Chapter One: A Surprising Spell
From his office, Severus heard the girls’ raised voices. No, not when he had just settled down with his new novel, the latest in the Defence with No Danger series – this one was Defence with No Danger is No Fun. If it was half as good as Defence with No Danger is No Erotomania, or even Defence with No Danger is No Dream, he was in for a real treat. He’d bought it last Saturday, and this was his first opportunity to sit down with it – after waiting almost a week for a free moment, he was not going to let some petty squabble in the corridor disturb him. Now that he was finally the Defence Against Dark Arts teacher, himself, the books were even more enjoyable. They were by the same author who wrote the Potions with No Peril series, but, in Snape’s opinion, Trajan Tyne was a superior protagonist to Nero Newcastle, the Potions master in the No Peril novels. Newcastle tended to get into annoyingly distracting romantic trysts; Tyne was more a love’em-and-leave’em type.
Severus tried to ignore the penetrating voices, hoping they would just go away, but when another girl’s shrill voice was raised above the others, he lost all hope that he would be able to concentrate on Trajan Tyne’s latest adventures as a beleaguered DADA teacher surrounded by incompetent dunderheads. Sighing, Severus put his book back into its warded drawer. Given that the new voice belonged to the Know-It-All Gryffindor prefect, Hermione Granger, and the previous voices had belonged to Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode, he probably ought to intervene. He might be able to take a few points from Gryffindor – if he were lucky, anyway.
He emerged from his office and looked down the hallway to see the two Slytherin girls facing each other, wands out. Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy were standing next to each other, backs to him. This might be entertaining. He sidled into the shadow of a suit of armour.
“They won’t listen to me, Malfoy! Aren’t you going to do anything? You’re a prefect, too, if you haven’t forgotten.”
“Watch the sarcasm, Granger. I don’t know . . . it’s rather gratifying to watch two witches fight over me.” Draco pretended to polish his nails against his chest. “Of course, as a mudblood – excuse me, a Muggle-born – you wouldn’t know what it’s like to have two attractive members of the opposite sex vying for your attentions, would you?” he asked sweetly.
“Draco Malfoy!” Apparently giving up on him, Granger turned to the two Slytherin girls, who hadn’t ceased hurling epithets at each other in the meantime. “Pansy! Millicent! Put your wands away! Just talk it over like civilized witches.”
As one, the two girls turned from their exchange of insults and said, “Shut it, Mudblood!” then continued their argument.
“You two should be taking this up with Draco!” yelled Hermione in one last-ditch effort to get the two girls to stop fighting.
“Oh, yeah?” said Pansy. She never was a particularly articulate girl, thought Snape. “Well, maybe I just should take it up with Draco, then.” Snarling at Millicent, she said, “I’ll show you, Millicent Bulstrode, you pimple-faced Troll-Hag!” Pansy raised her wand.
Uh-oh. Perhaps it was time for him to intervene. Stepping out from behind the suit of armour, Severus was just about to raise his voice in its most stentorian but mellifluous tones, when he realised he was too late even for an Expelliarmus.
Furious, Pansy whirled around and cast a spell at Draco, growling the incantation. Draco ducked. Snape felt a peculiar tickling sensation crawling over his skin and into his organs, beginning with his stomach then spreading down to his groin, up to his heart, and then, finally, into his sinuses and the back of his eyes. He sneezed.
“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod,” he could hear Pansy saying. Yes, as articulate as ever.
Snape blinked. The little stars, which had accompanied the tickling in his eyes, dissipated.
The four students stood, a frozen tableau in front of him. Draco had blanched as white as he’d ever been, which wasn’t saying much, Snape supposed. Millicent was standing motionless, wand hanging loosely in her limp mitt. The Gryffindor Know-It-All had finally been struck dumb, Snape saw, her mouth hanging open but nothing coming out of it. Pansy stood, red-faced, hand over her mouth, still repeating the same muffled expression over and over again. Severus wanted to slap her.
He didn’t, however. “What was that spell, Miss Parkinson?” he asked in a low, cold voice.
Pansy stopped speaking; she only opened her mouth once or twice, like a particularly stupid Hufflepuff doing an imitation of a goldfish.
“I asked you a question, Miss Parkinson. Did the spell rebound upon you and cause you to lose your ability to speak sensibly?”
“N-n-no, sir,” Pansy whispered.
“I presume you do know what spell it was that you cast.”
“Yes, sir,” breathed Pansy.
“Well? I am waiting, Miss Parkinson. I am a patient man, but even my patience can be strained,” Severus said with a sneer. “I will begin to take a point from Slytherin for each second that passes if you do not tell me immediately what that spell was!” He narrowed his eyes and gave her his best I-can-see-what-you’re-thinking-so-don’t-bother-to-lie-to-me look.
Pansy choked and sputtered, glancing at Draco as if to see if he would rescue her. When no salvation was forthcoming and Snape had proceeded to count, reaching three, Pansy blurted, “It was Actus Adfectus Amor Verissimus, sir.”
Snape blanched as white as Draco had, which wasn’t difficult.
“Do you know what that spell does, Miss Parkinson?” he choked out.
“It makes someone reveal their true love?”
