The large circular room was mostly dark, save for the glowing fire and a few candles. Two chairs sat on either side of the fire with a small table between them. The table held a stone chess set; the pieces moving around aimlessly. One of the chairs was occupied by a small figure. They didn’t move, but stared into the fire, unmoving. A knock sounded at the door, and the figure rose to answer it.
“Hello Severus. Please, come in.” The figure frowned at how formal her words were. They were friends after all. “How was your day?”
The woman moved away from the door and glanced back at a covered portrait on the wall behind them. She led the way over to the chairs and returned to her seat, gesturing for Severus to take the other. Severus smiled, one of his rare ones, as he took off his teaching coat and sat down.
“I see you have covered him up, Minerva. That was very thoughtful of you, but eventually you will have to remove it. I can’t hide forever.”
“Remove it, Severus? Perhaps there is a time when you should stop hiding. The day that portrait leaves the wall will be the day mine goes up.”
Minerva smiled sadly, thinking of how happier her friend looked when he smiled. She glanced back at the portrait again, and then back to Severus.
“So Minerva, what’s our poison tonight?”Severus smirked as he said this, and began studying the board.
Minerva studied him as he studied the board, thinking of her reply. “All that time surrounded by potions has made you paranoid. Winky should be arriving with tea momentarily, though.”
As she spoke the words, a small and scared elf appeared, carrying a tray of tea. The elf sat the tray next to the chessboard, bowed to Minerva, and quickly disappeared with a large crack.
Minerva poured two cups of tea as the man nodded his head. She handed him his cup and they both took small sips. Minerva found the tea calming, as always.
“Darling, always a woman after my heart.”Severus smirked again.
There was a moment of silence as the two enjoyed the other’s company.
“Pawn to G3. So tell me, what should be our first topic of conversation? I will let you decide, since you not only let me move first, but I am grateful for your invitation for the visit.”
The white pawn responded to Severus’ order as he raised his eyes to look at her. Minerva sighed as she thought of what to say and where to move. She unfolded her glasses and put them on to see the board better.
“Pawn to A6. You mentioned there were a few things you wished to talk about. You have my full attention.” Minerva’s pawn listened to her order as well.
She took another sip of her tea, and watched Severus over the rim. She understood every little thing he did. It came from knowing someone as long as they had known each other.
“Pawn to B3. Very well, let’s start with your health. I know you have been unwell as of late. I have been brewing your potions, Minerva. You can tell me the information, or I can use Legilimency to get it. Either way, as your Deputy Headmaster, I have the right to know, and as your friend, I deserve to know.” He tried to mask his concern with indifference, but Minerva knew him too well.
She sighed as she weighed her options. “Pawn to G6. You give me quite the ultimatum. You know how I despise Legilimency. You do have the right to know.” She sighed again and stared at the board. “I honestly don’t know how to put this into coherent words. Some nights it all catches up to me. I know you can relate. We’ve been through both wars. I talked with Pomona about this. She too inquired about my health.” Minerva paused to take a deep breath. “You know me, Severus. I don’t stop working for anything. Not even if I don’t feel well.”
Severus was silent for a moment, contemplating both his next move and his response. “Knight to F3. Minerva, I respect you highly, but do not play me for a fool. Do you expect me to believe that this is nothing more than simply being tired? If that were the case, then I would be forced, as your second in command, to relieve you of your duties until you were better. Merlin knows, Minerva, I wouldn’t want to do that. The thought of being Headmaster again, even for a short period….” Severus visibly shuddered, and Minerva understood completely. Those days hadn’t been easy for her either. “Some of the staff still do not trust me. If I had to though, you know I would go to the board and demand that you step down until you are better. I am worried about you, and have a feeling you are not telling me everything.” He let his words hang in the air, hoping Minerva would open up to him.
“Bishop to H6. No, Severus. I don’t expect you to believe it, though it would be easier if you did.” She knew he didn’t want to be Headmaster again, even if it was for her. It was one of the reasons why she never rested when she should. “It’s a combination of illness, restlessness, but also…. Also anxiety, I suppose. Don’t you ever ask yourself why you survived when others didn’t?” She met his eyes, knowing he couldn’t lie to her. “Don’t you ever ask why them instead of me?”
