T – MM, SS, AD – Angst – Complete
Summary: "She's not surprised that Severus is the first (and only) one to notice." McGonagall and Snape discuss Dumbledore. Warning: mature themes.
Disclaimer: Not mine. (Surprise!)
A/N: No idea where this came from. My brain is a scary place. Includes mention of ADMM and hints of MMSS, because real life is never so clear as it looks on paper. I didn't plan any of this, I just let the characters have their say and they went in strange directions. An... alternate perspective, shall we say.
Spare A/N: I have officially passed the 50 story mark. (Yay me!)
She's not surprised that Severus is the first – and only – one to notice. The others on the staff chatter and gossip but they don't see. Minerva doesn't know how long it takes him to work it out, but he has been teaching at Hogwarts three years before he finds the courage to bring up the subject.
"When was the wedding?" he asks quietly one day when they pass in an otherwise deserted corridor and they understand each other quite well enough that she has no need for foolish questions such as 'Whose?'
She looks at him, this lean, shielded man whom she watched develop out of a lanky, angry boy. Albus trusts him for reasons he keeps to himself. Minerva trusts him because he is Severus. His question is not one that needs to be answered, for it was his way of letting her know that he knows. She answers it anyway, because of who he is; because she trusts him, because he sees things, because she would like to talk to somebody. Because he does not yet understand Albus and he needs to. "There was none."
It takes him a moment to realise the implication of that simple statement and in the split second before he locks it away she sees his surprise. He is young yet, and his control is not always steady. He will learn.
"That surprises me," he admits, acknowledging the weakness, and she admires his courage and allows a heartbeat's regret that he was not in her house where it would have been her job to protect him and not Horace's.
"Come to my rooms this evening," she offers. It is an invitation, not an order. If he wishes to find out more then she will tell him – but only if he wishes it.
She isn't surprised when he knocks on her door.
He hasn't been in her rooms before: they are both private people and driven to be even more so in the non-private environment of their employment. But they are also Albus's adjutants and that gives them a bond that no one else can fathom.
"I expected red and gold," he says and Minerva smiles.
"I am the Head of Gryffindor's house – not his mascot."
There is some red, a tartan throw rug and some crimson cushions, but the predominant colours are forest green and wood. It is a quiet, soothing room, and she can see Severus relaxing just a tiny bit. It doesn't stop him being very tense.
She should be embarrassed. It is her private life that will be laid bare, turned into words for the first time. Severus is embarrassed, for this is not the manner of conversation he would prefer to be a part of, but he needs to know about Albus and he knows that she can tell him. But Minerva is not embarrassed. She has done what she thought was best and she has helped Albus. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that.
He accepts tea and a ginger newt and looks uncomfortable.
"What made you suspect?" she asks, beginning the conversation on neutral ground.
"Sometimes... Sometimes, very rarely, the way you touch is too familiar."
She smiles at him and he becomes a little more comfortable. "I commend your observational skills."
"Thank you. But I assumed..." He stiffens again and tries to cover it by sipping at his tea. "I assumed there was a marriage, but kept secret."
"Marriage is a secret that, no matter how well it is kept, eventually leaks out. Albus's position does not allow him scope for weaknesses that may be exploited. He had known for nearly fifty years that he cannot afford to ever remarry."
"He looks after our world and I look after him, whether that means running the school in his absence or warming his bed at night."
He blushes, pale spots of colour on his cheeks. He doesn't want to know, but he wants to understand Albus. Stiffly he says, "I cannot believe he asked this of you."
"He didn't. I offered."
Relieved and dismayed, he says, "I didn't expect that of you."
No one does. Not from Minerva McGonagall, prim and correct and never stepping outside the bounds of propriety. She is of a generation taught to find it repugnant and of a nature to recoil from the idea. It is why no one suspects the relationship; at most they think it is some unacknowledged passion. Poppy is forever encouraging Minerva to make her feelings known. "He needed it," she tells Severus, who is looking at her with confusion, his world canted suddenly onto an awkward angle so that he must scrabble to stay on top of it. "Albus needed something I could offer and so I gave it to him."
"You love him."
So do you, she thinks but does not say. Instead, she replies precisely, "I am also in love with him."
"I thought you would favour the head over the heart," he says, and there is disappointment in him because it is a similarity between them that makes them kindred under the skin.
"It was a purely pragmatic decision," she assures him. "Our world needs him. He is like a child in more ways than one and he needs stability in his private life which he cannot get from his public. I offer that stability. If he did not need me, I would not have made the offer."
"Does he love you?"
She almost smiles, because it is so like Severus to cut straight to the heart of the matter and uncover hard truths. "I don't know. He never speaks of it. I love him and he needs me; that is enough for me."
