delphi: Mod icon for the HP Beholder exchange. (HP Beholder)
[personal profile] delphi posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
Recipient: [personal profile] lyras
Author/Artist: ???
Title: The Vultures of Love
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Irma Pince/Argus Filch, Minerva McGonagall/Severus Snape
Word Count: 13,000
Medium: Fic
Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *Language. Lots of naughty language.*.
Summary: None.
Author's/Artist's Notes: I had one of your prompts all picked out and was about to start in on it, when I got attacked by this idea and it wouldn't let go. I do apologize, and hope this is also to your liking.

It was raining in Spinner's End. Somehow, it always seemed to be raining in Spinner's End, turning everything from sky to street a dull brownish-grey, the colour of mud. Severus hung his father's best overcoat on a peg in the hall. "Well," he said. "That's done with."

"Yes," said Eileen. "I suppose it is." She clutched her handbag. The carpet in the hallway was frayed and worn through in places. It had been second-hand from her mother-in-law when she and Tobias were married, and she couldn't remember if she'd liked it. She traced one of the holes with her toe.

"Merlin, Mum," said Severus, looking back at her and squinting. "Don't look so out of sorts about it." He rolled up his shirt-sleeves.

On a normal day, she'd have taken him to task, but today she wasn't sure at all what she felt like doing, and couldn't summon the words. "Today of all days, Severus," she said with a small frown.

"I've been waiting for the bastard to drink himself to death for over twenty years, and now he's finally done it," said Severus, scowling. "At long last, he's done something worthwhile for this family."

No, Eileen wasn't at all sure what she felt like. "There's stew for tea," she said. "You'll stay the night before you go back, won't you. No one will expect you back at work the same day you've buried your father."

Severus grimaced, and she rather thought he'd planned to do just that. She took off her coat and gloves, and went to the kitchen to boil the kettle.

Eileen left the boy to do the washing up after they ate, and went up to the locked storage cupboard on the top floor. In the back, behind the broken chairs and the paintings of horrible pastoral scenes they'd inherited when Tobias's parents had died, the ones he'd hoped would be worth something one day and she was just grateful to shove away in the cupboard and never see again, there was a trunk. It was a black trunk with the initials "E.G.P." painted on the front in gold lettering, barely visible beneath the coat of dust. She lifted the lid and reached down the back right-hand corner for the wand she'd slid down the side. It felt both familiar and foreign in her hand, not at all what she'd expected this moment to feel like when it came.

She brushed off the dust and levitated the trunk down the stairs to the sitting room. Severus looked out from the kitchen at the sound of her footsteps and came into the sitting room, drying his hands on a dish towel.

"Get your wand out, Severus, I need you to transfigure the bookshelves," said Eileen.

"You've got a wand of your own," said Severus, nodding his head towards her hand. "Despite your best efforts to pretend otherwise."

She glared at him. "Keep your bloody cheek to yourself," she said. "I'm not much use at transfiguration, but if the old prig who taught you is to be believed, you weren't half bad at it."

Severus frowned and looked down at his feet, then pulled his wand out of his back pocket. "What d'you want, then?" he said, raising it.

"More of them," said Eileen. "The whole wall. Space for all my books. I think... I think I'm going to read." It came out more wistfully than she intended.

The boy was even better at transfiguration than she'd realized; he did it wordlessly, swishing his wand in a intricate shapes in the air, until the two narrow bookshelves shivered and expanded along the wall, creeping up and out, then, with a pop, doubled into four.

She nodded in approval. "Very neat," she said. "No messing about with Pluspluteus, or whatever it might be. McGonagall must have given you extra lessons for being the class swot."

"Something like that," muttered Snape. But Eileen wasn't paying attention. She was kneeling beside her school trunk, pulling out parcels and unshrinking them, then sending the books to lodge themselves on the shelves. First her school books, then all the books from home, carefully shrunk and wrapped up the day she packed her entire life into this trunk and left to be married. Children's books with beautiful moving illustrations that she'd only been able to share with Severus a few days a year, wizarding histories, novels, a whole life in books she could now bring out of hiding and enjoy again.

"I've not even seen these for ten years," said Eileen, pulling the paper off another parcel and dropping the string. "I haven't opened this trunk since you were in school." She paused and brushed her fingers over the painted initials. It had been even longer since she'd last seen Eileen Griselda Prince, not since she was eighteen, and she wondered now if she'd ever find her again.

"You missed a spot," said Severus, nodding towards a gap on the top shelf.

"I did not," said Eileen. "That is the precise width of Borage's Advanced Potion-Making, which you have yet to return."

"I don't have it," said Severus.

Eileen rubbed her thumbs over the collar of her old Slytherin robes, and tucked them back in the bottom of the trunk. "You're a bad liar, Severus."

"It was damaged," he said.

"You're a horrible little boy," she said, crossly. "I told you not to write your name in them in ink. Books are precious things, they're not rubbish to be desecrated by schoolboys with drippy quills. Have you any idea what that book costs?"

Severus hesitated. "I didn't write my name in it, Mum. Honestly. It was damaged in a prank. It was Potter and Black's fault."

Eileen sighed. "I dare say it was. But Borage's book cost seven Galleons. It's too dear to replace."

"Nine Galleons now," said Severus. "It's all right. I teach Potions. I can get you a new copy."

"Best thing I ever did, getting you out of here," said Eileen. She closed up the trunk and locked it. "You speak properly, have a good job, did well in proper Wizarding subjects... you have a place in our world. You can't imagine how glad I was that you weren't interested in that Evans girl. You used to spend every moment with her, do you remember? For a time, you had me worried that if it went on any longer, you'd end up married to her and right back here where you started."

"Shut up, Mum," muttered Severus. He dipped his head, and his hair swung over his face.

"I couldn't have borne it, you throwing away everything I'd give my right arm for. But look at you now, a professor at Hogwarts. Who'd have thought you had it in you?" said Eileen.

Severus folded his arms over his chest and hunched over. "Clearly not you or Da," he said.

Eileen stood and inspected the bookshelves. "I think that'll do," she said. "Yes, I'll do some reading. That'll be... well. It'll almost be like being home again."

"You could go back, you know," said Severus. "Now he's dead, you don't have to stay. You never did."

Eileen fingered her wand nervously, and slipped it into her sleeve the way she had as a schoolgirl. "But I do, Severus," she said with a tight set to her mouth. "I'm poor little Eileen Prince who turned her back on the wizarding world to marry a mudblood and let herself go. If I go back, everyone will see it as crawling back. And without family, a place to go, or a way to keep body and soul together in our world, they'd be right. I shan't give them the satisfaction, even if it means rotting here. We're better than that, you and I."

"We're Princes," said Severus bitterly.

"Yes," said Eileen, softening. "We're Princes. It won't be so bad, Severus. Maybe I'll get a subscription to the Prophet, now that I've the house to myself. There'll be money enough for that, now that himself's not drinking it away. Maybe even a wireless, if... well, we'll see. And I've my things again. There's all sorts of odds and ends packed away in my trunk." But everything left in the trunk was the property of a schoolgirl from thirty years ago. What would Eileen do with a set of gobstones and fancy quills? There was a small silver pocket watch she'd been given by her father on her seventeenth birthday; she'd once thought to sell it to buy one for Severus when he turned seventeen, but hadn't been able to bring herself to do it. That might be useful, if the day came when she could look at it again.

"I'm going back to Hogwarts in the morning," said Severus, after a short silence. He went upstairs to bed.

Eileen stood in the sitting room for a few moments. "Lumos," she said softly, half-afraid the spell would no longer work for her. The tip of her wand glowed faintly, then more strongly. She smiled and selected a book to read in her bed by wandlight.