“Pawn to E3.” Severus paused to consider his words carefully. He knew where the conversation was going, and summoned a bottle of Firewhiskey. “Honestly Minerva? Every fucking day of my life.” He poured some into his tea and set the bottle between them. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask that. I think of Lupin, Tonks, Fred, Lily, and even fucking James Potter. I know they deserve to be here more than I do. I don’t have the answers. All I know is when I see Harry with Lily, maybe there is a reason I’m meant to be here. It’s like I told Pomona at tea yesterday, to give up is the most selfish thing we can do because that means everyone’s sacrifices were for nothing. It’s one reason I protected Potter, and still continue to protect him. I refuse to let Lily’s sacrifice for him go wasted. He owed it to her to live his life and be as happy as he can.” Severus took a long sip of the still hot tea. “My point is, I don’t know why some of us made it and some didn’t, but it isn’t my place to question it. I believe as time goe on, we will find out what those reasons are.”
The two friends sat in silence for a few moments, thinking heavily.
“Bishop to E5. I assume that means it’s not my place to question it either. I suppose that’s why I continue to work here. Seeing the students every day, well, most of the time it reminds me of exactly that. But then I come back here, and I see Albus. I see him in a frame, not in front of me.” She visibly cringed.
Minerva didn’t mean to blame Severus for Albus’ death, but sometimes she couldn’t help it. She barely knew anything of the circumstances, just that Severus wasn’t the cold-blooded killer she had thought him to be.
“I do try to live my life, like Pomona said, to live my life or them, but when I have nothing to do but sit around and think, that’s where the thoughts begin. Aside from students, it’s the main reason why I am constantly working, rarely resting. As long as I’m busy, I don’t question it. I just….. I just deal.” She took drink of the tea and stared intently at the chessboard, at anything other than Severus or Albus’ portrait.
“Bishop to E2.” Severus winced at his friend’s words. This was it, this was what it really boiled down to. She resented him for killing Albus. He knew she tried not to, but she did. He knew she didn’t know the full story, and wanted answers. He was tired of having to defend himself, especially when it had been Albus who had forced him to do it. He could hear his last words echoing in his head.
“Severus….. Please… Severus…. Please…. Severus.” Even thirteen years later he was plagued with nightmares from that night.
Severus closed his eyes, frantically trying to fight the bile in his throat. She was his friend, and he wanted to end this once and for all. He was tired of the hurt and guilt. He pushed the chessboard aside and drank a straight shot of Firewhiskey.
“Alright, Minerva. No more games. I am going to give you all the answers you seek tonight. I will only do this one time, so I advise you to ask me everything you want now, because my life was destroyed by that man, as well as The Dark Lord’s, and I will not live the rest of my life paying for it. I advise you to uncover him; we will need him for this.” He stood and faced the fire, trying to prepare himself for what was coming.
Minerva sat quietly, concerned she had asked too much. She listed to Severus, and stood to uncover the portrait, unsurprised when she found him wide awake. She started to respond to Severus, but the look on his face made her stop. This was what she had wanted, but at what cost? Finally, she found her voice, though it was little more than a whisper.
“Why? What truly happened that night?”
Severus poured himself another shot of Firewhiskey and downed it. He knew tonight would change everything; neither would be the same afterwards. He was still facing the fireplace with his back to Minerva. I’m sorry, Harry. I’m so sorry, but it had to happen sometime. We all knew it was too good to be true, this thing called happiness. He threw the glass into the fire where it exploded with a crash. He heard Minerva jump, but he didn’t care. She had started this, and they were going to finish it, even if it took all night.
At last, Severus turned around and stood in front of the portrait of Albus Dumbledore. Minerva was seated at her desk next to him.
“Severus, my boy, I’ve missed seeing you. How have you been?” Albus said with a twinkle in his eye.
