Chapter Eleven -Fire and Hot Chocolate

Virginia Rushbrooke's skin suddenly cleared and she recovered (as did her father, at the wizarding hospital of St Raphael). A handful of the other Hogwarts patients were on the mend. At Dumbledore's request an inspector came from the Department of Magical Health to study the treatment process Hogwarts had developed. He interviewed key staff and made copious notes.

By the end of the following week there had been a marked improvement. There was a net decrease in occupation of the hospital wing beds. St Mungo and its satellites were producing their own potions and gum; their process being on a larger scale than was possible at Hogwarts. Marius Findlayter, the Minister for Magic had for some time been working in close co-operation with the Muggle Prime Minister, and once the Hogwarts treatments looked like they were going to be safe and effective, details of the preparations were progressively leaked to the pharmaceutical research laboratories linked to several major universities. It looked as though the epidemic was finally easing and the medical profession would be better prepared for recurrences in future years. After announcing that event, the Muggle press gave it less attention. The weather was still cold but dry. There was a stinging north-east wind but nevertheless the air held an unsuppressible promise of spring.

By the end of the first week in March the distillation process was curtailed in the Potions classroom as any further supplies of Zenthem gum could be obtained from the laboratories attached to the seven wizarding hospitals. The greenhouses were still in production however – supplies were now coming in from abroad, but nevertheless Hogwarts remained for the time being a significant source of Spartina argenta leaves for the magical community in Britain, a situation not lost on the Minister for Magic.

It was three weeks to the end of term. The staff were looking forward to getting the school back to normal – teaching to the timetable once again and working their normal hours, getting the Quidditch teams back into training and enjoying Hogsmeade weekends. And not worrying that every visitor was a potential source of infection.

Hogsmeade hadn't escaped the epidemic. Ophelia Namdrake, the witch who for decades had run the Lilac Tea-Time tea rooms, had succumbed to the disease and the empty shop was boarded up.

However students were returning to the school. At dinner on 8th March Dumbledore looked out over a sea of happy faces. Sadly there were a number of permanent gaps in the House tables, but the students' mood was generally upbeat.

Celeste was again sitting with Hagrid and Filch. She sat beside Snape at breakfast but returned to her old seat for lunch and dinner. She liked to keep up with news from the Caretaker and she was very fond of the kindly Hagrid. Hagrid particularly appreciated her company because she was one of the few people he could meaningfully confide in about his hit and miss love affair with Olympe Maxime. As she had been Celeste's Headmistress, the trainee teacher's sympathy and advice were important to him.

In her own mind, Celeste no longer felt like a trainee. She had 'proved herself' in the eyes of the faculty staff, and was now more akin to a colleague than a student. The Professors still had a wealth of knowledge and experience she had not yet acquired, but she possessed areas of expertise they did not share, that had enabled her to make a contribution none of them could have made.

Snape was relieved to note that Celeste looked quite fit; she was not so thin and her skin had regained its bloom. She and Hooch had resumed their early morning runs. Unquestionably, Celeste had become Snape's friend. Apart from Madeline Hooch whom he could almost count as a friend and Felix Flitwick with whom he enjoyed the occasional game of chess, Snape had not had a true friend since his own school days. His manner had never encouraged friendship. Celeste seemed relaxed in his presence now and never reproached him for his hostility earlier in the year. He was deep in thought about her when Dumbledore's voice sounded in his ear.

"How are you, Severus?" While Snape had been gazing at Celeste, Dumbledore had setteld quietly into the late Professor Vector's chair.

"I'm fine" Snape replied. "Never better."

Dumbledore followed his gaze to Celeste. "Good to see her smiling again, isn't it" he murmured. "Did you know that she and Amy went to visit the Wilson twins' parents?"

"Oh yes" Snape said, letting his gaze continue to rest on the trainee teacher. "Celeste wasn't looking forward to it, but felt she had to do it. As far as I can gather they both coped very well." He turned to Dumbledore and added "The Wilson boys' parents are – not surprisingly – still numb with shock."

