A warning to the people,

The good and the evil,

This is war.

(30 seconds from Mars, This is war)

3rd January 2000 - Countdown to trial: D-14

After the holidays, the beginning of January is usually rather slow in terms of information: the official address of the Minister to the nation; gossip of the funniest, most eccentric, most boring or most exclusive society parties; minor news items, like drunken magical accidents, that would not have othewise made the papers but for the lack of worthier things to report .

Not this year, though. Snape's trial scheduled for the 17th of January, the media embargo negotiated by Percy Weasley on behalf of the Ministry ended as soon as people finished nursing their New Year hangovers.

The press immediately burst with headlines about the forthcoming war trial – the Trial of the Millennium, they called it.

As usual, the Prophet hit harder. The 3rd of January front page screamed Severus Snape: Scoundrel or Saint?

Rita Skeeter stuck to simply asking questions, but her particular brand of innuendos sent Snape's friends into a towering rage.

She recalled that around the end of the first war Severus Snape was a young man with ambiguous sexual proclivities and dubious associations with the Death Eaters. Eyebrows were raised when he suddenly found favour with Headmaster Albus Dumbledore – an old, solitary closet homosexual with a dangerous attraction to Dark wizards like Gellert Grindelwald. (Proof and detailed revelations in this eye-opening biography, available from all good book stores: The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore).

Dumbledore's protection and favour went so far that Snape became the youngest tenured teacher at Hogwarts in three hundred years, and the youngest Head of House ever.

Suspected of being a Death Eater, Professor Snape was arrested on Hogwarts grounds in January 1982. Less than a fortnight later, he was acquitted and made a spectacular comeback at the school after Dumbledore arm-twisted Barty Crouch and the Wizengamot into recognising that the young man had been his personal spy amongst the Death Eaters.

In May 1997, Harry Potter himself witnessed Dumbledore's death at the hands of Severus Snape. As a consequence of this murder, Snape was richly rewarded by Tom Riddle who made him his most trusted advisor and had him appointed as Headmaster of Hogwarts as replacement for Dumbledore himself.

The Order of the Phoenix, primarily Minister Shacklebolt and the Boy-Who-Lived himself, Harry Potter, now claimed that these acts were necessary as part of Snape's cover as a spy, but was there not at least a hint of ruthless ambition there? Of opportunism and ingratitude? Many people were convinced that Snape was in fact playing both sides. Surely, it is not just anybody who can kill their mentor and friend, just as it is very sad when an old man's affection can be manipulated and when a great wizard is losing his grip due to old age...

And now, after the second war, it was Harry Potter's turn to become Snape's champion.

Was it not just as surprising as Dumbledore's sudden support seventeen years ago? Even more so, when one considered how Severus Snape used to berate Harry Potter as an arrogant, mediocre and reckless student, while Harry Potter's distrust and hostility towards the Potions master was well-known, at least until the very year Snape killed Dumbledore.

All of a sudden, the Boy-Who-Lived was spending an inordinate length of time with Professor Snape under the guise of regular Saturday night detentions, for an obscure reason that was never really written down but that Albus Dumbledore condoned, – like he did everything that Snape did at Hogwarts.

After Dumbledore's death, Snape fled the school… But so did Harry Potter, shortly after the Headmaster's funeral. Where did the two of them disappear?

The only objective fact was that the Boy-Who-Lived was not seen again until the Battle of Hogwarts, where he revealed publicly that Headmaster Snape had been masquerading as a Death Eater all along only to help the Light, and that he did it because he was in love with Harry Potter's mother.

How strange. Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter. Here were two great wizards. And yet, with an interval of eighteen years they suddenly began to champion Severus Snape, a wizard devoted to the Dark Arts, famous for his frightening mental skills, whom neither of them had particularly liked to begin with.

How not to suspect mental manipulation? …Or perhaps worse? The Muggles have a word for situations where helpless victims, when staying long enough at the mercy of some tormentor, come to admire, love, support and defend them. They call it 'Stockholm Syndrome'.

(None was more furious than Hermione when reading this part, after her careless comments to Alfred Constanz about Harry and Severus's relationship.)

Rita Skeeter concluded by announcing that she was planning to write a biography of the ex-Death Eater and that her readers would be astonished by the stunning background and career of Severus Snape, the wizard whose life mirrored Tom Riddle's in so many ways.

Of course, the polemic flared up instantly because everyone had an opinion about Severus Snape.

Professor Snape had been a prominent figure in many a family's discussions between parents and offspring since his very first term as a teacher. He was also a common subject of conversation between former students, one of those safe memories everyone could relate to: "Do you remember the punishement that bastard of Snape gave the whole class when Tom (or Matilda, or Marcus...) blew up their cauldron in our fifth (or fourth or seventh...) year?"

Surviving Snape's class was considered a far more significant experience and proof of coming of age than passing your NEWTs, even if most students did not pursue Potions beyond OWLs – because they either loathed the class or could not meet the Potions master's standards.

Those who attended Beauxbatons or Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts were not only usually much weaker in Potions, they were actually pitied by their peers for having missed Snape's teaching. In retrospect, many considered his Potions classes as one of those character-building experiences without which something is definitely lacking in your life, like teenage binges or childbirth.

So, discussing Snape, at least before Dumbledore's murder, was guaranteed to quickly break the awkwardness when ex-mates ran unexpectedly into each other after a long time. It eased the catching-up. "Snape finally wasn't worse than my boss... my ex... my neighbour... Do you know what they dared to do?"

