Title: Manual Transmission
Age-Range Category: Three
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape/Minerva McGonagall
Beta Reader(s): Lolly
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Adult language and situations.
Summary: Severus Snape was never one to lose a bet, but then, neither was Minerva McGongall.
17 May 1987
"Well," Minerva McGonagall drawled, one fine black brow arching up in the mocking manner that Snape so utterly despised, "…this certainly changes things, doesn't it?"
From his hospital bed, Joseph Edwards groaned thickly, the staccato sound of his bones snapping back into place providing a gruesome counterpoint to the low keen. Madame Pomfrey paused her ministrations long enough to give them each a black glare before brandishing her wand over the boy once more.
"No," Severus disagreed, "...I don't believe it does."
Min snorted. "Your star Seeker is literally in bits, and I doubt he'll be mounting a broom by midsummer, never mind in time for the championship match next week."
He gave her a thin smile, mentally reviewing all the bone growing potions he could think of; there were several that would considerably speed healing, but the side effects were harsh, especially on a growing ladWell, she's right about that. Edwards won't be playing anytime soon. Bloody fucking bollocks, there goes my extra summer funds!
"Unlike Gryffindor," he replied smoothly, "Slytherin has depth in our reserve squad. While Mr Edwards will undoubtedly be missed, I don't foresee a drop in our fortunes."
"Oh, aye, and I suppose you also think that Chudley Cannons have a shot this year. Do tell me another one, Severus."
Aware that Edwards was listening and the conversation would make its way back to the Slytherin Common Room in due course, Severus allowed none of his dismay to show. "I still hold that Slytherin will win the final match by at least hundred points, just as we will be taking the House Cup for the third year in a row."
Minerva made another rude noise, hand going to her hip. "Such confidence in someone who's likely to lose quite the pile of Galleons. Why, if the Slytherin defeat is large enough, you'll not just be paying me, but Filius as well."
"I stand by my bets. Slytherin will no more lose to Gryffindor than it will to Ravenclaw."
"Are you willing to increase the wager?"
From Edwards bedside, Pomfrey gave an infuriated huff. "Take your tasteless and indecent penchant for making wagers out of my Ward this instant," she snapped, and Snape belatedly realised she had a point. They were rather gauche; standing within earshot of the injured boy was a mistake.
Indeed, it did not do to anger the Matron of Hogwarts, and so he and Min obeyed the order with alacrity, shuffling hastily to the wide double doors of the Hospital Ward. Just as Severus turned for the right-hand corridor that would take him to the main stairs, Minerva grabbed his arm.
"Are you willing to increase the wager?" she repeated, and he was startled to see that her emerald eyes gleamed with a cunning, predatory anticipation.
It gave him pause to see that particular confluence of sentiment swimming in the Head of Gryffindor's gaze. As a student, he had only known her as stern, no-nonsense witch, with only a few flickers of dry wit visible. As a fellow staff member, he had seen first-hand just how little she cared for either convention or the status quo, and had been utterly gobsmacked upon hearing her positively blistering-- if blotto-- feminist denouncement of the current pureblood stranglehold on magical academia during his inaugural staff lock-in. Gone was the straight-laced scot, and instead stood a fire-breathing preacher of the highest order. It had been a revelation. She was a passionate and driven woman that played the wider political game with verve and wit that Severus had to admire; Minerva McGonagall was brightly painted in Gryffindor scarlet, true, but one with the subtle stripes of Slytherin and Ravenclaw thrown in for good measure.
Once he'd found his footing as a member of staff, Severus had enjoyed poking at her, both academically and doctrinally. While it was more often a matter of playing the role of the Devil's Advocate rather than any true disagreement, he had spent many an entertaining hour making her bristle and hiss with indignation.
Her seemingly disparate traits had balanced each other out until the untimely death of her husband a year and a half before; since then she had veered between possessing a stiff upper lip made of iron and a barely controlled, feral grief. Having just barely stayed himself afloat following Lily's murder and the Dark Lord's supposed downfall, it was a state that Severus understood all too well.
Still, her recent spate of reckless behaviour deeply unsettled him. Minerva McGonagall wasn't merely a supervisor or fellow Head of House. She was also Albus Dumbledore's second in command, not just of the school, but of the Order as well. and whilst the wizarding public thought they now lived in peaceful times, Severus Snape was not foolish enough to make that mistake. Trouble had been brewing both inside and outside of the Castle, and he meant to get to the bottom of it.
And so it was with a mingled compassion and suspicion that Severus eyed the Deputy Headmistress. What on earth did she want this badly to bargaining with the likes of him?
"That depends," he answered slowly, not above dragging it out a bit. "What are you offering?"
Her mouth quirked. "Not adding more galleons to the pile. Knowledge. You checked out all the Mastery-level books on Animagi last summer, but unless I am very much wrong, you had no success in transforming yourself. Should I lose the bet, I will teach you how to become an Animagus."
"And what skill am I to offer in exchange?"
She stepped forward, gazing up at him with a keen leonine regard. "You will teach me to drive."
"Yes, to drive an automobile, Severus. Don't go playing daft at this last date."
That's it? Of all the things to ask for, she wants to drive? He raised a brow, the perfect mockery of her earlier expression. "That presumes much about my talents, madam."
"You know perfectly well how to drive."
"Do I?" he asked, stroking his bottom lip as if trying to remember that particular skill among many.
"In 1975, I received the most curious call from an old colleague in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He was investigating what a first appeared to be an infestation of gremlins in a Lancastrian mill town; cars were mysteriously starting themselves and driving away, only to found in various fields hours later."
