A frustrated witch, a lonely wizard, a chance meeting in the staff bath— a story about how these small events change the lives of Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape and alter the course of the Wizarding War.
The incident we’re concerned with here happened on a Sunday evening. You see, Madam Pomfrey had recommended to Snape that he take advantage of the healing properties of the hot water, mineral salts, and whirlpool in the staff bath to help ease the pain in his gammy shoulder. While the idea of a communal experience with his colleagues filled him with existential angst, he had to admit that on this particular Sunday, the prospect of some relief from the ache in his shoulder was inviting. And as it was Sunday, he could reasonably hope to have the place to himself.
So it was that he found himself standing outside the door to the staff bath, slippers on his feet and a hastily Transfigured bathing costume covering his meat and two veg. He stood there for a minute, trying to make up his mind to give the password and go in
“Rubber ducky,” he practically moaned. (In case you don’t know, Albus Dumbledore, who set the password, had a sense of humour that ran to the whimsical.) When the door opened, he peered in, and seeing nobody, he stepped in.
By the time he spied Minerva McGonagall, it was too late to retreat without losing face. She had been obscured by steam, but there she was, sitting at the far end of the large tub, all white shoulders and damp, black hair, which, surprisingly, was clipped in a rather haphaz-ard way on her head rather than in the tight bun that was the emblem of her spinsterhood.
“Hello, Severus,” she said. “This is a surprise.”
“An unpleasant one, no doubt,” he replied but made no move either to go or to join her.
“Not at all. I’m glad for the company.”
He seemed to be frozen in place.
“Are you going to get in, or are you just going to stand there gawping?” she asked, and he could have sworn the maddening twinkle in her eye was borrowed from Dumbledore. “I don’t bite.”
“I’ve heard otherwise,” he retorted.
Where the hell did that come from? he thought
The twinkle redoubled itself. “Why, Severus, was that a joke?”
“No. I’m merely repeating what I’ve heard from your students,” he said, cautiously stepping down the stairs until his calves were under water.
She was quiet as she watched him slowly submerge up to the chest in the hot water and hesitantly seat himself on the bench opposite her. He slid down until only his neck and head were above the water.
“Is your shoulder hurting, Severus?” she asked with sympathy.
She turned, rising out of the water enough that he could see the top of her bathing cossie, a modest cut, but held in place with surprisingly thin straps. The thing was tartan patterned, of course. The knobs of her spine were visible as she stretched, reaching for a bottle, and it made her seem frail for a moment. He found it oddly attractive.
“Would you like a little wine? An admirable pain-killer, I find,” she said, proffering the bottle for his inspection. It was an Alsatian Riesling, and Severus nodded his approval.
“Thank you,” he said.
She conjured a glass and poured, handing it to him, then put the bottle back on the side of the tub. They sat sipping and soaking for a few minutes until Snape, tongue and curiosity loosened ever so slightly by the wine, asked, “Do you do this every Sunday?”
“No,” she replied, “only when I need to . . . unwind.”
“And what has you wound up today?”
She hesitated, as if considering if she should tell him. “A change of plans.”
“Yes. As it turns out, my summer holidays will not, in fact, be spent on the Isle of Mull, but in the castle of Hogwarts,” she replied, and from the over-careful cadence of her speech, Severus suspected that the glass of wine she had just finished had not been her first of the afternoon.
“I’m sorry to hear it,” he said. He paused a moment before adding, “Lovers’ quarrel?”
Had the situation been different with regard to their location and her sobriety, Severus might reasonably have expected to be on the receiving end of a signature McGonagall tongue-lashing for his presumption. As it was, he was merely subjected to a tight smile.
“Something like that,” she said, Summoning the wine bottle and pouring herself another glass. She held the bottle out to him, then noticed that he was still nursing his first glass.
“I take it you don’t wish to talk about it?” he asked with a slight smirk.
“Your powers of observation are astonishing, as always, Severus,” she responded, return-ing them to the familiar terrain of acerbic banter.
A surprisingly comfortable silence followed this exchange.
When Snape had finished his wine, he held out his glass, enquiring, “May I?”
“Be my guest,” she answered.
He Summoned the bottle and refilled his glass. The combination of the warm water and the wine was beginning to help him relax—inasmuch as Severus Snape could ever be said to relax—and he considered with surprise how at ease he felt in Minerva’s presence. Of course, he realised, she had been the closest thing to a friend he had had at Hogwarts since coming to teach there, fresh from a horrific week in Azkaban, his Dark Mark creating an invisible wall of suspicion between himself and the other staff. Oh, Dumbledore trusted him, all right, but only because the older wizard knew he held the thumbscrews. Snape loved the old man (hated him too, for that matter) and he supposed Albus had come to care for him, but they were never friends. Their relationship was built on mutual need—well, more like utility on Severus’s part—a fact that precluded any but the most necessary of intimacies.
At first, Minerva had trusted him simply because Dumbledore had ordained it; Snape knew that well enough. Eventually, though, he had sensed her requisitioned trust melting into something like real regard, and ultimately, tacit affection. As I’ve said, Severus was a perceptive observer of people, and while Minerva was never obvious or effusive with her tenderer feelings, neither was she one for pretence.
Which is why Severus found himself, against his better judgement, actually enjoying sitting there with the witch in what he would otherwise have found an intolerably intimate situation. What’s more, he would have wagered several Chinese Fireball eggs that she was enjoying it too.
Maybe it was the unaccustomed feeling of mutual contentment that made him say what he said next.
“You know, Minerva, maybe staying at Hogwarts over the summer won’t be so terrible.”
“It can be . . . tolerable here without all those dunderheads running about. And the grounds are rather pleasant in summer.”
“Perhaps. But it is somewhat lacking in stimulating company,” she said.
“Well, Dumbledore pops in and out all summer; I’m sure you can tempt him to a few rous-ing games of chess.”
“Hmm. Pleasant as chess is, it wasn’t quite the kind of diversion I was looking forward to,” she said, somewhat wistfully.
“Not stimulating enough?” Even he wasn’t quite sure if he meant it like it sounded.
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