Age-Range Category: Three
Characters: Severus Snape, Minerva McGonagall
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Minor suicide ideation, ref to child abuse, ref to domestic abuse, smoking, dark humour, implied past self harm, minor Dumbledore bashing, some sexual humour, widow!Minerva, ref to homosexuality, mentions of religion and religious upbringings, some language, Ref to Section 28, motherly!Minerva, ref to 'drugs'.
Summary: Not all magical transformations require the use of a wand when you have the right teacher.
"I am no longer a student to be sent to bed with a curfew or under threat of detentions and point losses for refusing to comply," he murmured quietly without tearing his gaze from the sight of the moon bathed school grounds below. The cat mewled from just out of reach, seemingly not trusting enough to get close enough for him to strike out. She shifted in silence that was only stirred by the rustle of her robes as they fell and settled.
"You never really cared about receiving any detentions regardless," her voice was soft, and it made his skin crawl, he didn't need her pity.
"So long as they were not with Potter or Black," he answered without looking at her, focused entirely on the full moon and the view of the edge of the forest below, "I had no reason to care beyond self preservation, they were hardly encroaching on my social life." He added wryly, and she sighed.
"You live so much in the past," he snorted quietly, it wasn't funny, "would it be so difficult to move on? Is your life truly so terrible?" She didn't know that he still had the scar on his chest, on his mind, that he still woke in a cold sweat to the memory of a werewolf snarling and Potter screaming for help while he bled.
"Stuck educating brats and listening to those who never cared before pretending they do now?" His voice had dropped into a dangerous hiss. "Do not pretend you would have lost any sleep had my trial had a different outcome."
"You were my student," she murmured, "of course I cared,"
"You only cared to be rid of me, to keep me quiet and your precious Gryffindors on their lofty pedestals of feigned perfection and innocence."
"Stop it." She said suddenly, voice cold. "They are dead. Let it go."
"No one is forcing you to hear my truth, Minerva, just ignore me, you're good at that." He heard her breath deeply as if trying not to snap at him and let out a low laugh. "Please," he bit out, derision dripping from his tone, "I have no wish to endure the mewling of any self righteous Gryffindor tonight."
"Well you must—"
Severus's palm slammed on the stone windowsill, and she froze, words dying in her throat at the violent glare he turned on her.
"No, Minerva, I mustn't, do not stand there and pretend that you understand why this castle is not a greater punishment to me than any cell in Azkaban." He turned back to the window and let out a low eerie laugh, it sent a chill through the air to hear a man so young sound so bitter and tired.
"That cannot be true."
"I would have served a fixed sentence, no one would have expected false bravado or cheer, I might have escaped into my own mind occasionally instead of having every waking moment interrupted by busybodies, fools and brats." His voice had taken on a faraway quality as if he daydreamed of an Azkaban cell where he could be alone in the darkness with only a dementor and the cold for company. Her silence spoke volumes. "Do I frighten you, Minerva? The big bad death eater who learned forbidden magic under a Dark Lord," he snorted again, he'd known more dark arts as a teenager than he'd ever seen any Dark Lord or death eater perform—his mother had seen to that, "and muggle duelling with women under his father's boot?" He wondered if she thought he was losing his mind at the way she flinched from him. After eight years as a teacher in this place, it wouldn't have been a moment too soon. "Or do you fear that I beat my students in the common room?" He added. "Not that you care of course, not about snakes."
"Of course you don't,"
"Of course I don't," he repeated mockingly, "because I was the spy…" that wicked laugh again, dark and knowing, it cut her to the quick, "Or can you not forget that I joined them willingly?"
"I remember you had few other options." She was trying to be understanding, it rankled and itched like a poorly cast tickling charm.
"I had no options, those which poverty did not destroy a muggle name and poor socialisation certainly did. This school was never meant for poor children." He was doing his best to change that and falling short.
"We do what we can…"
"Less than nothing, you teach us nothing but silence and acceptance until we break." He hissed out harshly.
"You still speak as if you were a student…"
"Trapped here I may as well be, you all watch me as if I were still a boy," his tone reeked of bitterness.
"We care about you, you are our colleague, friend—"
"Don't. My friends die. You have no business being my friend." He bit out, hand clenching into a fist as his shoulders curved over the windowsill.
"Ah, so that is why you are pacing tonight?"
"Go away, Minerva, don't you have miscreant lions hiding in a cupboard to coddle and explain away as simply high spirited?" He asked nastily, voice catching just enough that she knew he wasn't talking about any current student.
"You always did have a vicious tongue on you… Professor." He twitched as if she had sent an irritating fly to buzz in his ear.
"Like my father, better a vicious tongue in my head than a hard heart in my chest." He repeated blandly Minerva made a sympathetic sound as if she expected him to care that the man had died recently, he fixed her with another look that betrayed far too much venom in such a young man. "My poor delusional fool of a mother did not realise that one precluded the other and thought the best place for a heart is on a man's sleeve."
"And you, what do you think?"
"I think a heart is best stored pickled in a jar ready for use in a potion." He answered, and she actually made an amused sound.
"You occlude too much, instead of living in it you should get out of your own head once in a while."
He huffed and rolled his eyes at her. Of course, she would think that she didn't rely on archaic and arcane magic just to sleep at night and function in the day.
"Were I able to come and go as I please, I do believe that would rather defeat the object." For a moment, he wasn't sure if he was talking about the school or his mind, and she wasn't either.
"You should do something, this place has been known to drive men mad." He stiffened suddenly as if not hearing her, hand now on the window for a moment before he relaxed.
"Just a fox," he murmured quietly to himself.
"What is?" He looked up again as if startled she was still there.
