Half Measures
by Laura Smith

"He watches me," she sighed softly, turning over to face the man smiling lovingly at her. "It's a little off-putting."

"He's a teenager," he reminded her as he got off the bed and reached for his deep purple robe. "He is in the throes of hormones and desires. You should be flattered."

"Well, I am, I suppose. And a little disturbed. He's not who I would have expected, you understand. It's not that I don't...appreciate..."

"Minerva," Dumbledore leaned down and planted a very soft kiss on the tip of her stern nose. "No one is accusing you of anything."

"Then why do I feel on trial?" She got off the bed as well; taking her long tangle of hair and twisting it very efficiently back into her requisite bun. "I see him watching me and I see the smiles and smirks of all the other professors and it's not easy. Especially as you are the most guilty of them all."

"He's young, Minerva. And, if you think about it, it must gall him to fancy a Gryffindor, wouldn't you think?"

"That isn't helpful, Albus."

"I so rarely am in matters of the heart, my dear."

"You know more about the human heart than any other man alive, Albus Dumbledore and your modesty is all the more insincere for its falseness." She placed her hat back on her head and tapped it into place. "And so, almighty headmaster, what do you propose I do about our young Mr. Snape?"

"I would think it obvious, Minerva." He smiled, mischief in his eyes. "Unless of course, you harbor some deeply buried desire for the young man, in which case, I think it best that you take advantage of your experience and his sexual peak and have your way with him."

"Albus!"

"Only joking, my dear." He grabbed her arm lightly and pulled her toward him. "What would you do if it were any other student?"

"I would most likely go to my headmaster for advice."

"Oh, that wouldn't be wise. I hear he's got quite a fancy for you himself. Might not bode well for the young man if the headmaster thinks he's got competition."

"You are not helping."

"He's done nothing overt, Minerva." Dumbledore chuckled. "Don't encourage. Don't discourage unless it becomes apparent that he has every intention of escalating beyond a very innocent crush." She was about to speak and he stopped her, shaking his head as he held up a restraining hand. "He is a fragile young man, I do agree. He has a great intellect but very little sense when it comes to the world. He will most likely fall victim to someone who will offer him everything he's ever wanted, only to find that the price that it extracts from him is far more than he was ever willing to pay."

"Is that one of your statements that I will look back on in several years and admire your great foresight, Albus?"

"I should expect not, Minerva. I rather think you'll be, at that point, looking down on me as if I were a doddering old fool."

"I do that now."

"Ah, but now I am the doddering old fool that you love to distraction." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "Tread lightly, Minerva. And if it does escalate, then we will find something to do to break our dear Mr. Snape's heart."

 

"Early for Transfiguration again, eh, Snape?" Sirius Black sat down on the edge of Snape's desk. "I guess you're doing your best to try and win back some points for poor old Slytherin's depleted hourglass, eh?"

"Gryffindor's not all that impressive this year, Black." Snape sneered. "I mean, they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if you and Potter are kings of the castle."

"Sitting in the front row even," Sirius continued as if he hadn't heard. "You must want to be impressive. Or perhaps you just fancy the teacher, eh?"

Snape's pale skin flushed and his eyes glittered. "Just because you run around like a dog in heat, Black, doesn't mean the rest of us are so slave to our baser natures."

"I think that was something of a yes, don't you, lads?" He grinned at James and Remus. "Our friend Snapey here has got himself a thing for McGonagall. Tell us the truth, Sev, old chap, are you planning on asking her to the Yule ball? Maybe you can score yourself a passing grade under the mistletoe."

"Mr. Black?"

Sirius started and turned to face professor McGonagall. "Yes, Professor."

"You will take your seat now, as unless you possess some sort of time alteration device, it will be impossible for you to have done it two minutes ago when my class started."

"Yes, Professor."

"As for the rest of you, I will make this announcement once and never again. I may be head of Gryffindor House, but there is to be no rivalry in my classroom. Headmaster Dumbledore's decision to combine houses for various classes to try to create a more unified school will not fail in my classroom because my Gryffindors cannot manage to employ enough civility. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Professor," everyone stated.

"Very well then. Look in front of you and find today's exercise. You are to turn your radishes into rabbits. For those who succeed, there will be an additional exercise to keep you from getting into further mischief." She looked over the students, her gaze landing on Sirius. "And I expect that there will be more than a few of you who manage to graduate to the next task."

Her gaze swept to Severus. He was giving her his approximation of a smile and, while sincere, it couldn't help but send a sigh past her lips.

 

"I tell ya, he's got a horrible crush on McGonagall." Sirius poked his lunch with his fork. "You can see it. He's even greasier than normal. Oozing around her."

"You protecting McGonagall's honor," Peter smirked. "That's a laugh, Sirius."

"She doesn't need protecting," Remus reminded all of them. "I'm pretty sure, when it comes to anything, even lovesick schoolboys, Professor McGonagall is more than enough to handle it."

"But Snape," Sirius reiterated, jabbing his chicken again. "I mean, he's...well, he's Snape, isn't he? Lurking around like some vulture, preying on innocents."

"He's not Jack the bloody Ripper, Sirius." Remus laughed. "He's just an introvert."

"You're defending him."

"I'm reminding you that we have a huge test in Transfiguration in two days thanks to you chivalry and I'd rather get through lunch so that I can study for it. Besides," he lowered his voice, "what do you care who's got the hots for McGonagall? She's not your type exactly, is she?"

Sirius' eyes widened and he shook his head, wrapping his arm around Remus' shoulders in a friendly fashion and pulling him closer before pushing him away. As he released him, he dropped one hand under the table and squeezed Lupin's thigh in a much more than friendly gesture. "No. Not exactly."

 

Snape knocked softly on the door, glancing around him quickly, checking the shadows to make sure there was no one around. When there was no answer, he bent down, slipping the parchment under the door, gathering his robes around him as he hurried down the corridor toward Slytherin.

McGonagall sighed and bent down, picking up the parchment carefully. The wax seal was a thick, luscious green, the seal a generic S, not the standard seal of either Slytherin or the Snape family. Sighing again, she pressed her thumb to it and slowly unrolled the parchment.

Headmaster Dumbledore introduced us to this writer my second year. It seems strange that a Muggle would have the insight that seems to elude some full-blooded wizards.

She closed her eyes, the last sentence, though most likely meant in complete innocence tightening her heart. There was a long gap between his initial paragraph and the poem, and she couldn't help but smile as his precise writing loosened, the words, the poetry falling from the ink in a beauty of their own.

My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lip's red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,
If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
In some perfumes there is more delight
Than the breath with which my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
Music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

"A love note, Minerva?"

She started and turned quickly. "Albus, you startled me."

He smiled and rested his hand in the small of her back, guiding her to a chair by the blazing fireplace. "You seemed a world away."

She looked down at the parchment, following Dumbledore's eyes. "He seems to have progressed past adoring looks in class."

"He actually gave you adoring looks?"

"Well, the intent was there, even if the actual gaze seemed a bit more off-putting than attractive and adoring." McGonagall smiled, her finger trailing over the dark ink that seemed to match the wax seal, a deep, forest green full of reflective secrets. "He sent me a poem."

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Oh? An original composition?"

"A Muggle author, actually." She gave him a knowing look. "One you introduced him to, if I'm not mistaken."

"Excellent. Good to know some of what I drone on about does sink into their heads. Which one? Wilde? Swift?"

"Shakespeare."

"Oh my. It delights me that Severus can find the irony of him. I wonder if he made it past the tragedies." He shook his head. "Something tells me the answer to that would be an emphatic no. May I?"

McGonagall nodded, still holding the parchment. She traced the seal then forced herself out of her reverie, handing the paper to Dumbledore. "What am I going to do, Albus?"

"Ah. A favorite of mine." He read the poem aloud; his rich voice adding layers and texture to the age-old words. "And so fitting of Severus, don't you think? Who better to understand that beauty is much more than skin deep, that few of us are just as we appear." He caught McGonagall's eye. "Not that you are not lovely, my dear."

"I didn't take it as an insult, Albus."

"No. You never would. But just the same, I feel the need to make sure you do know exactly how beautiful I find you to be." He patted the arm of his chair, tilting his head in invitation. "As wise a woman yet to fall in love with me."

"As if I could have resisted you." She laughed and moved over to his chair, letting him settle her in his lap. "All charm and twinkling blue eyes as you swooped over to our table in a flurry of scarlet robes. You were made to impress, Albus."

"I don't recall you being all that impressed."

"I did dance with you."

"Ah, but you went home with...what was his name?"

"That, my dear Albus, is neither here nor there."

"You lived with the man for five years, Minerva. Surely you remember his name."

"Just as readily as you do, you old faker." She leaned against him, inhaling the warm, sweet smell of him. "You stole my heart that night, Albus. I was just too stubborn to admit it. And you were too cocky by half."

"By at least that much." He tugged her hair from its bun and let it spill over his hand, running his fingers through the silky strands. "He admires you so, you know. You are fair and honest and beautiful. You stand up for what you believe in. I think, for someone of Severus' background and familial situation, that is something that he has no choice but to admire. I doubt he has seen loyalty to anything more than the pursuit of galleons in all his life."

"What do I do, Albus?"

"Be just those things, Minerva. As that is all you can do."

"Perhaps I should talk to him? Sit down with him..."

