A/N: AD/MM ahead. Don't say I didn't warn you! Although I believe Severus and Albus had an arrangement, for the purposes of this story I am defecting to the other, less optimistic camp of thought.
16/03/07: I started this story, as you can see by the
'date published' section, back in 2005. I like to think my writing
style has improved since then, and I have recently begun rewriting the
first few chapters. For this reason, there may some irregularity in style and quality near the start. Hopefully you'll bear with me!
Albus Dumbledore was numb with horror.
Through a green haze a body could be seen, plunging from the Astronomy Tower, a pathetic rag-doll dressed in robes and trailing a beard. A glowing skull filled his sight, laughing a serpent. The world seemed to shrink and fade into darkness; the Death Eaters and the Dark Mark vanished. His beloved Hogwarts was gone—no, it was he who was gone, leaving everything he cared about. Grief hit him, but he did not care abou the body of an old man, nor the spirit that had vacated it; there was only the hand that had held the fatal wand—
This couldn't be. It was utterly impossible; if someone had told him about it, he would have laughed out loud at the absurdity of it.
Severus, no, you couldn't have.
There was something wrong here; it couldn't have happened.
That wasn't you.
His soul shuddered; he recognised his own denial.
The closed mind. The raised wand.
Loathing, etched into features he had protected and cherished.
He was sick with it, with the realisation—but no! Severus would never—
… Don't betray me. Don't go back into the night.
A harsh cry. A green flash, the after-image burnt into his spirit.
Severus, my child, my dark one, my eyes on the enemy—
Eyes on him. The pain. The agony of brutal acceptance. Then another thought: Harry. Harry's face swam before him, Harry angry, Harry bereaved, Harry guilty, Harry worried, Harry laughing—
He'd told Harry repeatedly to trust Severus. Repeatedly.
Severus turning to Harry, wand raised—the dark words cried again—
Had his mistake cost him that much? Had his mistake cost him his life, the whole of the wizarding world… had it cost him Harry… ? What had happened? He could imagine it all too clearly; it was terrifying in its clarity—he allowed himself to think the worst, because the worst had half happened—
Harry angry. Harry running after Severus. Severus turning around, and—
His mind boiled, but there was no release, no knuckles to bury into weeping eyes, no sound that he could make that could possibly come close to expressing the guilt and terror. Something broke, and at first he wondered if it was the invisible impact of his empty body on the earth, but what had broken was an inner conviction, a truth he had held onto. Mistakes are forgivable. Yet for his mistake, he deserved the worst.
Things were spreading out now. He was dissolving on the rushing wind, moving into darkness. Ahead, he could see a bright light, shaped oddly against oblivion. He realised that it was a phoenix. Then darkness again, and pulsating warmth… was this… ?
He'd wondered, occasionally, what happened after death. Now the images painted by others before him rose up within his mind. Darkness and heat. Flames and punishment.
Harry, he thought. Harry, my boy. And then he thought of someone else, and another face came to him in the vacuum. The fear of what else Severus might have done pumped through him. He'd seen grim betrayal for faithful loyalty. What if what he'd interpreted as friendly rivalry had actually been bitter enmity?
He saw the raven hair and the green eyes. It was odd; how his two favourite people shared features.
Years of frustration. Years of fear.
A pale boy with messy black hair and green eyes older than the rest of his face, stood tall, beside the happy redheads, the bushy-haired girl, the strange old ex-Auror, the werewolf and the pink-haired woman, and so on… A whole collection of people, expressions relieved, triumphant, shaking hands and sipping wine, oblivious to the cameras flashing and the babble of excited voices.
There he is, the Boy-Who-Lived, the Man-Who-Destroyed-Him. There he is, standing by the pretty red-haired girl, looking dazed and happy. What does he think? How does he feel? His picture, with You-Know-Who at his feet. That girl, is she with him? Oh yes, she's the girlfriend, isn't she? She's Ginny Weasley—
Who's the tall redhead nearby, with the bushy-haired girl? Oh, that's them, those are his two best friends—yes, they were with him, they were there, they helped. Orders of Merlin for the pair of them. The boy's one of the Weasleys. See the dumpy witch over there—that's the mother—how does she feel, being the mother of a hero?
What about the thin, ragged man over there? Yes, that's the werewolf—he's with the wild-haired Auror—killed Fenrir Greyback, didn't he? Couldn't get a job because of anti-werewolf legislation under Fudge's government—no, never agreed with it either, of course now he'll be in great demand—
The man with the funny eye? One of the best Aurors ever, never doubted him, of course he'd be involved. Order of the Phoenix, yes? A bit funny, but just like Mr Weasley, bit odd but odd in a good way—
The rest of the kids—they were all there, too—see the girl with the big eyes? Daughter of the man who runs the Quibbler—fine magazine, wonderful publication, that. Dumbledore's Army—the Boy-Who-Lived, he started that. Another Order of Merlin winner, the boy over there—son of Frank and Alice Long bottom—whole family brave, must run in the blood. Grinning like a maniac; of course I don't blame him, I'd smile if I was him—
Who's the old bird in the corner? Her, sitting looking like someone's died. Looks ill, doesn't she? Oh, she was part of the Order of the Phoenix, can't understand why she wouldn't be—Headmistress of Hogwarts, yes, fine school, brilliant education here, look at all these brave youngsters they've turned out—Professor McGonagall, that's her. Wasted something frightful, hasn't she? Must be the stress, running a school during a war—
Look, they're all here, the whole Order of the Phoenix—started by Dumbledore, wasn't it? Died last year, didn't he, poor chap, never disagreed with a word he said, splendid man, mentor of the Boy-Who-Lived, y'know, should've been Minister…
Minerva McGonagall got to her feet with difficulty, leaning heavily on her walking stick. The hypocrisy of it all, the fact that the person who most deserved all this was absent and would remain absent—it was all getting to her. Ignoring the stares, she left the Great Hall, climbing up the nearest staircase blindly. She had a sudden urge to go up to the Astronomy tower and throw herself off.