"Nothing, I habit I developed as a student…" he told her absently as his eyes flicked up to the moon for a moment.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" She was trying, but she clearly did not know what to say to him.
The word seemed to echo between them, digging a chasm neither could cross. She frowned when she saw him put a hand to his chest for a moment.
"Goodnight professor." He said suddenly and swept away, leaving her feeling once again like she had failed Severus Snape.
The cat only watched him from the shadows, she wasn't fool enough to think Severus didn't know she was there—it was the uncanny ability to sense danger of an abused child, and she had no wish to deprive him of any feeling of safety he found in being so vigilant.
"I have no intention of jumping," he said eventually, "although the prospect is appealing in its own way." She mewled sadly after him when he swept away from the edge of the astronomy tower.
"Severus my boy…" He was on his feet in an instant, wand in hand, expression furious.
"I am not your boy, leave me be."
"I cannot do that…" the carefully sage tone nearly tipped his hand and brought a curse to his lips. "I see you have found our little secret…" He said as if commenting on the weather, it was infuriating.
"It is my decision, should I wish to stare into it," he snapped out.
"You gave me your word, Severus,"
"No. You manipulated it from me as I broke! That is all you ever do. And now if I must exist in this hellhole at least have the decency to leave me this one reprieve without your judgement."
"I do not judge you for this, Severus, far better, clever and stronger men than either of us have been driven mad by this. I would not see you become one of them."
"No, you reserve the singular honour of driving me mad for yourself." He sniped out and ignored the practiced look of hurt and disappointment from the headmaster. "Leave me be. I am no fool, I know it can never be."
"I do wonder what you see in there that brings you back so often…" Albus said softly.
"None of your business, old man. Rest assured, even my greatest desires are tainted." He knew the headmaster would move the thing now, he would never see her happy with her husband and holding her son again. It was probably for the best. He'd been convinced his love for her had been selfish, shallow—but if he could let her go, to James Potter of all people, then there was something good in him. It was not a happy thought.
"Out! Get out! Now!" If there was one thing students knew was that when the potions master yelled, you ran, having a reputation for only raising his voice in anger served him well. How on earth the boy had managed to create a chlorine bomb from a cure for boils was new to Severus, and he had created a controlled experiment with every possible combination and cockup he had been able to think of before making it the first taught potion. A bubblehead charm had saved him from choking on his own vomit long enough to neutralise it and stop it killing half the school. It was only when he came down from the adrenaline, had ordered the boy a week's worth of detentions and a twenty point loss (he was only a first year after all) that it occurred to Severus that it would have been the perfect excuse to end it all. Nevermind. Maybe next time.
He'd been staring at his plate for so long he'd stopped seeing it, Halloween decorations and chattering parasites on all sides was not making him particularly cheerful.
"Eat." He looked up and scowled.
"No." Minerva looked annoyed.
"Did you consider my advice?"
"No, I tend not to consider the unsolicited ramblings of people i have no interest in interacting with." When would she take the hint and leave him alone to his misery?
"You should become an animagus, it might help your disposition." She snarled, and he raised an eyebrow at her.
"Bold of you to assume I haven't already."
"Of course not, when have I ever had a teacher who cared enough for my development to offer to supervise?" He asked nastily, and her eyes narrowed. They both knew she offered the option to NEWT students but that their teacher-student relationship had been soured too much for him to accept by the time he was seventeen. "I was a suicidal teenager, I was not, however, stupid enough to try it alone." He added pointedly, considering the stupid things he had done that said a lot and they both knew that too.
"You have one now, the spring break is the perfect opportunity to begin and expect an electrical storm around the required time." She said quietly, and Severus set his goblet down in shock and fixed her with an incredulous look.
"Tell me… who talked you into such a profoundly stupid wager as to offer me such a dangerous skill?"
"No wager, Severus, I am serious. I am determined to see you have something to aim for?"
"For fear I will aim for death instead?"
She blinked, unfazed at the disinterested statement of the defining fact of his life.
"Not fear, but yes. You have hardly been subtle in your suicidal tendencies and ideation."
Finally, some honesty from her. It made Severus curious, and a little nervous when her eyes slid down and glanced over his arms with those words. The dark mark wasn't the only reason he wore long sleeves.
"And the catch?" He asked warily.
"No catch, so long as you live long enough to complete the transformation." She paused for a moment over her dinner. "And then do not waste my time by immediately deciding that you have nothing to live for once you have achieved it."
Severus scowled, she was far too good at being manipulative, and clearly, she knew it; although unlike the headmaster she, at least, did not seem to have any ulterior motives to keep him beholden to her other than stopping him taking poison with his supper.
"And if I refuse?"
"Having you silent for a month? What makes you think I am not telling you how you will be spending your spring break?" Even as she teased a smile threatened to break out on her lips, and he couldn't help it, he smiled back.
"Having an excuse not to speak? Sounds like heaven," She snorted knowing that to him it was ultimately the truth.
"More like church." He'd forgotten she was a halfblood until that moment.
"Presbyterian. My father was a minister."
"Mine should have been a priest, it would have saved a lot of heartaches," Minerva frowned in question, "they don't marry. Though that did not stop ours…" he added and then glanced away and decided not to finish the thought aloud.
Minerva made a point of mentioning their arrangement at least twice a week as if she thought he would forget throughout November. It was always a teasing comment about the mandrake leaf he'd have to keep in his mouth for a month until Christmas came and went once they decided not to wait for spring, or the time she asked if he had found his heart yet so he could point his wand to it after making a Grinch joke that only they understood nearer the end of the month. Her jokes were better with time. She seemed to have realised that the last thing he needed was to be handled with kid gloves and had taken responsibility for helping him which meant that even the headmaster was giving him a wide berth these days for fear of incurring her wrath. Severus made a mental note to gift her something special for Christmas when he came to that realisation.
