"Severus?" Minerva McGonagall knocked on the door to the Potions Master's dank dungeon office. It still felt strange to call him by his first name--- but "Professor Snape" was stranger still. Fine thing when your students became your colleagues. And tonight she was feeling every one of her seventy-three years.
Especially this one--- still sullen and taciturn as ever, to judge from the silence. She knocked again, spoke more sternly. "Severus."
A moment's silence, then a low voice snapped, "Who is it?"
She had to pause for a second, trying to decide how to refer to herself. "Minerva."
Another silence, then the door swung open a crack, just enough to let one dark eye glare balefully out at her. "What do you want?"
"You weren't at dinner. The Headmaster sent me to see if you---"
"If I what? If I'd finally done the world a favor and done away with myself?" She didn't need the reek of his breath to tell her that he'd had far too much to drink. Brandy, most likely, and she thought that was likely why Albus had sent her instead of one of the others. She'd had a bit of experience with that state of drunk, in her halycon days in the Department of Mysteries.
She fought the urge to flinch at the memories. Best not think of that now, Minerva. "Hadn't knocked yourself out drinking, more likely--- a corpsicle would make too much work for the house elves, and that's what you'd likely become if you passed out down here."
The drink had slowed his reaction, but she thought she saw a flinch at the word "corpsicle". Wonder why that is? "Well, as you can see, I'm still very much in the land of the living." He scowled. "More's the pity. And I'm sure that the Headmaster would appreciate knowing straightaway."
Under other circumstances, she might have gratefully accepted that brusque dismissal. But the imp of the perverse held her fast. "So much for your Christmas spirit, then." It had been Christmas dinner he missed--- not usual for anyone who knew Hogwarts' Christmas feasts.
"Sod Christmas. Now leave me in peace."
"Not a chance---" She leaned forward, exaggeratedly, and sniffed at his breath. "That's good brandy you're drinking, and as drunk as you are, it's likely wasted on you. Give me a snort and I'll go away and leave you to your sullen inebriation---" She chuckled. "Think of it as a Christmas present."
Snape stared rather blearily at her for a moment, then shrugged. "If you insist." He turned away from the door, leaving it open in what she assumed was a silent invitation.
She followed him into the dank chamber, shivering slightly with the chill. No fire in the fireplace, and the only sign that the office was occupied were the rows of slimy things in jars on the shelves... reminding her uncomfortably of... Don't think of that.
Snape was at his desk, rummaging about for another glass. "I've only got one snifter---"
"What? A Slytherin without a full set of glassware?" Minerva mocked.
Snape ignored the barb; drunker than she'd thought. "You'll have to make do---" He held up a beaker.
Minerva was forcefully and painfully reminded again of her once-friends among the Unspeakables. Unbidden, the thought came that he'd have made a good one. Not much difference between them and us, was there, Minnie? Not when it came down to cases.... "I've done as much before," she answered, more sharply than she'd intended.
He didn't seem to mind, simply filled the beaker and his own glass, than sank back into the chair.
She gazed at him, amused. "Manners, Severus." He made a rude noise, and she settled into the chair across from his, took a sip of her brandy. "Very nice." And very strong; stronger than anything she'd had in a while. She'd have to watch herself.
"Family cellars." He sat back in his chair, but stiffly.
"I should have known." They drank in silence for a little time, then she couldn't resist asking. "So what's the occasion."
"You may be a taciturn misanthrope with never a good word to say for anyone--- but I've never known you to miss a Christmas feast. So I repeat, what's the occasion?"
Snape glared balefully at her from under the curtain of greasy hair. "Need you ask?"
"I should have known." She took a sip of her brandy. "So are you really going to let James' son drive you into an alcoholic stupor---"
"Damn it!" His fist clenched on the glass; for a moment, she feared he'd shatter it. He controlled himself with an obvious effort, set it down. "It's not just his parentage--- it's... he could be James all over again." He fell silent, staring at the brandy glass. "At Halloween--- it was that night in the Shrieking Shack all over again, Minerva, mark my words. The Granger girl annoyed Potter and his friends--- a crime punishable by death." He laughed horribly.
"Severus--- Merlin's beard, you heard the girl, she said---"
"I know what she said." Another baleful look. "And I'd think as long as you've been in this profession, you'd have learned to tell when a student is lying." He picked up the snifter. "Mark my words, Minerva, Potter and his little sidekick decided she didn't deserve to live--- and Granger, being a good little Gryffindor, covered up for them. And as a reward---" sneer--- "she gets to be a part of their little group now."
"Isn't that what you wanted?" The words slipped out before she could stop herself, and she hadn't even had that much brandy. "To be part of James' group? Wasn't that why you followed them around?"