“It does not. It forces the object of the spell to act on their affections for their true love. You are a fool, Miss Parkinson,” Snape spat. “You may be ambitious, but you possess no other traits of a true Slytherin! Do you even realise that there is no counter-spell for it? Of course not.”
“B-b-but, sir, it won’t work on everyone; it said so in the book.”
“The book! You are beginning to sound like this Know-It-All Gryffindor. You can’t learn everything from a book, can you, Miss Granger?” Severus asked, turning to the sixth-year Gryffindor who was one of the three banes of his existence. Well, one of the five banes, actually, but when you were as baned as he was, who counted?
“No, sir,” answered Hermione, barely moving her lips. She was looking at Snape as though she thought he might go off his rails at any moment and begin attacking random witches. She had backed against the wall, next to Draco and slightly behind him.
So much for the highly vaunted Gryffindor courage, Severus scoffed to himself. “And you, Mr Malfoy. You are a prefect. I did not notice you attempting to diffuse the situation before it got out of hand. If you had been less fortunate, you would have been the recipient of that spell and not I.”
“Do you feel all right, sir?” Draco asked solicitously.
“What do you think, Draco?” Snape smirked. “I have not yet fallen into a swoon, have I?”
“But, sir, you glowed when the spell hit you,” the Slytherin prefect replied, his brows knit with worry. He really did seem concerned for his Head of House. Snape would have to reward him for his acting skills later.
“Clearly, that was a side-effect of the spell.”
“Professor Snape –” Oh, gods, the Gryffindor had found her voice! Now he wouldn’t be able to shut her up.
“Professor Snape, you didn’t just . . . glow. There were sparks coming out of your body. From . . . particular . . . areas. Gold and red sparks, sir.”
Gryffindor! Of course she would note the colour of the sparks and think they were significant just because they were her House colours.
“Meaningless, Miss Granger. A mere side-effect of the spell, which clearly had no effect on me,” he said dismissively. Snape could just hear the student gossip mill churning out the news: Snape has no heart! The greasy bat-of-the-dungeons doesn’t lurve anyone! Naturally, no one would ever assume that the spell had no effect on him because he already had found “true love” and had acted upon it. Not that he had, of course, but it might be nice, just once, to be thought of as having a tender side. No, it wouldn’t! Definitely not! The spell must have had some residual side-effects, if he was thinking such dotty thoughts.
“Miss Parkinson, you will have detention with Mr Filch for the next week.” Just as Pansy was breathing a sigh of relief, Severus added, “And if there are any other untoward effects of this curse, rest assured that your punishment will not stop at that!” Turning to the Gryffindor, he said, “Don’t you have somewhere to be, Miss Granger?”
He smirked at her muttered, “Yes, sir, of course,” and was amused to see Draco following close on her heels, lest he be the next target of his Head of House’s wrath.
“You, Miss Bulstrode, will serve detention with Professor Hagrid for three nights this week – the three nights of his choosing. I shall advise him to select . . . suitable tasks for you.”
Millicent flushed darkly and nodded.
“What are you waiting for? Go!” Snape dismissed the block-like girl.
When they were alone, Snape stared at Pansy, hard, delighted to see her swallow nervously several times.
“You are very fortunate, as well, Miss Parkinson, that the spell did not hit Draco. You may not have liked what you discovered, and, for that matter, he might not have either. And for a Slytherin, being forced to act on his passions toward a secret love – one that might even have been a secret to him – would have been humiliating. And do not think that the object of his affection was necessarily either you or Miss Bulstrode. It could be someone entirely inappropriate – and a good Slytherin has the self-control and cunning to avoid such entanglements, even if subconsciously drawn to them. You would not wish to do that to a fellow Slytherin, would you, Miss Parkinson? It would take away his free will – much better to inveigle the young man into choosing you for the correct, Slytherin reasons, don’t you think?”
Pansy thought about what Professor Snape said. Yes, the spell was a bit like brute force – something an unimaginative Gryffindor might employ – much better to be cunning, as he said, and use brute force as a last resort. “Yes, Professor. You are right.”
“Of course I’m right, girl!” Snape shook his head in disgust. “And be thankful for small favours, Miss Parkinson, that it appears your spell had no particularly untoward effects on me.” He smiled slightly for the first time, just the corners of his mouth quirking upward briefly.
“Yes, sir! I’m very glad about that!” Pansy gave him what she no doubt thought was an engaging smile, then giggled.
“Hmpf,” Snape snorted, in what could have been a laugh. “Well, off with you now – and don’t forget your detention with Mr Filch, beginning tonight!”
Severus strode back into his office, closing his door behind him. He slumped back against the door. For all his protestations that the spell had had no effect on him, he did feel peculiar. He crossed the room and slouched into his chair. He considered the novel he had put in his desk drawer before he had left his office. For some reason, Trajan Tyne’s erotic manipulations as he once again saved his colleagues and students from their myriad follies no longer held any interest for Severus. Perhaps that spell had done something to him. He felt restless and listless at the same time. Severus wanted to get out of his chair, run from his office, and find . . . find . . . find he-didn’t-know-what. He also just wanted to stay there behind his desk, lay his head in his arms, and pine . . . pine . . . pine for he-didn’t-know-what.
