled back and regarded her predecessor, who was still busy polishing his glasses and refused to meet her eyes, with a thoughtful frown. Then suddenly her eyes widened and her lips curled into a smile.

"He refused to speak to you," she stated conversationally.

The portrait continued working on his spectacles, holding them up against the light and giving them appraising glances every now and then, before finally placing them on his crooked nose again.

"Well?" the witch insisted.

"He refused to notice me," he admitted grudgingly.

"How do you know he refused to notice you? Perhaps he just didn't see you."

Albus Dumbledore snorted.

"There was no mistaking his not wanting see me. After the ball, when they returned to their rooms, I was waiting in the corridor in this oversized picture of the solitary tree. You remember it, it's a copy, the original is by a German artist, mostly blues and greens, gnarled tree in the foreground, mountains in the background. Rather incongruous, I think. Well, anyway, it's a very quiet and peaceful scene and I thought it would provide us with the necessary privacy for a bit of friendly conversation. He must have seen me, this part of the wall is next to a torch and therefore well-lit, and I waved my hand and saw him stiffen for a moment. But he just walked on, he didn't stop, he didn't acknowledge my presence in any way. Minerva, he simply ignored me!"

"I see."

"I tried it once more the next morning when they came back from breakfast, but again he only gave me the most fleeting of glares and closed the door. There are no paintings in the guest rooms."

Minerva suppressed a smile.

"No, there aren't. We thought it would be better to grant our guests privacy. Well, Albus, obviously he didn't want to talk to you. And I can't say I don't understand that he prefers to stay away from you. After all the hardship he's been through. But nevertheless, at least you saw him."

The portrait sighed.

"Yes, and he does look well. Happy. Content. When they came back after the dance he looked almost smug. And somewhat confused. And very much in love."

"And Mrs McGregor?"

"Tired. And very much in love, too."

"Yes, I think she really loves him. Meeting her was the best thing to happen to him. And her son, too."

She sighed reminiscently.

"Merlin, you should have seen him two years ago, when he suddenly appeared in that fireplace – emaciated, unkempt, barely able to walk – a lonely, bitter cripple. And now… did you know he could dance?"

"Dance?" The wizard leaned forward so quickly that his spectacles threatened to slide off his nose.

"Merlin's beard! Dance! I had no idea. But then he was good friends with the Malfoys and their balls were famous…"

"He danced yesterday. He's a very good dancer."

For a moment they remained silent, each lost in their thoughts. The painted wizard was stroking his long beard pensively.

"I think there is something going on," he remarked slowly. "The way they looked at each other. And I saw the boy return to the common room today after they had left and he seemed excited."

"Did he, now? Perhaps it was just the aftermath of an exciting weekend. It doesn't have to be of any significance."

"There is something going on," the old wizard insisted stubbornly, "even with my limited abilities I could feel it."

Professor McGonagall shrugged, reaching for her mug, taking another sip of her tea. She grimaced, it was cold. Her thoughts wandered back to the scene she had watched during the fireworks. Perhaps Dumbledore was right and there was something going on. Marriage? Had he proposed out there? No, choosing such a dramatic moment was very unlike Severus. The Severus she knew. Maybe he had changed? So… marriage? Well, why not. She wondered briefly if they would opt for a Muggle or a wizarding ceremony. Or… maybe… The headmistress frowned, trying to remember the dinner. Lisa McGregor had not touched the wine glass. She had stuck to water, sparkling spring water. Could it be? Again, why not? Severus was as good as new, and anyway, even with all his injuries, his ability to procreate had never been impaired… She played with the handle of her mug, smiling. Well, the headmistress of Hogwarts School would have to be informed about any changes in the family situations of her students.

"A penny for your thoughts," the wizard's voice intruded into her daydreams.

"Oh, no, Albus, my thoughts are not to be had for money," she replied, taking the phrase literally. She emptied her cup and pushed herself away from her desk, turning her back on the painting.

"Minerva…you'll tell me if you learn something, will you?" the wizard asked anxiously.

The headmistress let out an exaggerated sigh.

"Of course I will. Do I have a choice? It is impossible to keep anything from a nosy old codger like you."

The painting looked hurt. "I'm not nosy, Minerva, I just care."

Slowly the witch turned round again, her stern spectacles directed at her predecessor.

"Albus Dumbledore, you can go on caring, for all it's worth. I'm just glad that you are not able to meddle. Severus Snape has been under your thumb for almost two decades, his life determined by guilt and misery, and in the end he nearly died in the process. Now he has been offered the chance to start a new life, one that is really worth living and fortunately he grabbed this chance, and I swear I'll personally hex everyone who dares think of interfering with that into oblivion."

The End

Ooookaaaaay, I know this comes as a surprise and a bit of disappointment to some of you who would have liked me to go on with this story and cover the next ten or so years of Lisa's and Severus' relationship, but, sorry, I think now is the time to stop. I'll leave everything else to your own imagination. ;) Have fun.