She sat, frozen, quill suspended over the thick parchment, eyes fixed on a point in time—in a happier past. Her thinking had stalled, like it did so often, these days. She had failed again. Anybody watching would know by the tense rigidity of her posture, the way she'd paled slightly. The realisation of this made her blink and attempt to surface.
It had been seven years. Seven years, for Merlin's sake! Six, since the turmoil had ended, and everybody, save her, had celebrated the long-awaited peace—peace which He'd never been able to enjoy. Six wonderful years, she thought. Six wonderful years that she should be grateful for. If she thought them wonderful, then perhaps she could convince herself that they were.
Seven years was more than enough for a person to pull themselves together.
She remembered the quill and attempted to focus on the letter to the school governors. Incorrigible men, they were; it was quite tedious writing to them. She searched for words—and realised that her quill was not scratching on the parchment, meaning that other sounds were reaching her.
His office was almost silent. She could not think of it as hers.
There was the quiet ticking of the clock, the whisper of the wind
outside the window… and that gentle snoring, that awful snoring from
the wall behind her. The pressure to turn around was familiar but she
suppressed the desire; it never did her any good when she looked.
She tried to block it out. She had spent the last seven years trying to do so, and she'd never yet succeeded. The snoring was very much like the memory of Him: constant, irrepressible, upsetting. It was the one final cruelty which had been done to her.
Once, she'd taken the picture down and stowed it in a corner, in a feeble effort to quieten the snoring. The guilt and agony of it had weighed her, so she'd put it back up again a mere couple of days later. The worst thing in the world would be to do an injustice to His memory in His office, whilst sitting in His chair with His job, with the residue of Him all around her.
He would stroll into her mind at the worst moments, either when memory was at its most vivid or when the Headmistress was engaged in other tasks externally more important than remembering. There was always the thought of the Mistake and the words she had failed to say to Him.
He was always strolling in and out of her mind, too. There was always the thought of Him, and His mistake, and what He'd done, and what she'd never told Him. Too much thinking of Him would result in an agitation of the hands, and tears, so she tried to direct her thoughts away, onto other subjects. Naming Him would be the worst error to make.
That snoring. She wanted to scream!
In the time after He'd gone, she'd waited, grief held at bay by the idea of speaking to Him, of telling Him… But her last comfort had been snatched away from her; snoring was all that was left…
There was a knock on the door.
The Headmistress came back to herself and put down her quill, grateful for the interruption. She could be Professor McGonagall again.
"Come in," she said.
Filius Flitwick opened the door nervously. His eyes found the thin, sharp woman at the desk instantly. The corners of the woman's mouth turned upwards slightly.
"Filius! What can I do for you?"
The small wizard walked into the room, clutching the papers to his chest. If a student had been present, they would have seen a different Flitwick to the one that taught them. Professor Flitwick was cheerful and exuberant and excitable; the Filius that entered the Headmistress's office was far more subdued. Nobody liked seeing the ruins of Minerva.
Seeing her sitting there, dull green eyes circled with weary darkness and black hair shot liberally with grey, Filius felt a distinct pang. He always felt miserable and confused whenever he entered this room. But he'd never been a close friend of Minerva's, and if neither Rolanda nor Poppy had solved the mystery, then he certainly would never know.
"Well, I'm a little confused by the new syllabus outlines for the sixth years," he said timidly, holding out the papers.
Minerva—or the ruins of Minerva—sighed. "You are not the only one, Filius. I was thinking that it could be sorted out in tonight's meeting. Both Pomona and Rolanda have already been to see me, just as confused by the school board's inability to write in plain English."
Filius nodded. Another time, he would have laughed. Still, he had some hope; he had news that should put a genuine smile on the witch's face. "Minerva, I have some good news!" he squeaked. "It was in the paper—Mrs Potter's having her baby!"
Minerva sat up, and for a moment, her wan face was transfigured with sudden joy. "That's wonderful, Filius! Harry must be pleased."
Filius nodded happily, but as he left the office, he saw her smile fade. A distant, painful look had come into her eyes. He went down the stairs feeling disappointed and wrong-footed—if the news that one of her old cubs was having a baby wasn't enough to cheer Minerva up, then what could?
Minerva found herself surrounded by the silence again. Her thin fingers twisted around the quill. In another world—in a world that was more perfect, perhaps—she would have been present at the birth. She could have cradled the soft pink form and been truly happy. Yet there was no such thing as a perfect world. After it had happened—that event which had destroyed Minerva McGonagall and replaced her with a biddable husk—she had known enough not to inflict her presence on others. The War had left the world in dire need of cheer and light—and she was neither, not anymore. Her brooding company and her inability to smile properly was hardly uplifting to either colleagues or friends. Her lips twisted. The staff was worried about her—had been ever since they had first noticed the change. Only now were they beginning to accept that it wasn't possible to change her back.
So she had drawn back from it all—even from poor Harry, as he had flailed around searching for a point of dependence and stability. Poor Harry, who wanted and needed another—another Him. She sighed when she realised the direction her thoughts were taking her.