Severus groaned aloud. Ah, that felt better! The relief was fleeting, however. He groaned again. He sighed with relief. There was definitely something wrong with him. He didn’t want to go see that Pomfrey woman. Oh, she was competent enough, and, under Dumbledore’s orders, she kept her mouth shut about the number of peculiar injuries she treated him for, not even recording them in his medical history; but Pomfrey seemed a gossip, and since this was a school accident and not an injury received in service to Dumbledore, he knew he could not rely on the Hufflepuff’s discretion.
He supposed he could see Albus. The Headmaster certainly knew his way around spells and charms, including more Dark ones than most people would have expected. The trouble was – Severus let out another groan and then a sigh of relief – Albus would twinkle and jest and make all kinds of double entendres. Severus didn’t think he could bear that in his current state.
Running through the list of possible candidates in his mind – witches and wizards who knew a thing or two about spell-damage and who were competent with a wand – Severus immediately dismissed almost every name as soon as it occurred to him. Remus. God, no. Moody. Only if he had a death wish. Severus groaned again. Tonks. Don’t make me laugh – I couldn’t if I wanted to. Arthur. Too enthusiastic. Molly. Too mothering. Filius. Too much like Albus. Severus banged his head on the desk. Who? Bang! Who? Bang! Who? Bang! Wonderful: now he had a headache, as well. Finally, with a groan and a sigh, he acknowledged that there was one witch – blessedly nearby in the castle – who would not twinkle, jest, torment, enthuse, mother, or anything else on that order. She would be discreet, as well, Severus believed. She might smirk a bit; he couldn’t blame her if she did, although he would complain about it – after she had helped him, of course. But she could be counted on to take care of his problem in a businesslike manner, he was confident. And she wouldn’t make his life too hellish afterward. He groaned and sighed again. God, that felt good . . .
Although Severus had told the students that there was no counter-spell to the one Pansy had cast, he wasn’t really sure of that. He was in no fit state to discover one, if there was. Clearly, because he had no true love, the spell was having a peculiar effect on him. There might be a remedy for that effect, even if there were no counter-spell. Severus forced himself to lift his head up off the desk, stand, and leave his office. If there was a little less billow-and-sweep to his robes than usual, he was not going to cavil about it; at least his back was straight as he strode down the corridors, and he wasn’t giving in to the urge to groan and sigh, regardless of the relief it might provide him. In a short time, Severus hoped, he would have found permanent relief for his problem; he quickened his pace.
Severus finally reached his destination and rapped decisively on the portrait frame. A moment later, the door opened before him. He wanted to speak, but couldn’t. He took one gasping breath before a tingling and tickling crawled over his skin and into his body, much as when Pansy had first cast the spell. His vision went dark but for the stars that swam before his eyes. One step forward, and he collapsed into the astounded witch’s arms.
When Severus came to, he became aware that he was lying on a settee, a warm, wet flannel on his forehead, and also aware of the weight of another person sitting on the edge of the settee beside him. Moreover, this person was holding one of his hands.
“Severus? Severus? Are you all right?”
He moaned in response.
“Severus, can you open your eyes?”
He would try . . . for her. He knew it would cause him pain, but he would open his eyes. He forced them open. On seeing her face, genuine concern written in its features, Severus cried out and closed his eyes again. He tore his hand from hers and covered his face. “Oh, gods, no!” he moaned, unconcerned at that moment that he was as inarticulate as Pansy Parkinson.
“Severus, what happened? Please tell me! Has something happened? Are you ill? Were you cursed? Please, Severus!”
As much as he wanted, he could not tell her; he could not speak. If he were to speak, he could only tell her of his love for her, the love that had burned in him for so many years, banked over, but still there. Dismissed, ignored, unacknowledged, but true. His true love. Severus rolled over on the tiny couch, turning his back to his love, almost shoving her off onto the floor in the process.
He felt her rise up off the couch. So graceful. She was always so graceful. Severus groaned, but it brought little relief. He turned over fully onto his stomach and buried his face in his arms. He felt her hand gently touch his shoulder. Oh, how he needed her!
“Severus, please, tell me what is wrong . . .”
He could hear her concern for him as she spoke. How Severus loved the sound of her soft voice! But he couldn’t bear her touch, her solicitude. He would go mad wanting more than what she would or could give him. And he loved her. He couldn’t take what he wanted from her. He could not hurt her, and what he wanted from her was not something that could be taken, even if he didn’t care whether he hurt her. Uttering a loud moan, Severus lifted his head and began banging it rhythmically against the arm of the settee.
“Stop it, please, Severus! Stop it! Please,” she begged, desperate.
Severus stopped banging his head and sighed; at least there was some relief to be had in this world, even if it were not in the form of his true love. He choked back a sob. He should have just stayed in his office and read Trajan Tyne’s adventures; Tyne never would have got himself into such a predicament.
From where he lay, Severus heard the sound of Floo-Powder igniting in a grate, then the call, “Headmaster’s office.” Severus suppressed a groan. This was not happening to him.
“Albus, Albus, you must come quickly. Something is dreadfully wrong with Severus!”
