Snape did, after all, wake up again. He emerged from his coma on Thursday morning. Outside it was dawning, but thick clouds of fog hung around the castle. Still not fully awake, he blinked in the dim light and found Hermione sitting in a chair next to his bed. The young witch was grinning broadly.
"How do you feel, Professor?" Hermione asked.
"How is – everyone?" he croaked with some effort.
"She is alright, Professor. Everyone is alright. Voldemort is dead."
Snape drifted off into sleep again. The next time he awoke, Hermione had fetched Madam Pomfrey. Seeing him come round, she immediately started muttering a complicated diagnostic spell.
"It's a miracle you're alive," she finally stated.
"I didn't expect it," Snape groaned. "What happened?"
"Don't move," Poppy Pomfrey commanded. "You still have broken bones; you were too weak for them to heal. But don't worry, now that you've woken up it won't take long."
She straightened up and checked the clock on the wall. "Ten to six. I'll go and wake her, she'll be livid if I don't."
Hermione nodded. "I'll stay here."
Poppy swept out of the room.
"What – happened?" Snape repeated.
"Quite a bit. You've been out cold for four days. Madam Pomfrey has gone to fetch Minerva."
"Shouldn't wake her."
Snape still sounded somewhat benumbed, although Hermione heard that he tried hard not to.
"Oh, I know we shouldn't –" Hermione laughed. "But I would not want to risk her anger if we didn't."
Snape's eyes narrowed. Hermione grew serious again.
"She's spent three nights crying by your bedside," she said matter-of-factly. "Yesterday evening, she collapsed with lack of sleep. We forced her go to bed and swore to wake her immediately should your condition change."
Snape did not reply and Hermione thought it safer to fill him in on the other developments of the last few days.
"Harry and Neville succeeded. Voldemort is dead."
"Are you certain?"
"Yes. He is dead for good."
"Harry and Neville?" Snape frowned. "Neville Longbottom?"
"It appears the prophecy applied to both of them after all. They had to work together."
Snape closed his eyes for a moment and slowly drew in a deep breath.
"And the others?"
"Many of the Death Eaters surrendered. Others are still at large, but few. We have a new Minister for Magic."
"Arthur Weasley," Hermione smiled. "Of course that's transitional only until proper elections will be held. But he runs the Ministry for now."
"So we have the Ministry building back."
"Yes. All sealed rooms are open again, except for the History Department. No one has gotten past your guarding spells."
A twisted smile appeared on Snape's lips, but he said nothing.
"St Mungo's is admitting patients again. Most shops in Diagon Alley will re-open shortly or are open already. Hogsmeade still is one big party. For Saturday, a big formal celebration is planned here in Hogwarts."
"And the others here? The Order? The students?"
"Quite a few got hurt. But it's nothing too serious. Don't be shocked when you see Minerva, she's got a scar like Harry's now."
Snape closed his eyes once more. Hermione got up and went to the window, thinking he had drifted out of consciousness again.
"Why do you call her by first name?" Snape suddenly asked behind her.
"She asked me to." Hermione hesitated, not quite knowing what to say. "We've become friends."
Hermione could feel Snape's gaze boring into her back. Slowly, she turned around and faced him.
"General opinion is that you wanted to make up for killing Dumbledore by saving her – you know, redemption for killing the White King by saving the White Queen."
"The white – what?"
"Rita Skeeter," Hermione growled. "So pleased with her allegories. Bellatrix Lestrange is the Black Queen, in case you'd wondered."
"That is disgusting."
Hermione nodded. "It is. But it does make a very neat story, doesn't it?"
She looked him directly in the eyes. The expression on Snape's face was unreadable. Hermione smiled and turned away.
"In case that you don't mind, Professor, I'll go to bed now. I have taken turns with Madam Pomfrey in staying awake, and I need to catch up on sleep."
"Feel free to go," he said brusquely.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Snape and Minerva did not get a chance to speak to each other privately – as long as he stayed in the hospital wing, always at least one of the others was present.
