The Thing With Feathers by R.J. Anderson

Author's Note: This fic is a companion piece to "Personal Risks", the second story in the Darkness and Light trilogy. It is not necessary to read any of D&L before reading this, however.


Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul... -- Emily Dickinson

If anyone had suggested to him, even three months ago, that he might fall in love with one of his students, Severus Snape would have laughed -- scornfully and with absolute sincerity -- in that person's face.

He had watched these children grow up, after all; witnessed the transformation from pudgy, vacant-eyed infancy to gangling, spotty-faced adolescence. And he had personally taken a hand in their mental development, forcing the knowledge of his beloved craft into their ignorant and ungrateful heads. To fall in love with any of these fledglings, even assuming he ever met one he considered attractive, would be like the sculptor falling in love with his clay, or worse (as he was inclined to think on particularly cynical days) a stable-hand conceiving a passion for one of the clods he had to shovel.

But Maud had taken him by surprise. A seventh-year student he had never taught before, whose development he had neither witnessed nor influenced, she had come to him nearly a woman grown, tall and graceful and in the full flower of her intelligence. And more astonishing still, she not only shared his love of Potions, but showed an unprecedented aptitude for the subject. That alone would have arrested his attention, had there been nothing else remarkable about her.

But there had been so much more. She, alone of all the students he had taught, shared a past with him. Though their meeting had been brief and long ago, nevertheless she knew what he was, and what he had been; and all these years she had kept his confidence, never even blaming him for the clumsy error that had permanently destroyed her sight. Politeness from her would have been miracle enough, yet she had given him far more: her respect, her loyalty, and greatest of all, her absolute and unshakeable trust.

He had never known such grace from anyone but Dumbledore, and when it came in the form of a lovely young woman -- for she was lovely, in spite of the blind eyes and the nose that was a trifle too long -- he was unaccountably shaken by it. And lately he had caught himself watching her at unguarded moments, noticing the sheen of light on her pale hair, or the turn of her wrist as she stirred her cauldron; irrelevant things, yet oddly compelling. One night she had even found her way into his dreams, and when he woke with a start he had to bite his lips to keep from crying out her name.

Gratitude, he told himself, this is only gratitude you feel toward her, and you are unused to it: don't mistake it for anything more. But yesterday, at the end of a conversation, she had looked at him, and all his pretences were undone. He was accustomed to every possible kind of look from his students, or so he had thought -- from Potter's resentment to Longbottom's terror, from Granger's anxious appealing to Malfoy's sly conspiracy -- but nothing had prepared him for the look Maud had given him then.

Her gaze did not quite focus on him, of course, but her seeing-eye owl's did, the yellow eyes steady and unblinking; and her always-expressive features had shifted from interest to curiosity to -- it hardly seemed possible -- fascination. Not mere academic fascination either, but an intense and oddly personal appraisal; and with a shock he realised that she was considering him not as a teacher or a mentor or even a friend, but as a man.

His own reaction had been as immediate as it was self-contradictory. Inside, he felt a surge of desire so intense that it was all he could do to keep from leaping up and crushing her against him. But outside, he mocked his passion, and her innocence, in a string of caustic words, shattering the moment and sending a rush of blood into Maud's face. She had fled the room, no doubt believing herself justly rebuked; and when she had gone he had closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath, wondering what in Merlin's name he was going to do.

In the end, only one course of action could appease his tormented conscience. Painful and even humiliating as it might be, he must go and confess his weakness to Dumbledore, and seek the Headmaster's advice. To do otherwise, to cover up his vulnerability until he could contain it no longer, was to invite not only self-betrayal, but betrayal of his loyalty to Dumbledore -- and to Maud.

As he stepped into the familiar tower room, the first words that came to his mind were a Muggle litany he had not heard in almost thirty years: Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. He bit it back, of course; but in the end, the words that actually came out of his mouth were not so very different.

"Headmaster, I have... a confession to make."