“That depends on your point of view, Dumbledore.” His blood was raging in his veins and pounding in his ears. “Minerva wants to know what happened the night I so callously took away your existence. Did you not tell her, Dumbledore, or did you leave her in the dark like you’ve left everyone else?” The venom in his voice was nearly tangible to Minerva. Immediately Albus’ portrait lost its twinkle, and Minerva knew trouble had started.
Severus had thought Minerva was on his side, but he realized he was wrong. She had been with the others, loathing him behind his back. He knew that after tonight their relationship wouldn’t be the same. Pain was crashing on all sides of him now, and it all had to do with the man in front of him.
“Well, Minerva, before I start our little tale, you must first tell me how much you know. Did our dear old Albus tell you about the Horcruxes? Surely you knew about those, didn’t you? Did he tell you about the ring he foolishly tried on that cast a curse on him?”
“Severus, Minerva knows a…”
“SILENCE! I asked Minerva. I want to hear it from her. Forgive me for not trusting you, my master.” Severus bowed low in a mock salute. Albus’ portrait looked stricken.
“I really have damaged you, my boy, haven’t I? Severus, please, I am so so…”
Severus put his hands over his ears, unable to hear those words again. It took all of his self-control not to destroy the portrait now. “Answer the question Minerva, before I hand in my resignation in the morning.”
Minerva took a deep, but shaky breath, trying to understand what was going on. She rose from her chair and slowly approached Severus, wary of him. “Albus told me nothing.” Her voice was so quite she wasn’t sure if Severus could even hear her.
Her eyes filled with tears as she watched the man in front of her. She had hated him, true, but once she learned that Albus was dying anyway, that he had saved Draco Malfoy from having to do it, she forgave him. Slowly, but she did.
“Albus…. Severus….” She didn’t even know what to say.
Severus cringed away from her. “Don’t.” He put all the venom he could into the one word. “You. Are. Lying. If you believed all of that, then you wouldn’t have asked me this question, would you Minerva? If I were you, I would sit down and listen, so that you may now get the full story that you need to hear to… move on.”
Minerva listened to her friend, and sat back down at her desk, never letting him out of her sight.
“After Albus put that cursed ring on, he had less than a year to live. I brewed a potion that slowed down the curse, but nothing more. He foolishly tried on a Horcrux of all things.”
“Yes, Severus, you are right. It was foolish of me, but in the end, it worked out. If that had not happened…”
“You would be alive and Minerva wouldn’t be hating me for murdering you!” Minerva started to interrupt, to tell him she didn’t hate him, but Severus continued before she could. “Surely Albus, there had to have been another way. We could have used a Drought of Living Death, there were many other alternatives, but you reused to hear anything but your own truths. You used Harry and I as pawns in this game you were playing.”
“It was necessary for the greater good, Severus. The only way for Voldemort to fully trust you was for you to kill me. It was a mercy killing, Severus. Would you want that kind of darkness on Draco’s soul?”
Minerva was horrified at what she was hearing, from both sides of the argument.
“And my soul, Albus? Do you know what you have done to my soul? I was forced to kill the man I came to love as a father. I killed the man who was my mentor. I killed the man that everyone loved and respected…” His fists clenched in rage. “You destroyed my life, Albus. You cared so little for me that you refused to tell me everything. Even Harry, you left him and Hermione and Ron guessing ‘till the last minute. So much hurt, so many lives that could have been saved had you just told us, instead of moving us like pawns on a board.”
“It was necessary. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, Severus. Especially one that was Voldemort’s right hand.”
“You placed me there, Albus! It was not what I wanted. You kept me trapped in this fucking school under your observation for almost fourteen years. Then you place me back as your spy, always using Lily as the motivation. Always using the woman I loved to trap me into serving you…. Always…” Tears had began to fall, both for Severus and Minerva.
“Severus, I am so sorry for all the pain I have caused you. My tactics may not have been the best, but they achieved the results required in the end. We were at war, Severus, and when you are at war, nobody is spared. Sometimes you have to do things in order to get the desired results. That is what I did.”
Severus went eerily still as Minerva watched him, too frightened to move.