Outwardly, Severus remained calm, but inwardly, he was utterly astounded that Minerva had known all this time about one of his more pleasurable juvenile follies. Ruthlessly, he shut down the spurt of pain that always flared up when certain aspects of his childhood were recalled and focused on the woman in front of him.
She continued smugly, sure of her solid ground. "Imagine my friend's astonishment when he discovered that two underage Hogwarts students had somehow bound a gremlin to their will, and were using to it filch cars all over the estate for short joyrides. I convinced him to ignore it on the basis that the troubles would end on 1 September, and lo and behold, they did. As there were no further issues the following summer, I chose not to confront either you or Miss Evans about the incidents."
He could deny the allegations; it wasn't as if Minerva or the Ministry could do concerning their behaviour, especially as Lily was dead. But really, there was no point in demurring-- Min knew too many of the details-- and Severus was more curious why the Deputy Headmistress was so desirous of learning to drive.
"Playing the long game, are you?" Snape asked finally.
"Clever women always do."
After a pause to digest that challenge, he decided on a different tact. "We didn't bind the gremlin, so much as promise it a more, fruitful abode if it would spark the ignition of the automobiles that we wanted to borrow. As my da was mechanic, I offered to re-home the creature within a protected place the junkyard where he worked. Thus Lily and I learned to how to drive, the gremlin caused an admirable amount of mischief, and my dad had plenty of work for once. It was a neat solution for all involved."
"A neat solution indeed, given that it didn't activate the prohibition against underage magic."
"A close examination of the rules often leads to opportunities otherwise missed."
She laughed at that sally. "Ah, but you weren't so keen on that notion when Mr Bones tried it on for size last week."
"Of course I didn't. He was imprudent enough to get caught."
"Which leads us back to the main point- you know how to drive, Severus, and that is exactly what I want you to teach me following Slytherin's loss next week."
"You are so very confident of said victory."
"Yes, I am." She leaned against the wall, watching him. In the stark contrasts of moonlight, Minerva McGonagall reminded him nothing so much as a spider inviting him over for a spot of tea.
There were any number of reasons that he should have declined-- he was not nearly as confident about Slytherin's chances as he had let on, for one thing-- but there were equally compelling reasons to agree. Albus had been plotting over something important lately, and it behoved him to find out what; spending time alone with Minerva might also provide him with a better insight into her altered character, and Severus really did want to join the ranks of the Animagi.
If I lost, the cost of teaching her to drive would be negligible-- certainly more so than forfeiting the current pile of galleons-- and I am so bloody bored...
It was the last that decided it; it had been a long, monotonous school year, and he'd been chaffing at parameters of his public role for ages. "Fine. If you want to wager a skill for a skill, then so be it."
Minerva nearly cackled. "Then we agree? If Slytherin wins the Quidditch Cup, as well as the last match by one-hundred points, I will teach you to be an Animagus; if they lose, you teach me to drive."
"And this bet supersedes our previous wager."
Severus smiled. There were enough holes in that deal to drive his father's battered Morris Minor through; it would be simple enough to get what he wanted regardless of winning or losing. He extended his hand. "Then I agree."
She shook his hand, fingers cool and light. "Excellent." With a light swish of tartan robes, she turned and started to walk away.
"Minerva," he called, and she paused, glancing over her shoulder. "Why do you want to learn how to drive?"
He didn't have to be a master spy or head of house to recognise the flat anger that filled her eyes.
"Because I'm tired of being told no."
As it turned out, Severus was one bloody point away from taking it all. Despite the loss it's star seeker, Slytherin won the championship match in fine fashion-- as well as the Quidditch and House Cup-- but the victory came with a margin of nine-nine points, not the required one-hundred. Even with the knowledge that he'd not be walking away empty-handed, the failure rankled.
Min was smugly triumphant at the Head Table during the Leaving Feast. "You were so close," she crowed, toasting him with her wine glass. "It's a pity that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
Severus rolled his eyes; she didn't seem to realise that he had her exactly where he wanted her. "And it's a pity that you don't seem to recognise that winning a single battle means absolutely nothing if you've lost the entire bloody war."
From the corner of his eye, he saw Dumbledore's mouth flatten in reaction to the comment and felt a surge of satisfaction; the old man hated to lose anything, especially if it was to Slytherin, and he could tell that Severus had more in the works.
"Indeed," Severus continued, letting his tone drip with false solicitude, "...it's such a shame that Gryffindor once again came in last for House Cup, and came in third for Quidditch Cup. Still, you'll be learning to drive this summer. That's worth something, isn't it?"
He rose, neatly tucking his napkin under the edge of his plate. "Minerva, do let me know when you've secured a car for us to begin the lessons. I've heard that hiring one can be quite an expense, so you might want to inquire into the used market-- of course, both will require you to have a license, and if you do buy, you'll need to pay the road tax as well as provide proof of insurance."
"But you have a car, and license..." she spluttered, shock erasing her smugness.
"Yes, I do," he agreed. "However, our agreement only specified that I would teach you how to drive, not that I provide the vehicle... or any of the other items one needs to drive."
Hefting both cups up by their handles, Severus made a shallow bow as Minerva's shock swiftly turned to anger. "Now, if you will excuse me, I need to congratulate my Slytherins on their excellent year."
Fleeing for the safety of the student tables, he didn't bother to hide his smirk.
His Slytherins had been appropriately jubilant--indeed, the loud cheer that had greeted his arrival to the Slytherin table had warmed the cold cockles of his heart--and Snape had spent several hours celebrating with them in the Common Room following the Leaving Feast.
