I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us.


Dear Mum and Dad

I've written about twelve drafts of this letter already, and I really haven't been able to come up with a tactful and graceful way of putting this. So here it is: I'm seeing someone. I have been for a while. And it's complicated.

You see, the person I'm seeing was, until very recently, a teacher. Severus Snape. He's the one who was injured so badly that we had to call Adrian in, a while ago, if you remember. And before that I know I talked a lot about the Potions teacher who hates me. Well, hated me. Obviously things have warmed up a bit now.

Before you start worrying, he's no longer on the staff, and he was the youngest out of all the teachers, just in his thirties. I don't know if Adrian told you anything, but I didn't give you any details at the time. He wasn't just injured, really, but tortured for a long time and very badly. He's lost limbs, although he's learning to manage with prosthetics now, and obviously there was a lot of trauma. He couldn't be left alone for a while, and I was one of the volunteers to stay with him, and we've been spending a lot of time together and one thing sort of led to another.

And no, neither of us is being taken advantage of. I'm not taking advantage of the emotional connection caused by being his carer, and he's certainly not playing on his former position as my teacher! It's just that we've finally had a chance to talk as equals, and get to know each other properly.

I love him very much. I know it's going to be very difficult, and it hasn't exactly been a bed of roses so far, believe me! But he's worth it. You don't know how wonderful it is to be able to talk about things with someone, like Arithmancy and complicated ethical issues and... well, the things Harry and Ron and most other people would never understand in a hundred years.

Please don't worry about me. I'm very happy, and this is actually quite a good thing from your point of view, because Severus is under permanent armed guard and secluded right in the middle of Hogwarts and under all sorts of protective spells and things, so the more time I spend with him the safer I am. While I'm seeing him every day, I can't go running off with Harry and getting into trouble, either, because Severus worries and I really don't want to upset him.

I worry about Harry, of course, but Ginny will keep an eye on him. And he does have Ron, even if Ron's completely unreliable when it comes to stopping Harry from doing things. Any things. Ever. ᅠ

I'm putting this in the ordinary mail because owls can be intercepted. If you send the reply to Adrian he can drop it off next time he checks in.

All my love, and I miss you awfully,


m m

"And the best of British luck to you," Severus said as Draco sauntered across from the door, and Hermione stuffed the last course-book into her bag and prepared to leave. "I've a feeling you're going to need it."

"I certainly will." Hermione checked her bag. "And thank you for offering to join me... but you don't know what Ron's like when he really explodes. Believe it or not, you never have really seen him at his worst. He's too frightened of you." She loved Ron and Harry, but they had nasty tempers at the best of times... and no time involving Severus Snape was one of the best.

"It's gratifying to know that I can still inspire terror in the Weasley breast," said Severus, settling himself comfortably back against the pillows, "even in my current condition;" and Draco halted with hisᅠhand on the bed-post.

"Do tell," he said silkily, with a glint in his grey eyes which made Severusᅠregard him with trepidation. "What burr has the Weasel got up his kilt this time?"ᅠ The blue-green hound on the back of his hand wagged its tail and danced a few bouncing steps, pleased to be in Severus's presence.

"Oh, this might be enough to make him go berserk even at you" Hermione answered Severus, then sighed, and gave Draco a rather lopsided smile. "He and Harry don't... know. About me and Severus. And I want to tell them... well, not first, obviously, but before any big announcements. I don't like keeping secrets from them. It's a bad example for Harry, if nothing else, and I've just almost got him trained not to hide things from me."

"Oh, wow." Draco twirled himself around the bed-post, stretching and preening like a cat. "That's just - priceless. You mean to tell me I've known for over a month, but the Sainted Potter and his Merry Moron are still in the dark?"

"Don't give yourself airs!" Severus snapped, nettled for Hermione's sake even though privately he still rather enjoyed the idea of his godson having an excuse to lord it over Potter. "We had to tell the people who were, uh, patient-sitting me, because the risk of them working it out for themselves was too great."

"But you told me about you two before you told the Headmaster or McGonagall -"

"Enough!" In truth, when he thought about it - although the past, even a month or two back, was fuzzy in his mind with sleep and disjointments of memory - Longbottom had known before even he had, Minerva and Lovegood had worked it out for themselves, Poppy and Adrian still didn't know and only Albus had needed to be told. But there would be time enough to talk it through with Draco later: he didn't want to hold Hermione up by entangling her in his godson's particular combination of ego and craving for reassurance, when she was already jittering with nerves and keyed up for the confrontation ahead.

Hermione snorted, giving Draco an amused look as he posed and preened. "We told you because Pansy had figured it out on her own, and we weren't sure how many people she was going to drop hints to in the Slytherin common room. Severus wanted you to hear it from him first, in case it hurt your feelings that Pansy found out before you. But the odds that Pansy was ever going to tell Harry and Ron were quite slim, so there wasn't as much of a rush with them." She leaned down to kiss Severus's cheek gently, squashing down the nerves for the dozenth time as Draco politely turned his back to them. "If you hear the howling of an enraged beast, don't worry about it. It's just Ron."

"Whereas Potter's will be more of a falsetto screech?" Draco enquired sweetly. Behind him, Severus gave a snort of amusement.

"Harry isn't quite as loud, mostly. And he's sort of more used to Severus now." Hermione sighed, hitching her bag up over her shoulder. "Right. I'm off. If I'm late this afternoon it's because they're acting like toddlers. There's fresh tea made, Draco, if you want some." Draco did his best, but his skill at making tea was still spotty.

Severus watched her go with trepidation.ᅠ Despite his amusement at Draco's antics and a certain amount of jealousy over Potter and Weasley's claim on her loyalty, he really didn't want to be the cause of a rift between Hermione andᅠthe idiot boys.ᅠ Somewhat to his own surprise, he realised that he didn't want to drive a wedge between himself and Potter, either, just when they seemed - amazingly - to be getting along quite well.

m m

Hermione collared Ron on his way out of the common-room - collared literally, hauling him back into the common-roomᅠby the back of his robes, and ignoring his startled protests. "We were going to study, Ron."

"I was just - "

"Going to the lavatory?"

Ron flushed. "No!"

"Then it can wait. Come on."

Harry was sitting in one of the armchairs, flicking through his Transfiguration textbook without really looking at the pages. "Hey, Hermione, maybe - "

"Up!" Hermione ordered briskly, trying to conceal her inner quaking. "We're going up to your room. It's empty now, isn't it?"