"The hair for the potion is required to be clean," Minerva commented as she watched him pour over the recipe and Severus rolled his eyes.
"I am a potions master, do you think I do not know that?"
"Well, what? The potion is not meant to be brewed for several months." He asked with a deliberately obtuse smirk, and she rolled her eyes at him, sipping at the tea an elf had brought her.
"I am going to make sure I have a camera in several months." She quipped back, and he smirked.
"Good luck, the brewing should restore my hair to its usual state long before you get the opportunity to interrupt." He challenged, and her eyebrows shot up, he groaned good naturedly. She was a Gryffindor to the core, and they both knew he had just thrown down a gauntlet.
"Oh come on, it can't be that bad?"
"Hair with a mind of its own is not appropriate for a potions master," he muttered, it got everywhere when it was clean, it was why he had stopped trying to keep it that way long before he had started Hogwarts after his father had screamed one too many times at him during an argument that no son of his would be some… well, he wasn't even comfortable thinking the word these days. It made him feel dirtier than being Slytherin house's resident mudblood ever had, not that either mattered anymore—although it hadn't stopped him wondering if being seen taking a walk down a back alley of Hogsmead one night might convince the headmaster to fire him. He'd decided it wasn't worth the effort of trying to explain what a condom was to a pureblood or the inevitable itching after failing to do so.
"So wear it back and make an effort, you can't say you wouldn't feel better for it…" and there she went mothering him again. He sighed and threw himself back into his favorite armchair.
"I feel perfectly fine as I am." He said blandly, and Minerva clearly didn't believe him.
"Clearly." Her tone dripped sarcasm. "Tell me, any plans for the full moon tonight? Other than standing guard over the doors to the school?"
"Well someone must, handy as Filch is with a mop he would not stand a chance against a werewolf at the front door."
"And you would?"
"With a wand and experience of knowing what the damn things look like up close? A much better chance than he does."
"And the trauma that keeps you awake at nigh—"
"Keeps me sharp." He hissed over the end of her words, and she sighed. "And I am no more traumatised by that episode than you are."
"So, really quite deeply then?" Severus froze over his drink, a mug of coffee suspended in mid air.
"Excuse me?" His voice had dropped barely above a whisper.
"I watched Poppy and Horace work to keep you alive for hours. I watched a teenage boy plead with us not to ruin his uniform while he bled more than half to death. Remus lupin went on hunger strike…" she would not have said that anywhere but his quarters and he knew it.
"It was not his fault, he has a sickness. But that does not mean I will allow students to ever be placed at risk again." Severus commented without looking at her, the blame for that was solely with Black, to this day he was still quietly convinced Black must have confunded him to make him do that—he had never been that naive, and he had already had an inkling of Lupin's condition.
She fell silent, and Severus glanced sideways.
"Just… remember that." Minerva said softly after a moment as she set down her cup without actually drinking from it. "You are the only member of staff with the will, skill and experience to protect them."
They both knew that was a lie designed to give him some misplaced sense of purpose. Severus looked more closely at her. Minerva looked old for a moment and beyond exhausted. She'd spent so many weeks trying to help him he hadn't noticed that she needed someone too.
"The only member of staff willing to cast a spell that would break a werewolf hide, you mean?" He asked, and she nodded sadly.
"If that's how you wish to put it…" her eyes skipped over his bare mantlepiece and glanced over the flames within it.
"Well, it certainly has a better ring to it than dark wizard, doesn't it?"
"You and I both know that the colour of your magic is irrelevant. You would not allow a child to face what you faced." There was something implied there, a tone of regret, perhaps.
"You would hesitate knowing it meant watching another do so?" He had to know if she had learned or not, he had to see if he had an ally in her or dead weight. He didn't stop to wonder why it had taken him so long to consider the possibility of her being the former, oh well, better late than never.
"That makes two of us. I have essays to mark," Severus moved to stand towards his drinks cabinet, and she smirked wryly.
"Bring them to my office, I have a very nice bottle of scotch that will help ease the pain of them mangling your lesson plans."
He was so close to telling her no, to sending her away, but the lost look, the desperation after what she had just told him. He made a motion as if to indicate a none existent watch on his wrist.
"After dinner, I will meet you … and bring this?" He held up his preferred brand.
"I'll be down here knocking on your door if you don't show up," she said quietly, he pointedly ignored the catch in her throat.
"I give you my word, I have only ever broken that once in my life, and I assure you that it was for a far greater cause than turning down free alcohol and a friendly face."
"A bezoar should be harvested under a full moon. Top me up." Severus said blandly picked up the glass she poured the amber liquid into.
"Then I want one for… where is it, a crow is difficult to cast a vanishing charm on because it flies away when it sees you waving a wand."
Severus choked mid mouthful, and Minerva laughed when he sprayed the scotch over a fourth year essay.
"Hufflepuff?" He asked as he patted absently at the damp parchment on his lap.
"Gryffindor," Minerva admitted with a put upon look.
"Here, a slytherin… moonstones can be chopped or sliced."
Minerva snorted. "With what? A rough cut diamond?"
"Hammer and chisel?" He responded in kind and sipped the drink.
"Oh, ravenclaw, sixth year, an animagus will maintain their body weight on transforming."
"Tell me that one isn't one of your pet projects."
"Definitely not, although I must write to mister Victor and advise him that he weighs the same as a duck."
"He's an animagus duck?" He remembered the boy as a NEWT student from the year before last. Severus was quietly stunned he hadn't blown up the potion, he'd had to retake the OWL.
"Suits him, have you thought about what you might be?"
"Knowing my luck?"
She looked him up and down and laughed.