A whoosh from the fireplace indicated that the Headmaster had Flooed through. He heard their whispered conversation, her voice urgent with worry. At least she was worried about him, Severus thought. She hadn’t kicked him out, or Levitated him in his humiliation through the halls of Hogwarts toward the Hospital Wing. How could he ever leave here? How could he ever leave her? But he couldn’t possibly stay . . . Severus moaned.
“Severus knocked at my door, Albus, just a few minutes ago. When I answered, he looked perfectly normal for a moment, but then red and gold sparks flew from his body and he collapsed into my arms. He had passed out, so I put him on the couch and conjured a warm, wet flannel for his forehead. I haven’t wanted to leave him. He hasn’t been able to speak more than a few words since he regained consciousness. Just a minute ago, he seemed to have some kind of fit and was banging his head against the arm of the couch. Albus, what could be wrong with him? Could it be . . . You-Know-Who?”
“It may be . . . What did he say when he regained consciousness?”
“Only, ‘oh, gods, no.’”
Severus heard Albus walk over to him, then felt his hand on his shoulder.
“Severus, my boy, can you roll over and look at me?”
“No,” came the muffled reply.
“No? Hmm. Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“No. It’s too terrible.” Severus gave in and moaned lowly.
“Too terrible?” Severus could hear the alarm in Albus’s voice. “Does this have anything to do with –”
“No. No. An accident. A horrible accident.” Severus choked back a sob. He could not cry in front of her – or Albus.
“Severus, I have to insist that you roll over and look at me. I need to see you and speak to you if I am to help you. Come, now, my boy, please.”
Severus steeled himself. He had faced the Dark Lord, surely he could face this. He rolled over, eyes closed.
“Open your eyes for me, my boy,” Albus directed.
Severus opened his eyes. He saw, with relief, Albus standing next to the settee, in full possession of himself and his powers, despite his injured hand. If anyone could help free him from the spell, it would be Albus. Severus almost cried at the thought. Free? He did not want to lose his love . . . but he didn’t have a love to lose, now, did he? That thought was like a dagger through his heart, and Severus closed his eyes and moaned. The relief was not as great as it had been when he’d been in his office, but it was something. Perhaps if he groaned and continued groaning, he would feel better. But now Albus was here. Severus opened his eyes again, hoping Albus would fix everything for him. Just then, the witch of his dreams and his nightmares stepped behind Albus and into Severus’s field of vision.
“Oh, gods, no, no, no!” Severus cried, covering his eyes with one arm and his mouth with the other. How he wanted to tell her of his love, to demonstrate it through sweet kisses, to lie with her and hold her all day and all night. Severus groaned loudly and rolled over, falling with a thunk to the floor, where he knelt, curled into a fetal position, and moaned.
Albus’s knees cracked as he settled himself on the floor beside his Defence Against Dark Arts teacher. Laying a tentative hand on Severus’s back, he asked, “Did you have a potions accident, Severus?”
“Nnnooo,” moaned Severus.
“Did you hurt someone, my boy?”
“When?” came the squeaked reply.
“Just now, in the last few hours or so. Is that what the horrible accident was?”
“No,” Severus mumbled.
“Did someone curse you?”
“Yes, no, yes, nooo . . . oh-oh-ooohh!” Severus began to rock back and forth.
“Oh, Albus, isn’t there something you can do for him! He’s suffering so!”
Hearing the dulcet tones of his love turned harsh with worry was more than Severus could bear. “Please, Albus, out,” he gasped. “Please, she must leave, please. She can’t stay. Oh, no no no no no,” he cried remorsefully at his cold-hearted request.
“My dear, could you step into the other room, please?”
Severus heard his love’s light tread as she crossed the room and left, left him. He moaned softly at his loss, vaguely aware that this was all quite ridiculous, that he was ridiculous, and that Albus would be quite justified in having a good laugh at his expense.
After the door had clicked shut, Albus said, “Can you look at me now, Severus? She’s gone.”
Severus rolled over onto his side and uncurled slightly. He raised his eyes to Albus’s and saw no hint of humour in them, only concern.
“Albus, I’m so sorry, Albus.”
“Hush, now, my boy. I don’t even know that you have anything to be sorry about!” Albus patted his arm gently. “Now, were you cursed or hit with a spell of some sort?”
“Yes,” Severus whispered, glad of an easy question.
“Was it cast by a student?”
Severus nodded again, closing his eyes.
“You said it was an accident – did the student mean to hit someone else?”
“Severus, this is going to go very slowly if I have to play Twenty Questions with you. There are more than two hundred fifty students in this school.” He sighed when Severus showed no sign of elaborating on his responses. “Was it a seventh-year?”
“Was it a sixth-year?”
“Was it a Gryffindor?”
Severus shook his head with a grimace. He wished it had been.
“Yes,” Severus whispered.
“Was it a boy?”
“All right. That does narrow the field some . . . of the five, I’d say Pansy Parkinson is the most likely candidate. Was it she, Severus?”
Severus nodded and tried not to moan.
Albus patted Severus gently again. “Were there any witnesses?”
“Any not in your House?”
“Granger,” he responded. Oh, the humiliation of it all!
