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Severus knew she'd been standing there for at least ten minutes when he finally deigned to ask, "Is there something I can help you with, Headmistress?" as not asking was most evidently not going to make her go away. To his credit, he didn't look up from his work.

She stepped inside the rooms at that, and he had to give her, even after all these years, that she'd never once infringed upon that last leg of his privacy, not like Albus. Severus missed Albus even now, with the loss buffered by the gain of fam- spouses, even now, he did. Still, he appreciated Minerva's recognition of boundaries. "Headmistress?" she asked, brow curved in bemusement.

No, Severus admitted privately, that was pure amusement, no be's to be found anywhere. "If you've come here merely to while away the hours pull up a chair and take the stack to your left. They're second years, even you should be able to grasp the concept and correct the inanity and folly being wrought upon it."

She flicked her wand, a chair coming obediently to her side. "You flatter me."

To her credit, Minerva would actually answer a question once asked, no matter how long it took her to get around to it. Albus, on the other hand, had never answered anything unless it bloody well pleased him to do so. Knowing this, Severus waited, his quill racing across the papers so as to finish and go home. Home to a bunch of werewhelps. Home to Hermione, who was still refusing to take pain potions, stubborn idiotic slip of a girl that she was. Home to Remus who kept backing her up, Gryffindor that he was. Home to the lovesick puppy that he sometimes personally thought of as his son, not that he had mentioned this to anyone, least of all Zev. Hardly.

Home.

Minerva's voice, when she spoke, was as precise as the markings of her quill, timed and concise. "I hear Min is pregnant."

This gave Severus pause. "From whom, precisely?"

"Nearly Headless Nick."

Severus's quill dropped from his fingers. "Pardon?"

"Oh for goodness's sake, Severus, from Min herself. Isn't it well past time you found your sense of humor? I'm entirely sure it's lurking somewhere."

With as much dignity as he could muster, Severus picked his quill back up and dipped it lightly in the ink jar. "We agreed that as it was her condition, it was up to her disclosure as well."

"Really? Because she seemed rather surprised you hadn't mentioned anything. A bit hurt, actually, if I was reading it all correctly. But then she smiled and threw her hand out in that way she has and said, 'well, you know Severus,' and I do know you, so I agreed."

Not for the first time, Severus reprimanded himself thoroughly for hanging out with Gryffindors, Gryffindors and more Gryffindors. Not just any Gryffindors, either. War Hero Gryffindors. "Perhaps I misunderstood our conversation."

"Yes, because that happens so terribly often with you."

"Does this scolding have a point, because I was rather hoping to go home to my pregnant wife sometime this evening."

"As it so happens it does. Two points. The first would be my desire to extend my congratulations to you, and I swear to you Severus, should you not accept them with grace you will find me rearranging scheduling so that your first years double Potions period shall be quadruple Potions instead and you can deal with the whole unruly lot of them at once."

Severus, knowing all about the different types of valor, nodded his head. "Thank you."

"Right. The second would be. . ."

Severus looked up at that. Minerva wasn’t much for elliptical speech, even at the worst of times.

She inclined her head. "I offered you freedom of this place once before, Severus."

Ah. "My reasons for not having accepted then still stand."

"No," she said softly. "No, Severus, they don't."

"Minerva-"

"We're strong here, Severus. The school will run just fine without you, despite the complaints I will have over the torture of owling daily rather than getting up the energy to drag myself down these stairs or the nerve to drag you up mine. You are, will always be, still needed, but you are no longer necessary to the survival of this place. And you have something to go to. Somewhere. Someone. Several someones, I do believe."

"Hogwarts is-" Severus cut himself off, knowing that to finish that the way he once, always had would be a lie. "Hogwarts is my place of employ."

Minerva smiled at that, a tight quirking of her lips. "Should you decide that your employ is more necessary in other quarters, my offer will stand from here on out, no date of limitation."

"I shall keep it on my mind," Severus told her in his most diplomatic, most Slytherin tone.

She chuckled. "You'd be surprised Severus, you just might actually do so."

The problem with Minerva was that, like Albus, she had a tendency to be right.

*

Zev had once told Severus, right after he'd gotten a wand that had been hard fought for by his mother, among several other people, that potions sounded different once the magical component had been added. Severus had scoffed at the boy (carefully, Severus still hadn't been terribly confident of Min's forgiveness when it came to his treatment of her son) but hadn't been able to resist listening more carefully after that.

