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Novelette

Within a Forest Dark

Severus Snape expects his journey at Hogwarts to be dark and lonely. He’s right. Mostly. But he finds friendship in an unexpected place.

Read It On
After so many years in the fandom I still get excited about each new take on the developping friendship between Severus and Minerva; and this is sooo well done … the story is a real delight!
minervas_eule
LiveJournal
What a splendid story! … this fic is just a perfect combination of something familiar from the canon and the beloved fanon of these characters, and of surprises.
paulamcg
LiveJournal
This was a great and unexpected read. You just nailed both characters and woven them together perfectly. Only few can take these two and create a believable and naturally progressing plot and with so little words on top of it. It already ranks as one of my favourites.
John Doe
AO3

Excerpt

Within a Forest Dark

“Will you be attending the Headmaster’s Christmas party?”

Severus only notices the sudden silence at the staff table when the sound of his own chewing becomes unbearably loud in his ears.

He looks up from his gristly chop to find the collective eyes of the staff and the six students who have remained at the school for the holidays fixed on him. Most look quickly away as his gaze darts around the table.

“What?” he says, unsure of who has spoken.

The bright blue eyes of the new Astronomy teacher, Aurora Sinistra, are blinking at him.

“I only wondered if you were planning on going,” she says. “I thought we might walk over together.”

What the fuck?

Is she asking him out?

The smirk on Dumbledore’s face as he pretends to focus on slathering his baked potato with butter provides Severus with his answer.

“I’m not going,” Severus says, and turns back to his plate.

“That’s too bad. I hear The Three Broomsticks puts on a jolly party.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Sinistra is apparently undeterred.

“I’ll be heading over around eight. If you change your mind, you know where to find me,” she says.

“I won’t.”

That shuts her up.

After dinner, as Severus makes for the stairs to the dungeons, Dumbledore’s long stride catches him up.

“That was unkind,” he says.

“What was unkind?”

“The way you dismissed Professor Sinistra. She was only trying to be friendly.”

Severus snorts. “I don’t need any friends.”

“Everyone needs friends, Severus.”

Severus stops and scowls at Dumbledore.

“When I want friends, I’ll select my own, thank you.”

The old man’s eyes crinkle into an annoying smile.

“That’s an excellent idea, my boy.”

As the Headmaster strides off, he calls, “Enjoy your evening.”

Severus stands there for a moment, watching the crimson-clad figure disappear down the corridor.
Safely back in his quarters, he lights the fire with a flick of his hand and settles into his favourite chair with the book he’s bought himself—Ancient Charms for Novel Problems.

Sinistra is certainly a novel problem, Severus thinks. No one has ever chatted him up before.

He wonders if she’ll try it again.

Probably not, but on the chance that she’s a dunderhead (probably) or a masochist (unlikely), Severus considers what he should do.

He has no interest in the woman, or in socialising in general, but he does, he must admit, have an interest in fucking. A theoretical interest, that is.

But fucking, he has observed, usually comes with other, less theoretically pleasant things, like talking. On the whole, he decides, it’s better to do without.

Even if Sinistra has nice tits.

He wakes with a start two hours later, having fallen asleep in his chair with his neck at an awkward angle. When he tries to move, it sends a stabbing pain down his upper back and left arm. The pain is a remnant of an old injury, courtesy of James Potter, sustained when the swine pulled him from the ladder that would have led him through the trapdoor into the Shrieking Shack and, most likely, into the jaws and down the gullet of Remus Lupin.

The pain of the pinched nerve is compounded by Severus’s knowledge that just about everyone—except maybe Lupin—would have been better off had Potter not got wind of Black’s little prank and stopped it.

Severus gets up and goes to his bathroom to retrieve the potion that will soothe the inflamed nerve, but the phial is empty.

Fuck.

He could just ignore it and go to bed, but he knows that if he doesn’t take the potion, the pain will be worse tomorrow, and his left arm will be all but useless for several days.

Fortunately, it’s a simple potion, but he’ll need to retrieve the ingredients from his stores.

He’s warding the door to the Potions supply room when he hears a noise. Pulling his wand, he moves quietly down the corridor and around the corner, hoping that the student he’s about to catch out of bed is a Gryffindor. Taking points from them is still more satisfying than Severus would like to admit.

What he finds is a Gryffindor, but it isn’t a student. It’s Minerva McGonagall.

Astonishingly, she’s sitting on the top step of the staircase that leads to Gryffindor Tower, arms folded across her knees, looking blankly off into the middle distance.

As Severus draws cautiously closer, he can see that her eyes are wet.

He wishes he hadn’t approached—he has no idea what to do with a crying woman—but she’s seen him, and he can’t retreat now without looking like a complete coward.

“Professor McGonagall … are you … can I … do you need any assistance?”

She wipes her sleeve across her eyes, surprising him (no handkerchief?), and blinks several times.

“No, thank you, Severus. I couldn’t sleep and decided to take a walk. Being back in the castle is … disconcerting.”

He hasn’t seen her since the death of her husband several weeks ago, but he recalls that Dumbledore has told the staff she would be resuming her position as Head of Gryffindor and moving back into her old rooms in the tower over the holidays.

A moment of schadenfreude passes over him—she has failed at living outside as much as he has—but he’s grown enough over the past few years to recognise the thought as beneath him and more unkind than even he can stomach.

Nevertheless, he can’t bring himself to offer any of the expected condolences. He received none after Lily’s death, and he can’t imagine that they are any comfort to the bereaved, anyway.

She stands and wipes her palms on her skirt.

“It’s late, and I should be abed. Are you on rounds?” she asks.

“No. I needed something from the Potions closet.”

It occurs to him that he actually does have something to offer her, something better than meaningless I’m sorry for your loss-es.

He says, “I have a very mild sedative potion. It will help you sleep, but it won’t make you groggy in the morning, and it isn’t habit-forming. I’d be happy to get you some.”

Her eyes grow watery again, alarming him.

“No, thank you, Severus. It’s kind of you to offer, but I think sleeplessness is part of the process. Best to get it over with.”

He has the impression that she’s offered him a glimpse of her grief, and he’s absurdly touched. He doesn’t know her well, but he knows her enough to understand that she, like himself, is averse to showing any weakness.

It’s odd to observe the phenomenon in others—at least, in others who aren’t afraid that their moments of vulnerability will be used against them by a mad wizard or his sycophants. It gives Severus a brief vision of himself that isn’t entirely unwelcome.

“May I walk you to your quarters, Professor?” he asks, surprising himself.

She surprises him further by accepting.

When they arrive at her door, she offers him her hand.

“Thank you, Severus.”

Her eyes hold his for a moment before he turns away.

“Goodnight, Professor.”

“Goodnight.”

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