A/N: Beta-read by the fantabulous Zsenya at the Sugar Quill. My HTML is horrid; go there to see the italics, et cetera, that should be there. (http://www.sugarquill.net/authors/sweeneyagonistes.html) Please assume all usual disclaimers.

For the first time in many years, Severus Snape slept the deep, placid sleep of the innocent. No tossing or turning, no Death Eater dreams. He was gently comatose, and – could it be? – the sunlight filtering in from the lone window on this Christmas morning illuminated his face and made him look as though he smiled. Perhaps he did, for that same warm sunlight that illuminated his patrician features made him wake up. That half-smile, oddly enough, manifested itself and became fully realized as he stretched.

And then he remembered what had happened.

He gathered his blankets about him in horror. Could things be any worse? Minerva McGonagall had seen him vulnerable – had seen him cry, for Merlin's sake – she had the upper hand on him –

The initial wave of panic subsided, and he sat back among his pillows. Pillows – lots of pillows. He looked over at his armoire where he kept his extra bedding; its doors were open. His extra pillows, one of the few luxuries he allowed himself, and then only after a particularly hard day, were indeed gone.

Were indeed on the bed.

He felt a sharp spear of resentment. She had no right to go through his personal belongings.

A voice whispered, Even for you, Severus?

Well. He settled down again.

He seemed to remember what happened after that dreadful outpouring – he remembered falling asleep. And – yes, there it was – he remembered watching her through half-lidded eyes, watching her draw assorted linens out of the armoire, looking for those elusive pillows. She turned around, coming back towards the bed, not looking at him, settling the pillows and thick, soft blankets around him with infinite tenderness. He had not known that she had the capacity for something so delicate in her. And then that last – resting a hand briefly on his shoulder, a sharp intake of breath that sounded to his well-educated ears remarkably like a sob being held back, and the flutter of robes and clicking of heels as she left the room quickly.

A most interesting occurrence.

He rose from the bed, stepping as lightly as possible to the alcove where he kept his robes. As he dressed, he recalled his words about her nephew.

The Black Lion. Actually Meleagrant McGonagall, Quidditch star and exceptionally – wickedly – good card player. Severus remembered those card games while on missions for the Death Eaters, waiting sometimes hours for their intended victims to get home. Meleagrant McGonagall, the Black Lion, the Death Eater who avoided suffering…how did he get involved with that crowd, anyway?

He straightened his collar and reached for his greatrobe. And her husband. He couldn't see Minerva McGonagall married.

Or could he?

At that point, Severus realized how very little he had thought about his colleague. Perhaps because she had been his teacher – one never thought all that much about the private lives of one's teachers. A minor blessing.

Now that he did think about it, it made sense. She had spoken of how much she had loved her husband, and it seemed to him that a person like her could love only deeply, with all of her substantial core – she was too sharp, too tough, to love any other way.

He had to laugh, and he did: a short bark that echoed mockingly throughout his rooms. Idiot! Why had he never seen it before? In her own way, she was just like him. All rigidity. All corners. All facades. Impenetrable defenses – except when you had her in an odd situation.

Like last night.

He remembered something else suddenly in a flash – right when Voldemort had ordered the Black Lion taken out of commission, right when her family had been murdered, Dumbledore had lost –

Dumbledore had lost a son.

He racked his brain, searching for that information, mentally revisiting the files in the library of the Order –

What was the name? Thomas? No. Theo? Not that, either. It was something a bit more – well, English-sounding…

And then he made himself remember what Minerva had said about her husband. It clicked. "Theron," Severus said aloud.

Dumbledore's son. His only son, if Severus recalled correctly. Severus had never met him – by the time he had joined the Order, Theron Dumbledore was dead – but from the bits and pieces he had managed to glean, mostly from whispered conversations among the other members of the Order, he had seemed to be a good man. A lot like his father.

And that would explain the many times he had found her in Dumbledore's office – many more times than usual for a deputy Headmistress.

Unexplored depths to Minerva McGonagall.

A shadow fell across the windows briefly – likely an icicle falling from the eaves of the building – creating odd patterns in the light. He smiled again.

He thought that maybe, just maybe, he could risk it –

Risk enough of himself to make a friend.

He left his quarters and stalked down the mercifully empty halls, secretly enjoying, as he always did, the way his black greatrobe billowed behind him menacingly.

He stopped at a portrait of a sleeping girl on a cliff.

Taking a deep breath, he knocked.

Minerva McGonagall poked her severe head out. She looked surprised to see him – perhaps even a bit embarrassed – but she recovered quickly. "Yes, Severus?"

He began smoothly. "I was wondering…"

He stopped suddenly and looked at her. She was looking at him, not as so many others did, not like he was some loathsome insect, but as though he were a person.

My life, indeed, he thought. My life.

He said, "I was wondering if you would perhaps join me in a game of chess?"