This story was written for MyWitch during the 2020 HoggywartyXmas Fest on LiveJournal.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
~ Dante Aligheri, The Divine Comedy
20 December 1981
What the hell am I doing here?
This isn't the first time the thought has crossed Severus's mind recently. In fact, he thinks, the entire four months of his employment at Hogwarts have been an exercise in What the Hell? Or maybe just "Hell."
But this really tears it.
No one wants him here, least of all the blushing bride. But Dumbledore asked him to come, and Severus isn't stupid enough to misunderstand a command just because it comes in the form of a request. So here he is, the only one in severe black dress robes. They hang on his frame, diminished as it still is by his sojourn in Azkaban. He wonders if his appetite will ever return.
He sneaks a surreptitious glance at McGonagall—not blushing, of course, but smiling in a way he's seldom seen her do. Maybe he's never seen it. Merlin knows he has paid little attention to Minerva McGonagall before, except as his passable—oh, all right, competent—Transfiguration instructor for seven years and, of course, as the infuriating Head of the House of Potter, Black, and Lupin. Now that she's Severus's "superior," he supposes he should at least learn to read her a little better.
She's standing next to her new husband. Or old husband, Severus thinks, smirking to himself. Naturally, she's married some self-important git from Magical Law Enforcement. They're a perfect fit, the be-bunned, rule-bound deputy headmistress and the tweed-and-old-school-tie enforcer of the Ministry's might and right. And he's old enough not to want much in the way of sex, Severus thinks, which should suit her to the ground.
To blot out the mental image of the old man huffing and puffing over her that's popped unhelpfully into Severus's unruly brain, he thinks back to his hearing in front of the Wizengamot. He tries to picture McGonagall's husband wearing deep-purple robes and a poncy square hat, but he can't quite separate the memory of a single face from the sea of stony jaws and narrowed eyes that confronted him in the Ministry courtroom. If Elphinstone Urquart was among the judges, Severus thinks, he likely voted to send the Death Eater back to Azkaban.
Not that a sentence at Hogwarts will be much better.
He looks around at the other guests, recognising only his "colleagues," none of whom has bothered to speak to him. And why would they?
He's only here at Dumbledore's insistence, which is the same reason they tolerate him, he knows.
He looks down at the goblet of mead the house-elf has pressed on him. He's tempted to knock it back in a single gulp, but he's not much used to drink, and he doesn't want to risk it.
An unwelcome voice comes from just behind him.
"Severus, my boy, why are you skulking in the corner? Why don't you go congratulate the happy couple?"
The last thing he wants is to join the line of well-wishers shaking hands with the bride and groom, but he recognises that Dumbledore is giving him an out—surely he can leave after offering the requisite inanities—so he puts his goblet down on the nearest table and stalks over to them.
Sprout is gushing at the couple. "I can't wait to help you with the planting. Of course, Minerva's not got much of a green thumb, but I'll trust you to keep everything alive despite her best efforts."
Urquart laughs. "Thank you, Pomona. I'll look forward to getting my hands dirty in the garden. It's one of the chief reasons we bought the place."
Sprout notices Severus and moves away a fraction. "Congratulations, again. I'm just so happy for you!" She squeezes McGonagall's hand and scurries off to the safety of the far end of the staff room, which bears the unmistakable, over-florid hallmarks of her work on every horizontal surface.
McGonagall fixes Severus with a beady eye, and he has an awful moment when he thinks his voice won't work, but he clears his throat and says, "Professor McGonagall, Mr Urquart, my congratulations."
McGonagall's face is inscrutable, he'll give her that. No disdain curves her lips and her brow neither furrows nor raises as she says, "Thank you, Professor Snape."
He nods quickly at Urquart and moves off before the old man can say anything.