“You didn’t have to keep using Lily’s memory against me. Did you think so little of me that I couldn’t have done any of these things of my own volition? You always said you trusted me, but you proved in the end, you didn’t really trust me as much as you said you did. My life is destroyed. Most of the Wizarding world at large hate me, and still do not trust me. Even some of my own colleagues.” Severus sneered at Minerva, and she gasped, involuntarily. She hadn’t known her question would invoke such emotion. “She is not the only one. I hear Vector and Hooch speak about me. Word gets around.”
Severus paced in front of the portrait.
“Did you know I wanted to leave teaching? I thought of opening up my own apothecary, but I can’t even brew potions under my own name. I have to use an alias because most people think there could be poison or something ‘dark’ in a potion made by the man who killed Albus Dumbledore, or a former Death Eater.”
This was news to Minerva. She hadn’t known Severus had wanted to leave, but she was glad he hadn’t. Severus returned to the spot directly in front of the portrait.
“Tell me, Albus, after knowing all of this, and the things Harry suffered as well, would you go back and change the way you did things?” Minerva held her breath as Albus gazed at Severus with such sympathy.
“No, my son. It had to be done, even at the cost of both you, Harry, even myself. It was for the greater good.” Minerva watched as Severus shook.
He knew he was going to lose it any time. He had to leave, he had to leave soon. He walked over to Minerva and faced her. “Here is your answer, Headmistress. Albus blackmailed me into killing him ‘for the greater good’ just as he was raising Harry like a pig for slaughter for the same reason. Harry and I always believed there could have been other ways, but he would hear none of it. All of us were pawns on a chessboard, playing out the game until the end, his and The Dark Lord’s game. If I tried to rebel, Lily was used against me. The worst part about that..” Severus glared at the portrait, “is that I would have done all that you asked of me even without you mentioning her simply because it was the right thing to do. But, of course, you didn’t trust me that far.”
Minerva sat in silence, unsure of how to respond. Unsure if there was a response. Severus summoned the bottle of Firewhiskey and clutched it to his chest before facing Albus and Minerva.
“I know you both loved each other, I am not blind. I know why you asked me of all this, Minerva. You had to hear it for yourself. You already knew most of this from the trials after the war. You read the manuscripts. I think you did this to hurt me because you resent me for the loss of Albus at my hands that he perpetrated. I think you also resent that I managed to find happiness and maybe love in my life while yours is gone.”
Minerva stuttered, trying to get a word in, but she couldn’t think, and Severus didn’t give her the chance. He turned suddenly, and was face to face with her. She could smell the whiskey on his breath.
“I think you resent the fact that I am alive, the man who killed the man who loved, while he is dead. Believe me, Minerva, if I could trade places and give my life for his, I would. I wish I were dead, Minerva. For awhile there, I felt like living. You and Albus made me realize how pointless it is to exist and why I should have died on that battlefield. You left her, Albus, and she blames me for it, even though she denies it. If she didn’t she wouldn’t have brought this up tonight. Why don’t you tell her how you forced me to kill you, how you abandoned her, and placed this all on her shoulders ‘for the greater good’.”
Minerva stared helplessly at her friend, wishing for the right words to come. Severus stared right back. He had considered her his friend, his mentor, his colleague, but not anymore.
“I am telling you this now while I am still sober. As of tomorrow, I am resigning as Deputy Headmaster. I will keep teaching Potions as I am stuck. As you now know, I have no life and no hope outside of these walls because of all the prejudice against me. My life is in ruins. When I get back to my quarters, I will be owling the Ministry with my resignation. You may ask Hermione or Flitwick to take my place.”
He walked to the door, but turned around and bowed low. “Good evening Headmistress, Dumbledore.” He opened the door, and was gone before it even slammed shut.
Minerva stood to go after him, but fell to the floor in front of her desk in uncontrollable sobs. To lose Severus as Deputy Headmaster was one thing, but for him to think she still hated him! She was at a loss as to what to do. Should she run after him, or give him his time? Minerva realized how foolish and stupid it had been to ask that question, and it only made her cry harder. For the moment she wasn’t the strong Headmistress everyone saw. For the moment she was a woman who had betrayed her closest friend, because of the actions of the dead man she loved.