Severus apparated away before breakfast the following morning, and strode into the Great Hall in a swirl of black wool, austere and correct. He sat down at the teacher's table on McGonagall's left and Flitwick's right, as he did every morning. Filius poured him a cup of tea and Minerva passed him the milk, as they did every morning.

"Done skiving off for the week, are you, Professor Snape?" said McGonagall tartly. She passed him the toast soldiers.

"Dear me, already?" said Flitwick. He passed Snape the pumpkin jam. "It's only the end of September, Severus, you can't need to get away from the students yet."

"My dear Professor Flitwick," said Snape, stabbing a knife into the jar of pumpkin jam and slathering it on his toast, "while your students may well be a pleasure to instruct, I'm afraid I'm also obliged to keep hordes of Gryffindors from blowing themselves and innocent bystanders to kingdom come. I can hardly be blamed if I require a short recuperative period from time to time."

"What a shame you only took one day, then," said Minerva. "It won't help your nerves any when we win this afternoon's practice match."

Dumbledore arrived late to the table. "Severus," he said in surprise. "I hadn't expected you back so soon. There was no need, you know. You should've taken more time. As much as you need, my boy."

"I was unaware," said Snape, "that there was anything more pressing that required my attention." He refilled his cup from the teapot, and offered Minerva more tea.

The day that followed was a restful one. In a brief wave of gratitude at being anywhere that was not Spinner's End, particularly when that 'anywhere' was a reasonably well-stocked potions laboratory, he let several of the Hufflepuff classes off with no assignments; and the Gryffindor classes, made reckless by his brief absence, earned themselves an extra foot of parchment on correct chopping technique, improving his afternoon significantly. Minerva's confidence in Charlie Weasley's abilities on the Quidditch pitch was well-placed, but Severus couldn't find it in him to be bothered. It was with a relaxed sigh that he sank into his usual armchair in the teachers' common room at the end of the day with a copy of the paper and a nice fire.

"I'm off for the night," said Pomona, pushing her chair back from the table. "One last check that the little darlings are tucked up in bed, then off to harvest some night-blooming wild acanthus."

"I'll join you," said Aurora, "at least as far as the stairs. I need to oil the telescope before my midnight class." She got her cloak and scarf off the hat-stand.

"Good evening," said Minerva, before returning to marking her essays. She clucked softly and shook her head as she covered the page in red ink.

When they were alone, Severus cleared his throat. "Minerva," he said. He watched her hand race across the page, slim and pale and steady, leaving a tidy stream of script; she wielded a quill with the same delicacy and certainty as she did her wand.

"Yes, Severus," she said, without looking up.

"I didn't think to ask," he said. "Our arrangement. From last year. Is it... that is to say, are you still... are we doing it again this year?"

"I don't see why not," said McGonagall. "If you're still interested."

"Yes," said Snape. He re-read the article on proposed per-elf tax rates without taking any note of the contents the second time around, before adding, "Tonight?"

At this, McGonagall hesitated. "On two conditions," she said. "First, that you can wait till I'm done with these, and, second, we'll agree you owe me a pub lunch. Some observation of the social courtesies wouldn't go amiss."

Snape gave some thought to the social courtesies that were reputed to accompany sexual matters. "You don't want me to take you out to dinner?" he said warily.

"No, Severus, a friendly gesture will be quite sufficient, under the circumstances," said McGonagall. "Even if I did, it might be difficult to explain a romantic dinner with my twenty-seven year-old Potions master."

He nodded. "Agreed, then."

But he did bring a bottle of wine as a gift when he arrived at her rooms later that evening, and was relieved when she suggested they share a glass or two before going to bed. The truth, were it to be known, was that he was nervous, because this thing that had started the previous spring had, over the course of the summer when he hadn't seen her for months, become something he'd wondered if he'd imagined, and he hadn't any idea how to resume it now. Perhaps she'd have come to her senses, or he'd have forgotten March and April's patient lessons, or she'd have met someone, or he'd been mistaken to think she might want to pick things up again. And he, quite unexpectedly, needed this; what he had realized, sitting by the fire in the staff room, was that he needed to bury himself in this new life he had carved out, and in her, and leave Spinner's End far behind. He was grateful that, after two glasses of wine, he could relax and be the kind of man who left his academic pursuits at the end of the day to drink wine with his mistress, whose elegance and accomplishment suited a man of learning better than a working-class brat from Spinner's End, and play with the wisps of hair that came out of her bun at the back of her neck. The Severus Snape who kissed the soft, white skin of Minerva McGonagall's throat was the man he had made, not oor Tobias's lad, t'queer one with a girl's hair an' his mum's sour face.

"You seem miles away, Severus," said Minerva quietly, afterwards. She brushed his hair out of his eyes with a tender touch.

"I was thinking of my mum," said Severus.

Minerva flinched. "Well, that was perhaps somewhat inevitable, given the age difference," she muttered, withdrawing her hand. "Still, it would have been somewhat less awkward to not say it aloud."

"No," said Severus, grabbing her hand. "No, not you. I didn't mean it like that." He pressed the back of her hand to his lips.

"I know, Severus, it's quite all right," said Minerva. "Slips of the tongue do happen, and it would be foolish of me to expect otherwise. I understand."

"No, you don't," said Severus, propping himself up on his elbow and cupping her face in his hand. "It's not your age. Everyone younger than you is an idiot. You don't make me think of my mum. The exact opposite." He kissed her, then rolled over and flopped back into the pillow. "I meant... my actual mum. I went to see her yesterday, in that fucking hovel. Where she's going to stay, even though she doesn't have to, just because of my bloody father. It doesn't matter that he's bloody dead, she says she's going to rot there, and she will, so pathetically grateful for a few relics of our world in that horrid place."

"Oh," said Minerva faintly. "Your father's died, Severus? I'm so sorry, I--"

"I'm not." Severus turned towards her, his eyes glittering in the dark. "The man was a bloody waste of food, and seeing him put into the ground was one of the best moments of my life. Only she won't leave." He reached out and stroked Minerva's ribcage, from between her breasts down to her navel. "I was going to get her out of there, when I was young. When I'd made something of myself with the Dark Lord. Her family wouldn't have her back, but I was going to be somebody, and bring her back, where that Muggle prick she married could never touch her. I didn't expect her to be grateful, but at least she wouldn't be there. Only I never did, and I never will, will I."

Minerva took a deep, steadying breath. "All things considered," she said, with a forced lightness, "I think that if the alternative is pillow talk about You-Know-Who, I would prefer uncharitable references to my age."

"I didn't," protested Severus.

Minerva put a finger to his lips to silence him, and the rested her hands on his rather bony shoulders while she considered what to do with the boy's unexpected confessions. "Your mother has to make her own choices, Severus," she said at last.

"She's bloody awful at it so far," muttered Snape. Minerva, quite charitably she thought, did not comment on any family resemblance when it came to making regrettable alliances at the age of eighteen. Snape put his arms around her. "You'll help me, won't you, Minerva?" he said.

"What?" she said.

"Dumbledore listens to you," he said. "He can bring her back, she won't have to stay there. You'll help me. Won't you?" An urgent and plaintive note crept into his voice.

Minerva stroked his shoulders in silence for a few moments. "I'll speak to him, Severus," she said. "I don't know if it will help."