The Castle had subsided into a sleepy silence by the time he had finally made it to the trophy room to secure the cups in the glass display cabinet. Carefully buffing the last of the fingerprints from the shiny silver surface of the Quidditch Cup, he stepped back to admire the metallic shine.
As he registered the barely audible scuff of a shoe on a flagstone behind him, the fine hairs on the back of his neck rose. On time as ever, he thought dryly, wondering how much of fight he was in for. Turning to face the door, Severus loosened the wand strapped to his arm and readied a non-verbal shielding charm just in case.
Minerva was in towering fury, hair falling from her customary chignon and eyes shooting emerald sparks. Were she in cat form, he had no doubt that she'd be hissing at him, tailed puffed up and claws out.
"Come to re-negotiate?" he asked casually, picking a piece of lint from his sleeve.
"Tell me," she hissed, "...do you enjoy always being a Machiavellian, petty bastard?"
"You have to ask Albus about that," he shot back heatedly, "...but if you mean, do I enjoy pointing out to foolhardy Gryffindors the extent and cost of their hubris? Endlessly. You've gotten sloppy, Minerva. Two years ago, you would have remembered to secure the conditions and provisos before agreeing to any bargain. Hell, two years ago, you would have simply asked me to teach you how to drive, not proposed some hasty and ill-thought out bet."
"How dare you!"
He stepped closer, deliberately invading her space. "How dare I what? Point out that you've let yourself wallow in grief? That you've been taking utterly absurd risks and ignoring everything of importance that has happened since your husband's death?"
For a brief moment, Severus thought that Minerva would slap him, but with a sharp intake of breath, a cold mask slid over her features.
"Ah, what a warm, caring heart you have..." she drawled, voice biting.
"Because warmth and concern have really helped you cope this last year and a half, haven't they?" He shook his head mournfully. "But yes, I suppose you are correct. I rather lack empathy. After all, it's not like I've lost anyone that I've loved."
Severus let his words hang in the chill night air of the Castle, understanding precisely what memories they would invoke. Minerva had dragged his drunken carcass off the dungeon floor enough times following Lily's murder to know the depth of his feelings. Of his guilt and self-recrimination...
Her mouth tightened in reaction, silently conceding the point.
"What do you want?" she finally asked.
"Exactly what we discussed before. You teach me to become an Animagus, and I'll teach you to drive."
"And the conditions?"
Severus shrugged. "I will provide all materials relating to my lessons, such as the vehicle and petrol, and you do the same for transfiguration. We agree to find mutually convenient dates and locations to meet. Instruction will continue for sixth months or until mastery is achieved, whichever comes first. Any issues that occur during the lessons will be handled in good faith renegotiation. If a mediator is required, we bring in Poppy."
"Oh, now you want to bring in a good faith clause?"
"Have any of my requests or terms been that onerous?"
Min pinched the bridge of her nose, thinking it through before replying.
"Fine. I will agree to your terms. But I want to start with the driving lessons first--you'll have to re-read the seventh-year transfiguration text again and demonstrate sufficient knowledge of it before I even consider training you in the primary stages of transformation."
"Naturally." Pulling out a tattered and coffee-stained book, he tossed it at her. "You'll want to read this as well."
"The Rules of the Road?"
He smirked. "Unless you would prefer me to lecture you on the subject?"
"No, thank you." Tucking the slim volume into her robes, she levelled a hard stare at him. "You've chosen a dangerous way to begin working under my instruction again. It's a pity I can no longer take points."
"I'm sure you'll find a way to assuage that unfortunate deficiency."
The corner of her mouth lifted. "Oh, I will. I'm longer prohibited from using corporal punishment, for one thing. I could put you over my knee and paddle your bum should it come to that."
"You could try," he returned, pleased to see a hint of her normal humour. "You would not succeed, however."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that, boyo." Her green eyes suddenly glinted with challenge, and something stirred within Severus in response.
Perhaps it was the all the wine he had drunk at supper, or the fact that she had not only called him 'boyo,' but had also just threatened to spank him. Regardless, it obliterated the last fragments of his school-boy hesitancy to treat Minerva as sexual creature.
He leaned in, mouth nearly brushing her ear. She smelled of jasmine and something deeper, and it was oddly alluring. Letting his voice turn into silk, he purred. "You will be learning to drive in a Muggle area, Minerva." Sliding long fingers across her trim waist and up the line of her spine, Severus yanked at the plait of hair that escaped her chignon. Her head tipped up, the soft skin of her throat momentarily exposed. "Dress... appropriately. Don't embarrass me."
Stepping back, he glided through the door and began to billow down the dark hallway.
"Severus?" she called, and he slowed, glancing over his shoulder. "Why do you want to learn to be an Animagus?"
Memories of his youth assaulted him; of being hunted and tracked down like prey with absolutely no recourse. There were his later years, times when having a second form would have made his life far easier and safer. And then, of course, was the fact that he had longed to slip on the skin of another for as long as he could remember. To not be Severus Tobias Snape for once...
"Because I'm tired of being told no."
It was nearly a fortnight before they began; between his end of year duties and hers, there was far too much to do to start in immediately.
They had agreed to meet at the entrance of the Great Hall just after breakfast before Apparating together to Spinner's End where the car parked. As Severus made his way down the stairs, it was an effort not to hunch his shoulders and let his hair cover his face. It felt dreadfully wrong to be stripped of his usual woollen armour, especially within the grounds of Hogwarts. Instead of his robes, he was wearing a pair of light-coloured denims and a long-sleeved black jumper. There were more than a few whispers from the portraits as he walked past the gallery.
He heard Albus' voice as he came around the final corner.
"Minerva... that is a most... peculiar outfit."
