It's been two days since the battle, it's late at night, she's been working all day, the castle has finally grown silent -- and yet Minerva can't sleep.
Quietly, she walks the corridors; craving fresh air and solitude, she slips out the door to the courtyard and walks until she sees the moon over the lake. She stops, then, wrapping her arms about herself and closing her eyes. The night air is a bit raw, and she shudders, vaguely considering casting a warming spell.
There's a sound behind her. Instinctively, she freezes, then draws her wand. But as she turns to face the attacker, there's a gentle laugh in the darkness, a familiar sound.
"I thought I'd find you here," says Filius.
He looks strange in the moonlight, hair and moustaches almost glowing white, eyes dark and smile half-hidden. From the inside of his jacket, he pulls out a bottle and two small glasses. "Let's have a drink," he offers.
"We shouldn't," Minerva says, but she accepts the bottle nonetheless and pours them both a stiff drink while Filius casts some charms to make things more comfortable. They sit side by side on the grass, glasses in hand, watching the moon slowly fade, ready for the night to go into its darkest hour.
"How are you?" Filius asks, refilling her glass before she's had the chance to ask.
She shrugs, a non-committal move in the darkness. "I've been better, of course. But I'm all right. Tired, as I imagine that you must be, too." She turns to look at him. "How did you know I was here?"
"I didn't," he says, the mild tone of his voice betraying his smile. "But I saw you leaving the courtyard, and I thought you might still feel the need for free, fresh air." He shrugs in turn. "I couldn't sleep, either."
"Perhaps we shouldn't," says Minerva, taking a sip of whisky. It's what she needs right now, hot and relentlessly burning. "Perhaps we need to stay awake a little bit, if only to remind ourselves that we'll go to sleep soon enough."
She doesn't even know where the words come from, but now that they're out there, she has no intention of taking them back. Yet it's as if the tone has changed, as if the air itself has shifted a little, become heavier.
"Indeed," he says, very quietly. "It seems unfair, doesn't it, Minerva?"
"All those deaths..." The words are hard to form; she licks her lip, tries again. "All those deaths, children included, and here we are, still. What is the point in that? And Severus, he..."
But Severus's very name blocks her throat and makes her eyes burn, so she stops, putting a hand to her brow.
"He could have been alive now," Filius finishes. She can almost hear him shake his head. "Or he couldn't. No-one will ever know for sure."
"We fought him." She almost laughs at the thought. "What a ridiculous scene it was, despite everything... He jumped out the window, for goodness' sake! But there was always this little voice, bothering me -- 'What if I'm wrong about him? What if I'm not?' In the end, I almost didn't care anymore, I was just so angry with him for not being straight with us."
"It must have been difficult," says Filius. "For him, I mean. Of course it was a horrible time for all of us -- and very much so for you, my dear," and he pats her hand gently. "But as you say, he wasn't straight with us. Imagine being able to confide in no-one." He sighs. "Imagine being that lonely."
Minerva doesn't reply at first. She bites her lip, staring at her folded hands around the glass, thinking of Severus Snape's life, or what she knows of it.
"Could we have prevented it?" she says at length. "I always assumed he wanted to be left alone, and I'm still not convinced otherwise. He was not a pleasant man."
"He wasn't," Filius agrees. "But it's not easy to say what happened first, to make him that way. We never knew much about him. And now... Well, it's too late."
She closes her eyes, swallowing. "Yes."
Filius's hand finds her wrist, unexpectedly warm. "He made his choices in life, Minerva. So did you, and so did I. Maybe they were the wrong ones, but they were all ours to make."
"I'm not sure he did." She opens her eyes, fixating on the pale yellow line that's appeared in the east. "I think his life was ruled by others. Albus, of course, and You-Know-Who. But other forces, too. Family, and friends, and lack of friends, and a great magic, and -- Filius, do you really think any of us are truly in charge of our own lives?"
She hadn't planned to say all that, to sound like a high-strung child. Minerva stares into her glass, half-contemplating blaming her words on the drink. But in truth, she wants to let it all out, all of her frustrations, her regrets, her anger with Severus, her anger on Severus's behalf -- and most of all the immense sadness that has locked itself in her heart.
Filius's hand still rests on her wrist, now squeezing it gently. "I don't know," he says. "But I think we have to believe we are. Don't you?"
"I don't know. I..." Minerva takes a heavy breath. "I should have helped Severus."
"Maybe you couldn't," Filius says.
"You have no idea. I used to be his teacher..."
"So did I."
"I should have noticed! I should have stopped it at the very beginning!"
"Are you more powerful than all the rest of us combined, then?"
Minerva is about to retort, but then she looks at Filius, his kind, old face, his eyes, filled with sorrow and pain -- a deep pain, obvious even in the darkness, a pain that seems to reflect that he's been having these thoughts, and a thousand more, many times before.
"You can't think like that," he says, his voice soft and grave. "You will go mad."
He fills up their glasses again. They drink in silence, occasionally refreshing the heating charms when the need arises, Minerva stifling a yawn now and then. She's beginning to feel very tired.
"Come," Filius says at last. "It's time to go back inside."
She nods, then stands, stretching her stiff limbs before picking up the half-full bottle, Filius putting the glasses back inside his jacket. Together, they make their way slowly back to the sleeping castle, the sky growing lighter above them.