Sunset brought the Slytherin students hurriedly back to their common room as everyone was eager to discover the winner. Snape pushed Jana into the crowded space, in much the same way as he had pushed her out of it only a few hours previously.
"This has been an unusual game," he announced, the sound of his voice bringing the room to instant quiet.
"Seldom is it that the quarry wins the day, but this year Janet Jones has achieved this rare success."
With this, he placed a dark green robe around her shoulders. The room was rather quiet, then a few students started clapping. Snape joined in, and before long there was considerable applause. Jana stood, silent and stunned.
"Jones has not depended solely upon magic for her victory. Magic is a useful tool, but woe betide any wizard foolish enough to expect magic will solve his every difficulty. Jones has indeed used magic to evade you, but, I discover from talking with her, she has also used intelligent thought and imagination to good effect. She has taken advantage of alliances, and exploited personal advantages in admirable ways. Never forget the mundane possibilities. An assassin with a sharp knife may kill you very easily if you only think to defend yourself from an enemy with a wand.
"Now, the refectory is ours alone for the next few hours. We shall enjoy our traditional feast, and Jones will have the honour of sitting at the head of the table. You have fifteen minutes to make yourselves presentable. I suggest you hurry."
A mad dash ensued as students ran for their dorms and wardrobes. As the common room emptied, Snape turned to Jana and spoke to her alone.
"Unless you had other arrangements in place, I should like to take you in to diner myself."
Jana blushed, and grinned.
"Sure," she said.
"In light of current circumstances, you have my permission to drop certain formalities in private, but in public you will continue to call me 'sir' or 'professor'."
"Yes Professor Sir," she said, her voice loaded with sarcasm.
He raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Jana took the stairs to her dormitory at a run.
The refectory appeared larger than ever. Empty of students, and with only one long table running down its length, the space was formidable. Looking up, Jana could see familiar constellations glittering in a dark sky. Candlelight illuminated the long table, but deep shadows prevailed in the farthest corners of the hall. Her hand rested lightly on Snape's arm. He strode forward, and Jana found it easy enough to match his pace. It was all she could do not to start giggling. That she, the most despised Slytherin in the school, should be walking in to a feast as the triumphant victor of a hard game, escorted by her dashing head of house, was something she struggled to believe. She half expected to wake up at any moment.
The meal itself was easy enough – the people around her were more intent on eating than talking. The Slytherin students weren't going to suddenly embrace her, she knew that. With a bit of luck Snape's open approval would take the heat off her a bit. She hoped so. After the feasting, Snape called for volunteers. Jana listened with wonder as various students rose from their seats, to quote ancient poetry written in magical tongues, or recount tales of former glory. Jana had heard such pieces before, and had a fair idea that none of the other three houses had traditions to rival Slytherin's. They represented to true aristocracy of the wizarding world. However, like most noble strains, they were suffering the ill effects of inbreeding. Some of her peers were far paler than they should be, and several were more than a little odd. They were dreadfully short of fresh blood, but this seemed to make them tolerate half breeds and mudbloods even less. Jana knew enough about muggle history to know that aristocracies could always be entered by those with the wit, resources and determination. Blood wasn't everything.
Gradually, the company around the table thinned. The youngest students went first and reluctantly, dragging their feet. By midnight even those in their NEWT years were tiring. Jana determined to stay to the very end. She felt exhausted, but the day had been far too exciting and she didn't want to end it until she absolutely had to. Eventually, only she and Snape remained.
"Thank you," she said, feeling very grown up indeed. "I've had a wonderful evening. Actually, it's been a pretty good day for me."
"And a very interesting day for me Miss Jones."
"When do you want me to… umm…" she looked around, even though there was no-one close by to hear them.
"Tomorrow evening," he said.
"You may as well come to my rooms Jones. We aren't likely to be disturbed there."
"I'll just pick a door," she said. "What time?"
"Eight. I shall make sure not to be in the bathroom then. I suspect you of a devious sense of humour Jones."
"You might be right."