"And say what, pet?" He turned so that their eyes met. "Tell him that he doesn't stand a chance with you so that he can hear you say that he doesn't stand a chance with a woman like you? Tell him that you're too old so he can hear you say that he is not mature enough for you? Tell him that you're his student so he hears that you'd rather spend your time with the headmaster who is at least twice your age?" His thumb graced her jaw, stroking the strong profile. "Men who fancy themselves in love do not hear with the ears of reason."

"I don't want to see him get hurt. Sirius Black is torturing the poor boy in class..."

"I fear that childhood will not be kind to our Gryffindors or our Slytherins." He looked at her, his eyes somewhere far away. "The best you can do for him, Minerva, is to pretend as if this does not exist. Otherwise, Black and his friends will not let it rest. And, sometimes, what seems the cruelest course is often that which is most kind."

McGonagall nodded and rested against him. "I can't help but feeling that this will just stir the pot, make it all worse."

"Something wicked this way comes," he nodded, kissing her temple. "And were I a better man, I would perhaps give you leave to do what you think would be best. But I am not a good man, Minerva."

"Liar."

"When it comes to you, my love, I am not a good man. I am a selfish one."

 

Remus glanced over at Sirius and shook his head. Sirius stuck his tongue out and nudged James, who looked up and shook his head as well. Sirius folded his arms over his chest and pouted, kicked Remus in the foot.

"Ow."

"Well," Sirius grinned, "you won't let me have any fun."

"So you inflict pain?"

"Maybe I thought you'd like it."

"Maybe you thought I'd get mad enough not to notice that you've already got your wand out and if you don't leave him alone, you're bound to get us detention and I'd rather not." Remus met Sirius' irritated look with a cool one of his own. "Besides, James has Quidditch practice tonight and I'm sure he'd prefer that to a rousing evening of scrubbing trophies with Filch."

"Besides," James added, "you've got a date tonight, don't you? I saw you chatting up Amaryllis Anderson earlier."

"A date, Sirius?" Remus' eyes grew big and wide. "Oh, I knew you were just the best. Did you flex your muscles or just show her your wand?" He pretended to swoon. "Sirius Black, big man on campus."

"You're the bloomin' prefect," Sirius glared.

"Only because Dumbledore thinks I've got some hope of controlling you idiots. Sadly, he's very mistaken. You think you'd all do me the favor of growing up so that I can stop having to pretend to be responsible."

"You love it and you know it. You get that nice bathroom all to yourself."

"You've never smelled it after the girls have been in their primping."

"Can't be worse than ours after Sirius has finished primping." James laughed at Sirius' face. "Now then, speaking of which, I've got a date with Lily," they all chuckled at this, James's dates with Lily consisting of him following her and teasing her until she snapped at him to grow up now a standing joke, "before practice, so I'm going to leave you to keep him from torturing Snape all by yourself."

"Thanks," Remus drawled.

"Oh, come on, Remus," James' eyes shone with laughter. "Surely you can think of some way to keep Sirius from running off and howling at the moon, can't you?"

"Nothing that won't get in the way of his date tonight."

James ruffled Remus' already mussed and shaggy hair. "As if you'd mind that so much, eh?"

"Say hello to Lily, would you?"

"And tell her to get some taste in men?" James added.

"It couldn't hurt." Remus waved and turned his attention back to Sirius. "Give me your wand."

"I'm not going to hex him or anything."

"I don't trust you." Remus crossed his arms and stared at Sirius until he handed over the slim sliver of wood. "Now, tell me about your date tonight."

 

Snape set the book down on the library table, ignoring the looks he was getting from the tableful of girls nearby. A chorus of whispers clouded around him, choking the air. He was about to get up and move when Madame Pince hurried over, chastising them all to be quiet.

His finger ran down the page, skimming the words as he passed them. "Excuse me?"

He looked up, surprised to see a girl standing in front of him. "Yes?"

"You're Severus Snape, aren't you?"

He sighed, bracing himself. "Yes."

"I thought so. I mean, I didn't get much description, but you just...sort of fit your name, don't you?"

"Is there a reason you're wasting my time?"

She straightened, indignant. "There is, actually, although now that it's come down to it, I've got half a mind not to tell you what it is." She held out a note, practically shoving it against his roman nose. "I was asked to give you this."

"What is it?"

"It's a parchment." She laughed rudely. "And they told me you were smart."

"And they told me all Ravenclaw girls were pretty." He sniffed. "Looks like generalizations are the bane of us all."

She dropped the parchment and spun on her heel. Snape looked around, searching for the familiar figures of Potter and his gang. Not seeing any of them, he carefully unrolled the parchment. The edges slipped and curled around his fingers until he uncovered two small words, barely there in pale silver ink.

thank you

Hope grabbed his heart and he looked up, intent on finding the blonde who had delivered the message. He left the book and bag at the table, hurrying in the direction she'd gone.

He caught up with her just outside the library, grabbing her arm, his fingers curled like a vice. "Wait."

"Let go of me!"

"Please," he gasped the word, his eyes searching hers. "Please wait."

She shook off his grip and crossed her arms across her chest. "What?"

"Who gave you the scroll? It's important, please?"

"One of the prefects. Gryffindor, I think. Amaryllis or something? She said she'd just had Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall and she'd asked her to deliver it to the library. She wasn't heading this way and I was. I offered to take it for her." She sniffed. "Had I known it was going to you, I might have reconsidered."

"Yes." Snape glanced down at the paper still clutched in his hand. "Yes. Thank you." He turned around, completely distracted now, completely consumed as he headed back into the library.

She watched him for a few moments then hurried around the corner. "Is that what you wanted?"

"Not me," Peter shrugged. "Just doing Sirius a favor."

 

McGonagall sat next to Professor Sprout, trying to keep her attention focused on the conversation going on around her. Instead, her eyes kept falling naturally to the long Gryffindor table and the four friends gathered there. Remus Lupin caught her gaze and waved, waggling his eyebrows and smiling. She returned his smile and forced herself to turn to Madame Pomfrey as she started speaking.

"Minerva?" Dumbledore's voice was low and surprisingly hot on her neck. "A word, if you please?"

She nodded, excusing herself from the table and following Dumbledore to a small room off the side of the Great Hall. The door closed behind them and Dumbledore spelled the lights, blanketing them in the soft glow of candlelight. "Is there something the matter, headmaster?"

"I just received a proposal today and I wanted your sharp insight."

"You're beginning this conversation with a compliment, Albus. That means that you've already made up your mind and are determined to have my backing."

"I wish to present this to you before I present it to the faculty as a whole and then, if we so decide, to the students." He held out a letter, watching her face as she read it. Her eyebrows lifted slightly and he nodded. "You see my concern?"

"The Ministry backs it, Albus, I really so no reason for us to deny it happening. You know if we do you'll either be faulted for depriving our students of the opportunity or they'll just mange to do it behind your back at another venue. One you cannot control as easily as Hogwarts."

He nodded and took a deep breath. "As I thought." He stroked his beard. "I admit that it would be with some trepidation that I allow Lucius Malfoy unlimited access to my students."

"As I said, better where you can control it."

"I fear that control is exactly what the issue of this whole arrangement is." He sighed. "Well, shall we return to our dinner?"

"Yes."

"And do stop flirting with Remus Lupin, my dear. I'm afraid Severus is getting dreadfully jealous."

"Albus," she warned.

"I'm beginning to think I had better schedule my time with you. I know if I'm on your schedule, you're much less likely to run off with one of your handsome students."

"You're incorrigible."

"I am at that." He stopped her before they reached the door, tugging her toward him and kissing her softly. "I believe that is a large part of why you love me."

 

Slytherin was dark at the best of times, at night even more so. Snape moved through the dungeons without making a sound, slipping from shadow to shadow, his pale face never seeing even the silver light of the moon.

The door was unlocked and he moved into the potions lab then into the stores, moving across the floor and down the two steps by memory. As he closed the heavy door behind him, he cast a spell to light the small room, bending immediately over the long worktable, his dark hair blocking out much of the light his wand had provided.

He removed the book from the inside of his robe, enlarging it and setting it carefully on the table as well. He glanced around out of habit, making sure his light stayed centralized. He thumbed through the pages, searching and scanning, stopping as he reached the piece he was looking for, breathing deeply as he read through the words.

He carefully copied them, line by line, whispering the words as they sprawled across the paper, bringing them to vivid life before setting them in ink. Finished, he reread them, making sure there were no mistakes, then sat there, quill in hand, staring at the remaining parchment.

He leaned in suddenly, scribbling furiously then rolling the scroll before he could change anything, capturing the words inside the tight rolls. He pulled a green stick from his robe, heating it with a spell then letting the thick wax pool on the seam. He pressed the smooth S into the small pile and pulled it away, staring down at the mark, releasing a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding.

 

McGonagall looked up at the knock on her office door. "Come." Sirius stuck his head in the door, followed quickly by the taller Lupin. She fought a quick smile and schooled her face into its usual stern expression, knowing from their own smiles that she hadn't reacted quickly enough. "Yes, gentlemen?"

"And she uses the word loosely, especially in your case, Sirius." Remus followed his friend into the office, closing the door behind them. "Hello, Professor."

"Mr. Lupin. Mr. Black." She gestured toward seats near the fireplace and moved from behind her desk to join them. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Because, as much as I flatter myself when it comes to my wit and personality, I find it hard to believe the two of you can't come up with enough mischief to keep yourselves amused without my help."

Remus rolled his eyes in Sirius' direction, waving his hand to defer to his friend. "This is your show, Black."

"It's about the career fair."