Light glinted off Dumbledore's spectacles as he raised his head, and his bushy white brows pulled together in a look of concern. "Sit down, Severus. You look positively unwell."

Snape hesitated fractionally, then strode to the chair in front of Dumbledore's desk and flung himself into it, gripping the arms like a man bracing himself for torture. He drew a deep breath through his nose, let it out again. He had expected this to be difficult, but not until now had he realised just how hard it would be. His jaws were clamped shut and he couldn't seem to open them; there was a roiling sickness in the pit of his stomach; and he had no idea where to begin, or what to say.

Dumbledore's eyes held his, serious and searching, for a long moment. Then his face cleared and he sat back in his chair. "Ah," he said softly. "I did wonder... yes, Severus, this is a most difficult position for you to be in."

Snape had to dredge up his voice from the very bottom of his throat, and when he did it sounded uncommonly rough: "Headmaster, I am not sure you know... what you think you know."

"About your feelings toward Miss Moody, you mean?" Dumbledore flicked his wand at the silver teapot sitting on the corner of his desk, and it waddled over to a pair of china cups and began to pour. "Or hers for you?"

Snape's collar was suddenly too tight. It was one thing that the Headmaster should be aware of his own turbulent emotions, but the implication that he might know something about Maud's as well...

Dumbledore passed him a teacup in a smooth, tranquil gesture. "Before you become alarmed, Severus, let me reassure you that my powers of observation in this case are by no means supernatural." He sat back, stirring his own tea. "My eyes and ears were quite sufficient to tell me that something was developing between yourself and Miss Moody -- over and above the working partnership you forged in this office a few weeks ago. Although, of course, your feelings toward her were evident to me even then."

To a man who prided himself -- and whose very survival depended -- on his ability to hide or at least misrepresent his deeper emotions, this revelation ought to have come as a serious blow. But this was Dumbledore talking: and part of Snape believed, with a childlike faith wholly at odds with his native cynicism, that the Headmaster knew everything that happened at Hogwarts, no matter how cleverly anyone might try to conceal it.

There was, therefore, no reason for Snape to charge himself with the unforgivable crime of public self-betrayal -- at least, not yet. He said, very carefully, "I am not acquainted with Miss Moody's feelings. Only my own."

"Ah," said Dumbledore for the second time, but did not elaborate. An uncomfortable silence suspended itself in the room, like a guillotine blade about to fall, and Snape pressed his shoulders back against the chair.

"Headmaster," he said tightly, "I am prepared to do whatever you deem necessary to... remedy this situation."

"Remedy?" Dumbledore's brows shot up. "My dear Severus, if you should ever discover a cure for love, your fortune will be made. But until then, you and Miss Moody will have to deal with these inconvenient feelings in the ordinary fashion: either by confessing them and seeing what happens, or else by repudiating them and going your separate ways."

"Confessing them?" He must have looked a complete fool, sitting bolt upright with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open, and yet the wild rush of astonishment and -- yes, he would admit it -- hope that coursed through his body in that moment was too powerful to contain. "But she is my student."

"And an uncommonly gifted one," agreed Dumbledore, "already more advanced in Potions knowledge than the average graduate here, and pursuing the bulk of her studies independently. The outcome of her examinations in your subject is hardly in doubt." He tapped his fingertips lightly against the desk. "As for the personal aspect, Maud is of age, quite capable of making her own decisions, and the rules of this school --" he laid a delicate emphasis on this -- "do not bar you from making your feelings known to her, provided you do so discreetly, inoffensively, and outside of the classroom."

Snape pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, patterns of light exploding behind the lids. "It cannot be so easy."

"Easy?" said Dumbledore gently. "By no means. The easiest course, by far, would be to deny your feelings. After all, even if a relationship between yourself and Miss Moody might not be strictly forbidden, it would still require considerable discretion. Not to mention that you have yet to obtain her consent; and it would be unwise to proceed without her uncle's consent as well..."

