Severus had been so intent on getting into the staff room and out of the draughty corridor that he only just managed avoid shrieking, when it became clear that the room was not empty.
“What are you doing up at this time of night?” Minerva’s voice came from the fire lit shadows of the sofa, where she was sitting almost out of sight. Severus put his residual skittishness down to the way he’d so recently woken, shaking and sweating from the grips of an all too familiar nightmare.
“Glass houses Minerva,” he chided gently when his heart settled back into its customary location. He knew that he didn’t really have to offer her an explanation, they had been here before, the pair of them meeting in the wee small hours of the morning when one or other or both of them couldn’t find solace in sleep.
“Touché,” she acknowledged, “come and join me,” she continued patting the sofa next to her. She was sitting low in the seat, long legs stretched out and crossed ankles resting on the coffee table in front of her.
“What are you doing?”
“Staring at the timetable and seeing if I can’t fix it,” she replied perfunctorily. He’d been battling with the scheduling of the new curriculum for weeks now and when she’d been able, The Headmistress had been trying to help. He wasn’t sure if it was because she felt guilty for creating this administrative nightmare by adding new classes and scheduling rules, or whether she didn’t trust him yet, but he was beyond caring. It should have been finished and agreed two days ago but he still felt like he was going in circles.
Summoning another wine glass from the cabinet in the corner, Severus poured himself a glass of the very nice merlot that was sitting on the table and sat down next to the Gryffindor. Also on the table, were Minerva’s discarded glasses, a packet of cigarettes and an ashtray which his eyes obviously lingered on if his superior’s next comment was anything to go by. “Don’t even think about it,” she said not taking her eyes off the suspended squares that filled one end of the room.
“I hadn’t even raised my eyebrow.”
“Hmph. How was the meeting with the contractors?”
“Satisfactory. They assured me that they’ll have the towers finished by Friday then it’s just the new first year dormitory and the charms specialists are due in the following week.”
“We’re rapidly running out of time,” Minerva said with a sigh, “I don’t understand why everything is taking so long this year.”
“Well I hate to state the obvious but this last year hasn’t been like any other.” She laughed quietly at this.
“And don’t we all thank Merlin for the fact that it isn’t always like that,” she offered, draining her own glass.
“I don’t know; this term may prove thoroughly boring.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“No. No I really don’t.” Despite the nights when he woke, throat hoarse and drenched in sweat, his heart racing and stomach churning, he was more at peace now than he’d been in decades. Possibly ever.
“Do you think that I’m making a mistake?” The question was quiet and earnest as she turned to look at him for the first time since he’d entered the room. “Are we trying to do too much too fast, should we have held off on some of the changes?” He looked at her properly for the first time in days, they’d been like ships that passed in the night recently, owls and scrawled notes on desks the only real communication the Head and Deputy had managed in almost a week. She looked tired. And thin and he wondered whether Poppy had seen her recently. Severus had had time away, he’d had rest and treatment and time away from the public glare and whether it had been enough or not, it was something. His road had been harder than most but he wasn’t the only one who had lived through trials.
“It isn’t like you to doubt yourself,” he said equally quietly, leaning forward and refilling her glass. She snorted at this,
“Oh Severus, I doubt constantly it’s just I usually cover it better than this.”
“I don’t think that we’re making a mistake. The Ministry and the Governors have all agreed to your proposals.” And that was no mean feat. When she had offered him the job, spoken of breaking and re-creating the mould, she hadn’t been joking.
When Hogwarts re-opened, new students would not be sorted until their second year, and would all be housed together with a dedicated house master and mistress until that time. The intention was that this would allow them to keep a closer watch on their youngest charges to help them acclimatise and hopefully promote friendships across the Houses. All First to Third years would take compulsory Muggle Studies and Contemporary Wizarding Studies classes to help them understand more about the worlds their peers came from and also General Studies which would help to standardise language and maths skills. Classes would be divided on alphabetical grounds rather than by House and there was to be a zero tolerance policy to abuse between students and physical or magical altercations. There would be counselling services available and they would facilitate a far greater range of muggle and wizarding extracurricular activities. Minerva had not only fought tooth and nail for the funding to make these changes possible but was determined that they needed to allow their professors time to develop themselves as well, to take on Masters level students if they wanted to. She had been re-defining what the Head of a school looked like, not with a finger in every pie, but with a true passion for the future of education and the getting the best for their students. She was marvellous.
“Not all of them agreed,” she said, reaching for her cigarettes.
“Are you really waiting for universal approval?” Severus asked dryly as she moved across to the window and cracked it open.
“Good grief no,” she said wryly, blowing smoke away from him and out into the night air, “war or no there will always be people who can’t see sense.”
“Now that sounds far more like you.”
“I’m glad you approve,” she smiled her eyes drifting back to the scheduling nightmare before them. “Oh!” she said after a moment, pushing herself off the stone wall and taking a half step forward.
Severus shifted forward as well, trying to follow her line of sight and see if he could spot what it was she had seen. Several moments later, she absently stubbed out her smouldering fag, transfiguring it and letting the petal fall out of the open window before she moved towards the board. She looked, Severus thought for a surreal moment, like a lioness stalking a particularly tasty looking deer. With a flick of couple of fingers, she shifted an elective fourth year module, then another two first year sessions and a flurry of other classes before finally stepping back with a genuine smile. “I think… “ she declared, “that that’s it.” Severus stepped forward casting his eye over the changes she’d made.