"As I would have expected" Dumbledore replied sadly. He fell silent for a moment and then continued. "The Ministry are talking of making a presentation to the school and to some of the staff for our achievement in combating the epidemic. I believe they are thinking in terms of a plaque for the school and certificates for the individuals. I have asked them not to hold any ceremony it in term time; we have lost so much ground this year. So we may have a trip to London during the Easter holidays."

"I will enjoy that" Snape said. "Headmaster, you haven't yet made any announcement about the pupils who died, nor about Dora. Do you plan to do so?"

"I do; but not until the end of the year" Dumbledore confirmed. "A few of the students have still to return, and some of them have parents or siblings in a delicate state of health. The problem is not totally quashed. But as you see, the survivors are quite buoyant – I believe that is a normal reaction. I haven't the heart to dampen their spirits so soon. However, that need not stop you and Amy writing up your findings for your journals. Amy has started on her article for The Master Herbal, and Celeste is helping. I presume you are writing something for The Potion Maker?"

"I am."

"Giving Celeste some of the credit I hope."

"Of course." Snape looked a little irked at the implication that he might do otherwise. "You may rely on that, Headmaster" he said emphatically.

Dumbledore smiled, amused at how situations could change so radically.

Snape was hoping to talk to Celeste at the weekend but she disappeared to London on the Saturday, just after breakfast. His attention was taken by a letter he received by owl and he didn't notice her slip away. The letter was one of the very few pieces of post he ever received – the subscription renewal for his club. He took it to his chambers, wrote out a Gringotts bank transfer form to authorise the payment, and enclosed the club's remittance advice. It was now ready to attach to an owl that evening. He searched the castle for Celeste but she was nowhere to be found. She didn't reappear until tea time.

On Sunday morning after breakfast he put aside his dislike of being outdoors and suggested they take a walk through the Forbidden Forest. Celeste had become so important to him, he was determined to 'bite the bullet' and make a start on being open about some of his dark past. It seemed necessary because of their developing friendship, and Snape also nurtured the tentative beginnings of particular hopes for the future. He was interested too, to hear about Celeste's early life. He realised he had long ago made certain assumptions about her, but aside from the details on her training application form he knew very few facts.

They held their wands at the ready as they entered the forest. It was a dangerous place but they were both powerfully magical and experienced people, so they had relatively little to fear. As they walked Celeste began her tale.

"I grew up in Northumberland" she explained. "My father, who is French, taught French at an English state comprehensive school. My mother was an Auror. That was a bit of a joke in the family because her name is Aurora – Aurora the Auror, you see. I went to a Muggle Primary School and so did my brothers before me. We were all down to go to Hogwarts when we turned eleven."

"But none of you came to Hogwarts. I would have remembered" Snape pointed out.

"Yes. That is perfectly true" Celeste said hesitantly "We none of us came." She walked on for several paces without speaking. Snape realised she had already got to the point of saying something difficult – a situation he knew only to well.

"You see, something happened" she continued at last. "It was the time of He Who Must Not Be Named's early rise to power – 1978. I was almost eight and Mother had returned to work a year or so earlier. She had arrested several Death Eaters and there was a price on her head. They failed to capture her, but they took my father and my two brothers captive instead. They killed my brothers. My father, they tortured for information, but he would say nothing. I don't think he knew anything, anyway. It was all so pointless. So horribly pointless." Again Celeste fell silent for a while, and again, with difficulty she took up the story once more. "Eventually, out of spite, they set his robes ablaze." Her voice quavered and she compressed her lips in the way he had seen he do when she was fighting not to get upset.

At length Snape asked "Couldn't he cool the flames?"

His simple and obvious suggestion stopped Celeste in her tracks, and her face when she turned to him bore an expression of incredulity. "My father is a Muggle" she explained. "He has no magical powers. When he married my mother he always dressed in wizard robes at home; he was always very much at home in the wizarding world. No. He had no means of cooling the flames."