As it turned out, what the eleven year old was perceiving as sound was actually an atmospheric vibration that most magic causes, only the majority of wizards are too desensitized to feel it in any way. Severus only figured this out when he realized that what changed for him was the taste of the air surrounding him. He tried explaining this to Zev, but the boy had just shrugged and told him, "Sometimes it doesn’t matter why magic does the things it does, just that it does."

Severus had reminded him lightly that three uses of the same verb within a sentence was appallingly repetitive grammar. Zev had made sure to crowd as many repetitive verb usages into his sentences as he possibly could for the rest of their time together that day. Severus had still come back.

More often than not, these days, Severus got to wondering if this unborn child that he shared with Min and Remus would be like Zev, or if "she'd" be a carbon copy of the children who filed through his classroom doorway, sullen and inattentive and disdainful.

Minerva had more than once suggested, "They're not all like that, Severus. You've made a habit of seeing what you need to see."

Severus couldn't precisely argue this point. When he had first come to Albus it was agreed that it would hardly do for the children to see a man that Voldemort had to understand as one of his own as nice or kind or even bearable. Severus had often worked himself up before he even got to the classroom to see the children as particularly large obstacles to his living his life happily. Of course, once he got there it generally hadn't been too hard to keep up the charade. Three-fourths of the children were stupid, incompetent and impolite snits, something that Severus, in his twenties, certainly hadn't yet developed the patience to handle. Or if he had, he was diverting all that patience to waiting Voldemort out. Once he'd done that, though, well. . .habits die hard and Severus had no particular impetus to kill them, not when the students were actually passing OWLs and NEWTs with near alarming regularity. Instead he generally asked, "Have you any complaints?"

To which she would smile her wouldn't-you-love-me-to smile and say, "I'm sure I've mentioned one or two. Not really worth repeating unless your memory is starting to falter."

Only once had Severus ever replied, "Really want to get into a sparring match over age do you?" and though he was loathe to give himself excuses for any of his behavior, he had been quite stressed out over Voldemort's behavior at the time.

Of course, being Minerva, and therefore by definition unwilling to be ruffled by anyone so pesky as one Severus Snape, she had merely pulled herself up to her full height and said, "Age and senility are hardly equivalent. Why, mine has come with wisdom."

It was terribly hard to be witty when Minerva was showing off why Albus Dumbledore had seen fit to have her as his second-in-command since the time she was sixteen years old. Severus had forced himself to settle for a wry, "Undoubtedly," and swish off, his robes trailing a whispery remand in his wake.

The conversation would ring through his mind whenever she was doing something that fell under the category of wise, usually something that involved him. Nearly always something he had no interest in handling. Since their conversation of the week before; since his going home to Min, who was in her second trimester and carrying low, and only mildly less miserable than she was in first trimester; since the owl that arrived from New Mexico begging him once again (as Paulo nearly always did) to help organize a conference on advances in "medicating the Dark" or helping to heal Dark Arts afflictions; really since the pattern of his life had noticeably conformed to her suggestions, he'd been thinking about that bit of sniping, years and years gone by.

Severus wasn't one to give into desire easily, though. He found it not to be trustworthy, with more than adequate reasons for this view. Not to mention the sense he had long had that to leave Hogwarts was to leave what was left of Albus in him. To leave that. . . Severus often tried not to think of the consequences of such a decision. If he let himself, they became far too wide-ranging. Albus had too long been his conscience, his bravery, his moral center, his (and though Severus would never admit it, he generally thought this sans sneer) Gryffindor. Minerva sometimes played the part for him, when she sensed he needed it, as he would never ask. But it was Albus at his core, and it was Albus who could not follow him out of this place.

There were some things, Severus knew, that couldn't be left behind.

*

"Why did you never marry?" Severus realized what he'd asked no sooner than the words had left his mouth and attempted to rectify them with, "I'm sorry, that was entirely inappropriate of me."

Minerva took a sip of tea, allowed herself time to swallow it, and said, "If you think I'm going to let the first question you've ever asked that could be construed as friendly conversation in our long association with each other go, living at that school has done more brain damage than any of us had predicted."

His back somewhat to the wall now, Severus took his own deliberate sip and gestured with his free hand. "By all means, if you wish to answer I'm hardly one to stop you."

Minerva's eyes sparkled with the mischief of a woman who knows how to get her own way. "After all that the answer's rather anticlimactic. I never found someone worth the commitment."

Severus was not going to ask what he wanted to ask. He wasn't. That was all there was to it.