"I see." McGonagall nodded, trying to keep from smiling. "And what about the career fair, Mr. Black?"

"Well, as you know, there is a large representation from the private and government sectors."

"Those are the two largest employers in the Wizarding World, Mr. Black."

Remus snuffled a laugh under his breath, his sideways glance at Sirius warm and affectionate. "She does have a stunning point, Sirius."

"We were thinking..."

"And by we, he does mean he," Remus added.

"We were thinking," he glared at Remus, "that we'd like you to give some sort of speech about what teaching is like, why we should aspire to train and mold the young minds that shall come after us."

"Please, I beg of you, Professor, do not let Sirius near a young mind. Or, for that matter, a young anything. Especially a young Ravenclaw girl."

"It was just one date, Remus," Sirius reprimanded him gently then turned back to McGonagall. "I'm sure the attendance at such an event would be overwhelming. I know Lily's talked about becoming a professor. And James. I bet he'd do it."

"And you, Mr. Black? Where do your interests lie?"

"Oh, I fully intend to live off my parents' money as long as it will annoy them." He grinned impishly. "As that will irritate them more than almost anything else I might consider for a career. I think I shall spend lavishly on the most unnecessary items known to man, most of them attached, in some way, with the Muggle world because nothing is more attractive than the vein that pops out on my mother's forehead whenever it gets mentioned."

"You, Mr. Black, are going to find yourself in trouble one day, much like the boy that cried wolf."

Sirius cast a glance at Remus, his eyes filled with enough emotion to make McGonagall blush. "You're quite right, Professor. I call out wolf far too much. But I do so enjoy it. And each time I do, I swear the wolf does come."

Remus' gaze was locked on Sirius', McGonagall no longer in the room with them. "I think, Sirius, that we've taken up enough of Professor McGonagall's time, don't you?"

He nodded, his eyes still held captive. "Do think about our proposal, won't you, Professor?" He forced his gaze back to her. "I really do think that all of us would be enraptured by whatever you would have to say. You are, after all, everyone's favorite."

"I appreciate the flattery, Mr. Black, but I think you've exaggerated your case quite enough." She stood and followed them to the door. They walked close together, the shift in the mood still carried between them. "But I will consider your proposal."

"Excellent." Sirius smiled back at her as they stepped out into the hall. "Thank you for your time, Professor."

She nodded, shutting the door slowly. She continued watching them long after she had ceased to exist for them, her lips curling into a smile as Sirius tugged Remus closer to him, kissing him desperately in the shadows.

"Do you remember that urgency?" Dumbledore asked softly. "Remember that need?"

"Fondly. And not so fondly." She chuckled and closed the door all the way, turning back to face the headmaster. "They are quite lovely together."

"We can only hope that Mr. Lupin is a calming agent when it comes to Mr. Black, rather than the other way around," he chuckled. "Although his round as prefect hasn't given me that impression at all, I'm afraid."

"Did you hear their proposal?"

"I did," he nodded, moving to the chair that Sirius had vacated. "It's an interesting one. And quite valid, I should think. We shall not all be at Hogwarts forever."

"You will always be here, Albus." She sat on the arm of his chair, leaning down to press a kiss to the top of his head. "And I will be here at your side."

"What if you grow tired of me?"

"Are you fishing for compliments, Albus?" She chuckled and let him pull her into his lap, snuggling against him. "There is too much about you for me still to discover. I cannot fathom growing tired of you."

"No?" He inhaled the warm scent of cinnamon from her hair. "I understand from my lectures in Muggle literature that I'm quite boring."

"Oh, I think not." She moved off his lap to her desk and picked up a parchment. "As you've inspired yet another missive from my admirer."

"Who do we have this time?" Dumbledore took the scroll with a delighted smile. "Hmmm. A very nice choice, I should think.

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body . . ."
"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
that this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

"He's branched out on his own. I don't recall assigning this one."

"I'm so glad you're deriving such intellectual appreciation from my somewhat disturbing situation."

"He's completely harmless."

"He's an excellent potions student, he's interested in the dark arts and he's writing me love notes. Surely, Dumbledore, you see some cause for my concern?"

"You're a Gryffindor," he reminded her softly. "If he can see past the prejudice, can't you do the same?"

"It's not the same, Albus, and you know it."

"He is harmless, Minerva. A few simple love notes, none of which I assume you've encouraged." She shook her head and he nodded. "So I see no cause for alarm. In fact, doing anything in regards to this is more likely to have some adverse effect than pretending it doesn't exist."

McGonagall sighed and shook her head. "I don't know, Albus. He's..."

"He's a teenager, Minerva, and you are no doubt destined to break his heart." Dumbledore chuckled. "But, more importantly, you're destined to make him find the most interesting poems. Only Severus Snape would woo a woman with ironic love poetry."

"Being involved with you, Albus, I'm beginning to doubt there's any other kind."

"You wound me, Minerva." He came up behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders, kneading them gently before sliding his fingers down her arms, his touch lighting her nerve endings with a warm flame. "Make it up to me, won't you?"

"And how," she turned to face him, her expression rapt, "do you propose I do that, Albus?"

He kissed her, his lips warm, inviting, insistent. "Urgently."

 

Snape sat silently at the back of the class, watching the rest of the room with narrowed eyes. No one was concentrating, as no one ever did in Binns's class. He glanced away from the rest of his co-Slytherins, turning his attention back to the parchment in front of him. The two small words stood out starkly despite the pale ink and he traced them with a long finger.

"Pardon me, Professor Binns?"

His head snapped up at her voice and his eyes followed her as she walked toward the front of the classroom. He kept his gaze hooded, hidden, the Slytherins being more dangerous than Black, Lupin, Potter and Pettigrew could ever hope to be.

But he still watched her.

"Of course, Professor McGonagall." The ghost drifted back, his irritation at being interrupted obvious. "I was almost finished discussing the Goblin Wars as it was."

A snark of laughter went around the room at the comment, stopped by McGonagall's piercing look. "Thank you, Professor." She turned her attention to them all, surveying them as she did in every Transfiguration class. "As many of you no doubt know, we will be having a career fair of sorts next week. We would like all students to sign up in the Great Hall under the headings they would be most interested in. There are quite a few outside interests that will be present, beyond the typical Ministry of Magic representatives. And, of course," a light blush dusted her cheeks, "Hogwarts will be present as well. Represented."

She surveyed the bored faces and sighed softly. "If you're not signed up for an interest, you will be given one at Dumbledore's discretion." She did grin at their sudden interest. "And I think it's common knowledge that our Headmaster has a somewhat...impish sense of humor."

A hand shot into the air and McGonagall nodded. "How long do we have to sign up? I mean, I'm not really interested in ending up in Muggle Studies or anything." A quick sneer. "Not that anyone should be."

"Of course not," McGonagall nodded, "especially as they outnumber us about 5000 to one." She refrained from rolling her eyes, though the cost to her was obvious. "You have until Friday evening to sign up. After that, you're at Dumbledore's mercies." She turned and nodded to Professor Binns. "Thank you, Professor."

Binns nodded and picked up his lecture in the middle of the word she had interrupted. McGonagall swept toward the door, stopping only when she felt a hand brush her sleeve. She turned, swallowing hard as she looked down into Severus's eyes. "Professor?"

"Yes, Mister Snape?"

"Who will be representing Hogwarts?"

His hand stayed on her sleeve though it did not move, caress or otherwise touch her. She felt the heat of his skin nonetheless. "I will, Mister Snape." She glanced meaningfully at his hand. "If that's all?"

He nodded. "Thank you."

McGonagall continued out of the room, leaning back against the heavy oak door as it shut behind her, sighing out the breath that had been trapped in her chest since he'd touched her.

 

"You've got to be kidding." Sirius leaned against the wall in front of Remus, smirking at his friend. "There's no way in hell I'm signing up for that."

"I didn't ask you to."

"Remus, you listen to McGonagall every day. Why on earth would you want to go listen to her lecture on being a teacher?"

"Maybe," Remus smiled indulgently at Sirius, "because I've actually thought about becoming one?"

"A teacher?" Sirius wrinkled his forehead. "Of all the things there are in the world to do after we get out of here, you want to come back?"

"There are worse places." Remus finished signing his name to the sheet. "Besides, I've got no desire to sit through a lecture on the joys of Quidditch with James and Peter. And I'm certainly not going to sit through Dragon-wrangling with you."

"Romania's beautiful."

"So is Scotland." He pressed his finger against Sirius's chest, letting it linger there. "I'm not a thrill seeker, Sirius."

"Not usually," Sirius caught Remus's finger with his own and pulled him closer, "though you've had your moments."

Remus licked his lips. "You're going to get us in trouble."

"How?"

Remus shook his head, his breathing heavy and hot. His eyes held Sirius's and he licked his lips, the world narrowing around them. "Did you see the other names on the list?"

The spell was broken and Sirius moved in front of Remus, scanning the parchment. "Bloody hell. He signed up."

"You didn't expect him to?" Remus put distance between them, moving to lean against the wall where Sirius had been. "I thought that was the whole point."

"He's already signed up on the Malfoy one." Sirius gestured down the length of the hall at another sheet. "They're at the same time."

"Maybe he's got hold of a time-turner."

"Yeah, like they'd let a Slytherin get hold of one of those." Sirius shook his head, his eyes narrowing. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

He stopped and looked back at Remus, the slightest hint of a blush on his cheeks. "Er. I need to go talk to..."