They resumed their walk. "He was badly burnt" she continued, "but he survived. He hung on. With help, Mother rescued him and got him to St Mungo's. My brother's bodies were recovered too. They were virtually unmarked; they must have been killed by a curse. Father spent months in hospital. His body is a mass of scar tissue but his face, amazingly, was untouched." She smiled. "He is still handsome. I longed for him to come home but … well … I didn't realise what it would be like. He was a broken man. He used to have nightmares. Dreamless Sleep would help but it clashed with other treatments, and anyway as you know, you can't take it continually, week in week out. It's a dangerous potion.

"I became affected by Father's nightmares and began to have them too. It got to the stage where I was afraid to go to sleep. My schoolwork went to pieces. After a few months of that my parents decided they had to do something about it. I was getting progressively worse. Mother spoke to Uncle Albus and Professor McGonagall, and she also got in touch with Olympe Maxime at Beauxbaton. A place was found for me at Beauxbaton and I was allowed to start a year early. My parents wanted to move – make a clean break. When I started at Beauxbaton they moved to France, but I was not allowed home while Father was there. He, however, spent long periods at St Mungo's, so I could sometimes go home for a while in the holidays. My dorm mates were good to me at Beauxbaton. The staff explained about the nightmares and everyone rallied round and helped me. My House Master, Professor Peor, was very supportive.

"Doing my first year twice, I was soon well ahead with my schoolwork. The rest you know. I got good exam passes, then moved to London and did a Muggle degree. Once I left Beauxbaton my parents sold their house in France and settled in the Scilly Isles. They live there now, on their own island. It's wrapped in enchantments. That's why we don't have electricity at home – the island has more spells weaved around it than Hogwarts has. Even so, my parents never feel entirely safe. You can't just Apparate there – when I want to go home Mother sends me a Portkey."

Their amble through the forest had brought them to the River Hogg. There was a tree near the water's edge with a sturdy horizontal branch. "Let's sit and look at the water" Celeste suggested, so they manoeuvred themselves onto the branch, Snape with far more difficulty than Celeste, who despite her cloak, was so at home clambering in trees.

She stared out across the river for some time, idly swinging her legs. Snape sat beside her as they gazed over the forest-clad far bank to the distant snow capped mountains. "Why did you go to Romania?" he asked at length.

"Fire" she replied simply. "I have this horror of fire, you see. It was turning into a phobia; even made some lessons a bit difficult. We had a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson where our Professor, Septimus Peor, used a Boggart and asked us each to consider what it would turn into, and plan how we would overcome it. I knew what my Boggart would be – what I saw in my nightmares – my father screaming, wreathed in fire. Well … I could come up with absolutely no plan for coping with that, so I had to opt out of that lesson. Professor Peor talked it through with me afterwards and got me thinking about how I might learn to rationalise my fear. He spent a lot of time with me, working on it. He was very kind, and patient. It took me some years to straighten it all out in my head, but eventually I decided just to face up to dealing with real fire. Working with dragons seemed like a way to test it; see if I could come to terms with real situations. I arranged to see Vlady Gordeev, discussed it with him, and he was keen for me to try. Wanted to help me. He, too, was very supportive. People have been good to me over the years."

"And was it useful, working with dragons?"

"Oh yes! I haven't had true nightmares for years."

I have to ask, Snape thought. I have to know for sure. "You met Charlie Weasley there, didn't you. Were you in love with him?"

"We were lovers for a time" Celeste said frankly, "but, no, I wasn't in love with him. I don't know how to explain this – people seem to want to misunderstand it, and Stella's gossiping doesn't help. Charlie is a really nice person. He's kind; he's considerate; he'll make a great husband, and father too, no doubt. But I've never been in love with him. If I was, I could have married him – he did ask me! That's when I realised things were getting too serious. I'd be wrong for him. It was tempting in its way, but I wasn't prepared to wreck his life and mine by accepting his proposal. I like him far too much to do that to him."