"Well... yes, but..." Harry frowned, and then blinked suddenly. "Oh. Sure." He slammed the book closed and stood up. "Let's go."

Hermione frowned too. She distrusted that air of suddenly having worked something out. It wasn't like Harry to work things out... well, it was, but not in this context. "I need to talk to you. Both of you."

"You could have just said so," Ron grumbled, rubbing his neck as she released his robes. "All right, all right, I'm coming. We'll have a chat. But I don't see - "

"Well, if you can wait two minutes, I'll tell you," Hermione snapped, feeling extremely rattled.

"All right, all right, keep your hair on..."

Hermione hustled them both up to their dormitory, slammed the door, locked it magically in flagrant violation of the school rules, turned to face them... and couldn't think of a single thing to say. Not one word. "Uhm..."

"What's up?" Ron brightened suddenly. "Old Snape giving you a hard time, is he?"

He snickered, and Hermione swore under her breath, struggling not to blush.ᅠ Damn, damn, damn.ᅠ "He is not!"ᅠ She took a deep breath. "Look, I... I need to talk to you about something. And it's important, and I'd really appreciate it, Ron, if you could just listen to me instead of trying to be clever."

Ron looked hurt. "All right. All I said was - "

"I know what you said." Hermione took another deep breath. It didn't help as much as she would have liked. "Please, just... listen."

Harry hadn't said a word, sitting on the edge of his bed, watching her with an oddly intent look. Ron went over and flopped onto his bed, leaning back on his elbows and scowling a little. Ron hated being told to shut up... well, she was off to a wonderful start, wasn't she?

"All right. Well. I wanted to talk to you about... well, you know I've been spending a lot of my time helping care for Professor Snape. And studying," she added pointedly. "And don't think I don't know that you two have been skiving off while my back is turned!"

"Not studying as much as all that," Ron muttered. "I know you only got Exceeds Expectations on a couple of essays."

"Studying more than you," Hermione said tartly. "Anyway. I've got to know him much better, obviously, since I've been, uh, helping care for him... so has Harry, actually, he's stopped by a bit..."

"Haven't got to know him as well as you have, of course," Harry said, grinning.

Hermione gave him a sharp look. That sounded almost as if... no, impossible. Surely. "Well, no. And he's really very interesting when you get to know him, he knows quite a lot about Arithmancy and Transfiguration, not to mention a lot of wizarding history that Binns never mentions... and Potions, obviously, but - "

Ron rolled his eyes. " Look, Hermione, if this is about making us be nicer to him, again... you spend all your time hanging around him, even Harry goes down and plays cards with him, and I haven't been rude to him or anything. What more do you want?"

"Well, that's all been good, obviously. But there's also... I mean, I... Look, it's been a while, and..." Hermione drifted to a halt on a reef of embarrassment and half-completed sentences. How could it be so hard to get a perfectly simple sentence out? All she had to say was 'Severus and I are romantically involved, shut up Ron.' and it would be done.

"And..." Harry prompted.

"And... look, when you spend a lot of time with people, and get to know them... it's complicated, but..."

Ron sat up, frowning. "Come on, Hermione, spit it out."

Hermione felt her face heating up until she probably looked like a bushy-haired tomato. "I... I..."

Harry sighed, smiling wryly at her. "I think she's trying to tell us that she and Professor Snape are... can you call it dating if he never goes anywhere?"

Hermione blushed even harder. "Er - yes, um, how did you...? I mean..."

Ron was making bubbling noises, his face slowly getting pinker and pinker.

Harry shrugged. "I've seen you two together a lot. I mean, I know I'm not really good at this stuff, but... I know you pretty well, Hermione. The way you look at him when you don't think I'm looking was a bit of a hint, and when I started looking..."


Hermione winced. "Don't shout, Ron."

"YOU AND THAT - ? WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING, HERMIONE?" Ron came up off the bed as if jet-propelled, bellowing like a skinny bull. "HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? WHEN? I'LL KILL HIM!"

"No, you won't," Hermione said firmly, stepping forward and poking Ron in the stomach with her wand... not very gently, either. "Don't you even think about it, Ronald Weasley. I'm a grown woman - "

"You're a student!" Ron's volume was only slightly lessened, even though he was now snarling through gritted teeth. "And he's a teacher! And a git! And - "

"I am almost three years over the age of consent, he hasn't been teaching since well before he and I started... well... caring for each other, and he is not a git!" Hermione's temper was up now too, and she jabbed Ron in the stomach again. Wand safety be damned.

"Ron, mate, I wouldn't waste time shouting," Harry said philosophically. "I mean, you know how Hermione is once she makes up her mind."


Hermione very nearly slapped him. "He has not!" she snarled right back. "And that is a very serious accusation, Ron, and a very stupid one, since he's only just even able to get out of bed by himself, and we started... well, caring well before that, and do you seriously think he, he asked Neville or Luna or Professor McGonagall to put a potion in my tea or something? Really?"

"Well... no, but..." Ron's hesitation was only momentary. "But you can't really like him, Hermione, you're just... just feeling sorry for him, or something, you can't just - "

"I can, and I do." Hermione lifted her chin and glared at Ron. "I love him, and he loves me, and when the war's over we're going off together for a proper holiday and after that I might even stay here with him." She managed to bite back the 'so there', but only just.

Ron's mouth opened and closed soundlessly, his face going almost purple.

"Right, well, glad we've got that out in the open." Harry got up off the bed, giving Hermione a slightly rueful smile. "I'm... well, I'm not thrilled, exactly, but I'm glad you're happy. Really."


"I suppose." Harry nudged Hermione firmly towards the door. "He's going to be doing this for a while. You might want to go now, before he starts throwing things."

Hermione blinked. "Throwing things?"

"Sometimes. Don't worry, I'll handle it."

She hugged Harry suddenly, and while he seemed startled he did seem to like it. "Thanks, Harry," she whispered. "I mean it."

"No problem." He hugged her back, then shoved her towards the door again. "Off you go."

Ron started yelling again before she even got the door open. By the time she was halfway down the stairs, Harry was shouting back. She felt a little guilty for leaving, but... well, no. After all the time she'd spent acting as a go-between for them, Harry could take a turn.

m m

"Well", Draco said, grinning, "how'd it go? Picking guts off the chandeliers, were we?" Severus winced and made an irritable shushing noise, looking at Hermione apprehensively.