Severus could count on one hand the number of times that he had heard Dumbledore discomforted so thoroughly, and thought that the sartorial criticism was a bit rich coming from a man who regularly wore purple and orange robes. But in the split second after he saw what Minerva was wearing, he was very much glad for the warning.
Her hair was down, a tumbling black cascade of waves that nearly reached her arse. As for her arse... for the first time in the nearly twenty years that he had known her, Minerva was wearing trousers that left little of her figure to the imagination. Close-fitting and of a rich navy blue, they highlighted the fact that Min was a very fit and attractive fifty-one. Sealing his doom was her jumper, a vaguely nautically themed red and white striped number that displayed the lush curves of her breasts perfectly. If there was one thing he was a sucker for, it was a woman in a tight jumper...
"Severus." She greeted him blithely, as if she was entirely unaware that she was wearing an outfit specially designed to torture him. Just the thought of being stuck in a small car with Minerva dressed like that was enough to make him sweat, and he was fairly sure that his poker face had failed him spectacularly.
"Professor McGonagall," he returned flatly, a deliberate reminder of their roles.
She smirked, not fooled one bit by his tone.
"So," Albus said, tone aggressively cheerful. "Where are the two of you off to?"
"Manchester, or thereabouts. Severus is teaching me to drive."
The older man blinked, a veiled emotion flickering through his sharp blue eyes. "I had promised you that I would do so..."
"For the last ten summers, yes, you have promised that. However, I am tired of waiting." Minerva said, hand militantly going to her hip.
"I'm sure you do."
Minerva and Albus stared at each other, the resulting silence laden with meaning. Severus was left with the uncomfortable feeling that one gets when watching parents having a row in public.
Deciding that he'd learn nothing further about their spat by merely watching them glower at each other, Severus interrupted, holding out his arm. "Shall we, Min?"
She jerked slightly but took his arm with all the airs of an imperious queen. Neither spoke until they were well up the path to the gates.
"Stonewashed denim? Colour me surprised," she said lightly.
"We are both half-bloods. It's not as if either of us is ignorant of Muggle fashions."
"Still, it is shockingly informal for you."
Severus slanted her a look. "Not really. We are going to a small village outside of Manchester, not Piccadilly. Besides which, I occasionally return to home for a concert or show, and these blend in just fine. That, on the hand..." He waved vaguely at her clothes, endeavouring to not stare at her arse or tits.
"...was borrowed from a Muggle cousin, and if it is acceptable in the Scottish Midlands, then it will do for the English North."
"If you say so," he muttered, unconvinced. He could already imagine some of the comments that Minvera's outfit would provoke if seen by the lads who stood on the corners. Determining it was best to change the subject, he asked, "Tell me what the following sign means: a red circle with two cars inside, one black and one red?"
"No overtaking," she replied swiftly, a small, genuine smile appearing.
"Correct. Blue circle, with an arrow pointing left or right?"
Minerva didn't say anything when they landed in the dreary, overgrown park near his house, and some of the tension in his stomach abated. Snape knew the estate was little more than a forgotten shithole, and he didn't need it be pointed out.
For once it wasn't raining, but the sun was obscured by a thick layer of grey clouds. Nevertheless, it was warm enough to be pleasant, and he could hear the shouts of children playing football in the far field. Stepping onto the gravel path that led to the street, Severus gestured to the left fork. "Come on. I've parked the car in the lot at the end."
His da's old Morris Minor wasn't much to look at, the pea-green bonnet a shade darker than the rest of the body. It was a two-door saloon that Toby had picked up on the cheap after a nasty collision with the intent of repairing and selling. He'd mostly finished it before dropping dead of a heart attack, and along with the house on Spinner's End, the car was one few useful things his da had left him. The wiring still wasn't quite right; in the wet and cold, the reversing lights tended to short out, and the heater would randomly turn itself off on long trips. But the car had been free, and had all the proper Muggle paperwork in place, so he couldn't really complain. Pulling the keys from his pocket, Severus unlocked the passenger door for Minerva.
"How familiar are you with automobiles in general, and driving specifically?" he asked as he slid into the driver's seat.
"I know the basics of how they operate. My father had an old Standard Flying Ten, but he never let me drive it. I did manage to finagle my way into driving a neighbour's tractor several times, but that was almost thirty years ago."
"Well, that's better than nothing." With that, he turned the key in the ignition, and the engine roared to life. "Right, pay attention. When in park, you will observe..."
Severus took her out the to the large abandoned lot of the old mill. The tarmac was still mostly intact, and he figured that it was the best place to start. He had a painful moment of deja vu as Min peppered him with questions about the rev counter and clutch; Lily had been like that too, full of impatient curiosity and stubborn determination.
"Enough," he told her when she opened her mouth to begin another round of questions. "At a certain point, the only way to learn how to drive is to do it. Out."
She practically lunged for the door latch, and Severus shook his head, anticipation running through him with what he had planned next. He got out of the car far more slowly than she, stretching languidly as he straightened to his full height. Purposely, he blocked the driver's side door.
"Oh, budge over, you ruddy git," Min exclaimed, eyes narrowing.
He smiled, dangling the keys just out of her reach. "I think that you would agree with me that it's vital to learn how to do this entirely without magic, don't you think?"
"Yes..." she said cautiously, sensing his trap but not seeing the end point.
"And so we can agree that from here on out, neither of us will use magic?"
"As you wish." She attempted to snag the keys from his hand and failed.
"Good. Your first challenge is to change that tyre," he informed her, pointing to the rear. "Be grateful that it's not raining cats and dogs as it was when my father taught me. He parked squarely in a mud puddle."
"Severus! That is utterly ridiculous!"