After Dumbledore's death, Professor Snape was still a hot subject, but one to be avoided at all costs. He had the dubious honour to become the embodiment of treachery, but He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had ears everywhere. You would have to be very foolish or suicidal to express an opinion about one of his followers in public, particularly one who was by then Headmaster of Hogwarts and a prominent official of the regime.

And then, less than one year later, hundreds of people watched in stunned terror Harry duel Voldemort and consequently heard the revelation of Snape's loyalty.

What was deemed to be the established truth about Severus Snape was once again spun 180 degrees.

After this, the Professor's faithfulness to the memory of Lily Potter was much too good a story for the media to let go of. Papers painted him either as a sensitive suitor crushed by the death of his one true love, or as a creepy pervert obsessing over an inaccessible, dead woman.

With that kind of publicity, Severus Snape's notoriety soared to unheard-of levels internationally to the point that, years later, he would still be named third in any quiz about the Death Eaters War, after Harry Potter and Voldemort, but before Albus Dumbledore, Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley, Minister Shacklebolt or even the legendary bogeywoman, Bellatrix Lestrange. It would become a truth universally acknowledged that Severus Snape had loved Harry Potter's mother to the point of sacrificing his youth and very nearly his life to avenge her and protect her son.

At a much later point in history, the two Headmasters, Dumbledore and Snape, would even become enmeshed in folklore. Children of the children of the children of those who fought the war would tell how the two great wizards hid and nurtured Harry Potter, until the day he could claim the Death's wand and kill the Evil Lord Voldemort. They would speak of the return of Merlin, saying that Dumbledore had his looks but that, just as the first Merlin was a Slytherin, too, it was Snape who had his brains and heart. At one point, historians would even raise doubts about Snape's, Dumbledore's or Harry Potter's existence and extrapolate that they were latter-day variations on the Arthurian legends.

But our story takes place long, long before imagination and tradition will rewrite history, and the 3rd of January article was only the first of a series, constrained only by the need to respect the secrecy of the investigation.

§§§

4th January 2000 - D-13

Severus was grim as he read the news. He was not the only one, either, were it at Spinner's End, Malfoy Manor, Hogwarts or the Burrow.

The War High Court panel had just been announced. All of a sudden, the trial became much more real and tangible.

By custom, fourteen judges had been selected amongst the members of the Wizengamot by drawing lots.

By law, the Chief Witch would preside over them.

Ultima Warbeck had assumed the position right after the war by default, simply because she was the most senior surviving member of the Wizengamot. She had been since properly voted in by her peers. She was a fastidious stickler to rules with a reputation for fairness – mostly earned by steadfastly refusing to let any faction dictate her votes and opinions. Her sharp tongue and political neutrality, which her fellow members had regarded as faults for many years, now became assets that could be useful in restoring the image of the Wizengamot, tarnished over the years by the well-founded reputation for corruption and more recently by the collaboration of the great number of members with the Death Eater regime. Her only oddity was her constant bickering with her former fiancé, who was also on the Wizengamot, and whom she had abandoned almost at the altar more than a century and a half ago.

Hermione obtained permission for an extended lunch break from Constanz and Flooed to the Malfoys to discuss the court with Draco and his parents. Alexia Yaxley made a brief appearance around coffee time to confirm their opinion. It seemed to be a rather even split between the Order supporters and their opponents but the lawyer had her doubts about at least four judges, whose positions and alliances had surprisingly shifted since the end of the war. The shadow of the other Yaxley, Corban, hung over the meeting.

Hermione could not help expressing concern about it. Draco told her, a little offended, that all the Malfoys could throw an Imperius off, that it was not a skill reserved for Potter. Alexia Yaxley pursed her lips and let fall, quite coldly, "The first and last time I allowed Corban to manipulate me was before you were born."

To Hermione's surprise, her face softened as she turned to Lucius, with an affectionate, almost apologetic smile. He shrugged. "Water under the bridge, Alexia… And it was my own fault."

He made a face at Hermione's obvious curiosity, and resignedly explained, "Around the time of my father's death, Corban managed to convince the entire Yaxley family to pool funds to gift Alexia with a trip abroad for her birthday."

He hesitated and glanced at Madam Yaxley, letting her explain the rest. "I should have suspected something was wrong, since the Yaxleys hardly gave me the time of day back then, what with my having been unable to give my husband an heir and hisstill leaving me his money when he died, but I took the gift at face value, because it was much too tempting," she said bitterly. "When I came back, Lucius had taken the Mark, because I had not been there to untangle his inheritance. They properly trapped him in a tangle of obstruction and threats of asset seizure. He had to seek the Lestranges' help or risk losing everything. We were both soundly manipulated," concluded the lawyer with disgust.

"I didn't know," commiserated Hermione, somewhat guiltily. It had been all too easy, when she was younger, to assume that people became Death Eaters just because they were despicable pureblood supremacists.

The band of Slytherins all shrugged dismissively, which made Hermione feel even worse. She was staring the very prejudices and misunderstandings that drove the country in a civil war, and even the major actors like the Malfoys simply seemed resigned to this.

She had no time to say anything or exhort anyone, though, since the lawyer stood up, announcing she had to return to her office. Before stepping into the Floo, Madam Yaxley turned to Hermione. "Corban won't catch me unawares this time, I assure you." There was a dangerous gleam in her eyes, and a nasty smirk played on Lucius Malfoy's face before he turned the discussion back to the trial.

Hermione had not expected that Kingsley Shacklebolt himself would act as prosecutor.

It was the most controversial part of the procedure, because of the fusion of powers that Hermione found inappropriate. Lucius explained that it was, paradoxically, the only thing that would not be contested by the opposition because it could be pretty embarrassing for them.

