Title: Dittany for the Heart
Beta Reader(s): My brother
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Note: This fic ignores the Potttermore back story for Minerva (which I despise for so many reasons!).
Summary: Severus and Minerva have offered each other comfort, in turn, over the years.
Minerva walked through the gardens to where the stone now stood, gleaming grey at this distance. In front of it were Lucius Malfoy and Harry Potter, who had disputed viciously over everything to do with it save the need for its erection.
They were silent now, and Lucius turned his head to look towards her, summoned to see and approve, as Headmistress, the only memorial the wizarding world would ever have for Severus Snape. The last three months had seen enormous energy expended on the rebuilding of Hogwarts, and these two had managed to cooperate in it, just as they had been among those who encouraged the new Minister for Magic to dismantle all the intrusive Educational Decrees of three years past, just as Harry and Minerva herself, at least, had encouraged him to do away with all the other legislation Dolores Umbridge had foisted upon the wizarding world, whether it concerned Muggleborns or werewolves.
If Hogwarts was still rebuilding, in hope of re-opening before the New Year, this memorial was now complete. A tall slab of granite, with two long highly polished sides and the short sides left in their natural state, where the black seams were less noticeable in the dull grey.
Lucius Malfoy said formally, "Headmistress."
Then he turned to face the slab, to read aloud the words he and Harry and several others had disputed over for months, giving each phrase its full weight.
A good friend
A good enemy
A good man
Tartly Minerva responded, lowering the emotional temperature, "And good to the last drop."
Harry looked faintly shocked; perhaps he recognised the Muggle reference.
Lucius clearly hadn't, but she wouldn't expect it, though he recognised the Scots rejection of strong emotion. He said only, "It will have to do. It will give his friends, and the children, and all of his House, a place to come, when they need him."
Harry said in soft, pained tones, "But he isn't here."
Minerva answered gently, "He is in their memories, and they'll find there what they need."
For a moment Lucius Malfoy showed the grief he genuinely seemed to feel for a man who had turned out to have been his friend as well as his family's benefactor. He said quietly, "I still cannot trace his body."
Neither he nor Harry mentioned the time they had spent, alone or in company with friends and even Department of Mysteries workers, trying to resolve that puzzle.
Harry just said, "There's no grave, we had no funeral, and there's no portrait, is there, Headmistress?" Even now the faint note of hope was audible.
She shook her head.
Harry sighed. "But even though we don't have his body, it's safe, wherever it is, with all those protections layered upon it."
That it was possible to protect the dead in that manner had been an enormous consolation to him, Minerva knew. She remembered his horror at the thought of Severus Snape becoming an Inferius, or being raised as the toy of some necromancer or mere revenger, to be used and abused. Harry had rejected his former hatred of his Potions master and lifelong protector, at last acknowledging that care and that debt. That had been easier, no doubt, with the man himself not present, with his sharp tongue and constant disparagements, in voice and look and gesture, to reanimate the long resentment.
"He's safe," she agreed.
Lucius said quietly, "He was Headmaster. There should be a portrait."
She wished him joy in any attempt he might make to coerce Hogwarts itself into creating that form of memorial.
"In time, perhaps," she suggested.
Neither of them referred to her vindictive announcement during a lull in the Battle of Hogwarts that she and the other heads of House had driven the Headmaster from the castle, and her then description of his departure as running away. She had retracted that, publicly, with tears, equally of regret and of relief, after Harry's revelation to all of them of Severus Snape's true allegiance and how he had followed it to the end. A good friend and a good enemy indeed; better than she had been.
Minerva turned to one of the rose bushes encircling the stone – some of them climbers on trellises, tall enough to hide from view the white tomb that lay not far off – and used her wand to cut a spray of dark red bush roses. Now in August the roses bloomed freely; Severus would have roses more than half the year, in Hogwarts' sheltered grounds. Not that he was ever likely to care. She laid the spray in the shallow granite offering bowl that lay before the tall stone.
She didn't say, "Sleep well, my dear." Instead she said, "I hope we will never need his like again, for there is none like him." That was from the heart.