“Very good, Severus! Can you tell me a little more? Do you know what spell it was?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
“I gather that it didn’t take full effect immediately. Hmm,” Albus pondered. “Do the witnesses – or witness – also know what this spell was?”
“Gods, yes. Oh, how humiliating!” Severus scrunched his eyes shut tighter.
“Very good, Severus! Well, not that you’re humiliated, my boy, of course not,” Albus said as he rubbed Severus’s back with his left hand. “But it is good that you’re talking to me. What was the spell, my boy? Hmm?”
“Oh, Albus, you will hate me. She will hate me. I will die,” Severus ended with a dramatic wail.
“Severus, have I hated you for anything else? No! I certainly will not hate you for an accident over which you had no control. I’m sure that no one will. And you will not die, not if I can help it. You surely know that by now.”
Severus lifted tear-filled eyes to meet Albus’s. He swallowed hard. Albus was one of the banes of his existence, but he cared about the old man despite that. And Albus was no Dark Lord. “It was an Adfectus spell, Albus.”
“An Adfectus?” Albus asked slowly. He gently stroked Severus’s hair back from his face, then began to rub his back again, making calming circles. “Which Adfectus, Severus?”
Severus whimpered and closed his eyes again. What he would do for a nice Crucio rather than this agony! Whispering, he replied, “Adfectus Amor Verissimus.”
“I see. Yes, I see.” The circles he made did not slow or falter. “Was it a Revelare or an Actus?”
“Actus,” Severus whispered.
“Actus. Hmm. And may I guess that you were not immediately affected?”
“No, I wasn’t,” Severus whispered. “I just felt odd. Peculiar and not myself. I was only coming here for help, Albus, honestly.”
“And when Minerva opened the door?” Albus prompted.
Still unable to look at Albus, Severus said, “You know that it is she, Albus. It hit me as soon as I laid eyes on her that it is she and no other. Then I must have passed out.” Severus swallowed. Albus hadn’t ceased the calming strokes to his back. Severus opened his eyes. He saw only concern and compassion, and no pity or anger, in the old wizard’s face. “I knew I could not tell her. If I spoke, I would tell her. I could not,” he whispered hoarsely. “But the spell . . . the spell is demanding, Albus.”
“Yes, the imperative of that particular spell is very strong, indeed. I think you have done very well, Severus.” Albus ceased rubbing the younger wizard’s back and placed a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder. “We will see what we can do for you, my boy. In the meantime, we need to get you more comfortable. I think that lying on the couch rather than the floor might be a good start, hmm?”
Severus let the older wizard help him to his feet. They both sat on the couch.
“I’m so sorry, Albus. I wish . . . I wish it hadn’t happened. Or that it wasn’t . . . Minerva.”
Albus smiled and put an arm around his shoulders. “You just have very good taste in women, my boy, and you have proven yourself to me, once again.” At Severus’s quizzical look, Albus replied, “Actus Adfectus Amor Verissimus is truly about love, not just lust, Severus, although I’m sure that is a part of what you’re experiencing now.” Severus reddened and hung his head in shame. Albus continued, “No truly Dark wizard would love Minerva McGonagall. As I said, you have very good taste.”
“As you are very well aware, Albus,” said Severus, feeling somewhat relieved after having expressed something of his feelings toward his love, although not directly to her, “she loves another, and, unless I am very mistaken, that wizard loves her, too.” Hot tears gathered in his eyes as he said these words. “Or don’t you, Albus?” he added bitterly.
“Of course I do, Severus,” Albus replied softly. “But I love you, too.” At Severus’s alarmed expression, Albus quickly amended, “Not the same way, of course. But I do not want you to suffer, certainly.”
Severus sighed deeply and placed his head in his hands. “What am I to do, Albus? This minor relief that I am experiencing, no doubt because I expressed . . . my feelings for her to you, is temporary, I am sure. I already can feel an urgency rising in me again, telling me that I must act on my feelings. What can I do?”
“I think you must tell Minerva, Severus.”
“No!” Severus exclaimed. “I cannot do that. Never. Ooohh!” Severus let out a moan and tipped over onto his side, fortunately remaining on the couch.
“Severus, she will understand, I promise she will. If you like, I will tell her first so that it won’t be quite as much of a shock to her.”
“No! That would be worse. Oh, gods!” Despite himself, he began to rock slightly.
“Would you love someone who would be cruel to you in your hour of need, Severus?”
“I joined the Dark Lord, didn’t I?” Severus spat bitterly.
“You may have been looking for love and acceptance, but I doubt that you believed you had found it even when you joined him,” Albus replied quietly. “But do you honestly see Minerva in the same light as . . . the Dark Lord?”
“No,” Severus whispered. “No, of course not.”
“Let me fetch her, then. I will remain in the other room and let you speak with her alone, all right?”
Severus turned his face to look at the older wizard. “You trust me with her?”
“Completely, Severus. Completely, no matter what you do. Do you understand me, my boy? No matter what you do.” Albus stood and reached out his left hand to push Severus’s hair back from his face. Severus felt a fresh, cool breeze flow over him.
“What was that? What did you just do?”
“Just a cooling and cleaning charm. Your eyes were a bit red and puffy. You do want to look your best for Minerva, don’t you?” Albus asked gently.