After waking her early on Thursday morning, Poppy only allowed Minerva to see Snape for about five minutes, then she sent her off again – commenting on the fact that Minerva appeared to have slept in her robes, thus certainly not resting properly.
When Minerva re-appeared in the hospital wing some time early in the afternoon, she met Moody, Harry, and Neville already visiting with Snape.
On Friday morning, Minerva went to London to the Ministry building accompanied by Moody. Snape had told them what counter-spells were needed to remove the security measures he had added to the Department of Magical History, and they worked the whole day on it. It was late in the night before they were able to apparate back to Hogsmeade. Moody insisted on inviting Minerva for dinner in The Three Broomsticks, and although she was more than eager to return to the castle, she did not find a way to avoid accepting the invitation.
Against Poppy Pomfrey's advice, Snape left the hospital wing on Friday. He found that someone had fetched his belongings from the Ministry building and put the small trunk in his old rooms at Hogwarts. No one had ever wanted to take over his rooms down in the dungeons, so he moved in again.
Saturday was busy, too. Snape and Minerva saw each other at breakfast in the Great Hall, but did of course not speak of anything personal. The whole castle was bustling with activity in preparation for the feast in the evening. Some guests had already arrived in the morning and toured the castle all day, admiring the added orphanage. Everyone wanted to speak to the Headmistress. Snape locked himself in his rooms once he noticed that Rita Skeeter and her photographer had arrived early and searched the whole castle for him.
On early Saturday evening, Harry wandered through the empty corridors of the castle. Almost everyone was getting ready for the function later that night, and the hallways were deserted. Still, Harry was glad to be wearing his Invisibility Cloak. He had one more thing to do before he could fully join the celebrations, and he did not want any witnesses.
Slowly, he climbed the steps to the Astronomy Tower and opened the door which lead to the ramparts. He had not been there since the night of Dumbledore's death. Dreading the memories, Harry stepped out onto the platform. He felt his eyes water instantly.
Carefully, Harry leaned over the parapet and looked down to where Dumbledore had fallen. He shuddered in the surprisingly chilly evening air.
"Goodbye, Professor…" Harry whispered to the wind.
His feelings about that certain night still were confused. He knew full well that Snape had had no choice, that in fact Dumbledore had begged Snape to fulfil their plan. By now, Harry even felt grateful to Snape for everything his former teacher had done in the war. Still, Harry missed Dumbledore so much that he could not quite overcome his old loathing for Snape.
Harry stayed on the platform for a long time, crying silently. Miserably, he sat down on the cold stone floor and allowed himself to remember the good moments he had shared with Dumbledore.
Suddenly he heard the door to the platform close. Startled, Harry saw that Snape had entered the platform and had closed the door to the staircase. Unless Harry wanted to make his presence known, he was now trapped on the platform with Snape. He crouched down in one corner as silently as he could.
Snape went to exactly the same place where Harry had stood minutes before. He, too, leaned over the parapet and looked down onto the grounds. His hands gripped the ornamental metal railing very hard. For minutes, he stood motionless.
Hardly daring to breathe, Harry watched Snape closely. Snape had actually made an effort to dress for the feast later. He wore old-fashioned, but rather smart black dress robes under his open cloak; and the hair framing his pale, gaunt face did for once not look greasy and unkempt.
After long minutes Snape turned around and leaned against the parapet. His face was like a mask, but Harry saw a single tear running down his left cheek. Desperately, Harry hoped he would not be discovered. He could just imagine what Snape would do to him if he ever learned Harry had seen him in that state.
The door to the staircase opened again. Minerva entered the platform, wearing dress robes of dark emerald green with black and silver embroidery. She looked at Snape for a second, then turned and locked the door behind her.
"Thought I'd find you here," she said softly.
The two professors looked at each other without saying a word.
After a long moment, Minerva walked over to Snape. With him resting against the balustrade, she was almost as tall as he was. Anxiously, Harry waited to see how Snape would react. He had to admire the Headmistress's courage. Harry only wished to be as far away from Snape as possible, but Minerva even raised her hand and gently wiped the tear from Snape's face.
With one quick movement, Snape's left hand caught Minerva's wrist in front of his face. Harry waited for the explosion to come.