Snape glared at her, but didn't reply, and for a moment, she thought she'd scored a point. Then, in a low voice, hoarse and shaky, "D'you want to know why I followed them?" Generous swallow of brandy. "Because I wanted to find out what they had that I didn't."
Minerva stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"Why people... liked them." He looked away, abruptly, as if feeling he'd said too much.
Minerva could have given him a few answers--- for starters, "Wash your hair," and "Speak civilly once in a while," came to mind, but she rather thought that wouldn't help. She took a generous swallow of her own libation. After a moment, he glared over at her. "Aren't you finished yet?"
Minerva looked carefully down at her glass, held it up to the light. "Apparently not." She took a small sip, decided to try another conversational tack. Not that she necessarily wanted to stay down here--- but she did want to finish the brandy.
And... he looked so alone, sitting there in the cheerless room with his one glass getting drunk. Merry Christmas. Why people liked them. "You know, I think most of our students would be shocked if they saw us--- I'm sure Professors aren't supposed to drink." She forced a laugh. "They probably think we get hung up in our offices over the summer, just waiting for the new term to start."
The eyes that stared at her from under the curtain of hair weren't quite so baleful. "That's not too far from wrong."
Enough of the brandy had gone from her glass to her gut that she missed the warning. "Speak for yourself." The brandy was warming her, reminding her of the old days--- and it took just enough of the edge off that she could think of the happy memories.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me," he drawled, the brandy slurring the words, "that the primmest witch at Hogwarts---"
"You didn't know me when--- youngster." She took another sip of her brandy. "When I was your age I was doing---" she couldn't resist the pun--- "unspeakable things."
And in the next moment cursed herself, for even drunk he was smart enough to put two and two together. "You were with the Department of Mysteries."
"Damn you anyway, Snape--- yes, yes I was." The brandy was still, knock on wood, keeping the happy times in front of her. "The things we got up to--- but I'd better not tell you."
"No--- but you're too young to hear about some of it." She smiled mischievously, the sort of look she hadn't given since those days, that says, ask me what I mean, even while her words said not to. A dare of sorts. She sighed, leaning back. "Those were the days--- I was your age... got up to that sort of mischief." Some of her practiced reserve was coming back, despite the brandy, though it was hard to remember that she wasn't with one of her old friends.
He gave her a speculative look. "Sex, you mean?" Before she could answer, he went on. "Well, you're ahead of me--- I've never...." He trailed off.
She sat up in her chair. "You're kidding."
Bitter laugh. "Who'd want this?" He gestured at himself.
The drink made her careless again. "I wouldn't have thought that would have mattered to a Death Eater---"
"Merlin, no---" He stared wretchedly over at her. "I may be a monster, but I never sunk that low."
He slouched lower in his chair, seeming to huddle in on himself, a black shape in the shadows. She stared at him for a long moment... then spoke.
"I'll see you and raise you."
"Eh?" He looked up blearily.
"I told you, I was in the Department of Mysteries--- part of a special team of Transfigurers--- we called ourselves the Shifters. Animagi, of course, but we Transfigured other things too... and people...." She shivered. "That's what they did with some convicts before Azkaban, you know--- the Unforgivables--- gave them to us and some of the other research departments, let us... experiment."
Snape stared at her, and she smiled thinly. "So I've managed to shock a former Death Eater. That's saying something."
He shook himself. "I'm sorry--- Merlin knows I've no business passing judgment on atrocities...." He shook his head.
"That's not what I said it for." She took a gulp of her brandy. "Just wanted you to know... you weren't alone in feeling like a monster."
Snape looked over at her. "How do you... live with yourself?"
"It took a while," she said gently. "But I learned... and I didn't have the burden you've got on you--- having to keep up appearances, so to speak. The rest of the Shifters, at least, mostly feel as I do about it." She shrugged. "We were young, we were drunk with our powers, and the Ministry had given us a white card---" she felt her lips twist as the old Ministry slang came back to her. "Our excesses... were condoned by our superiors... and most of us realized in time what we were doing."
Snape sighed, wearily. "At least you never tortured innocents."
"Depends on your definition." The next was hard to say; she had to swallow another jolt of brandy to manage it. "Some of us... were in the habit of making love in Animagus form. We spawned some interesting... hybrids that way."
Snape stared at her. "You don't mean...."
"I do." She gulped the rest of her brandy. "So there--- we're even." It was half a challenge.
"Merlin." He stared at her. Then held out the bottle.
"I thought you wanted me gone."
He shrugged. "Are you refusing?"
"Never--- it's been years since I drank." She let him fill the beaker, sipped at the liquid with relief. "We used to drink a lot, the Shifters. I think we were after drowning our consciences."
"Wish I could say the same. The Death Eaters drank for the same reason they... did everything else. Because they enjoyed their debauchery."
"And you didn't?"
