Author's Note: Originally written for milotziherself for the 2021 HoggywartyXmas fest on LiveJournal.
I hope readers will forgive the shameless theft of numerous lines from Chapter Thirty ("The Sacking of Severus Snape") of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The dialogue between Snape and McGonagall in that chapter has always seemed to me to be freighted with meaning. Or maybe that's just the inveterate McSnape shipper in me.
Your hands have already opened their delicate fists
and let their soft drifting signs drop away;
your eyes closed like two gray wings, and I move
after, following the folding water you carry, that carries
me away. The night, the world, the wind spin out their destiny.
Without you, I am your dream, only that, and that is all.
~ Pablo Neruda, "Sonnet LXXXI" from Cien sonetos de amor (translated by Stephen Tapscott)
1 May 1998; 22:18
Minerva suppressed a grin as Carrow meekly handed her his wand. It would, she thought, be highly inappropriate to gloat, given the situation, to wit: You-Know-Who on his way and every student, teacher, and staff member in the castle likely to be dead come morning.
Nevertheless, the hint of a smile twitched at her lips.
He was wrong.
The curse had slipped effortlessly from her mouth, the spell as easy to accomplish as Transfiguring a hedgehog into a pincushion.
As she cast a silvery net from her wand and bound Carrow and his equally odious sibling to Levitate them above the Ravenclaw common room, it flitted through Minerva's mind — and not for the first time — that perhaps she'd always found it too easy to change a living thing into an inanimate object. That the pleasure she got from wielding her magic against a helpless creature wasn't so different from the malignant joy the Carrows and their ilk took in hexing and cursing first-years. Or that Severus used to take in bullying Longbottom.
Then Potter was telling her something about orders from Dumbledore and Voldemort's imminent arrival, and she was planning the defence of the castle and the evacuation of the younger students, and she had no more time to think about Severus Snape except as one of any number of seemingly insurmountable problems.
31 October 1989; 20:45
"You'll never be able to cast an Unforgivable, Minerva. You're far too good."
He said it the way she herself might have uttered an obscenity — as if the very word might bring down final judgement upon its utterer.
Although she agreed with Dumbledore in principle that intent was the defining factor in whether a spell was Dark or Light, she secretly feared — or hoped — Severus was right: that an Unforgivable curse was beyond her capabilities because it was simply … Unforgivable. And though Minerva McGonagall was indubitably a sinner, as were all men and women, she was a justified sinner. Or so her father had always told her.
She'd long ago left the kirk and her father's brand of Calvinism, but some beliefs were hard to shake, and Minerva had found, to her dismay, that notions of predestination, total depravity, and efficacious grace were not only engraved on her psyche by early training, but also fit comfortably into the peculiar grooves of her personality.
"Do it again, Minerva. And this time, try to mean it," Severus goaded.
Minerva's eyes narrowed. She pointed her wand at him and cast.
She visualised her will as a corporeal being, much like a Patronus, as Severus had suggested, imagining her silvery cat invading the dark, nebulous cloud of his volition and breathing it in, pulling the miasma of black into its feline nose and mouth to exhale it as a white mist of suggestion.
Her mind's eye saw him perform the Highland schottische step she intended, but when she lowered her wand, he still stood there, black boots planted firmly on the floor and a familiar smirk animating the otherwise stony mask he habitually wore.
"And again you fail," he said with an exaggerated sigh. "By my count, that is twenty-three attempts. Why Dumbledore thought I could teach you the Imperius is beyond me. If he's going to waste someone's time on fruitless endeavours, it should be his own. I have better things to do this evening."
"Perhaps he thought I needed the guidance of someone with personal experience of doing the unforgivable," she snapped.
What little colour Severus's face had held drained away, leaving it ashen, making him seem both older and younger than his twenty-nine years.
He whirled around and swept from the room, not even bothering to slam the door behind him. His footfalls echoed and died in the empty corridor, and a hollow silence rushed in to fill the space they left.
Minerva let out a shuddering breath.
Her barb — spoken out of frustration and embarrassment — had clearly wounded him more deeply than she'd intended.
The jack-o'-lanterns that lined the hall outside her classroom flickered in the dim light, seeming to mock her with their toothy smiles.
She'd forgotten the significance All Hallows' Eve held for Severus. Although she had her own share of sharp edges and prickly surfaces, she strove never to be cruel. Petty meanness was more his line than hers, and she'd often chid him for it.
Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them back and went after him. Doubtless, he wouldn't want to see her, but the least she could do was offer him her heartfelt apologies. Probably through the oak of a door shut in her face — he was a man who cherished his slights like the Blacks cherished their grotesque family heirlooms — but she'd try anyway. And perhaps he'd respond. He always seemed ready to forgive her after they'd rowed, at least, more quickly than he did anyone else who'd rubbed him the wrong way.
Still, she'd rarely overstepped as badly as she had tonight.
Yes, an apology was called for. That, she thought, and a dram or two of the Laphroaig Albus had given her and Elphinstone for their third anniversary and that they'd never got around to opening. If Severus was ready to forgive her, they could share a drink and mourn their losses together.