"People always thought Albus and I would eventually give up the game and hie ourselves up to Gretna, or something of the like, but really, once was enough for both of us, even me, being young enough that going back and trying again was always a possibility. But it wasn't really, we just didn't work that way."

Severus said a silent prayer to whomever had intervened on his behalf and to Minerva, for having the Sight, even if she didn't know it.

She continued, "I sometimes envy your. . .success in that particular area."

"Is that why you wish me to take my leave?"

She slanted her eyes at him. "If that were why, Severus, I'd have fired you once things were safely in place and been done with it. A little credit, here, please."

"There's precedent upon precedent of faculty, male and female, having children while serving out their tenure at Hogwarts. I seriously doubt the headmasters came to them and offered them their leave."

"It is explicitly spelled out in the contract that both parties can break said contract due to circumstances that they feel overwhelm the agreement. Family is usually considered part of that. Only, I've read your contract and it's not the general employee one. Why Albus didn't redraw it after the First War is beyond me, and why I haven't gotten round to it in all the years I've had to do so is something I don't much like to consider, but I thought in your case the necessity of it being mentioned was there." Minerva topped her tea up. "Besides, Severus, you've earned your right of gallivanting off to be with your family, not that it would even be that, but I'm sure that's how you interpret it. There are rewards, you know. You just have to be willing to take them."

Severus was much more comfortable with punishments, thank you very much. It seemed to him somewhat risky to take happiness by its ears and swing it every which way, lest he risk flinging it off somewhere too far to follow. The risk increased ten-fold with a baby on the way.

"I appreciate the courtesy, but I believe I will follow what protocol there is left concerning my employment." Hogwarts professors weren't technically supposed to live off grounds while school was in session. Severus knew the strings Minerva had pulled, the feathers she had ruffled, to grant him that privilege. He would not look for any more from her, even if she was obviously willing to grant it.

Minerva sighed. "Suit yourself." She tilted her head and smiled cannily. "Is it true that Miss Weasley and Miss Tonks are being named godparents?"

Yes, Severus thought, punishments were far more comfortable.

*

"Four children sent up to the hospital wing?" Minerva was trying to hold back a wince, he could tell by the sour set of her lips. "That's a little excessive, even for you."

Severus took a seat, well aware he was only here of his own volition because he'd come before she'd called. He toyed briefly with the idea of blustering his way through this entire confrontation, but it would only end with the truth coming when he was far more exhausted than he was now, although Severus wasn't sure that was entirely possible. "Min couldn't sleep all last night. She's been very uncomfortable."

Minerva tapped her quill against the parchment in front of her. "She's nearly in her third trimester, Severus. It's not exactly an easy process for most women, and Min's body has weathered a significant amount in its time."

After a long, not terribly comfortable silence, Severus found a bit of courage, something he suspected he'd borrowed from Min or Remus when not paying attention. He would have to remember to return it later. "I was distracted."

"It's been a rather long day, so if you don't mind not insulting my intelligence, I'd be grateful to you for it."

Severus released a breath that was more laughter than anything else through his nose. He had, after all, deserved that, and living with Remus and Min had long since taught him to accept defeat in the small arenas with grace. "It won’t happen again."

Minerva leaned back in her chair. "I'm a bit confounded as to what to do here, Severus."

He tensed. "Headmistress?"

"See, there you have it. If I tell you to take a leave of absence I am pushing you from the one place that you mentally recognize as representing the basis of home, whether those terms apply or not anymore. If I let you stay I am allowing you a crutch that given your choice I have no doubt you will hold until even your children are graying. Either way I'm in the wrong."

Severus looked to the walls that she had eventually redone in a manner that was utilitarian and yet welcoming, a not-quite-paradox that he had always appreciated. "What do you want to do?"

"Oh, that's easy enough. I want to do what I should have done in the first place: send you off to find that this place is just stones and mortar and metal and memories and magic, not redemption and safety and Light, the way you seem to think."

Despite this shockingly accurate assessment, Severus shook his head once. "It's not that simple."

"No, of course not. But where once you would have had to discover that on your own, a fact that I let hold me back from doing what I ought've, now I can send you away with the full confidence that Remus and Min and probably Hydrea and Paulo and Zev and six or seven other people will most likely do more than half the work for you."

"And yet you still hesitate." He turned his head to look at her once more.

"Nothing is ever certain," she said. "And hard though this may be to believe, even the Headmistress of the legendary Hogwarts is, at her very core, human."