Minerva McGonagall didn't know when her casual affair with Severus Snape had turned into, well, whatever had happened two nights earlier. As nearly as she could determine, he had apparently come direct from his father's funeral, lasted just slightly over twelve hours before deciding he needed to drown his thoughts in physical contact, and then let all his worries tumble out in a fit of post-coital honesty. She'd have berated the stupid boy for bringing his emotional needs into their perfectly well-regulated physical relationship, except... hadn't she always worried, purely as a friend, that he had no one for such things, and made no attempts to share them with his colleagues? In light of that, she could hardly tell him to use her office hours when he wanted a shoulder to cry on instead of using her bed for the purpose, even if she very much wanted to. And this was how she found herself in the unfamiliar territory of trying to broach the subject of her lover's mother's well-being with Albus.

"It has come to my attention, Albus," she started hesitantly, moving her rook, "that Severus's family situation is, shall we say, somewhat changed."

"I did tell the boy he should take off a few days," said Albus, shaking his head. "I must say, I'm surprised he told you about it."

"I don't think he meant to," said Minerva. "It came up under somewhat unexpected circumstances." That was true enough, and relatively harmless, surely. "However, I do wonder if it wouldn't be wise to bring his mother back into the fold, as it were? I don't think, when the time comes, that living in a Muggle neighborhood will serve as protection for her. Quite the reverse, probably."

Albus moved his knight. "There is some truth to that," he said. "With her husband alive, the odds of running afoul of the statue of secrecy were higher, but she could be caused to disappear quite easily, living alone. I do worry, of course, that we'd be bringing attention to her..."

"If you did something soon, there would be time for her to disappear again, I would imagine," said Minerva. She refilled their teacups.

"Do you think she would be a distraction to Severus?" said Dumbledore. "I don't wish to appear callous towards the lady's safety, and, indeed, you raise a point worth taking into consideration, but we are going to ask a great deal of him in future."

"I think she's a distraction to him now," said Minerva. "Surely you've noticed."

"Mmm," said Dumbledore, sucking on his queen before moving her. Minerva took this to mean he had, which was a relief, as she wouldn't have, had the boy not had his outburst in her bed. "It would be cruel, I suppose, to ask the boy to develop a taste for altruism without giving him the means by which to exercise it."

After their game of chess, Minerva went back to her rooms and poured herself a large drink while cursing the name of Severus Snape, and Albus apparated to Spinner's End and knocked on the door.

"Madame Snape," he said when Eileen opened the door. She stood aside silently to let him enter. He took in the threadbare chairs, and the carpet, and the shelves of wizarding books. "Allow me to offer you my condolences."

"You can keep them," she said, folding her arms across her chest.

"As you wish," said Dumbledore. "But am I correct in thinking that you do not intend to return to our world?"

"And leave all this luxury?" said Eileen coldly.

"Madame Snape," said Dumbledore, "I know that my history with your son has on occasion been a contentious one--" She raised an eyebrow, but, in truth, whose history with Severus hadn't been? Even her own. "--but I do feel some fondness for the boy. As a mentor of sorts. If I could assist you there, I would be glad to do it."

"Don't bother," she said. "The only thing..." And she fell silent.

"Yes?" said Dumbledore.

"You spend eighteen years as Eileen Prince," said Eileen, "some of them in nappies. Then you spend thirty years as Eileen Snape. But you never do the maths, and keep holding out hope that when it's over you can be you again. Eileen bloody Prince. I can barely even remember who she was anymore. You can put on her old jumpers to keep warm, and you can use her old spells to tidy up, but it doesn't make you her."

"Ah," said Dumbledore, his voice gentle, full of a softness she rarely heard from people these days. "Perhaps I'm able be of some assistance there. I taught Eileen Prince for several years. As it happens, I remember her fairly well. Not perfectly, you know, but fairly well."

"Oh," said Eileen.

She looked him over more closely, a tall wizard, with a long beard and soft white hair that flowed over his shoulder in waves more perfect than any man she'd known, in royal blue robes with trim that glittered in the firelight and a cap that more befitted a Flemish painter. When she'd been eleven, he'd been grayer, less ethereal, but shone no less brightly. Even she, a pureblood child who was more used to older wizards than the Muggle children, and a Slytherin who knew enough to know she wasn't meant to be impressed by those bloody Gryffs, even she'd sat in her first Transfiguration class and been swept up by his easy smile and warm voice, and the twinkle in his eye that said that he wanted you to find out what he knew. He was clever, nearly as clever as Sluggie (and, in later years, she had to admit, probably more so), but old Slughorn, if she were honest, was more interested in having you find out who he knew than what he knew. She was no dab hand at Transfigs, but it was no hardship to stick it out till the OWLs, although she took no great distinction. She was all too glad to give it up in her sixth year when the new professor took over, a hard-nosed snooty bint who looked like butter wouldn't melt.

Amidst the flood of memory, Eileen realized that he did indeed have something she wanted. "What would it cost me?" she said.

Dumbledore looked apologetic. "I'm afraid there is indeed a cost associated," he said. "You must live as neither Eileen Prince nor Eileen Snape. Those names must disappear from people's lips. Your son can no longer be your son."

That was a smaller price than he knew. Eileen Prince was already dead in the wizarding world, and Merlin only knew she'd consign Eileen Snape to the rubbish heap at the first opportunity. She felt a small twinge of guilt over Severus, but if she were honest, the boy'd never had much in the way of parents. He might not even notice she was gone.

"Where do I sign?" said Eileen.

Dumbledore smiled.

Albus returned to his office by Floo, and stepped out of the green flames waving a roll of parchment at his deputy. "Success, Minerva! You will be gratified to learn that the dear woman's cooperation has been obtained, in a turn of events that I think will be beneficial to all," he said.

Minerva took the parchment and unrolled it, looking it over with a critical eye. "'I am Prince'? Not one of your best, Albus," she said.

"Yes, well," said Dumbledore, having the courtesy to look slightly abashed. "One does what one can."

She read down to the bottom of the parchment. "This is a contract of employment," said Minerva.

Albus poured himself a generous firewhiskey, and a second for his deputy. "That it is," he said cheerfully. "Severus will always know where she is, and I can keep a protective eye on them both." He raised his glass in a toast.

"Albus, we already have a librarian," said Minerva, looking at him over the top of her glasses.

"That, my dear, is the beauty of what I have done," said Albus. "Bartleby is a splendid fellow who has served Hogwarts in an exemplary fashion for nearly fifty years. The National Wizarding Library will, at my request, be overjoyed to honor him with a position he could not refuse for the final decades of his career." He pointed at the parchment contract. "Term of employment to begin upon retirement of the current librarian. We shall have her here by next September, which leaves just enough time for her to wrap up her Muggle affairs and familiarize herself with the recent history of the wizarding world. With a certain emphasis on the years 1976 through 1981, I should think."

And so it happened that Bartleby Babbling retired as Hogwarts' librarian at the end of the spring term to great celebration, a source of some embarrassment and pride to his quiet soul, and Madame Irma Pince was engaged as Hogwarts' new librarian.

In late July, Minerva was enjoying her last week in the cottage by the sea before returning to Hogwarts to prepare for the autumn term. She sat with a book and a cup of tea, and a piece of cheese on an oatcake, and listened to the rain pitter-pattering on the windows. Then the patter became the more persistent tap of beak on glass. She got up to open the window, and let in a sodden and bedraggled common brown owl with a scroll in its claws.

"Poor wee thing," she said, with a shake of the head. "What miserable sod sent you out on a night like this? Onto the mantle with you."

With the owl warming above the fire, stretching its wings periodically to air its feathers, she took the parchment and unrolled it. Dear Minerva, it said, I'm meant to ask you out to another lunch at the pub now. Severus.

