COULD HAVE. SHOULD HAVE.

Disclaimer: I could have come up with these characters. But I didn't.

Summary: She didn't like to think of Could Haves and Should Haves - they served no purpose. It isn't always as easy as that however…

Minerva McGonagall worked very hard to avoid becoming entrapped by 'could haves' and 'should haves'. They were more pointless than trying to 'teach' divination but yet she was not entirely successful in her endeavour to banish them from her vocabulary.

Every time she saw Severus Snape, they plagued her: her own actions and inactions. Even at the time it had chaffed at her, gone against her grain when Albus had stepped in time and time again to protect the self named Marauders from what they really deserved.

He spoke of Remus Lupin and his chance at a normal life, he spoke of Sirius Black who needed cultivated and protected to insure that he did not slip into the ways of his family. She had turned a blind eye when the four of them ad been caught out of bonds, when she had found the misbehaving in class and even when she had every reason to suspect that they were bullying other students.

Then they had reached the point of no return, where instead of assuming that Albus knew best, where rather than bowing to his superior intellect and wealth of experience she had stood up for what she believed in.

"Dammit Albus the boy could have died!"

"But he did not. Mr Potter's actions saw to that."

"That is hardly the point! And even after Potter's intervention Severus… Snape is in an unconscionable state and it's little wonder!"

"They are young boys…" Albus continued sedately from his seat behind his desk.

"They are all going to be 17 this year Albus – they are about to be considered adults in the eyes of the law. You cannot argue that they are still infants!"

"What would you have me do Minerva?"

"Punish them Albus! After all they have needed it for years. Maybe if you had allowed me to reprimand them when they needed it in the beginning we would not have reached this point rather than having three unauthorised unlicensed animagi and a werewolf running through the grounds!"

"They are good boys."

"I wouldn't argue that. They are all intrinsically good natured souls but they need boundaries, just like all young people."

"What would become of Sirius for example should we show him no compassion? He left his parents last summer you know?"

"Yes I do you recall you mentioning it." She drawled. Albus had appeared so pleased about this news that she had been worried about his intentions towards the boy.

"Well what do you suppose will happen to him if he leaves these halls without finishing his education? I doubt that Mr and Mrs Potter, despite their good nature, will be in a position to keep him for the rest of his life. It may just be the straw that makes the grass look greener on the other side – the 'Dark Lord' is recruiting heavily at the moment and I'm sure he cares less about results that the potential he will see in Sirius."

"And what will happen to Severus Snape? He has been let down by us too often already! What have we done to encourage him to stay on the straight and narrow. It may have escaped your notice Albus but the boy is not merely talented – he is positively gifted! And I am sure that this new Dark Lord wouldn't turn down his chance to work with him either."

It was as though a cloud passed over Albus face, a moment of sadness marring his features before his resolve seemed to firm again.

"Mr Snape has walked down his path too far already…" he stated.

"Only because we have let him!"

"He was hugely disadvantaged from the time he arrived here. His family…"

"Were certainly no worse than the Blacks! The only difference between Severus Snape and Sirius Black on their first day at school was confidence and the house into which they were sorted." She spat. "And apparently that is what it's all about."

"It is not merely a question of House – even when they walked into the Great Hall, Remus, Sirius and James were already friends."

"And Severus and Lilly Evans have been as close as possible for a Slytherin and Gryffindor to be."

Albus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Minerva…"

"Don't Minerva me Albus." She snapped. "It was not only a thoughtless act on Black's part – it was a malicious one. One for which he needs to be punished."

"And he will be."

"I'm not talking about a few detentions Albus! Even if you don't feel you can expel him - they all need to learn a lesson from this, with the possible exception of Lupin who will probably, and quite rightly, be devastated as it is."

For the first time since this conversation had began, Minerva fell back into the seat opposite the desk.

"I just… I just don't understand what he could have been thinking." she sighed, rubbing her face. It had been long night and wasn't looking as though it would end soon.

"Well I will certainly take into account what you've said tonight." Albus said succinctly, standing and signalling quite plainly that their conversation was over.

"Well," she replied, standing up. After working for him for 15 years she realised that however amiable Albus might seem, her dismissal had been just that and not a mere invitation to leave. "if you need me, I shall be in the hospital wing. Merlin knows Poppy will have her hands full when she collects Lupin and it's quite plain that no one else cares enough for the Snape boy to watch him through the night."

When she left the Headmasters office she left behind the closest friend she had ever known. Twenty years on she still cared a great deal for Albus, but she would never again respect him the same way she had once and she could not honestly say that she had forgiven him for the way he had behaved over those years. It was not that he had made a mistake, but the fact that to this very day he was so damned unwilling to admit it.

Over the intervening years she had watched as Albus had favoured students on several other occasions though none quite so dramatically as the era she refused to acknowledge as belonging solely to the Marauders. She had never again allowed him to railroad her, she had too much respect for herself and her judgement for that.

Whatever she did, however hard she worked at being fair and supportive to all her students, she still couldn't do anything to stem the feelings of guilt that flooded through her every time she looked into Severus obsidian eyes. The could havesand should havesalmost overwhelmed her whenever she saw the effects of Albus downright manipulation and her own inactions.

And so since that night she had done everything she could to try and help the young man. Then it didn't seem like much and now it felt like even less.

At the time Severus had been understandingly suspicious about the role she, the Head of Gryffindor, had played in the lax punishments that had been dolled out to her students. Although she couldn't be sure he remembered that it was her hands that had mopped his brow and her warm words that had settled him back into sleep there were moments even when he was still at school that suggested he did.

Underneath his acid tongue and quick temper that flared even more often during the following months, there seemed to be strange sort of understanding between them. She occasionally found him sitting next to the door to her study when she returned, waiting to ask her some obscure question or other. That habit trailed off during his seventh year but when she had found a battered and bloodied young man sitting there early one morning two years later it had broken her heart all over again.

They had both known that Albus was using him when he had agreed to let him turn spy but by that stage Severus really had very little choice. The following years held many more nightly vigils, when in the small hours even Poppy couldn't get close enough to treat his wounds. She fought his corner with Albus and met with greater or lesser success.

The victories were hollow, and the losses only magnified her guilt.

She could have stepped in earlier. She should have done her job. Stopped this before it started and if she had she might have done more than give Severus Snape a chance at life. Maybe she could have, should have, had a bigger impact.

But she hadn't and that was what she had live with.

A/N Well - not quite sure what to make of this myself but I would love to hear what you think. Mucho Gracias to Selmak for her pre-post advice.

thanks for reading

Linds