This fic could potentially be a follow-on from my previous Severus/Minerva story, 'An Invitation, a Refusal'; it's a bit different in style, though, and I think can equally well stand alone. Your choice. It has a sad ending; but I'm not finished with Severus and Minerva yet, so don't despair.

This takes place just after Severus learns that Dumbledore expects him to be the one to execute him.

From Dumbledore's office Severus stumbles to his quarters. He picks up the firewhiskey; for the first time in long years of denial he is set on drinking himself into oblivion. But the liquor burns in his belly like bile; he is not even one quarter drunk when it all comes back up. He retches long past the time his stomach is empty; even this escape is not open to him, it would appear.

For years, he has wished he could forget her laughing face, her green eyes, her death; now day by endless day he must force himself to remember - there is no sense - none! he thinks savagely - in living the life he does, otherwise than as endless penance. Gods, these days only the ingrained habit of existence tethers him this side of the Veil; the peculiar inertia that sees him bear the ills he has, not because the others will be any worse, but because he can no longer conceive of how they could be any better.

He must not forget; he must not forget. Never did he think he would be in danger of doing so. But Minerva – she stands between him and his vision of Lily, now; and he cannot bear it, he cannot walk the path laid out for him if there is any hope, any thought, any imagined trace of another choice.

He deserves no other choice.

Whatever she feels for him now she will come to hate him; let it start sooner rather than later.

He falls into bed and into sleep, of a sort; the unhealing restless sleep of the dream-ridden and exhausted.

A week later

'Severus, would you kindly tell me what is wrong?'

'Pardon my bluntness, Minerva, but it is none of your gods-damned business.' Severus barely flickers a glance from the piles of paperwork stacked so neatly across his desk. 'So if you would permit me to continue my marking -?'

'You have avoided me for days.' Minerva's voice is sharp. 'And while Merlin knows I understand both the demands on your time and our own need for… discretion… it is clear to me nonetheless that something is amiss.'

Something is amiss. There could be no words more ludicrously inadequate. Severus would laugh, if he still could. He makes do with a sneer. 'Even if there were, I have no inclination to discuss my personal affairs with you.'

For a moment Minerva is silent, frowning, then she sighs, shrugs, and rises to her feet. 'Very well, Severus, as you wish. If you change your mind… I hoped that you had come to have more trust in me, especially since we became-' she pauses '—lovers.'

From whatever cause she finds the word hard to say, he sees that, and in that deep place beyond reason, where he thought nothing could reach him ever again, he is cut. But now he sees his opening; leaning back, mouth twisting, he says derisively, 'Lovers? I thought we were a convenience to each other, Minerva. That is certainly all you have ever been to me. You are an old, sentimental fool to believe otherwise.'

She stiffens. The words hang in the air between them, palpable, almost visible. Severus waits, mockingly expressionless, for her anger to break over him like a wave.

His words are aimed to wound, she sees that, but even knowing their intent Minerva still feels them strike home in ways she had forgotten she could feel; punches to the gut, another four stunners to the chest would be preferable to the pain she feels before she pushes it away, trying not to flinch. She will think about it later, analyse it later, possibly even laugh about it later – the idea that she of all people could be called sentimental...!

But old… yes, she is old, and with her age has come some degree of wisdom; Minerva thinks that she understands something of what Severus is trying to do. So she swallows down the anger and the anguish that want to break over him like a wave (later; she will feel them later), places her hands flat on the desk; her thin fingers are braced, every pale wrinkle clearly outlined against the dark wood. Very softly, she says, 'If you indeed wish to end the mutual convenience of our physical relationship, then so be it – but do me the courtesy of giving me the real reason, Severus.'

He will not back down; he retains the sneer. 'You have a high estimation of your own charms, to find it so difficult to believe a man could tire of them.'

An intake of breath. Colour is climbing to Minerva's cheeks now, but she says with a fierce calmness that infuriates Severus, who cannot know how much it costs her, 'It will take far more than petty insults to goad me into killing you, if that is your intent.'

Another avenue opens before him. 'If only it were that simple. Tell me, have you ever cast an Unforgiveable Curse, Minerva?'


'Even in your days as an Auror, you never duelled to kill? It's a miracle you're still alive. Have you never even wanted to cast one?' Strangely, it is the hesitation before she shakes her head that suggests to Severus she is telling the truth, and that thought sears him too, in different ways; he lashes back. 'You will – sooner than you think.'

'Please, Severus-' This is not the usual context in which Minerva speaks these words; they ring out wrong and ruined, there is no place for them, their very shape is incomprehensible. Neither of them can bear to hear the after-echo in the room.

Minerva closes her eyes against the thing she has just said as if by doing so she can erase the memory of her words. Weariness such as she seldom reveals before anyone is written deep in her face as she lowers herself once more into the chair across from the younger wizard. 'I am afraid,' she says at last, slowly, 'that I simply do not understand what is going on, Severus.'

Fury and frustration break across his face; with a gesture of uncharacteristic, uncontrolled rage he catches up a glass of water and hurls it against the wall. It erupts, subsides; the wet pieces glitter on the floor.

Automatically Minerva raises her wand. 'Reparo.'

'Finite incantatem.' The glass falls apart, broken now beyond mending.

Their eyes meet.

Minerva slowly bows her head. 'I see.'

'Do you?'

She stands, straightens; her face is pale. 'You do what you have to, or so I imagine.' If her voice shakes slightly, they both choose to ignore it. 'Neither of us lives our own lives. Very well; it is done with. But, Severus-'

He cannot let her finish. 'Just go, Minerva.' If his voice also cracks as he says her name they shall ignore that too.