Chapter 12 : What are Friends For
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Flitwick has chosen his location well, his presence hidden by the large wingback of his chair to those passing through. His anticipation has been mounting for most of an hour as he observes one such traveller who has selected a more time consuming pastime in the vicinity.
Professor Snape is reading a book. (Only Flitwick could find this so exciting.)
He has chosen not to take it to one of the other arm chairs by the fire but remains standing with it open in one hand, his pale nose pressed close to it, a shoulder leaning into the tall book shelf it has been carefully chosen from.
Flitwick had worried, initially, that the casual pose would indicate the professor had only a passing interest in whatever subject the book divulges and would consequently only spend a short time perusing it. However, pain to the feet and back aside, Snape has stayed rooted in place, every so often flicking over a page with one thin finger, for a very long time now and shows no sign of making a change.
He also, as far as Flitwick is aware, has not noticed the charms professor watching him. Flitwick restlessly shifts between anxiously worrying that this rare opportunity will come to nothing and Minerva will not happen through, and wondering what book it is that Snape is reading. The last is quite an irritating curiosity as it might provide some sort of clue as to the professor’s mental state recently. The man has barely glanced at Flitwick since the disaster. Even though the worst is over and Flitwick proved his beneficence to the point of countering Minerva’s charm, it remains that the basic premise of Snape’s activities that night turn Flitwick’s knowledge of it into a bit of a problem.
Flitwick wishes he could plainly tell Severus that he is not full of judgement but sympathy. He doubts that would be very helpful, however.
His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the door and a sudden spike of excitement that winds him as professor McGonagall brushes past. He tugs on his ears so they don’t stand up so far beyond the top of his head and peers over the padded arm of his chair.
McGonagall is heading for the cabinet and must go past Snape.
“Good afternoon, Professor.”
It is very plain and brief. Snape mutters something similar, but she is already past. She rummages in the cupboard to find a large mug and fills it with water, waving her wand to turn it into hot cocoa.
Flitwick’s eyes zoom back to Snape who has stiffened, congealed you might say, and kept his awkward shoulder perch on the book shelf. The book, however, has fallen slightly and his attention to it does not appear to be due to a desire to read so much as a preoccupation with not looking over his shoulder.
McGonagall meanwhile has finished the task she came in for but is lingering, her hip leaning into the counter, her back to the bookshelves. She is thoughtfully weaving her wand in the steam rising from her mug, watching the swirling patterns.
Snape’s shoulders shift, his mouth working in a way that suggests he might be plucking up the nerve to say something. Abruptly he closes the book and reaches as far up as he can to replace it on the shelf. As soon as this is done he leaves the room as if pushed by some powerful negative magnetic force from Minerva’s person.
Flitwick cannot decide whether he is disappointed or not. He didn’t have many expectations. His attention is drawn back to Minerva whose expression has darkened since listening to Snape’s exit. Her wand flicks in the steam and it curls into the floating spectres of two faces, one with long hair, hollowed cheeks and a prominent nose and the other with a tight bun at the back and (Flitwick’s heart softens slightly towards her) a modestly homely imitation of her own face.
McGonagall gazes at her steam as the two faces slowly drift towards each other. Just before their vapoury lips can meet, her own disappears with a hiss and that resembling Snape takes a forward dive into her scalding drink. For a long moment the top of her mug is clouded with the back of the steamy Snape’s head.
With a forced smile, Minerva raises her drink and sips from it.
Flitwick, however, thinks this little display wholly unfair given her recent behaviour towards the potions master and has planted his feet on the arm of his chair, facing her, a hand gripping one wing of the back for support.
“I say Minerva, that he didn’t deserve that.”
Minerva jumps quite badly, hastily replacing her sloshing drink on the counter and cleaning up the spill with a wave of her wand. This also gives her time to fully appreciate his words and when she turns to him she looks quite livid.
Flitwick would take an involuntary step back, but remembers just in time he has no where to retreat. Besides, he has a great deal to say and none of it, he imagines, will be what she wants to hear. He still trusts her enough to assume she will not turn him into an animal for impertinence.