When Cornelius Fudge appointed himself as the sole representative of the Ministry in politically sensitive trials, the Wizengamot happily endorsed his decision, tired as they were of dealing with inflexible fanatics like Barty Crouch. Nobody protested when Rufus Scrimgeour and then Pius Thicknesse did the same.

Minister Shacklebolt had declared at one point that he was working on a judicial reform with the intention to create a Ministry Prosecution Service and to appoint an Attorney General. Until then, he still had to fill the part and prosecute for the Ministry in the War High Court trials.

He had proved very competent so far, more so than any of his predecessors, but when told so, generally with the intention to flatter, Kingsley only responded sternly that it proved his point, since he had trained to be a lawyer before becoming an Auror.

Everything else, however, was up for debate.

First of all, many disgruntled Wizengamot members, those who had not been selected, claimed that the selection had been rigged.

Little as the public knew, it was the very generous allowance that made absentee members in the sessions of the Wizengamot a rarity, rather than personal convictions or the sense of duty. Hermione was even more scandalised to learn that, for a War High Court or any special court session, the total amount of allowance was doubled and shared between the lucky fifteen judges.

"Hell being paved with good intentions," Draco told her with a snigger, "it was originally meant to help the judges resist the temptation of corruption."

His father snorted loudly but refrained from saying aloud that corrupt judges had their uses. Instead, he elaborated, "But past Ministers used it much too often to reward their supporters."

Hermione frowned before understanding dawned. "You mean the sélections are rigged?"

"Of course," Lucius chuckled drily. Draco coughed and his father amended, "At least, before Shacklebolt. I'm sure everything is as fair as it is supposed to be, now."

This seemed to cost him a little to admit, but Hermione's sarcastically raised eyebrows made him raise the corner of his mouth. He huffed just a little as he went on, "It was often useful while it lasted. You understand now why so many Wizengamot members feel bitter at being left out… Not to mention the lost opportunity to be in the limelight or to learn Severus's secrets first hand."

Indeed, Skeeter and Co. had made a point of relaying the open discontent of several popular figures on the Wizengamot.

Cornelius Fudge was certainly the most vocal.

Since the end of the war he had been ceaselessly trying to make his comeback, but the Lord Electors chose Kingsley Shacklebolt over him as Minister. Then, the Wizengamot preferred to him that old harridan, Ultima Warbeck. He felt entitled to be bitter, all the more since he had hoped that the selection for the War High Court would be rigged. As former Minister, he knew all the ropes and would have managed to 'bend' the selection in his favour – but it was not rigged, damn that misguided and stupidly honest fool Percy Weasley!

So, Fudge made a nuisance of himself and the Prophet was only too happy to help. He claimed that calling a War High Court for Severus Snape alone was yet another clear example of the way the new Minister was squandering the taxpayer's money. A regular session of the Wizengamot could have handled the case of Dumbledore's murderer easily enough, with much less suspicion about the selection of judges.

He threw mud at anybody and everybody he could think of, speaking of the incompetence of the staff Shacklebolt hired from amongst his cronies in the Order of the Phoenix, and of their open bias in favour of the accused, particularly that of Arthur and Percy Weasley.

(In the next edition of The Quibbler, Xenophilius Lovegood would gleefully ridicule the ex-Minister by reminding him that he recruited Percy himself as his personal assistant, always promoted people like Dolores Umbridge, Corban Yaxley or Alfred Runcorn over Arthur Weasley, because the man was described as "hopelessly honest" in the staff records, and that he made a point of requesting Auror Shacklebolt's escort whenever he had a sensitive issue to deal with.)

Fudge also denounced the choice of the much too young and inexperienced Harry Potter as the Auror in charge of the investigation, and the decision to put Snape in protective custody rather than in Azkaban – the only fit place for murderers, terrorists and Death Eaters.

Harry was furious and did not understand why Kingsley or Percy did not rebut the pompous incompetent's allegations immediately. He tried to contact them, only to be told not to worry, because they had 'everything under control'.

When he handed Snape the note, the other man merely shrugged and said he did not see why he should doubt Shacklebolt who was a sly old fox, but Harry was much too angry to listen.

Hermione kept quiet, but was inwardly fuming, too. It was at the times like these that she regretted turning down the Ministry's job offers – if only for the opportunity to tell Kingsley in his face when he was acting stupidly.

They might think Fudge was a spent force, but he capitalised on his having been Minister between the wars, the time people now remembered with nostalgia, as retrospectively it seemed carefree and prosperous. He posed as the Man of Peace, as opposed to Shacklebolt whom he painted as a man of war, along with all the members of the Order of the Phoenix.

Ron did not say a word but, after sharing meaningful looks with Snape, announced that he would be dining at the Burrow. He hoped to get hints from his father – or, hopefully, from Percy himself.

Hermione reflected that it was doubtful that Percy would be able to escape the Ministry before midnight, and even if Arthur were willing to tell Ron (who worked for the Ministry, too) anything, he would be reluctant to do so around Molly. It was all very frustrating.

Harry's smothered laughter interrupted Hermione's ruminations. Looking up, she noticed that Harry put on a neutral expression and carefully avoided looking at her but Snape was gazing just above her face, strangely fascinated.

She huffed. She did not need to touch her hair to know that, once again, the dratted thing must have been twitching. It was the downside of wearing it so short.

She stood, a little briskly. "It's time for your physical, Professor." She hoped she sounded dignified.

Snape stood, too, with a sigh and followed her into the kitchen without a word.