Snape's breath hissed out of him. Maud's uncle. Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody. Legendary ex-Auror, veteran of a hundred battles... and one of the few men living whom Snape genuinely feared. He slid his hands up into his hair, clenching his fists in the greasy blackness. Her uncle's consent... He could just see himself now, approaching Moody with hat in hand, asking for permission to court his niece... and ending up nailed to the Whomping Willow by his testicles.

"Impossible," he said between his teeth.

"No," said Dumbledore, "merely difficult. You forget, Severus, that like you, Alastor is my friend, and I know him well. You may not find him as unreasonable as you suppose, provided you approach him in the right spirit, and with some... evidence of your sincerity."

Snape knew what that meant. It meant making himself horribly and hatefully vulnerable, taking an enormous risk, and likely ending up with nothing but humiliation to show for it. "No," he said flatly. "You said yourself -- Maud is of age, she can make her own decisions --"

Dumbledore's gaze was penetrating. In a very soft voice he said, "Severus. Think."

Snape felt himself flush a little. True, he had not been thinking. Even an instant's reflection was enough to bring him back to himself, to realise that as unwelcome as Dumbledore's advice might be, it was the only sensible course of action. Alastor Moody was still Maud's legal guardian until she graduated, and if he were to discover that Snape had approached her without his consent, he would come roaring and stumping up to Hogwarts to rescue her. Snape had few fears about what that would do to his own reputation; it could hardly be lower than it already was. But Maud's reputation, and Dumbledore's, and indeed the reputation of Hogwarts itself, would suffer if Snape were to act on his feelings without talking to Moody first.

And, on a positive note, though appealing to Moody might seem like madness on the surface, Snape had to admit it presented an intriguing challenge. It would test his dedication, his ingenuity, and his rusty social graces, to their limit -- but if by some miracle he did manage to get the old man's grudging approval, it would be like a sign from heaven. If Snape could do that, he could do anything.

He drew a deep breath. "Headmaster," he began, and stopped. The words were there in his mind: You were right. I was wrong. I apologise. You have shown me more kindness and mercy than I could ever hope to deserve, and I would rather die than disappoint you... But in the end, all he could manage to get out was, "I... will do as you ask."

"I know you will, Severus," said Dumbledore gently. "I have every confidence in you."

For a moment they looked at each other, not speaking. Then Snape pushed himself to his feet, gave the Headmaster a brief nod of acknowledgement and gratitude, and left the room.

* * *

I have every confidence in you. The thought warmed and chilled Snape at the same time, as he watched Maud silently assembling ingredients for the Dissolving Solution he was teaching her to make, her pale hair glowing in the firelight. He had every intention of proving himself worthy of Dumbledore's confidence -- of handling this situation with as much care as he would a sensitive and potentially volatile potion -- but he was not such a fool as to imagine that it would be easy.

Until today Maud had seemed to him as elusive and unattainable as the new moon; and he had never allowed himself to think otherwise. As such, meeting with her alone after school hours, working with her in close quarters, had never proved any particular test of his good judgement or his self-control. But now that her look of approval, and Dumbledore's oblique permission, had brought her suddenly and unexpectedly within his reach... it was all he could do to hold himself in check.

The smooth fall of her white-gold hair about her shoulders, the creamy translucence of her skin, the slight curves of her figure barely hinted at by the winter-weight robes she wore... how could he ever have thought Maud Moody anything less than beautiful, or looked at her without desire? Even the blind, glass-green eyes -- that blank gaze so feared and avoided by her fellow Slytherins -- seemed to him filled with ethereal luminescence, as though she were looking into heaven.

No, it was impossible, she was too splendid; nothing so pure, or so lovely, could ever be intended for him. Severus Snape, raised a filthy, scrawny urchin on the streets of Manchester, full of self-loathing and a desperate, savage pride; what did that sullen and half-feral boy, or the Death Eater-turned-spy he had become in later years, have in common with this slim white candle of a girl?