"It's still going, really."ᅠ Hermione went over to perch on the arm of the couch, running a hand through her hair.ᅠ She'd done that often enough that she probably looked like a gorse bush... kissing's still in season, she thought, and smiled a little despite still being upset.ᅠ "Harry threw me out when Ron started bellowing, he said he'd deal with it.ᅠ He really is better at that... Ron and I tend to just make each other angrier and angrier."

"That's because you're persistently reasonable at him," Draco said, "and the Weasel is entirely driven by his balls and his belly, so reason just annoys him."

"To be fair," Severus said, holding up his hand to forestall a possible explosion from Hermione, "the boy must have a brain of some sort, since he beat Anwar to the top spot in the chess club three years running.ᅠ He just has no interest in applying it to things that don't immediately grab his attention, which is nearly everything.ᅠ You know that's so," he added, giving Hermione a wary, cautiously hopefulᅠlook.ᅠ "Do I understand you that Potter...?"

"Harry apparently already knew... or strongly suspected, at the very least." Hermione ran her hands through her hair again and smiled ruefully at Severus. "I've been giving myself away when I look at you again. Harry wasn't jumping for joy, exactly, but he said that he's glad I'm happy, and he meant it, I know him well enough to be sure about that. He won't make any trouble... but Ron might."

Severus gave a slightly cracked, wild little laugh.ᅠ "I don't know whether to be delighted - I am delighted," he added, with a quelling glare at Draco, who snickeredᅠ- "that this isn't going to lead to a resumption of hostilities with Potter, or annoyed that we seem to be so bloody transparent that half the bloody school's worked it out already.ᅠ It's not the standard one expects of a professional spy, is it?"ᅠ As Hermione opened her mouth to answer, there came the sound of raised voices from the corridor outside and he turned to her in wild surmise, uncertain whether to be amused or alarmed: there was always the possibility that it might be a genuine attack, and his wand slipped into the palm of his hand without conscious thought, as if it had grown there.

"Sounds like the Weasel has slipped his leash" Draco said happily, as a muffled unmistakable voice bellowed "SNAPE!"

"Oh, damn it, he got away from Harry."ᅠ Hermione stood up, a bit reluctantly.ᅠ "All right. I'll go out there and deal with him - "ᅠ She paused, and glanced down at her lover, smiling suddenly.ᅠ "Unless you'd rather I didn't.ᅠ You said a while ago that you wanted someone to shout at... he's all yours, if you want him!"

"I'm sure I don't remember saying any such thing," Severus said primly over the background noise of confused shouting, "but I can't - be quiet Draco, I didn't ask for a Greek chorus of hyaenas - possibly expect you to deal with an enraged wizard when his quarrel is primarily with me - although I'm sure," he added very quietly out of the corner of his mouth, "that you'd appreciate a ringside seat."

Hermione grinned at him, and he shook his hair back into some sort of order and tried to look sternly professorial and not like somebody who'd had too much sex the night before, and not enough sleep.ᅠ "Draco: if you've quite finished, help me to my feet" (and thank God he had washed and dressed and put on his prostheses while Hermione was upstairs) "and then tell the guards to let Weasley in - and Potter, who I imagine will not be far behind."ᅠ He leaned his shoulders back against the carved serpents by the fireplace, who hissed and nodded to him and discreetly buoyed him up as with a snarl of "Out of the way, Malfoy!" Ronald Weasley erupted into the room although his wand, Hermione noted, was firmly tucked into Vincent Crabbe's belt.

As the redhead opened his mouth to bellow again, his pale skin white with fury and his freckles standing out so prominently they might have achieved independent flight, Severus forestalled him.ᅠ "Mr Weasley", he said silkily, pushing off from the wall behind him to stand at his full height, his arms folded loosely across his chest and the wand dangling from his fingers.ᅠ The full, swinging sleeves and the scars which extended the corners of his mouth made him look even more like a brooding great bird of prey thanᅠhe had before, and Ron visibly swallowedᅠbefore rallying.ᅠ

"Snape," he said tightly.ᅠ "What the fuck do you think you're playing at, making Hermione - "

"He hasn't made me do anything," Hermione snapped, folding her arms and glaring. "Honestly, Ron, that's tactless even for you. This is a very mutual relationship that makes us both happy, and if you're too immature to cope with that - "

"You're too fucking immature - " Ron snapped, rounding on her.

"Oh, I am not!"

"You are six months younger than her by age, Weasley, and about six years by emotional maturity," Severus said frostily, "and as I understand it, seven months ago you found the idea that you might still be a virgin risible."

Harry, appearing breathlessly in the doorway at that very instant, winced visibly. "Ron, mate - " he began, but Ron ignored him.

"I went with somebody my own age, not - influence - impressionable girl - "

"And now we hear your true colours," Severus said softly, mantling the wings of his sleeves: "the arrogant pure-blood who thinks that witches are chattels who must marry as they are told..." He was distantly aware that he was probably being unfair, but he was hunting now and his instinct was to escalate, not defuse.

"He probably wants to chain her to his kitchen sink," Draco said happily, "just like that fat hausfrau of a mother of his."

"What's it to you, Ferret?"

"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed, and he rounded on her.

"Can't you fucking-well see, he's trying to twist things the way he's twisted you. If I had my wand - "

"You would what?" Severus snarled, advancing on him. "Did you expect to find me still languishing in my sickbed, so you could attack an injured man - or were you planning on committing suicide?"

"I could take you any day - " Behind him, Harry put his hand over his eyes and sighed, and Draco made an expressive thumbs-down gesture..

Severus thrust his fierce, indigant face forwards, his hair visibly standing up like an angry cat's. "And do you really think that Hermione is a - a thing to be fought over like a - like a Quidditch prize! Or that she would choose a, a brainless primping sports-jock with the IQ of woodworm over - "

"Better than a, a sleazy old man twice her age who thinks he's got some sort of droit du seigneur over the students - "

"How DARE you - and you stay out of it!" he added, rounding on Draco who had just murmured "Oooo, posh words!" not quite too quietly to be heard.

"It's not like that!" Hermione said heatedly, and Ron glowered at her. She could see that he was staying angry for longer than he might otherwise have done, because he felt himself surrounded by enemies.

"So you tell me what it was like," he snarled. "He's a teacher, Hermione."

