Disclaimer: If you recognise it, it's JKR's. The remaining weirdness is mine.
Author's Note: I know, I know. I'm way behind in updating The Remnants, and have no business delaying it further by writing fluff from Philosopher's Stone. Still, it needed to get out of my system, so here you are. Somewhat OOC Minerva/Severus cute for the win—so run away now if the pairing squicks you! And Happy early Halloween, since I probably won't end up getting any other potential Halloween fics written any time soon. ;)
Minerva gritted her teeth against the sound of Quirinus's nervous laughter as she swept away from the toilets. Really—three first years nearly killed by a troll, and he was giggling like an idiot. What was he thinking?
What were they thinking, more like, she corrected herself silently, watching her young Gryffindors emerge into the passage, shell-shocked but remarkably unhurt. She didn't believe Miss Granger's excuse for an instant—the girl was far too intelligent to hunt down a troll on her own—and, despite a certain ancestral penchant for mischief, she highly doubted either Potter or Weasley would have been thick enough to attempt it, either.
"Dumb luck," she muttered to herself, seeing them exchange tentative grins.
"Forget luck; that was a near miracle," said the presence behind her.
She whirled on him immediately. "You," she hissed. "Where the hell were you? Honestly, Severus, that whole time—"
"Later," he said warningly, his dark eyes on the students' retreating backs.
"Ach, they can't—" Minerva started, but pressed her lips together when he jerked his head towards the toilets significantly.
"Well," she tried again, attempting to calm her voice, "I think that's quite enough excitement for one night. I suppose we should tell the others?"
With a sigh, she sent a silver tabby bursting from the end of her wand; it circled her twice before darting through the corridors, off to alert Albus that the danger had passed.
Severus watched it go and glared. "I don't suppose there's any reason to return to the feast?"
"No. Albus and I sent everyone back to their Houses."
"Yes, thank you for that, by the way," said Severus crossly. "Sending my Slytherins to their House…when there was allegedly a troll in the dungeons…."
"For someone so concerned about it, I certainly don't remember seeing you in the dungeons," Minerva countered, meeting his stare levelly. He snorted and twitched away the hair that had fallen over his face.
Minerva nodded, and fell into step beside him. "Very well. I'll have something from the kitchens sent down…Severus?" She suddenly noticed he was not matching her stride—odd, considering his longer legs often made it a challenge to keep up with him, especially when he was in a temper. She eyed him and was alarmed to see him limping, his face growing paler with every step.
"Obviously," he snapped.
"Later, Minerva," he repeated, clearly making a valiant effort at maintaining his usual grace. As requested, she kept her mouth shut until they had reached his dungeon quarters, though his breaths had grown shallow by the time he sank onto his settee.
Minerva summoned tea in a flash, but left off preparing it until she could determine whether Severus needed anything. "Leg up," she ordered, and patted his footstool.
He scowled at her, but raised the hem of his trousers—torn and bloodied, she realised now, though she hadn't noticed in the previous commotion—to reveal a thoroughly mangled leg, blood oozing from the dozens of puncture wounds in his flesh.
"Well," she said, unable to give voice exactly to her nausea.
"Precisely." Severus stared at the appendage with far more composure, though he grimaced slightly as he bent to probe at one of the deeper gashes. "It's not too bad, though. I have a paste in the bathroom cupboard that will work—I'll keep it bandaged for a few days; it'll be fine."
Minerva wisely kept her comment about "men" to herself, though she couldn't resist raising an eyebrow as she went to search for his salve. "Am I to assume the reason you're not going to Poppy about this is because of something to do with this madness?"
"Would you really assume otherwise?"
"Don't give me a reason, Severus," she answered sternly, not encouraged by his wince as they worked over his leg. "Explain."
"It's Quirrell," said Severus at once. "He's up to something; I've known it since he returned with that ridiculous stutter—"
"Severus, please, not this again," said Minerva wearily. "The only thing he's capable of being 'up to' at the moment is trying to get over his fear of vampires. Not very successfully, I should say."
"It is very reassuring we just left poor incapable Quirrell to take care of the troll, then," said Severus, smiling unpleasantly.
Minerva felt her cheeks going pink, but would not back down from a point so easily. "Yes, well—"
"Furthermore," said Severus, louder, "it does not explain why he went running up to the third floor corridor when he was supposed to be in the dungeons with the rest of you."
Minerva stared, everything clicking into place all at once. "Good Merlin," she whispered, glancing from Severus's leg to his face again. "You were on the third floor. This—was from that—that thrice-cursed thing of Hagrid's, wasn't it? But why?"
Severus smirked grimly. "Because leaving our dear colleague so conveniently passed out in the Great Hall would have been the perfect opportunity for him to go and try to snag the Stone for himself. The troll was the perfect diversion—I'm guessing he let it in himself; hasn't he been gloating all these years about his 'gift' with the filthy creatures? Everyone was out of the way. If I hadn't guessed where he was going and headed him off, this—" he gestured to his leg— "would not be an issue."
Minerva was silent for a moment, horrified by the implications of Severus's story—but she wasn't so shocked that she couldn't reason.