"So that's why you left?" Snape ventured.

She didn't answer directly, her mind had moved on.

"He didn't understand" she said sadly. "I think he does now that he's met Mandy." She sighed and stretched her arms over her head to release the tension. "Orrh … I'm bored with me … with me … with hearing about me! Come on, Severus; let's hear about you."

If Snape had been dreading this at the outset, his fears had multiplied tenfold since he heard Celeste speak of Death Eaters, and even of her House Master's use of a Boggart. He was shocked at the way events in his past came back to haunt him. How was she going to feel when he admitted to once having been a Death Eater?

Stealing himself to face up to it, he started by telling her about his childhood. She remembered the photograph of his parents; his tall, grim-looking father and his kindly young mother. He told her about growing up in Suffolk, in a small but imposing Tudor manor house not many miles from the village that bears his family name. He explained that local Muggles kept away from the Snape family; they were considered to be weird. Severus wasn't allowed to go to Muggle school. His father Sebastian taught him at home. When Severus was six year's old, Miranda, his mother died. There was no proper inquest and the cause was never established.

Sebastian was a great potion maker and had his own laboratory at home. He was a stern, silent man whom Severus feared. "I could never please him" Snape said hopelessly. "I just seemed to be in the way. I did learn a great deal from him, however. A very great deal. But he was extremely strict." Snape paused, almost visibly shaking, as, unbidden, a memory intruded into his consciousness – a recollection of a day when his father had threatened to force a swelling solution down his throat because Severus had accidentally broken a glass retort. He had never been able to decide if his father would really have done so – nor if he had, if he would then have administered the deflating draft in time or let his only son swell to death.

"He seemed pleased to get rid of me to Hogwarts" Snape continued. "And in fact things were easier once I settled in. I knew a good deal more than my peers, and I actually felt more secure than at home. I even made some friends for the first time in my life – Madeline Hooch who was in the year above mine, and Lucius Malfoy who was in the sixth year. I knew more about the making of potions than did Lucius, even though he thought himself so good. Until then I never had any friends. And since those days Madeline was the only person I could describe as a friend, until now. Until you.

"My father died when I was twelve. I have never been able to grieve for him. Two business associates of his – Gaius Avery and Aurelius Malfoy – saw to the funeral arrangements, and the London solicitors Lazarus, Brownlow & Slope took care of the legal affairs. They relocated our house-elves, put the house up for sale and put the contents into long-term storage for me. I was allowed to go home briefly to take a few personal possessions, but I let most of it go into storage. The house now belongs to the National Trust – a Muggle organisation. They have filled it mostly with Regency and Edwardian furniture but it still looks quite attractive. Muggles browse the knot garden on sunny Sunday afternoons – they do not know they are looking at my parents' grave. Sebastian Salazar and Miranda Augusta Snape, née Featherstone, lie very, very deep and undisturbed beneath the beds of herbs and the little box hedges.

"Most of the house contents are still in storage; I used a little to furnish my dungeon rooms at Hogwarts. All the money and the sale proceeds of the house were put into trust for me until I was twenty-one. I was surprised to find, on reaching twenty-one, how wealthy I was. I had always thought we were quite poor – rich in fine possessions but lacking cash. Perhaps we were, but I think now that Father was just not interested in spending money. Most of the things he owned he had inherited, we never went on holiday and I never remember him taking Mother out anywhere. I sometimes wonder why she married him. She was thirty years younger than he. They were so different; she was kind, romantic, unrealistic perhaps. I wish I remembered her better. She never made me feel afraid."

Snape fell silent. He sometimes wondered if his mother hadn't died as a result of one of his father's experiments. However he would never voice this suspicion, partly because almost subconsciously he still felt a certain loyalty to his father, and partly because, consciously and rationally, he did not want to initiate any legal investigations.