"I am not her teacher now," Severus said hotly, "and I never will be. Do you imagine for one moment that if she had still been my student, I would have allowed myself - "

"I don't bloody know, do I - but if it's all so bloody above board why does it have to be such a dark bloody secret - "

Hermione coughed apologetically. "Um - it's not like that. We haven't, uhm, gone public yet, but quite a lot of people know about it, really."

"Like WHO?"

"Well, uh - the Headmaster, and Professor McGonagall - the Headmaster was a bit disturbed but Professor McGonagall was all for it really. Draco here, of course and, um, Luna and Neville - Neville thought it was a good idea even before Severus did - and, uh, Pansy Parkinson and some people she knows..."

"Pansy? You told PANSY?"

"It wasn't, uh - " She smiled weakly at Harry beyond Ron's shoulder. "Pansy worked it out for herself, and we could hardly deny it, so... I would have told you earlier, really I would, but - "

"But she was afraid you would react exactly as you are doing" Severus - who had taken the opportunity to prop himself against the wall again - cut in. "I.e., like an unregenerate, salivating caveman."

"I just - I want what's best for Hermione - "

"But you are not the best judge of what is best for her - and do you imagine that I do not?" He gestured at the couch, the bed, and said firmly "Sit down - all of you." When Ron looked like arguing, Severus glowered at him so fiercely that the younger man subsided, muttering.

"Now." He touched his fingertips together, his sleeves hanging down like a black waterfall. "Do not imagine for one moment that we did not consider the implications of my... status. But the reason student-teacher relationships of this... intimate nature are so frowned on, even when the student is of age, is because of the potential for favouritism; for the teacher using the promise of favouritism or the threat of disfavour to influence the student; for the student being coerced by a sense of submission to authority into doing something they might not otherwise have chosen to do; for the student conversely seeking to gain, ah, blackmail material to force the teacher to give them better marks; and for a teacher who is so inclined to predate generally on the student body and work his or her way through them seducing and then dropping persons too immature to deal with such rejection."

"Yes, exactly, so how come - "

Severus looked at the boy wearily - so young and so self-righteous. Potter on the other hand was watching him with an expression of mild concern in case, he supposed, he might suddenly fall over. The sensation of the stone serpents squirming behind his back still made him shudder but he found that they had been so thoughtful as to extend a loop of coil, making a small seat to take some of his weight without it being too obvious.

"In my own case, issues to do with favour or disfavour no longer apply. It was clear that I would not be well enough to resume teaching until after Hermione - Miss Granger - had taken her NEWTs, thus I had no influence over her marks: and I can assure you that I find the student body as a whole profoundly unattractive." He closed his eyes for a second and rubbed at the marks on his face, without really knowing that he was doing it - but it was oddly satisfying to be lecturing a seated audience again. "There was only the age difference and the - the issue of authority to consider. There was a risk, yes, a, a concern that Miss Granger might be influenced by her... desire to please a member of staff but we both felt that - well, that having seen me as - last year - " and he had the satisfaction, if you could call it that, of seeing Weasley flinch from the memory of that bloody ruin splayed across the hospital bed - "that she - well, that she would be more likely to see me as an object of pity rather than of authority, although she assures me that it isn't - only that."

"It really isn't" Hermione said, beaming fondly. "He's an authority because he's brilliant and I - well, I respect him very much, and I do care about his health too of course, but basically we just - being together, and everything, because of his health, we just - realised how much we liked each other. In, you know, lots of ways."

Severus flashed her a smile, open and warm and not at all smirk-like - and that in itself should tell Weasley something. "Precisely. And, well, we do intend to go public about our relationship soon, it's just a matter of doing so in a way which won't have Hermione eaten alive by the press while she's preparing for her NEWTs; and I shall be telling Adrian and Madam Pomfrey almost immediately because the matter is germane to - to a scientific paper we are working on together, and the subject is soon going to - come up - "

Draco gave an indescribably salacious cackle, and Severus felt himself blush scarlet - the more so when he heard Potter murmur "You see, you were right, he has been giving her a hard time..."

Ron growled in inarticulate, baffled fury, and Severus looked at him in sudden pity and fellow-feeling. "You won't lose her friendship, you know," he said quietly. "Not if you don't do anything - stupid, to drive her away."

"I would have thought you'd want to keep us apart," Ron said sullenly, "in case I turned her against you."

Severus was unable to suppress the smug smirk which lifted the much-abused corners of his mouth. "You couldn't, even if you wanted to. And since I want what is best for her, I want her to have the company of those who love her - of all those who love her - even in cases where I find her taste in friends... inexplicable."

m m

"It's not that funny Albus."

"That depends on your sense of humour, dear boy. And do you feel the better for it?"

"Well..." Severus linked his fingers behind the back of his neck and stretched, working his spine from side to side. "I'm not sure about 'better', exactly, but - well, more like myself. More me."

"Well that's good news, isn't it? There was a time when we feared that we might not get you back..."

"I don't necessarily want to go back to where I started from, though - as amusing as shouting at Weasley may be. Although I wish..." He sighed and started to snap open the buckles that held the prostheses in place. "I miss - being whole. I shouldn't complain," he added, as Albus reached out to help him left-handed, his blackened right hand cradled against his ribs; "not compared with - it's getting worse, isn't it?"

"As we feared. Your promptness and skill bought me at least two years longer than I would otherwise have had, but you are right - I do not suppose I can last very much longer, as things are progressing."

"Albus I, I don't want - I'm nearly sure that if we could replace the arm with a full graft, instead of just removing it, we might be able to prevent the curse from migrating into your torso..."

Albus gazed at him over the half-moons of his spectacles. "I am an old man who must in the fullness of time die quite soon anyway, and my suffering this past year or two has been nothing compared with yours, and you are already doing quite enough by helping Horace to brew the Felix Felicis. I don't like the idea of you risking yourself trying to defuse Horcruxes or - or anything else dangerous: especially not for my sake."

"But what if I want to do it for my own sake?" Severus replied waspishly. "It's my bloody battle too, you know. And if I choose to take risks for you, that's my decision - unless you're saying that I have to be a client forever?"

"I don't mean to - to treat you like a child - "

"Then don't! You know I know what I'm doing, otherwise I wouldn't do it." I hope, he thought, and suppressed a shiver - but in truth the danger was minimal. Really it was. "You know that thanks to my - my spilling my guts to him Riddle already knew that you were looking for Horcruxes, before you located the Hufflepuff Cup, so it is likely that he has reinforced its defences - you're going to need every experienced curse-breaker you can get."

