Chapter 2 - Severus

In twenty-seven minutes, she will arrive. Minerva is nothing if not punctual, and Severus knows that when he says, "eight o'clock," she will arrive precisely to the second. It's her way of chastising him, he supposes - - of reminding him that, unlike her, he is rarely on time.

Sometimes he's late because his schedule is not his own; he must come and go at others' whims. And sometimes he's late because his schedule is his own: on those few occasions when he is at leisure, he's not about to let anyone else dictate when he must show up to something. He'll arrive - - if he arrives at all - - when he's damned good and ready.

He's ready now, though. For Minerva's visit. He's finished his preparations, such as they are: firewhisky set out, two tumblers located and scoured with a cleaning charm. And a freshening spell for his sheets.

The sheets are important, for he intends to bring her to his bed tonight. Tomorrow is his birthday, quite possibly the last he will ever have - - between Voldemort and Albus, it's a wonder he's lasted to the ripe old age of almost-thirty-six - - and he wants to please himself for once. He wants an entire night with Minerva, one that will end with her asleep in his arms, after he's given her what pleasure he can. And taken his own, of course.

He'll give himself this one gift, but otherwise, nothing in their relationship will change. He'll continue to keep his distance from Minerva and to insist that she keep hers. Those are his terms, and they are not negotiable, because he has to protect himself. He can never let her know how much she has come to mean to him.

He doesn't quite understand it himself, for by all rights he should despise her, a Gryffindor who has never known what it is to be an outsider, whose confidence in her place and her magic shows through in her every brisk, decisive movement.

Yes, he should detest her, but instead, he feels at ease with her in ways he has never felt at ease with anyone else. Not with Lily, certainly. The fierce joy he'd felt as a boy in being with Lily had always co-existed with an equally fierce fear: of losing her, of fucking up and ruining everything - - which, of course, was exactly what he'd done. The Death Eaters, too: there'd been no ease there, either; just as in his schooldays, he'd always been trying to prove himself worthy, and not surprisingly, he'd fucked that up as well.

But with Minerva, there's nothing to prove. He is what he is, as is she; there's no pretense.

There's just sex, and damned good sex, too, at least as far as he can tell. That's another thing that Severus feels he's been cheated of: a normal sex life. He knows for a fact that most people are not still virgins at twenty-one, the way he was - - and might have continued to be for years, had not Lucius (exasperated, no doubt, by Severus's gormlessness) finally escorted him to a brothel off Knockturn Alley. (The place had been, not to put too fine a point on it, a dump; trust Lucius to find every way of reminding Severus that he was just a half-blood from Spinner's End.)

The prostitute hadn't been much older than he was, but she'd dispatched him with a quick, almost clinical efficiency that had been helped considerably by Severus's embarrassingly over-eager cock; he'd barely lasted three minutes. Still, the experience had been preferable to the hot shame of his own hand, and Severus had continued to visit brothels (or sometimes to seek out anonymous women in Muggle pubs) during his early years of teaching.

Mostly, though, it had been easier just to remain celibate or to resort to a hurried wank if his treacherous body absolutely demanded it. He'd needed and wanted nothing more.

Until Minerva.

Now Severus knows want and need. He wants Minerva's sharp-boned, spare-fleshed, not-young body with an intensity that surprised him the first time he felt it, on that surreal, long-ago Christmas night when he'd somehow ended up sitting alone with her, drinking too much firewhisky and finding his thoughts inexplicably flooded with disturbing images: of Minerva, lying naked on the hearthrug, Minerva with her hair loose. . .

It was the whisky, he told himself, his mind reeling with the utter and perfect irony of it: that when, for the first time since Lily's death, he felt something other than rage, despair, or numbness, it should be lust for an old woman. His former teacher, no less. He'd concealed his stupid erection as best he could and blamed the bloody drink.

Except that it hadn't been the drink. He kept seeing naked Minerva in his head even when he was painfully sober. He'd decided to deny himself food until he could get her out of his mind, but all that happened was that he got light-headed and faint and felt as if his brain had left his body: he floated to the ceiling of his dungeon quarters and looked down at himself lying on the bed. And he'd hated that scrawny, pasty, greasy thing that was Severus, pathetic and ridiculous and disgusting. He'd hated himself . . . and still he wanted her.

He'd managed to keep his absurd feelings in check for years, even though he had (stupidly) allowed himself to spend personal time with her. Early on, she'd been the only member of the staff who hadn't irritated him beyond measure, and though he'd had no interest in actual friendship, he'd reached a point at which spending an occasional evening in her rooms, drinking and debating, had been . . . not unpleasant.