"You speak in tongues," Severus deadpanned.

"Only when I'm making fun of parselmouths. Or Bulgarians, but that's not to leave this room."

"My loyalty is yours completely."

"I know, do you really think I prevaricate this much about anything else?"

"Not that I've noticed, no."

Minerva's mouth curved into a small, fond smile. "Go home, Severus."

"Is that your decision?"

"That's my way of putting it off for one more day."

"I will see you at breakfast, then."

"Perhaps lunch. Spend the extra hour with Min."

Severus stood. "I'll relay your. . .concern."

"Or you could come right off your issues of verbal displays of affection and send her my love."

"Most likely not."

"It was worth a try."

"I'll tell her you said so."

*

Severus ended up spending breakfast with Remus, since Min slept through it, her first real sleep since sun had set the evening before. Remus hadn't really gotten much more, Severus either for that matter, but both men were far too tense to lay down anymore. Severus saw Remus out of the corner of his eye while dressing. Remus came up to help, and Severus let him do the work knowing that Remus needed to touch others, to be given their trust, to make tangible connections.

When every button and fold was in place, Remus said, "You're late."

"Minerva gave me the morning off."

"I could get us some breakfast."

Severus often thought that despite loving each other, him and Remus had never quite learned how to live with each other without the buffering zone of Min. It often frustrated him, particularly when Remus was upset or frightened or sick and Severus felt powerless to effect a change. This morning the odd distance was crawling under his skin, a kind of insidious itch that made him want to peel back an epidermal layer and pick it out. Instead, he said, "I'm dressed. I'll go."

"Yeah, but Marissa will give me extra scones."

"She'll give me extra everything." Marissa had decided early on that Severus needed bulking up and had never quite given up on this goal.

"Sure, flout your superior waif charm with the kitchen staff, see if it affects me." Remus was smiling though, finally, tired and tense as the lines of his mouth were.

Severus kissed him, trying in his own way to draw out some of the tension. He turned without looking to see if he had actually accomplished his goal, as he really had no interest in finding out that he hadn't. True to his word, Marissa gave him extra everything, including magically sustained warming plates for Min when she woke up. In light of this, Severus went the extra mile and told her, "Thank you."

She winked at him. "Just eat. And get those spouses of yours to as well. Remus is going to blow away if someone doesn't keep him tied down."

Severus had noticed the weight loss on Remus, of course, but hearing Marissa say it made it real and frightening in ways that Severus didn't want to think about. The last time Severus had seen Remus wasting away was back when he'd been in control of his emotions enough to pretend he didn't care; when that reaction was perfectly well expected of him.

When he got back to the room, he split the non-Min portions into one-third versus two-thirds and gave the considerably larger plate to Remus. Who looked at him with a leer, "Fattening me up for the kill?"

"I'm tired of being poked in bed." Severus wasn't all that hungry, but he knew if he didn't eat he would have no leverage to get Remus to do so. Determinedly, he spread a small amount of the peach jam onto his toast.

"Sorry," Remus said, and he actually sounded apologetic, which had Severus responding, "Idiot."

Remus ran a hand through his hair. "It's a little bit hard. Her not being at full strength, you not being-"

"I'm listening." Severus took a sip of the tea and thanked Marissa silently for thinking to make it peppermint. It might not go terribly well with the rest of the breakfast, but his stomach was all too grateful, nonetheless.

"Nothing. Just tired, is all."

"That makes no grammatical sense as the end of the sentence you began and whatever else you might be, Remus, unable to speak your first language is not one of those things."

"You did just call me an idiot."

"Don't make me invoke the whole Gryffindor courage mantra."

"I think you just did."

"Well then?"

"Not being around, Severus, all right, is that what you wanted to hear? Because I know, I know that it must be hell for you to come back here night after night, descend into the pit of wolves to be with us and we both love you enormously for it, of course, me particularly, knowing how hard it would be to come back were I let free, but right now it feels like those children that you don't even particularly enjoy teaching are more important to you than her, than me, than this unborn child of ours." Remus took a breath and then said, "I know it's not. Just-"

"It's hard for me to leave in the mornings."

"I'm sorry?"

"Your assumption that it is hell for me to come back is incorrect. It's hell for me to leave."

Remus's face crumbled. "Then why do you?"

Severus bit into his toast and weathered the odd combination of tastes that sprang upon his tongue. When he had swallowed he asked, "Who am I if I don't go to that school every day, teach those children, keep my promises to Albus?"

