Beta'ed as usual by the brilliant Kelly Chambliss. I usually manage no chan on my own, but she keeps me in line with no spag. And I hope (and trust) that over here at FF net everyone is as familiar with Chan, PWP, and the whole list of fanfic terms which are in constant use at LJ. This story was originally written for Snape's 50th birthday bash at LiveJournal.
Hogwarts, autumn of 1997
Snape checked the rather ornate clock on the mantelpiece in the Headmaster's office. His office, he corrected himself. Professor McGonagall would arrive soon. She was nothing if not punctual.
The important thing was to be well-prepared for the meeting. To list what he wanted to get out of it. So prepare, Snape thought. In meetings with Professor McGonagall, constant vigilance is where you start. He looked at his notes so far. MW!OotPM. HSoW. He sighed. Slowly, elaborately, he added Pol!McG to the list. He hesitated. Then, with a little arrow, he indicated that this should be at the top. I'm procrastinating, he realized. He had no time for that, which was an excellent reason to continue. Was MW!OotP still good for a place on the list? He gave the question his well-considered, analytical all. Yes, he finally decided. For old times' sake. After all, MW!OotP was what had started The Game …
Grimmauld Place, summer of 1995
"And she uses the M-word!" Molly Weasley glared at each of the Order members in turn. "The children shouldn't hear that kind of language. Sorry, Sirius, I know she's your mother …"
"I wish you wouldn't use that against me. So far we've tried removing, hexing, slicing, and burning that portrait. If you know another way to get rid of the old hag, by all means, say so." A look from Dumbledore kept Sirius from actually slamming the table.
"Sirius! You shouldn't call your mother an old hag. The children, you know," Molly protested.
"Perhaps you could express your allegiance to the League of Motherhood by not pointing out that Sirius is her son? It pains her so," Snape drawled. He felt rather than heard Minerva's chuckle. She kept her eyes on her minutes.
"Now, we all share Molly's concerns…" Albus's voice was at its most mellow.
No, Snape thought.
"No!" Sirius yelled.
Well, perhaps, Snape amended, if keeps me out of your camp. Whenever he had the choice, he was fastidious in the company he kept. He looked sideways at Minerva. She scribbled something in the margins of her notes. OotPM, the first scribble read. Below that, ST!PWP. Below that ALL. All? All who?
He heard Molly prattling on about the unsuitability of Grimmauld Place as a place to bring up children -- given the result in the form of its present owner, Snape was for once inclined to agree. He saw Minerva add a firm "MW!" to the first scribble, which now read "MW!OotPM".
It took all of his self-control not to smile. MW! Of course! "Molly Weasley!" So, OotPM? It could only be "Order of the Phoenix Meetings". The first of a list of … speakers? Hardly; she'd put that in the normal minutes, not in cryptic marginalia. What else, then? She must be as irritated by Molly as he was. Could that be it? A list of irritating things? Very irritating things. A top three, perhaps?
Then what was second? ST!PWP. An irritation in Minerva's life, ST for short. Slytherin Triumphs in the House Cups? Slytherin Triumphs in the Quidditch Cup? Unfortunately, both were unlikely to figure on a current list. Stupid Transfiguration!Performance by Weasley and Potter? A perennial issue, true, but 'by' and 'and' missing. 'Of the' in OotP was present, so this would be inconsistent, therefore out of character. Suddenly, he grinned. Of course. Sybill Trelawney. PWP? Pissed … w…p…? W for Whiskey? The cooking sherry, he'd always thought.
And the third notation? ALL? If initials were the key … Let's see. AL. Albus, Arthur, Alastor? Argus … Arabella … Aberforth … Perhaps LL, not AL. The last name an L, definitely. Lupin. Lockhart? Not any longer. He might have headed that list once, though. Lovegood? Longbottom! L. Longbottom? No, A. Augusta . That had to be it. Not the Longbottom he'd chosen for a list of major pains in the arse. But then, Neville Longbottom was in Minerva's house, so heaven knew what she'd been through with Augusta.
While Snape had been thinking, the meeting had progressed to the next topic. A lengthy discussion of a safe way to get Potter to Headquarters. Moody at his most uncooperative, "Constant! Vigilance!" taking the space other people use for commas and full stops. Slowly, Snape picked up his quill. Below Minerva's doodles, he added "AM!CV". With a little gesture of the quill, he indicated a place above ST!PWP. He felt Minerva stiffen, heard her catch her breath. A shocked, sideways glance. Rapier-fast, he winked. She relaxed slightly. Looked at him again. Then she drew an arrow to place "AM!CV" between the ST and ALL notes. Snape carefully pointed at "PWP". He lifted an eyebrow. Minerva smiled and mouthed 'later'.