"By the time I was thirteen, I was starting to fall in love" he continued. "A bad choice. The girl in question was Lily Evans and she was in Gryffindor House. Lily was quite kind to me – she comforted me when Father died; she seemed to sense how scared I was. But Lily didn't love me – it was simply that she was kind to everyone. That was her nature. I had a few enemies at school – Sirius Black, James Potter, Remus Lupin. Black and Potter were typical Gryffindors – arrogant, lazy, bullying, and quite unreasonably popular. Lily fell in love with James and by the time we were in the seventh year it was clear they were made for each other. James was the hero of the Quidditch pitch, idolised by everyone. He never seemed to put himself out about schoolwork yet he always got good marks. Lily had no eyes for anyone else while James was around; even Sirius Black – a typical handsome dare-devil show-off – could not turn her head."

"So what did you do?" Celeste asked, wondering whether to say she knew Remus Lupin.

"I lost out to James" he said shortly. "Can we go Celeste; I'm cold."

They began the long walk back. Snape seemed deeply sad.

After a silence he said "I didn't realise your father was a Muggle."

"You made some comment once, about my breeding" Celeste reminded him. "I thought that's what you were getting at."

"No, no. I didn't mean– No … I was referring to the fact that you are related to Albus Dumbledore and to a former Minster for Magic, Cornelius Fudge. I looked upon you as coming from a well-connected, pureblood family."

"How do you know about Uncle Cornelius?" Celeste asked in surprise. "Did Albus tell you?"

"No" Snape said cautiously, realising he had slipped up and wondering how to retrieve the situation. He could hardly say 'your driving licence bears his address'. "Do you remember driving a red, open-topped sports car in London? Many years ago; before you took your degree. I think you were staying with the Fudges."

"Yes–" Celeste said, working hard to think back. "Yes, I borrowed a car from Dieter Brandauer at the Ministry. I picked Uncle up from the station. He was cross about that car – didn't want me to have anything to do with Dieter. He went on and on about it!"

"And when you met your uncle at Kings Cross, was there anyone else there?"

Celeste racked her brain. Yes, perhaps there had been someone else. A wizard? A young wizard. Could it have been? Hadn't the young man been dressed unseasonably in black? Celeste wasn't sure, but she recalled her introduction to Snape in the Great Hall at Hogwarts – how he had stared at her and then acted very off-hand, and then spent the rest of dinner glancing in her direction. "You! Were you there that day? Was it you I gave a lift to? I knew I knew you from somewhere when we were introduced last summer! But you never said."

Snape smiled ruefully, but again said nothing.

"Well-connected, pureblood family! Wow!" Celeste continued. "Well, despite Uncle Cornelius' fall from grace, I suppose it is in a way. But many of my relatives are not against marrying Muggles – as you now know. Uncle Cornelius is old-fashioned, but he's not typical of most of the family. Err, since you made that point I suppose I should also tell you, my mother's maiden name was Aurora Gryffindor – she's a descendant of Godric Gryffindor."

"I see" Snape said, intrigued by this news. "This is very strange, Celeste – you see, my family are linked to the family of Salazar Slytherin. Not by blood, but by adoption. My great-great-grandfather was a foundling – presumable illegitimate; anyway, nothing of his family is known. He was adopted by a female descendant of Salazar Slytherin, a witch by the name of Guinevere Morgana. She married a wizard by the name of Augustus Sebastian Snape and they named the adopted boy Salazar Augustus. My great-grandfather was named Alexander Salazar; his son was called Severus Salazar and my father Sebastian Salazar. It's all very confusing I know; the same names get used over and over again. Salazar always crops up – from what I could make out, the family were proud of the Slytherin connection. And, in a way, so am I. Forgive me if I was rather too blunt about Gryffindors just now. I do find them heroic to the point of recklessness at times. I didn't intend to hurt your feelings, but that is how I find many of them."

The phrase 'shrewd Slytherin from fen' was running through Celeste's mind. It was from a poem Dumbledore had shown her. It was connected with the Sorting Hat. "Don't worry, Severus. I'm not desperately hurt. I'll live" Celeste assured him. "Anyway, as far as Houses goes, the Sorting Hat would have put me into Ravenclaw. Uncle Albus asked me to try it."