And yet... she was a Slytherin, clever and resourceful and passionately ambitious; and from the very beginning they had understood each other by instinct, with little need for words. There was a respect between them, a mutual recognition of each other's strengths that made them something very close to equals. It had not taken them long to move beyond the roles of teacher and student, master and apprentice, to become partners and even friends.

All of which meant, he reminded himself, that Maud deserved the chance to make up her own mind how she felt about him, not to have her wishes anticipated for her as though she were a child. In his own estimation Snape made a most unworthy, not to say unlikely, suitor; but surely that was for her, not him, to decide?

Oh, yes, very noble, drawled a voice in the back of his mind. So when she recoils in horror from your advances, you can excuse yourself by saying you only did it out of respect for her maturity and good judgement?

No, Snape told himself fiercely. Whatever happened, he would not take advantage of Maud. At the first sign of unwillingness from her, the first hint of discomfort or distress, he would back away -- and that would be the end of it.

He had brooded long enough. Maud was making excellent progress with the work he had given her, as usual; but she would need more instructions soon. Indeed, already she looked a little troubled -- perhaps unsure of what to do next, but loath to admit it. He cleared his throat, and said with more politeness than was his wont:

"You appear to be unusually quiet tonight, Miss Moody."

"I have a lot to think about," she replied, not looking at him. She picked up her dragonhide gloves from the workbench beside her and pulled them on -- somewhat prematurely, Snape couldn't help noting, as the potion was by no means corrosive yet.

A lot to think about. No doubt Maud was still troubled by her most recent conversation with her uncle, during which he had questioned the basis of her trust in Snape, and even implied that she might be under some insidious magical influence. And yet, for some reason, even that dark suspicion had not been sufficient to make Alastor Moody intervene. He had not forbidden Maud to see Snape outside of class, or indeed put any restrictions on her. It almost seemed that he might not be wholly convinced of Snape's villainy after all... a crack in the armour, perhaps?

It was the tiniest flare of hope, but it was enough. At that very moment, Snape made a decision: one way or the other, he would talk to Moody tomorrow. He was entitled to an occasional day away from Hogwarts, to obtain potions supplies and other school-related materials; and Madam Pomfrey was quite used to acting as his substitute, so there would be no difficulty in covering his classes.

His morning could be spent in Diagon Alley -- and a visit to Knockturn Alley, for the sake of his reputation as a Death Eater, would no doubt be profitable as well -- while the afternoon would surely give him time enough to prepare some means of obtaining a private interview with Mad-Eye Moody. The old man was too canny, and his house too well warded, for Snape to simply go up and knock on his front door; but no doubt he would think of something.

A smile tugged at his mouth, unbidden but irrepressible, as he turned back to Maud; heaven help him, he was looking forward to this. Mind you, Snape was not fool enough to find pleasure in the thought of dealing with an enraged Mad-Eye -- as he very well might have to do. Indeed, under the circumstances he might be glad to escape Moody's company in one piece; and it would be just as well if there were someone at Hogwarts watching and waiting for his safe return...

"Allow me," he said smoothly to Maud, "to give you one more thought for consideration. It appears that I have..." How best to put this, to suggest seriousness without causing alarm? " obligation... that will necessitate my being away from Hogwarts tomorrow. I have arranged for a substitute to teach my classes, and expect to return in the evening, but I have a potion --" Or will have soon, anyway -- "brewing in my office which must be stirred in an anti-clockwise direction every five hours, and it will require attention in my absence."

He paused meaningfully, his eyebrows raised. "I trust that I might rely on you?"

"Of course." She looked surprised, but not displeased.

"Good." Indeed, very good. He knew her well enough to be sure that she would take the task seriously; and if anything were to go wrong and he failed to return on schedule, she would not rest until she had found him. There was something warming about the thought of Maud waiting up for his arrival tomorrow night; it was, perhaps, the closest thing to domestic bliss that he might ever know.