Instead, the two of them continued to stare at each other, frozen in their movements.
"It's alright…" Minerva whispered, barely audible.
Snape moaned and nestled his face in her hand. She whispered something else Harry did not understand. Snape looked at her again, and Harry could see his face was wet with more tears now.
Carefully, the tall witch drew him closer. Snape buried his face at her neck, now shaking with furious sobs. He held on to her frail frame with all his strength. Tears were now also streaming down from her eyes, but she did not care and continued to hold the crying man.
Harry by now felt deeply embarrassed to be there, but getting away was out of the question. He tried not to make a sound although he was shivering with cold from the stone floor he sat on. After three or four minutes, he realised to his relief that Snape's desperate sobs subsided and that his breathing grew calmer. Still, he allowed Minerva to comfort him.
"Thank you," he finally whispered hoarsely.
She smiled sadly. "I had wondered already how you could cope with all this without ever breaking down."
Snape straightened up and returned the sad smile.
"I don't know if I ever will cope with all this," he said.
"Probably none of us will."
He mustered her face closely, then he carefully traced the lightning-shaped cut on her forehead. Harry was surprised that she held still and quietly allowed him to touch her face.
"Does it hurt much?" Snape asked.
"Not at all."
Minerva wiped her face and straightened her robes. Snape turned and looked down over the parapet again
"Don't." She gently pulled him back. "I don't like seeing you like this –"
"It's not an option any more." He actually smiled. "You did put a stop to those thoughts."
With genuine interest, he asked: "How did you know it ever was an option?"
"I didn't know. I just never had the impression you valued your own life too highly."
He shrugged vaguely.
"See? And that night after Draco's death, you said something like that – that there was nothing to live for."
"I didn't have much to live for back then." A smirk appeared on his face.
"You may have noticed that this changed only minutes later. Minerva, you did put a stop to these thoughts. I may be haunted by the memories of my deeds, but I will not throw myself off that tower. Not now."
She smiled shyly. "I am glad to hear that."
Harry watched in shock as Snape kissed Minerva. By the look of it, this was not their first kiss, although maybe the first one in quite a while.
After a few seconds they broke apart and stood next to each other in silence.
Harry studied them closely. They did not hold hands or make any other gestures of intimacy, yet Harry could tell by their body languages that they knew each other much better than he had ever imagined.
Still he wondered what that kiss could have meant. None of the two teachers was the easy-going type of person who might occasionally kiss a platonic friend, but the pairing seemed so unlikely to Harry that he could still not quite believe they might actually be lovers.
It grew darker. Harry wondered how long he would be stuck with them here on the tower. He still had to get ready for the function later.
Minerva shivered in the chilly evening air. Without a word, Snape took off his cloak and placed it around her shoulders.
She cuddled herself in the cloak, watching him in his dress robes.
"You look good tonight," she added.
"No need to sound so surprised," Snape chided her.
She laughed softly. "Sorry. It's just that I've seen you only in dusty, worn-out robes for almost a year now."
Snape turned and surveyed her closely in turn. "Slytherin colours suit you."
"Augusta will be happy to agree with you. She hates when I wear my tartan."
She laughed again. The mood had definitely lightened.
"You feeling better now?" Minerva asked in a warm voice.
"Yes –", he sighed. "Yes, I do."
With some reservation he added: "I think I just needed to say – goodbye."
"It was a terrible thing he did to you," she said seriously.
"A terrible thing he did?"
"Severus, he as good as considered you the son he never had, and yet he made you kill him. That is… well, it's not exactly being nice."
Snape did not answer. Minerva sighed, and studied his face again.
"There is something I need to tell you," she suddenly uttered.
"I did have the impression there was something on your mind in the past few days," he replied apprehensively.
"That night before you woke up, after Poppy had sent me away from the hospital wing – I found something. Albus had left me a letter, explaining your plan."
"So he did tell you after all," Snape said. There was a trace of surprise in his voice.
"It seems that he sensed his death was close, that's why he wrote it. Severus, I want you to read this letter. He said a great deal about you. And… "
Minerva pressed her lips together for a moment, but then she continued resolutely.