Hermione cast the diagnostic spells and went through the usual tests in silence. She frowned at his blood pressure and the obvious signs of stress, but she knew she could do nothing.

It was the same yesterday, and she did not expect this to change before the end of the trial.

They did not have a lot of solutions, since giving a defendant about to stand trial any kind of mind-altering substances was forbidden. They only had pediatric dosages at their disposal now, but those were not strong enough to make a difference for someone like Snape, while still capable of plunging him back into his addiction to pain potions and sleeping draughts if used until the end of the trial.

Occlumency would help, but Constanz had discussed it seriously with Severus. There was always a backlash when he released the control over his emotions, and a drain on his magic that he could hardly afford while he was recovering. Severus had reluctantly agreed to reserve it for the trial, and only as a last resort.

Silence stretched between them. She had learned to read him, and it tore her up to see how hard he was trying to appear cool and indifferent, and to hide the shame that his vitals betrayed his true level of stress. She tried not to fuss but was unable to leave him to his misery, no more than she was able not to want to take advantage of the few minutes they were alone together.

She needed to talk to him and he needed a diversion. Maybe it was the right time to discuss what had been on her mind since the New Year. She had hoped that Harry would broach the subject again himself, but if he did, it must have been when she was at St Mungo's.

"What do you think of Harry's desire to become an Animagus?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

She cringed inwardly at her own lack of subtlety, even if Dilys had told her to "Just ask him, I bet he won't be surprised." She tried to forget the Headmistress's wicked little smile as she added, "Don't beat about the bush. For one thing, Severus doesn't like it… And a couple must learn to discuss things plainly."

"Dilys!"

"What? It's a good training, whoever you will end up with."

"I don't want to 'end up' with anyone."

"It's a safe decision. Choosing a life partner is meant to be only the beginning."

Hermione had chosen not to answer, mainly because she was used to never having the last word with Dilys Derwent. She was beginning to understand why Professor Snape seemed to be in a state of constant frustration where Headmaster Dumbledore was concerned, even when the two men had been on friendly terms in her early years as a student .

So, here she was, wondering if she made a mistake, as Severus Snape looked up and seemed to consider whether he was simply going to tell her to sod off or give her a good dressing-down.

"It's his own business," he said at last, thankfully not unkindly.

"You looked rather annoyed when he told us."

"If I was annoyed," Snape answered firmly, "it was for his sake. He shouldn't feel obliged to ask for my approval of what he does." He shrugged when he noticed her evident relief. "If he wants to follow in his father's steps, who am I to object ?"

"I've been wondering..." She bit her lip, but it was not out of bashfulness. She eyed him too speculatively for this. She was just wondering how direct and inquisitive she could afford to be.

She probably means to be subtle, he thought, watching her with amused fondness. "Ask away, woman," he sighed, with exaggerated resignation.

Hermione re alised that it was much more exhilarating to be called 'woman' by Severus Snape than 'darling' or 'sweetheart' by Ron back when they dated.

In retrospect, she should have realised why it felt so wrong, coming from someone she still loved so much: she just was not in love with him. On the downside, she had to acknowledge that she was in love with Severus, even if it was not the wisest thing she could do.

"I'm surprised you never tried to become an Animagus yourself," she confessed. "I can't help thinking it would have been quite useful while you were a spy."

The words made him pull a face. Still, the understanding in her smile made him answer with just a little hint of the irritation he felt, "Not everyone can become an Animagus. It requires a certain frame of mind I am not sure I possess."

"And here I thought that Occlumency would help."

"No, Occlumency works like a sort of voluntary schizophrenia. One has to compartmentalise one's thoughts, instincts and reactions to hide and control them. I have it on Minerva's authority that it is precisely the opposite with Animagi."

"But not altogether impossible?"

He raised a knowing eyebrow. "Very few things are really impossible for a determined witch or wizard."

She smiled even more widely. "I believe this is true."

"Minerva always insisted that I should at least try, but in truth, it never appealed to me."

"Why?" she asked, genuinely puzzled by his obvious reluctance. "I find there's something appealing in the idea of being somehow… More spontaneous. Free to let your inner, more primitive self take the upper hand from time to time." She spoke a little longingly now, clearly thinking of herself.

Oh, to feel free, even for a few hours…

Snape would have none of this kind of indulgence. "Our 'primitive' selves, as you say, are nothing more than savages," he declared with finality.

"You're much too severe," she protested. "I think it depends on the person, not on the animal form."

"And that's different how?"

"Decent people will still act decently in their Animagus form."

"If you say so," he said with a wry smile. He was actually thinking of Minerva, who most people thought so prim, and proper, and collected. He knew how she would change when she was angry and go hunting. It is certainly much more civilised to kill butterflies or mice than people, but it only proved that she had found a safe way to harness and release her aggression – which she did not deny.

"Professor McGonagall, for one."

He chuckled, amused that she unconsciously followed his line of thought but with a slightly different conclusion. "I rest my case."

"I will tell her," she threatened amicably.

"I don't care. Minerva already knows the worst about me." Turning serious, he added, "You should discuss it with her, though. There is a reason why registration is a legal obligation for Animagi, and it is for this very reason thatso many people avoid it."

Hermione pouted. "Because one can take advantage of others?"

"Of course. It always comes back to power, in the end."

She thought how sad it was that he did not have a shred of illusion or faith left in his fellow wizards. Then she reflected that, after experiencing on her own flesh, and now professionally in St Mungo's, the consequences of ethnic cleansing according to the Death Eaters, some days she had not that much faith left, either. Let alone…

"Severus!" she exclaimed, feeling the need to warn him. "Do you know that Rita Skeeter is an Animagus?"