"We have Bill Weasley, and the Felix Felicis should protect him."

"The Felix Felicis should protect me, and maybe - maybe I am part of your luck. And it would be... satisfying, to undo some of the harm I did by - by breaking."

Albus looked at him sternly over the wire frames. "If I didn't know you better, I would suspect you of being deliberately manipulative - but I don't think you know how. Very well. Just... be careful. I do not wish to lose you, nor to have you any more damaged than you already are."

"Thank you," Severus said soberly. "And if you are right about the - Riddle hiding a Horcrux in the school, the Felix may enable us to find it - otherwise we could be a long time looking."

"I've already established that there were only a limited number of places he could have reached after his interview with me, given that he left by the main door ten minutes later.."

"Mm, but you don't know for sure, do you, that it happened then, and not while he was still a student - in which case it could be any bloody where." He drew a deep breath. "Albus I - "

"Yes, dear boy?"

"It's..." A quotation drifted to the surface of his mind: Today I stand at the brink of an abyss: tomorrow I shall take a great leap forward. "I think I'm ready to - well, not to go public about my relationship with Miss Granger yet, you're right that we need to be careful how we handle that, but, well - I and, uh, Hermione thought that I might go up to breakfast in the Great Hall tomorrow and... see how it goes."

"But this is splendid news!" Albus twinkled delightedly, causing Severus to feel perversely irritated. "Do you want me to make a welcoming speech, or...?"

Severus squinted at the offer from several angles, and sighed. "I think I'll just - slither in, quietly: I don't want to feel like the star turn in a three-ring circus. And there's something else."

"Whatever you wish, so long as it's not some hare-brained scheme to endanger yourself." He shed his dressing gown, which was patterned with little pink and green rabbits which were actively skipping about, and slipped into bed beside Severus, who leaned against him and sighed.

"Not - particularly, although I suppose there might be security issues. It's just - even though I don't much like being out in public being gawped at and I feel almost nearly safe in here and I have..." he gestured expressively at his books, his work-bench, at his beautiful magical music-box and his rag-rug and his glittering mobile and the strange silver gadget which spat out random curiosities - "nevertheless I'm so sick of these four walls I could scream, and now that the weather's warming up I wondered, um, whether it would be all right if I took my cohorts into Teachers' Farthing." He flashed the older man a fleeting smirk. "They're reasonably domesticated, and Longbottom would be positively beneficial for the hydrangeas."

m m

Anwar and Bulstrode stayed with him, guarding his back as Albus left him and went through the door behind the teachers' table to take his place. To enter on the headmaster's arm, he felt, would be too dramatic: so he waited until Minerva arrived and then fell into step beside her, attempting to appear normal as his two guards peeled off and went to take their places at the Slytherin table.

Sliding into place with Minerva on one side and Filius hovering solicitously on the other, he clutched at the edge of the table and felt slightly sick, gazing down the long daylit length of the hall - no pointy hats on this informal occasion, just endless black shoulders and bobbing heads and he felt as if he was standing at the mast of a ship, looking out and down over a rough sea. He accepted the cup of tea which Minerva poured for him and helped himself absently to a boiled egg with butter and seasoning and two slices of toast, and as he tapped the top off the eggshell and added a sliver of butter he saw the movement, first at the Slytherin table and then spreading out like a ripple, students elbowing each other in the ribs, pointing, craning -

As he stared straight ahead, willing himself to breathe, the noise began - the roar of voices and then the applause, the storm of hand-claps and the thunderous slow banging on the tables... Overwhelmed, he looked for Hermione and saw her beaming at him fondly and then beside her Potter's green gaze met his and the boy gave him a cheeky grin and then elbowed Ron Weasley in the ribs until he too started, slowly at first and then with increasing vigour, to bang the table and standing surprisingly tall beyond them there was Longbottom, clapping wildly, and over there in Ravenclaw was Lovegood, smiling dreamily and performing some sort of curious two-handed wave...

At his own home table, most of the students seemed intent on cheering themselves hoarse but there halfway down on the wall side he could see an argument in progress and the beginnings of blows. Grimacing, he placed a hideous knitted woollen eggcosy over his boiled egg and rose to step down to the students' floor and pace along it with as firm and gliding a tread as he could manage. As the ovation grew even louder and wilder and many of the students rose to their feet, whooping, he drew level with the little knot of trouble and peered down his long nose at the combatants, several of whom tried to shrink away.

"While I wouldn't go so far as to say that I am fully recovered," he said softly in his roughened, ruined voice, "I am recovered enough not to stand any nonsense do I make myself clear, Bennet?"

m m

Severus looked up and smiled as Hermione, looking rather tousled, came in through the little gate which let out from Teachers' Farthing onto the narrow skirt of grass above the cliff. Only someone with special permission could even see it: to most of the students, it presented a smooth wall. As she approached she was pulling her explosion of hair back with her hands and lifting it to allow a cooling breeze to reach the nape of her neck: a move which incidentally accentuated her breasts for his happy appreciation. "How did you get on?"

"Better. She's surprisingly fast but I managed to keep hold of my wand this time, even when she tried to put a half-Nelson on me, and I got her with Immobilis so I suppose I won, really." Pansy shifted aside for her, grinning, and she sank down gratefully on the grass by Severus's feet.

"Congratulations are in order, I feel," he said gravely, "if you managed even that much." The May sunshine beat down on them, in the little garden beneath the castle walls, and beyond the gate he could see a brilliant glitter dancing on the surface of the lake. Somewhere behind him, beyond the rhododendrons and the chamomile path and the thorny little roses, he could hear Aurora and Septima discussing the upcoming exams, but apart from them he and his troops seemed to have the place to themselves for the moment. It had been an overwhelming feeling, that roaring, stamping ovation in the Great Hall, but feeling overwhelmed was exhausting and he was grateful for the peace and quiet of this walled little enclave - especially after a strenuous morning spent practising using his new wand left-handed. Casting wand-magic with one's non-dominant hand was always problematic, even without the added complication of that hand being artificial: but he was on the whole quite satisfied with the results.

"Soon, I think, I shall be well enough to give you a match myself" - he ignored Pansy's faint snigger - "and then we'll see how you handle an expert." The snigger erupted into a stentorian snort.ᅠ "At least, it's all good practice for your Defence practical."