"And he had included two of his memories with that letter. The first one was of that night when you returned to our side. The second one was of that conversation when he finally convinced you to – to go through with his plan."
Snape now mustered Minerva closely.
"Does it… matter to you? That I've seen those memories?" she asked a bit anxiously.
"I thought it would matter to you."
"To me? Why?"
"Dumbledore," Snape said quietly. "I told you that he loved you. That does change things a bit, doesn't it?"
"No, it doesn't. I've already told you that it does not matter."
Harry studied the two of them again. Snape's face betrayed some doubt and apprehension, while Minerva's features showed gentle defiance.
"Not any more," she insisted.
Snape reached out and pulled her closer again. He kissed her temple and then held her in his arms.
"So now you do know everything," he said quietly. "I was… a bit afraid to tell you."
"Afraid? Why so?"
He released her from his embrace and held her at arm's length away from him.
"Can't you imagine that? I thought I'd pressure you too much. Telling you that I have loved you all this time, that you were my reason to return…"
He did look worried. Harry had never seen Snape display so much emotion. Minerva, on the other hand, seemed perfectly calm. She reached up to Snape's face again and stroked his cheek softly.
"I love you," she simply said. "Nothing could change that now."
Snape only smiled in return. For once, he seemed lost for words.
Minerva turned and surveyed the Hogwarts grounds from the tower. In the dusk, a few people could be seen on the road from Hogsmeade to the castle.
"I think our guests from Hogsmeade start arriving. Shall we go downstairs?"
She took a few steps towards the door.
"I don't want to."
"Come on, it won't hurt you to be popular for once."
"There will be all kinds of boring speeches, Rita Skeeter will try to interview me again, and all those hypocrites will hint that they have, deep down, trusted me all the time.
Half of them will wear 'Harry Potter is my hero' badges or some other nonsense of that kind.
Mrs Longbottom will constantly push her grandson in the direction of the photographers. Everyone will insist on comparing me to Sirius Black, and everyone will compliment me on being such a great teacher for 'The Hero Duo'. – Definitely not my kind of party."
Harry grinned under his cloak, and Minerva exploded with merry laughter.
"This isn't funny," Snape snarled. "Do you know that there's witches sending love letters to me? All of a sudden they seem to confuse me with Lockhart."
"I did notice that you must have burned letters in your fireplace," she said, still giggling. "The ashes were all over the place. Face it; women tend to fall for the dark hero."
"Despicable," he spat out, scowling at the smirk on her face. "And when did you see my fireplace anyway?"
"Last night, after I had returned from London and Hogsmeade. I sneaked into your rooms, but you were asleep already."
"Then why didn't you wake me?"
"Because you were feverish and needed the sleep. Really, you should not have left the hospital wing so early."
"I am fine."
"You are not fine; you were closer to death than to life only two and half days ago. But let's not argue about that," she said decidedly.
Snape made a sound as if he wanted to say something, but changed his mind.
With a mischievous smile, he motioned for her to come closer again. His long fingers closed around her wrists and he again held her in front of him.
"So women tend to fall for the dark hero?" he asked in a silky voice.
"Some do," she replied tenderly.
She tried to move closer to him, but he held her away with that strange playful smile broadening. Harry had the impression that Minerva tried in vain to free her hands. A tiny smile very much like his appeared on her face, too.
"That does hurt, you know," she said with a trace of amusement in her voice.
He pressed her wrists even stronger. She winced, now definitely struggling to break from the restraint.
"Alright, you do seem to feel better," she said factually. That smile had not disappeared from either one's face.
Snape forced her hands behind her back with a swift movement, thereby pulling her closer to him. She stopped struggling in his constraining embrace and they kissed passionately. After a few seconds, Snape let go of her hands and Harry saw the bruise marks on her wrists. She did not look as if she cared much about them.
They broke apart again. With a surprisingly tender gesture, Snape stroked her cheek lightly. Minerva smiled, massaging her wrists absent-mindedly.
"I was right about your tastes," Snape said, showing his amusement plainly.