"Usually I have an idea, having done this for so long, except that I know nothing about you that was not in your official school records." He joined in her laughter for a second. "Do you have any preference?"
"So long as I am not something disgustingly Gryffindor like a lion I truly don't care beyond wishing to be fairly… unobtrusive."
"Well, if it is any consolation, dark hair usually translates to fur…" she said.
"And a catnip habit translates back?" He quipped, and her cheeks turned pink, he'd smelled it the minute he'd walked in the room and hadn't bothered commenting. "Don't worry, do you mind If I smoke?" He asked and dipped a hand into his inside pocket. "The elves know how to clear the air to stop it lingering," he said, "no matter how much I tell them to stay out of my quarters."
"Only if you don't share." She said and held a hand out that so he could hand her the packet once he'd pulled one from it.
"Still can't get used to having elves," he muttered, and she shrugged.
"The headmaster thinks I quit," she held up the cigarette, "before you were born, I suggest you do not let Hagrid catch you on the quidditch pitch, poor man means well, but Albus has him trained."
"Noted." Severus nodded. It was in the staff code of conduct that they shouldn't be seen to partake of anything morally questionable and purebloods generally didn't smoke. Unfortunately, twelve of them were on the school board. "Although I did not expect a minister's daughter—"
Her laughter cut him off.
"Oh Severus, you amuse me," she said, "don't you know, the minister's daughter is always a wild one."
He sat back in his chair and tilted his head, curious to hear how the usually straight laced Minerva had been in her youth.
"Well, go on, you know everything of import about my childhood." He urged, and she laughed almost coyly.
"Fun and games mostly, summer nights in fields with returning soldiers…" she said with a quiet smile and Severus smirked.
"You can't expect me to tell you which war, Severus, and give up my age so easily. I am not that drunk despite our student's best efforts."
He toasted her quietly and nodded to concede the point.
"Different times," Minerva said with a wistful smile, "when a girl could have friends and not be assumed to be…"
Severus pulled a face.
"And when young men weren't assumed to want only one thing from any woman they so much asked for the time?"
"Something like that. Mainly because these young men were aware, I would hex any reaching hand into a bloody stump."
"No man dared, I presume?"
"I married once. He…" Minerva shook her head slightly.
"Oh, sorry… when?"
"You have lived here as a professor longer than I have." She said softly, and Severus winced.
"I wasn't aware…"
"That you are not the only member of staff to lose the one you love?"
He twitched and frowned at her.
"What? What are you talking about?" She couldn't think he had ever loved a woman enough to marry her.
"Did you not turn back because… Well, I presumed… Lily Potter…" Minerva said delicately, and Severus had to stop himself gaping.
"Dear God, no." He commented after letting out a whoosh of breath. "She most certainly wasn't my type, and I would not make any woman a good husband."
"The muggles have laws against teachers discussing such things." He said pointedly, and she blinked. It had been all over the news, the purebloods were screaming for something similar at Hogwarts, but Albus was holding them off for now.
"How on earth did I miss that?" She demanded after a moment of letting her mouth open and then close before the words came to her.
He let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. That had gone far more smoothly than expected
"Because I don't mince about the place wearing sparkly robes and discussing knitting patterns with students?"
Minerva let out a short belly laugh.
"Albus does not mince!"
"Oh, you think I meant the headmaster?" Severus asked innocently, and Minerva laughed again. "You said it. Not I."
"Did… Did she know?" Minerva asked awkwardly, and Severus sighed. The way Lily had found out had been a far less pleasant chat than this one.
"Consider yourself honoured, aside from a few… trysts, you can count yourself with her and my priest as the only three people i ever admitted it to."
"That has to be hard…"
"Being beaten to death in a dark alley by people I went to primary school with would have been much harder. I managed."
They sat in a pregnant silence for a while.
"What will you teach instead of contraceptives and lubricants to your sixth years if they outlaw it?"
"Defence of meals and drinks, potions for use against acne and weight gain, homemade wand oil… I will not leave them uneducated." He said softly, and Minerva laughed.
"Trust you to come at it sideways," she quipped, and Severus sighed, "So you won't change your curriculum at all, just what you specifically tell the students they are learning?"
Severus hadn't noticed that the Christmas holiday was almost upon them and if Filius hadn't tried to levitate a tree and nearly hit him in the face with it in the great hall, the entire thing might have passed him by completely.
"Severus, are you listening to me?" Minerva asked as Severus scowled at Albus conjuring tinsel and humming some disgustingly saccharine muggle tune.
"It is December first, is this necessary?" He demanded, and Minerva sighed
"Think of the children,"
"I am thinking of the starry eyed little brats and their inability to focus without having shiny things plastered across every surface of the school to distract them!" He snarled, and Filius laughed behind him.
"Get into the spirit, Severus! It's Christmas."
"Unless you wish to play the part of adornment for the corpse of that tree you are currently desecrating, don't." Severus hissed, and Minerva snickered.
"Don't be such a Scrooge, Severus," Minerva teased, and he glared at her.
"Every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding… I am sure I have a cauldron large enough somewhere." Severus shot back, and it was Albus who laughed at him. "And you, is there a reason you have unceremoniously stolen two weeks of teaching by finishing the term on the fifteenth?"
"Only how the academic year fell, my boy," apparently Albus was determined to rile him up.
"Well, then the academic year can be responsible for failing students, I wash my hands of this entire foolish affair."
"Tell us how you really feel Severus." Minerva deadpanned, and he glared right back.
"This school houses orphans and vulnerable children and you think some tinsel will fix things for them?" He demanded, and Albus's shoulders drooped sadly.
"It might bring a little brightness to their lives, might'nt it?"