"So that's the miserable sod who sent you out in the rain," said Minerva. "Well, I suppose he wasn't to know." She wrote Nothing's stopping you from asking, so far as I know. Minerva. on a scrap of parchment. "No rush," she told the owl, and sat back down with her book. "When you've dried off."

The next day, it was back, flapping its way down from the clouds to sit atop the sundial in the herb garden. She stopped levitating the Thymus vulgaris she was subdividing and lowered her wand. The owl craned its head towards her and handed her a note that read, I'd rather have dinner. S.

"Silly bugger," said Minerva. She accio'd a quill and parchment from the house and wrote, Friday at 6. Nothing ostentatious.

Half an hour later, the owl was back with a note that read, Fine. Be ready ten minutes before. Formal robes. Minerva raised her eyebrows. "He has a poor idea of what might or might not be ostentation," she said to the owl, who preened and nibbled on the owl treat left on her desk.

On Friday, Severus knocked on her door promptly at ten to six, in a set of formal robes differentiable from his more standard robes by a more luxurious depth and sheen to the blackness, and the velvet cloak. He nodded his approval at the green silk that clung to her under a black robe, while she glared over the tops of her glasses, and, without a word, he took her arm and apparated them both to an alley.

Minerva closed her eyes for a moment while the after-effects wore off. "And where, precisely, are we?" she said when she'd opened her eyes again.

"Hexenstrasse," said Severus. "Vienna."

"Oh sweet Merlin," muttered Minerva. But she followed him to the restaurant on the Hexenstrasse — not that she had a great deal of choice in the matter, as he hadn't let go of her arm — and sat down at a candle-lit table in a small wizarding establishment.

After half a bottle of local Reisling and a shared Kürbisstrudel laced with cheese and sage, Minerva wondered what on earth she was doing on a date, an actual date, with Severus Snape. "Severus," she said in a tone of disapproval. "This is a romantic dinner."

"I'm so pleased you noticed," he said, with a scowl. "You haven't gone blind and lost your senses in the past half-hour. Congratulations. Ten points to Gryffindor."

"But," said Minerva, "why?"

"Because I want to keep shagging you," said Severus. "Obviously."

"But you didn't need--" said Minerva, when Severus interrupted her.

"Maybe I want to," he said. "Maybe I want to take a woman out for a nice dinner. Can't you shut up and enjoy it?"

Minerva took another sip of wine, swirling it in the glass, and realized that perhaps she could. "I suppose so," she said. There were, she realized, far worse things for a lady of a certain age to do with her summer evenings than go out for a very nice dinner (with an equally nice bottle of wine) on the continent with a junior colleague, one possessed of a certain disagreeable charm, striking intelligence, a sharply-tailored set of dress robes, and a very shaggable arse. There would be no questions about it back in Britain; he had shown some care for their positions, bringing them all this way.

After dinner, the other half of the bottle of Reisling, and a coffee, they strolled down the Hexenstrasse through the center of wizarding Vienna, arm in arm. Minerva blamed it on the wine and the Viennese street lights and the lovely evening. When they ducked into a dark corner to apparate home, she apparated them back to her bedroom before he had a chance.

She didn't know what possessed her to say what she said next. "Get your kit off, Snape," she said impatiently, slipping out of her outer robe. "And plan to stay a few days. If you want to go out on proper dates, be prepared to make a proper romantic weekend of things." When he stopped her from undoing the buttons at the top of her green silk dress and began to unbutton them himself, she realized, with equal parts annoyance and anticipation, that she hadn't thrown him off his game in the slightest.

And, in the end, she found she didn't mind sharing her cottage retreat with Severus for a few days. In the morning, after a long, shagged-out lie-in, they shared a pot of strong tea and a breakfast of eggs and toast, nourishing and simple after the excesses, both gustatory and amorous, of the night before. They passed a mostly silent day with books and sea air. In the afternoon, he kissed her at length on the sofa, making her intensely aware of how long it'd been since she'd last done that with a man, and, by extension, how incredibly young Severus was and how old she was by comparison. But it was difficult to object, as such. In the evening, they made supper together, shagged, woke up, shagged again, and repeated the whole thing all over. By Monday, when she packed her bags to go back to the school, Minerva felt a fresh enthusiasm for the forthcoming school year and its unexpected possibilities.

"Professor McGonagall," said Severus, shaking her hand formally as he prepared to leave.

"Professor Snape," she said amiably. "I'll see you at the start of the school year, then."

He nodded cautiously and apparated away. Minerva hummed as she shrank her books and packed them away.

"How astonishing," said Albus later that afternoon. "There's quite a spring in your step, Minerva, and a very definite trace of a smile on your face. Have you finally taken my advice and indulged in a delightful summer romance?"

"Certainly not, you silly old bat," said Minerva, without a trace of animosity. "There's not a romantic bone in my body." She licked her quill, and continued signing letters.

Albus sighed dramatically. "Yes, you were always a great disappointment to me on that one front," he said. "Are you certain? I know a great many eligible wizards. Or witches, if you prefer."

"Quite certain," said Minerva.

"You," said Albus, "have never appreciated the finer points of love. I hesitate to call you a hopeless case, though I fear that after fifty years, my lack of progress is telling. Love, my dear, is a splendid thing, and you ought not settle for unromantic bones in your body."

Minerva put down her quill and glared at him. His eyes twinkled, and he offered her a blackcurrant sweet.

Irma Pince, née Eileen Prince, arrived at Hogwarts in early August with a single trunk in tow to familiarize herself with the library catalog and reassure herself that her new rooms were real. She was a severe-looking woman, pale, with a hooked nose and a scowl, and a few sets of plain, old-fashioned black robes, all sturdy and serviceable and nearly the same. Argus, who was sweeping the hallway when she arrived, knew the look of a woman who worked hard for her living, and, he decided, he approved.

"No-nonsense, that one," he told Mrs. Norris later that night, when they had a rest by the fire. "Works hard and takes no guff."

She purred on his lap. Argus gave her ears a scratch, pushed her off gently, and got up to wash his teacup. Mrs. Norris waved her tail in annoyance, and jumped back up on the chair, staring at him.

"Comes from decent folk," he added, as he stood at the sink. "You can tell. Got an education. Weren't coddled." He glanced over his shoulder at Mrs. Norris, who was waving her tail in a bad-tempered fashion. "Or so I reckon," he conceded.

Argus decided it was high time he polished the lecterns in the library, before the start of term. Maybe the brass shelf labels, too, while he was at it.

In the morning, he went to work in the library, giving the new librarian a curt nod as she inspected the card catalog. He polished the lecterns, the shelf labels, the bell on her desk, the due-date stamps, and the knobs on the catalog cabinet before she stopped placing anti-theft hexes on a stack of books and took notice of him.

"You're the caretaker," she said, with her arms folded.

"Aye," said Filch. He oiled the hinges on the gate to the Restricted Section, giving it a swing to test for creaks.

"Good," she said with a nod, when it swung silently. "I can't abide unnecessary noises in a library."

"Shame about the students, then," said Filch, polishing the handle of the gate.

"They'll keep quiet if they know what's good for them," she said sourly, and Argus's heart skipped a beat. The librarian uncrossed her arms. "Will you have a cup of tea, Mr...?"

"Filch," he said. "Aye. I'll be done in a bit."

She nodded, and went into her office to put the kettle on.

During the autumn term, Irma settled into her job at Hogwarts with surprising speed. Despite the handful of teachers who had been there when she was a student — old Professor Flitwick, who strangely looked no older than he had then, the McGonagall woman, Binns, Kettleburn — not one acted as if they knew her, though she thought that Flitwick gave her a rather penetrating look when he offered his help if she had trouble with her new life at Hogwarts.

