Disclaimer:  This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. The character of Caius the raven belongs to Draquonelle, who has kindly allowed me to borrow him (Vesta McGonagall is hers too, though she owes something of a debt to the Ingrid Berman character in Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious"). In addition, I got the name Polaris Black for Sirius's sister from someone else's fanfic, but I can't remember whose (her character, however, belongs entirely to me and Draquonelle—and to Victor Hugo, I suppose, since she's based partly on his Inspector Javert).

Posted by:  Elspeth (AKA Elspethdixon, L Squared).

Ships:  Sirius/Claire Sinistra and Snape/McGonagall

* Authors Note: I'm finished!  I'm finished!  I'm finally finished!  And it only took a year.  In the months since I've started this, I've gone through two semesters of college, begun writing slash, learned HTML, gone to Switzerland, been published, watched all of Trigun, learned to read Middle English, and gotten my first kiss.  I swear, it wasn't originally supposed to take this long. *

Epilogue: In Which Lingering Plot Elements are Tied Up and There is Finally Snogging.

Percy Weasley snapped his notepad shut with a business-like flourish and stood up.

            "Thank you, Headmaster Dumbledore.  I think that's all the information we require, sir."  He couldn't help but add the honorific onto the end of the sentence, even though he didn't really need to.  There was something about Albus Dumbledore that demanded respect, even though Percy was no longer a student.  If only his superiors at the ministry had that kind of presence.  Mr. Crouch had come closest, but even he hadn't been quite the same.  Dumbledore was horrible disorganized—just sitting in his office had made Percy twitch with the desire to start straightening things, back during his days as Head Boy—but in his presence, one somehow felt that the wizarding world's chances against Voldemort weren't as bleak as they seemed.

            "Excellent, Percy."  Dumbledore smiled, eyes seeming to sparkle even brighter than the dozens of tiny stars and sunbursts on his robes.  The staff room was nearly empty, except for himself, the Headmaster, Madam Pomfrey, Argus Filch, and Professor Binns.  The other staff members had left once their interviews were concluded, but the final interview had dragged on for an interminable amount of time.  Professor Binns's narrative style had not improved in the past year and a half.

            "If that's all, I'll be returning to my patients," Madam Pomfrey said, rising and straightening her skirt.  "If I have any left." She shook her head as she turned to go, muttering to herself.  "It was probably a mistake to let either of them leave.  I swear, next time I'm going to tie Snape to a bed, whether that wretched pet of his likes it or not.  It stole one of my stethoscopes, I know it did."

            Percy decided that that was his cue to go.  "Good-bye, Headmaster, sir, good-bye, Mr. Filch." 

            "Good-bye, Percy," Dumbledore told him.  Filch merely nodded, but it wasn't a particularly unfriendly gesture.  Percy had always gotten on well with the caretaker.  He gone to see him during his first week at Hogwarts in order to review the list of forbidden items Filch kept in his office, and the older man had taken a liking to him straight away.  He couldn't understand why his brothers had so much trouble getting along with him.  Well, maybe he could. 

            "I'm sure my supervisor will contact you, should we need more information," Percy continued, as he made his way toward the door. 

            "I'm sure she will.  Oh, and Percy," Dumbledore added, "you may stop by the Gryffindor common room on your way out and see your brothers, if you wish.  The password is 'quidditch.'"

            Percy thanked the Headmaster and checked his watch.  He did have time for a brief visit, and his mum would appreciate getting some news about Ron, Ginny, and the twins, none of whom bothered to owl home on a regular basis.  I'll just have to remember not to eat anything George or Fred offers me.

            He climbed the familiar steps of Gryffindor Tower and repeated the password to the Fat Lady.  "Lovely seeing you again, dear," she called as he pulled the door to the common room shut behind him.

            "Percy!"  Ron was seated in front of the fireplace in one of the big red armchairs, playing wizard's chess with Hermione.  He had a truly spectacular black eye, just beginning to turn purple.  "What are you doing here?"