"Only to the most naive and newly minted." Severus sniped back. "The rest will see this for what it is. Claptrap. Excuse me I have no more time for this nonsense, I have pepper up potions to brew for the matron."
He put the mandrake leaf in his mouth two weeks later without bothering to speak to any of them besides perfunctory greetings in between.
"I will be unavailable for a few hours this evening, I trust my students can come to you with anything urgent Pomona?" Severus asked over lunch one Friday evening in February and Sprout nodded. Her office was close to the Hufflepuff common room and by extension closest to the dungeon. He felt Minerva perk up on his other side.
"Going anywhere… special?" She asked quietly, and Severus glanced her way with a frown.
"Nowhere worth discussing over dinner…" He answered, confused at the sudden brightness in her expression. "I will return in time to chaperone the Hogsmeade weekend as arranged." He responded uneasily.
"Still waiting for a storm, Severus?" She asked, and he nodded. "Heartbeat?"
"Barely, small I think," he said without looking up from his fish, "I think my dislike of the cold has definitely translated," he didn't add that an odd sense of being on the hunt for something had fallen on his head last week and wouldn't shift.
"Cold blooded?" Minerva asked quietly
"Doubtful, Mammalian heartbeat, I think, at least twice as fast as my own resting pulse." He told her, and she nodded.
"I remember that being odd at first, you get used to it."
"It is, invigorating, I no longer require coffee in the mornings." Severus quipped, and Minerva smiled.
"Good, I told you this would do you some good." He found he didn't want to snap at her, he appreciated that someone had noticed his improved mood especially as they had all gone out of their way over Christmas to finally make an effort with him.
"Until I do drink it and promptly twitch out of my skin when attempting to turn my head." He joked, and Minerva's eyes lit up with mirth.
"Well, think of poor me, at least you don't have to worry about getting high walking past greenhouse one," she teased quietly, "or being gifted a bag of feathers by friends who think they are funny," she added, and Severus smirked.
"It amused me to see you chase them, you needed the night off." He told her and Minerva scowled playfully. He ignored the knowing look that he hadn't challenged her when she had called him her friend.
"And your Christmas gift, it was well… ahem, received." Severus felt his cheeks flame at the memory of Quirinius handing him a trick wand that had turned itself into an excellent imitation of centaur-sized genitalia. Apparently, he wasn't the only wizard on staff who was quietly considering making a stand against the muggle Section Whatever. In lieu of yelling with a mandrake leaf behind his teeth, Severus had hit Quirinius with the thing, and Albus had nearly died laughing while Minerva shrieked about "men!" in the staff room on Christmas Eve. It had been nice for once to see the season with people who meant him no harm or malice and considered him a close enough friend to involve him in a round of gag gift giving.
"Especially as you charmed half of them to avoid capture," Severus smirked. "One is still teasing me from above the bookshelf." His smirk turned to a laugh.
"Severus, there's a storm moving in!" Minerva looked like she had run down to the dungeons to fetch him from the way her hat was askew.
"Wha—now, oh, bollocks!" Minerva let out a hysterical laugh as he grabbed for his outer robe.
"Do you have a space prepared?" She asked urgently, and he nodded.
"Empty classroom with a window to watch for the lightning," he leaned out the door, "down there, second left then right. Are you coming?"
"Of course, if you want me there?"
"Of course!" He shot back at her. "I just need the potion. I'll meet you there."
She nodded and swept away, and Severus moved quickly, digging out the jar he held it up in the firelight of his quarters and sighed. The potion was already read for consumption. He stowed it in his inside robe and slipped out of the door, taking barely a moment to close it behind him.
He stepped into the room and immediately cast his robe aside after setting the potion on the only horizontal surface.
"Hurry Severus, the thunder is already rolling, the lightning will follow," he nodded and uncapped the potion, "remember, do not panic, relax into it."
Another nod and lightning flashed outside the window as he lifted the jar in salute to her.
"Cheers," he was on the second swallow when his stomach began to churn, and the third when the pain lanced through his skull. He barely heard the smash of glass on the stone floor, or the dull thud of his own knees as the pain took them from under him, it took all of his will not to scream as the instant migraine nearly upended his stomach and made his vision dance.
It formed slowly in his mind's eyes, first an image of Hogwarts against the backdrop of the scottish highlands that he didn't understand until he was on the edge of the forbidden forest and his heart was in his throat. He could feel the harsh wind burning his eyes and the chill across his back for a moment before it simply stopped. Gasping as he realised he was on his knees, Severus forced himself to look closer, to see what he was about to become.
First, he saw the nose, a small thing that instantly made him laugh at the irony as it emerged from the shadow of a tree far enough that he could make out the merest hint of whiskers and fur on a head too big to be a domestic cat like Minerva. Possibly a dog of some sort? The shot of pain in his head told him that wasn't right and reminded him to be patient, whatever this creature was it had a very well honed survival instinct and wasn't going to reveal itself to a stranger readily. Minerva was going to have a field day teasing him about that impression of it. He caught a glimpse of brown colouring and knew that he was looking at something that moved on all fours as a dark grey paw reached out of the shadows and set itself down on the fresh grass. He thought it was the wind whistling at first, hissing between branches until he realised it wasn't and the animal stepped forward, illuminated for a split second by a flash of lightning that it seemed indifferent to.