"Your girlfriend?" Remus smirked. "Using girls to do your dirty work, Sirius Black," he shook his head, tsking quietly with his tongue. "Shame on you."

"Well, I'd offer to let you seduce him, but the bloody bastard seems to be the straightest Slytherin in the history of the house, though one has to question his eyesight in falling for Professor M." Sirius moved closer, taking advantage of the empty hallway to press Remus to the stone wall. "You want to do my dirty work, Remus?"

"You want me seducing other men?"

Sirius's lips were inches away, too close and too far all at once. "I have to go."

"Can't keep the lovely young lady waiting."

"The sooner I'm done with her, the sooner I'm back to you."

"You'll remember to come back?"

Sirius's hand curved over the thrust of Remus's cock through his dark robes. "I'll always come back to you."

"Be still my heart."

"It's not your heart I want in motion." Sirius pressed a quick hot kiss to Remus's mouth. "Wait up."

Remus swallowed as he walked away. "No choice about that, mate."

 

"Amaryllis?" Sirius's hand snaked out, grabbing her arm and pulling her away from her friends. She started to protest, stopping when she realized who held her.

"Well, if it isn't Sirius Black, the man who never owls." She jabbed him in the chest with her finger. "I did what you wanted the other day, Black, and as I recall, I didn't get what I was promised out of the bargain."

"You got two galleons."

"That's not what the deal was." She moved closer, her hand splaying out on his chest. "The deal was a lot less monetary and a lot more personal."

"I'm spoken for, remember?"

"I don't care if you've got a girl back home in every room of your mansion, Black. All I care about is the fact that you promised me a good and proper session in an abandoned classroom and all I got was manhandled by a panting Severus Snape." She undid the clasp of his robe. "So I'd say you owed me."

He put his hand up, stopping her as she leaned in for a kiss. "How would you like me to owe you more?"

"I'd really rather you paid up first." She leaned in again then stopped, her eyes narrowing. "Or actually, maybe it's better that this time I get payment in advance?"

 

"Severus?"

He stopped walking, turning suspiciously. His eyes widened at the sight of the Ravenclaw girl from the library standing coyly in the doorway of a darkened classroom. "Yes?"

She held up a parchment, tilting it from side to side. "I have something for you."

His throat went dry and he took a step toward her, stopping, his suspicions clouding his eyes. "Why?"

"Why what?" She stepped back into the classroom, her wand lighting the sconces that lined the walls.

"Why do you have it?" He followed her reluctantly, his eyes scanning the walls, looking for traps. "Why would anyone give anything for me to you?"

"Because they knew I'd come looking for you." She put her hands behind her back, the action thrusting her chest out slightly. "I wasn't as bothered by our last meeting as I made out."

"You do know that I'm a Slytherin, right?"

She looked at him oddly then nodded, closing the door behind him as he finally walked into the room. "Of course. Why?"

"Then you shouldn't be trying to outsmart me."

"Smart is the Ravenclaw specialty." She leaned against the door and held out the parchment. "Do you want it?"

"Give me the parchment."

She unrolled it, pulling away from his hands. She held up the empty scroll then let it drop to the floor. He was just inches away from her, his anger flashing in his eyes. Without dropping his gaze, she leaned in and gave him a swift, hard kiss.

Snape pulled back, shocked, nearly tripping over a desk as he did so. "What the bloody hell was that?"

"I looked for your name. I thought I'd attend the same lectures as you. I wanted to be around you. Watch you." She blushed lightly. "I haven't been able to stop thinking about you."

"You've got to be daft."

"Why?" She moved in, closing the distance between them. "Because I fancy you? You think I'm so shallow I can't see more than the surface?"

"No, because beneath the surface is just like the surface," he sneered. "I'm not some stupid git, some bloody frog waiting for your kiss to turn into a Prince. What you see is what you get. Through and through. So if you're done telling lies, I've got homework I'd like to..."

"Must be nice."

"What?"

"I was just thinking that it must be nice to be so assured, so satisfied that you aren't even tempted by a girl," she moved closer to him, her fingers brushing over his shoulders as she circled him, "alone in a classroom." Her fingers left his shoulders as she came around to the front of him, feathering them over his lips.

"I am a Slytherin," he reminded her again in a voice that barely shook. "Temptation is our stock in trade."

Her breath replaced her fingers, the light feminine scent of her assaulting his senses. "But is resisting it?"

Snape held himself still, not moving as her mouth found his, her tongue pressed to his slightly parted lips. She caught his hands, guiding them up to her breasts. Without thinking, he groaned, his hands cupping the soft mounds.

Amaryllis touched his pale face with light fingers, stroking the sallow skin. He barely moved as her tongue stroked over his, sliding across the surface as if she owned it. Owned him. Snape pulled away suddenly, panting harshly. "I don't know what you're doing..."

"Seducing you," she informed him in a quiet voice. She took his hands again, guiding them back to her breasts. "I'd really thought that part was obvious."

"Why?"

She smiled slightly at the word, the hint of soft pleading giving her a quick rush of pleasure and power. She ran a finger along his jaw line. "Because I can."

Snape closed his eyes as her teeth nipped at his lower lip, her hand grasping his wrist and guiding his hand under her robes, under her sweater.

"Severus," she breathed hotly as his finger and thumb closed around her nipple, the thin, lacy wisp of her bra offering no protection from his warm touch. "I want to be with you. Wherever you are."

His other hand slid beneath her bra and she shuddered as his flesh met hers. "My room..."

"Everywhere." She bit his lip hard, her hand reaching down to stroke his cock, smoothing over his robe. "In public, Severus."

"Oh," he licked his lips, tasting blood, tasting her. "I..."

"At the fair."

"I signed up for Malfoy..."

"The Hogwarts," she gasped as he slid his arms around her, his hands slipping under the waistband of her skirt, curving over her ass. Her hips jerked forward, her hand constricting around his cock. "You signed up for both."

His hands slid down further, holding her tight against him, their bodies rocking into one another's. "Going after." He freed his hands and undid the zipper on her skirt. It fell to the floor unimpeded. "To McGonagall."

"Oh." It was half response, half moan as he brought one hand around, slipping long fingers past wet flesh. "Oh."

"Mr. Snape. Miss Templeton." McGonagall's thick brogue was like a wash of ice in the room. Severus stepped back, leaving Amaryllis exposed to McGonagall's unforgiving eyes. "Dress yourself, Miss Templeton."

"Yes, Professor." She hastily grabbed her skirt and fixed it, pulling her robes tightly around her body.

"I will give you both credit for being adults, although you've done nothing to prove it. So against my better judgment, I will simply say nothing more than that Hogwarts is a school and this is a classroom. And you will treat it as such, not as a bedroom. Am I clear?"

"Yes, Professor." Amaryllis's voice trembled as badly as the hands she used to hold her robe closed.

"Mr. Snape?"

He met and held McGonagall's eyes, a high flush on his sallow cheeks, his dark gaze glittering with unspent lust. McGonagall held herself still, not shifting under the weight of his stare. "Yes, Professor."

"Good. Now that that's clear, twenty points from each House for conduct unbecoming, and I'll see you both in detention tomorrow immediately after dinner."

"Yes, Professor." Tears of embarrassment and anger glistened in Amaryllis's eyes. She turned and glared at Snape the second McGonagall looked away. He ignored her, his eyes still locked on the older woman.

McGonagall looked hard at him. "Mr. Snape?"

He smiled slowly, his eyebrow quirked. "Yes, Professor."

McGonagall nodded and held the door open. "Back to your Houses, both of you."

They both walked past her silently, only Snape looking her way as they passed.

 

Dumbledore watched in amusement, his fingertips steepled as McGonagall paced her small parlor. "Rutting like pigs," she huffed at him. "In a classroom!"

"A common enough occurrence, Minerva."

"Her skirt was around her ankles, Albus."

"And he was fully dressed, hmm? Sounds like your Mr. Snape is quite a considerate young man."

"He is not my Mr. Snape!"

"I'm well aware of that, my dear." He smiled gently. "But you do seem inordinately upset, especially for a woman who was gazing quite fondly at another pair of students who were obviously well acquainted just the other night."

"Sirius and Remus..."

"Were perhaps not quite so...involved in such a public place, but I'm sure that, had it been another head of house observing them, they would have been judged just as guilty."

"Are you calling me biased, Headmaster?"

He read the hurt in her expression and sighed. Getting to his feet, he walked over to her, pulling her into his arms despite her resistance, the stiff line of her body.

"Minerva, you are the most precious thing to me."

"Which is no answer."

"Do I think you're biased? No. I think you're more than fair. Do I think you're indulgent? Of course. That is the job of any head of house." He stroked her arms, smiling as she began to relax against him. "I also think," he continued, feeling her stiffen immediately, "that perhaps the recent...attentions paid to you by Severus might be influencing your reaction to what you saw tonight."

"I do not believe you." She jerked away from him and walked around her small desk, putting it between them. "That you could suggest anything so remotely..."

"Human?"

"Untoward! Albus, he is a student!"

"I suggested nothing, Minerva. I merely speculated that his romantic overtures of late might have made you view him as something other than your typical, hormonally charged fifteen-year-old boy."

"And what, Albus," her voice was hard and cold, "are you suggesting I'm viewing him as? A potential lover?"

"Do not assume to put words in my mouth, Minerva." The steel in his tone tightened her jaw.

"I would not assume to put anything in your mouth, Headmaster."

Dumbledore's eyes widened then narrowed and he nodded once, sharply. "Very well, Professor. I'll bid you goodnight then."