"Really? Why? I mean why Ravenclaw?" Snape asked, again intrigued.

"The hat struggled for a while, wanting to put me in Gryffindor, but eventually decided my love of knowledge for its own sake, won out over other considerations" she explained.

In due course they reached the edge of the school grounds.

"Where to now?" Celeste asked. "Shall we give Rubeus a knock and scrounge a cup of tea? Or shall we sit by the lake? You didn't finish telling me about Lily Evans."

"No, I didn't, did I" Snape said warily. "Um, how about tea in my room?"

"Yes, fine" she agreed. "I'm going up to my room first though, to dump my cloak and boots."

They made their way to the castle. Half an hour later they were settled in front of the fire in Snape's sitting room. Snape had changed his mind about tea, in favour of coffee. Celeste has opted for hot chocolate and had brought down the jar of organic chocolate granules from her room.

Snape sat in the armchair near the bureau, leaving the Chesterfield free for Celeste to curl up on. Once again she studied the lady in the portrait. "Is that Lily Evans?" she asked at length, as Snape seemed lost for words and had fallen silent.

"Yes" he admitted sadly. "I made Lily lend me a photograph and had that painting produced from it. You do know, don't you, that she was Harry Potter's mother."

"Yes, I realise that" Celeste said.

"So you know she's dead" he added carefully.

"Yes" she replied. "I'm sorry, Severus."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because it hurts you so much" she explained. "Even after all this time."

He leant his head back in his chair and his knuckles whitened as they gripped the armrests. "You must not feel too sorry for me, Celeste" he cautioned her. "I am not an honourable man. I have done some unforgivable things in my time."

Celeste thought carefully about her next words. She knew Snape was an intensely private man, but she had to risk it. "Severus– Just– Just level with me" she said frankly. "You're leading up to something and then pulling away. I know because I'm the same about talking about my father. I know how it feels."

"Curious you should mention your father" he said awkwardly. "He was tortured by Death Eaters. Well, you see, I was, for a while, a Death Eater myself."

"No" she replied simply. "You couldn't have been."

"Oh, you think I couldn't stoop so low" he countered. "I have news for you–"

"No, I don't mean that" Celeste said, struggling to explain. "I mean if you had been a Death Eater you would now be in Azkaban. Or are you telling me you have never been caught?"

"Well, I never was caught" he admitted. "I, err, changed sides."

"Changed sides?" she asked, astonished.

"Yes. I joined the Death Eaters on leaving school in 1973. But within three years I had become a spy and was secretly working for the other side."

Celeste's mind was racing. "So you could not have been involved in torturing my father" she said carefully.

"Well, no" Snape agreed reasonably.

"Nor killing my brothers."

"No … No, but what does that signify? A crime is a crime, whoever the victim" he pointed out bitterly, although he did not go on to admit to any specific crimes.

"Yes. That's true … Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I would not want you to have any illusions about me."

"Did you stand trial?"

Snape was stung by the sharpness of her question – it was perhaps how he would have fired it at someone. "No" he replied. "I was already working against the Dark Lord, and helping to bring Death Eaters to justice when the question of a trial arose. My integrity was vouched for by Albus. He even gave me a job – this job. That is how I started teaching here; I had no plan to go into teaching – I had made a mess of my life and needed a job and somewhere to live."

"Why did you ever become a Death Eater?" Celeste asked.

"Oh, I hate this question!" he moaned, leaning forward and hiding his face with his hands. "I don't know, I just don't know. I was full of hate. And pride. V-Voldemort was determined to conquer death. A potion was possibly the key to it. Something akin to the Elixir of Life. I was a great potion maker. I wanted to be the best there ever was. I was going to perfect the Death Eater potion. It didn't matter that Voldemort and the Death Eaters would never die. It didn't matter that their evil would persist and proliferate – I would be the greatest potion maker of all time!"