Severus could scarcely believe his ears. “You are improving my appearance so that I can look better for your, your, your –” Severus stuttered, incredulous.
“One might try ‘paramour’ or ‘lover,’ I suppose. I prefer ‘beloved,’ myself,” suggested Albus mildly.
Albus left the room. Severus stretched out on his side. His feet hung off the end now that he was not curled up. Resigned to a fate of humiliation and disgrace, Severus shucked off his short boots. If he was going to make more of a fool of himself, it wouldn’t matter whether he was wearing his shoes or not. He curled up slightly and hugged a throw pillow to his chest.
Albus was going to send her out to see him. He should have left on his boots and fled. But he couldn’t. It was probably the spell, but he lacked any will to leave the room. And Minerva would have to emerge at some point. These were her rooms, after all. What could he possibly say to her? He would express his feelings for her; he would have to. He could fight it, but eventually the spell would force him act on his feelings. The thought made a part of him quite ill. He was a Slytherin and a Death Eater – a secretly or not-so-secretly reformed Death Eater, but one never left the Mark behind, nor the wickedness that drove one to it. He should not be having these feelings, let alone expressing them to someone – anyone. Especially not to one such as Minerva. Nothing could come of it, even if the Dark Lord hadn’t returned, even if Minerva didn’t already belong to someone else.
Severus grimaced miserably. He would kill Pansy Parkinson. Slowly. No, he would let her live a long life and torment her daily. Small, regular torments, like Chinese water torture, bringing her just to the brink of madness but never over it. That thought, which normally would have brought a glimmer of joy to his dark soul, did nothing to cheer Severus now.
A few minutes passed, and Severus began to worry about what Albus was telling Minerva. He had made it clear, hadn’t he, that he didn’t want Albus to explain everything to her? Severus looked up with alarm as the door to the bedroom open and Minerva came in. Severus sat up, swallowing. He shouldn’t have removed his shoes. Minerva sat in the armchair across from and to one side of the sofa.
“Albus told me that one of the students cast a spell that accidentally hit you and that you were coming to me for help.”
Severus nodded. What else had he told her?
“He said that the full effect of the spell did not occur until after I opened the door to you.”
He nodded again, afraid what he would say to her if he spoke.
“Albus said . . . he said that you are embarrassed by your behaviour after you arrived here.”
Severus just hung his head.
“Please don’t be, Severus. I was only concerned about you.” When Severus didn’t reply, Minerva continued. “He also told me that you have something important to tell me, something to do with the spell that hit you.”
Severus nodded. He waited for her to continue. When it finally became evident that she was not going to, he looked up at her. His heart pounded. How had he not known that he loved her? How had he been able to be so, so . . . ignorant for all these years? For he had no doubt that he had loved her for years. Not since he was a student, no. But he had come to love her during those first years they had taught together. Minerva had accepted him without comment when he arrived at the school to teach. Surely she had known from the very first day why he was here, why Dumbledore had hired him, and what he was. But she had treated him as she would any new colleague. She was even kind to him, in a quiet, unobtrusive way. He had been able to accept her kindness because it was delivered in such an ordinary, routine manner. She had never made him feel beholden to her. Not about her kindnesses, anyway. Other things, ordinary inter-House school rivalries, perhaps. But never because he was Severus Snape, repentant Death Eater.
And Minerva’s wit! She had a dry, acerbic wit that could match his, but without the truly nasty edge that his could take on. Minerva rarely cracked a smile, but her eyes would crinkle slightly as her tart tongue delivered a scathing and humourous comment. He didn’t know how he would have survived the last year with Umbridge in the castle if it weren’t for her sarcastic remarks at the staff table, delivered sotto voce, loud enough for him and a few others to catch, but just out of Umbridge’s hearing.
Part of the reason he had never realised how he felt about Minerva must have stemmed from his knowledge that the Headmaster and his Deputy had a particularly “close” relationship. Severus hadn’t known precisely how close the two were until he had been on the staff for a few years. But even had he ever entertained any idea, in the abstract, that Minerva could be interested in him, he knew that he could never compete with Albus Dumbledore. And he surely would not want to try. It would be a poor way to repay Albus, even for Severus.
Minerva was still waiting. He cleared his throat. “Two Slytherins were arguing. Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode,” he began. Minerva nodded at him encouragingly. “I came out of my office to see if I should intervene or not. Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy were there. They are prefects. I thought I would let them handle it.” Severus blushed. He did not want to lie to her. “I thought . . . I thought it might be amusing to watch. Anyway, Miss Granger had no success in ending the argument, which began to look as though it might come to hexes. When Miss Parkinson raised her wand, I stepped out of the shadows to stop her. I thought she was going to jinx Miss Bulstrode, but she turned and cast a spell at Draco. She and Miss Bulstrode had been arguing about him. Anyway, he ducked. I didn’t. The spell hit me.”
“What was the spell, Severus?” Minerva asked quietly, her soft burr trilling the R in his name. A thrill went through him, and he lowered his head again, letting his hair fall around his face.
“Actus Adfectus Amor Verissimus,” Severus whispered, softly but distinctly. When Minerva didn’t reply, he glanced up. She was looking at him. There were tears in her eyes.
