Minerva McGonagall has never been a romantic. Albus believes--believed, and it's still hard for her to accept, to speak or even think of him in the past tense. He was always so vibrant, so alive, and she feels his presence still, here in the office she can't think of as her own. Albus believed in the good in people, believed it could overcome fear and prejudice, and even evil.
She had wanted to believe, had tried. She thought she had succeeded, too, until Harry had spoken.
She had trusted Severus, because Albus did, had grown to love him over the years, or thought she had, but now Albus is dead at Severus's--no, she tells herself, not Severus's--Snape's hand.
Now, she wonders if anything Severus had ever said to her was true, or if she had made another horrifying mistake, seeing what she wanted to see and ignoring signs of his true nature. She remembers his days as a student, wonders if their time together was some elaborate plot for revenge because she rarely took his part when her boys, her beautiful, doomed Gryffindor boys, tormented him.
She had had the desire for a grand passion burnt out of her at a young age by a disastrous liaison with Tom Riddle, and what she and Severus have--had--is nothing like that, based as it is--was--on mutual respect and friendship, with a frisson of desire. Or so she'd thought.
Now, she feels like a foolish old woman, taken in by a man who had probably been laughing up his sleeve at her the whole time.
She goes back to her quarters, pours herself a healthy measure of Ogden's Old and settles in front of the fireplace, clutching her worn tartan robe close around her chest. A chill has settled over the castle with Albus's death, and not even the June heat can dispel it.
Exhaustion makes her slump, good posture forgotten as the events of the past few weeks continue to take their toll. Sleep has nearly claimed her when she wakes, startled, by a green flare and the image of a face--his face--in the fire. She's fairly certain she's imagining things, but she forces herself up off the sofa and shuts down the Floo in her room. She will change the password in the morning, when she isn't so sleepy.
Minerva goes to bed, telling herself it's only another warm body beside her that she misses, rather than Severus himself. She dreams of his mocking laughter, and wakes as the flash of green fire from his wand reaches her.
After meeting with Scrimgeour, she needs a recuperative drink. The Three Broomsticks is open again, with Rosmerta's niece Aine running it, but Minerva hesitates, torn. She isn't sure she can bear to see Aberforth, looking so much like Albus, behind the bar at the Hog's Head, but she's also not sure she wants to see the Three Broomsticks without Rosmerta's cheery presence.
It is this hesitation that gives him the opportunity. There is a soft pop of Apparition, and Severus Snape stands before her, looking haggard, his sallow skin paler than dead men's flesh, his hair a lank curtain framing his face, his eyes burning dark and ringed with shadows.
"Minerva," he manages before her wand is out. They cast useless spells at each other for a few brief moments; she holds back, automatically assuming a defensive position, but the Unforgivables she is expecting never come. "Minerva, please," he says, his voice a knife.
It's the please that undoes her.
"Why, Severus?" she asks, not lowering her wand, though her hand trembles and her voice is rough with anguish. "Why?"
"It was necessary." He takes a step forward and she steps back instinctively, then draws herself up to her full height, chin raised.
"You'll have a harder time dispatching me, I think," she says.
"Yes." Another step, and his wand is down, his wand is down, but she cannot bring herself to kill him. Not without knowing why. "I--It was necessary," he repeats hoarsely. He reaches out, takes her empty hand and raises it to his cheek. His skin is cold to the touch, and this close she can see exhaustion on his face, worry lines and grey hairs that were never there before.
The fact that he does not kill her where she stands, that he makes no attempt to penetrate her mind, confuses her, but he offers her nothing else, no explanation, no mitigating circumstances, no pleas for understanding. He never has. She cups his cheek gently, resisting the urge to claw at his eyes like a madwoman.
"Yes. To save Draco."
Her mouth twists, because that is not a trade she finds acceptable, Albus's life for Draco Malfoy's soul, though Albus certainly would have. Did, if Severus isn't lying. If Severus is telling the truth, he has traded his own soul for Draco Malfoy's.
It is a bitter draught to swallow.
"The truth always is," he says, as if to himself, and she wonders if she'd spoken her thought aloud or if he is skilled enough to have plucked it from her mind without her knowing. Before she can speak again, he says, "I will contact you soon."
He reaches out and strokes her cheek gently, his scratched hand smelling of essence of murtlap, dirt beneath the ragged fingernails. "Increase the guard on the Grangers," he says, the harshness in his tone at odds with the tender touch of his hand on her face. He leans in, presses a hard kiss to her lips, and Disapparates.
Her heart flutters and her hands shake. She doesn't want to believe him, and at the same time, she does. She wishes for a little of Albus's faith, his strength, his ability to be guided by love. She wishes for the wisdom to take the right decision. Her medicinal whisky will have to wait. As she makes her way back to the castle to contact Alastor, she feels the weight of every long year of her life in her bones, and hopes she's not making another foolish mistake.