Hogwarts, autumn of 1997
It turned out Snape had been right. The doodles had been a list of major irritations, and ST was, indeed, Dear Sybill. "PWP" was blatantly obvious – once Minerva had explained it. "Prattling Without Point." It had led Snape to propose the first of The Rules governing The Game as he and Minerva would come to play it. He had argued that pointless prattling was only truly objectionable in those who were capable of making a point in the first place. Much as they had hated to admit it, not everything Molly said was stupid. Moody's fear of losing a buttock definitely qualified as a Pain-in-the-Back-Pocket-Area form of prattling; the very existence of the Order proved most of his points. But in Sybill, Snape maintained, prattling was a natural disaster, proof of the Gods' sick sense of humour, an inborn disability. One might as well object to ST!Existing, he had added, and "name one good point the woman has ever made." So 'No ST!PWP' had become a rule.
And "will you stop complaining about Potter, Longbottom, and the Weasleys?" Minerva had sighed exasperatedly. "If you can't deal with children who are annoying, you've no business being a teacher." It was true that she didn't list Malfoy's habit of calling people Mudbloods, nor Crabbe's attempt at Transfiguring an egg into a tea cosy ("What did he use – an ostrich egg?" Snape had asked when he saw the ceiling of her classroom.) So he'd kept children's annoyances to himself, and only rarely had Minerva needed to scribble No ChAn!
The Game had been played at Order and Staff meetings alike. Soon, DUE had not been enough, and a separate list of 'three most annoying things about Umbridge' had been created. But they had never managed to cut it down to less than four. "E for Everything just sums it up, really," Minerva had muttered after the publication of Ministerial Decree 24.
"What will we list next year?" they had wondered after Umbridge's, well, resignation. But Horace Slughorn had been a worthy replacement, and HSoW had headed many of Minerva's lists. Snape had firmly lowered it to third place, at the most. But now that Snape was Headmaster, he understood the full annoyance of Slughorn on Workload. He would have been glad to tell Minerva how right she had been. But The Game, as a competitive sport, had been abandoned.
Do you still play when you're alone, Minerva? he wondered. What heads your list now? SSE? He heard footsteps on the staircase. There is an insultingly correct way of knocking, he thought, and you should get an award for it.
"Headmaster." Dry as sand, impeccably polite, cutting deep. I was right to put Polite!McG at the top, he thought. It's … excruciatingly … irritating.
"Professor McGonagall," he said. "Do sit down."
Minerva sat. She let the silence drop. The way Weasley dropped the Quaffle, Snape thought. It still hurt to remember the enjoyable discussion as to whether Won-Won's Quidditch skills were ChAn or an insult to the memory of Godric.
During the last few days, he had tried out and rejected dozens of opening lines. For once -- if you can't beat them, join them, or, at least, try their methods -- he opted for Gryffindor Directness.
"Albus asked me to kill him."
Utter, shocked stillness. Minerva no longer seemed to draw breath. Is there any research on the number of casualties caused by Gryffindor fucking Directness, Snape wondered. Is this where I give the Kiss of Life? He remembered that, when someone Transfigures you into an animal, you can't get out of the mess yourself. Did ferrets lead pleasant, enviable lives? At that moment, Professor McGonagall opened her mouth, with the intention ultimately to speak, Snape presumed. A few deep breaths. Finally, she managed: "You're insane. "
"Stark, staring mad." An angry crescendo." Barking. And the most god-awful …"
"Please," Snape interrupted. "Just listen. I'll explain. Please …"
To his surprise, she did listen. Or perhaps had run out of things to say.
"It's a long story," he started. "Bear with me. It began with his hand. Albus … he had injured that hand quite badly. An exceedingly dark curse. It … I did what I could … Had he come sooner … When he finally did come, it was killing him. Months, a year at the most.
"You-Know-Who wanted him dead. He ordered young Malfoy to kill him."
"Young Malfoy? Draco? Do you expect me to believe that You-Know-Who left the murder of the greatest wizard of all times to Draco Malfoy? "
"No. That is, he did order it, but he knew Draco would fail. He also knew Draco would need help … that the boy would ask me. And he wanted to test my loyalty. Either I'd have to help Draco, or I'd have to kill Albus myself. He wanted to know whether I would."
"Why didn't you tell Albus? He could have prevented it," Minerva snapped.
"Actually, I did tell Albus. He chose not to prevent it. He knew that the curse would kill him sooner or later. He told me that he wanted me to do it. That a mercy killing by me would be better than … Bellatrix … or Greyback. "
Minerva paled at the image he evoked. Then she straightened her back. "No. He wouldn't ask that. He wouldn't ask it of you … of anyone. Potter witnessed it. He heard Albus plead … beg you …" Her voice faltered.
