Disclaimer: This is an unauthorised tribute to the works of JK Rowling who, with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and situations elaborated herein.

This is another of my very early WIP fics, long-lost and newly found, which I've decided to post before DH. Each chapter is 500 words exactly (in Word). I have preserved it as written, like a snapshot, so it reflects early post-OotP interpretations of canon, a more innocent time for Snape-fans.

To avoid pointless flames, I feel I should explain that I don't find it "sick" or "weird" for a teacher to find a post-pubertal student sexually attractive to some extent, a fixed age of consent is an arbitrary artificial social construct but I do believe it is always wrong for a teacher to act on such attraction, because exploiting the inherent inequality of their positions is hard to avoid.

"There is something I've been wishing to say for a long time that, as your teacher, I couldn't. I'm still not sure I should speak, but I cannot imagine the opportunity will ever arise again and I will not leave it unsaid."

Hermione stared sceptically at her Potions master's straight, black back. For seven years, his every comment had been designed to hurt and now he wished to say what?

"That's – unexpected." Unbelievable.

He nodded.

"You see," he explained softly, " The only way I've ever known to ease the pain of wanting what I can't have is to pretend not to want it."

She sank unsteadily into a chair.

"Oh." That seemed rather inadequate. She licked her lips and tried again. "Does that work?"

He continued inspecting his jars of pickled creatures.

"It provides a distraction."

A distraction. That was a good idea.

"Then, all those times you berated Neville, you wanted –"

"Not him," he said flatly. "Not even dried or shredded."

She wondered suddenly if there'd been anything more to his sarcastic rages than a bully's natural choice of the weakest member of the herd.

"Why did you?"

"That's how I was taught. It made me strong." He shrugged. "The Golden Gryffindors of my schooldays are gone, but I'm still standing."

"You're still broken!" she burst out.

"Is it better to be a happy corpse than alive and broken?" he asked.

"You tell me!"

"How would I know? I never had the option of being a happy anything."

"Everyone has the option of being happy," she said.

"Only a Gryffindor would say something so remarkably foolish."

Back to the familiarity of insults. Good. She could handle that better than revelations.

"You've never even liked me," she said.

"Does one like the sun? It gives warmth and life and light, a reason to wake up in the morning, and when it goes the bright day goes with it."

This was silly. She wasn't going to cry. She wasn't.

"I d-don't want to hear any more."

"I thought you would not. Goodbye then." His voice was as calm as if he was talking about the weather, not that he ever wasted words on such a trivial subject.

She stood up, still staring at that rigid back.

"If you knew, then why did you tell me?"

"One never knows what the future may bring. It's useful to know your allies. If by some remote chance you ever need anything from me, you won't be afraid to ask." He shrugged again. "It seemed a good enough reason."

She dashed a hand across her eyes. There was nothing she could say. Better just to leave.

As he heard the door click shut, he turned and sat down at his desk. Slowly and methodically, he sorted the papers until the top was bare. Three hours until the Leaving Feast. Eighteen until she walked out of his life forever. And one day, perhaps in twelve years, perhaps in twenty, he'd find himself teaching her children.