“I am sorry, Severus.”
“Don’t be sorry. I don’t want you to be sorry,” he said bitterly. “Don’t you know what this means?”
“I think so. When I opened the door, you looked at me, and then a glow came over you and red and gold sparks flew from your body. The spell took effect at that moment, didn’t it?”
Severus nodded. “Albus says . . . Albus says . . . I have to tell you . . . But I can’t.”
“Albus often knows what’s best. Not always, of course, but often.”
Severus did not respond, only looking down again. He felt Minerva sit beside him. Her hand touched his shoulder tentatively.
“When you collapsed like that, Severus, I was frightened. And when you wouldn’t speak to me and started to moan and bang your head, I was terrified. Not of you, Severus, for you. Please speak to me now.” Her hand, as Albus’s had, began to describe circles on his back, gently soothing him through his robes. She reached out her other hand, offering it to him, palm up.
He looked at her soft, white hand, and took it in his own. “I love you, Minerva.” The relief was immediate. He shuddered and sighed and lifted her hand to his face, not kissing it, merely holding it against his cheek. As his relief sank in, shame began to creep over him. “I am sorry, Minerva,” he whispered, releasing her hand.
“Sorry? Whatever for?”
“I am sure that the last thing you ever wanted to hear were those words coming out of my mouth,” Severus said bitterly.
“Look at me, Severus Snape,” Minerva replied sternly, then, more gently, she said, “Look at me, please, Severus.”
He raised his head. In a gesture reminiscent of Albus’s, Minerva raised her hand and gently brushed the hair from his face, first one side and then the other. “Severus, that is the greatest untruth I have ever heard come from you.”
“I don’t need your pity, Minerva.”
“Good, for I haven’t any to offer you. I do not know what we will do about this situation we are in, Severus, but I will not let you suffer because of the foolhardy actions of an adolescent girl.”
“They are my feelings, though. The spell did not manufacture them,” he said hoarsely.
“I know that, Severus. That is why I am not unhappy to hear you tell me that you love me.”
Severus flinched at her words.
“What do you know of this spell, Severus?”
“It requires the object of the spell to act on his – or her – feelings for his true love. Until he does, he will grow more and more miserable. Eventually, the object of the spell will be unable to eat or sleep. Death eventually follows.” Severus recited these sequelae drily, as though they had no bearing on his own life.
“The ‘object of the spell,’ Severus? You are speaking of yourself, you know,” Minerva said. “But we will not allow those things to happen to you, Severus, dear. You must know that, too.”
“Albus needs me,” Severus replied in a whisper. Clearing his throat again, he continued, “I am his only spy and necessary to –”
Minerva cut him off. “You foolish man! Do you truly believe that is all that we care about? Even if it were all that Albus cared about, which I can guarantee is not the case, what of me?”
“I’m sorry, Minerva. It is the only way that I can . . . that I can keep myself from saying such things that you could not bear to hear even were I able to bear to utter them,” he said quietly.
“Do not tell me what I can and cannot bear, Severus Snape. I have borne more than you may imagine,” Minerva retorted sharply. She sighed. “There is more to that spell than you have stated. I will need to do some research, refresh my memory, of course, but I can tell you that with each expression of affection toward your true love, that is, toward me, you will gain some relief. The relief will be temporary, as you may have already noticed, and each time that you express your feelings, you will need to do so to a greater extent than the last. In the beginning, a greater expression of those feelings will result in greater and longer lasting relief, but the desperation will increase more quickly as the relief wears off. It is better for the longevity of the spell to start with smaller gestures of affection and increase them slowly. In the end, only the ultimate expression of your feelings will release you from the imperative of the spell. For most men and women, you can probably imagine what that ultimate expression is, Severus.”
Severus turned his face from her. “Better to get it over with quickly, then. I will attempt to teach my classes for as long as I can, but Albus had better see if he can get someone in to take over soon. Moody, much as I can’t stand the man, might do it. He’d be happy enough to see me dead, at any rate.”
“Dead? What are you going on about, Severus? Do you think I would allow you to die? I care for you too much, Severus, to allow such a thing.”
“You would rather . . . suffer my pathetic presence in your life, spouting idiocy upon idiocy, and then bear my touch, perhaps even my embrace, or worse?” Severus asked cynically.
“You may not have noticed, Severus, but you took my hand again a moment ago, and you have been holding it ever since. I have not fainted or drawn away in disgust yet.”
Severus looked down at their joined hands. “I cannot help myself, Minerva, I love you. You are beautiful, you are graceful, you are brilliant and kind. Given a chance, I would find other words to express what you are to me, Minerva, what you mean to me. You are . . . the best thing in my life.” Severus swallowed. He hated saying such things, and yet saying them felt so good. Much better than groaning and sighing had. He had to acknowledge his pitiful state, though. He could recognise it; surely she could, as well. “It must sound ridiculous to you. Pathetic, even. We are barely even friends, and yet I –”
“Severus, you don’t believe that, do you? That we are barely friends?” At his slight nod, Minerva sighed. “That saddens me more than you could possibly imagine. Did I not just tell you that I care for you? Care for you deeply?”