Things would no doubt have continued in this safe way had it not been - - of course - - for Remus Arsehole Lupin and Sirius Fucking Black. During that miserable Year of Lupin, Severus had thought things could hardly be worse (oh, how the Universe must have snickered at that notion), and he had yielded to the temptation to complain to Minerva. He'd gone to her rooms more often than usual, to pace and rant and release some of his tension by debating with her, and over time, his desire for her had come rushing back.

The last thing he'd ever intended was to let her know how he felt. On that fatal night nearly two years ago, when he'd taken hold of her hand, he'd told himself even as he lifted her arm to his lips that he was going to stop, that he wasn't going to be so damned fucking stupid. . .

But he was that stupid, of course. He'd kissed her palm and touched his tongue to her wrist and had waited for her to strike him or laugh at him.

Instead she'd literally fallen into his arms, and when he'd pushed her to her knees in front of him - - to shock her, to show her how perverse he was, to make her see how she was humiliating herself - - she had refused to understand. She had simply taken his cock into her mouth, and he had been lost.

Two years have passed, and he's still lost; nothing has changed, except that he's less able to do without her now. He needs Minerva, and he clutches that information to himself with all the ardour of a jealous lover. He'll never let her know his feelings, for they are a weakness, and she would see them as such.

Severus knows precisely what he is to her: someone who asks no commitment, who doesn't complicate her austere life with tenderness or with emotions that she would never want to reciprocate. He is like a confessional to her, a way to work out her guilt and regrets, a way to punish herself. That is why she submits to him so docilely, he's convinced, for in no other way is Minerva ever docile.

As to why she feels such guilt. . .well, she must believe she has failed somehow: failed him, failed Albus, failed herself. Failed to save Diggory. Maybe it's that she failed to die in battle, when so many others were lost, some - - at least according to what she'd told him all those years ago - - dead by her own hand. Or maybe it is the return of the Dark Lord that has set her conscience to troubling her: another war is inevitable, and Minerva would have to be a fool (which she assuredly isn't) not to understand that she will no doubt have to kill again.

He doesn't know where her guilt comes from, and he doesn't really care. As long as she thinks she is paying him for her sins, he knows he can continue to be with her, to share his only intimate moments with her. That's why he can never treat her gently, can never make love to her - - because then there would always be the possibility that she suffered his touch just for the sake of the sex, not because she wanted or needed him in particular.

But if she puts up with his disdain and his indifference, then he can allow himself the illusion that perhaps it is actually him she wants, and not just the sort of generic sexual pleasure that any warm and willing body could provide.

That this idea is an illusion, he does not doubt. Of course she doesn't really want him. He's merely of use to her, just as he's of use to Albus and the Dark Lord. Nothing more.

Usually he accepts this state of affairs as a given of the universe: Severus Snape is unwanted.

But occasionally he wonders if there is anything he could do to change the situation. He knows that he is not skilled at pleasing women; he's too impatient with the silly rituals of romance and flattery, too unwilling to make the sort of concessions that successful relationships appear to require. Perhaps he should try. . .

Still, even if he were willing to make such a fool of himself, it wouldn't work with Minerva. He can't imagine anyone who would be less interested in romantic trappings: flowers or sentimental verses or the like. At best she'd laugh at him; at worst, she'd scorn him. The only other thing he can think to do is to tell her outright how much she matters to him, and that would be the biggest mistake of all. He'd be mad to give her that much power over him.

And he doesn't want to see the disgust in her eyes.

Fifteen minutes to go now, before she arrives. He realises that he has been pacing like a nervous schoolboy, and he forces himself to sit in the armchair next to the fire.

The chair is where she'll find him when she comes in, he decides. He won't rise to greet her; he'll make her come to him.

He often tries to see how far he can push her; he'd like to discover the limits of her submission, to find out just how deep her guilt goes. Deep enough, clearly, to make her willing to debase herself to the point of being fucked by Severus Snape, who is not just a Death Eater - - he's a Death Eater so worthless that he didn't even have the guts to do his own killing.

It's not that he actually wants to have killed anyone with his own hands or wand. But if people were going to die because of his idiocy, he should at least have taken the responsibility of their deaths onto himself and not been a pathetic murderer-by-proxy, betraying the one he loved while technically keeping his hands clean.

Unexpectedly, his mind flashes to his childhood. He's surprised, for he never dwells on his Muggle past. But suddenly he has a clear vision of the little church his grandmother Snape had sometimes taken him to. Gran had been Chapel, and she'd made Severus sit with her on the hard pews at least twice a month, until his Hogwarts letter mercifully delivered him from church and so much more.

But he's never forgotten the fire-and-brimstone preacher, Reverend Haltwhistle, a stern and unyielding man whose powerful words had pinned people in their seats like rats in front of a snake. Severus can hear him yet, his voice with its sing-song rhythms, first roaring, sending waves of sound crashing down upon the hapless parishioners, then dropping to a rasping whisper that, despite himself, Severus had strained to hear.

