A/N: I think that canon has room for a variety of plausible interpretations of Snape and McGonagall: we can view them, for instance, as insecure people plagued by varying degrees of self-hatred. I wanted to explore the sort of relationship they might have if they were damaged in those ways. This fic is the result. It was written for the 2012 "Dysfuncentine" fest on LiveJournal - an anti-Valentine's Day collection of HP dysfunctional relationship stories.

Warnings: lots of emo. Not a happy story. You'll want to knock some sense into the both of them.

My everlasting thanks to my long-suffering beta, The Real Snape.

-/-

Never

by Kelly Chambliss

-/-

January, 1996

Minerva

He never makes love to her. He rarely even fucks her...but it is a measure of how much he has changed her, that Minerva McGonagall even lets herself think such a word.

She has said it, too - - has said "fuck" aloud in the privacy of her own rooms, trying to accustom herself to its harsh ugliness, hoping that the sound of it will reconcile her to the Minerva she has somehow become: an old woman, stern and unloved, unwanted even by the man who beds her.

At least, she assumes she holds only slight physical attraction for Severus Snape despite the fact that their affair - - or whatever it is: their arrangement, their sexual exchange - - has lasted for almost two years. True, he doesn't seem to want to end the relationship, but neither does he seem actually to want to be with her.

They first slept together during the year that Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban. It had been a time when everyone, even Albus, had been reeling from the breach of the castle's defences, when it seemed that a murderer prowled the school, preying on children. Severus in particular had been on edge; the presence on the staff of his old nemesis Remus Lupin had rendered him even more bitter and vicious-tongued than ever.

Throughout that autumn term, he would come to Minerva's rooms to rant and rage; she would offer understanding and argument in equal measure. And if Severus's angry passions had seemed to ignite other, more personal fires between the two of them, they'd both chosen - - at least for a while - - to ignore the flames.

At that point, they had been something she had called "friends" (though she does not venture to assume that Severus would ever have used the term). Still, it had seemed like friendship to her: for several years, they had been in the habit of spending evenings in each other's company, talking, debating, sharing a drink.

But those days gradually ended, done in by the arrival of Lupin and before him, of Harry Potter. Now, between the frightening return of the Dark Lord last spring and the arrival of the unspeakable Dolores Umbridge this past autumn, Severus has almost abandoned Minerva, his interest in her reduced to only the occasional tryst. To their fellow staffers, he never gives the slightest hint that his relationship with her goes beyond that of competitive rivals. In private, he has come to her bed only rarely in these last few months, and he takes her to his own more rarely still.

On her good days, she thinks his lack of attention is a reflection of his own inability to form healthy relationships, and she tells herself that he gives her as much of himself as he could give to anyone.

On her bad days, she fears that he disdains her, that he beds her merely because she's there, because she's better than nothing, because who else at Hogwarts would let an murdering ex-Death Eater touch them?

She tries to be understanding, tries to remind herself of the terrible stresses Severus lives under, now that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named regularly demands his presence. Severus will never tell her what he endures on those visits, which is as it should be, of course; it would be dangerous for everyone if she knew too much. But she doesn't think that the Dark Lord's return accounts for the whole problem, because Severus's indifference feels more personal than circumstantial: she thinks he has begun to tire of her.

And what else would you expect, Minerva, you old fool, she scolds herself. You're older than his mother. (And truth be told - - for she tries always to tell it to herself - - she'd been no prize even in her youth.)

Still, she thinks that she could bear the infrequency of Severus's visits if he seemed to enjoy their times together or at least seemed to find them relaxing.

But he doesn't. Even during sex, even at his moment of climax, he seems pained, angry, impatient, and he never stays with her for long. Most of the time, their sexual encounters occur wherever he stops moving when he enters her rooms: the sofa, the floor, and once, against the door to the corridor.

Nor does he take her the way Minerva would prefer: slowly, softly (at least at first), with an occasional caress or perhaps even a kiss, and afterwards, an embrace. Instead, there is often no intercourse as such: sex consists of his relentless fingers roaming her body, or his relentless tongue driving her so close to the edge of orgasm that she has to fight not to sob in despair when he stops. Or sex is sometimes his cock in her mouth, his hands tight in her hair. He never removes his robes, staying fully-clothed while insisting on her nakedness.