Reaching behind him, he picked a vial of Basilisk venom from the shelf and handed it to her. "Two drops only, Miss Moody: and count to ten before you add the second."

She obeyed with her customary diligence, her lips moving silently as she counted. A gurgle and a bright green flash from within the enormous cauldron confirmed that she had done everything correctly; only three more ingredients were needed, and the Dissolving Solution would be complete. As always, Maud's quickness and efficiency were admirable -- but they were also, Snape thought wryly, maddening. Once this was done, he had no reason to keep her here, and yet he wanted, very much, for her to stay.

There was that ache of longing again, like the twinge of an old wound never healed. If only he knew how to tell her, to show her, what he was feeling inside -- without frightening her, or asking more of her than she was ready to give...

"What should I add next?"

Her voice shook him from his reverie. Distracted, he actually had to glance down at the book lying on the workbench for confirmation, although he had made this potion a hundred times. "A griffin feather," he said at last, his voice sharp with irritation at his own unruly feelings. "You should find one in the drawer of the workbench to your right."

"Well, if not, I can always throw in my wand," said Maud, with a hesitant flicker of a smile.

"Griffin feather?" He was surprised, and yet he should not have been: she was a Moody, after all, and griffins were the legendary symbol of vigilance. Not to mention loyalty, and integrity -- wizards used them to guard treasure, after all. Indeed, a griffin feather wand core was the perfect choice for this remarkable young woman, whose unflinching commitment to truth, and to him, shone like a beacon in the darkness of his life.

"Unusual," he said, a little lamely. "An Ollivander wand?" And then cursed himself as an idiot; everybody knew Ollivander didn't use griffin feathers, only phoenix.

Fortunately, she didn't seem to notice. "Gregorovich," she said, pulling the wand out of her sleeve and showing it to him. "Apple wood and griffin feather, eleven and a half inches. I bought it my first year at Durmstrang."

Apple wood. Another perfect match. The only tree that grew in pastures, it had a remarkable tendency to survive, and indeed thrive, even when badly injured or grazed as a sapling -- just as Maud had gone on resolutely despite the tragic loss of her parents and her sight. As well, apple symbolised choice; and Maud had more courage when it came to making, and living with, difficult choices than anyone else he had ever met...

Could he, perhaps, be such a choice?

"Interesting," he said, a little hoarsely.

Maud opened the workbench drawer, her slender fingers turning over the various feathers stored there. At last she pulled out the griffin feather, glimmering silver-grey in the firelight. "Do I just throw it in," she asked, "or...?"

Snape's throat tightened, and his heart gave a queer sideways bound. All unknowing, she had handed him the very opportunity he had been looking for: a chance to gauge her possible response to him as a lover, yet without tipping his hand, or forcing hers. He would have to do this carefully, and there were any number of things that might go wrong; but if it worked -- if she were willing to follow his lead --

"No," he said, in a tone of crisp authority. "First dip the tip of the feather into the potion and draw the Hebrew letter daleth."

The likelihood of Maud knowing the Hebrew alphabet was small; the chance of her being aware that this was not a customary part of making Dissolving Solution, even smaller. Still, he waited in trepidation until he heard her say, sounding embarrassed rather than puzzled:

"I don't know that one."

And then, before he could even speak, she added a little wistfully, "Would you show me?"

Snape had been letting out his breath; now it caught in his throat. Unconsciously, she had anticipated his next move, even invited him to make it. Was he dreaming? Nothing ever went this smoothly for him in real life.

Still, he had a role to play, for the sake of her dignity as well as his own; the more ordinary and matter-of-fact he made this seem, the easier it would be for both of them to escape from the situation if need be. He managed to manufacture a noise that sounded like disapproval, and strode forward to pull the feather from her hands.

"Here," he said. And then, quickly -- if he stopped to think about this he would have to condemn it as an unforgivable self-indulgence -- he added, "Take off your gloves: the potion's not that corrosive yet, and they'll only interfere."