"Is it? What would you do if you were in a situation in which magic was prohibited, and you got a puncture?"
"I would get a man to change it," she snapped. "Making sure, of course, that I was parked in the mud."
"And if there were no men about? Or your safety was on the line? What then? You must be proficient in the most basic skills of automobile maintenance, Minerva. Just as I don't let my students brew without first knowing proper cutting techniques and safety charms, I will not let you get behind the wheel without the required foundational knowledge."
"Allow me to remind you that you will shortly be under my tutelage."
"I do recollect that fact, yes. But am I truly being that unreasonable in trying to ensure that you can handle most motoring issues independently? I do also recall that you consider yourself a feminist, and I do believe that's what feminists do," Snape finished with a smirk.
"You will pay for this."
"I'm sure I will." He pointed to the boot. "But for now, chop-chop. The spanner kit is in the bag within the spare tyre wheel well. Grab it, and then get on your knees."
The look she levelled at him could have melted metal.
"And remember, no magic means no cushioning or cleaning charms... just so you know, once you've placed the spare on, you'll also be taking it off again and rotating all the tyres for me. Once you've finished that, we'll be moving on to identifying all the important items under the bonnet. I've even bought all the items needed to perform an oil change. Won't that be exciting?"
"You will pay," Minerva repeated through clenched teeth.
"If it didn't kill me to learn all this, then it won't kill you..."
Five hours later, the Minor had been thoroughly inspected and tuned, and both he and Minerva were filthy. Oddly enough, it had been an enjoyable exercise, and once she had gotten over the fact that she was going to get dirty, Min had proven an interested and capable pupil.
They had stopped for a late lunch, and Snape was sipping the last of the warm tea from a thermos.
"Why didn't you learn to drive when you were younger?" he asked.
Minerva took a contemplative bite of her cucumber sandwich. "My father was a very traditional man--he was vicar from a rural parish--and once my mother revealed that she was a witch, felt that he only had a limited time in which to impress upon us his values. In his mind, it was unseemly for women to drive. Mind you, we fought about it constantly once I was of age, but he never budged, and that was that. It was a different time, I guess. After I graduated from Hogwarts, I left everything Muggle behind. By the time I started to dip my toes back into things, I was nearly forty, and it all seemed too much of hassle."
"And the experience with the tractor?"
Her expression went totally blank, and Severus wondered if she'd answer as the silence stretched out.
"A... friend. He was a farmer." It was clear that there was a lot more to the story.
Taking pity on her, he rose from the grassy verge that lined the mill lot. "Momentary suspension of the rules. Magic is allowed for the next five minutes." Whipping out his wand, he started hitting himself with a variety of cleansing charms; from the corner of his eye, he saw her do the same.
"What's next?" she eventually asked, a raw tension still running through her frame.
He tossed her the keys, and she barely caught them in time. "Seeing if you can actually get this beast into gear."
An hour later, they had progressed to shuddering across the car park.
"Bloody hell, shift into second, Min! The engine should never sound like an angry grindylow!"
At first, Severus thought he imagined the light caress on his upper thigh. It was just an accident that Minerva was brushing his leg whenever she shifted gears. The car was rather cramped, after all.
Abruptly, he became aware of the tantalising smell of jasmine perfume, evident even through the stronger scents of the hot engine and lingering remains of grease. It became an effort not to focus on the way her delicate hands gripped the steering wheel just so, or how her breasts moved under her jumper as she worked the gear lever. Severus did not allow himself the luxury to squirm in his seat.
But it had been a long school year, and his only company had been that of his left hand. Severus had never fooled around in an automobile, but he'd sure as hell fantasised about it. His traitorous mind danced with thoughts of her capable hands working a different sort of knob, and the pressure mounted in his jeans.
Then her hand landed on his thigh and didn't move. The penny dropped.
"Minerva," he intoned warningly, "...reach for that knob again, and you'll get a different sort of lesson entirely."
She chuckled, removing the limb in question slowly. "You poor thing... I was expecting more from the man who told me to get on my knees."
It was surreal, being hit on by a former teacher; to be fair, he had not precisely thought of her like that in some years, but the underlying power dynamic was still there.
He was aroused... and not.
Minerva's age didn't bother him; most of the women he had slept with were older. Indeed, had it been another woman fondling his leg, he would have ordered her to pull over ages ago.
"Wishing that I could only take points off now?" she inquired tartly.
Pulling his mind from where it was flailing about in the gutter, he attempted for a neutral retort. Detached. "Clearly, if you are bored enough to molest me, then you need more of challenge. Turn onto the village lane."
She laughed again, the husky sound going straight to his groin. "Yes, sir..."
Both of their nerves were shot by the time they had successfully completed a circuit of the Byzantine warren comprising the estate's narrow streets and lanes. There had been several close calls, including a marauding Mark III Cortina that nearly forced them into a hedgerow.
Reaching across the fascia, Snape turned the Minor off. The sudden quiet was bliss for his pounding head. "Right, I think that's enough for tonight. I don't know about you, but I need a drink."
"Agreed," Minerva said, hands shaking slightly.
"Pub? I'll buy."
"Only if we can walk there..."
After parking the car in front of the house, they walked to the village pub. The babble of voices and cloud of smoke was almost too much, but Snape was hungry enough that he didn't want to find somewhere less busy.
The tables were all full--Manchester United was playing Liverpool--but there was a single seat left at the far end of the bar next to the wall. "Take it," Severus said to Minerva. "I'll stand. I need to anyway, after all that sitting."
She nodded, not missing the curious as well as leering glances they were receiving. Severus put a possessive hand on the small of her back, hoping that the match was diverting enough for their presence to be ignored.