But no matter what the particular act, sex for him, she believes, is always about conquest and domination, never affection.

And she never objects, for somehow, against all her better judgment and experience, she has come to need Severus. He's been such a constant in her world since he joined the Hogwarts staff, a valued ally on issues ranging from academic standards to fashion. She is often the only person to pick up his bone-dry humour, and she's come to crave the slight quirking of lips that counts as his smile.

Sharing jokes that no one else understood was only the first secret they held together; eventually they had an entire language of glances and raised eyebrows. But lately, Severus has become remote. Their occasional staffroom moments are now the only intimacy they have outside of sex, and she feels adrift if she can't trade looks with him over staff and student idiocies or share a moment of silent appreciation at Albus's genius for getting people to do as he wishes.

She remembers how surprised she was when she realised, five years after Severus started teaching, that she considered him a friend. Minerva has never formed friendships easily, particularly not the sort she forged in those early years with Severus, with its give-and-take of banter, its energetic conversations, and its unexpected solaces.

They had not come together painlessly, of course; both of them were too reserved, too shielded, too wary of others to have lowered their defences without struggle. Minerva at first had retreated behind her disapproving glare and her sharp tongue. Severus, for his turn, had baited her, sneering at her most cherished ideals: her admiration of Albus, her belief in the value of teaching, her love of her homeland.

She'd refused to respond to his taunts, at first because she hadn't wanted to give him the satisfaction of seeing that he'd upset her, but soon because she'd come to understand that he was testing her regard for him; he was trying to find what it would take to make her reject him. He'd been rejected so often before - - and not always without reason - - that he could not make himself believe that anyone, let alone the Head of Gryffindor, might actually accept him.

The friendship didn't really progress, though, until Christmas of 1982 or '83, she isn't sure which- - but Severus had been teaching for no more than a year or two. On that particular Christmas, he and Minerva had been the only staff members who remained in the castle; everyone else, even Mr Filch, had friends or family with whom to celebrate.

But Severus, it appeared, had no one, and Minerva had long preferred to stay at Hogwarts to keep watch over the remaining children instead of visiting her brother and his family, where she was always treated politely and yet ended up feeling more alone than when she was by herself.

Why Severus had accepted her impulsive invitation to share a dram of firewhisky (Albus kindly gives her a bottle of her favourite Macbain every Yuletide), she doesn't know to this day, but accept he did. They'd sat for a quiet hour, sipping and saying little, until the third time that Minerva had held out the Macbain in silent offer of a refill. Severus, his tongue perhaps looser than normal, had suddenly tilted his head and looked at her quizzically.

"You don't find this odd?" he'd said, with just enough of a sneer to remind her to whom she was speaking. "To be sitting here, oh-so-civilised, drinking with a Death Eater?"

Minerva had not been about to let him ruin the calm of Christmas night, though it cost her something not to respond tartly. "According to Albus," she'd replied, as mildly as she was able, "and from what I've seen for myself, you're a former Death Eater."

"And that makes a difference?"

He spoke mockingly, but she'd chosen to answer seriously. "If 'former' truly represents a genuine change of heart, then yes. It makes a difference."

He'd studied his liquor, holding his glass toward the fire so that the light sharded off the edges. "People have died because of me."

Severus's tongue, Minerva admitted later, might not have been the only one loosened that evening. For she surprised herself by saying, "And people have died because of me as well. I've been in two wars, Severus, remember?"

He'd snorted. "But you were fighting for - - "

"Don't!" There had been no concealing her sharpness then. If he were going to try to tell her that she could excuse her actions because she'd been serving a good cause or because she'd been acting in defence, she didn't want to hear it. She had a right to her remorse, the same as he did. "Don't say it. My dead are just as dead as yours."

There had been a pause in which the crackle of the fireplace flames had sounded abnormally loud, and then Severus had dipped his head and raised his glass to her in silent acknowledgement.

They had said their goodnights not long afterward and never referred to the evening again.

But it had been the turning point in their relationship. A few weeks later, she'd taken the hippogriff by the beak and invited Severus for a drink in her sitting room. He'd accepted.

It was the first of what were to become regular meetings, and eventually Minerva realised that, however infrequent, their evenings of talk and firewhisky had become the highlight of her life.