Lucius said wryly, "You can try to prevent that – I can try, as our new Minister and even the Wizengamot are trying – but wizards are perverse and selfish and short-sighted."
"You number yourself among those wizards, Lucius?" she challenged.
As wryly he answered, "I have shown myself as stupid as any. But as long as Gryffindors are encouraged to hate and distrust Slytherins, as long as Slytherins despise and refuse to show themselves to Gryffindors, we are likely to need someone like Severus now and again."
"I have become aware," she acknowledged, "that something must be done about that." She met his eyes, and saw them become remote as she continued, "If I were to press the Minister to reappoint you to the Board of Governors, Lucius, would you be willing to play a part in reconciling Houses that should never have split so radically?"
There was a long pause. She saw Harry looking with sharp awareness from her to Lucius Malfoy, the last representative of the conservative pureblood cause, isolated, reviled, but still powerful. Then Lucius bent his head.
"I should not wish Severus to haunt me, for refusing to support his work," he murmured.
This time it was Harry who used frivolity to end the moment of intense emotion.
"We all need to be thankful he didn't decide to haunt us. Can you imagine it?"
They all had a mass of memories to leaf over, to recast Severus Snape the living man, poisonous-tongued and resentful, grudging and vicious, brave and determined and faithful, as a ghost, free to move where he chose and speak his mind without fear of reprisal.
Minerva said softly, "He has better things to do."
She nodded at both of them, and returned to the castle. She recreated her personal bubble of clean air as she moved into the dusty atmosphere of the Great Hall, where repairs were still in progress, attention having been given first to the most grievous structural harms the castle had suffered in the battle. Everyone but the almost powerless used such protections as a matter of course, now. Once she was at the top of the Headmaster's tower she dispersed the bubble; the office and private quarters were magically shielded against the persistent dust and noise of repairs.
Minerva warded the door behind her, nodded to the cheerful gaze of Dumbledore's portrait, as curious as ever, and warded the entry to the private quarters, too, before she moved to the guest room that had been refurbished at her need after more than half a century of disuse.
Closing the bedroom door behind her, she looked at the occupant of the wide bed, and smiled, pleased. He was sleeping easily. He was still weak, but his hands no longer clutched at the bedclothes, no longer defended his eyes from another's, no longer convulsed in a desperate need for his wand to protect himself.
He slept well, at last.
Halloween 1982 and Halloween 1994
That night Minerva dreamed, and remembered it when she woke, panting softly and confined by her twisted sheets.
"Richard," she whispered, and then, in sleepy confusion, "Severus."
For a moment it still felt as if she was pinned in limp satiety beneath that young male body that comforted her own. Then the fancy, the memory, fled, and she remembered instead the death that had preceded the memory, and the kindness that had, however briefly, transmuted her grief to passion and release.
Losing Richard had been unexpected, and painful, and something which still sometimes hurt; she had discovered the grief of parting for the first time.
Years before that, half a lifetime ago now, she had shed no tears when Graeme, her husband of twenty years, had left her and their three almost-grown children, returning to his family's home in France. By then she had been teaching at Hogwarts for over five years, using her maiden name.
She had been distanced from her children by their going to school, as all witches were, no matter how fond: to children, if not to adults, ten months of separation every year and living in a whole different world moved their centre from family to community. If she regretted the early parting, she had never regretted embracing her need to teach not just her own children, but all magical children, and to refine the skills in Transfiguration that had delighted her own school years and enlivened the years of being a wife and mother.
The marriage had been comfortable, but an alliance rather than a match, something desired by and suiting the needs of both families. Minerva and Graeme had each done their duty, but once the children left home they had little to say to each other, and he had eventually acknowledged that she had done the sensible thing, however irritated he had been at the time.