“You have a habit, I think, of watching quietly where no one sees you, Flitwick.”
Flitwick doesn’t budge or blink.
“Only when I feel it is necessary to the well being of those I would care for. I have always counted you, Minerva, in that number. But recently I have witnessed a brutality that makes me question it.”
McGonagall’s eyes are blazing, her mouth has fallen slightly open and her hand clenches the handle of her mug so hard he is afraid the pottery might snap.
“I knew you did not really leave!”
“Yes, I was a witness when perhaps you did not want one.”
“When Severus did not want one you mean!”
“And you are any better with the way you left.”
“I need not explain myself to you!”
“But you want to. You are a good person, Minerva, and care about my opinion. I am giving you the chance to restore it.”
McGonagall turns away from him, dumping out her drink vindictively.
“I will not do so when you first accuse me of brutality –“
“What other word could describe taking that away from Severus. If he does remember it, it is not with any certainty. And what reason would he have for it! You know how little opportunity he has had for –“
“I don’t think that is in any way my business or responsibility. He is leading his life the way he sees fit.”
“I believe you have interrupted it, Minerva, and in a good way.”
“I don’t see any evidence for such a claim! His preference for secrecy and dishonesty are still very much at large.”
Flitwick’s face has sunk into an imploring expression and he knows it is McGonagall’s voice that does it to him. She has this imperious tone that wilts his own efforts.
“But they are applied to a different goal, that counts for –“
“Quite a bit against him, I should think, since that goal was jinxing me!”
Flitwick’s eyes have gone very round and bright, clinging desperately to their conviction.
“You … you know what he was asking you –“
“Oh yes, he was testing me, determining whether I would stand for that sort of nonsense, would let myself be manipulated.”
“Minerva can’t you listen to your voice, see your own face, think how intimidating –“
“Being a rotting coward is no excuse! It makes it all much worse in fact, and I will never give him any encouragement to know the truth of it again unless he can at least be decent. But that is all beside the point … you … you saw …”
It only seems to be hitting her now how very in the know Flitwick is showing himself to be and the charms master feels a lurch in his heart at the way her hands have gripped on the counter behind her and her shoulders have shirked up around her ears. She has gone a ghostly shade of white.
She has turned her back on him and covered her ears with her palms.
“How could you … both of you! Dragging me open like a broom cupboard, with no warning, without asking, assuming you had the right! I could have expected it from him, perhaps, but you Filius?”
Flitwick is working his hands together miserably. But his eyes have not changed, if anything they have turned even more insistent out of necessity. She is well practiced at handing out shaming reprimands, but not so good at receiving them.
“And I expected more courage from the Gryffindor head, enough at least to face her own feelings rather than drown them in cocoa.”
Minerva whirls back to him and Flitwick ducks back, half expecting her to hurl the dripping mug she has clenched in one hand at him. Her eyes are very dark and cast to the side.
“You see what you want to, Filius.”
“Now don’t you go blaming this all on me. I thought only Severus was that dedicated to denial.”
Minerva huffs and crosses her arms with a troubled smirk. But she doesn’t ask what Severus is busy hiding from. He softens his voice, realizing anger was the wrong way to approach her, she will only return it in kind and he is not unaware that she has legitimate reason for it. But will she respond to something more gentle, he is not sure. She is braver than she has been behaving. He must keep giving her the chance to show it.
“And I can hardly be inventing what I see plainly.”
She cannot have him seeing her suddenly and turns back to the cupboard, opening it to replace the mug, her motions slow. Is there something of unwilling regret in her the tilt of her head?
“That was hardly an honest answer, what I did.”
“But he –“
He can see her hand curl into a fist on the counter beside her.
“Yes.” She blows out a long breath. “He tried to make sure it would be. He did something despicable.”
Her eyes come over her shoulder, certain but sad as well, and a little embarrassed in that.
“But he asked his question dishonestly. It matters. Veritaserum produces a blunt effect, it is violent. There are some truths that cannot be torn from us without being irrevocably damaged, without being mangled. I wish I did not have to live with the memory of such an abomination, but there it is. Unfortunate things happen. And Severus likes to be in the middle of them for Merlin knows what reason. He dearly tends his misery.”