"I... couldn't." He shivered. "I don't find... torture... appealing." His students would probably disagree, but Minerva knew he meant something else.
Hollow laugh, startling her out of her thoughts. "Besides... I honestly doubted I could have... performed... in the middle of an orgy. Not with... what else was usually going on." He looked sick; literally, physically ill.
"Want to talk about it?"
"I don't even want to think about it." He swallowed the rest of his brandy in a gulp, poured more.
And Minerva felt the strange, giddy sensation she hadn't had since her youth flood over her. Oh, Minnie, you'll regret this in the morning.... But this, at least, seemed worth doing. "What about... one on one?"
"What?" He stared at her, eyes unfocused.
"You said you couldn't've managed it in the middle of an orgy--- what about one on one?"
He shuddered. "I told you, I've never sunk that low."
"I don't mean, rape." He stared at her. "Come on, man, do I have to spell it out for you?"
He blinked, almost stupidly; for a moment, he looked very young and very vulnerable. "What?"
"I'm offering." She got unsteadily to her feet; hastily, he rose, swaying even more. "Come on. It's been a long time for me---" Because she couldn't stand the thought of bedding someone innocent, after what she'd done. But Snape was anything but innocent himself; it was... all right to be here. All right to do this.
Unless... the thought penetrated her liquor-fogged wits. "Unless you don't want to?"
He blinked. "I... no... I never... I wouldn't---" Hazy sort of mumbling, but the look in his eyes, lost and needy and grateful, said enough.
She wove her way around the desk to him. "All right, then." And leaned up against him, smelling the warm scent of his skin--- soap the strongest element, that was odd considering his appearance. Maybe the hair isn't his fault.
Then he put his arms clumsily around her, and she decided it didn't matter for the moment. "Come here." And put one hand behind his head and drew him down for a kiss.
She'd had better--- lots. But they were both drunk; not fair to expect much. She pulled back after a moment. "Your rooms or mine."
He was swaying against her, shaky. "Mine a-are closer."
"All right then," she said again. "Lead the way."
It was rather pitiful, really.
He fumbled shakily at her robes, face flushed with alcohol or embarrassment, until she took pity on them both and got them out of their clothes.
One thing he did right: she'd never had a man look at her like that. Like she was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. And at her age, with a man half that, it was quite enough to make her forgive the fumbling and the greasy hair and the general lack of what she'd have defined as good looks. Among other things.
She pulled him down on the bed, and for a moment, just held him, letting old memories work their way to the surface... letting him adjust to the feel of them together.
And then rubbed against him gently, and felt his arms tighten convulsively around her. "Good?"
"I--- I think." He was tense, bow-string taut against her. "I... wouldn't know."
And something in the shaky voice and the tension and the liquid black eyes fixed helplessly on hers said that maybe he'd never been touched at all in a way he thought was good.
He mouthed shyly at her neck, and that was good, that was a sensitive expanse of skin that even a skittish beginner couldn't botch too badly, and she praised him with little moans--- rather more than really warranted, but he was trying--- and held his head gently.
And he seemed to think that was enough, but her body was remembering other times and other men--- remembering the fun of doing something just-because--- and she pushed him back on the bed and set to in earnest.
He surprised her then, because even under a concentrated assault it took ages for his body to respond. And him a wizard in his prime! Well, maybe it was the alcohol... or just nerves. She didn't stop to ask.
He tried, give him credit, tried to touch her and please her. But he fumbled it so badly--- his hands either too light or too rough, never quite in the right place--- that it was more fun for her to play with him and watch his reactions.
Fuzzy thought in her mind that it mightn't be a good idea to spoil him, and she left off her own ministrations to guide him. Showed him where to put his hands and how to touch, and rewarded him with more of her touch when he earned it.
He was amazingly passive about it, doing what she suggested without a bit of complaint, not seeming to have a preference one way or the other about how he touched her--- or even she him. Just... taking what was offered. Not asking.
And really, it did feel good to touch him. Thin body and pale skin and not much in the way of other endowments... but he felt good. Or maybe it was just that she hadn't had it in a long time.
And finally, he was ready, or enough so that she could take him, and she did. And got a lovely surprise--- he didn't spend until she was satisfied. Which, under the circumstances, did take some time.
Afterwards, they lay together in the bed, silent and sated. She wanted nothing more than to sleep, now--- preferably in her own bed. The next morning was easier alone, that was something else she remembered.
Movement beside her; Snape turned on his side, away from her, shivering. She thought she heard a sob.
Which settled at least the question of where she was sleeping tonight.
She turned on her side and touched his back; he curled up tight. "It's all right," she said, and invented, "It affects some people like that, the first time."
And pulled him back to her, unresisting, and held him with his head against her chest and rocked him to sleep.