Hermione fished her Slytherin-green ribbon out of her pocket, tying her hair up in a ponytail. She could take it off again when they left, but here she could wear his colours openly. "I've been practising for my Defence practical ever since I started at Hogwarts, or it feels that way," she said, smiling up at him. "Starting with that troll. But you're right, I do need to actually get better at it." Yet another snort, and Hermione fixed Pansy with her best McGonagall stare. "Pansy, would you like a cough-drop?"

"Oh, don't mind me," Pansy said with a grin, and Severus gave her a quelling look.

"Since Miss Granger has added one extra watcher to our party, Miss Parkinson, I feel it would be a good idea for you to work on your Potions revision for half an hour, and then change places with Jaquin so that he may do the same. If you encounter any problems, do not hesitate to ask my advice." He directed his gaze pointedly towards a garden bench and table about thirty feet away, and Pansy wrinkled her nose at him and went and sat down and began to pull notes out of her bag although still, he noted, keeping a wary eye on him and on the bushes around him.

"I don't wish to seem ungrateful," he said, pulling a wry face at Hermione; "I'm not ungrateful, she and her troops have done more for me and showed me more care than I would have believed possible, but she's just so bloody knowing. Although I suppose the assumption that I am some kind of ever-ready Lothario is at least quite flattering."

Hermione made a face in return, hiking her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. "She does it with me too. And I don't even get the credit for being a... a vamp, or whatever the proper female equivalent of a Lothario would be. I am, as she informed me, a scrawny, toffee-nosed Gryffindor - but if that's what you want, then I'll do!" He frowned, a little, and she laughed. "It's all right... it was aᅠsort of compliment, in its own way. She and I have always loathed each other, and it had nothing to do with house politics. We just get right up each other's noses. But she admitted that I make you happy, and that she's glad about that, which is probably about the first time we've ever really agreed about anything."

"I suppose that that's... civilised, to be able to not like somebody, and still have a sensible conversation and agree on common ground.ᅠ Obviously, I'd prefer it if the whole world was agreed on what a shining prize I'd found, so long as it kept its hands to itself - but still, if my Slytherin cohorts accept you and your Gryffindor ones accept me, even if it's only with a shrug and 'There's no accounting for tastes', we're doing better than I feared.ᅠ I just hope your parents will feel the same way."

"They will... well, not exactly." Hermione reached up to rest her arm on his leg, where the flesh and the prosthetic joined, in a carefully casual gesture. "They'll worry more, but they'll want to like you more, too, because they'll know how much I love you. And when they meet you, they will like you." She smiled at him again. "Remember, they raised a geeky intellectual with a temper... they do like them!" That mattered to her, and she thought to him as well - that aside from his age, his physical injuries, and everything else, her parents should like him as a person.

He laid his hand over hers - the real hand, warm and alive. "I still find it - improbable - that anyone should like me, but the reaction in the hall this morning was... I even saw Weasley applauding, at least after Potter poked him in the ribs, and several students came up to me afterwards and claimed to be pleased to see me."

"Of course they were. And you know I always am.ᅠᅠAre youᅠplanning to have lunch and dinner in the Great Hall too?"

"Dinner - yes, I think so - but I thought I'd have lunch out here, if the weather holds."ᅠ He nodded to Pansy, who was watching him covertly over her notes, and she nodded back.ᅠ "It's so - "ᅠ He lifted his hand to gesture, taking in the spring flowers starring the grassy slope, the little paths among the bushes, the towering grey-brown bulk of the castle at their back and the view through the arched, gated opening in the garden wall, down and out over the water, then laid his long fingers back over hers.

"It is, isn't it?" Hermione replied, gravely happy.ᅠ "I read in Hogwarts: A History that it was originally called Teachers' Faring - for 'faring forth' to, you know?"

"I like that."ᅠ And he did: the idea of himself as a knight faring forth to battle, or even as a courtly lover strolling among the roses, was strong enough to overlay, at least for the moment, that crawling, pleading thing.ᅠ "And I suppose that I shall fare to the Great Hall again at dinner, to sample the fare.ᅠ Having bitten the bullet, I might as well chew it - if you see what I mean."

"Erm - I think so."ᅠ She grinned at him.ᅠ "If you like I'll listen out for what people say: I'm sure most of it will be complimentary."

Severus tapped herᅠwrist sharply with one finger.ᅠ "Don't commit yourself to anything whichᅠmay oblige you to repeat material you may find - distressing.ᅠ Not everybody is as pleased by my recovery as you seem to think."

"Well, I did hear aᅠfirst-year comparing you to a vampire this morning. He sounded quite impressed, though."

Severus coughed, a sudden choking laugh.ᅠ "I can't complain, can I - that is rather the effectᅠI was going for.ᅠ And it reminds me - I'd almost forgotten, but before I was... taken, last year, I was working on a spell for wandless flight.ᅠ I hadn't quite got it to go, yet - but think how I could terrorise my students if I could swoop down from the battlements, keening in a high voice..."

Hermione laughed too. "Well, I wouldn't object to being swooped on, myself, when you're up to it... but you'd have the students fainting and fleeing in droves, if you did it to them!" She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Though a snarl might be better than keening. You do a really good snarl, very tigerish. It used to frighten the life out of us."

"I should have my Slytherins fainting in coils, but it doesn't work on most of them, unfortunately - they can tell when I'm really angry and when I'm putting it on.ᅠ I've been trying to get Crabbe to study, but I don't think I'm really getting through and God knows, he really needs the extra revision."

Hermione shivered. "Oh, don't talk about revision and exams," she said, managing a rueful smile. "Exams frighten the life out of me, they always have. Ask Harry... he's watched me go into hysterics at the end of every year we've been here, at least the ones where we actually had exams. I am revising, even if it's not quite as much as usual," she added quickly. "Don't worry about me. Honestly, being with you works better to keep me from getting all panicky than revising the same material over and over, anyway."

"The trick, you understand, is to revise a wide breadth of material adequately, rather than a small amount of material obsessively." He frowned down his long nose at her. "I should be relieved to be a cause of you not panicking, but concerned to be a cause of your not reaching your full potential. If necessary, we may have to forego nights of passion for the last couple of weeks before NEWTs, to make sure you get enough sleep to focus."

Hermione nodded. "My trouble was that I revised everything obsessively. All my notes, for years." She squeezed his hand gently. "I will study hard - and you do make a good book-stand, sometimes. But..." She smiled up at him. "You're not keeping me from my full potential. And, uh, that does help me sleep well, once we go to sleep. Much better than I usually do with exams coming. Think of it as keeping me from getting too anxious."