McGonagall pressed her trembling lips together, nodding as well as Dumbledore slipped through her door out into the hallway. As the latch clicked closed behind him, she sank into her chair, burying her head in her hands.

 

Remus glanced up from his book as the portrait hole opened. Peter, who had been staring at him instead of James all night, followed his gaze, only turning his attention back when James laughed, all of Peter's cards dissolving into ash.

Remus pulled his knees up and lifted his copy of On the Road: Cautionary Tales for Travelers by the Brothers Grimm again, ignoring Sirius as he walked over to them.

"Where've you been, Sirius?" James looked up from the hand Peter was dealing. "Peter's hopeless at exploding snap."

"Working on a project." Sirius looked at Remus. The golden eyes stared back, a glint of his wild nature flickering through them.

Remus stood up, closing his book. "I'm going to bed. I'll see you all in the morning."

"Goodnight, Remus."

He took a deep breath, his eyes narrowing at Sirius. "Actually, I think I'll take a bath. It's been a long day."

Sirius watched him stalk up the stairs to their room to get his things and sank down in the chair Remus had just vacated. "He's not happy, is he?"

"You've been gone for four hours, Sirius." James didn't look at him, only shrugged. " I think he expected you ages ago."

"He's been a right bastard all night," Peter added eagerly. "Not like normal, 'tall."

"Bloody hell," Sirius muttered under his breath as Remus came back down the steps, not even glancing his way as he headed for the portrait hole. "Remus!" He pushed himself to his feet and hurried to catch up. "Remus, wait!"

Remus stopped just outside the portrait, not looking back as Sirius climbed through. As soon as his feet hit the hallway, Remus turned on his heel and hurried toward the Prefect's bathroom, not speaking at all.

"You're obviously mad at me for some reason." Sirius collided with Remus as he abruptly stopped walking. "I was gone longer than I anticipated." His voice was soft as he rested his hands on Remus's arms, feeling the lean muscle beneath them, squeezing lightly. "I'm sorry." He rested his forehead on Remus's shoulder, stumbling as he jerked away.

Remus passed the statue of Boris the Bewildered and moved over to a nondescript door. He muttered the password and pushed the door open. Sirius followed him inside, whistling low at the sight. "How've you not told me about this, Remus?"

"Don't use it much." Remus shrugged off his robe and hung it up. "Or maybe I just figured Amaryllis had already shared it with you."

"I'm not dating Amaryllis, Remus."

"No. You're not." Remus turned and pulled a long blonde hair free of Sirius's robe and coiled it around his finger. Point proven, he turned away from Sirius and stripped off his loosened tie. "You know what the strangest thing about my condition is, Sirius?"

Sirius watched as Remus began unbuttoning his shirt, methodical fingers working the fabric free. "No."

"Even though the change is only during the full moon," he shrugged off his shirt, hanging it over his robe, "everything else, the enhanced sense of smell, keener eyesight, all of those seem to stay with me." He undid his belt then the fly of his slacks, pushing the fabric off his slim hips. "Not to the degree they reach when I change, but still, stronger than human."

Sirius moved forward, his hand resting on Remus's hips, the smooth skin taut beneath his fingers. His dark hair brushed Remus's back as he kissed his shoulder. "I barely touched her."

Remus turned and gave him a hard look. "But she was all over you, wasn't she?"

"She was doing me a favor."

Remus barked with laughter, leaving Sirius and climbing into the tub. He turned on four taps, suffusing the air with the slightly moist scent of spring. "Obviously. A big one, I'd say, given all the favors I've done you."

"Not that kind of...I didn't have sex with her, Remus."

"Of course not, Sirius. You'd never do that. But you did do something. Enough to have her stench all over you." He sank into the tub, inhaling sharply, swallowing the smells until a certain blonde left his sense. "Go back to the tower, won't you?"

Sirius watched as Remus submerged himself in the steaming water, waiting for him to break the surface. When the sandy brown mane of hair came through, he sat on the edge of the tub. "I'm sorry."

"You're not so rakish and charming that that's going to work every time."

"I'm a bastard." Sirius stretched out, arranging his lithe body on the tiled edge. "Worse than a dog." He trailed his fingers through the water, dangerously close to Remus's bare shoulder. "But you do forgive me. Don't you?"

"No." He watched Sirius's face fall, grabbing his arm as he started to pull away. "But come in anyway."

Sirius smiled, getting off the tub and stripping off his clothes. He stepped into the water, sighing as the heat surrounded him, moaning as Remus did. "Forgive me?"

Remus dunked him beneath the water, backing up as Sirius spluttered to the surface. "Clean up. Then we'll discuss forgiveness."

 

McGonagall stood motionless at the head of her classroom. The stone walls echoed silence back at her and she sighed.

"May I ask if you're speaking to me?"

"Would it make a difference?"

Dumbledore smiled and entered the room, watching carefully as she remained still. "Of course. If you are, we can have a nice discussion. If you're not, I'm afraid I shall have to think up some school related issue as a ruse in which I would disguise my actual purpose here, which is to apologize."

McGonagall shook her head, suppressing the urge to smile. "I suppose I would be willing to listen to an apology, though I make no promises of accepting it."

Dumbledore nodded and sighed, sitting on the table in front of her desk. "I do not doubt your honor or your integrity, Minerva."

"You only doubt my judgment?"

"Not that. Never that. I only..." He sighed and got to his feet, moving closer to her despite her cool stance. "You think solely that I'm amused by this situation, and in some ways it does delight my sense of the absurd. But last night, in the face of your anger, seeing you after seeing him...them. I think the humor of the situation was outweighed by my very real jealousy."

"Jealousy!"

"You were so outraged that I thought, perhaps that you were..." he sighed as she finally smiled, letting the unnecessary words fall away through his open hand. "I actually considered a love poem of my own."

"No. I need no more of those."

Dumbledore stroked her cheek lightly with his thumb. "Forgive me?"

"Professor?"

Dumbledore dropped his hand and moved aside at the sound of Snape's cool, hard, silky voice coming from the doorway. "I'll speak with you later about this matter, Professor?"

Her eyes held promises. "Absolutely, Headmaster."

"Very well then." He nodded to her then turned. "Mr. Snape."

"Headmaster." His eyes stayed locked on McGonagall as he passed Dumbledore, headed for the front of the classroom, sinking down behind the table Dumbledore had sat on.

"Hello, Mr. Snape."

"Professor." His black eyes flashed at her like cold fire. "I hope I wasn't interrupting anything by being on time for my detention."

"Of course not." She walked around her desk, nodding as Amaryllis walked in. "Take a seat, Miss Templeton."

Amaryllis sat on the opposite side of the room as Snape, folding her hands in front of her.

"Very well, I want each of you to write at least ten inches on the practical uses of transfiguration. And I suggest you finish before midnight should you wish to have any hope of being prepared for your classes tomorrow."

McGonagall returned to her desk, resolutely keeping her eyes on the papers she was grading, refusing to acknowledge the burning stare of Severus Snape.

 

McGonagall looked up as Amaryllis set her parchment down. Tears still lingered in her eyes. "Professor? I know that you're discreet and everything, but..."

"Your tryst is safe with me, Miss Templeton. Though you may want to think next time about becoming so involved with someone if you don't wish for your relationship to become public."

"But she does, Professor." Snape drawled from the side of McGonagall's desk, both ladies starting at his voice. "She was quite adamant yesterday about flaunting me around campus." At Amaryllis's horrified look, he feigned shock. "Don't tell me it was all a lie!"

"I..." She glared at him, flashing hatred. "May I go, Professor?"

McGonagall nodded. "Goodnight, Miss Templeton." She watched her leave, finally turning to face Snape. His eyes were dark, trained hotly on her. "You're finished, Mr. Snape?"

"Yes, Professor." He set the parchment on her desk, his hand lingering.

"Excellent. Just leave it there then. You're excused back to your House. Goodnight."

He stood there a moment, long fingers tapping on the stiff paper. "It didn't mean anything. Yesterday."

"It meant detention for you both, Mr. Snape, which you've now served." Her hand closed around the parchment, her skin brushing his. "Goodnight."

He drew back slowly. "Goodnight."

McGonagall's hand shook as she unrolled the parchment, skimming the essay. As usual, his work was exemplary, despite his lack of passion for the subject. She followed his argument, smiling at the hypothesis until she unfurled the last roll and silvery pale writing came into view.

And you as well must die, beloved dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fell,--this wonder fled.
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how beloved above all else that dies.

McGonagall buried her head in her arms, her eyes closed against the surprising onslaught of tears.

 

"Are you busy?"

Dumbledore looked up from the papers on his desk, his concern clear in his eyes when he saw McGonagall. "Minerva?"

She set the parchment on his desk with a shaking hand. "Another poem."

"Oh?" He stood, undecided between moving toward her or reading. "Did he...do something, Minerva?"

"He...He doesn't frighten me, Albus, but I don't know how to..." Tears sparkled in her eyes. "Undone by a fifteen year old boy."

Dumbledore smiled and pulled her into his arms. She laughed, somewhat shakily. "He's not undone you."

"He has, Albus."

"No." He pulled back, looking down at her. "Not you, my dear Professor."

"I cannot do this. I see him and I can't focus. I feel his eyes on me."

"He has exceptional taste." Dumbledore kissed her softly. "But he cannot touch you. And this whole thing will blow over. He'll tire of admiring you from afar and will find himself a girl closer to his own age."

"Severus Snape?"