Her days were spent among the old and rare books of Hogwarts, absent any of the daily domestic drudgery of the preceding decades, and punctuated pleasantly with the weekly staff meeting, where she sat beside some of the greatest witches and wizards of wizarding Britain. What might have been tedious to another was a pleasure to Irma.

"Madame Pince," said Dumbledore, peering over the tops of his glasses in a kindly fashion. "Your account of the incident is indeed most thorough..." Irma nodded, and put another ginger newt on the saucer beside the her teacup.

"However," added McGonagall, "I suspect that banning all of Hufflepuff House was a slight overreaction. Students are meant to use the library, you know."

"Not as a dining hall, surely," said Pince, narrowing her lips into a thin line.

"Oh, come now!" said Sprout, crossly. "One jam sandwich doesn't mean that all Hufflepuffs can't be trusted with books."

"But, Pomona," said Flitwick plaintively, "jam. Jam sticks the pages together. It stains. No one of sensitive disposition could bear the prospect. Normally I'm as indulgent of the students as anyone, but..."

"In my experience, a sensitive disposition is a distinct disadvantage in the education of children," said McGonagall. "I can't in good conscience encourage it."

"Nonsense," said Sybill Trelawney, blinking owlishly behind her large lenses. "A sensitive disposition is imperative for one who wishes to see beyond the veil. I guard my sensitive nature most carefully."

"Mmm," said McGonagall, raising an eyebrow.

"It seems you must endure the prickles of your conscience for the greater good, Minerva," said Severus, in a bland, bored drawl — and how strange to hear her boy referring to her own former teachers as Filius, Albus, and Minerva — "much like the rest of us."

Oh, surely not, thought Irma. She had only just learned that summer of the import of that hideous lorry-driver's tattoo on his arm and those well-bred friends he'd seemed lucky to find, and she'd have boxed his ears if he hadn't been standing next to Dumbledore the next time she'd seen him. Surely he couldn't be making jokes about it in the teacher's staff room, in front of all their colleagues and Dumbledore?

But McGonagall's lips had twitched, and she said, "I endure the prickles of your personality, Severus, so I'm certain I can cope with my conscience," and Severus had smiled back, so it seemed, in fact, he could.

"As much as I hate to cut short discussions of educational theory," said Dumbledore, "I'm afraid I must agree with Minerva. Not regarding sensitivity, of course, because, as you know, I'm greatly in favor of nurturing the sensitive soul, but students must use the library, and, frankly, if I had to bribe them each with a jam sandwich to convince them to visit more often, I would consider it a job well done."

Irma bristled, but Dumbledore continued. "Additionally, I must request no more finger-pustule hexes triggered by the presence of sugar. Filius, perhaps you can assist Madame Pince in casting somewhat more, er, education-friendly protective spells on the books?"

The rest of the meeting was nothing to do with her, so she simply sat back with a fresh cup of tea and some biscuits, and listened. Afterwards, as the room emptied, Severus hung behind.

He cleared his throat. "And are you, er," he said, "settling in well at Hogwarts, Madame Pince?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes, I am. Thank you, Professor Snape."

Severus nodded. "Good," he said, awkwardly. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"I find myself... quite comfortable here," she found herself saying, and the boy's eyes lit up.

Some things didn't come as easily in her new life: sitting at the staff table at meals and looking out over the rows of students, for one. Seeing her boy walking and speaking like a man she hardly knew. Still, that lent verisimilitude, seeing as she wasn't meant to know him now. She was back with her own kind, she lived well, and she earned her keep. Even the new name wasn't so bad. She became friendly with Professor Vector — not so friendly that she needed a past, but they went for a drink now and again — and Professor Flitwick loaned her books from his private collection. And once a week, sometimes twice, she had tea with Mr. Filch. She found she missed Eileen Prince less and less.

Severus rapped on Minerva's door late on Friday night, and slipped into her warmly-lit sitting room as soon as she opened the heavy carved oak door.

"I wasn't expecting you," she said, closing the door again.

"Are you busy?" said Severus. He looked around, first for persons unknown who might be taking up her time, and then to determine what he was interrupting. The answer he settled on was 'a glass of scotch and a copy of Adventures in Transfigurational Theory', the title of which he assumed displayed either a finely honed sense of irony or the total lack thereof.

"Not as such," said Minerva. "I don't mind company. Unless you've come for something specific?"

He glanced down at her beside him. She'd already removed her teaching robes, and was wearing an old but almost supernaturally soft-to-the-touch brown frock with excessive tartan trim. The combination of tartan and scotch boded ill, but he forged onward. "Yes," said Severus. "I've come for something quite specific." He moved to her side table and poured himself a tumbler of scotch, then perused her bookshelves till he found a bearable-looking wizarding history, and sat on her sofa. "I've come to drink your scotch and read your books, and I've come to do it with you in my lap."

Minerva raised an eyebrow. "What, all of me?"

"No," said Severus. "Part of you will do. Sit."

With a hint of a smile, Minerva sat on the sofa and began unbuttoning her boots.

"Give that to me," said Severus irritably, putting his book down. He pulled her foot into his lap and unbuttoned the long row of small buttons that started on her calf and ran down to her ankle, caressing her skin as he opened the leather and slipped the boot off her foot. When he'd done them both, he pulled her legs into his lap and opened his book.

Minerva summoned her book and her glass of scotch. "Are you staying the night?"

"I'm staying the weekend," said Snape. "Not that you'll see much of me. I'm supervising detention tomorrow."

"I see," said Minerva. She moved a little closer, and started reading. "I shall remember this the next time I feel like a dungeon holiday." She rubbed the back of his neck until he looked up and gave her an awkward, crooked little smile.

One morning, Filch entered the library without a broom or rag in hand. Irma put down a stack of research books from the second-year Ancient Runes class she was shelving. "Can I help you, Mr. Filch?" she said.

He handed her a paper parcel bearing the stamp of a millinery shop in Diagon Alley. "It's nothing," he said. "It's just small. Saw it and thought of you."

"I see," she said, and opened it, finding inside a single black plume, soft and beautifully arched. She took off her pointed hat and affixed the feather to the side, turning the hat to either side to inspect it, and put it back on her head.

Filch nodded his approval. "That's about right," he said. It was a decorative touch that made her no less severe. Feminine but not frivolous.

She pursed her lips, and took the hat off again to look at the black plume. "Mr. Filch," said Pince suddenly, "are you courting me?"

"No!" said Filch, and the confused look on her face spurred him on. "No, just... reckon I would. If I were magical folk, like you."

"I ought to tell you, Mr. Filch," said Madame Pince, and hesitated for a moment before continuing, "that I was married once. To a Muggle. Not very happily, as it happens, but that wasn't because he wasn't magical. Though I'd imagine it would have been much easier on us both if he'd been a Squib instead."

"So yer sayin', then," said Filch, and he licked his lips cautiously as he tried to find the words he wanted, "that you're not too proud for a Squib? What I mean to say is..."

"No," said Pince. "I may be too proud for any number of things, but an intimate relationship with a Squib is not one of them."

Argus Filch wasn't certain what she meant with her talk of intimacy, but he knew he meant to find out, and he knew he meant to court her. "Suppose you can call me Argus, then," he said.

"I shall," said Madame Pince. "And if supper goes well, you may call me Irma. It'd better be the Three Broomsticks, if you don't cook."

Supper did go well, and the next one, until Irma decided to take matters into hand one night after Argus escorted her back from Hogsmeade.

"You could stay for tea," she said at the top of the staircase. Argus nodded, and turned across the hall towards the library. "No," said Irma, "not my office. I meant my rooms."

