[This week, we’re getting a little weird. Please don’t sue me, J.K.! Let’s do this.]
The Headmistress’s office at Hogwarts, sunset. A large, stately desk, various silver instruments and trinkets. On the wall, portraits of previous Hogwarts headmasters snooze in their frames.
Sitting at the desk is HEADMISTRESS MINERVA MCGONAGALL. She is old but tough. She wears black robes, has her gray hair in a tight bun, and has a small pair of glasses perched on the edge of her nose. She is reading a piece of parchment.
A moment of silence; the soft ticking of a clock.
A knock at the door.
The door opens, and SEVERUS SNAPE enters, also in black robes. He is in his late thirties but looks much older. His face is gaunt and stressed, and his long jet-black hair has turned gray at the temples.
SNAPE: Good evening, Headmistress.
MCGONAGALL: Severus. Close the door.
SNAPE closes the door and sits across from MCGONAGALL.
SNAPE: I trust you have been well over the summer?
MCGONAGALL: I am going to pretend you did not just ask me that.
SNAPE: I beg your pardon, Headmistress; I only wish to be courteous.
MCGONAGALL: I care little for pleasantries these days, Severus, and even less for courtesy from traitors. If I had my way, you would be dead on this floor.
SNAPE: Straight to business, then?
MCGONAGALL: Straight to business.
SNAPE: Very well. You must know by now, well-informed as you are, that the Ministry has fallen. A quiet coup, but an effective one.
MCGONAGALL: I don’t know if I would call rounding up Muggle-Borns and putting a price on Harry Potter’s head “quiet.” The wizarding public is not as stupid as you think.
SNAPE: Be that as it may, you must have known this day was coming. The Dark Lord requires Hogwarts.
MCGONAGALL: Yes, I deduced as much from this rather illegible letter from our new Minister. I must say, Pius’s handwriting is even more atrocious than I remember — has he been Imperiused and Confunded?
SNAPE: Minerva —
MCGONAGALL: It was a matter of several minutes before I could work out that it was you who had been appointed Headmaster of Hogwarts, and not a Sincerest Snail, or possibly a Satirical Snake.
SNAPE: The Minister is well within his rights to appoint a new headmaster.
MCGONAGALL: Severus, I grow weary of Death Eaters couching their barbarism in legality and pretending that any of this is normal. You know perfectly well I refuse the authority of this new Ministry, and I will turn my position over to you the day that hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky.
Pause. SNAPE stands, and looks out the window.
SNAPE: I did miss this place.
MCGONAGALL: I weep for you.
SNAPE: Minerva, how long have we been colleagues?
MCGONAGALL: Clearly, we never were.
SNAPE: Sixteen years is the correct answer. I know that we had our differences; long-standing House rivalries that long preceded us. But throughout our time here, you consistently earned my respect and my admiration. Your dedication to teaching, your fierce loyalty to your students —
MCGONAGALL: If you are ramping up to something —
SNAPE: My point is, I should like to think that I earned your respect as well. Before, of course, the unfortunate incident this spring.
MCGONAGALL: Is this really where you would like to steer this conversation, Severus?
SNAPE: Oh, I could make all the threats you expect me to make. The might of the Ministry versus Hogwarts’ meager magical defenses, the fact that quietly stepping aside will bring far less suffering to the students of Hogwarts than an open act of defiance against the Dark Lord — but I think you would find that argument as tiresome as I do. So, I have decided to be honest. And to rely on a sense of mutual respect —
MCGONAGALL: Mutual respect?!? I. . . I am at a loss for words, Severus. I did not think I would ever hear that phrase come out of your mouth.
SNAPE: Before this spring —
MCGONAGALL: Before this spring, any less forgiving headmaster than Albus would have sacked you ten times over! The blatant bigotry against Muggle-borns, the shameless abuse of any child not in your own House! Your entire tenure was plagued with very nasty stories from down in that dungeon, let me tell you — and every time I or any teacher complained to Dumbledore?
He would say he’d speak to you about it. That’s it. Nothing changed. Not even when you bullied poor Neville Longbottom so severely that his Boggart turned into you.
One of the first policies I implemented as headmistress is that if any Boggart presents us with evidence that a student’s worst fear is a teacher, that teacher should be immediately terminated. That’s you, Severus. That is your legacy. I should have seen you for what you were ages ago. But Albus trusted you, so I did too. And would you like to know what the most damning —
SNAPE: Dumbledore was already dying.