He doesn't understand, not Severus, so lonely and desperate for someone – anyone – to show him affection because no one ever has. He needs someone to delight in him and praise him, even if he denies it and clings to his claims of self-sufficiency. Minerva is self-sufficient. She is able to give to Albus without expecting back things which he doesn't know how to give her. But Severus is not like her, Severus has that submerged, unacknowledged need to be needed. To be appreciated. Not by the world; he needs only one person to fulfil the need – but he needs that person.
"You will never find what you look for in Albus."
His lips thin. He doesn't want to hear it, but he will listen. She has earned that much from him.
"Albus is too busy caring for the entire world to condescend to notice the individual parts of it." He moves to speak and she shakes her head. "No, condescend is the wrong word, but it is the best I can do. He has to be that way, Severus, or he could not do what he does. He wasn't always that mythical being they call Hero, but he made himself into one because that is what people wanted of him. Heroes, unfortunately, are too busy being heroes to think about human things. I need you to understand this, Severus, before you break yourself on the walls of his disinterest. He cares about you in his precise and terrible way, but he can never come so close to the sordid little human things that are what you need from him. He will care about you but he will send you out to die and his remorse will be for the piece, not the person."
"No," he denies, anger in his eyes because he doesn't want her to be right. He stands, towering over her, but she does not blench. "He's not like that!"
"That is Albus."
"He is Good." His eyes plead with her but she will not recant.
"He is the most Good person I know," she says, wincing belatedly at the grammar. His knees seem to give way and he collapses back into his seat, staring at her. "But he is what he needs to be, just as you and I do what we need to do." She reaches out to him but doesn't try to touch him. "Severus, please. Don't ask him for what he doesn't have. You'll only end up hurting yourself."
He's shaking his head, denying what he can sense instinctively to be the truth. "He's not—I don't—"
"For the sake of our world," she says quietly, "he cannot be what you need him to be. He is so busy being everything to everyone that he simply cannot be something to someone."
His lips move soundlessly and he stares at her in helpless defeat. She smiles at him without humour, a smile of empathy rather than sympathy, for she understands. Has she not herself made this discovery? Discovered that the man she is in love with can no more offer her a happily-ever-after than he can fly to the moon. Learnt to live with it and understand him – learnt to offer what she has unconditionally. Her heart goes out to the man in front of her, but she is glad she has reached him, glad that he will not break his wings against Albus's glass box. He deserves better.
This time when she reaches out he allows her to put her hand on his arm. She kneels before him, offering only her presence and the warmth of her hand for it is all he will accept from her. It is more than he would accept from anyone else as he sits there, head bowed and eyes closed in grief, for they are Albus's adjutants, bound by a shared trust and a futile love for him.
Finally he lifts his head and meets her eyes. There is a bleakness there that she has not seen for a long time, but also acceptance. He will need it. "I will tell no one," he vows.
"I know," she says simply. She would not have asked, because he is Severus and that is enough for her. If the relationship is discovered the scandal will ruin her career completely, but she trusts Severus.
"Thank you," he whispers, accepting that trust with a faint awe, and she smiles at him.
She stands, wincing at the stiffness in her left knee from kneeling for so long.
"I must go," Severus says, standing as well. His mask is firmly in place and she thinks that this evening has helped to strengthen it and wishes that she had not had to do so. "I have papers to mark and I—I need to think."
"Yes." She hesitates. "I prescribe copious amounts of firewhiskey for the first night. It will stop you thinking too much."
He looks at her piercingly, his eyes narrowed, and she wonders if he's realising that he is not the first to go through this. But all he says is, "Thank you. I shall try that."
She follows him out the door and closes it behind her.
"I must visit Albus," she replies to his questioning look. Two points of colour rise in his cheeks and she chuckles. "To discuss school administration, Severus; although," honesty (and devilry) make her add, "I shall probably end up in his bed later on." The colour darkens.
Their paths separate and she hesitates, watching his stiff back as he strides away. She says his name and he stops and turns, taking a few uncertain steps back toward her.
She looks at him with all the sincerity in her. "Just because Albus is not capable of giving you what you need does not make you unworthy. It is not your fault – you are a wonderful young man. It is Albus's loss."
He looks at her and she thinks he might almost believe her. "You love him," he says softly. "But he doesn't love you."
"He needs me." It is enough. "Don't pity me, Severus," she adds sharply, "I don't need it."
A faint smile lifts the corners of his mouth. "I wouldn't dare." He looks at her solemnly and takes one more step forward. "Minerva, I believe I could fall in love with you." She believes it too, because of the need within him and their bond and their kinship.
She closes her eyes, considering. "I think I could love you," she says, looking up at him.
"But not the way you love him."
He sighs. "I wish he knew how lucky he is." He leans forward to kiss her forehead in a most un-Severus manner. "Good night, Minerva."
She watches him walk away and takes a rare moment to regret that so many things cannot be different. "Good night, Severus," she says softly, knowing how hard the night ahead will be for him. Then she turns and heads for Albus's office. Regrets are meaningless: This is her life and Albus needs her.
Somehow, it is enough.