"D'you mean tea, or...?" he asked warily. Argus tried to think back on whether he'd put on a good vest and smalls.

"We'll start with tea," said Irma, "and see about the rest." She held her arm out to Argus, and he took it in the crook of his own.

"I'd be keen to see about the rest," he said close to her ear. "After a good cup of tea."

Irma couldn't remember the last time anyone had been keen to see about the rest (and hadn't minded in the least, given that she'd little enough interest in seeing to Tobias when it could be avoided, an activity she'd come to associate with the stale smell of cheap lager), so she hoped Argus wouldn't be too disappointed if they skipped the tea. As soon as her doors closed behind them, she kissed him, stroking his bristled cheek. When he put his arm around her, she wrapped her fingers through his long gray hair to pull him towards her. He didn't smell of cheap lager in the slightest, but of wood smoke and cool air in his clothes and hair, firewhiskey on his lips, and the faint herbal smell of bay and lavender coming off his skin.

Argus, nearing the unfamiliar territory of a witch's bedchamber, made up his mind to give her the best seeing-to that he possibly could. Her black hat was thrown unceremoniously onto the settee, her jet-black hair, streaked with gray, uncoiled over her shoulders, and her black robes started to come off, revealing ivory-white skin under a white linen chemise. "You're a handsome woman," he said with a nod of approval as his fingers reached under her chemise, but the truth was that she was like... magic. He tingled with her.

Lying naked in a woman's bed, a witch's bed, with those lacy sheets women favored, right after having had her on them, that was new for Argus. He'd had witches before — mostly squibs like himself, but a witch or two as well — but rarely the professional class. He felt distinctly like a bit of rough in her rooms, but looking at Irma there next to him, he felt all right. A woman who knew a little about life, were Irma; a fine woman, not too good for a working man.

"I'd best not stay too late," said Argus, her sheet falling to his waist as he sat up. "Would like to, but best not."

"No, I suppose not," said Irma. "That was nice."

"It were good for ye, then?" said Argus. He tucked the sheet and blankets around her to keep her warm.

"I'd not say no to a second time," said Irma, looking at him with those dark black eyes of hers.

"Nor'd I," said Argus. "Well, sleep well." He planted a kiss on her forehead, turned himself out of bed, and started getting dressed.

On his way back to his rooms, he caught a pair of Ravenclaws out of bed and gave out a detention mopping out bathrooms on Monday, and arrived back at his door with a broad smile on his face. Mrs. Norris, grooming her paws by the fire, looked up long enough to give him an annoyed look.

"Carry on," he said to the cat. "I'm back, aren't I?"

The following Saturday there was another dinner at the Three Broomsticks, and Irma took Argus back to her bed again, and that's where she made her first mistake. Six months she'd managed to live without showing so much as a trace of Eileen Snape, and she was none too pleased to see her again.

It was late, after two in the morning. They'd had a bit of a kip afterwards — Argus had been in good form that night, she'd thought, and tired them both right out — and she was drifting somewhere between sleep and alertness.

"Christ, it's cold," she complained, dropping into the idiom of Spinner's End, and reached for her wand. She waved it to light a couple of candles over the fireplace and cast a warming charm. The moment Argus turned towards her, she gasped and dropped her wand, shrinking back. "Oh, shit," she said. "I didn't mean that."

Argus frowned, shaking his head groggily. "Best pick it up," he said, nodding towards where she'd dropped her wand. "Or someone'll step on it later."

Eileen leant over and got the wand, putting it back on her night table between the lamp and the books. "I forgot, is all," she said. "I know you can't use magic. I didn't mean to, Argus."

"S'all right," said Argus, then he glanced at her and propped himself up on his elbow. "Here," he said. "Your Muggle hit you, did he? For using magic?"

"None of your bloody business!" said Eileen sharply.

"I reckon it is now," said Argus, "if you're going to go dropping your wand like a frightened schoolgirl every time you think I've seen you give it a wave. You said it weren't happy. He hit you for being a witch?"

Eileen nodded once, her face pinched and tight.

"Well, I never hit you," he said. "Never did, and never will. I'd have to be daft to hit a witch for using magic. They'd put me away if I hit everyone who did magic in front of me."

"I know," said Eileen. "I'm sorry."

"I certainly never hit a witch in her own bed," said Argus, lying back and folding his arms. "I'm not having it. Can't say I haven't liked that you're willing to use your hands as often as your wand, especially around me, but I'm not having this. Get it out again, Irma. Go on."

Confused, Eileen reached for her wand, and waited cautiously.

"Go on," said Argus, nodding, "wave it. Cast summat. And you keep doing it till you get it through your thick head that you'll not get hit for it."

Eileen lit a couple more candles, and Argus nodded again. She levitated their clothing onto a chair and looked back at him.

"Again," said Argus, scowling.

She waved her wand to snuff the candles and cast a Lumos. "Can I stop?" Eileen said, raising an eyebrow. "I think I feel silly enough for one night."

Argus rubbed his face tiredly. "Aye," he said. "Reckon so." He held out an arm to her.

Eileen put the wand back on the table, paused a moment, and snuggled up against him.

Argus let out the breath he was holding. "Your stupid bloody Muggle!" he spat, wrapping his arm around her.

Eileen closed her eyes and smiled a thin-lipped, unpleasant smile. "Well, he's gone for good, and I'm here," she said.

Argus nuzzled her neck. "Suppose I'd better stay a bit tonight," he said.

That night wasn't the moment she fell in love with Argus Filch — she wasn't sure if she would — but it was the moment when she decided that she wanted to, someday.

It was spring, and a young man's fancy turned to thoughts of... well. However, it was spring, and a teacher's fancy turned to thoughts of exams and leaving qualifications and the like, so it was with no small measure of annoyance that Snape found his evening meetings with Minerva splitting between the personal and the professional in equal measure. Thus he found himself in her office at eleven at night on a Wednesday. Of course, it was spring, and the deputy headmistress's fancy turned, as it did all seasons of the year, to Albus Dumbledore's latest whim, and where her fancy turned, her body tended to follow, leaving him waiting for her return.

An insistent knocking at the door of a teacher's office mustn't be ignored at any hour, particularly the office of a head of house. That much had been impressed firmly upon Snape early in his teaching career, first by his peers and later by sorry experience. So it was that his hesitation to answer the knock at the door of Minerva's office was short-lived. With luck, he thought, he could rush the horrid little blighter off to Pomfrey right quick and be back before Minerva.

Everyone involved was a bit nonplussed when he opened the door to find Mr. Filch with three gingers in Gryffindor uniforms, the smaller two held by the ear and the tallest one standing behind them casually.

"Well," said Snape, sweeping his arm to wave them into the room, "Weasley, Weasley, and Weasley. Do come in."

"I were expecting Professor McGonagall," muttered Filch.

"As, indeed, am I," said Snape, impatiently. He grabbed Charlie and Percy by the shoulders "I'll take them off your hands, shall I."

Filch released his grip on their ears, and frowned for a moment before an outburst of temper took him. "Here, they were messing with my cat!" said Filch.

"We weren't..." said the smallest Weasley. Brave boy, thought Snape, but stupid. Very much a Gryffindor, then. He thrust the boys into Minerva's office. Bill followed with a salute and small grin as he passed Snape. Cheeky bugger.

"Messing with my cat, and I want things done over it," said Filch, pointing a finger at them. "She's my cat, she is."

"We didn't," piped up Charlie. "Percy dropped Scabbers and Mrs. Norrisó" Snape stared down with disdain at the scrawny rat that the smallest Weasley cradled in his hands.

