A/N: Random thought during the midst of my Major Asian Religions exam.

Disclaimer: *makes a libation at the altar of JKR*

Moment of Truth

May, 1991

With a snort of impatience, Severus Snape tossed a stack of papers onto the desk and slid into a chair across from Minerva McGonagall. He snatched a dark-brown pawn from the delicate olivewood chess set sitting untouched on the desk between them and slammed it forward two square. "Goddamnit, Minerva. Five more years of the Weasley twins and their pathetic pranks! What will it be next year? A firework in a cauldron of some volatile potion? How long before they kill me!?"

It was a ritual to spend this afternoon, the last before the summer term, seated across the table from each other in silent competition. Normally silent, however. The arrival of Fred and George Weasley two terms before had sent Severus' temper into a fast and steep downward spiral. Minerva let out the sigh of one long-suffering and moved her own pawn. "They are children, Severus. Just children. I doubt they have it in for you."

"Bah!" Minerva could imagine the humbug following that phrase, but chose to ignore it. If he was angry, she had a chance of winning, this year. He slammed forward another pawn. "Children! They're monsters, Minerva! Monsters, pure and simple! They take pleasure in causing my utter embarrassment and put more effort into destroying my class session than doing the work for them!"

"I remember a boy who spent days attempting to prove me wrong in class." A restrained smile. Little Severus had been able to keep her on edge, double checking all her knowledge, from the day he stepped into the classroom. Why else was he a teacher now? Minerva could remember doing the same thing in her own Transfiguration class under Professor Dumbledore. A pawn marched forward.

Black pawn met white, and the tiny figurines glared at each other menacingly. Yes, he WAS distracted. "My attempts were scholarly. Their attempts are... a nuisance." The unspoken hung in the air. A nuisance, just like several of his Gryffindor classmates. Before Minerva could slip in a protest, Severus covered it up. "How many more are there, Minerva? Please, please tell me those boys are the last of them?"

"Percy is perfectly well-behaved! He reminds me amazingly of YOU, Severus — withdrawn, studious, quiet... incredibly lonely. You-Know-Who may be a name- erm, nickname of the past, but that doesn't mean there aren't still elements within the society who wouldn't be perfectly happy to go snatch up a young, impressionable mind like they did with yours -"

"Minerva." Low, threatening almost.

She sighed and let it go. The white bishop moved across the board, knocking one of Severus' pawns from play. His knight moved to block the bishop. She moved a pawn. The silence hung thickly.

"The youngest son comes next year, I believe," she offered after a moment, studying the board. "Then the daughter the next. She's the last." He moved a castle forward. Did he even have a strategy? For that matter... did she?

"Bah." That ridiculous word again.

Another of her pawns marched forward. "They can't be as bad as the twins, Severus. There's only one..." she leaned over to check her list of incoming students, "only one Ronald."

He moved his castle again, sending Minerva staring in confusion at the board. "Who else will be joining us, according to that ruddy list?"

It had to be a trap. He had to be planning something... a pawn was moved at the side of the board before Minerva took another moment to glance over the list. "Malfoy's son. Goyle's son, Crabbe's son, Parkinson's... daughter. I thought Goyle was in Azkaban?"

"No. Of course not. He claimed Imperius." Severus gave a snort of disgust. His castle took her pawn. She stared. White bishop took black knight. Severus' reply came as he took her queen. "Check. Next year will be hellish for me. I'm sure Lucius has his boy well trained by now, but Goyle and Crabbe? Bloody morons, the both of them."

Minerva stared and gaped. That should teach her to listen more to Severus than to pay attention to the board. She sighed and took out his castle with her king. Her bishop quickly fell to a mere pawn — yes, she'd certainly fallen into the trap. "There's someone else coming in, Severus." She moved a pawn.

"Don't tell me Avery went and had a son. Or... oh, no. No, no. Black didn't have a child, did he? Please, tell me he didn't spawn!" Severus begged, absently pushing ahead a pawn.

"Not Black. I'd prefer to leave him quietly in Azkaban and my memories, Severus." Knight moved behind pawn. "Harry Potter is coming."

Silence. Shock. Severus slammed his palm against the chess board, sending the pieces flying to the floor, game forgotten completely. "No. I... I can't do this, Minerva, I can't teach him. Not when he looks like her... please, you're joking."

He managed to be paler than she'd seen him before — not a small triumph for the lord of the dungeons. "Severus... I know how you feel about it, but this IS the British wizarding school. You knew he'd have to come here."

"I was hoping Salem, or anything else." A mere whisper. Severus winced visibly before he settled his impassive mask over his emotions. "I'm sorry to have ruined the game, Minerva. Please, pardon me." He pushed his way to his feet, shoving the chair aside haphazardly. His cloak swirled and he disappeared through the door.

Better he be told now than when the boy appeared in the Great Hall. He had months to ready himself to see Lily's son. If he could ever be ready.