“You say that, yes,” Severus replied disconsolately. “But is it the truth? I know who – and what – I am, Minerva.”
“I would have told you the whole truth as soon as you told me of the spell that hit you, Severus, but I did not think that you would believe me, nor that it was the appropriate thing to say under these circumstances. I am still unsure of the wisdom of such a revelation.”
Severus straightened and released Minerva’s hand. “Tell me now, Minerva. Tell me. I doubt it will kill me . . . yet.” He smiled grimly.
“First, I know that you cannot promise to believe me – belief cannot be forced – but I do ask that you agree that I do not lie to you, Severus. Have you known me to lie to you – to deliberately tell you something that I knew was not true?”
Severus thought back over all of the years he had known her. He could remember times when she had been mistaken, but he could not think of an occasion on which she had out-and-out lied to him. That was one of the things that made him love her.
“You do not lie to me, Minerva; you are one of the rare people in my life who has not lied to me, repeatedly,” he admitted.
“Then hear this and know that it is true: I love you, Severus Snape. Before you protest, I will acknowledge that I do not love you as I love Albus. I could never love anyone else that way – despite some efforts in my youth,” she said with a smile. “But I do love you. Certainly as a friend, a close friend. I admire and respect you, but I am also terribly fond of you. True, you are infuriating, and I have occasionally been . . . less than happy with some of your actions here at the school, but that has not diminished my positive regard for you. I have often wished that you were more . . . approachable and that circumstances did not require us to maintain a particular public image of our relationship. I am sorry, though, that you yourself have not realised, after all these years, how much you mean to me and how important your friendship has been. I do love you, Severus. These are not words that are easy for me to say, and not because it is you to whom I say them. You have known me a long time. You must know that I am somewhat reticent with my feelings, unlike some – Albus, for example.”
Severus cringed at the mention of Albus’s name. “It hurts to know that you love him and that he loves you. It never hurt before. I never even gave it a thought,” he said huskily. He looked up at Minerva. “I do believe you, though, Minerva. Perhaps only because I am pathetic and I want to believe you.”
“You are not pathetic, Severus, although if you continue to repeat that you are, you will begin to seem so.”
Severus sighed heavily. He certainly felt pathetic. He may not want Minerva to feel sorry for him, but nothing was going to stop him from feeling sorry for himself. The imperative was not particularly strong at the moment, but the mention of Albus had settled a greater gloom than usual over his soul. He could take some solace in the words she had spoken – and the Death Eater in Severus cringed at the thought – that she loved him, even if only as a friend.
Severus looked over at Minerva, wondering whether she would eventually decide that he was pathetic. Still, she had seemed willing; perhaps he might ask her a favour. “May I . . . may I, please . . .”
“Yes, Severus? What is it you would like?”
“Oh, Minerva, may I please hold your hand again?” He hoped he hadn’t whined.
“Of course. But I will need it back,” she said with only a slight smile; Severus was fairly sure she wasn’t laughing at him. Minerva continued, “I think we should research this spell. See if there is any other way of breaking it.”
“Yes, of course.” Severus held Minerva’s hand to his chest; his eyes were closed, and he gave a deep sigh of relief. “But I’m afraid that I will not be much good. I will try, for your sake, Minerva, but my mind is so filled with thoughts of you, I don’t think that I will be able to understand anything I read.” Severus felt like pouting, but he wouldn’t. Well, perhaps just a little, just to himself. Why did this have to happen to him, and why couldn’t he have maintained better control of himself? If this went on, he’d soon be reading poetry to Minerva and kissing her feet . . . mmm, such a lovely idea. Perhaps tomorrow . . . ?
“That’s fine, Severus, I understand. Just give it a good try,” Minerva said briskly. “Shall I fetch Albus now? Would that be all right?”
Of course. Albus had been in the next room all that time. How much might he have heard? “Oh, gods.” Severus leaned forward and moaned, holding Minerva’s hand more tightly.
“Severus? Are you all right? I mean relatively speaking, of course.”
“Yes.” Severus sighed. “Just . . . what will Albus say?”
“I don’t know, actually. I assume that he knows what spell hit you?” Severus nodded. “Well, given that he sent me out here to talk to you, I imagine that he will wonder whether we have come up with a solution that doesn’t involve you locking yourself away in your rooms to die. Foolish idea! Since we have not, I suggest that we bring him out here and have him fetch us some books from the library, don’t you?”
“Yes. But I can’t stay here indefinitely. It’s getting late.”
“Mmm. We can have a bit of supper then, and I’ll walk you back to your rooms after that, how does that sound? We can have Albus get you some Dreamless Sleep, as well, and I’ll stay with you until you take it. Tomorrow’s Saturday. When you wake up in the morning, you can come back up here – my password is Zinzibar; you may let yourself in – we can do our research, and you can, umm, express your affection at regular intervals. All right, Severus? Is that agreeable to you?”
“Yes. You are truly brilliant, Minerva. I do not know how I could have lived beside you for so long and not recognised how wonderful you are and how much you mean to me.”
Minerva rose, smiling kindly at Severus. “Those words are very sweet, Severus. Thank you.” She reached out and gently caressed his cheek before turning and leaving the room to retrieve Albus.