She's still not certain, though, how even a strong friendship between a 33-year-old former student and his 68-year-old former teacher could have changed into something so powerfully sexual. At first she hadn't recognised her desire for what it was, had told herself that her beating heart and flushed face merely reflected the intensity of her interactions with Severus, the force of their arguments about Remus and Harry, the passion of their debates about politics.

When she could no longer deny the fact that what she felt had little to do with politics and much to do with a wholly-inappropriate speculation about Severus's anatomy, she had taken herself severely to task as pathetic, risible, even twisted.

Yet on that unforgettable evening, two years ago now, when Severus had made his initial sexual advance, she had responded eagerly, all qualms forgotten. If, in her saner moments, she still feels irredeemably wicked in the old-fashioned sense of the term - - sinful and depraved - - those thoughts disappear the moment Severus touches her.

His first touch had happened late one night, after they'd spent hours in her sitting room talking about any number of things. For once they had not been debating Lupin or Potter or any of the fraught circumstances of that difficult year; it had seemed almost like their old, easier times.

She'd stayed up far later than she should have, knowing that she'd be sorry when rising time came early the next morning, but she hadn't wanted the evening to end, not when she so enjoyed their discussion and the smooth firewhisky and above all, Severus's company.

Though she still cannot put a name to it, something had changed for her that night. As she watched his expressive hands and noted the suggestion of hard, sinewy limbs under his robes, her arousal had become almost overwhelming. She'd struggled to keep from panting with the heat of it, for the only thing stronger than her desire was her need to keep Severus unaware of her feelings. He would be revolted, horrified, and she couldn't bear the thought of losing his regard.

When he'd finally got up to leave, she'd been almost relieved; she hadn't known how much longer she could refrain from doing something foolish.

She'd stood up with him, to see him out, and as they reached the door, he'd suddenly taken her hand and run his thumb along the inside of her wrist, then lifted it to his lips, brushing her skin so lightly that she would have thought she imagined the contact, had he not deepened his touch an instant later, pressing his lips hard against her palm.

She'd felt her cheeks flush and knew that Severus must have been able to see how heavily she was breathing. He didn't release her, just fastened his gaze on hers, his eyes offering both question and challenge.

"I don't want your pity, Severus," she'd said after a moment, trying to sound firm with what little breath she had left. He'd snorted and pulled back slightly.

"I pity no one," he said.

"And I won't be your convenience, either," she'd retorted a bit more strongly; she could deal with him better when he gave her something to push against.

He'd said nothing, had just lifted her wrist to his lips once more. The next moment she'd felt the touch of his tongue on her pulse, and she could control herself no longer. She heard herself moan, felt her legs give way. He'd caught her, pulling her close against him so that she could feel his already-hard cock, and then lowered her to her knees.

-/-

Sometimes, in the dead of night and never in actual words, she will admit to herself how deeply she cares for him. It is a weakness, she knows, and knows that he would think so, too. So she is careful never to let him suspect, never to ask for more than he seems able to give, however little that is. He is a damaged man, as she knows all too well: to her eternal shame, she had been party to some of the damage herself.

She hadn't protected him as she should have, during his student days. He'd been a difficult boy, hostile and defiant, giving free rein to his caustic tongue. But still, she'd known of his problems with Potter and Black, and she hadn't intervened, hadn't let herself see the extent of the bullying, because she hadn't wanted to believe that boys of her House could be so much to blame. She'd closed her eyes, and because she had, a young boy's hard life had been made even harder.

So offering herself to him, giving him what pleasure she can - - it is an expiation of sorts. If it is what he needs from her, she will give it, and she will not ask for more.

And she admits, of course, that she gains a great deal of pleasure, too, pleasure of a sort that she never would have thought she could want. Before Severus, she'd had only the most conventional of sexual experience, and not even much of that. She'd been married, briefly, to an older man who had been kind, but who had wanted more of a housekeeper than a wife. He'd been considerate in bed, even courtly, but there had been little in the way of foreplay or variety. Then his last, long illness had begun, and the physical side of their relationship had ended entirely.

After her husband's death, she'd had only one lover besides Severus - - an American she'd shocked herself by allowing to pick her up on a summer trip to Crete. She'd been forty and had seen nothing ahead of her but lonely decades at Hogwarts, her bed empty, her body untouched except for the occasional absent pat on the shoulder from Albus.