And without hesitation, without question, Maud obeyed. She trusts me that much, he realised, a little shaken by the thought. She believes I have a reason, a good reason, for everything I ask of her. Well, he did have a reason -- though it was not quite the one she imagined. He reached out, willing himself not to tremble, and laid his hands on her shoulders.

She didn't stiffen at his touch, nor did she flinch away. Her seeing-eye owl shuffled nervously to one side, but that was all. Blood pounding through his temples, Snape steered Maud gently between himself and the cauldron. She didn't resist, even when he stepped so close that the full length of his body pressed against her back.

She fitted against him so perfectly, all the warmth and the softness of her, that it was all he could do to keep from wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her hair. But that would have been far too obvious. Instead, he paused and drew a slow deliberate breath, trying to calm the whirling delirium in his brain; then he slid his right hand -- the one that held the griffin feather -- down the length of her arm and entwined his fingers with hers.

Surely now she would give a start, or turn to him incredulously; surely now the spell that enthralled them would be broken. He had never touched her before, not like this. Severus Snape never, ever touched his students in the classroom -- not in anger, not in approval -- and on those rare private occasions that he had allowed himself to touch Maud, it had always been in the most restrained and neutral manner. But now she was in his arms, or nearly so; he could feel the velvety warmth of her skin and breathe the elusive scent of her hair; his cheek was only inches from hers; and yet his nearness did not seem to frighten her, or even disturb her.

"Now," he said throatily, bending her forward a little, "pay attention." And, in a last gesture of mad daring, he slid his left arm around her.

If she were thinking at all, she would no doubt imagine that he was trying to protect her, to hold her away from the cauldron and the fire. But as they leaned toward the simmering depths of the Dissolving Solution, the feather held lightly between their interlaced fingers, all Snape could think of was how wonderful the smooth inward curve of her waist, the slight outswelling of her hip, felt beneath his hand. His head reeled with desire, and for a moment he forgot everything else, including the Hebrew alphabet. He could not remember ever having been this close to a woman -- any woman, much less one with whom he was in love. It was the hardest thing he had ever done to wrestle his dangerously wandering thoughts back to the present, and continue the lesson.

"A horizontal line... like this," he instructed in a low voice, guiding her hand. She responded so easily, so naturally, so willingly, that he cursed himself for choosing daleth; why hadn't he picked a complicated letter like aleph or shin instead, and bought himself more time? Well, there was no helping it now. Still, he could not help stretching out the words as he continued: "And then... a vertical line... so."

Maud's pulse beat rapidly beneath his thumb, and her breath had stopped. He stole a sideways glance at her, saw that her face was flushed, her eyes half-lidded and her lips parted slightly; he might have believed it was only the heat of the fire, were it not for the sinuous arch of her back and the tightening of her gluteal muscles against his thighs. It was then that he knew, with a surge of exhilaration, that he had not misread the look on her face earlier that day. Regardless of whether she had admitted it to herself yet or not, her feelings for him were not merely platonic: she wanted him, as much as he did her.

Under other circumstances -- say, perhaps, with a note of permission from Alastor Moody in his hands -- he would have turned her toward him and ravished her soft mouth with his, trailed kisses down the slender column of her neck, let his hands glide over her shoulder blades and down her spine until he felt her back arch again in that lovely, serpentine movement of unguarded pleasure. But as it stood, this moment of intimacy had already lasted longer than he had ever thought possible -- or even advisable -- and it would be breaking his word to Dumbledore, and causing Maud needless distress, if he did not release her now.

With an inhuman effort of will, he forced himself to open his arms and let her go. "There," he said, and his voice cracked a little; already he felt hollow inside, as though he had lost something infinitely precious that might never be regained. "I suggest," he continued rapidly, "you study and practice writing the Hebrew alphabet at the earliest available opportunity, Miss Moody. There are several potions which draw on it in some capacity."