“It looks good, I can’t see any clashes,” he said, as Minerva reached for the book that contained the master copies and the charm work that would identify any problems with the individual student timetables, the Professors’ teaching schedules or room bookings.
“And…” she flicked through the book looking for any red markers… “we’re done.”
“Thank Merlin for that,” Severus said, more enthusiastically than he had intended to. “How did you…?” he asked, continuing to try and establish how she had solved the clashes that had been plaguing him.
“I’ve been doing this for decades Severus and while it’s not always such a big upheaval the experience certainly hasn’t hurt.”
“Well I’m going to have to learn your secrets as it’s my responsibility now.” Minerva looked at him with the type of gaze that made him feel eleven years old again.
“There is no need for the lines of responsibility to be so firm. Heaven knows I did things that no other Deputy had until it became clear that Albus had neither the interest or the time to do them.”
“And so, you’ll just keep doing it all now, along with the responsibilities of the Head?”
“Don’t be obtuse. We simply have different skills Severus and we should play to them – you’ll get the hang of the timetabling soon enough. You were almost there and Merlin knows that you’ve proved yourself more adept at managing the Governors than I am.”
“That’s because you just expect everyone to agree with you because you’re right.”
“Not always. Sometimes I think they should agree with me because I’m in charge.” He supressed the urge to laugh at this blatant lie.
“Nothing like that traditional Gryffindor modesty.”
“Now now,” she chided, “that’s not the example we want to set.”
“No you’re right,” he conceded, “let me top up your glass by ways of apologies.”
“I knew there was a reason I’d hired you.” He re-filled her glass before handing it over. “I am glad that its sorted. I might be able to get some sleep now.”
“It’s been weighing on you?” he asked watching her again, as they settled back on the settee.
“Hmmm,” she said, taking another deep drink. “I don’t know why but I’ve never been able to settle until I know that the timetables are done. It’s not as though there aren’t still other equally important things I need to get finalised.”
“We, Minerva, we need to get finalised.”
“Yes, you’re right of course. But don’t think I’m not aware of how much preparation of your own you have. Teaching plans don’t write themselves and no doubt there are things you’ll want to prepare for Slytherin.”
“There’s time for all that. My extracurricular commitments are not what they once were.”
“Again, for which we’re all grateful. I need to write a list.”
“Another list? Minerva, we could paper the whole of your office with lists you’ve written.”
“They help me to think, to keep track of what needs to be done.”
“One, write a list of all the lists I need to write. Two, try and identify which are the most recent lists as I haven’t thought to date them.”
“Severus Snape you are a cruel man.”
“And this is something you’ve only just noticed now? I really thought you’d been paying more attention than that.”
“I need another cigarette,” she said, rolling her eyes and reaching for what turned out to be an empty packet. “Bugger.”
“Looks like you’re out.”
“Yes it does. Bugger.”
“Minerva, not that I’m encouraging you, but you do have no little skill in transfiguration…”
“I don’t transfigure cigarettes or alcohol. It’s a dangerous habit and they never taste right in any case.”
“Well then, you’ll just have to cope.”
“What happened to the packet that you confiscated from me last week?”
“I destroyed them.”
“Why on earth did you do that?” Severus raised an eyebrow. “Ok. Ok.” she conceded.
“You don’t have any stashed?”
“This was them.”
“So ‘the occasional cigarette’...?”
“Has been less occasional of late,” she admitted with a grimace. “I really need to give up again.” Severus didn’t comment on this but watched the as she collapsed further into the cushions.
“Have you even made it to bed yet tonight?” he asked, suspecting the answer.
“Hmmm, sorry? No, not yet.” Well she was crashing now that was for sure.
“You need to sleep it’s,” he checked the clock, “almost 4am.”
“Mmmm, I’ve got a breakfast meeting with the Minister in a couple of hours. Not really worth it now.”
“What else have you got on?”
“Site walk at 10:30 and then I’m meeting with the First Year house staff. I need to see Pomona and find out how she’s getting on with clubs and societies and then Poppy’s coming in so that we can talk with the councillor about some of the students with additional support requirements.”
“I don’t suppose that you’re going to let me take on any of those meetings for you even if I offer, are you?”
“I thought you were on Diagon Alley duty tomorrow?” Traditionally, the Deputy Head had always facilitated new muggle born students first trip to Diagon Alley.
“Surely that won’t take me all day? There’s only four students, and they have a list.” He gently jibed.
“And very glad of it you’ll be too, and don’t forget that you’ll also have four lots of parents who will have never seen anything like it before. If you’re done before closing-time I’ll be surprised.”
“Well, you are the expert I suppose,” he conceded. “I could however, quite easily meet with the Minister for breakfast which would let you get some sleep before you need to do the site inspection.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said, stirring herself to sit upright.
“No, but I’m offering and I’m not going to be taking no for an answer.”
“Well, if you’re sure…”
“Certain,” he replied, standing and offering her a hand, “I’m assuming that it’s just to catch him up on the syllabus changes that were approved by the Board of Governors?”
“Yes, he may have some questions about other things though…”
“Which I’m sure I’ll be able to answer and if not, then Kingsley will certainly be understanding enough to wait.” He managed to manoeuvre her in the direction of the door with relative ease, an arm behind her all the shepherding she really required.
“Thank you, Severus,” she said as they made it to the threshold.
“No need for thanks Minerva,” he said quite genuinely, “we’re in this together.”