"You know, that actually makes sense," she murmured. "But—what happened? What did he do?"
"He was not pleased to see me there, of course," said Severus lightly, finishing the knot on his bandages with a wave of his wand. "Thankfully, he still seems to fear me enough at the moment not to try much."
"That, or he feared the dog," said Minerva, nodding to his leg. "I'd certainly have a healthy respect for it, if I'd watched that happen."
"Perhaps. I am more concerned with how much more he knows. The dog—clearly—and whatever he used to protect the Stone, but I do not know whether he has determined any of our obstacles, let alone been able to remove them."
"He's definitely after the Stone, then? Not Potter?" said Minerva, voicing the worry that had plagued her ever since she had seen just which of her students had been involved in the incident. "Couldn't the Stone be a diversion, as well?"
Severus's face tightened, as it always did, at the mention of his old enemy's son. "Potter had nothing to do with this, and I do not think he does, yet. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, though one wonders why he was in the girls' toilet, so far from his dormitory, if he was not looking for trouble," he said, sneering. "Honestly, Minerva; I'm surprised at you, letting Miss Granger get away with such an outrageous lie—if anything, it was Potter and Weasley that went looking for the troll, and Granger that went after them."
"I'm very aware she was covering for them, thank you, Severus," said Minerva crisply.
"Of course she was. And now she gets to be one of their little friends."
Minerva sighed. He sounded quite bitter, and, thinking back to his own schooldays, she certainly could see why; no attempts to play along had ever earned him any friends, especially where James Potter was concerned. Still, old grudges had no place in their current business—especially if it was as grave as Severus claimed.
"I'm sure that she, at least, had an acceptable excuse for being out-of-bounds, even if we'll never get to hear it," she said finally, aware that Severus's snort wasn't entirely unjustified. Surprisingly, however, he let it go without further argument, though he did scowl as he finished his tea and poured both of them another cup.
"Just as well. If she's bound to be wrapped up in Potter and Weasley's nonsense for the next few years, I'm sure we'll hear plenty of her acceptable excuses."
Minerva nodded. She had the sinking feeling that Severus was right, though she was certainly not going to admit it. They were both quiet for a long while, and she was aware of the settee having sunk just so under their weight, so that both could pretend their proximity was all to do with the dismal state of his furniture.
And if the hand not holding his teacup had somehow come to rest on her thigh, it was purely coincidence. After all, her fingers were only tracing his out of absent-mindedness, she reasoned, once she realised she had slipped into the habitual action.
Absent-mindedness that she unfortunately didn't recognise until she had wondered aloud: "I don't suppose we'll ever have another peaceful Halloween, now that Potter's back in our world?"
She regretted it immediately. She could not help but wonder, given the significance that Halloween had played in terms of Potter's life so far, but she had not meant at all to say it out loud—and certainly not in front of Severus. But too late—he tensed and withdrew into himself, his eyes flashing.
"Severus, no, I'm sorry, I didn't think—" Minerva tried, helplessly, but he shook his head.
"No. It is a fair question, regardless of whether it is one that I care to consider." He did not elaborate, though, and finished the remainder of his tea in glum silence. Minerva drained her cup and squeezed his hand as she stood.
"I should go speak with Albus," she murmured. "He should know about Quirrell."
"You're not staying, then?"
Only Severus could spit something so dismissively, and yet manage to sound so endearingly vulnerable, Minerva mused. Only the slightest tremor distorted his voice, but it was enough for her to be touched all the same; touched, knowing that despite his sneering demeanour, he would be genuinely hurt if she left him alone tonight.
It was a long-standing tradition of theirs, since his first year of teaching—that Halloween had been miserable, while he had mourned something—or, rather, someone, as Minerva had suspected—and she had not had the heart to leave him to his own devices. Later years brought nights spent in silence until they dozed off, or her disapproving wordlessly while he indulged in too much firewhiskey. Eventually he progressed to keeping himself healthily occupied reading, but she stayed and read with him, anyway—it came as no surprise when successive Halloweens saw them playing chess or talking quietly, and by then such visits were not restricted to one night a year.
By the time another Halloween had found them sharing a bed, it had seemed the most natural thing in the world, and Severus no longer grieved.
In fact, she had the distinct impression that he rather enjoyed her company.
She smiled at the cautious hope in his eyes when she patted his shoulder. "I'll be back," she promised. "That is—well, I don't want to push, if you're not feeling up to—"
"I am not an invalid," growled Severus.
"Of course not, dear."
"I fully intend on proving it to you when you return."
She shook her head. "If you insist. Now, I really must go speak with Albus. Try not to plan anything too strenuous in my absence—I need you fit for your forfeit when Gryffindor finally wins our Quidditch match this year."
"We'll see," said Severus, smirking.
"Yes, we will."
They would, Minerva repeated to herself as she turned away, ignoring Severus's eye-rolling. For now, though, it was still Halloween, and she had every intention of spending the next few hours of it more enjoyably than the last.
After all, she was a great believer in tradition.
Author's Note: OOC? Yes. Weird pairing? Yes. But thank you for reading! Feedback is appreciated, as always. :)