That was it, the clue he owed her, the key she needed to accurately interpret both his actions and his motives. If she obeyed him, as he hoped, she would soon discover the truth -- that while some potion recipes were written in Hebrew and thus might honestly be said to draw upon the Hebrew alphabet, there were none that required the maker to trace letters on the surface of the potion. And as soon as she realised that, she would know the significance of what he had done -- that he had invented the daleth-drawing exercise as an opportunity to get close to her, and to test her response.

What she chose to do after that, would be up to her.

Dropping the griffin feather into the potion, Maud turned to him and said a little breathlessly, "I'll do that." Then, as an afterthought, "Thank you."

Oh, no, my love, whispered the voice in the back of Snape's head. Thank you. If I live a thousand years -- or only a thousand minutes -- you have given me a memory I will treasure until I die.

What he actually said, however, was "You appear in need of rest. If you wish..." He let his gaze flick over her in what he hoped was a dispassionate-looking glance, "you may return to your dormitory. The remaining steps of the potion are quite simple; you will not be missing out on anything of consequence."

"I..." She hesitated, as though unsure of her own desires -- as indeed she very probably was. He hoped he had not disturbed her too much: he wanted her to think about him, to come to terms with her feelings for him, and perhaps even be ready to give him an answer when he returned, but he had never wanted to cause her pain.

"Yes," she said at last. "I think that might be a good idea." And she gave him a smile that pierced his heart. "Good night, then."

"Good night," he said, and somehow found the strength to turn away.

When she had gone, Snape sank into a chair, covering his eyes with his hand. He felt weak and a little tremulous, drained by the intensity of what had just taken place. And yet the knowledge that he had been right about Maud's feelings, that Dumbledore's advice had not been in vain, filled him with heady exultation. He felt ready to lie down and sleep for a week; he also felt as though he could fight a dragon with his bare hands. It was the strangest sensation he had ever experienced.

I have something -- someone -- to live for.

Only yesterday his life had seemed like a mockery, a parade of insignificant successes and humiliating failures. There was no joy in his existence, only duty, and he had dragged himself from one moment to the next. Now, however, his mind was filled with thoughts of the future, with plans and hopes on a scale he had not dared to imagine since he was a boy.

Of course, there were still many obstacles between him and his goal; and Alastor Moody was by no means the least of them. It would cost Snape -- perhaps cost him dearly -- to follow this road of dreams. But if in the end he could hold Maud in his arms and call her his own, it would be worth it.

Severus Snape lifted his head, the black hair falling away from his face. With narrowed eyes he gazed at the ring of white-gold flame dancing about the shadowy bulk of the cauldron, one long finger tapping his lips in thought. Then all at once, he lowered his hand -- and smiled.

Mad-Eye Moody, do your worst, he thought. I'm ready.


Author's Notes:

Wondering what came before? Wondering what happens next? The answers are in the Darkness and Light trilogy. The story of Snape and Maud's first encounter, the reason for Maud's blindness, and the formation of the "working partnership" to which Dumbledore refers, is found in "The Potions Master's Apprentice". The details -- and the result -- of Snape's interview with Mad-Eye Moody can be found in "Personal Risks". The third story in the trilogy is "If We Survive".

This story is dedicated to Cally Perry, a wonderful friend and a wonderful beta, whose comments never cease to bring laughter and inspiration. The title of the story, as well as several of the observations Snape makes about Maud during the last scene, originated with her.

Thanks also to my other regular beta team members who took the time to give helpful comments -- Erica, Melanie, Teri and Lori -- and to those brave souls who agreed to read and critique this story without having read the Darkness and Light trilogy from which it sprang -- Lynn, Wolfie, Lady Feylene, Helena Darjeeling, Amber, Maggie, Lyle, Christopher Milton, Christy, Kelly Hufft, Kristin, Evelyn Singer, Snapetress, and Barbara.