Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters. They're all JKR's. I only like to play with them. ;)
Note: Several reviewers wrote that they hope I'll continue this story. Thank you very much for this huge compliment! Well - I do have an idea for turning this "two-shot" into a whole story. However, if I ever write that continuation, I won't put it up here but will add it as an extra story. I think it's quite perfect (well, as perfect as I can get it ...) as it is. If I do write a continuation, I'll give it a title that'll make it perfectly clear it's this story here continued.
Not One of Us
He didn't know what had been the final straw. McGonagall's glare? Flitwick's sneer? The way Hagrid pointedly kept ignoring him? Sprout's and Hooch's whispers behind his back? He had endured it for months, ever since he had returned to Hogwarts as headmaster. Endured it without even raising an eyebrow or twitching a finger. Sat through all of it in stony silence. But now, he suddenly found he couldn't take it any longer. He dropped his knife and fork on his plate with a loud clatter and pushed his chair back so forcefully it almost tipped over. Some of the students sitting close to the teachers' table jumped and stared at him, without a doubt waiting for some kind of outburst. To his right, McGonagall and Flitwick stopped their half whispered conversation and looked at him, too, the witch with a glare, the wizard with a frown.
He ignored them just as he ignored the students' wary glances when he strode down the length of the Great Hall to leave, his robe billowing around him like a dark cloud.
He didn't pay attention where he went. He was too busy trying to control his thoughts that were spinning in his mind like one of those strange silvery gadgets Albus had always kept in his office. His hands clenched into fists. How dare they! How dare they treat him like that, like a criminal - a traitor.
Well, that's exactly what they think you are. Be grateful for it - if they knew the truth, you'd be dead by now.
He rushed on, down another corridor without really recognising where he was. They didn't know, no. To them, he was the man who had murdered Albus Dumbledore. The one who had betrayed them. They despised him - they hated him - and they didn't hesitate to show it, day after day after day. Not too openly, of course, lest he take out his anger on the students.
They really think I'd ever harm a student? Don't they know me any better than that? I'm not the Dark Lord, dammit!
It was only small things. Looks. Whispers. Barely disguised barbs when they deemed to speak to him. How they suddenly fell silent whenever he entered a room, walking in on one of their little gatherings.
Somewhere at the back of his mind he registered that he was hurtling up a staircase, slightly out of breath.
Yes, fine, he had agreed to all of this. He had promised Dumbledore to do it, to go through with it, no matter what. And that was what he had to do now, go through with it at all costs. But he had thought it would be easier. Easier to ignore them. What they said - what they did. He had managed during his school time, hadn't he?
But that was so long ago ...
He stopped, catching his breath, when he reached the top of the stairs, finally taking notice of his surroundings.
The Astronomy Tower. Great. Just perfect.
The very place where it had started. He stepped forward to the ramparts, leaned on the low stone wall, looked down. He barely noticed the cold gusts of wind that blew in his face, the chilly night air. The very spot where Dumbledore hat met his end.
Curse you, Albus. How could you ask that of me?
True, he had walked into this with his eyes open, fully aware of the consequences. Or so he had thought. But the reality of it was something completely different. When he had returned to Hogwarts, the other teachers - minus the Carrows who had arrived two days later - had been waiting for him, headed by Minerva McGonagall. She had stepped forward, had looked him straight in the eye and spat one word at him - one of the few she had exchanged with him in all those months.
"Murderer", she had called him.
He laughed. It sounded almost like Voldemort's demented cackle.
You have no idea, Minerva.
No idea how much it cost him to face them every day. Slip on the mask of the black-hearted murderer they thought him to be. Pretend he didn't care that he was no longer one of them.
No longer one of them? He gave another short, bitter laugh. Wrong.
He had never been one of them. No one had ever trusted him, wanted him to be part of the Order - no one except for Dumbledore. For his sake, they had tolerated him. But he had always been the one they doubted. The one standing in the shadows, just outside their circle, like a child wistfully watching others, waiting to be invited to play. Even Black and the werewolf had been more welcome than him.
Him who had risked more than anyone else in this war. His life - his sanity. If the Dark Lord ever found out. If he ever found out, there would be nothing left for him but endless suffering. The Dark Lord knew how to treat traitors, how to keep them alive. For a very long time.
If they only knew -
He snorted. If they knew, it wouldn't change a thing. Well, it's only fair, after what he did. He could hear it as clearly as if someone really had said it. He could see their thoughts on their faces, read them like an open book. Death Eater. Traitor. Coward.
Amazing how much that hurt, even though he had never really considered any of them his friend. It made him want to scream. Howl like a crazed animal.
Do you know what this is doing to me, Albus? Do you know? Do you even care? No, you don't, do you? All you care about is your great plan and that everything works out according to it.
He dug is fingernails in the cracks between the ramparts' cold, rough stones.
Calm down. Get a grip on yourself. Don't crack up now. You have to see it through. There's no way out of this.
He took in a deep breath. And another one. See it through, yes. If he was lucky, he might even live to see the end of this.
Something moved in the shadows behind him. He turned his head just enough so that he could see the area from the corner of his eye. He caught sight of a strip of tartan-coloured robe and smirked.
"Minerva. Come to see if you could catch me on my own and get rid of me?"