"Very well. I must say I would be sorry to return to being celibate, even for a few weeks, and I will just have to refrain from giving you any cause for anxiety until after the exams." He paused and pulled a face. "That's actually getting easier - not being a cause of anxiety in others unless I mean to be, I mean. I haven't had a serious panic fit since - you know." Hermione nodded her understanding and made a vague encouraging noise. "But if I do seem anxious to you, it may be because I worry about... about having to give evidence. Consigning students to Azkaban, even if they are vicious little - How is Miss Patil - Parvati, that is - coping? Did I tell you she apologised to me for what her sister... I thought she'd hate me, but not a bit of it."

"You didn't, and... I'm glad she did." She fiddled absently with her hair. "She's miserable, of course, but her friends are staying close, and I think she's doing a bit better. She certainly doesn't agree with Padma, no matter what a few of the Slytherins say." He tensed a little, and she shook her head. "Oh, only that rotten faction who're open supporters of his. Everyone knows - I've made quite sure everyone knows - that they don't speak for the whole of Slytherin. So has Pansy." She smiled a little. "Another thing we have in common. At this rate, we might even be friends one day." About as likely as pigs flying... but then, at one time she'd have said the same of Severus and Harry ever having a civil conversation.

Severus glanced across at Pansy, who did appear to be studying but who confirmed that she still had at least one eye on him by looking up and sticking her tongue out at him, then grinning at his fierce scowl. "She is excellent at multi-tasking." Behind him, he knew, Jaquin - who had superb eyesight, and had replaced Draco as the Slytherin Seeker - was poised higher up towards the castle's foot, gazing down on the view, including himself, with a kind of conscious nobility whilst remaining far enough away that any potential attacker wouldn't be able to take both of them with a single shot. "She may be, and at times is, a little spiteful and inclined to bully verbally - but I've never known her to hex anyone without good cause, so she's one up on the Weasley Twins as far as that goes."

"More than a little spiteful... but girls usually save the spite for other girls." Hermione chuckled, amused by Pansy's silly little gesture of defiance. "We may have loathed each other, but it was never as bitter as it was for Harry and Draco... or you and the Marauders, certainly. We'd happily shove each other into a muddy puddle... but not off a cliff." She squeezed his hand again. "If there's anything I can do to make it easier for you," she said softly, "do let me, please? We can try to keep from being too nervous together."

"It's not that I'm nervous about the trial: it's the idea of condemning two students - my students, children I've taught - to the Dementors." He shivered. "Don't let's talk about it now. I just want to enjoy this, here, now, with you."

m m

Dinner in the Great Hall was less dramatic than breakfast had been, but scarcely less unnerving. He had been accustomed to looking up to find a sprinkling of students staring at him as he ate, and had hardened himself to their hostility: but to find that nearly all of the starers smiled if he caught their eye, or ducked their heads in polite acknowledgement, was a new experience.

Queasily, he realised that by now at least the rough outline of what had been done to him must be known to the whole school - he could name forty or fifty students with close relatives who had played an active part in it, and it was too juicy a piece of gossip to hope that all of them had kept it to themselves. But almost none of the smiles looked mocking, or even pitying; just - amazingly - genuinely pleased to see that he was doing better, and warily respectful; and the artery-clogging steak-and-kidney pudding settled in his stomach without the clenching, nervous indigestion he had been used to associate with eating at the staff table.

m m

"Come on Professor, there's a good lad." Neville propped himself up from the mattress on one eldow and patted the older man's upper arm as Severus gasped and twisted, his eyes tightly closed. "Wake up now, good boy."

"If you persist in treating me like a dog, Longbottom, I shall bite, I warn you." His coal-black lashes drifted open and he gazed up at the blasted boy, trying to re-orient himself. After a moment he sighed and relaxed.

"Was it - bad?" Neville asked quietly, and Severus frowned at him.

"Actually - no. Not - not really. At least, I was in pain but - " He smiled faintly. "I dreamed about being found. About being brought to the hospital wing, and being in absolute howling bloody agony and then suddenly not being. Quite... abruptly."

He grimaced, twisting his scarred mouth. "I was still in great pain, of course, and unimagineably tired, but I wasn't so afraid any more and I wasn't... I wasn't struggling to scream and I was in a bed and it was warm and light and Addie - Addie took the pain away, most of it, anyway, as if he was painting it out. Hermione washed my hair for me and I was clean and everybody was being so calm and quiet and it just - I wouldn't have believed that sheer bloody relief could be such a powerful emotion.

"I know, I remember that initially I was still in what one would normally consider to be extreme discomfort and..." He gestured at his stomach, bisected by a vertical scar under the nightshirt, and then at his face, and Neville nodded soberly. "It is... distressing to remember that and the fact that you felt the need to wake me shows that I was... distressed, but overall I would say dreaming about it was... it wasn't bad."

"That sounds - well, more positive, like. That you're dreaming about - well, about being healed instead of about being hurt."

"Yes. When I remember that time now, it no longer feels like the final stage of my t-torment but the first stage of - " He gestured widely, encompassing a circle of good things including Neville himself, and even Trevor. "All this. It encourages feelings of safety, rather than - rather than fear."

"That's good, then."

"That depends on whether I actually am safe, or just lulling myself into a sense of false security, and that - " He stopped, distracted, hearing a scratching at the glass. "And that, if I'm not mistaken, is your maiden voyage at the window, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor."

Nevile padded across the floor in his pyjamas, which were decorated with the same Gladrags' finest green and pink rabbits as Dumbledore's dressing gown, and let in the post-owl which was carrying his mint-new copy of the Bulletin of Botanical Magic. Severus heaved himself up into a sitting position and they settled down happily together to pore over Neville's first published article and nitpick the typesetting.

With a complex pang, Severus remembered the paper he was working on with Adrian and Poppy - a paper which could not help but lay bare his miserable degradation to the world, whilst at the same time showcasing his iron competence and detachment and his dispassionate intellect, and thereby sticking two of his remaining fingers up at the tormentors who had failed to destroy him. I am still here, he thought, and unnerved Longbottom with a sudden, eldritch smile.

m m

"And you're... all right about this being printed, liek, and people knowing that they...?"