His first thought was of Minerva, a tabby cat, but this was bigger, wilder looking somehow as it approached, hackles raised and poised to attack anyone who got too close. He snorted to himself, he didn't need this vision to tell him his nature or temperament so blatantly. By the light of the freshly risen moon, he could see his own frown lines in the creatures markings as it's ears twitched and rose from where they had been pressed against its skull. It was more curious now, as he was. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, as if the animal were judging him, deciding if they were a good match. It hissed suddenly, mouth open and teeth on full display, with a swipe of a claw that would have taken his eye out if he had been a split second slower to react. His instinct was to hush it, soothe it, the poor thing was clearly terrified and in need of a decent meal. Damnit, was this how everyone else saw him? Wild, bedraggled and in desperate need of someone to bring him in from the cold? No wonder Minerva had seemed to pity him so much. But this animal was strong, he could sense the power in it, the resilience, it would survive with or without help and would choose to trust only in its own time if ever. This wasn't an animal to tame and made into a pet, this was a familiar to work with, to protect and be protected by.
When he didn't strike out against it the creature moved forward again, slowly, and he saw its tail for the first time, twitching absently an inch above the very tip of the blades on the grass below. Thick bands of black and brown fur identified it as a scottish wildcat, the shot of white on its ribcage hinting at his less than pure-blood credentials and the scar on his chest, the message wasn't lost on him. He was and always would be a halfblood, it was who he was, and he should stop hiding it but wear it like armour, a badge of honour across his heart.
Out of nowhere the cat jumped forward as if to land on a none existent mouse in front of him and then looked up at him, almost shyly, tail in the air as if it wanted to play as it's nose ghosted against his jaw and the whiskers tickled his nose. He couldn't help wrinkling up his face and might have sworn the thing was laughing at him before it moved again, pressing its face into his neck, it's head and ears rubbing against his Adam's apple as he swallowed and tried not to think about those teeth or claws so close to his jugular. It seemed to like him if the purring, louder than he had expected and almost like a motorcycle in the distance, was any indication. He lifted his hand carefully, slowly and placed it on the animals back as they seemed to shift closer together, into a soft embrace that filled him with an odd warmth in his chest and brought with it a wave of intense fatigue.
Everything was too big, the room too bright, something moved, and he turned to it in a swift movement. Hackles up and tail down.
"It's alright Severus, it's just me, Minerva," she sounded off like he couldn't quite decode her accent properly over the sound of the mouse scurrying across the floor in the corner of the room. His claws sounded like nails on a chalkboard when they extended and brushed the stone. He jumped and heard himself mewl in surprise at the noise as his rear connected with stone. He was cornered and most definitely not a happy bunny.
The witch moved closer, and his eyes darted around the room, searching for an escape. A part of him knew not to hurt her, he didn't want to swipe or bite at her, but she was looking over him, and his instincts were not easily softened. She held out a hand to him in a loose fist, and he pressed himself further back against the wall.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Severus, just give yourself a moment to adjust to the instincts of a wild animal…" she inched closer, and he hissed nervously. "I knew you'd be handsome in your animagus form but this…" she sounded awed, and a tiny part of him preened even as the rest huffed in annoyance—He wasn't handsome! She smiled and made a tiny huffing sound like a repressed laugh. It was hard to scowl properly, and it seemed to give her more amusement when he tried.
Severus didn't like having a human hand so close, humans were dangerous. He didn't know if that was a new instinct or an old fact to him right now. Another inch or so and one of those fingers was going to touch one of his whiskers, he could feel the air stirring and warming around the outstretched hand. She moved, and he flinched away, head turning, trying to dodge the blow he expected as he dropped to his belly in an attempt to dive under the spot his head had been in a second before.
"This isn't working is it, Severus," her voice was low, soft, to him, it was booming and whistling like a harsh gust of wind in the eaves of the castle. The small popping sound made him snarl and twitch again, instinctively moving away from the unnatural noise he'd never heard before.
He was immediately aware that her scent was gone, there was no longer a human in the room. It was like staring at a smaller, less fluffy version of himself, like some kind of circus mirror. She was oddly… Cute. In that, she is smaller than me so I must protect her, sort of way.
The house cat had none of his nerves and padded towards him as if he couldn't kill her with a swipe of his paw. She mewled softly at him, sound dropping into a low pur that made him instantly relax. She moved closer still, nose twitching in the darkness and before he knew it, she was pressing her head against his chest, and the purring hadn't stopped. He pulled back and stared at her in confusion, head tilted at the odd display of affection.
She blinked up at him, and the purring intensified when he nudged her with his paw as if making sure she was real. To her credit, she didn't try to avoid him or shy away. He wasn't sure he'd have been so brave to face an animal twice his size the way she was, especially when he heard the low purring that was definitely coming from his own chest. Maybe she didn't find him sinister and dangerous looking?
He could feel her whiskers against the edge of his chest, she wasn't tall enough to reach any further until he found himself slowly relaxing and lowering himself, absently aware of his tail swishing against the ground as she seemed to use her paw in a motion that placed it gently on the side of his nose and bowed his head. The soft nuzzling against his whiskers, her scent and then her cheek against his and his own breathing settled into a deeper, more contented pur as she groomed him. He swiped playfully at her when she mewled something his animal mind translated as a telling off for letting his fur get so raggedy and not eating properly. The sarcastic 'yes mother,' came out as a low squeak of a hiss. Another mewl and brush of her cheek against his face and he mewled quietly as he pressed his own cheek against her and left his scent over her ribcage.
Are you ready to—the low purr was cut off abruptly by the unmistakable sound of something moving. He was on his feet in an instant, automatically listening for the slightest noise. His hesitation meant Minerva moved first in a half jump that betrayed how domestic she was, but his sheer size meant he overtook her with half a step as he sunk to the ground and moved, paw coming down hard on the body of the rat as it tried to scurry away. He felt it's spine break under his weight and dived onto it, mouth snapping over the neck to make sure it was dead and couldn't run as his instincts took over. Severus heard the housecat chirp softly and considered for a moment before turning to her and dropping the mouse at her feet, nudging it forward with the tip of his nose in offering as he stepped backwards to give her some space to take it. She canted her head at him as he batted at the animal to prove it was dead. Minerva blinked slowly as if processing his actions and something in his mind clicked. He had just—he was human, and he had just killed a rat and presented it to Minerva.