"Fish and chips?" he asked.
"Please, and G and T."
Catching the bartender's eye as Minerva perched on the lone stool, he ordered. "A pint of bitter, a double order of fish and chips, mushy peas with pea wet, and the fried pickles."
"Good choice," Minerva murmured. "All that salt sounds perfect."
Wedging himself in the space between her stool and the next person, Snape leaned on the bar. "I keep trying to get Rosmerta to fix them, but she considers them an absolute affront to decent taste."
Minerva gave a Scottish snort. "And butterbeer isn't?"
"If you want an argument, choose a controversial topic."
The barkeep delivered their drinks, and they both fell into silence as the soporific effect of the alcohol took hold.
By necessity, they were pressed together, and Severus felt his body stir into awareness once again. Either Minerva didn't notice, or didn't care; her attention drifted around the room, taking in the men playing darts, the dancers in the corner, and the large telly placed against the centre wall broadcasting the football match.
"Do you ever miss this?"
He glanced down at her, eyebrow rising. "Sometimes. But it's so far removed from everything in my life that this existence often seems like another planet. Do you?"
"I miss the anonymity. You don't have that in Hogsmeade, or anywhere else. Ours is a rather incestuous world. But I do have more freedoms... up to a point."
"Back to the call of feminism again, are we?"
She poked him hard in the ribs. "You know, the patriarchy doesn't just hurt women..."
"And if the current patriarchal norms are wounding me, I don't ever want to be healed," he drawled, not meaning it.
With a thump, their food appeared. They reached for the pickles at the same time, and with an eye roll, she scooped up some of the peas with a chip instead.
"Mmmm, that's one thing that the help never does right at Hogwarts," she said, smacking her lips with relish as they both tucked in. "Gods, but I love mushy peas..."
"I would gladly give up mushy peas for life if I could have a just pint of this," he pointed to the bitter, "...rather than that mediocre wine or infernal pumpkin juice at the head table."
"Oh, now there's a tough choice... but could you imagine what Sybil would be like if we had anything stronger?"
"We'd all be like Sybil if we had something stronger."
"True." Reaching up, she brushed the corner of his mouth. "You have some peas..."
Without thinking, he caught her hand with his and sucked the salty remains from her thumb. They both froze, the air suddenly still and yet somehow electric between them.
Her thumb stroked the plush line of his lower lip, and Severus' felt all his blood rush south. Wrapping his lips around the digit, he cleaned with his tongue. Minerva leaned in, breasts pressing against his arm, eyes locked on his.
The moment was finally broken when the front door banged open, the reverberation from a massive bolt of lightning filling the pub. It had started dumping rain, and everyone fleetingly gawked at the weather.
"Jesus," Snape muttered, wondering if there was a metaphor in there somewhere.
"Jay-zus, Severus?" Minerva teased, echoing the Northern lilt that had suddenly coloured his voice.
"When in Rome, and all that rot," he shot back, picking up a piece of cod. "I'm not walking back in that tempest. We can slip into the ginnel that runs along the back and pop back to the house without getting wet."
"Is that an invitation?" For all that it was heated, her gaze was surprisingly steady on his.
He paused, body and mind having yet to come to an accord. "I haven't decided yet."
"Fair enough." She finished her drink. "Second round on me?"
Nothing further was said as they finished their meal.
Throwing a bill on the bar to cover the tab, Severus steered Minerva towards the back exit. She was hot under his palm, and his skin itched with the need to touch, to claim. His cock was hard in his jeans, making clear its position in the great shag-or-not-to-shag debate.
The wave of cold, damp air hit them both with a bracing smack, a relief after the humid confines of the pub. The rain was still coming down in buckets, and Severus carefully guided them to a covered spot large enough to Apparate. Just as he pulled Minerva into his arms to begin the spin, a dishevelled man appeared from around the corner, fag dangling from mouth and tucking himself back into his trousers.
Fuck, he thought numbly. Shifting his motion into the only thing that he could come up with, he pushed Minerva against the bricks, slanting his mouth over hers in one smooth swoop.
She tasted like the antiseptic tang of gin as her tongue met his in a wild thrust, responding with an intensity that only served to ratchet up his arousal further. Her fingers roughly threaded through his hair and she moaned, the sound a carnal counterpoint to the tap of rain.
"Christ, get a room, mate..." Severus heard the man grumble as he re-entered the pub.
He was lost to sensation as Minerva melted into him, all soft curves and heat. One of her legs wrapped wantonly around his waist, the pressure bliss to his questing erection.
"Severus, please," she moaned, and he yanked them into nothingness.
They spun into the kitchen, Severus hitting the corner of the table with a painful thud. Sobriety suddenly loomed, and he pulled back.
She was impossibly beautiful in the dim half-light of the dingy space, and so out place that it was almost comical. All of Severus' doubts flooded back, cooling his ardour.
Minerva dropped her hands, leaning against the oaken surface as she took in his expression. "Severus?" she began again, swallowing hard. "Can we..?"
"Do you really think that it is a good idea?" he asked, voice raspy.
"Believe it or not, this was not in the plan, but... yes. I think that this could be a good idea. If anything, it’s clear that both of us need the release."
She looked down briefly, a desolate hint of sorrow appearing. "For a variety of reasons, nothing can ever happen when we are at Hogwarts. But we aren't in the Castle right now, are we?" A mocking tilt touched her lips. "And the school's not in session. Can we just be a woman and a man for a little while?"
"Please. I need someone I can trust, and I do trust you..."
Her words rippled through the tumult of his thoughts, and abruptly, he decided. "On your head be it," Severus whispered, leaning down to kiss her once more.