Dumbledore shrugged. "We have some of the most intelligent young women in the world here. Surely one of them can see past the exterior."

"I think perhaps you give everyone too much credit, Albus."

"I think everyone gives themselves too little." Dumbledore sighed and moved away from her, walking the length of the room, his hands tucked behind his back. "Minerva, I know that this is difficult for you."

"Do you?" She sat on the edge of her desk, her arms folded across her chest. "I wonder if that's true, Albus." He tossed her an unreadable look and she shrugged. "Since the beginning, you've taken this as nothing but an amusement. Or perhaps an exercise in delving into Mr. Snape's head or, possibly, into mine."

"Do you really think so little of me?"

"I have to do something. I cannot sit here anymore and fear every slip of parchment that crosses my desk. I cannot cringe from my assignments on the off chance that there will be scribbled within them words that rake some young boys' heart bare to me."

"I know how this discomfits you."

"You do not." She slammed her hand down on the desk. She dropped her voice, the quiet even more powerful. "You. Do. Not."

"If that is what you wish to believe." His voice was tight, strained as she'd never heard it before. "But believe this, that young man who stares at you with eyes you cannot fathom; he is on a precipice. He is walking a fine line and could plummet in either direction. If I have to sacrifice...No. I will sacrifice whatever I have to in order to make sure that that young man in my care does not fall victim..."

"Victim? You think that he is a victim?"

Dumbledore's voice was completely devoid of emotion, his eyes not twinkling as he looked at her. "You can believe that he is not?" He didn't wait for her answer, sitting back behind his desk, his fingers moving aimlessly over the rim of his candy dish. "His crush, for lack of a better word, on you makes me somewhat hopeful for his future, Minerva. That he can feel so deeply for someone that his House and his friends teach him so strongly to hate makes him different, makes him..."

"More important to you than me?"

Dumbledore closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. "We consented to this relationship with the full knowledge that the students, the children, come first. Did we not?"

"I was unaware that I was to be led like a lamb to slaughter for their romantic and erotic pleasures." She curled her hand around the parchment. "I have no desire to be the object of his affection, Albus."

"You've no choice, Minerva. He chose you for that role."

"Let me rephrase. I have no intention of sitting idly while he sends me poems that grow more and more despairing. I have no feelings for him beyond those of a teacher. And if another of these," she tossed the essay and poem onto his desk, the wrinkled paper landing at his fingertips, "crosses my desk, I will have no choice but to very emphatically tell Mr. Snape exactly why they are unnecessary, inappropriate and will most likely end with him in detention."

"Please don't, Minerva." Dumbledore sighed. "I want this boy on our side."

"If the thought of not having me as his...whatever it is he wishes me to be is enough to send him spiraling into Voldemort's arms, then he is already beyond our grasp."

"You're letting your emotions cloud your judgment."

"That," she snapped viciously, "is because this entire situation is exclusively about my emotions. It has nothing to do with judgment. It has nothing to do with logic or rationale. It has to do with my feelings and his feelings and the fact that they are diametrically opposite. It has to do with the fact that this boy has painted me as his and I am not."

"And I wonder," he said softly, "If you are not protesting too much."

"It comes back to that, does it?" Her voice was dangerously calm. "Very well, Headmaster. If you believe so deeply, so strongly, that I am harboring some sort of buried emotion for this boy, then it is in your best interest to make sure he and I have little to no contact, since there is no guarantee that I will be able to control myself in his presence." She stalked to the door, her entire body stiff and rigid. "Save him from me. Protect your children."

 

"Well, well." Amaryllis stood in the hallway, her sneer fixed firmly in place. "Looks like your friend's found someone else to do his dirty work."

Remus looked up from his book at her as if he'd just realized she was blocking his path. "I'm sorry?"

"Your friend." She gestured to the end of the hall where Sirius was leaning over a third year Gryffindor, one arm against the wall over her head, his other hand playing loosely with the coppery strands of her hair. "I see he's got himself a new girl."

"Sirius collects them. Like Chocolate Frog cards." Remus closed his book, marking his page with his finger. "But it's not as if they don't want to be there, is it?"

She looked at him, her gaze narrowed. "He wanted something from me."

"Which you were more than happy to give in return for what you got from him." Remus shrugged. "You made your bed. You have to lie in it."

"It was his bed, actually." She smirked. "Quite the nice little set up he's got. All secluded. Very romantic. By the time you get there and he lays you down, you've completely forgotten any argument you might have against whatever ludicrous plan he's proposing."

"By the same token, one would think that if you had true doubts and reservations about any given situation, you'd gather your wits enough to say so. So maybe whatever it is he asked you to do, you wanted to do in the long run."

"Maybe you don't know anything about his charm."

"Maybe you don't know anything about him." Remus attempted to smile. "Sirius's charm is dangerous. You'll agree to almost anything to see those eyes smile at you, see those teeth flash. You start agreeing to the most outlandish things just to see his lips curl. You'll bend over backwards to please him, hoping that he'll grace you with his touch."

"Watch him, do you? What are you? Some sort of poof?"

"Am I wrong?" Lupin purred, his low voice sending a shiver of danger down her spine. "I've seen you, a dozen others like you. You hang around him, clamor for his attention. I see your skirts get shorter, your shirts unbuttoned lower and lower."

"You're jealous that we're not all over you, is that it?"

"I'm not jealous." He shrugged and started to move around her. "I have no reason to be." He slipped past her and headed toward Sirius. Grabbing his friend by the arm, he tugged him away from the redhead, pulling him down the hall. "We need to talk."

"She's a cousin."

"Everyone who's got wizard blood in them is a cousin to you, you git." Remus laughed softly. "But that's not what we're going to talk about."

"It's not?" Sirius looked over his shoulder where the girl was still standing. "Then can I at least go say goodbye or something? Be polite?"

Remus stopped and dropped Sirius's hand. "Do what you have to, Padfoot."

"What I have to do," Sirius leaned in closer, his voice dropping to a promising whisper, "borders on indecent and is liable to ruin both our reputations."

"I don't have a reputation."

"You will if I do what I'm thinking." He lifted his eyebrows, his smile baring his teeth. "And, as much as I like knowing how sexy you are pinned to a wall, moaning as I'm inside you, I don't need all of Hogwarts knowing it."

"No," Remus swallowed, his throat dry. "We should probably keep that between us."

"Nothing between us," Sirius promised, his hand almost touching Remus's shoulder. "But skin and air."

"I had a point," Remus floundered.

"And I'm sure it was stunning." Sirius grinned and moved back. "Ponder it while I go talk to Claudia for a second." He jogged back to the redhead who was looking in their direction, Amaryllis at her side. "Before my plans are all torn asunder."

 

Remus pushed away from the wall as Sirius strode toward him, a sly smile curling the corners of his mouth. "And which canary did you eat?"

"Will it get me out of anything if I simply assure you that you have no real desire to know?" He looped his arms around Remus's shoulders, the gesture nothing more than friendly. "Because I'm quite delighted with my machinations and really would hate your resounding disapproval and unexplainable defense of Snape to ruin what is really turning out to be a smashing day."

"You've not let this go? Even though your girl for hire turned out to be a bust?"

"And here I thought you weren't a breast man, Moony." Sirius grinned wolfishly. "Which isn't to say that you don't have a keen appreciation for nipples, mind you. One I myself am quite grateful for." He glanced around them and pulled Remus into a shadowed alcove. "Smell me."

"Pardon?"

"Smell me." He tilted his head, baring his neck. Remus growled, the sign of submission evoking a primal response in him. "Smell me."

Remus buried his head against Sirius's skin and inhaled the earthy, musky scent of him. He growled again, the residual smell of soap and sweat doing nothing to hide his own scent emanating from Sirius's skin. He ran his tongue up Sirius's neck, nibbling on the smooth flesh.

"No eau-de-femme," Sirius groaned and let Remus push him against the wall, his legs parting as the wolf took over, turning Remus aggressive. "Nothing to smell on me but you."

Remus sucked gently on Sirius neck, tracing the rapid pulse with his tongue. "You're trying to distract me, Padfoot."

Sirius's hands curved around Remus's hips, tugging him closer as he thrust forward, their bodies grinding together. "'S it working?"

Remus groaned and pulled back, his eyes sparkling with heat. "Tell me what you're up to."

"You won't like it." Sirius admitted, taking advantage of Remus's stance to push him back against the opposite wall, pinning him there. "So let's just pretend we've already argued, that I've apologized and we're on the making up part, okay?"

"Sirius..."

Sirius kissed him hard and fast, his tongue forcing its way into Remus's mouth. He groaned and raked his nails through Sirius's hair, his hips rocking forward. Sirius pulled away, his hands grabbing Remus's arms and pushing them against the wall, holding them there as he sank to his knees. "We're kissing and making up now, Remus."

Remus groaned as Sirius's hands released him only to find his body again lower, smoothing over his hips, over his slacks, over his flesh as he bared it. "Making up?" He panted.

Sirius grinned then flicked his tongue over the smooth head of Remus cock. "Kissing," he assured him, wrapping his lips around Remus's shaft for a moment before pulling away. As Remus groaned hungrily, Sirius sank his nails into Remus's hips, his breath hot as his mouth hovered over Remus's cock. "Then making up."

 

McGonagall sighed softly as the last student left the small tent. She removed her hat and set it on the table beside her.

"Excuse me, Professor?"

She swallowed hard at the voice, automatically reaching for her hat again.

"Don't. Please?"