Severus looked at Addie and sighed. "The ones who have Death Eater parents - and are still on speaking terms with them - know anyway, and I'd be surprised if they haven't spread the news. I overheard two of Bennet's nasty little cronies sniggering about it behind my back this morning, and I had to intervene to prevent the honour guard du jour from doing murder."

"Ugh. That must be - really nasty. Upsetting."

"For a moment, it made me feel quite - " He looked away towards the window, breathing deeply, and saw the silver flash of a fish, changing course to glance past just on the far side of the glass. "I was sorely tempted not to prevent Hennessy and Bulstrode from killing them, believe me. But if I write about it myself, then I own it and they can't - they can't shame me with it. Also - " He tapped his nails against the work surface which doubled as a desk, gathering his nerve. "Also, they were somewhat behind the news as regards my... sexual status." Still unable to bring himself to look Addie in the face, he missed the younger man's sudden grin, quickly suppressed.

"You will understand that this refers to..." He flushed, indicating the spiky scrawl which described in impersonal terms and minimal detail his physical re-awakening; his reassertion of control over his own sexual responses. "That, ah, Hermione and I..."

This time, the grin was unmissable. "Aah aye, Ah realized weeks agoo tha' yee an' the Thothlet were at it, leik."

"That isn't quite how I would have put it myself, but fundamentally, yes. Which, I suppose, makes you in some sense my brother-in-law, as well as hers, which I'll admit I find quite... pleasing." He sipped his coffee, looking down and still avoiding Adrian's eyes. "Of course, I am very sensible of the fact that she is - very much too young for me."

Adrian gave him a strange look. "This is Hermione we're talking about. I think you might be a bit young for her, leik. Seriously."

m m

"Don't fuss, Minnie. I couldn't bring myself to take points from my own house, so I told Horace about it - as acting Head of House - and he set them both a four-foot essay entitled 'Why I am unlikely ever to get laid or to build up a useful social network until I learn some manners and human sympathy, and stop being a giggling, unappetising little psychopath.' With loss of Hogsmeade privileges from now until they leave school if they don't do a proper job of it." He steepled his fingers, thoughtfully. "He also, as I understand it, reminded them that in a year's time it will almost certainly be me who writes them the references which may, if I so choose, ensure that they spend their entire careers mucking out Hippogriff pens."

"Would you do so, do you think, if they dinnae mend their ways?"

"Watch me."

m m

"I'm quite sure," Severus said, peering rather short-sightedly at the pretty little coloured Oriental pictures, "that a lot of these are just - gymnastic exercises designed to prove how flexible one is, or the product of an over-heated imagination. I mean, look at that one - does that look comfortable to you? Or even possible? Even if I could get into that position - which I doubt, although I suppose you never know till you try - I don't think either of us would be able to move once we were in place, which would be very frustrating. And supposing one got cramp - or, worse, pulled a muscle?"

"It doesn't bear thinking about, does it? I'll have to try and get hold of a wizarding version - I'm sure there must be one - and then we'll be able to see if they can move!"

m m

"I think I'm getting the hang of it," Harry said thoughtfully, pushing an untidy lock of hair out of his eyes with his wand. "It's a bit like acting - not that I've ever done any acting - "

"Don't underestimate yourself, Potter. You've acted often enough when you were spinning me some line or other."

"Didn't fool you, though, did I? I need this to be convincing. I need to feel that what I'm showing old Mouldyshorts is true, even though I know it isn't."

"Yes, precisely - you're making some progress at last." He chose to ignore Harry's almost inaudible answering murmur - something about faint praise. "And thank you for not using the, um, V-word."

"Y'welcome" Harry replied with a flashing grin.

"Er - Potter. I've been meaning to ask you - "


"Don't get too cocky - I haven't had a personality transplant. I've been meaning to ask whether it would be possible, at some point, to, um, borrow your Invisibility Cloak for a few days. Or even a few hours, possibly."

m m

Remus bit his lip. "I still worry that there's something we haven't thought of. Severus are you sure you've covered all the bases? The fact that you're going about now, that you're living a normal life - what if that provokes them into acting in a way we haven't allowed for?"

"No system is a hundred percent secure, I suppose, but I'm happy that my security arrangements are as nearly foolproof as they can be. I am sure of my team: and don't," he added, with a glare at the other three, "say that I trusted Greengrass. That was before the Fides Nota, and besides I was - less aware, then."

"My darling cousin is a consummate little liar," Tonks said moodily.

"I say the risk is unacceptable," Moody growled, "and - " but Severus cut across him.

"But I am the one who is at risk here, and I say the risk is within bounds. As strange as it may seem, I would trust Draco with my life."

Tonks looked at him soberly. "You may have to."

m m

[Excerpt from letter from Hermione's parents]

As for Professor Snape, well, of course we were a little surprised... though you did always seem very impressed by his intellect! Hermione darling, you know we trust your judgement. Your father and I want you to be happy - and safe, if that's possible these days - and it seems that while you're with Professor Snape, you're both. Please give him our best, and tell him that we're glad to hear that you're so happy. That said, we would like to meet him, dear. We're your parents, it's rather expected that he should at least come to dinner some time. Of course, depending on what is going on at your end, I do understand that that may not be very safe just now. But if you can come home for a visit, do... and bring him.

Your father says to tell him not to worry about us being overprotective. If we were, we'd have pulled you out of school when the war started, and gone to your great-auntie Stephanie in France. If we let you face an actual war, he says, we can manage an older man who can at least hold an intelligent conversation. And it's not as if he were our age, after all.

Do try to write often, Hermione. We know there's not much we can do for you besides keeping our heads down and letting you get on with it, but we worry. Take care, love.

With all our love

Mum and Dad

Author's note:

"The best of British luck" is a stock phrase used when you think somebody is going to need luck in order to achieve something, and the difficulty they are facing is at least somewhat amusing rather than urgent or tragic.

"Fainting in coils" (a play on painting in oils) was, famously, one of the lessons the Mock Turtle learned from the Drawling master at school in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Well, we may not have made it for Christmas, but it's here now - despite the twin distractions of child-rearing in Dyce's case, and in mine working on a family history and on A true original, a long memorial essay about my friend John Nettleship, who was JK Rowling's Chemistry teacher and the main model for Snape, and who sadly died of cancer in March 2011. Interested readers can find this memorial essay at www. whitehound. co. uk/Fanfic/A_true_original. htm.

I have not updated "our" Minerva to match the new background provided in Pottermore, because I can't yet see a way to do so without losing too much of her dialogue and character.