In one instant he was letting out a low startled meow the next he was panting with his back firmly against the wall, hands and feet suddenly too big and balance suddenly off without a tail to rely on.
"Calm down Severus, it's good of you to see an old cat like me not go hungry," it took him a second to process the words over his racing heart and the odd feeling of no longer having a tail or whiskers.
"I beg your pardon?" He was surprised it didn't come out as a high pitched meow.
"Your form may not be all wildcat, Severus. It may be a domestic-wildcat hybrid, and therefore you have some feral cat instincts in there too, such as providing for older colonymates."
"Hybrid… yes, the white marking…" He was struggling to catch his breath as his mind raced to catch up with him.
"The wild instincts may take some time to settle, although Albus owes me five galleons."
"Excuse me?" The comment seemed so off he couldn't help it, what was she talking about?
"After you hissed at him last week he bet me you'd be a snake of some sort."
"He was teasing me," Severus whined, and Minerva smiled. It settled him to see her amused instead of disgusted by him.
"Yes, he does that, doesn't he?"
"I find… that perhaps… I am glad to be a feline and not a viper of some type, or I may have tried to eat you."
"I would have liked to see you try!" Minerva grinned, eyes glinting in the semi darkness as Severus realised that his human night vision was actually atrocious. He could barely see her.
"I can hardly see a thing," he muttered darkly, and Minerva made a concerned sound.
"Are your eyes not adjusting back?"
"I wish; I could see clearer than day in that form, but my night vision has always been horrendous in this one."
She reached out to touch his cheek, and he didn't twitch away when her fingertips ghosted across his skin, her thumb brushing under his eyes accompanied by a low tutting sound.
"You need to take better care of yourself, Severus," she murmured softly, and he could feel his cheeks turning pink. No one spoke to him like that, even his own mother had never cared for him enough to say something like that. It spread warmth across his chest and made him want to just curl around her and protect her from the world.
Minerva chuckled at the confused meowing.
"This will happen for the first few hours Severus, it's alright," she was still touching him, hand cradling his face and thumb running over his ear. She was petting him! And he was letting her! In fact, he was purring absently. It was quite lovely actually as her fingers found a spot behind his ear that immediately made him try to lean harder into her touch and knead into her hand. She tried to stop, and he pawed at her without thinking, not willing to let her do so just yet.
"I knew you were touch starved," she murmured sadly, and he mewled at her as if to deny, but didn't stop kneading his head into her hand, "fine, don't admit it, you don't have to."
She glanced around the room and sighed, by necessity it was bare with nothing in it that wasn't bolted down or unbreakable in case Severus had turned out to be something more substantial, clumsier or more instinctively violent than a wildcat.
"We could go back to your quarters, and you could curl up by your fire, I really don't expect you not to be changing back and forth tonight." Severus made a low short meowing noise and tried to pull away, he did not want to go out there while he wasn't in complete control of himself. He'd set this room up specially, it was safe. Severus had even hidden a warding stone behind the door. Maybe if he showed her? He was trying, but apparently, he couldn't correctly visualise himself enough to force the transformation back yet. He pulled away and took a step towards the door before stopping and turning back to her, chirping quietly, it was difficult trying to make it obvious he wanted her to follow, but she seemed to get the message and he moved across the stone floor to the tiny space he'd cut into the doorframe and nosed at it.
"Severus? What?" She sounded cautious, and he pawed at the same spot, letting out a quiet mrew to hammer the point home as his claws scraped lightly on the wood before hitting the disillusionment charm and falling silent. Minerva finally crouched down next to him and touched the wood curiously. It melted under her touch to reveal a roughly cut gap which he had carved out with a penknife. On the tiny indentation, it was too small to be called a shelf, sat an innocuous looking green stone. He always used Malachite to ward any place he needed to be able to think in complete safety. She should know his magical style in it.
"You warded the room," her finger brushed the stone, and it glowed gently, letting her know it was active but not against her, "does the headmaster," the stone glowed red, and Severus hissed, he hadn't wanted Dumbledore anywhere near him for this, "I shall take that as a no. The school let you ward a room against him?" She seemed surprised he'd managed it. A good portion of the rooms in the dungeons had something similar, if he hadn't trusted the old man with slytherins before then that had been the final nail in the coffin for him; that here where Salazar Slytherin's magic practically bled from the walls, agreed. Severus immediately decided not to tell her, the school did not need divided leadership. A moment later he was towering over her and leaning heavily on the doorframe.
"Ah? Getting the hang of it?" She asked wryly, and Severus scowled.
"I think, as my thoughts turn more…human, my body follows?" He said quietly, and she nodded.
"Usually the way, you warded the room against even the headmaster."
"Anyone who does not enter with me does not enter," Severus said softly, it wasn't entirely the truth, but he was determined not to poison her against Dumbledore too much. "It is a useful escape for raging or otherwise emotional students. Usually, I have a sofa, armchairs…" he gestured absently, and Minerva nodded.
"I would not think slytherins needed such a thing,"
"Children imitate their parents, Slytherin parents can be cruel. If Slughorn had paid attention…" he murmured softly, and Minerva sighed.
Severus frowned thoughtfully. "Why am I hungry?" He mused aloud, he hadn't been hungry for years because the Hogwarts house elves didn't allow it, and Minerva laughed.
"Transformation, it is a… high energy pastime at first. And the hunger usually indicates that you are safe to move around, so long as you are not craving tuna?" Severus wasn't sure if she was joking for a second and then shook his head and sighed when he spotted the glint in her eye.