"I'm not so sure. The physical extend of that remains to be seen – it's more that I enjoy having one person around who dares to stand up to me. But I think we will find out." She raised one eyebrow.
"So you really want to go on with this?" Snape grew serious again.
"Just what has gotten into you tonight? Don't you want to continue this?"
"I do. Very much so. But I also realise how difficult this will be – for you."
"I don't care!"
"But I do. No matter what they write in the papers right now, my name will never be fully cleared. There will always be mistrust and rumours. And I will always remain a murderer."
"I told you I don't care what the public thinks – and I know who and what you are."
"They will whisper some very nasty things behind your back. You said yourself that a relationship between us was inappropriate. I remember you very worried about the matters of 'former student' and 'half your age'."
"I cannot claim that I don't care about that. This will create problems in the future, we both know that. It is inappropriate, and at some point you will be fed up with being with an old woman -"
Snape tried to interrupt her, but she continued, "What I mean to say is that I am aware of these problems. So are you. If we decide we'll try it anyway, I don't see what public gossip has to do with it."
"I have not much to lose; I've been unpopular all my life. You are the Hogwarts Headmistress, a war hero, and half of the articles about you suggest that you should become Minister for Magic after Weasley – not to mention the fact that your friend Augusta would certainly not like Kitty to have such a scandalous affair."
Minerva's eyes flashed angrily when he mentioned her nickname, but he cut her protest off.
"And most importantly, the general public considers you Dumbledore's widow. Sleeping with his murderer will harm your reputation quite a bit. We could keep this secret, if you want to."
She shook her head.
"Look, I don't much believe in public displays of affection anyway. This is private. But there is no need to keep it totally secret. I think I should tell Remus, for one – I promised I would tell him one day what we fought about in Grimmauld Place. And then, at some time, somebody else will notice we are more than friends – and I don't see the point of denying it then."
"People will wonder anyway why I spend time in Hogwarts without a teaching position."
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Horace wants to resign again at the end of the school year. If you want to, you could become Head of Slytherin again – and Potions Master."
"You mean you'd hire me? You called me a horrible teacher."
"Naturally, you would have to be nicer to your students."
She smiled. "Let's just see how this all works out. It does seem that interesting times are ahead of us."
Snape smiled slyly.
"Let's go downstairs," he said. "This might, after all, turn out to be not so bad an evening."
They left the platform, leaving Harry alone. Slowly, he pulled his Invisibility Cloak off and stretched. He was deeply lost in thoughts - looking back, Harry wondered how he and the others could have missed noticing this development. Now that he had watched the couple for a while, it seemed perfectly obvious.
Harry frowned. Everybody knew Alastor Moody was quite taken with Minerva, and had suspected some beginning romance there – but of course no one had thought of Snape. Harry wondered if either Snape or Minerva were aware of Moody's feelings for her.
Walking over to the spot where Minerva and Snape had stood a minute ago, he wondered if he should tell Ron and Hermione what he had witnessed.
No matter what the two teachers had said just now, Harry had the feeling that they would prefer to keep their love secret for a little longer. After all, their relationship seemed fairly new; and Snape had clearly pointed out the disadvantages of everyone knowing about it.
Still wondering what to do, Harry checked his watch and realised it was high time he got ready for the celebration feast. He ran back to his dormitory.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"McGonagall is in love? With Snape???"
Ron could not get over the news. Harry had decided to tell his friends, he had to discuss things with someone and they were sure not to gossip.
After getting ready for the feast, Harry had asked Ron and Hermione to stay behind with him in the Gryffindor common room. Everybody else had already gone down to the Great Hall, and they would have to follow in five minutes at the latest.
Ron stared at Harry, his eyes big and round with disbelief. Harry shrugged.
"You mean, they actually sleep together? They talked about that?" Ron looked half amused, half taken aback. "That's… wicked. I mean, she's so old and all that."
Hermione giggled. "She's not that old. It's a bit unusual that he should be half her age, but really, what's a 40-year-difference in the wizarding world? And I'm sure nobody would care if it was the other way around – you know, if he was the older one."