He tried to be gentle, to hold back some of the titanic need that was leaking out his pores like water, but she was having none of it.
"Don't," she begged, "...don't be careful. I don't want to be worshiped. I want to be fucked. More, please..."
The darkness tore through his restraint, and Severus gave a low growl that Minerva echoed. Even as she yielded to him, her hands began to work the buckle of his belt. With a metallic clink, she got it unfastened and reached for his zipper.
"Easy now," he gasped, pushing her hand away so that he could do it himself. "Or it will be over before it begins. Take off that bloody jumper while I do this."
She laughed, peeling off the garment with ease and pushing her trousers to the floor to join his. "Faster?"
Her tits were utter magnificence in black lace, and if her arse was half as lovely, Severus knew that he'd be the luckiest man in Britain that night. He turned her then, tugging her against his chest and grinding his cock into her lush backside as he sucked and kissed her neck. She groaned loudly, bracing herself on the table and moving her hips in rhythm with his.
Breath hitching, he cupped her the generous handful of her breasts before squeezing them hard, one hand sliding down her to her hip.
"Yes," she cried when he found the source of her heat, dipping his fingers into her wetness. Bucking and shuddering, she arched up like a cat in heat.
Needing to feel her skin on his, he removed his hands long enough to divest himself of his own jumper, undid the catch of her bra, and then returned to his ministrations. Wrenching her knickers to one side, he sunk his fingers into her, pumping repeatedly.
"Oh," she cried out, nails biting into his thigh as she gripped him. "Yes, just like that..."
Twisting a nipple, he ground his body into her, nipping at her earlobe. With a wail, her internal muscles clenched around his fingers, and he stroked her until the shuddering stopped.
Breathing heavily, she glanced over her naked shoulder at him, flexing her hips invitingly. Understanding the look as permission, he pulled down her knickers roughly and pushed her torso onto the table so that her arse was sticking up. Letting his weight pin her to the wood, he nudged her legs apart.
"Yes?" he questioned, words lost in haze of lust.
"Yes," she managed to gasp, hand reaching back to free him from his pants.
Sliding between her wet thighs, he thrust into her with a single hard stroke. Minerva tightened almost convulsively around him, and Severus moaned, bucking raggedly before gripping her hips and driving into her mercilessly from behind.
Neither held back their cries, the sound of flesh meeting flesh filling the tiny kitchen as he pounded into her. Balls growing tight, Severus tried to hold back, but his release seemed to be coming at him like a train. Shifting his stance slightly, he thrust into her even deeper, bottoming out.
Her walls squeezed him again, and with a roar, he climaxed violently, the universe shrieking down to the pleasure pulsing from his cock.
Somehow, Severus managed to stumble into one of the chairs before he collapsed, Minerva a dead weight in his lap. He had barely regained his breath when he realised that what he thought was sweat sliding down his chest was actually her tears.
"Minerva," he whispered, fear making her voice shake. "Did I..?"
"No," she sniffed, burying her head in his should. "I'm fine. I just..." With a gasp, she started to sob.
For an endless minute, he was utterly flummoxed and intensely uncomfortable. The urge to flee was strong; dealing with emotions of anyone had never been a skill of his. Finally, his brain clicked on with a feeble shiver, and he awkwardly reached for the first piece of clothing he could get touch.
It was his jumper, and snagging it from the floor, he pulled it over Minerva's head. "Arms up," he ordered softly, and she obeyed.
Thankfully, his boxers were still sitting mid-thigh, and so it only took a moment of squirming to get them back into place. Severus felt better once they were no longer naked, and flicked a heating charm over the both of them, hand starting to stroke Min's back in what he hoped was a comforting manner.
After a couple of minutes, she took a deep breath, body relaxing. "Thank you."
"Was I the first since...?"
"Yes," she answered, cutting him off and wiping the tears from her cheeks.
"What happened?" he pressed. "There is grief, and then there is this..."
The red hand had circled the kitchen clock three times before she spoke again.
"You know that Elphinstone Urquart wasn't just my husband, but he had been my supervisor when I worked for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?"
"I had heard something to that effect, yes." He shifted in the hard wooden chair, pulling her closer. "He must have been the one to tell you about the gremlin."
"Yes, that was him." She sighed. "He was far older than I, and truly a gentlemen from another time. He... fell in love with me when we worked together. About a year into my tenure, he proposed. I was flattered, but I was in love with someone else, and said no."
"Your tractor friend?"
"Mmmm, exactly. But it was more than that. Had I married Phin, I would have had to give my career; a woman could work at the Ministry as long as she was single, and add to that the scandal of having married my boss... There would have been no choice in the matter. He took the rejection gracefully and did not press the issue. Unfortunately, there was another woman in the Department that was in love with him, and hated me enough to try and get rid of me. When I was promoted, she started the rumour that I had been sleeping with not just Phin, but the Department Head as well."
"The rumours were believed?"
"They had enough basis in fact that it looked terrible. For one thing, Phin could not hide his emotions to save his life, and tried to defend me at every turn. I could either leave the Ministry, or wait to get fired and take Phin and the Department Head with me."
"Let me guess, Urquart was a Hufflepuff?"
She chuckled weakly. "Yes, bless him."
"And so you came to Hogwarts?"
"Albus swooped in, and before I knew it, I was living in my very own ivory tower." Her cool fingers traced an idle pattern on his arm. "Have you ever noticed that we are all misfits and strays? Scandals, one and all? Filius is a half-blood in every sense of the word, Pomona and Rolanda celebrate a love that dares not to speak its name, Sybil is a drunk, you have your..."
"Penchant for the Dark Arts?" he commented dryly.