"I have catnip in my quarters, you're welcome to it."
Minerva laughed again and nodded.
"I cannot wait to see how you react to it."
Severus frowned good naturedly. It was a good job it was Friday night.
By morning he had a handle on not accidentally switching forms at the drop of a hat, and by early afternoon he had decided that whether it was the fur keeping him warm, or the less complicated thought processes that made it so, but it was definitely more comfortable to sleep as a cat. Minerva was amused when he wondered aloud that cats ever did anything but sleep. She seemed slightly sad that he'd never had an animal to know how they behaved.
"Until I worked here, I barely had funds to feed and house myself, nevermind an animal," Severus commented dismissively.
"I take it you have no plans to register your new… skill?"
"With my past? They'll throw away the key." He pointed out, and she nodded sadly.
"Unfortunately. At least I've seen how your markings show, I suggest you submit to the headmaster. Let him… ahem, lose the paperwork before it is filed. He is untouchable."
"You think he would agree to do that, for me?"
"He hired you, didn't he? That comes with responsibilities to his staff, dealing with legal matters on our behalf is one of them."
"I wasn't aware. You said… My markings?"
"The white on your chest is the most obvious, I think. Do you still have the scar? I would have thought that as a potions master…?"
"I like my meat rare and my temper short, I have no interest in wasting time on removing a scar no one sees anyway."
"I wasn't aware it still affected you?"
"Cursed marks always do," he told her softly, " and removing the mark left behind will not alter the poison in my blood." He added, and she sighed.
"I am surprised it didn't affect the transformation, one day when there is true peace, you should publish a paper on it."
"Except that I think it did," Minerva frowned, "when have I ever struck you as the kind of person to have a wild inner animal?"
"Every time I have laid eyes on you in your life?" Minerva asked, slightly confused.
"Looking like an abandoned stray does not make me wild, Minerva, and there is also the fact that I am not actually scottish."
"No but fighting to survive like an old stray certainly does, and you have lived here long enough by now to pass." Minerva quipped, and Severus rolled his eyes. "There are few people I have ever known with your will to survive." She added quietly. "Even suicidal, you are too… proud, to actually lay down and die."
"I must perform, that is all," Severus answered quietly, there would be no explaining to Minerva why he had pledged himself to protect Potter's son, and he didn't try, mainly because he wasn't sure anymore that he knew why.
Severus found a new serenity in prowling the castle at night; he could actually see what he was doing, no one paid attention to him (Except the hufflepuff girl who liked to scratch his ears and had no friends—if he found an excuse to give her bullies a weeks worth of detention every time that was their problem) and he was warm as the temperature nosedived after midnight without having to wear ridiculously restrictive and cumbersome robes.
It was odd to find that animals all seemed to have an ability to communicate at a low level, and even more curious to discover that he could now be involved in that.
Within a month he had half the students pets coming to find him if they discovered that their humans weren't in bed or otherwise in distress. The rest did as they always had and went to Minerva, which meant he finally understood how the woman had always been able to find him when he used to sneak out to visit Lucius's moggy in the cattery at night. They decided in the end that the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor pets would go to Minerva and Severus would deal with the dungeon common rooms of Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
Things didn't go quite as smoothly with the caretaker's cat. He had never liked Mrs Norris and quickly learned that she liked him no better as a cat than as a human. She was an even moodier old biddy than he had ever assumed before, especially after he hissed at her that she should go find some company and lighten up one night when she started mewling at him about young cats being restricted to the cattery after dark. In hindsight, he was quite lucky he was big enough to dissuade her from trying to claw him for that one.
The sound of owls coming and going at night was incredibly soothing to his new brilliantly sensitive ears, and it wasn't long before he started going up to the Owlry to sleep. It took less than a week until they started trying to feed him mice and one motherly snowy decided she was going to regularly hoot hopefully at him to keep his fur clean—though he could usually dissuade her from doing it herself with a lazy waft of his paw at her and a low hiss. If he hadn't already known Minerva's form he would have sworn they were one and the same.
Severus was not amused when another tawny who had been bothering him about washing behind his ears went to find Minerva one night in april about him being in the owlery to sleep as usual. Just because it was raining and even the owls didn't want to sleep there didn't mean he needed to go sleep somewhere under cover, he had his little corner and a fur coat, and he just wanted some peace and quiet. He fell asleep before Minerva arrived.
Waking up under a tartan blanket with a tabby curled up next to him was unexpected, but when she chirped and mewled at him to stop sleeping on the wet stone floor before he gave himself early arthritis her annoyed pawing at him warmed him far more than any blanket. Until she booped him. The sly mewl proved it was deliberate as he stared at her, astonished, for a moment before giving chase. They were both laughing when an elf brought them hot drinks and towels after running from Mrs Norris who had been hissing something about delinquent teenagers, which in cat years they both were to her, as they ran around the greenhouses, It was good to have a friend.
Severus had decided to pitch up in her office and meow outside the door, Minerva opened it almost immediately and let him streak past without a word. Over the years he had become a regular visitor here in his animagus form, and there was a comfortable bed by Minerva's desk leg. Severus had no idea what she had told Albus. He liked to amuse himself by imagining her telling him it was hers, Albus had been the type to be tickled by that.
"Well…" she said quietly, and Severus set up and cocked his head questioningly at her. "I missed you, Severus, I'm sorry I…"
He hissed at her, then mewled, annoyed at the attempt to apologise. He wouldn't have been much of a spy if she hadn't fallen for it.
"Well, fine, what do you want then if not an apology?"
He jumped up into her desk and nosed at the hidden compartment where he knew she stored her catnip, and Minerva laughed aloud.