The American, a widower, had been on holiday alone, the same as she was; they'd met in their hotel dining room and ultimately had spent three quiet nights together. And though she'd found the encounter pleasurable enough, she concluded that it had been an unseemly indulgence. Essentially anonymous sex in anonymous lodgings - - it was tawdry, and cheap, and something she planned never to repeat. Thereafter, she had kept herself to herself.

Until Severus.

Minerva is of a generation and temperament that distrusts too much personal pleasure, that hedges it about with moral imperatives that part of her is still astonished to find she's so easily discarded at Severus's feet. At times, she feels that she hardly knows the Minerva she has become.

But at other times, it is the Minerva of the past - - the one who'd treated sex as something both sacred and vaguely unclean - - who seems like a stranger to her. If she had a time-turner and could show her current self to the thirty-five- or forty- or even fifty-year-old Minerva, she thinks those younger Minervas would look with horror at the person she so often is now.

Would they even recognise her, aging and wanton, naked on her knees with her mouth full of cock? Or on her back with her legs open, desperate to be taken - - all right, to be fucked - - by a colleague half her age?

Not that Severus readily gives her what she wants: he can be demanding in bed, capricious and withholding; he enjoys making her wait, making her beg, making her say words that had never left her lips until she had given herself to this dark man.

She should put a stop to it all, she supposes - - should do something to reclaim her lost dignity, should insist on more…tenderness or…

But she doesn't. She'd been dignified - - and alone, and mostly celibate - - for decades, and it had gained her only two solitary rooms in a draughty castle and a reputation for forbidding sternness.

Still, she might have more qualms about allowing Severus such power over her if she hadn't seen moments of vulnerability in him, of need. The clues are small, but she treasures them.

Sometimes after sex, he pulls her into his arms, holding her so tightly that she can barely breathe, pressing his lips to her temple or her neck. Or sometimes, as he is leaving, he will brush her lips lightly with his own, just the whisper of a kiss coupled with an equally-light pass of his fingers through her hair.

And twice, he has fallen asleep in her bed, one arm wrapped around her, his breath warming her shoulder. True, he'd been gone when she awakened the next morning, but each time, he'd spelled a warm nightgown onto her body and had carefully reset her wards.

Then, too, he never leaves her unsatisfied. No matter how long he makes her wait, he always finally brings her to completion, sometimes with such gentleness that she feels near inexplicable tears.

Usually, though, he is rougher, but the method never really matters, because by the time he is ready to allow her release, it rarely takes much to finish her. Most often, his lightest touch has her thrashing and bucking and crying out with an abandon that no longer surprises her, though whether this shameless wanting is something long-buried and inherent in her personality or is a response only to Severus, she neither knows nor cares. She knows only that he - - his voice and mind and cock and fingers and sneer and unwilling quarter-smile - - has become almost as necessary to her as her magic.

She knows that eventually, she will need to talk with him, to rebalance their relationship so that she does not endanger her self-respect. But she keeps postponing the moment, telling herself that now is not the time to add to Severus's stress. Each time she has firmly resolved to speak to him, some new crisis has arisen - - first the danger of Sirius Black, then the strains of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, then the death of poor Cedric. This year, she tells herself that, given the menace represented by Umbridge, they can't afford to distract themselves with attention to personal problems.

But she is only partly successful in lying to herself; she knows that these are merely excuses.

The truth is, she is afraid. The danger of initiating an honest talk with Severus is that he might put into actual words the fears that she can usually ignore as long as they remain unspoken: fears that she bores him, annoys him. Disgusts him.

Minerva is well aware of the irony of her situation: she knows that in the face of a threat to her school or her students, she would brave the peril without a qualm. But when the threat is to her pathetic stolen moments with a man who might very well despise her, she is the rankest of cowards.

She will talk to him eventually, she promises herself. Someday. Soon. But not today. She needs him today.

At breakfast, he invites her, in his usual Snapian way, to spend the night with him. "Minerva, when I lent you my copy of Gibbons on Gamp, I didn't intend to make it a gift. I'll be in my rooms by eight this evening; return it to me then."

Ignoring Pomona's look of supportive sympathy, Mineva gives Severus a tight nod. She will be at his door at eight precisely, and she will probably be out of her robes and on her knees by quarter past, and even as she yearns for his touch, she knows that he will never want her as she wants him.