What she did regret, and still felt the pangs of loss for, was the parting, twenty years after that, from her lover Richard. The only lover she had ever taken. Richard had been a halfblood, his mother Muggleborn, but he had been completely at home in the wizarding world, a scholar, a historian, cheerfully labelling himself as useless, as indeed many of his fellows saw him, unlike him not concerned with how the past might affect the present. If he had lived he might have been teaching History of Magic in place of Binns. Instead, he had been murdered in the first Voldemort war, for speaking uncomfortable truths and urging radical change. So she had told herself, reluctant to admit that he might have been murdered senselessly, because of his mother. She had never asked Severus if he knew why.
After his death Minerva had thought she would break. Defensively she had tried to freeze all feeling, and rejected both the distant compassion Albus had offered her, and the warmer comfort Pomona and Rolanda had tried to give. She had become the ice-woman whom Harry had known at school, rather than the pleasant, if slightly remote, figure his father knew. That even Severus Snape had known, both as teacher and colleague.
Soon after she lost Richard, Severus had come to her rooms one Friday evening, pushing past her locking charms as if they had not existed. He had hardly spoken – she had been weeping bitterly, exhaustedly, at last able to let her grief out in this rare privacy – but sat down beside her and took her in his arms.
She had tried to pull back, as she had pulled back from physical gestures of consolation from all of her colleagues, but he had said, "Hush, there's nothing to be done but to feel something else."
Then he had turned her in his arms, tipped her head back on his shoulder, and kissed her. Thoroughly. No pity, no sympathy, but a reminder that she was a woman and could still feel as a woman. She had grasped at it eagerly, hoping to forget Richard in the simple passions of the body, to be someone other than the woman who grieved for the loss of her mate.
Severus had been young, younger than her own sons, and not particularly skilled, but he had been patient, and careful, and clearly dedicated to getting this right, to giving her as much pleasure as her body could absorb. After a while she had abandoned her greedy passivity, shown him what she wanted, taken all he could give, and given him all he would take. She had taught him, in this, as she had taught him other skills when he was younger. He had taken her teaching eagerly. Severus was as much a scholar as Richard.
It had been a long night, and had made a watershed in her grief. She still wept for Richard, but after that she knew she would live, and would some day find joy in living again.
Severus had stayed with her, holding her until she slept, making love to her again when she woke and clutched at him, still saying almost nothing, making of himself an instrument to remind her of life, to tell her without words that she was entitled to all the life she could seize.
In the morning he had left, kissing her cheek, acting like a colleague once more (not that he had ever kissed her cheek, or anything else, before). Afterwards, he had done nothing to remind her of their night, said no private words, given her no conscious looks, and she had been grateful. A few days later he had come to her again, and she had taken his hand and led him into her bedroom without a word. For some months, at increasing intervals, he had returned, silent, generous, and alive, until she needed him no more.
Minerva had gone to him only the once, after the Dark Mark had come to life again on his arm, warning of Voldemort's imminent return. He had turned on her with bitter words, but she had put her fingers over his mouth and he had stilled, and met her eyes in silence. She had taken both his hands and tugged, gently, and he had let her lead him into his bedroom, taking her offer of forgetfulness.
Afterwards, before she rose and drew her robes on again, she had said, "We all do what we can."
He hadn't thanked her, had been as silent as he ever was, but he had risen too and accompanied her to his door, at the last lifting the hand that had touched his mouth and kissed it.
The next years had been hard, each worse than the last. Minerva had thought that nothing could be worse than Dumbledore's death at Severus's hands. Harry had told her about it in rage and despair, how he had been an invisible witness to that last confrontation. Later she had asked him to put his memories of the night on the top of the Astronomy Tower in a Pensieve, and viewed them, then made him do the same. Neither of them had understood, and if they had come away from that review with questions rather than answers, the doubts were enough for her to urge him to silence, and for Harry to agree to it.
They need not have bothered agonising over it. In short order Harry had gone into hiding with his friends to pursue some project of Dumbledore's; the new Minister Pius Thicknesse, Voldemort's puppet, had made all Muggleborns not just second-class citizens, but outlaws; and had appointed Severus Snape as Headmaster of a Hogwarts teaching only pureblood children.