He blinked. "How would you know this?"

"Do you remember the Tri-Wizard Tournament? All those horrible articles about Harry and me? And everyone else?"

He nodded with narrowed eyes.

"I caught Draco and his friends talking to a beetle. And pouf, all they said was in the Prophet the next day."

"It doesn't prove-" he began half-heartedly, but she interrupted him.

"But it does! The next time I spotted the beetle, I trapped it in a containement jar. It was Rita Skeeter!"

Snape's mouth opened in surprise that almost instantly turned to anger. "Do you realise the risks-"

"She's an unregistered Animagus. She risked much more than I did."

"Skeeter had powerful patrons and they could..." He stopped abruptly, before sighing with a hint a resignation, "But you're a Gryffindor, of course."

"I certainly don't regret stopping her, or blackmailing her later into interviewing Harry for the Quibbler."

"That was you?" Snape asked, with some very gratifying awe.

"Yes," she declared proudly.

"I always thought that was Albus," he said, looking pensive. "I told so to Voldemort."

"What matters is that Harry had at least one opportunity to announce Voldemort's return."

"I still say you were very, very lucky."

He could see she was not persuaded, while he retrospectively shuddered at the mere thought of what could have happened if Voldemort had learned she was responsible for that piece of bad publicity. He decided that it was no use to frighten her now, although she had to realise the danger of playing with people who have too much to lose.

"Power corrupts," he pronounced, "and the particular power to hide who you are and to use the animal senses and capabilities that humans don't have is dangerous. Do you know that it is a cliché in wizarding whodunits to make the murderer an unregistered Animagus?"

"Yes, and they are indeed so cliché, that I'd much rather read a good muggle mystery."

"The point is that decent people supposedly have nothing to hide, hence the obligation to register."

"You would have had a lot of things to hide," she said meditatively.

He sighed, seeing that she had completely missed his point, while she wondered what made him do so.

"Are you an Animagus, after all? An unregistered one?"

"I already told you I am not," he said, rather offended. "Whether or not you choose to believe me..."

"I believe you," she exclaimed. "It's only that I can imagine so well you being a secret Animagus on top of all the other things you did."

He rolled his eyes. "I have no use for a vulnerable Animagus."

She considered him with open curiosity. "Why do you think it would be vulnerable?"

"A doe can't defend itself other than by trying to outrun predators. It is naturally a prey. All the more reason for me to avoid my Animagus spirit," he concluded with a mien of disgust.

"You're certainly not a vulnerable wizard. I don't believe you would have been a doe. I wonder what your original Patronus was."

"Was?" He laughed mirthlessly and pulled out his wand. "Expecto Patronum".

The doe appeared instantly. It paused to consider Hermione, sniffing her slightly but bolted behind Snape when the young woman instinctively tried to touch its muzzle.

She looked up to find him watching her with a wistful expression.

"It's always been a doe," he said. "But, of course, everyone just assumes that it changed to mirror Lily's."

She was so surprised, she could not think of anything to say but stood there, open-mouthed.

"Albus himself always believed that it must have changed under Lily's influence. I suppose my being... What I am... Makes it impossible for anyone to entertain the thought that I would be able to conjure something as graceful and beautiful as a doe by myself." He shook his head, before adding self-deprecatingly, "I hardly believe it myself most of the time."

The doe came from behind him as if it felt the need to comfort him and nuzzled his hand. He smiled sadly down at the graceful emanation of his inner self.

"I don't really know where Lily's influence begins and where it ends," he said, finally looking at Hermione again. She held her breath, knowing he was about to reveal something very intimate. "She found out about Patronuses from a book sometime during our second year and could not rest until we practised together to try to produce one. It just happened that we produced the same one."

Dumbfounded, Hermione could not help asking, "Who conjured it first? You or Lily?"

"Believe it or not, I did." She felt oddly relieved, as Snape explained, "Lily was reading aloud to instruct me on how to cast the spell. It took me a while, but once I managed it, it was unmistakably a doe. Maybe not as clear and strong as this one," he said, gently petting the affectionate Patronus."But close enough. When it was Lily's turn, she first produced an unformed mist, but very soon, another doe emerged."

"Oh!" Hermione said, feeling silly about all her assumptions. So little is known about the way the unconscious produces a Patronus. Lily and Severus must have been very close, or they shared a true kinship of minds. She did not think that they were old enough to long for each other romantically in their second year, but the truth was much more beautiful as it was.

"Does," she repeated, in a dreamy voice. "Matching does." It spoke of so much innocence and inward beauty… She could not say it aloud, fully knowing he would scoff at the idea.

"I was thirteen, but very small and underdeveloped," he said somewhat reluctantly, although he was sure she found this in his medical record. Hermione nodded sombrely. She did indeed know Snape's record almost by heart, including Poppy Pomfrey's report, when she diagnosed him in September 1973 with malnourishment, stunted growth and exhaustion due to the excess of manual work with his father.

"Constanz thinks that my Patronus shows I was vulnerable at the time, and that my personality and sexual identity were still undefined." He cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable. "He actually used the word 'innocence'."

So doI, she thought sadly, fully aware that he would take it as a mockery if she actually voiced it.

Indeed, his voice was laced with sarcasm as he claimed, "I'm very aware that I'm nobody's idea of a gentle soul."

"Don't be so sure," she felt compelled to say.

"Please," he answered, scoffing at the idea. "The fact that I'm not an utter bastard doesn't make me the embodiment of Raphael's little angels. I wouldn't like the halo, anyway."