"I want things done," interrupted Filch.

"I see," said Snape. "What sort of things?"

Filch rubbed his knuckles. "Was a time when students here were taught right from wrong," he said. "My predecessor had the right of it. Taught the little bastards a thing or two."

Charlie pushed past Percy. "My dad still has scars from him!" he blurted out. "You--"

"So presumably he did learn a thing or two," said Snape coldly, before the boy could be so idiotically stupid as to call a member of staff a bastard to their face. "Thank you for your diligence, Mr. Filch. I'll see that they're properly disciplined for their infractions. Sadly..." and he paused for the sarcastic emphasis that Minerva would have known to place on the correct word, but Filch most certainly would not, "the Headmaster in his infinite wisdom has banned the whipping of manacled students," by frustrated magicless bastards who cover the stench of their fear by beating things smaller than they are, he thought, "but I'm certain something equally unpleasant can be managed."

Filch grunted, dissatisfied but recognizing his dismissal, and turned on his heels.

"Weasley Major," said Snape, turning on Bill. He had a couple of inches on the boy, still, but it was not quite the intimidating downwards-stare he preferred. "I am surprised to see a prefect involved in this."

"Of course I am," said Bill, with amiable charm. "It's my job to supervise younger students, and see them to their head of house following an incident. Even if they are my brothers. Sir."

"An 'incident'," said Snape. "Attacking a defenseless cat belonging to a member of staff." He glared at the somewhat more impressionable Smallest Weasley.

"She attacked Scabbers!" said Percy, clutching the rat.

"Honest," said Charlie, "we were just pulling her off Scabbers. We didn't hurt her."

"The more clever students at Hogwarts," said Snape, towering over Percy, "might question the wisdom of keeping a rat in a school full of cats and owls. In fact, the only thing here that won't eat your pet is the toads, and even then, it probably depends on the size of the toad. One week of detention apiece. Percy, for putting a rat in harm's way and then blaming the cat; Charlie, for manhandling the creature; and Bill, for having the bad judgment to have them for brothers. And fifty points from Gryffindor for making me deal with this nonsense at this time of night."

"But there's Quidditch on Thursday!" said Charlie. "We're playing Slytherin."

Snape smiled nastily. "Is that so? Professor McGonagall will be so disappointed." He turned to Bill. "We're done. Escort your brothers back to the tower. Now."

It was with a lighter heart that Severus Snape sat back down and awaited Minerva's return from Dumbledore's office. And he might be able to get a bet in on the match before she learned that he'd taken her Seeker out of the game.

After thinking it over for a few weeks, Eileen decided to tell the boy. They had their separate lives, for the most part, but her son ought to know she'd taken up with someone new, she thought. One night, just after the student curfew, she went down to the dungeons, hoping to find him alone in his classroom. When she reached the Potions hallway, he was there, but not alone.

There was her lad, deep in conversation with the McGonagall woman like they were the best of friends — well, that was nothing new, many's the day she saw them walk through the hallways side by side like a matched set in a swirl of black teaching robes. But then Severus reached out to touch a tendril of McGonagall's hair, just for a moment, before he turned. "I'll be up shortly," he said, crisp and curt, and anyone who hadn't seen that brief touch would assume he meant her office. But Eileen knew her boy, knew what he was doing with a woman so much older than he was. The woman had to be ten or fifteen years older than Eileen herself. How long had he kept something like that a secret, and what on earth did he think he was playing at?

Eileen followed him into the Potions classroom after McGonagall left, closing the door behind her. Severus was sorting stacks of essays into the desk drawers, and looked up at the sound. His mother stood in the doorway.

"Do you make house calls for overdue library books now?" he said.

"Do you make house calls to service needy old schoolteachers now?" said Eileen.

Severus slammed the drawer closed and locked it. "My private life is none of your affair," he said.

Eileen sniffed dismissively. "At least you didn't try to tell me you were going to play chess," she said.

"Not a bit of it," said Severus. "I'm going to have a drink and a civilized adult conversation. And then I'm going to shag her for a good long while, thanks to the fact that that I brew a rather good lubricant and an effective muscle rub. Minerva is a woman of healthy appetites." He levitated textbooks from the desks back onto the shelves.

"Don't be filthy, you little beast," said Eileen. "Don't you realize she's older than I am?"

Severus waved his wand to line the chairs neatly under the student desks. "They do teach maths in Muggle primary schools, even in the shithole I went to," he said, "and thus I am capable of basic sums, yes."

"And that she was teaching when I was a student here?" said Eileen. "I'll grant she's more competent than I gave her credit for, but is she truly the best you can do? A dried-up old maid with a moralistic stick up her arse the size of Merlin's staff?"

"Yes, as it happens," said Severus, turning on her. "She is the very best I can do. And I can't say I noticed any stick up her arse when I was there."

"Watch your mouth, you little bastard," said Eileen sharply. "Do you think that just because you've learned to speak like you come from money, you can talk like a dock-worker? I almost feel sorry for her, if she's so desperate she lets a nasty piece of work like you stick your prick into her."

"I refuse to listen to this from a woman with your abominable taste in sexual partners," said Severus, folding his arms across his chest. "Did you think I didn't know? I know all about your insatiable appetite for uneducated Northern tossers who get off on beating children into obedience. Da wasn't enough for you, apparently. As soon as you buried the first, you immediately dug up a second. Did you think I didn't know about your ugly little playtoy?"

"Is that what you are," said Eileen coldly, "McGonagall's ugly Northern playtoy?"

Severus's eyes tried to burn holes through her, but she was unimpressed. She'd seen him when he was a snotty-nosed toddler with skinned knees and badly-fitting hand-me-downs. "Maybe so," said Severus, looking down at her, "but at least I spend my time consorting with the best Hogwarts can offer, while doing a reasonably good impersonation of the same. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for an evening with the deputy headmistress. Enjoy your tryst in the mop cupboard." He swept out.

Eileen stood there, lips drawn in rage, and stormed upstairs to the door in the nook behind the stairs, where she knocked angrily, pushing her way in as soon as the door opened.

"Irma," said Filch, surprised at the intrusion. "Nothing's wrong, is it?" He looked nervously back at his rooms, respectably tidy but old and exuding bachelor living, looking for signs of wear and tear to which a woman might object.

"I raised a bloody horror," she said grimly. "The nasty ungrateful bastard spawn of a nasty ungrateful bastard. That's what's wrong. I'm staying and don't you dare send me off."

Argus stared for a moment, then stirred himself. "Sit before you wear holes in my carpet, then. It's shabby enough," he said, "and you'll do yourself no good by pacing. I'll fetch us some tea."

She sat on the sofa, perched on the edge, and looked around Argus's rooms for the first time. There was a warm fire casting a cozy orange light, and the rooms reminded Eileen, inexplicably, of her grandmother's house, full of the faded bric-a-brac of years past. Curled up in the armchair, Mrs. Norris glared at her malevolently.

Filch returned with a tray holding a pot of tea, two mugs, and a plate of jammie dodgers, and realized he had nowhere to put it. Finally, he put it on the breakfast table behind him.

"Now," he said, handing her a steaming hot mug of tea, which she blew on. "He's not a terrible lad, you know, not really. Bad-tempered as a wet cat, is Snape, but I reckon he got his mother's mind for books and sharp tongue, so he can't be all bad." Eileen stared up at him, saying nothing, and he passed her the plate of biscuits. "'Tis him, your lad?"

"Yes," said Eileen. "I didn't know you knew." She took a jammie dodger.

Argus shooed Mrs. Norris out of his chair and sat with his tea. "Never thought about it before," he said. "Didn't know you had a boy."