"I suppose so," Harry said, not fully convinced. "But it's so weird. I mean, they've always hated each other."
"They have never hated each other, Harry," Hermione corrected him, still smiling.
"They always were rivals, and I reckon they still are. But I think Minerva was the only friend Snape ever had here at Hogwarts. Like, remember how they would always walk together by the lake? And he was her chess partner."
"Yeah, but lovers? You don't seem too surprised about that."
"I knew," Hermione replied, looking a little embarrassed.
"What? And you didn't tell us?" Ron was outraged.
"I couldn't. Really, I'm sorry. But I thought it was so obvious."
"Obvious? That? And since when did you know?"
"Well, I knew that she had a new partner ever since that – you know, that girl talk I had with her last week."
Hermione bit her lip, and the boys nodded. Ron and Hermione had told Harry about their worries; he was their best friend after all.
"I first thought it was Mad-Eye Moody," she went on. "Like, everyone suspects there is something going on, right?"
The boys nodded again.
"But then I thought about it, and – ah, Moody just made no sense. Remember that time back in Grimmauld Place – Snape risked everything to bring her there when he thought she was dying. And she had risked her life just to prove he was on our side. No wonder he was angry about that."
"That's what that major fight was all about, then?"
"I don't know. I think so. I mean, Ron, you'd be angry if I risked my life just to do you a favour, wouldn't you?"
"Right. And then Snape shielded her against Voldemort. And after Madam Pomfrey had told her he was dying, remember how pale she looked? I went back to the hospital wing five minutes after she'd shooed us away. I never saw anyone cry that desperately. She had totally broken down."
"Mmm." Harry bit his lip, wondering what to make of this all. "You think this has been going on for a long time?"
"No," Hermione shook her head. "I mean, I think they must have felt that way for a long time. But that they admitted it to each other – I think that's fairly new. But I don't know."
She checked the big grandfather clock by the portrait hole. "We have to get going."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The function turned out to be just as Snape had predicted it. One boring speech followed another, and almost every speaker insisted on hinting that he had, all the time, suspected that both Snape and Sirius had always been on their side. Snape looked murderous and refused to speak to anyone.
Last of all, Arthur Weasley, the acting Minister for Magic, held his speech. He alone admitted how the Order had constantly discussed the matter of Snape's true loyalty, and that most of them had, at first, found it extremely difficult to consider even the possibility of trusting him again.
Minerva looked up in surprise; then nodded to Mr Weasley in respect for his honesty. She granted him one of her usually very rare smiles.
Arthur smiled back and turned to face Snape.
"Severus," he said gravely, "I have to ask you to forgive us all. You have saved countless lives in this war, both before and after Albus Dumbledore's death. We should have known that you are no common murderer, but that this was an agreement between the two of you. Obviously you had to keep it secret. I am glad that there were those among us who understood this afterwards – Minerva, of course, but also Remus, Hermione, and my son Bill."
Arthur smiled again, and Snape nodded somewhat awkwardly. Mr Weasley turned to the Hogwarts Headmistress.
"Minerva, thank you for opening Hogwarts for this function. We have enjoyed an excellent dinner, and I think there have been enough boring speeches for tonight – let the celebrations begin. I'd be honoured if you, as our hostess, would open the dance with me."
Gracefully, they started dancing. Minerva was a good dancer and obviously enjoyed it, and tall Arthur Weasley led her into a waltz with a big smile on his face. With some amusement, Harry noticed that both Snape and Moody leaned forward, watching the dancing couple closely.
Soon, other couples joined the dance, too. Charlie Weasley waltzed with his beaming mother, Remus Lupin and Tonks danced in close embrace, and even Ron allowed Hermione to lead him to the dance floor. When the song ended, Moody got up quickly and asked Minerva for the next dance.
The music got faster, and the dance floor was now crowded with laughing people. Everybody was relieved that the official part of the function was now over. The twins set of the fireworks they had installed. Several of the students and guests screamed with delight when Flitwick charmed the ceiling to send down a shower of tiny, sparkling stars.
