She never expected to see him here. For a brief second, she thought that along with her weakening bones and failing muscles, her eyesight was going as well. But the robed spectre remained, sitting in the far edge of the pew at the very back of the sanctuary, unmoving even as Minerva McGonagall slowly dragged her steps by the cane that was now a permanent fixture in her hand.
It had been half an hour since the end of the Christmas Eve service. Perhaps she shouldn't be surprised that Severus Snape could be found at this hour of the night.
"Here to ease your conscience?" she asked, half-jokingly, as she moved her body horizontally down the pew. She breathed a sigh of relief when Snape made no move to leave.
"Just like everyone else. If I'm only here for Christmas and Easter, no one would ask too many questions."
"But here?" Disbelief still clouded her mind. "If you want to be seen as a still functional part of society, there are plenty of shopping centres nearby. Surely you aren't so organised this year as to have already purchased my Christmas gift."
Minerva waited for a hex that she knew would never come. Thirty years of working with Severus in various capacities had given her the right to be a bit more blunt, a bit more intrusive.
They sat in silence, watching the last of the candles burn out.
"It wouldn't be the same," Severus whispered.
There used to be a time when Severus the Hogwarts student was much shorter than she, but now he was like a tower, holding her arm and supporting her weight as they walked down the sanctuary's left aisle.
They walked up to the miniature Nativity scene stationed at the back corner of the church. There were the familiar Muggle figurines of mother, father, and child, accompanied by an eclectic collection of animals and angels. But Severus' eyes were fixed only on the Christ child.
"A baby, born to save the world."
There was so much bitterness in his voice that Minerva turned her head.
"He grew up, Severus." And much too quickly. "Let him be."
"At least he didn't end up dying like a martyr," Severus sneered, and she noticed he absentmindedly rubbed his left forearm against his side. "More's the pity."
Minerva smiled. "Why, Severus, with that tone, I'd almost say you've grown fond of him."
"He's not who I thought he was." The left arm relaxed, and Minerva found herself being tugged forward. "He's not James."
They paused in front of each window. The stained glass reflected a gentler light under the stars and the moon.
The baby had indeed grown, and was now busying himself with feeding bread and fish to the masses in the picture. There were countless bearded men present, but Severus' eyes were again trained on the Christ.
"Perhaps he's more like Albus."
Albus. Hearing that name still caused her heart to clench in pain. "Some Muggles believe the Christ to be God, you know," she said. "I know you've always looked upon Albus with a kind of reverence, but..."
But Albus wasn't God. He was only a wizard. A human.
She didn't realise they had started walking again until Severus stopped moving.
"What is it?" There was pain on Severus' face.
"If he's Albus, then this is me," Severus said, tilting his head to indicate the painting they now stood in front of. A bearded man was kissing the Christ on the mouth, and despite this intimate gesture, the man was painted in such a way that made him an obvious enemy.
She felt the need to halt Severus' negative train of thought. "But you didn't betray him! We all know it, even the Ministry, whether they like it or not."
For a moment, Minerva thought she had convinced him. But then his right arm gripped hers just a little firmer, his eyes glinted just that much darker, and his jaws set just a bit tighter.
"Then maybe he represents neither Potter nor Dumbledore."
Some said during the final days of the war, Severus Snape had de facto become Harry Potter's servant. Others insisted he had always been Dumbledore's man. It was Severus who never denied he once served a third Master.
"I betrayed him, Minerva. I betrayed him with so much more than a kiss --" He gestured angrily at the painting. "-- I knelt by his side, day after day, calling him Master, declaring my undying loyalty, while all the while plotting to destroy his soul piece by piece! I betrayed him. I..."
"You loved him."
Her voice sounded too astonished even to her own ears.
Severus shook his head. "Love? No, I'm incapable of love. But a deep admiration, yes. He was charismatic, ambitious... compelling."
At the front of the church was a large crucifix, where the Christ hanged, spread out, defeated. Yet this defeat managed to make this most stubborn, selfish man bend.
Minerva stood silently as Severus knelt before the one he had betrayed. Two words that Severus whispered rang loudly in her ears.