Minerva had greeted him coldly, with none of the courtesy and support she might have given had he succeeded their mentor in other circumstances, but eventually she had seen the difference between him and the other appointees to the Hogwarts staff. Severus was still a teacher, still concerned for the school and its students. He took as much discipline into his own hands as possible. At first that had made her furious, until she saw what the Carrows did when Severus was not present to restrain them.
She hated what he had done, hated that he was running Hogwarts for Voldemort, but she recognised his determination to keep the students not only alive, but also as little harmed as possible. It did not make her manner to him any warmer, but she had found it was possible to interact with the Headmaster in a formal way without being painfully reminded that it was Severus who lived behind that mask.
Harry's return and his encounter with the Carrows had ended all that. Minerva had called on Pomona and Filius and Horace, and between them they had driven Severus out. Between cold rage and long grief and sharp disappointment, she had been ready to kill him, but some small part of her had been glad that he had been able literally to fly from their attack. She had stamped down that gladness and turned to battle, her blood up, her ancestors howling her on like the mountain wildcats they were, and lived and fought through that whole dreadful day.
She had not seen Severus, and had been grateful.
Then the battle was over, won, despite the price. And Harry, shaken out of his long unthinking hatred of Severus Snape, had told the hundreds of survivors crowding the hall exactly what Severus had been and done.
That shock of revelation had brought her almost to her knees. Only her new determination to retrieve Severus's body, to grant it the respect given to every other fighter for their freedom who had died in the fighting, had kept her going.
On the floor of the Shrieking Shack she had found his body, with blood everywhere, robes stiff with it, hands reddened and clotted with it as they lay lax against his ripped throat, partly healed – from which a slow trickle freshened all those stains.
She had screamed as she had not for all those deaths, and sent her Patronus to Poppy with an urgent demand to come now, abandoning all else, bringing salves and potions to save a man magically poisoned and bleeding to death. Poppy had come, and dragged him back from the brink.
Minerva had said, "We'll need to set a guard over him in the Infirmary. There are too many who might not care, might not even know, what Harry told us Severus has been doing all these years. And any supporter of Voldemort might want to kill him now, too..."
Poppy had answered briefly, "Take him back to his own quarters, move in yourself – you're acting Headmistress – tell no one but your Effie, and keep him safe that way."
As soon as Kingsley Shacklebolt had confirmed her appointment as Headmistress she had moved into what had been Albus's and Severus's quarters in turn, taking Severus with her.
More than three months later Severus was still mostly confined to bed, though he could walk to an armchair, now, using a stick. For the last few weeks he had been unbearably grumpy about his continuing weakness. Minerva had greeted that sign of recovery with relief, even if sometimes she had walked out on him. He didn't take his boredom and bitterness out on the house-elves who tended him; he preferred a human opponent to complain to, to abuse, to argue with. He certainly still clung to the secrecy Poppy and Minerva between them had given him.
Some time, when he was stronger, Minerva would tell him about the Severus Snape memorial and its message – and what Lucius Malfoy had said, if not Harry Potter.
The inscription might amuse him, or anger him, or leave him indifferent. She was quite interested to find out, though, what he thought of Lucius's words. She hadn't told him about their shared intent to create a memorial; she hadn't wanted to listen to his arguments about it, or any cynical reflections, either. Now it was an accomplished fact, though, its existence, and their insistence on having it, might encourage him to let his survival be known. It might help her persuade him to stay with the wizarding world, with Hogwarts, with her.
She wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to continue the secrecy until he was fully recovered and had a private retreat organised. That would be a very reasonable wish, from someone who had led a life without trust. Even if Harry had already urged a very willing Shacklebolt to extort an unqualified pardon from the Wizengamot.
Minerva and Severus had made their peace. She had apologised unreservedly; he had described her reactions of the last year as a tribute to his acting ability, and had pointed out that her resentment had made him safer. He didn't say that it had condemned him to loneliness even beyond what he had endured in the years before as Dumbledore's spy in Voldemort's ranks. She didn't say it either, but hoped that some day he might feel confident that she would never turn on him again.
Severus was always better in the mornings, both physically and emotionally.