Snape remained seated. Clearly, he was not going to join the more joyful part of the celebrations.
Harry drew in a deep breath and mustered all his courage for the task he had set himself. He walked over to the staff table and looked Snape directly in the eyes.
"Professor Snape? Might I have a word?"
Snape's cold eyes glittered. This whole feast had certainly not done much to improve his mood. Harry found it very hard to remind himself that he had seen this man laughing only about three hours ago.
"Sit down, Potter," he said slowly.
"I have a confession to make," Harry managed to get out. He remained standing although his knees were shaking a little.
"And what might that be about?" Snape spoke in that low voice Harry had come to fear in the past few years.
"I was there at the tower," Harry blurted out, trying to get this over with as quickly as possible.
"Tonight, I mean. I went there, but I was under my Invisibility Cloak and then you entered and I could not get away and then – well, I saw you and Professor McGonagall."
Snape stared back at Harry, his expression totally blank.
"And why, pray, did you not care to make your presence know to me – to us?" Snape finally answered, his voice a furious whisper.
"Because I was afraid of you – of how you'd react," Harry replied truthfully.
"Is that so."
Harry nodded nervously, still waiting for Snape to start shouting at him. On the contrary, Snape seemed much on his guard.
"Nosy, just like your father was." A muscle went in Snape's right cheek. "So what are you going to do now?"
"Nothing," Harry said, surprised. "Well, I must admit I did tell Ron and Hermione. But she knew already. Why should I do anything else?"
"Then why did you tell me?"
"Because it didn't feel right, spying on you like that. I just thought you should know."
Harry blinked, thinking that he would not be able to stand Snape's icy gaze much longer. With one last apologetic smile, he walked away from the table.
"Potter?" Snape called him back. Harry turned around slowly and faced Snape once more.
"That was very – very decent of you. You might be as nosy as your father was, but you do lack some of his arrogance."
Snape's face showed plainly that saying something remotely positive about Harry cost him great effort. Harry grinned with relief.
"Thank you, Professor. You know –" he cleared his throat, "I think it's rather cool."
Snape's eyes narrowed, as if he suspected Harry was making fun of him.
"She looked happy," Harry said earnestly. "Happier than I've ever seen her before. I think she deserves that. Both of you do, after all that you've done for us."
"Off you go, Potter," Snape replied.
His voice had been even, but Harry felt certain Snape had almost smiled. He turned around and started looking for Ginny. Hermione had hinted that maybe Ginny would not be angry if he asked her for a dance or two.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Many hours later, the feast was still going on although most of the guests had left. Ron and Hermione sat comfortably cuddled together on one of the tables, watching the few couples left on the dance floor. Bill and Fleur were dancing slowly in the far corner where it was darkest; Hagrid and Olympe Maxime close to them.
Minerva was dancing with a Ministry wizard neither Ron nor Hermione knew. She had been quite popular all evening; almost every one of the invited guests and even a few of the older students had asked her to dance.
"Where's Harry?" Ron asked, looking around.
"Taking a walk with Ginny. I think they have some important things to discuss."
"I thought she would not talk to him any more?"
"Oh, she is angry. He broke up with her, and she is the only one of all your family who could not join the Order and help officially. But she knows that Harry broke up with her because he thought being with him would endanger her."
"So what now?"
"I don't know." Hermione smiled. "But they were a nice couple, who knows what will happen."
"Yeah, I reckon Harry is right for Ginny after all. Speaking of couples – " Ron watched his Headmistress on the dance floor. "Where's Snape? He did not dance with her all evening."
"Honestly, Ron, can you see Snape enjoying a dance? He's not the type." Hermione laughed.
They watched the dancing couples again. Ludo Bagman, his robes covered with Flitwick's glittering stars, had now cut in and insisted on another dance with Minerva.
"She does look pretty for her age," Ron said after a few minutes.
"That she does," a voice growled suddenly. Moody stomped closer to them, also watching Minerva. He held something small in his right hand, distractedly playing with the object.
"Think this dancing will go on for long now?" Moody asked.
Ron yawned. "Probably not. It must be like, what, three in the morning?"