"And dear JEsus was betrayed - - beTRAYED - - by JU-das Iscariot. JU-das Iscariot, you must not forget him. This man, this apostle, this JU-das Iscariot, gave up the Lord of All for thirty pieces of silver, this JU-das, this base deceiver, betrayed our Lord with a KISS. . ."

JU-das Iscariot, as the Reverend Haltwhistle had never tired of pointing out, had been damned to hell, and Severus sometimes fancies that he knows just what JU-das's hell looked like: a castle dungeon filled with eternal fires that burned under potions cauldrons tended by imp-like child-demons.

And it's to a dungeon that Minerva will come in. . .eight minutes. Resisting the urge to pace again, Severus tries to calm himself by envisioning what will happen when she arrives.

The room will be dim, with no light but the flames in the grate, and Minerva will walk to his chair through patterns of brightness and shadow.

She will stop in front of him, waiting, for on these evenings it is their unspoken arrangement that he is in charge, and she will do as he wishes.

He knows there are communities for such things, with formal rules about dominance and submission, but that isn't what he wants - - nothing organized or acknowledged outright. No rules. Rules are too important to Minerva. . .they give her, not pleasure precisely, but security, stability, and Severus needs to keep her off-balance. She must be kept uncertain lest he start to bore her.

He thinks that tonight, at first, he will not look at her; he doesn't want the sight of her prim lips (and the memories of them wrapped around his cock) and her pale, markable neck to arouse him too fully too soon. He wants this encounter to last. But eventually he will tell her to remove her robes - - without magic - - and will watch as she does so.

Her movements will be controlled but unhurried, and when she finishes, she will kneel before him and bend her head forward; she knows by now that he wants to take her hair down himself. It is one of the few soft touches he allows himself - - he'll murmur a de-tangling charm as he lets the freed strands run through his fingers; then he'll smooth the silver-streaked dark mass over her shoulders and onto her breasts.

He will be tempted, as he always is, to Banish his own robes, so that he can feel her bare skin against his own, but also as always, he will stifle the thought. Remaining clothed while she is not is one of the ways that he likes to keep her unsettled.

But he also does it, he admits, because he wants to protect himself. The sight of Minerva's angular body, with its marks of age, of a lived life, never fails to excite him, but he prefers not to risk allowing her a sight of his. He knows too well what an off-putting vision she would see: scrawny flanks and a nearly-hairless chest and rounded shoulders. It's bad enough that she has to see his skinny cock.

He closes his eyes for a moment, his mind filled with the image of Minerva naked before him, awaiting his dictates. He will lead her into the bedroom at that point, he thinks. She will be surprised, for rarely does he give himself the leisure and the license to have her in his bed. But tonight he plans take her slowly and thoroughly and more than once. And he will let her come whenever she pleases.

She will be uninhibited and vocal as she always is, something that had amazed him at first - - he couldn't believe that this was prim and proper Professor McGonagall, abandoning herself to sexual pleasure. But a few moments' thought had shown him that such passion was to be expected: no one who is as given to shouting in daily life as Minerva could be passive in bed.

He checks his mantel clock: two minutes left. Severus considers knocking back a quick dram, but decides against it; he doesn't want to dull even the slightest edge of the evening. And he doesn't want Minerva to arouse herself through drink, either. He will serve them the firewhisky later, after he beds her, so that when she opens herself to him and begs for him - - "Severus, please" - - he can convince himself, at least for tonight, that her desire is real.

The clock begins to chime softly. Eight o'clock. At exactly that moment, Severus feels the electric crackle along his skin and sees the shimmer of the air that announces the disturbance of his wards.

Minerva has arrived.

In another moment she will be standing before him. She will have made no special preparations, he knows: she will still be wearing her everyday teaching robes, her plain and practical underthings, her spectacles. He will not allow himself to be irrationally disappointed that the evening obviously isn't special to her.

For he has long accepted the fact that she does not want him the way he wants her, and never will.

Some day - - maybe sooner, maybe later - - she will end things between them. He knows this. He also knows how she will do it. There will be no drama, of course, no scenes. She'll be as brisk and matter-of-fact as she is about Ministry-approved curricular changes: it's simply the way things are, and she'll see no need for useless fuss. "Severus, we need to talk," she'll say, and that will be the beginning of the end. He doesn't know if he'll hear her out; he thinks he may simply walk away at that point - - why waste any more words?

Yes, he knows she'll leave some day. He asks only that that day not be today. Never today.

He waits until the clock is completely silent and the air has stopped humming before he lowers his wards and lets Minerva in.