The look on his face altered slightly. It wasn't exactly a smile, but there was just the faintest hint of warmth, or possibly amusement there. Jana raised an eyebrow, grinned and wished she had the nerve to blow him a kiss. That would be too much. Like baiting a caged lion, when you aren't so sure the cage is perfectly lion-proof.
With that, she departed for her bed. Jana was relieved to find the other girls in her dormitory all safely asleep when she got back. She had been obliged to learn a number of advanced charms and warding spells just to keep them from interfering with her possessions, leaving sticky, squelchy things in her bed and hiding her books. Now they mostly left her alone.
Jana curled up in her bed, and let the day replay itself in her mind. She had seen professor Snape, topless. That was an image to treasure, and one she knew would stay with her for a long time to come. Just thinking about it made her feel all hot and wriggly at the same time. In private, he wasn't nearly so scary as in public, she decided. It would be interesting to see what their next rendezvous brought. Jana liked the idea of secret, illicit meetings. She was sure Snape shouldn't be entertaining lone female students in his rooms at night. She would certainly be out of her room beyond the curfew, unless he was very quick questioning her. The rule breaking only added to the fun, as she saw it.
They caught her after a transfiguration lesson. Jana had been in too good a mood to take her usual careful precautions. She didn't see them coming in the crowd. The first thing she knew was when she fell, tripped by a carefully placed foot. They dragged her a short distance, grazing her knees and hauling her out of the general melee of students into a quiet room. Several hard kicks landed on her back and ribs. She gritted her teeth instinctively, determined not to cry out.
"Not so clever now, are we Jones?"
Jana didn't look up. The voice was female. Her attackers could be pretty much any of the Slytherins and it really didn't matter which ones. Then she felt the unpleasantly familiar zing of someone casting magic at her. Jana stayed still. She wasn't much good at rapid wand use. It felt as though thousands of tiny needles were pricking her skin. She writhed, unable to stay still.
"Don't think you'll stay in favour long, Jones. Professor Snape doesn't like mudbloods any more than the rest of us. You're scum, and we all know it."
"Don't start thinking you're anyone important. You're not," chimed in another voice, this one male.
"What are we going to do with her?" the first girl asked.
"Binding spell first I think."
Jana felt her limbs freeze. This wouldn't be the first time someone had decided to make her late for a lesson. She knew better than to name the culprits. It would mean another detention, but so long as it wasn't tonight, it didn't matter.
"I've got a really nasty little ant nest spell, let's try that on Jones."
"What does it do?"
"Summons a large number of ants to crawl over the victim's body. Of course, if they aren't removed, they start eating. What do you think Jones, will anyone notice you've gone and come to your rescue, or are you going to be ant fodder?"
Paralysed, Jana could say nothing. Fear wracked her. She felt her skin begin to itch, as though thousands of tiny feet were running all over her. Had she been able to, she would have screamed. She heard her attackers go, but before the door shut, trapping her, there came a voice.
"And what sort of trouble are you lot causing?"
Jana didn't recognise the newcomer. It wasn't one of the teachers. Most likely the girl was a prefect from one of the other houses. There were denials, a few insults, the sound of departing feet. Jana was close to losing all hope.
"Bloody hell!" the girl said.
In seconds, the ants had gone, and the binding spell was broken.
"Are you all right?"
Jana hauled herself into a more dignified sitting position.
"She was bruised, sore and shaken, but there was no permanent damage done.
"Do you want to go to the infirmary? You've got a nasty bruise coming up and you look pretty shaken."
"It's ok. I must have banged myself on something."
"We should go to the Headmaster. He doesn't like bullying, and that was nasty stuff they'd done to you."
"I'd rather not. They were just mucking about."
Jana knew that if she stirred up any trouble, things would only get worse for her.
"Thanks for coming to my rescue," she said. "I owe you one. What's your name?"
"You can call me Tonks," the girl said.
"Thanks Tonks. I'm Jana."
"Ah. I've heard of you. The infamous Slytherin mudblood. Ah, sorry. I shouldn't have said that, should I?"
"It's ok, I don't really care what people call me."
"I'll keep an eye out for you," the girl added.
"And I owe you a favour. I'll remember that."