"Better than your father?"

"If you like, yes … Yes. You're probably right" he agreed softly, lowering his hands and staring into the fire. It shocked him to realise he would never have admitted such a thing to anyone else – except possibly to Dumbledore. "Voldemort played upon my vanity, I suppose – no I don't suppose, I know he did! And his plans afforded me an opportunity I otherwise would not have had. Once you signed up to that select little club, it wasn't exactly easy to leave."

He picked up his forgotten coffee, drained it, and set the beaker down in the hearth.

"And, Lily?" she whispered timidly.

"Lily? I had no expectations of Lily" he sighed hopelessly. "She married James Potter, as I knew she would. The Potters were, like your mother, implacable in the hunt for Death Eaters. They suffered a similar fate – hunted down and killed. All except Harry."

"I need time to think" Celeste said. "This has all been too much. Please … excuse me."

She got up, looking bewildered. She, too, set her beaker down in the hearth, but rather harder than she intended; it almost cracked. "I'll see you at dinner" she said decisively, and was gone.

When Celeste entered Dumbledore's office he could see she was upset. He sat her down and offered her a cup of hot chocolate.

"Oh, no thank you, Uncle. I've just had some" she said.

"Then what can I do for you?" he enquired gently.

"It's about Severus. I don't know where to begin" she replied. "We were telling each other our life stories. Severus said he was once a Death Eater, a supporter of Lord Voldemort!"

"Then he told you the truth; and that is not an easy truth to tell."

"I can't believe it" Celeste exclaimed. "Why is he here – at this school – teaching children?"

"I have known Severus Snape since he was eleven" Dumbledore said firmly. "He was an unhappy child – sensitive, talented, obsessive, friendless. Ambitious. Not attractive in his looks. I also met his father once. Severus caught 'flu' during his first winter here. He became very ill and we grew concerned; so concerned that we thought he should be admitted to St Bathild. It was almost a prologue to this last winter plague we have endured. Minerva owled his father and eventually impressed upon the man to come here. Sebastian spent all of ten minutes with the boy, said he was doing fine where he was, and we were not to fuss. And he left. I believe that was the last time the two of them met.

"No one saw Severus as sensitive – they saw only his father's nature, which he has in large degree. If anything hurts him he armour plates himself against future pain. Over the years the armour has grown very thick. Paradoxically, his chief fault perhaps is that he cannot always tell when he causes hurt. Sometimes he intends to hurt others. Sometimes he only realises afterwards, and is often too proud to make redress. Sometime he has no notion of his affect upon others.

"When he told you he was a Death Eater, Severus spoke no more than the truth – although fanatically cautious, and at times devious, he is basically an honest man. He has been amazingly frank with you today. He must now feel quite vulnerable. As to crimes he personally committed, I have no actual knowledge of any, and have been given no evidence of any. When he came over to our side in 1976 it was to be the start of just over twenty years of working under cover to bring about Voldemort's downfall. For which Severus received the Order of Merlin. We played a dangerous, elaborate game during those years – he the dark Slytherin whose motives and loyalty were always 'suspect'; I the bastion of the righteous. Thus Severus kept his credibility with the Death Eaters and could undermine them from within. The game intensified in 1995 and even more so in 1996 when he ostensibly returned, a repentant 'lapsed' Death Eater, to Voldemort."

Dumbledore paused, remembering how Voldemort had reacted to Snape's 'contrite return to the fold'. He had been suspicious, particularly in view of Snape's pursuit of Quirenus Quirrell, and he had been angry at Snape's delayed response to his original summons. To warn him never to stray again, the Dark Lord had repeatedly put Snape under the Cruciatus curse. He had then thrown him back to spy and work for him from within Hogwarts – ironically to be hisVoldemort's Mole! Snape had dragged himself back to Hogwarts, ill mentally and physically, but still determined to fight on. I cannot tell her those details, Dumbledore realised; she has too many horrors of her own already.