She stepped forward. Her face was still cast in shadows but her eyes glittered. She always had seemed to like him just a bit more than the others - before he had killed Dumbledore. Now, she despised him just as much as the others and made no effort to hide it. She took another step towards him.
"Vold- he would punish me by hurting my students," she said hoarsely, "Or else -"
He shrugged. "It could have been an accident. We're all alone up here. Nobody would ever know ..."
Another step closer. He watched her from behind a curtain of black greasy hair. How she lifted her hand. Reached for the wand he knew she had stowed away in a hidden pocket. He turned his head, looked down. A long way to fall. She didn't even have to use magic. One good shove -
He waited. Half hoped that it would come. That it all would end here and now.
But nothing happened. A moment passed, then another. She didn't move. He only heard her breathe.
"Don't tempt me, Severus," she finally said so softly he could barely hear it. "I won't murder you - not even though you deserve it."
He threw a quick glance and a thin smile back over his shoulder.
"Ever the noble Gryffindor, aren't you, Minerva?"
He got no answer. But she was still there. He could feel her presence.
He looked down again. One step. Only the ramparts between him and oblivion.
"Would you stop me?" he asked suddenly.
"What?" McGonagall's confused frown was audible in her voice.
"If I stepped forward, threw myself off the tower - would you try to stop me? Or would you just let me fall?"
A pause, notably shorter than the last. Then: "Don't tempt me, Severus."
Her smirk was just as audible as her frown had been.
Gryffindors. Always wearing their hearts on their sleeves. If she were in my place, she'd be dead already.
"You would, wouldn't you?" He spun round to face her. "Let me throw myself off the tower and do nothing to stop me."
"And why should I?" The humourless little smile on McGonagall's face was wiped out by a look of rage he had never seen with his colleague before. "After what you did, after you killed - murdered -" She choked on the words. "Albus trusted you. He trusted you, and you -"
Severus folded his arms across his chest, wrapping himself tighter in his robe. The cold was starting to get to him, seep through his body, into his very bones. Or was it the look in McGonagall's eyes that chilled him?
You betrayed him, her eyes seemed to say, you betrayed me.
He quickly looked away, uneasily shifting on his feet. So far, he had managed to avoid facing any of this former comrades-in-arms one on one so as not to have to deal with things like this. Sneers and glares, whispers and unspoken accusations - they had started to get to him, recently, but he could deal with them. He wasn't sure, however, if he could deal with this without giving himself away.
"Don't say you trusted me," he said, willing his voice to remain firm, tinged with his usual venom.
None of them ever trusted you, remember? You were never really one of them.
But now, facing McGonagall who was looking at him with a mix of hatred and sadness in her eyes, he found it hard to recall what he had been feeling only a few minutes ago.
"I trusted Albus' judgement. And so, one could say that yes, I trusted you, too." That cold smile again. "More the fool I."
Severus closed his eyes, took in a deep breath. So one of them had trusted him. He remembered now. Minerva, like Dumbledore, had never voiced any doubt about anything he had reported to the Order. Moody, Black, Lupin, even the good-natured Weasleys had always listened to him with more or less suspicion, some openly speaking their doubts, some remaining silent but giving him a certain kind of look. But she had never looked at him like that, had she?
"I did what I did," he said slowly, grateful that his voice wasn't shaking as badly as he was shaking inside, "And if I could turn back time, I'd do it all over again, exactly the same as the first time."
At his last words, he straightened and opened his eyes again. McGonagall took a step back and stared at him, appalled.
"Severus Snape -" she gasped.
He glared at her, one of his infamous glares that almost rivalled a basilisk's stare, and swished past her, still tightly wrapped in his robe. He had to get away before he really did crack up and grabbed her and shook her and shouted the truth in her face. Dumbledore's clever plan. His own role in it - a chesspiece being drawn over the board. A pawn to be sacrificed to save the queen. He wanted McGonagall to know - he wanted someone to know, someone who wasn't a portrait or a house elf. Just one single person. One person to still believe in him, that was all he wanted. But he couldn't. He mustn't. Not with the Carrows here to keep an eye on him. For that was why they had been appointed as teachers. Ironically, the Dark Lord didn't trust him entirely, either. Oh, he had risen high in Voldemort's favour after killing Dumbledore. But that paranoid maniac didn't trust anyone, not even Bellatrix Lestrange with all her grovelling and eagerly following his every command. No, if he told McGonagall and she accidentally let something slip or treated him with any less contempt, the Carrows would find out and everything would be ruined.
He stopped at the top of the stairs. But -
Give her something to think about, maybe?
She hadn't followed him. At least, he hadn't heard her move.
Either she's still rooted to the spot in shock or she's trying to make up her mind whether to push me down the stairs or not.
"I do admit that I killed Albus Dumbledore, "he said slowly, without turning round, "But I did not murder him."
McGonagall gave a disgusted snort. "Words. What's the big difference?"
"No big difference, Minerva. A very small one. Small but important."
Without waiting for an answer, he hurried down the stairs. Leave her to think about that. Maybe she would figure it out. She wasn't one of those student dunderheads, after all. And clever, even though she was a Gryffindor. Yes, maybe she would figure it out. And start to doubt. To wonder. And that was all he could ask for in his current position - the benefit of doubt.