"You can't be serious."

"I assure you-"

"You're the man I love. The man Min loves. The man Zev thinks of as a father, the man Lorraine and Hydrea think of as a genius, the man Minerva thinks of as a friend. Do you need me to keep going? Because I swear to you I can think up something for every single person in this place and quite a few outside of it and they would all still be true if you quit your job. That school, that position, it has nothing to do with you Severus, not in the ways that matter, not anymore."

Severus was quiet for so long that Remus asked, "Is that not enough for you? Are we-"

"Do not even think it. Mangy man-eater."

"Greasy goblin."

"Gryffindor."

"You already used that once this morning. You're slowing down in your twilight years."

"The context was different, my mildly illiterate catamite."

"I'm a whole what? Four months younger than you?"

Not having a particularly sterling response to that, Severus stood, "I'll try and come home early."

"Think about what I said, Severus."

Severus nodded. "I will."

"Severus-"

"Remus. Nothing is more important than you and her."

"Oh, um-"

"I'll think about it." With that, Severus went to where Remus couldn't watch him think and the people who could, students, would never suspect what was behind his scowl.

*

Minerva would, though. "What are you thinking so very diligently about?"

"If I told you politely that it was none of your business would you leave well enough alone?"

"Shall I look up the word polite for you so as to help in that endeavor?"

Severus sighed. "No, then?"

Minerva smiled. "You always were intuitive."

"Sybil tell you that?"

"Sybil wouldn't know an intuit if she had carnal relations with one."

Severus blanched. "Thank you for a mental image which will leave the surface of my mind more permanently scarred than ever it was before."

"At the very least I will have done right by Albus's legacy, then."

Severus tried to hold his scowl at that, he did, but, "Indeed."

"Severus," and her tone was the one of a friend, the only one he had known well enough to trust in the days after Voldemort's death when the remnants of the man's poisoned magic had drained out of Severus slowly, one of the few he had smiled at in the years between his joining the Death Eaters and his finding a family. "Tell me what has you treating students like a bunch of Longbottom's reborn."

Because he didn't think he could have this conversation without distraction, Severus moved to the part of his lab where all the cauldrons were stored and began polishing one of the ones that functioned best when polished by hand rather than magic. It was spotless, of course, but a little extra polishing never hurt and it would help the flow of talk considerably. "Remus wishes me to take your offer."

"You hadn't considered that he might?"

"Not precisely. They have each other, and Zev, and any of the myriad of others who live there to help out while I'm gone."

"Trust me when I tell you there is only one Severus Snape."

Severus pressed at the rag and rubbed in wide circles. "Well." Pause. "He thought I didn't want to be with them all day. That I preferred this school, that I thought this place more important."

"And?"

Severus looked at her in disbelief. "It's nothing to do with that."

"How are we supposed to know? You're the only wizard I know who's particularly gifted at the Mind Arts around these parts. The rest of us just have to go on signals and words, something you're rather stingy about."

Not feeling that this was the time to depart from that tradition, but attempting to give her something, Severus said, "In this place, I am not evil."

Severus was nearly to the bottom of the cauldron by the time Minerva replied, "Albus should not have bound you here so tightly. He did not mean it, but as much as we all try to forget this, he was just as human as any of us and had faults of his own. He was terrified of losing you."

"To the Dark?"

"I suppose that depends on how you view the afterlife."

"Ah."

"He would not have wanted you bound here long after it meant safety and. . .other things."

Severus stopped rubbing. "Except that he's not here to explain that."

"No, but those of us who make up his legacy are. Can that not be good enough for you?"

"I'm not sure," he told her truthfully. "I think that I want it to be."

Minerva reached out with a hand, laying it lightly over his shoulder. "Maybe it is long past time that you took what you wanted, and dealt with the consequences later."

Severus was glad when she didn't immediately remove her hand, didn't ask him to answer, didn't wait for things he wasn't ready to give.

*

Min slept for fourteen hours the next night, missing Severus's entire stay at wereworld. He received a fire call from her at around ten the next morning, in between classes. She looked better than she had in a while, her color more even. She said, "'Morning. I think."

Severus came to where he was very nearly being set on fire. "Yes, for the moment. How are you?"

"Fine. Better, at least. I think Zev may have spiked my tea last night."

Severus wanted to feel alarmed, but Zev was possibly the only person in the world that was more safe in his actions toward Min than Severus himself. "With?"

"Not sure, I can't recognize tasteless plants by taste."