"It's a trait that I have noticed. Alas, it comes with strings."
"It does that," Minerva agreed. "He's my best friend, and I've never questioned Albus' intent, but..."
"...you have questioned his methods," Severus finished acidly.
"Exactly." Min stopped, and Severus could feel her tense. "After the Potters, and You-Know-Who... died, I did some digging. I didn't like the answers that I had been given, and went to Phin for some help. In part, it was because of you; some of Albus' actions concerning you smacked of outright manipulation, and it wasn't something I could stomach."
"I imagine that the conversation went well."
She snorted. "Oh yes, very. Albus and I had a massive row about that and several other things, and Phin was there to pick up the pieces. I knew that if I left Hogwarts, I would lose all of the protections that had allowed me to be successful in the academic realm; when Phin proposed again, I accepted it as a way to hedge my bets."
"That's a very Slytherin way to play things."
"I did care about him. It wasn't as cold as all that. Moreover, I was tired of being alone... I wanted to try and be part of something else. To build a different sort of life. And so Phin and I married."
"What happened next?"
"It turns out that Phin wasn't being entirely truthful. He asked me to marry him because was dying from a curse that he had been hit with some years earlier; it was slowly destroying his nervous system, and he was terrified of being alone."
Severus felt a brief flare of sympathy for the dead man. Merlin knew he'd been on the receiving end of enough of the dark arts to have an idea how that sort of damage would feel, both mentally and physically.
"When he confessed to lying about his health, I was utterly furious--had he come to me with the truth, I would have likely still said yes--and I was also heartbroken that I was going to lose him so quickly. I had come to love him, you see. Perhaps not in the way that he loved me, but he was my husband, and I meant my vows."
A siren wailed in the distance, the noise an eerie soundtrack to Minerva's tale. "His death wasn't an accident. Two days before that Venomous Tentacula ate him, Phin had lost the power of speech. He wanted to die before he became a nothing better than a vegetable."
Linking his fingers through Minerva's, Severus squeezed her hand. "That's a reaction I can understand."
She nodded. "My father preached that suicide was mortal sin, but in a case like this? I don't see how it can be. Enduring that level of suffering without succour is the true sin... still, his death made me mad. There was nothing I could do: what would be, would be.
Words turning bitter, she went on. "And now it's happening again. Albus is hiding something important from me; I will be expected to play a role, but nothing deeper than that. It doesn't matter if I follow the rules, or break them. It doesn't matter if I play the game or ignore it completely. In the end, I will be used and discarded all the same."
That brutal statement was a nihilistic sentiment that had occurred to him more than once in his miserable life, and Severus took care in choosing his next words.
"I have to believe that what I do has some power, has some greater meaning. If I don't... it would break me, Minerva. Utterly and completely." Slowly, he turned his right arm over, the pale shadows of his Dark Mark visible even in the murky light. "The Dark Lord isn't dead. It's not over. Frankly, I'm not even sure that it's begun. But I will not go gently into the night. Not this time around. I hope... I hope that you will feel the same. I don't just need an ally. I need a friend."
Tentatively, her fingers traced the skull and snake.
"You are sure?"
"Very. The Mark is getting darker."
"Is this what Albus is hiding?"
"In part." Severus glanced away, staring a piece of curling wallpaper for a long moment. "There is something else, something I don't know. He's looking for objects. I assume that they have to do with the Dark Lord, but I could be wrong."
Her hand gently squeezed his in return as she found her answer. "I will be your friend, Severus, as well as ally. Between the two of us, we should be able to dig up some answers. And if not," she said, dark humour entering her voice. "...then we will make Albus Dumbledore's life a living hell until he gives in."
"An excellent notion."
She shivered; the warming charm had started to fail in the face of the evening's relentless chill. "Now what?"
Severus carefully pushed Minerva to her feet. Gingerly, he rose as well, his knee popping. "We go to bed. The night is young yet, and if you are amenable..?"
A ghost of her former smile appeared. "I am that, especially if a shower can be worked in."
With faux-seriousness, he motioned towards the stairs, "It's a small shower, and I don't have much hot water. We will have to share."
"I suppose I will endure the hardship if I must."
Some of the humour left him, and he caught her arm. "Minerva, you were right... this can't ever happen again. It's too dangerous for the both of us."
"I know." She touched his chest again, and Severus knew that his coffee would taste more bitter than usual come the dawn. "Tomorrow, we will continue with the driving lessons, and in two weeks, we will begin your Animagi studies."
"So mote it be," he vowed softly, understanding what hadn't been said. They went upstairs together.
14 September 1987
One of the lake-facing windows of the Gryffindor Tower popped open, and after a second, a beaky, blue-black raven shot out, wings flapping furiously as he took flight for the first time. A tabby hopped onto the window ledge, yowling unheard warnings as the bird streaked into the sunset.
Cloistered in another tower, Albus Dumbledore watched the swirl of memories in his Pensive. The answer had to be in there somewhere. Tapping his fingers impatiently, he reached for a different vial of recollections.
Hundreds of miles away, in a cupboard under the stairs of perfectly horrid suburban house, Harry James Potter curled into a tight ball, fighting off tears. Uncle Vernon's bellow shook dust onto his coverlet and buried his face deeper into his pillow. He didn't know why his teacher's hair--her wig!--had turned blue during the maths lesson. Just because she'd been yelling at him when it had happened didn't mean that it was his fault…
In darkest part of an ancient Romanian forest, a man--now turned into something far more wicked than a mere mortal--drank deeply from the corpse of a freshly killed unicorn.
The voice of a wizard long thought to be dead shivered through the wood.
"Quirrell... will you serve me?"