"Halos are for saints," she pointed out, "Not for angels."

"Know-it-all!" he said, in a tone that was practically affectionate, coming from him. When said like this, she certainly did not mind. "People would expect my Patronusand my Animagus if I had oneto reflect what they believe me to be at heart... Something frightening, disgusting or lethal," he admitted ruefully. "Say, a spider, a scorpion or a snake… Or some sort of predator."

He shrugged, making clear that he had been fully aware of his students' speculations over the years. "It simply appeared as a doe, and I didn't question it at the time. In fact, Lily and I were practically convinced for a very long time that most people must have a doe Patronus."

He pursed his lips into a thin, bitter line. "You may imagine how I felt when I discovered what James Potter's Animagus was." He tried to laugh but it only came out as a bitter chuckle. "I may have been as much in shock at this as at the werewolf trying to Attack me."

The doe dissipated, leaving Hermione feeling somehow bereft. Severus seemed fascinated by his own feet and it took him some time before he could look up and go on, "I certainly didn't want to risk facing either of them in their Animagus form."

The way he told it, Hermione felt a shiver of fear along her spine. She managed to ask, "Did they know about your Patronus?"

"Of course, not," he jeered, "or I would have never heard the end of it."

So, that was what he meant by 'a vulnerable Animagus'. He had never tried to transform because he was terrified of what the Marauders' own Animagi could do to his doe. Harassment and bullying often contain some form of sexual humiliation on top of the verbal and physical violence, and it was obvious from Poppy's files as well as from Phineas's and Dilys's tales or what Harry spied in Snape's pensieve that Dumbledore had overlooked a lot of outrageous things.

"Never mind what Voldemort would have deduced and done if he had known."

She could not help sighing. There were so many layers to this man, and each seemed to uncover a fresh vein of dark secrets or emotional traumas.

"To be fair, I'm the first to admit I find it difficult to imagine what kind of natural affinity I have with an animal that symbolises sweetness and femininity." He chuckled drily. "No doubt, there are those who would say that life obviously didn't make me a typical male. They would take that as proof that either I'm really sleeping with Lucius and the likes of Yaxley, or I must be in strong denial."

She shrugged. "In some traditions, the doe also represents protection and the quest for hidden knowledge. That's typical you!"

He blinked.

"It's a compliment," she told him with aplomb, "And I expect you to take it gracefully."

"Why, thank you…" he said with less irony than usual before pursing his lips. "Even if I can't help feeling disappointed that I didn't outgrow the doe… If only to stop being seen as the fool who pines for a dead woman."

Aren't you? Hermione wanted to ask. She wanted to be sure of his feelings about Lily, absolutely sure – but he had already taken offence when she seemed to doubt him when he said he was not an Animagus.

"You shouldn't," she said. "Your doe is adorable."

She spoke with unmistakable sincerity but he pulled a face. "You could not choose a different word?"

She smiled cheekily. "It's very sweet, if you prefer."

"It's even worse."

"Nice? Pleasant?"

He shook his head, trying to hide his smile.

She affected a frown of deep concentration, before exclaiming genially, "I know. It's cute!"

"Impertinent woman," he said, his tone lighter than it had been for several days. It earned him a happy grin that he immediately filed in his heart as Pensieve-worthy. How come this witch could lighten his heart so easily?

"Many people assume that Lily's and James Potter's Patronuses matched because they were so very much in love," Hermione said thoughtfully as she heard his derisive snort. "I assumed as much when I first heard about it, and so did Harry, but I understand now that they both found their Patronuses long before becoming involved."

"There is love and then there is compatibility," he said, instantly turning sarcastic. "I suppose their Patronuses were proof that they were very compatible, even if I wouldn't go so far as to say that they were made for each other."

"Since you shared the same Patronus, I would say that you and Lily were certainly much more compatible."

"Or too much alike," he said with a shrug that finally convinced her. "Harry is still dreaming of might-have-beens and about another timeline where I would have been his father." He was clearly disapproving. "I try to tell him that Lily and I wouldn't have lasted, but he's much too stubborn to listen."

Hermione felt like cheering or dancing at this clear dismissal of his attachment to Lily. "You're one to talk," she joked. "I believe you're much more stubborn than Harry… And this is not a compliment," she added severely when he bowed rather smugly – although her smile contradicted her own words.

§§§

Ron returned immediately after dinner. It was no use waiting for Percy. His father only had time for a quick bite himself before going back to the Ministry for another late Cabinet meeting.

The Minister was now running a constant flow of security meetings to prepare for Snape's trial but also to decide how to deal with the opposition and the media. Arthur was not sure what Kingsley really had in mind, but he seemed oddly satisfied with the reactions of the opposition so far.

Ron himself, as well as the other Aurors, had several meetings scheduled with Head Auror Dawlish, mostly to rehearse security procedures and for the inevitable updates. The Ministry was preparing for a siege, be it by the press, the public, the political activists always ready to use any occasion to draw attention to themselves, or Death Eater terrorists.

There was also a renewed stream of howlers and death threats against Snape, but all in all, nothing that they had not anticipated.

Ron glanced a little nervously at Snape, who stood and went to stir up the fire before leaning, much too casually, against the fireplace. "Let me guess," said the Professor. "Since the Ministry published the composition of the War High Court today, tomorrow they will read out the indictment." He sounded resigned.

"Yes," admitted Ron, hating to be the harbinger of bad news.

"Well," was all Snape could say.

The trio shared concerned looks while Snape stayed by the fireside, apparently calm and indifferent but for his left fist tightly clenched around the hem of his pullover. That was still his tell, Harry noticed sadly.