Severus couldn't actually either, but almost all of them had some sort of texture or smell that alerted him of their presence. "I'll see what I can get him to tell me."

"Uh huh," Min said. Zev could be remarkably silent when he felt like it, but Severus knew that Min had no idea how much the boy would say when talking shop. "Anyway, I called to ask if you could pick up some more nettle leaf before you come back tonight. Hydrea says they're on permanent order at Slugs, so it shouldn't take more than a few minutes."

"I'll get double this time." He'd had to run this particular errand nearly every week since Min began drinking Lorraine's tea. He didn't mind, only was beginning to suspect there had to be a way to save time about all of it.

"And to ask you if you wanted anything for dinner."

Severus examined her all over again at that. Marissa made what she made, unless there were extreme circumstances preventing that. Min slumped. "Bugger it, I called because I missed you. We're actually fine up on the nettles and Marissa said she was making a lamb something or other, but I know you're not big on us interrupting you while you're there, so I thought, what with the practical excuses-"

"I'm grateful for the call."

Min pursed her lips. "Any chance of you getting home early tonight? I didn't get to see you at all last night and I thought. Well. I thought a lot of things, most of them unmentionable anywhere in that school."

"I have a Silencing cast on these rooms."

"I would still know. It would be like swearing in the presence of divinity."

And Severus really didn't need to be aroused without having any way to take care of it, truth be told. "I will see what I can do."

"I'd like that." Behind her, Remus yelled, "We'd like that."

Min smiled fondly, "He's hyper when he gets done with his first classes."

Severus let thoughts of the way Remus's skin was never still when he was hyper flood through his head, mulled the possibility of catching the man in the hallways after his morning classes. . ."Ah."

Min seemed to catch onto what Severus was not quite thinking. Her smile spread, languid and sexy. "Yes."

Before things could go too far, Severus said, "I'll see you this evening."

"See you then," Min promised.

*

What Severus was entirely sure he had meant to say was, "I'm leaving those structural reports you wanted me to look over until the morning." Somehow, however, what actually emerged from his vocal chords sounded more like, "Your offer."

Minerva glanced up from her work. "My offer?"

Severus just stared at her for a moment, as he was decently certain he'd had nothing of the sort on his mind. He'd only been thinking of getting out a bit early, so that he could make Min happy. Severus nearly had to close his eyes as that thought spawned a few thousand others, all coming at him from different directions. When he had quieted the melee a bit, he said, "Evidently the needs of my family have surpassed my need for redemption in importance."

"You do take forever at getting to these conclusions, Severus."

"Decisions of this sort are not the type to be rushed into blithely, Gryffindor."

"Now now. I'm the headmistress. I have no House."

If Albus had ever found the audacity to say such a thing to Severus, he would have laughed himself well past sickness. Minerva, however, was the most fair creature to live on this plane of existence, and Severus couldn't even dredge up a scoff. "You weren't always headmistress."

"And you weren't always fond of Gryffindors, but some things become embedded in us."

Because there were only so many things that Severus was willing to lose gracefully at, he pointed out, "I've failed three Gryffindors in the past term alone."

"They conspired to poison another student in your class."

"If they had been Slytherins-"

"You would have had them scrubbing the backside of Hagrid's newest mongrel with a toothbrush and no magic within sight, I didn't say you don't maintain your prejudices, just that they've softened. Don’t worry yourself, the students haven't noticed, nor will they evidently be given a chance to."

"They mightn't be able to contain their joy. You'd best keep watch in the first term or so."

"Even if they're unaware of it, they'll miss your skill."

"Watch yourself, your inner optimist is attempting to show itself," Severus told her dryly.

"It happens," she answered, every bit as dry. "Whoever will I have to effectively mock me for it when you're gone?"

"Min has mentioned something about the fireplace being a source of communication. I wasn't listening entirely at the time, I must admit, but-"

Minerva laughed. "All right, all right. I shouldn't complain. It was my offer that brought us here in the first place."

"If you wish to rescind-"

"I don't. All I wish is for you to realize just how fiercely I and others shall miss you."

"Minerva," he scolded.

"Severus," she scolded right back. "Do not presume to dictate my emotions in this matter."

"No," he said, bowing his head. "I. . .won't be far, when. If I'm needed."

"Surprisingly, I believe I have a glimmer of where I'll be able to find you."

Severus smiled wryly at that. "I'm to home, then."

"Don’t get lost," Minerva said.

Severus wouldn't.


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