"He lived on a knife edge" the Headmaster continued, glossing over the minutiae. "One whisper of his real purpose would finish him. One mistake in his clever act would finish him. Through all the deceptions and double-games, Severus always kept a grip on who he really was and where his true loyalty lay. How he endured the stress and the loneliness of his unique position I do not know. But he did."

"He never stood trial for being a Death Eater" Celeste whispered. It was more a statement of fact than a reproach.

"No. He was never called to stand trial" Dumbledore confirmed, "but in his own mind Severus has put himself under trial ever since his Death Eater episode. Perhaps he still is under trial. He has complained bitterly at times, but always followed my orders. Sometimes most resentfully. He took care of Harry Potter though he hated the child and thought I over-indulged him." The Headmaster smiled. "He was always trying to show that Harry should be expelled – wanted to prove to me that the boy was disobedient and meddlesome; and that I was blind to his faults. Harry was no paragon of virtue. But he had a destiny that none of us could alter.

"Severus will never be a popular man, and ironically, he probably will never be entirely trusted. But I have no doubt as to his loyalty or his courage. As to whether a witch is safe in his presence, I cannot answer that. Minerva will doubtless have a view."

Celeste was thinking furiously. "Do you remember the night I got upset about the Wilson twins?" she asked.

"I do" Dumbledore assured her.

"I went up to the Astronomy Tower" she explained. "I needed to think. I believe Severus though I was going to commit suicide. He was very kind to me that night – has been ever since. He was attentive – but – didn't invade my privacy. I felt cared for; looked after. It was so curiously different to the Professor Snape I had been shown prior to then."

Dumbledore nodded. "A caring man who hates to show he cares" he murmured. He gazed at his grand-niece for a long moment.

"I don't know what to do now" she said forlornly.

"Lunch, I think" Dumbledore suggested.

However Celeste decided to skip lunch. Severus won't approve, she thought; but she wasn't hungry. She had, for a while, been trying to explain to him the correlation between space and time – how in relativity theory, one must stretch as the other shrinks. Now she sat by the fire in her room, searching through two paperback books where she knew there was an easy, fairly non-mathematical explanation she could use as an illustration. Paul Davies' book God and the New Physics was a possible help and she had marked page one-hundred-and-twenty-one with a Post-It Note. However his book About Time was probably even better and she was scanning page fifty- three.

Or trying to. Snape himself kept intruding on her quest; she found her mind repeatedly turning over the paradoxes of this difficult, complex man.

By two o'clock her stomach was rumbling. I could order something from the kitchens, she thought; no I'll make do with a cup of chocolate. Where's my chocolate? Oh blow! I left it in Severus's room.

She knocked quietly on his door and heard his bored voice drawl "Come in."

He was sitting at his desk, drafting internal examination papers. Looking anxious, he got up hurriedly as she entered the room.

"Did I leave my chocolate here?" she asked brightly.

"Oh … Yes." He looked both relieved and confused.

He found the jar in his office and carried it back. They looked at each other for a moment as if unsure of what to do next. Then, gently, he folded his arms around her and kissed her softly on the lips. She responded. Without looking round, he threw the jar accurately into the Chesterfield. Celeste heard it land, bouncing once on the leather cushions. Snape's arms enfolded her more tightly and his kiss became increasingly passionate as she revelled in his tenderness and power. His restrained strength was impressive; it was threatening to turn her weak at the knees. She was aware that he was strongly aroused and she enjoyed the fact that he wanted her. For several minutes they remained locked in each others arms. Finally they broke away but he continued to hold her. Greedily his eyes devoured her, and yet there was fear in them too.

"Where do we go from here?" he whispered, his face white with uncertainty.

Unafraid, she gazed into those black, burning eyes. "Well, not too long a journey – the bedroom's just through there, isn't it." she suggested.

Author's Note: These are genuine...

God and the New Physics by Paul Davies, published in paperback by Penguin.

About Time by Paul Davies, published in paperback by Penguin.