Severus repeated to himself that none of this was a surprise. Shacklebolt had warned him, before he left St Mungo's, that everything would erupt in the last fortnight, since this was part of the deal struck to enforce the media embargo.

Percy had impressed on the journalists that the Ministry took the threats against Severus Snape, who had not yet revealed all his secrets, very seriously, and that they would all face charges if sensitive information was released at the wrong moment before the trial.

The media agreed to wait until January before raising the big ruckus. In return, the Ministry promised that, unless certain sessions were held in camera by the Court to protect state secrets or to grant anonymity to the victims who had requested it, they would allow reliable representatives of the press in the courtroom. It was a threat as much as an incentive, since no journalist would run the risk of having their press badge revoked just before Snape's trial.

§§§

5th January 2000 – D-12

There was no need for the Prophet to find catchy titles to arouse the public's interest. Simply listing the main charges against Severus Snape did it all too well.

High treason.

Crimes against wizardkind.

Terrorist conspiracy.

War crimes.

It was plastered in bold all over the front page with his last official photograph as Headmaster.

Snape's hopeless love for Lily Potter may have fired the imagination and fantasies of hundreds of people – particularly witches – but when you looked at his harsh, grim features, he certainly looked the part of Tom Riddle's right-hand man.

Other outlets, like the Quibbler, were much more restrained, even if they all published the same list. The Quibbler's headline read "Innocent Until Proven Guilty", the point other journalists felt the need to remind their readers of, too.

They also published interviews and statements of various people such as Molly Weasley, her son Bill, Minerva McGonagall or Elphias Doge. They all officially declared their support for their friend or colleague Severus Snape and stated that they were confident that he would prove his innocence.

Several journalists tried to obtain statements from Harry, Ron or Arthur Weasley, but to no avail, "obligation of discretion and confidentiality" being the only answers they could get.

As for Hermione, they just could not get to her. Whenever they tried, Healer Granger was always busy giving consultations, training with one or another healer, in the operating rooms or off duty.

Whatever side they supported, all newspapers significantly increased their circulation, a sure indication of interest on the part of the public, who swept up almost every available newspaper in the last two days.

§§§

Harry was impatiently pacing around the table in the cramped little kitchen, while Snape was having physiotherapy in the sitting room. He was very edgy, all the more since the Professor had not said a word after reading the Prophet but sat stiffly at the breakfast table, without touching any food.

Not that Harry ate much more, to Fuzzy's obvious distress – the elf had taken on breakfast duties since Moppy slept later and longer in these last days of her pregnancy.

Hermione was desperately trying not to ignore Harry's nervous fidgeting. Constanz had let her leave as soon as they finished reading the daily press review Draco had decided to run for all of them until the end of the trial. "Go to him," he had told her grimly, "and call me at once if you think I can help."

She was now listening to Snape cursing Healer Babbock, who was once again refusing to let him exert himself beyond his capabilities.

"I am telling you I've got a second wind!" Snape kept insisting. "I can do another set. I want to!"

"But your forearm tendons can't afford the effort, since you carry too much tension in the shoulders as I've been telling you," Babbock explained for the umpteenth time with the same patience. "You will complain tomorrow that you can't dice or cut as you wish because of the soreness, not to mention the constant ache all along your arm."

"Then I will work my muscles harder, and the soreness will go away."

"It would go away if it were muscle soreness," Babbock countered with just a hint of exasperation. "You've got tendinitis as well as bursitis in this forearm. You must be more careful or..."

"I don't have time to be careful!" was the stubborn but somewhat panting answer.

When Harry sighed, "Here we go again!"

Hermione frowned."He does this often?" she asked, instantly concerned.

"Regularly."

Babbock's voice rose again. "A fat lot of good it'll do you whenMerlin!" The healer's voice suddenly rose, concern mixed with annoyance. "You've done it again!"

Hermione was already standing, shooing Harry away from the door, and peering cautiously into the sitting room that had been transformed, like most mornings, into an exercise room.

Babbock had pushed Snape, whose left forearm was shaking helplessly, into his armchair. He was rubbing it with a cooling salve and lecturing his former teacher in the voice one generally uses with naughty children. "We had to replace all the tendons dissolved by the venom reacting with your Dark Mark. Of course, the new ones can't be as supple as those in your good arm! And why do I have to remind you that, combined with your medicines, this also makes you prone to cramps?! Really, Professor, you do yourself no favour when you put in more effort into these exercises than I ask for."

Harry pushed Hermione to the side to have a better look himself. At the sudden move, both Babbock and Snape looked up. Snape tried to scowl, but it was obvious he was in too much pain to really care.

Babbock pursed his lips and addressed himself to Hermione. "See what I have to deal with?" he sighed. "I hope you have a better success making him understand what's in his best interest."

"He's here, in case you didn't notice," groused Snape.

"But you won't listen to me, so I hand you over to Healer Granger. I hope she will make you see reason." He turned to Hermione. "He's earned himself the whole RICE sequence, now. Rest, Ice, Compression-" he enumerated coldly, although he turned a little so that Snape could not see him wink at her.

"And Elevation," Hermione completed the list just as coldly. She scowled at Snape. "There, are you happy now?"

"You don't understand," he said sullenly.

She leaned menacingly until they were practically nose to nose. This distracted him from the pain. "I understand very well but you will rest your arm, even if I have to tie you to your bed!"

There was a guffaw behind them. Harry.

"Is this a proposition, Hermione?" Snape tried to joke, although there was no conviction in his low, tired voice.