This morning he had settled himself at the small dining table for breakfast, his stick propped up against the wall beside him. The Prophet had been thrown on the floor, but that didn't surprise Minerva. Rita Skeeter was still free to engage in character assassination, and this morning her target had been the new Minister and his exceedingly brisk reforms of Ministry staff, regulations, and practices.
Minerva didn't think that particular criticism would go down particularly well; too many witches and wizards had suffered under a Ministry gone feral over the last year and more. When its victims were not just werewolves and anyone who endangered the then Minister's political control, or even just Muggleborns, and it supported Voldemort's terror-driven rule, there was general agreement that the Ministry was in need of reform.
"Good morning, Severus. Rita's at her worst again, isn't she."
Severus favoured her with his considered opinion of Rita Skeeter, and didn't repeat himself once.
Calmly she responded, "Your tea's getting cold."
Severus grunted, picked up his wand, and reheated the tea in his cup. As an afterthought he reheated the pot, too. He didn't offer her any; she always breakfasted in her own rooms before coming to him. She would take tea with him later, to make a break in the day's constant work.
"I can't stay here for ever," Severus said abruptly, as he put his empty cup back in the saucer.
"You can't just walk out the door, though, even if Kingsley made sure the Wizengamot gave you an Order of Merlin as well as absolution for whatever you'd had to do, serving Albus's ends."
"I don't suppose they'd have awarded either, if they hadn't been convinced I was dead and unable to trouble them."
"Very likely not. However, they did it. Kingsley knew what he was doing, Severus."
"So he knows I'm here – that I lived."
"And how many others share that secret?"
"Poppy, of course. My house-elf, her chief house-elf. No others."
"Poppy won't talk any more than you would," he admitted. It didn't even sound as if he grudged acknowledgement of their faithfulness. "So I could just walk away, and be safe. Somewhere else."
"Or you could come back to us. Re-appear, let Kingsley manage knowledge of it, and any protection needed, as it might be, for a while. Walk back into your life: your house, your position here…"
"No," he said sharply. "Merlin, Minerva, I have nightmares now. I never want to be in that office again. Nor am I anxious to teach again, any subject. It was never my choice."
"But you're good at it."
He laughed bitterly. "They hated me."
She persisted. "You were not kind to poor or careless students, no; but the ones who paid attention and went on to a professional life in potions work are very well regarded, Severus, and they're proud to say who taught them. Yes, truly." Minerva smiled that spare Scottish smile. "If you did come back to teaching Potions, I'd expect you to be better behaved. But you wouldn't have the same provocations, either."
"That's more like it. You'd want me to flatter the students, and let them get away with stupidity and slackness –"
"No, I would not," she responded energetically. "Your safety record was admirable, Severus, and your strictness and careful supervision would be needed to maintain it. Potions is too dangerous a subject for its teacher to tolerate carelessness or inattention."
She sighed. "But you'd find it difficult, wouldn't you. Staying here, among the memories. I should miss you, both as a teacher and as a colleague, but I wouldn't want to hold you against your will."
"Not very strongly or very hard, anyway."
"Whatever I might wish, it's most important you have free choice. But please, dear friend, choose this first step carefully! If you've been thinking of moving on, then you've been thinking of where to move to. Tell me, please, Severus. Don't just disappear. Let me be sure you are making a real life, not simply finding a hole to bury yourself in. You've done enough of that."
"I'd prefer to leave the wizarding world behind," he admitted. "Or at least, in this country. No doubt I could make a life as a brewer of potions in another country – but English is my only language. I've never been away from this island. I hesitate to take so bold a step. There'd be so much to learn – and a great deal to tolerate, too, I suppose."
"So instead, you've decided – what?"
"You think I need to come to terms with my life, don't you. All that I've done –"
"More, all that you've endured," she corrected. "You owe no debts now, Severus. You can choose without regard to what anyone might demand of you." She smiled, again that little pawky smile. "You can make what you want, and perhaps even forgive the wizarding world for what it's done to you, all your life. Yes, Severus. It wasn't all your doing.