She froze, her body tensing as he touched her hand. "Mr. Snape!"

"I wanted to apologize. I signed up for your speech and wasn't able to attend."

"It's fine." She pulled her hand away, again reaching for her hat. He pushed it away from her, grabbing it and holding it behind his back. "Mr. Snape."

"Do you let your hair down for him?"

"I beg your pardon?"

He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Forgive me."

"Give me back my hat."

"Tell me about teaching."

"I've nothing to say to you so long as you persist in behaving so childishly."

His hands tightened on the brim for a moment then he returned the hat to her. She set it on her head, standing as she did so to alleviate the height difference between them. Snape moved away to sit on one of the benches. "Please tell me about teaching."

"Top marks are required." Her voice shook slightly and she cleared her throat. "Positions, at Hogwarts at least, don't come up that often, although there is a fine training program that we allow immediately after graduation. In my lifetime at Hogwarts, I've seen very few teachers change. Generally, they only leave when they pass on. Very few retire."

"Or get promoted?"

She refused to address the comment, not wishing to discuss Dumbledore. "Turnover rate is quite low."

"Are you attempting to encourage or discourage, Professor?"

She laughed softly. "I'm sorry. I was attempting honesty." She glanced at him quickly. "Do you think you would enjoy teaching?"

I think I would absolutely abhor it."

"Then I'm...unclear as to why you're here."

Snape reached into the pocket of his robe, pulling a smooth, cream-colored parchment from his pocket. He held it as if in a caress, his thumb grazing over the broken seal delicately. McGonagall stared down at it, unable to look away from the familiar stamp embedded in the wax.

"Where did you get that?"

"You don't have to pretend." Snape's voice was silky and soft, defined with emotion. "I acted as if it were nothing more than you returning my essay from detention the other night." He reached out as if to touch her cheek, undeterred as she jerked away. "No one is the wiser."

"Mr. Snape..."

"Severus." He slid his finger under the seal, slowly unrolling the parchment.

McGonagall shook her head, reaching out to stop him. Her hand touched his, heat singeing her skin. She jerked her hand back, her whole body trembling. "Mr. Snape, this is completely..."

He began reading, his voice sliding over the words like silk and velvet, rough and sleek all at once as if they were wrenched from his soul.

Am I not cruelly wrong'd? Believe, believe
Me, dear Endymion, were I to weave
With my own fancies garlands of sweet life,
Thou shouldst be one of all. Ah, bitter strife!
I may not be thy love: I am forbidden--
Indeed I am--thwarted, affrighted, chidden,
By things I trembled at, and gorgon wrath.
Twice hast thou ask'd whither I went: henceforth
Ask me no more! I may not utter it,
Nor may I be thy love. We might commit
Ourselves at once to vengeance; we might die;
We might embrace and die: voluptuous thought!
Enlarge not to my hunger, or I'm caught
In trammels of perverse deliciousness.
No, no, that shall not be: thee will I bless,
And bid a long adieu."

He reached out, his fingers lighting on her cheek, stroking the soft skin delicately, as carefully as he'd touched the paper. "It doesn't matter, you know."

"What," she swallowed hard, tears stinging her ears. Her heart hurt at the look in his eyes, raw and open emotion laid bare, "what does not matter, Mr. Snape?"

"Nothing matters. Not with this." He held the parchment tightly though he was careful not to crease the pristine paper.

"What is it that you think that is?"

"I know," he breathed, inching closer. "I know what it is."

"Tell me." She swallowed and straightened, tilting her chin up defiantly. "Tell me what you know it is."

"A confession. It can't be less than a confession, can it? Something this profound needs to be confessed, uttered like a sin in the darkness. But it isn't. Not if it's real. Not if it's truly how you feel."

"What makes you assume this is from me?"

He turned it to face her and she stared down at her own handwriting, the pale ink that she used for her signature personal correspondence staining the cream stationary. "It's not without its problems. But we can work around it. Detentions, study sessions. You can come to see me in my rooms. No one would look twice at a cat roaming the halls." He licked his lips, running his thumb over the flushed red spot at the apex of her cheek, stroking the heat there. "If we want it badly enough, we can do this."

"Do what, exactly, Mr. Snape?"

McGonagall closed her eyes at Dumbledore's sharp voice. Pain shot through her and she opened her eyes to look at him. The board of Governors ringed around him, watching her with curious and distrustful eyes. Snape pulled his hand away, his dislike of the headmaster clear in his eyes. "This is a personal conversation, headmaster."

"This is a school function, a school area and, in case it seems to have escaped your attention, Professor McGonagall is an employee of this school. Upon adding all of those things together, I think it is clear to all of us here that, private or not, as ambassadors of Hogwarts, all of us assembled have a marked interest in what exactly is going on here."

"Mr. Snape," McGonagall stood up, her back ramrod straight, "was just informing me of his own marked interests."

"And what are they, Professor?"

She held Dumbledore's eyes with her own, pain flashing in their depths, mirroring her own. "Well, apparently he's fallen victim to his own imagination and has pictured a perfect life for the two of us together. He seems to think that I harbor some sort of feeling for him."

"And do you?" Tiberius Malfoy sneered, his eyes hard as they swept over Snape.

"Absolutely not." McGonagall snapped her gaze to his, following it to where it bore into Snape. "He is a student."

"And a Slytherin, which I would assume is even more distasteful to your Gryffindor principles, no?" Tiberius smirked. "Of course, one would assume your Gryffindor principles would keep you from standing here slandering an innocent student in order to save yourself from some sort of taint of impropriety, wouldn't it?"

"Mr. Malfoy..."

He waved her off with his hand. "I have no desire to hear anything more you have to say, Professor. If someone who is to be teaching our children cannot control her own emotions, how is she to be in charge of groups of hormonally charged teenagers?"

"Mr. Malfoy?" Dumbledore's eyes were brilliant blue as they turned on the other man. "I'm afraid my hearing isn't what it used to be, but I'm almost certain that you said something somewhat disparaging about Professor McGonagall? But I know that can't be true, can it?"

"She's alone in a room with him, Dumbledore. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what the planned outcome of this little tête--tête was."

"A tête--tête would imply that both parties were interested in meeting, which I don't believe is your intention, is it?" Dumbledore shook his head, smiling at the assembled group. "I'm sure that what we have here is simply a misunderstanding, something taken to an extreme, as is the wont of young emotion." He glanced back at McGonagall, closing his eyes against the hard pain in her stare.

"It's not as if the lad's stupid enough to return any kind of affection, eh, Dumbledore?" Malfoy's light, joking tone was belied by his razor-like silver eyes. "Not exactly the loveliest of our Witch-sisters, is she?"

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

"And who would beholdin' her, hmm?" Malfoy smiled ferally. "Professor."

"Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall bit out the words, barely acknowledging his nod as the group moved en masse from the tent. She stood there, inhaling deeply, her whole body quivering with rage. She exhaled, her pounding blood blocking out all sound until she heard the faint call of her name.

"...Gonagall?"

She whirled on Snape, her face pale and drawn. "I do so hope you're happy, Mr. Snape. I cannot believe someone who purports to be as intelligent as you do could be so amazingly stupid. This," she ripped the poem from his hand and unrolled it, the page now blank, the spelled words vanished into the ether, "was a ruse. A dupe. You've been made a fool of by someone other than yourself, for which you should be thankful because it would be absolutely unforgivable to most of your fellow Slytherins that you could have done so all by yourself."

"You can't deny..."

"I can, Mr. Snape, and will continue to do so until my dying day. I do not love you, I certainly have never entertained the idea of writing love poetry to you and, if I may be brutally honest, would never have considered you as anything other than a rather unpleasant addition to my day had you not forced yourself into my periphery."

He straightened, his eyes flashing. "Are you quite finished?"

"I have not even begun." McGonagall nailed him with her gaze. "This entire term has been hellish for me, having to endure your blatant disrespect. You've brought all of this on yourself, Mr. Snape. And whatever you get from this, whatever ridicule you find at the hand of your fellow Slytherins, I can assure you will in no way compare to the complete and utter tripe I just had to face on your behalf."

Snape nodded once to her, his face paler than normal. "Are you done, Professor?"

She returned his nod. "I am finished with you, yes."

He lifted his chin and turned, walking out of the tent. McGonagall sank down onto a bench, her entire body shaking. She buried her head in her hands for a moment before transfiguring into her Animagus form and slinking away, her tail between her legs.

 

Snape jerked to a stop at the gathered crowd outside the tent, his eyes landing immediately on Sirius, his arm thrown casually around Claudia's shoulders. "Hullo, Snivellus."

He ignored him, continuing to walk, moving past Sirius as if he weren't even there. He'd almost parted the crowds when a lanky figure stepped deliberately in front of him, golden eyes flashing.

"They're talking about getting rid of McGonagall." Lupin's face was set in hard lines. "Malfoy wants her fired for leading students astray."

"Let me pass, Lupin."

"If she's tossed because of you, Snape, I'll..."

"What?" He snarled. "What will you do to me? Humiliate me? Your friend Black has already taken care of that. And I'm sure he and Potter will keep up the tradition until we can graduate from this place and I can be shut of the lot of you." He pressed his hand to Lupin's arm. "Now move aside."

Remus turned as he stormed passed, grabbing Snape's arm on instinct. The rest of the crowd had dispersed, most of them moving into the tent to try and find McGonagall. He ignored the quick look Sirius gave him and faced Snape, his fury changing suddenly. "What's the matter?"