Flitwick closes his mouth with a snap and swallows. She can’t really think …
“I confunded him to spare him of it. He will not succeed in making me accomplice to his garden of trials.”
She has half turned to him, leaning her hip on the counter again with her head hung low and her hands folded in front of her, staring at the laced pattern of her fingers.
“I believe you undid my handiwork and I hope it did not take him too long to find you.”
His voice is hoarse. He steps off the arm of his chair and sits down on the cushion, staring at the unlit fireplace. After a moment he hears the rustle of robes and Minerva sits down opposite him. Her posture is prim, but her fingers are still wrapped tightly about one another and she looks at him hesitantly.
“I am not asking you to forgive me, Filius, it is not for you to do so. He must seek me out eventually, I have his wand. I think he knows this. He knows all of it, I imagine, just not well enough to be sure and rush to Albus. He is hanging back, waiting to be certain.”
She is staring at the wall. Her fingers shift, but she continues to look just where she is.
“Was he … was he very badly when he came to you?”
Flitwick is quite cross with himself for giving up on his anger with her so easily, but it is impossible when underneath her wary coldness she sounds so hopelessly concerned. He looks at her seriously, searching through her frozen expression.
“He was quite badly.”
Her eyes close tightly. Flitwick would comfort her, but it is not for him to do. She has turned that one against herself very purposefully. Severus at least was unscrupulous for a warmer reason. She can’t have missed that, as much as she is trying not to admit it to him.
She opens her eyes into her lap with a forced frown.
“I do not regret it, he deserved every moment.”
Flitwick tries not to have his voice come out too dramatically, but it must be asked by someone.
He keeps his gaze away from her and continues.
“Minerva, he is very frightened of you.”
There is a long astonished pause. Her hands fidget in her lap and press firmly together to stop.
“I do not believe it. Not for a moment. What on earth has he done to put that idea –“
Flitwick chuckles blackly.
“Trust me, it is the last thing he would want me to think. Or you for that matter, although he should really reconsider, a little vulnerability will get him much farther than veritaserum I imagine.”
Flitwick slides her a mischievous look of appraisal to see the good his suggestion is already working. McGonagall, however, still looks like someone has just presented her with a pig in tartan. Flitwick holds back a laugh and considers how to do this delicately.
“Tell me what he asked you at the end, there. I could only guess, given the response.”
McGonagall has pressed the back of one hand into her cheek to cool it and is glaring at him. Flitwick settles back in his chair with a little smile.
“See? You too like your secrets well enough.”
She turns away, irritated beyond measure.
“It hardly compares.”
Flitwick wiggles closer to the edge of his chair, looking up at her piercingly. She avoids noticing.
“You complain he invaded your privacy and did so dishonestly, but I disagree. I think whatever it was, he was being rather ridiculously honest. I can hardly think what spurred him to be so reckless, other than perhaps what he is afraid of finally caught up with him, he couldn’t keep himself inhuman forever.”
Her voice is ice.
“I thought it is me he is frightened of.”
“Something about you, yes. Something inside himself. He thinks it can only do the very worst things, that it is the end of him.”
She is still not meeting his gaze, but has loosened her hands, pushing them down her thighs in a practical manner.
“Really, Filius, there is no need to put this into a riddle for me. Severus is enough of one without your help.”
Minerva waves her wand and lights a fire in the grate. Flitwick leans back, his expression smug. She did that for a distraction.
“I don’t pretend to have unravelled him. I don’t know exactly what it is. But I would bet he notices it particularly when he looks in your eyes, or when you smile. Have you ever genuinely smiled, really done so, and just for him?”
Minerva has pressed her forehead into a palm and latched her fingers in her hair.
“ … he hardly troubles himself to inspire them.”
She pauses, still bent forward with her hand shielding her face.
“… I did. Actually. The dance you arranged.”
She gives a laugh and then flops back in the chair, her face drained and testy.
“Not that I see the importance of it.”
“To Severus? Merlin, he must be able to count the smiles he has received like that on one hand.”
