Over a series of Christmases, Severus learns Occlumency from Minerva McGonagall. He also learns that he isn’t the only one with dark secrets in his past.
Minerva hated Christmas.
The enforced gaiety grated on her nerves, and by the time the twenty-fifth rolled around, she was nearly ready to bite the heads off anyone who dared wish her a “Happy Christ-mas”. Albus’s charmed mistletoe was a particular hazard; surely he knew that the very last thing she wanted was to kiss Hagrid or Filius or Filch, even on the cheek.
She pulled the blanket more snugly around herself and scooted her chair closer to the fire. Her head ached and her muscles felt almost as bad as if she were back in the dungeons in Darmstadt. At least she could speak in a normal tone of voice again. Who ever heard of a fifty-six-year-old witch contracting Mumblemumps?
At least it was an excuse to skip Pomona and Will’s bloody party this year and instead spend Christmas night in her quarters with memories for good company. Although it was harder to keep the dark ones away these days.
She sighed when she heard a knock at her door. It was Albus, no doubt, coming to fuss over her again. He could be worse than an old mother hen. She almost wished he had another war to go fight. Preferably in another hemisphere.
After opening the door with a flick of her wrist and a wordless spell, she picked up her cup of tea, warming her hands on it.
And nearly dropped it when she saw Severus Snape standing in the doorway.
“Forgive me for disturbing you.”
Turning her face back to the fire, she said, “In or out, but don’t just stand there in the door letting all the heat escape.”
She heard the door click shut and forced herself to turn back to look at him. “What do you need?”
“I’ve brought you a potion. For the muscle aches.”
He stepped closer, wary, as if approaching a wild animal, and held out the bottle for her in-spection.
She read the label, squinting without her glasses: “‘Number Four’? What is that?”
“It’s something of my own devising. I find it works better for muscle pain than the standard elixirs and salves.”
“And why would you be bringing this to me?” she asked.
“I had Mumblemumps three summers ago. I remember how painful it was.”
“So you came up with a potion.”
He ignored her mocking tone.
“I devised the potion to treat aches from a different cause, but I have no reason to believe it will not be equally effective for those caused by illness.”
If that was supposed to make her feel sorry for him, he was slithering up the wrong tree.
She let him stand there with his arm awkwardly outstretched for another few seconds be-fore taking the bottle.
“Thank you,” she said, setting it on the tea table. Much as she loathed this young man, cour-tesy was so deeply ingrained in her that she could not simply drop it like a cloak that didn’t fit the situation.
He said, “You should take two teaspoons every eight hours, but no more than that. I find it sits better if you have something bland to eat with it.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Well, if there’s nothing else you need, I’ll leave you in peace.”
She suddenly realised that this was the first time she’d ever been alone with Snape, and she had an urge to watch him to see if he would betray any discomfort sitting there with her. To see if there was anything under that damnable impassive demeanour. Anything like remorse . . .
“Sit down, Mr Snape.”
If you need help getting an ebook onto your e-reader, Ebooks Direct has a handy guide.