"Very few of your past choices weren't forced on you, whether by your father, your mother's family, your careless teachers – for we were careless of your good. I trusted Albus too much, I've realised; not just in how he treated you, but in what he did with Harry. I ignored you, as I ignored any student not in my own house. That's not good enough, I see now. And your childhood was just the start of forced choices, often between evil and evil. Hasn't it been so?"
"Perhaps. But I didn't strive very hard for the greater good myself, Minerva. My perspective was always personal, my goal my own advantage."
"Oh yes," she mocked gently, "the last twenty years you've considered only your own wishes. Think better of yourself, my dear. Few wizards would have shown the selfless dedication, the bravery –"
"Yes, Minerva: enough. I can read the citation for that Order of Merlin myself, should I still be interested in public acknowledgement. One improvement I can claim, I suppose: I don't now feel any need to be recognised as right, or justified. How little, now I have it, that glittering medal means! I'd rather have peace of mind.
"You say I need to come to terms with the wizarding world and its effect on me. I've thought that perhaps first I need to come to terms with my father's world. It's half of me. I've walked away from it, because I hated him, hated what he and it did to my mother, and to me. Perhaps I shouldn't restrict my choices like that, any more."
"But how would you manage?"
"You can spare your concern, Minerva. There'll be few practical problems. My father owned that house, paid the Muggle rates and taxes associated with it. I've continued that. Unlike most wizards, I have a Muggle birth certificate, school records." He glanced sideways at her. "I don't have any records of employment in the Muggle world, but I do have a Social Security record. All those mysterious numbers and pieces of paper: I have them. I can go back to Spinners End and become, for example, a maker of potions for Muggles. They have them, you know. And mine would be better, because I can use magic in making them, magic that the Ministry knows quite well no Muggle will ever perceive."
"Truly?" she said doubtfully. "I'm sure the Ministry will go on insisting on compliance with the Statute of Secrecy."
"So am I. But I would not be the first potions maker to retreat to the Muggle world. There's precedent, and the Wizengamot recognised it, long ago. A potions maker doesn't need to wave a wand around. Certainly not before Muggles. All he has to do is comply with Muggle requirements."
"And that will be easy?"
"No," he said dryly. "If you think the wizarding world is over-burdened with clerks who require pieces of paper filled out in quintuplicate and stamped and filed, you haven't seen the Muggle world's demands. It does, however, have the advantage that those requirements are clearly set out, and the same for all."
"You've thought about this a lot, haven't you," she murmured. "Not just these months, but for years."
"Ever since I realised I didn't want to go on following Voldemort, I knew I might need some day to run. Only sensible to make provision for it."
"Very well. If you need help going back to that world, Severus, ask for it, whether it's from me or from Kingsley. There's no hurry, either. You are very welcome here, until you're fully recovered, or for as much longer as you need."
"Do you think Poppy will ever let me off her leash, now she has one round my neck?"
Minerva laughed, and rose. "I think you'll find she too wants you to have your freedom."
There was no need to say that she had abandoned Severus once. She would not do it again.
When Severus left Hogwarts, he allowed Minerva to lead him where she would on the way to the gates, even when he understood she was taking him to the white tomb. He was more at ease now with memories, and better knowledge, of Dumbledore. He had even made a start on forgiving him his weaknesses and deficiencies. If Minerva thought he should formally farewell the former Headmaster, he would do so, before he set out for his new life.
Instead, however, she took him to a granite memorial, and let him read what was written thereon. He didn't know whether to be angry or to be gratified. It was, after all, recognition of what he had done, in the place where he had done it.
"Is this your doing?"
"No," she said calmly, "though I exercised some power of veto, and kept the warring parties from each others' throats. Officially, that is the work of the Hogwarts governors, supported by the Ministry, and by Kingsley Shacklebolt in particular. In fact it is mostly the result of argument and determination from Harry Potter and Lucius Malfoy, both of whom were bent on making sure you should never be ignored or denigrated again. And Kingsley, of course, but he let them fight it out, as those most nearly affected: Lily's son, and your friend."