She points her eyes up at the ceiling with a sceptical smirk.
“A small exaggeration I’m sure.”
“Smaller than you might think.”
She crosses her arms and the amusement is so cutting in her eyes he fights not to duck away from it.
“Well maybe you should take over smiling at Severus duty and no more potions will be slipped in my tea.”
She seems very satisfied with this comment and Flitwick stands on his cushion shaking his head and crossing his arms.
“It doesn’t work like that I’m afraid.”
“Really. And you know just how it works.”
“You are sounding like him.”
“Good grief Filius, you know just what to say too, don’t you?”
She has pinched her temples between her thumb and forefinger with a grimace.
“There’s more, Minerva. Just a little more.”
McGonagall rolls her eyes.
“I suppose you must have your say or I shall never get away, some of us do work here you know.”
“I meant what I said about Severus laying himself bare in asking his question.”
McGonagall shifts in resigned dismay. But underneath her weariness there is a building intensity, he can see it already in her eyes. Severus has managed to poke very deep with his trick. Filius can feel the clouds gathering in Minerva, the pull of the air condensing around her person. Sitting next to her, he feels his sight clearing and his senses sharpening as happens when a storm is starting. He licks his lips.
“You must find the strength to face that. And what it does to your answer. It was not a violence, Minerva.”
She has stood, abruptly, her arms wound around each other defensively.
“How could such a thing not be, Filius!”
Flitwick grips the armrest tightly in his small hands, he must get through to her and she is at any instant going to whirl away from him.
“He should not have been stripped of it, Minerva, even for a moment! There will come a time, he will ask again –“
“He will not!”
Flitwick feels his ears bend back with the force of that.
“If he does I shall do so much worse to him than a night as an addle minded rat! Next time –“
“But it will not be the same next time, he won’t be using veritaserum, he may not even use words –“
Is she hearing him? He does not know, and she trumps him by turning her back and making him fall silent.
“I don’t care how many times, I will keep it from him.”
He stares at her back in dumbfounded fury.
“I cannot believe you capable of such cruelty.”
He is staring into her eyes again and he rather wishes she had kept her back turned, they are guarded but soft. He could sink into them and he must not for that softness is the storm in her and it is not always so gentle.
“He may be very much in need of such things, but not in that way. Not –“ She mercifully looks away, digging her chin in a shoulder. “Not from me. He should have a chance to –“
“You are a chance, Minerva.”
“No. I will not be what makes him miserable. I refuse!”
Flitwick could bash his head into the wall in frustration.
“When did misery come back into this? Minerva, I am trying to say that he –“
“Such a truth could only ever be forced, whatever you think, his honesty as much as mine. He asked me because he was already found out, because he was already ruined. That is what it was, it was the worst of him, what was left when the respectable part had fled.”
Flitwick is tugging on his ears viciously and shaking his head vehemently.
“What Severus thinks is the worst part of him is really the best! Do not tell me you suddenly trust his judgement! Don’t you dare think of it as an abomination Minerva, I will – I will –“
Her hands fall on his tightly wound shoulders making him lean back and open his eyes up at her.
“There is nothing for you to do, Filius. When he comes for his wand he will know for certain it was me and will not think about anything but how angry he is and that is for the best. Things will be normal again. Whatever damage I did with my smiles will be quite forgotten.”
“Damage … ?!” It is little more than a squeak and more to himself, for she is already moving away.
After she has gone and Flitwick is alone in the staff room he stews with an aching head for a great deal longer. Minerva and he obviously have very different ideas about what is in Snape’s best interest.
With a frown of frusteration Flitwick takes out his wand and uses it to get the book Severus had been reading off the shelf and into his curious hands.
Beyond Good and Evil.
With a determined set to his face Flitwick wrestles the musty volume open.
“The consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claim that meanwhile we have ‘improved.’ … Whoever despises himself still respects himself as one who despises …”
(Beyond Good and Evil and the quote above by Friedrich Nietzsche. It seems you can find a Nietzsche quote to go with just about anything you want to say, even Harry Potter fan fiction!)
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