"To do it. That was what he was asking. For me to do it. If that damned Nosey Parker witnessed the whole thing, he must have told you how long Albus and Malfoy were alone together. Long enough for Albus to save them both in a thousand different ways, injury or no injury. "
From the look in Minerva's eyes, he saw that the explanation hit home. Unlike Potter, she wouldn't discard a rational argument, he thought with a flicker of hope.
"Why? Give me one good reason why you did it." Minerva's voice was flat.
"If I had refused, You-Know-Who would have killed me. That was against Albus's plans. He knew I had nearly outlived my usefulness as a spy at Hogwarts. Albus wanted me alive, and he wanted me as Headmaster. To do something for him. And now I need your help doing it." That was, at most, a partial truth. Yes, Albus did tell him to get the sword to Potter. But that wasn't the main reason for my continued usefulness, thought Snape. At some point I … have to tell … Not 'Lily's son'. Don't even think it. I have to tell Potter about Albus's plans for him. I can't share that with Minerva; she'd do everything to prevent it ... If Albus is right, it shouldn't be prevented. Without intending to, Minerva would end up as Voldemort's strongest ally...
He looked up. McGonagall was still motionless, still as white as a sheet. I betrayed you, he thought. Betrayed our friendship. Killed your best friend. And just as you were learning to live with that, you find out that he let you down, too. How much could one person take?
"For that I … eh … have to … eh … fetch something from … from my private rooms. Please wait," he muttered and hurried out. At least, he could give her some privacy.
He had asked Severus … and never told her … had wanted Severus … had planned for him to become Head Master … because he had to do something … and what the fuck was it that Headmaster Snape could do? That Headmistress McGonagall couldn't?
Slowly, determinedly, she rose and walked over to Albus's portrait. His furtive glances gave the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it. To make him say it.
"Is that true?" Hoping against hope.
"Well … the facts … yes. But …"
"Yes, but? But!? But what!? Your bloody Greater Good? That's your sorry excuse for a reason? Don't even dare saying it. What use is a greater good, when … there is no greater good in torturing and destroying others…
"Minerva, please, I understand your disappointment… "
"No, you don't! You don't even begin to understand … You once said you wondered whether we do not sort too early," Minerva hissed. "It must be such a pleasure to be right again. We do sort too early, Albus. Severus, for instance, would have been a brilliant Gryffindor. Didn't you once give Longbottom some points for the courage to stand up against one's friends? A rather meager allocation it was, but then… you and friendship …"
"Minerva, please, let's be reasona…"
"Oh, bugger that! It wasn't enough merely to ask him to kill you, was it? We all had to hate him …His loneliness … How despicable. How utterly despicable! How could you? How could you … even … contemplate … doing it?
"You should have been sorted into Slytherin, not he! Oh, yes, it's all there: slyness, ambition … You could have made it to the very top in Dark Arts! You're not a Parselmouth, true, but that isn't mandatory … and I'm beginning to wonder just how you think you differ from … You-know …"
Minerva! I know you don't mean that …"
"Don't patronize me! You-Know-Who, at least, did Severus the honour of thinking him loyal enough not to murder a friend … he ordered it as proof that no friendship existed… You made him betray … his friendship … his loyalty … I …"
She turned away sharply. Don't ask, she thought. Don't ask why he didn't tell me. Is it because I'm a woman? A wish to protect me? I've fought in three bloody wars, and he still thinks I'm a feeble woman? Not a good enough warrior? Not a good enough friend, perhaps? Was it even friendship, in Albus's eyes? Or was I just a useful worker? I mustn't cry. Whatever I do, I mustn't cry. Mustn't show the sodding, patronizing Neanderthal of a man…
Without looking at the desk or the portrait that loomed over it, she Accio'ed the two chairs and put them in front of the fireplace, backs to the room. She stared for a moment, took her wand again, and Transfigured them in high-backed Victorian wing-chairs. At least we'll have some privacy, she thought. I won't have to look at you. Just at Severus. If I can bring myself to do that.
Heavily, she sat down in one of the chairs. It had been so obvious. So painfully obvious. All her dirty looks, her calculated insults, her snide remarks. And she was still Deputy Headmistress, still not at Azkaban, still not Crucio'ed. If Severus had been an out-and-out Death Eater … For Merlin's sake, neither she … nor Flitwick, nor Hooch, nor Hagrid, not even Poppy … none of them would have lasted a week. And yet she hadn't realized. Blind loyalty, she thought. Blind, stupid loyalty.
She heard footsteps on the stairs. Severus, she realized. He's back. What do I say? How do you begin to say … She huddled against the chair.
A/N I hope to see you all next Sunday.