He couldn't even say, "Oh," at first, struck by how strong their conviction must have been to bring those two to any kind of cooperative endeavour.
"My dear, they would wish you well. And not them alone. There are visitors, you know. Where do you think the flowers in the offering bowl come from? Slytherin students from recent years, and from much earlier times, too. Many of your past students, no matter what their house. Harry and his friends – even Mr Weasley," she smiled, "who I think is particularly grateful to you for being dead."
He was able to relax and to laugh, at that.
Then he said reflectively, "They're probably all happier thinking that I'm dead, at least for now. But I am pleased to know I have their good will."
"You do. And mine, always. Don't be a stranger, Severus."
"I'll visit, when it's safe. Later. Perhaps for a while, though, you should visit me. My house has a Floo, after all."
Epilogue: 9 January 1999
Minerva had warned him of her intention to visit on his birthday. He thought birthday celebrations over-rated, just like Christmas and Valentine's Day, having grown up without them, but he was resigned to softer persons wishing to make the most of them. Minerva had always given him a small gift on his birthday, and for many years he had reciprocated on hers, not entirely because he did not wish to feel indebted.
This time, he supposed, she wished to find out how he was getting on.
She had done him the favour of leaving him in peace at Christmas, though her owl had brought a message and a bottle of Firewhisky from her cousins' distillery on Islay. He had sent her, somewhat later in the day, a vial of SleepEase, made in his new workroom in the basement of Spinners End (enlarged by magic to accommodate his new needs as purveyor of potions to Muggles). Minerva had enough troubles in her position of Headmistress of the newly re-opened Hogwarts, even before one considered the continuing demands of rebuilding, supervising curriculum revision, and breaking in new teaching staff. Peaceful sleep sometimes evaded her, but he could help with that.
No doubt Minerva would have made the effort to visit no matter which day of the week his birthday fell on, but this, his 41st, was a Saturday. Perhaps she would stay a while and talk.
He had missed her conversation and her sense of humour. He also had a fund of amusing stories about his interactions with Muggles to share with someone. The not-so-amusing ones would keep. Even in this short time, though, he was learning to adapt to them; things were getting better. He had the beginnings of a steady income, but, more importantly, he had new acquaintances and long-forgotten relatives who seemed willing to be friendly. After the wizarding world, that was astonishing. His father's world wasn't so bad after all.
Severus made the effort to be hospitable: he went to his kitchen and made scones, and put them aside to keep warm under a Stasis Charm, while he set out butter (he didn't care for Muggle margarine) along with the heather honey and blackberry jam he had privately asked Minerva's house-elf Effie to bring him from the Hogwarts kitchens. Next year he would make jams from berries gathered in the wild – his small garden would be planted with herbs, both Muggle and magical – but he had moved back into Spinners End far too late to do so this year, even had he not been busy setting up Lotions and Potions.
When Minerva arrived she kissed him, and he, startled, kissed her back before he recalled that neither of them needed comforting.
To his dubious look she murmured, "Why not move on in this too, Severus?"
"You'll stay a while?" he demanded. All the enticement he could think to offer, though, was, "I made scones."
"Scones would be very good, later," Minerva agreed demurely.
She wasn't often demure. It usually meant mischief: the cat coming out to play.
How pleasant to know that she too was moving into ease and security. How fortunate that Saturday was his day for changing sheets and sweeping floors, neither of them tasks that need take a wizard with a wand long.
He took her hand and led her up the stair behind the bookcases. The scones would certainly keep, as would showing off his stocks and samples and accounts.
Peace was an excellent thing, as was a reliable, loving friend. And how delightful was Minerva's mischief, her ease, her smiles, her touch. Just as delightful was her appreciation of his touch. Severus stretched in his bed and allowed his lover to see a small smirk.
"I think you need to visit more often than on birthdays and days of celebration."
"That would be very agreeable."
So this visit wasn't just a birthday celebration. It was another milestone in his new life.
Severus thought that he might eventually be a contented man.