"I know you're not stupid, Lupin." Snape shook off his grip.

"It wasn't a game, was it?" His eyes narrowed in shock. "You weren't just messing about with McGonagall were you?"

"I'm not your friend Black, Lupin. I don't 'mess about'. Professor McGonagall and I had a misunderstanding and I'm very, very sure that the Headmaster has no intention of letting his...Transfigurations Professor," he sneered the words, the sound hissing from between his clenched teeth, "go anywhere."

"How will you..."

"You know what, Lupin?" Snape moved a step closer, his thin face looking more pinched and haggard than ever. "You don't care. Your friends don't care, and I'm sure I'm going to be fodder enough for your jokes for long enough without me divulging my deepest, darkest secrets to you. Now sod the fuck off."

 

The door, neglected and unused, opened far too slowly for McGonagall's tastes. She pushed against it, swinging it wider, her eyes on the too dark night.

She leaned against the stone, her arms crossed over her chest, her heart beating quickly in her chest. A low groan came from just inside the door, followed by a soft mutter, the door closing almost silently on its own.

"Help me." The invisibility cloak shimmered, wavering the picture of reality as it fell to the floor. Dark, slick hair came into view followed by a matted mass of white.

"Oh." McGonagall fell to her knees, pulling Dumbledore's head into her lap. "Oh, Albus."

"He's alive. Barely."

She looked up into Snape's eyes, tears flooding her own. "Thank you, Severus."

"Don't thank me yet. We've no way of knowing what Malfoy will do when he discovers his prize has gone missing."

She traced Dumbledore's brow with shaky fingers. "So long as he's here and safe, I've no concern for Lucius Malfoy."

"Nor should you." He smirked. "Come. I'll help you take him to his room." He lifted Dumbledore's head from her lap, his fingers never touching her. They guided the older man to his feet, both supporting his frail body.

They made their way down the hall slowly, stopping only at Hagrid's ragged cry.

"He's alive, Rubeus." McGonagall assured him as the large man swept Dumbledore into his arms, striding toward the winding staircase in Dumbledore's room. She and Snape hurried after him, joined by Madame Pomfrey as they hurried upward.

"All of you, out," Pomfrey snapped, shooing them from the room. Hagrid leaned on the wall just outside the door. McGonagall touched Snape's sleeve and tilted her head, guiding him to Dumbledore's office.

She closed the door behind them, rubbing her fingers together, the very red shock of blood staining them. "I apologize, Severus."

"Apologize?" He stared at the empty bird stand. "For what?"

"For giving you the impression that I do not know or care what you risked for Dumbledore. Your life may now be forfeit."

"My choice."

She walked over to him, her fingers trembling as she touched his face. "You saved his life."

He reached up, brushing her touch away. "Don't."

"Of course." She quirked her mouth in an approximation of a smile. "You must despise me."

"Must I?" He sneered at her. "You think that something that happened so long ago could affect me now?"

"Doesn't it?" She touched his cheek again, tracing the thin line of his jaw. "I never meant to hurt you."

His eyes closed involuntarily and he shuddered, his entire body trembling. "Please, do not touch me."

McGonagall's eyes closed as well as she leaned forward, her lips brushing his lightly. Snape's breath caught and he wrenched away, shaking badly.

"Did he not tell you what I am? What I've done?"

"You saved his life at the risk of your own. There is nothing more than that."

"I've tortured people. Killed them. I've thrust potions and poisons down their throats and catalogued their screams. I've put curses to shame, their power nothing next to what I've concocted with my own hands."

She took one of the hands he held out, the fingers stained just like her own. "If anyone so much as suspects you've helped him tonight, your life is as good as over. You saved the life of a man you professed to hate."

"I never hated him." He stared at her fingers rubbing lightly against his. "I envied him."

"You were fifteen."

"Our age difference was negligible compared to yours." He lifted his free hand to her cheek. "I dreamed about you. Fantasized. Daydreamed. I was a romantic."

"In the most ironic fashion."

"For you." His smirk reflected his bitterness. "And you were all those things for him."

"I'm sorry, Severus."

"No matter." He pulled his hand away. "The past."

"Never stays where it is put." They both turned at Dumbledore's shaky voice. McGonagall gasped and rushed toward him, stopping short, afraid to touch him. "I understand I have you to thank for my life, Severus."

"I'm afraid Malfoy's plans for you turned my stomach."

"Mine as well. Only far more literally had he carried them out." Dumbledore made his way to a chair and sank gently onto the smooth leather surface. Fawkes swooped in and settled on the back above his shoulder. "I don't pretend to know why you did what you did tonight," a quick, barely noticeable glance at McGonagall belied his statement, "but I do know there are no half measures in mutiny."

"Sir?"

"I escaped. No doubt someone will take the blame. I propose you do so."

Snape sneered as if the comment were expected. "Do you?"

"To an extent." Dumbledore fumbled for the dish on his desk, stealing a candy from it. "I suggest you tell Malfoy and Voldemort that I made you an offer, begged for my life. In exchange I would give you all that you asked for at Hogwarts. A position here. My protection. You saw it as a golden opportunity to find out the very secret he wishes to know."

Fire lit Snape's eyes. "Do you know it?"

"In reality, you will give him certain information. And I ask that you do the same for me."

"Be your spy?"

"Or his corpse." Dumbledore raised a questioning eyebrow. "With us or against us, Severus."

"My enemy's enemy is my friend?" Snape sank into a chair and stared at Dumbledore for a long time. "There are things that I would still be required to do."

"Spies do not have luxuries, Severus. They have twice the temptation, the requirement of succumbing to it and the acrid aftertaste of conscience."

"I will hate you for this."

"So long as you always respect me, I can live with your hatred." Dumbledore sighed, suddenly looking old. "Minerva will show you to your quarters. If you take it, Slytherin needs a new head of house."

Snape laughed dryly. "This conversation is absurd. Shall we all speak the truth?"

"The truth?" Dumbledore matched his look. "You still long for the woman I love. She left me because of the...incident with you, and now I shall have to work beside you both, wondering if her nature will lead her to comfort you. Heal you. I pray that it won't, that she'll come to me instead. Which makes me both a lover and a fool, which I have been all my life; but even more, it makes me petty and jealous, which I thought I'd abandoned long ago." He tilted his head slightly. "Truth enough, Severus?"

"I want Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"You may have Potions."

Snape stood. "And Slytherin has a new head of House."

Dumbledore's eyes were focused on McGonagall, the blue piercing despite his obvious fatigue. "Excellent. Now, if you'll both excuse me, I have a very soft bed that demands my attention." His voice quieted. "Goodnight." He directed his gaze to Snape. "And thank you."

 

McGonagall stood at the base of the stairs, the toe of her black boot tapping against the stone. Snape emerged and they began walking, falling into step automatically.

"You left him that day?"

"I blamed him. Rather than myself. Pretending it was his fault, his advice that kept me from putting stop to your...infatuation, rather than my own ego and fear."

"Fear?"

"That rebuking you would make things worse. That it would lead...much where it lead."

"I did not get this mark on my arm because of you." He remained serious in the face of her disbelief. "Do not attempt to take the blame. I wore it with pride for too many years for you to own it."

"And yet he knew you would forsake it." McGonagall said the words simply though the fear and emotion behind them weighted them, settling them firmly on his shoulders. "he refused to believe someone who could quote Shakespeare could be truly evil."

"Petty and vile and egotistical and sadistic, but not evil?" Snape smirked. "Dumbledore logic."

"He was right," she reminded him as she turned down a set of stairs toward the dungeon. Snape followed slowly, their robes the only sound in the quiet. They reached the portrait that guarded the entrance and she gestured him in front of her. "I assume Dumbledore gave you the password."

Snape smirked and spoke to the portrait, allowing McGonagall to precede him into the common room. It was identical to Gryffindor, save for the color scheme and the pervading sense of damp. "Your quarters are this way."

"I did live here."

"There is a passageway that leads directly to the house. No mucking about in the hallways. It will also lead directly to your office and classroom."

She gestured to a statue of a medusa, her hair writhing with a mass of moving stone snakes. He stared at it then turned back to her. "Well?"

"She'll only open for the right person." She touched his shoulder briefly, turning him back around. "Look her in the eye."

"Isn't that rather dangerous?"

"Only if you're not the right person."

Snape did as she said, somewhat surprised as the wall to the left of the statue slid back. He again let McGonagall go first, his hand lingering in the small of her back.

"This is your office to see the students in your house about disciplinary matters. There is also a door off to the common room." She walked to the far side of the room and opened a door. "A small patio at the top of the stairs, should you want sun or fresh air."

"However unlikely?"

She gave him a ghost of a smile before heading to a hallway leading off to the right. "Sitting room. Library. Your bedroom and bath are through here." She opened the last door and turned, catching her breath at his nearness. "Severus."

"Much better than Mr. Snape." He smiled dangerously. "Minerva."

His thumb brushed her lower lip and he closed his eyes, bending his head down to hers. She made a soft sound as their lips met, his tongue warm as it entered her mouth.

She trembled as he touched her, his hands light against her elbows, holding her still. His thumbs stroked the smooth surface of her robes and she jerked away, her breathing heavy. "Severus."

He nodded once and stepped away from her, the irony of it all not lost on him. "I was your ending and now I'm doomed to be your beginning. Is that it?"

She touched his lips as she moved away from him toward the wall of the library. Whispering a word to it, she slipped through the stone, her soft goodnight lingering in the cool air behind her.

 

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