"No, Severus," she said, deadly serious. "This is a decision."

He closed his eyes and, somehow, his entire posture and face shifted a little. His forearm stopped trembling. When he opened his eyes, in their cold and hard expression they instantly recognised the terror of the dungeons. Now that they all knew a different side to his personality, this was particularly disturbing.

"I need to be fit for my trial."

Hermione clucked her tongue. She wanted to remind him that he had promised Alfred not to Occlude but knew better than taking him to task in front of Harry and her colleague. "And you will be," she said, more pleadingly than she meant, "if you will only listen to Healer Babbock."

Snape looked up at the other healer, who was observing their interaction with great interest. "Ten days," he said, trying not to sound defeated.

"Done," answered Babbock, quick as a flash. "But on my terms."

Snape stared at him for what seemed like an interminable time. The young healer stared back, although he still found Snape's gaze as unnerving as when he had been his student.

"I trust you," Snape said at last, almost threateningly.

Babbock blinked before giving a start when Harry pounded him on the back and stage-whispered, "Welcome to the club! It's not as hard as it sounds."

Snape snorted but Hermione put a warning finger an inch from his nose. "You, shut up!" she commanded.

Snape began to open his mouth, before thinking better of it as he watched the ends of her hair begin to stir.

In a true whisper, this time, that neither Snape nor Hermione heard, focused as they were on each other, Harry told Babbock, "Thank you, Yann. I'll owe you one."

§§§

The evening papers published another statement by Cornelius Fudge, who accused the Minister of lying to the Wizengamot about the severity of the charges against Snape in order to protect a criminal.

For once, the answer from the Ministry was immediate.

Senior Undersecretary Percy Weasley, as spokesman for the government, denounced the opposition's poor ploy of raising controversy for the sake of it. Judicial procedures had been respected to the letter. Besides, what could be a better proof of the seriousness the Ministry accorded to the charges than calling a War High Court rather than dealing with them in an ordinary Wizengamot session, as if Severus Snape were merely accused of ordinary crimes? Minister Shacklebolt and his government adhered to the sacred principle which is presumption of innocence, though. They did not write people off as criminals before they were tried, a basic principle of democracy Lord Fudge seemed to have forgotten.

§§§

6th January 2000 - D-11

The publication of the indictment gave the signal to the foreign media to join the dance around Snape's trial.

Draco sent the most significant articles with his press review. There were titles like Severus Snape: the end of Dumbledores era or Snape and Dumbledore: Britain's two-faced heroes.

On the one hand, it was comforting to read that they did not doubt that Severus Snape truly was Albus Dumbledore's man and believed that many of the charges would not hold in front of the War High Court.

On the other hand, they raised the right questions: does the harshness and necessities of war excuse everything? Many thought that any verdict the War High Court would hand down would be unsatisfactory.

Beyond stating that he rather shared these opinions, Snape refused to discuss the matter and immersed himself in furious writing and work – so furious, in fact, that Hermione almost cried out when she stole a look at what he was doing: he was putting all his papers into order. He clearly did not expect to return.

It was obvious from Ron and Harry's grim faces that they reached the same conclusion, but none of them dared to say anything. They all respected Snape's need to bring what he could under control.

Inevitably, the sensationalists in the foreign press immediately focused on the charges of rape and sexual abuse of students, while the British media were still treading carefully around the taboo question.

People knew but pretended this did not happen. The war, yes. Horrors, of course. Death, exile, deportation, even mass killings. But rape as a terror tool and the accompanying shame? The unwanted pregnancies, with bastard children of the Death Eaters and snatchers brought up by the muggleborn or progressives' families? The exploding abortion numbers during the war? Certainly not. This part, that touched so many families in the most intimate, the most secret or sacred part of their lives, they refused to discuss.

In the previous rounds of War trials, most victims were not summoned to court, and the press obligingly did not raise the question.

However, titles like 'Hogwarts: a school above reproach?' and even an outrageous 'The Hogwarts Paedophile Ring' were bound to echo in Britain, once the first shock wore off.

§§§

7th January 2000 – D-10

Ron suspected that Moppy did it on purpose.

Hermione insisted later that it was not possible, but he would not put it past the elf to decide when she wanted to go into labour, because she did it before Snape had time to do more than stare helplessly at the Prophet for ten minutes.

Rape and violence at Hogwarts

15 families press charges against Snape, Ministry reveals

How many more?

Rita Skeeter had obviously managed to get her hands on the complaints, but she only hinted at their content, no doubt careful to avoid the Ministry investigation into the breach of confidentiality or her being barred from the courtroom. She only named Allison Hatter, the young Gryffindor who died in Azkaban, since her story had already been revealed during Amycus Carrow's trial. Her smiling face had gone around the world as the symbol of Death Eater brutality.

Snape discarded the paper when Fuzzy Apparated in front of him in a panic. "Master! The baby's coming!"

Snape stood and ran upstairs, to the elves' rooms in the attic, shouting at the same time to the father-to-be, "What are you waiting for? Fetch Zimpsy and Winky! "

"And Kreacher?" Fuzzy asked desperately, "Moppy said Kreacher, too."

"Yes! But go, go, go!" Before he finished the first "Go!", Fuzzy had already Apparated away.

TBC


As usual, all my thanks to Tra8erse for her useful suggestions, meticulous corrections and for making this chapter so much better.

I also want to apologize to the reviewers of the last chapter. I don't know what is wrong with my account, but I don't get anymore the alert about new reviews. I discovered them so late it would have been indecent to answer, but every message was deeply appreciated.