"No one's meant to know," said Eileen, fidgeting.

"Then don't go 'round complaining about him where folks can hear," said Argus, quite reasonably, he thought.

"He's a nasty piece of work," she muttered. She closed her eyes as she took a swallow of tea.

"He's a hard man, right enough," said Argus, with something approaching approval in his voice. "And he's a bit too old for his Mum. That's all right, if no one's to know anyway. It's nowt to do with you, Irma."

She blew on her tea and nibbled on the biscuit, feeling more like Irma by the minute. "I'm still staying," she said, a little sullenly.

Filch grunted. "You're a grown woman, you can do as you please," he said. "Reckon you can see plain enough that it's not the bleedin' Peverell Manor. You'll get my spare nightshirt, a decent cup of tea in the morning, and a cuddle or a bit of the other in between, whichever you please."

"That sounds," said Irma, "quite nice indeed." The corners of her mouth twisted upwards slightly into a small smile.

And it was quite nice, later, when she was nestled up in bed in a blue nightshirt, finishing up the snuggle that had been interrupted by Argus's todger poking at her thighs. Well. It'd all been quite nice. And he did make a decent cup of tea, to boot. A woman could do worse in life than that. She had done, after all, and had the ungrateful sprog to prove it. Fortunately for the bitter fruit of Tobias Snape's loins, she was less inclined to hex off her son's ill-employed bollocks while lying quite happily with Argus Filch, watching him fall asleep with a contented smile on his face. And Argus had been right: Severus might be her son, but he was nothing much to do with her, certainly not now that they'd gone their own ways in life. Irma Pince settled in for a nice rest.

Snape stormed into McGonagall's rooms after leaving his mother behind in the Potions classroom, and poured himself a very large drink. He took a swallow.

"I leave you alone for ten minutes," said Minerva, "and somehow you manage to work up a temper." She had removed her robes and loosened her hair.

"Talent," said Severus curtly. He knocked back the second half of his drink.

"Well, don't make me cast cheering charms all over you to salvage the evening," said Minerva. She sat down at her desk and resumed marking essays to pass the time while Severus finished sulking.

"You wouldn't dare," he said. He refilled his glass and sat in front of her fire.

"Oh, but I would," said Minerva, flipping to the next essay. "I'm not a Gryffindor for nothing, Severus. I would like to have sex sometime this week, you know."

"So who's stopping you?" said Severus with a sneer. "I'm not."

Minerva marked an 'E' on the paper, and moved on to the next. "Would you like to discuss it?" she said.

"No," said Severus. He stared into the fire for a few moments. "My— Madame Pince is a nosy old bint with a tongue like a fishwife, and the old harpy can get stuffed if she wants to criticize the woman I..." He hesitated. "Choose to spend my time with."

Minerva smiled. "What a way to speak about your colleagues, Severus," she said.

He snorted in amusement, and glanced at Minerva and her stack of essays. "Aren't you done? We had plans for tonight, you know."

"I've been waiting for you to notice," she said. She put down her quill and patted her hair before going to stand over him.

"Of course I notice," said Severus, looking up at her. "I was a bloody spy. I'm here, aren't I?"

"So I'm the woman you choose to spend your time with, am I?" said Minerva, raising an eyebrow.

Snape's cheeks reddened slightly and he hesitated. "Yes," he said. "Obviously." He glared at her, daring her to say something about it.

"Do you know," said Minerva, reaching out to touch his cheek, "there are times I'm really quite fond of you."

Severus stood and put his tumbler down, casting a quick Scourgify. "Get your kit off, McGonagall," he said. "If you're bloody stupid enough to admit that, you'd better be prepared for frequent shagging and at least two romantic dinners a year."

"I've been through two wars. I think I'll survive it," said Minerva. She turned her back towards him. "Unbutton me, will you?"

He did, stroking finger-light touches over her shoulders and down the long, faded white scars that ran down her left arm and her back from the post-Grindelwald manhunts of her Auror days, and held her body close against his before releasing her and letting her robe drop to the ground.

Epilogue — 1991

Argus stretched his arms out and bent his spine backwards with a groan, then climbed into bed and pulled the covers up tight.

"I bandaged up your boy as best I could," he said, fluffing the pillow. "Ought to get that leg seen to."

"He ought to get his head seen to," muttered Irma. She wrapped her arms around him. "Poisons. Three-headed dogs. And she's no better. Running after mountain trolls, the pair of them, I ask you."

"Aye, cut of the same cloth, those two," said Argus, shaking his head. "Poor lad."

"Idiot boy," said Irma. "You're good to him."

Argus patted her arm. "No trouble," he said. "He's your lad, Irma."

Irma smiled. She kissed Argus and closed her eyes.

Mrs. Norris padded through from the sitting room and stared up at the bed, giving a small yowl. She jumped up on the foot of the bed, spun in a circle a few times, and curled up with her tail wrapped around her. Then she stared at the human occupants with an annoyed expression.

Argus moved his foot under the blankets to stroke the cat with his toe. "Go to sleep, puss," he said. He nestled back with a happy sigh.

"The blue bottle!" said Severus, crossly. He leaned back on her sofa and folded his arms.

"There wasn't a blue bottle," said Minerva. "This is what you asked for. The blood replenisher, the pain potion, and the bite salve. Now swallow and stop complaining."

Severus sneered. "I plan to say the same in half an hour," he said.

"When have I ever complained?" said Minerva, "And if you think I'm going to perform oral sex on a man who nearly had his leg bit off by something called 'Fluffy' before the blood's even dried, you're sorely mistaken."

"You gave them points," said Severus. "For being bloody fools."

"I did," said McGonagall, "because sometimes surviving is the best indication of having learned survival skills." She uncorked the first bottle. "Here."

He swallowed with a grimace. "It'll just teach them to continue being bloody fools," he said petulantly.

"I'm quite certain they'll continue whether I reward the behavior or not," said Minerva. "They're first-years. It goes with the territory."

She uncorked the second bottle, and handed it to him, and he drank it down. "You haven't nearly had your leg bit off," he said, looking her over. "I could perform oral sex on you."

"Best not," said Minerva. "You'll only teach me to continue giving points to first-years." She stood and offered him her arm. "Let me help you to bed. Can you stand?"

"I have been running on it all night, you know," muttered Snape, but he grabbed her arm as he pulled himself up and stepped gingerly.

"Are you sure it'll be all right till morning?" said Minerva.

Snape shook his head. "It'll do. Filch bandaged it up well enough," he said, and took a few steps. "Mum did a bit better with this one, at least."

"He looks after you well enough," said Minerva. "And Irma seems happy."

Snape snorted. "There's a first," he said. "The old bastard must work miracles." Severus leaned on her all the way to her bedroom, and she helped him get his clothes off, finally just vanishing his trousers to avoid pulling them off over his leg.

"I'll likely get blood on your sheets," he said, pulling on his nightshirt as she undressed.

"We'll manage," said Minerva. Severus got into bed, and she unwound her hair from its bun and got in the other side. "You do look rather handsome, hunting trolls," she said.

"So do you," said Severus, glancing over her with a glint in his eyes and an upwards twist of his lip. "We'll skip the dog next time, shall we?"

Minerva smiled and settled in under the duvet. "I should think so," she said. "One deadly creature a night, for preference."

Severus's hand crept under the duvet and slipped into hers, and their fingers closed around each other's. Her hand felt warm and delicate and his. "I doubt we'll ever be so lucky," he muttered.

"We've done all right for ourselves so far," said Minerva, and she squeezed his hand. They lay in bed, listening to the rain fall gently against the window.

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