A long, potent pause.
MCGONAGALL: . . . what?
SNAPE: I killed him, but it was not murder. You remember his blackened, withered hand throughout last year?
It was a curse. In his travels, he encountered a cursed ring that would have killed him immediately had I not quickly contained the dark magic in his hand. But it would have spread soon enough.
You are aware of the Dark Lord’s plan to have Draco kill Dumbledore?
SNAPE: Dumbledore asked me to kill him instead when the moment came, so as to preserve my standing with the Dark Lord.
MCGONAGALL: Why should I believe you.
SNAPE: Because you know it is true. Because it makes sense. Because you need to trust me.
MCGONAGALL: All that story proves is that Albus trusted you, and look where that got him.
SNAPE: Minerva, please. There are. . . tasks I must complete this year, on Dumbledore’s orders. Things I require the station of the headmaster to accomplish.
MCGONAGALL: Things he couldn’t leave to me.
SNAPE: Things he only told me about.
MCGONAGALL: . . . right. Of course. The sad part is, that is entirely plausible.
MCGONAGALL stands up. She walks over to the painting of Dumbledore, who is sleeping.
She stares at it a moment.
MCGONAGALL: (quiet, to herself) Dammit, Albus. Why’d you have to go believing the best of people?
(turning back to SNAPE) I cannot discount the possibility that Dumbledore left you crucial information. But I also cannot trust that you will use that information well.
SNAPE: Minerva, you must believe me when I say I am thoroughly devoted to bringing down the Dark Lord.
MCGONAGALL: And why the hell should I believe that?
SNAPE: Dumbledore did.
MCGONAGALL: But why? If you’re telling me you’ve secretly been on my side, Severus, you’ve got to give me proof!
SNAPE: I. . . would rather not say exactly why.
MCGONAGALL: No! The line must be drawn here, Snape! Proof!
SNAPE: I can’t!
MCGONAGALL: Proof or I shall not budge!
SNAPE: I — I was in love with Lily Evans.
MCGONAGALL: Is that it?
SNAPE: . . . yes.
MCGONAGALL: Well, that’s not exactly a secret, now is it? I doubt there was a teacher or student at Hogwarts in the seventies who couldn’t tell that.
SNAPE: . . . really?
MCGONAGALL: You were not a subtle teenager. Are you telling me this is the great secret that made Albus trust you?
SNAPE: The Dark Lord lost my loyalty when he killed her. Everything since has been in the hope of keeping her son safe.
MCGONAGALL: Merlin’s beard, Severus, we’ve all got baggage! Did Albus never tell you to get the fuck over yourself?
SNAPE: No. In fact, he seemed to think it was my only redeeming quality.
MCGONAGALL: Yes, well. He would.
SNAPE: Have I earned your trust?
MCGONAGALL: No. There is still every possibility you’re lying out your teeth. And as it stands, I would still very much like to kill you.
But killing you would of course provoke retaliation, as would kicking you out, and you are not wrong about Hogwarts’ defenses. There will be a hostile Death Eater takeover of this school sooner or later, and I should like for it to be on my terms when it happens.
And on the off chance Dumbledore did leave you a mission. . . I don’t suppose I have much choice.
SNAPE: I assume you have conditions.
MCGONAGALL: A modicum of responsibility for the safety and well-being of my students is all I ask, Severus. That, and an acceptance of the very close eye I shall be keeping on you from this point forward.
SNAPE: You have my word.
MCGONAGALL: For all that’s worth.
SNAPE: I cannot promise there will be no Death Eaters on staff.
MCGONAGALL: We’ve had scum on staff before. I presume I will teach Transfiguration again.
SNAPE: Indeed. I have the paperwork here.
They sit at the desk. SNAPE takes parchment from his cloak: MCGONAGALL takes out her quill and examines the parchment.
She holds the quill just above where she’s meant to sign.
MCGONAGALL: Headmistress for one summer. The irony is potent.
Oooohhhhh, I do not like this. I am not a happy woman.
I do very much hope you were telling me the truth today, Severus. It would be a great comfort that all the pointless cruelty in your name at least had a point.
But I don’t suppose I’ll ever really know, will I.
SNAPE: I suppose not.
MCGONAGALL: Very well then.
She signs the paper. Sudden darkness.
End of play.
(Artist for picture of Headmistress’s office: https://forums.unrealengine.com/community/work-in-progress/113089-dumbledore-s-office)