"Yes." Hermione got up and loosened her muscles. "I think I'll go to bed soon. Amazing how they can still do all that dancing; I feel more like sleep-walking."
"Mmm." Moody scowled. He leaned against the table, still playing with that small thing in his hand.
"What's that you've got there, Moody?" Ron asked curiously.
"Well –", Moody turned to look at them. "Can you two keep a secret?"
He grinned and poured himself a drink from the hip-flask he always carried.
"Sure," Ron said.
"Here." Moody held the object out for Hermione to take. "Might not be wrong to ask for a female opinion anyway."
Hermione took the small box and opened it carefully. "Is that –" she gasped, taking out a small, delicate ring.
"Scottish gold. Ruby for the Gryffindor colours," Moody explained happily.
"Think she'll like it?" he added, pointing to Minerva.
Ron and Hermione exchanged an uneasy look, none of them quite knowing what to say.
"It's beautiful," Hermione then said carefully. "Very beautiful, but – Moody, I hope this does not mean what I think it means?"
"Well," Moody cleared his throat, "sure it does. You know I like her very much, and now with the war over and almost a year having passed since Dumbledore's death I thought I'd ask her…"
Hermione frowned. She handed the ring back to Moody.
"Don't ask her. She'd say no," she said solicitously.
"You think so? Is it still too early?" Moody asked back; very disappointed.
"She would say no," somebody else confirmed quietly.
Turning around, they saw Snape standing behind them. Apparently he had listened to their conversation.
"For certain," he added, in a surprisingly kind voice.
"How would you know?" Moody snarled. The old animosity between the two men flared up immediately, but for once, Snape decided not to pick a fight.
"I just know," he said gently. "There is – someone else."
Moody growled something incomprehensible and stuffed the ring box back into his pocket. Turning away from Snape, he saw Minerva leaving the dance floor and coming towards them.
"That's it for me, I think," she said, smiling a little. "If anyone still wants to go on celebrating, they will have to do it without the hostess. I'm going to bed."
She brushed some of the stars off her robes.
"You must be tired after all that dancing," Snape replied with a tiny smirk.
"Not too tired," she replied, her eyes sparkling at him.
"We should hold dances here in Hogwarts more often. Yule Balls and such – but why do you all look so gloomy?"
"Nothing," Moody said gruffly.
"Nothing," Snape agreed.
Minerva's sharp eyes examined both men closely, but then she decided to let the matter drop. "Alright – goodnight then."
She looked at Snape for a split second, who nodded curtly at the other ones. Side by side, they walked away from the small group.
"You!" Moody suddenly exclaimed.
Both Snape and Minerva turned around slowly. Snape gestured for Minerva to go on, but she remained standing at his side.
"You?" Moody said again, this time more doubtful.
Snape and Moody exchanged a long look, Snape wearing the same, strangely kind expression as before.
"Yes," Snape said quietly.
Moody now looked Minerva in the eyes, who suddenly seemed to understand what the whole exchange was about. "Yes," she whispered, too. "Alastor, please –"
"I see," Moody interrupted huskily. He gazed at Snape again.
"You will look after her." It was an order, not a question.
"Always," Snape replied solemnly.
Moody finally broke the gaze and looked away from them all. After hesitating a few seconds, Snape and Minerva turned around and walked on. Snape put his right hand on the small of her back in a comforting manner.
"I reckon it is good I never asked her then," Moody finally said.
Hermione reached out and squeezed his arm affectionately.
"Think she'll be happy?" Moody asked with some effort.
"Yes," said Ron, his eyes still following the strange couple. "Both of them will be. Probably for the first time in their lives."
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A/N: That's it, folks. I do hope you enjoyed this story. I guess it's easy to see that Severus/Minerva is my One True Pairing, and making this as believable and in-character as possible was my one big goal. Don't forget I live and breathe on reviews ;-)
I would again like to thank PercyWeasel and Ellen Fawkes for translating this fic into English and helping me a lot while the story was in progress. You guys made excellent suggestions, pointed out mistakes, and your help on the timeline was much appreciated… you simply were the best betas one could wish for.