            "You've been fighting again!" Percy blurted out, not even bothering to answer Ron's question.  "Mum's going to be so disappointed in you."

            "It wasn't my fault," Ron protested, slipping instantly back into whiny little brother mode.  "Crabbe just went and hit me.'

            "Of course he did," Percy sighed.  "He just up and hit you for no reason whatsoever."

            "Well, yeah."  Ron looked slightly offended that Percy would doubt his word.  "I mean, Dean started it."

            Percy reached up to adjust his glasses.  "Why do I get the feeling that I don't want to know?"

            "Actually," Hermione volunteered, reaching over to nudge a knight to a new square, "Dean really did start things.  He shouldn't have said what he did to Nott.  Though you didn't have to go punching Malfoy in the stomach after he broke Dean's nose," she added, to Ron.  "Professor Grubbly-Plank would have taken care of things.  Really, you're just lucky Snape wasn't in class today."

            "Forget Snape," Fred said from the depths of one of the giant armchairs.  He was sitting in it sideways, feet hanging over the armrest, and had been deeply absorbed in a magazine of some sort, only to shove it hurriedly under the cushions upon Percy's arrival.  "You're all bloody lucky it wasn't McGonagall.  She comes down like a ton of bricks on anyone who bothers students because they're related to dead Death Eaters.  Bill could tell you some real horror stories."

            Percy resisted the urge to take his glasses off and pinch the bridge of his nose.  He could feel a headache coming on.  His mother would expect a full report on his siblings' welfare tonight, and this was not going to make her happy.  Well, Mum, Ron got into a giant, free-for-all of a row with the Slytherins, and Fred's reading inappropriate magazines.  Not precisely what Molly Weasley wanted to hear.

            "But all of you are alright, I mean, aside from Ron's eye?"  he asked, not really wanting to hear the sordid details of the fight.

            "Well, mostly."  Ron set one of his bishops down in the space Hermione's knight had just vacated.  "Check," he said smugly, before turning back to add, "Well, except for Dean's nose.  Who'd have thought ferret-boy could hit like that?"

            "I think he means, was anyone hurt last night," Hermione said, frowning at her trapped and menaced king.  "None of the students were, although some of the seventh years were a bit shaken up by the Dementors."

            "Yeah, but George and I are fine."  Fred grinned.  "Tell Mum Harry's a hero.  He conjured up this wicked cool giant stag patronus after they broke into the Great Hall, and helped chase them out.  She'll like that."

            "Yes, I already know."  Percy glanced around the mostly empty common room.  "Where is Harry?"

            "Asleep," Ron volunteered.  "He stayed up all night.  George and Ginny are off doing homework or building bombs, or something.  Want me to go get them?"

            "No, I'll just pop up and say hello.  I need to report in to my supervisor soon."

            "Hey, can you tell us anything secret about last night?"  Fred fiddled with his wand as he spoke, trying to balance it on the tip of one finger.  He was not having any noticeable success.  "Like, say, what happened to Snape?  He was actually absent today."  He snorted.  "George and I had to sit on opposite sides of the classroom, and Professor Grubbly-Plank wouldn't let us touch any of the ingredients.  We tried to complain, but she said it was in the lesson plans that we weren't to be given anything but written work."

            "Agent McGonagall interviewed Professor Snape," Percy answered, trying for just the right touch of quelling sternness.  Unfortunately, it was lost on Fred.  "And even if I knew, I couldn't tell you."

            "Ooooh, secrets.  Fine, be like that.  See if George and I name our next product after you."


            Claire paused outside of the door to the room Remus and Sirius shared, rapping her knuckles against the dark wood.  After her experience of a few months before, she was always careful to knock before entering.

            "Yes?" Remus's voice was slightly muffled by the thick door, but she could hear the fatigue in it.

            "It's me.  I wanted to see if Snuffles was alright," she explained.  "I didn't really get a good look at him earlier."

            The door was pulled open, revealing a slightly rumpled-looking Remus, a mug of hot cocoa in one hand.  "Widdle Snuffle-wuffles is currently sucking down the last of my hot chocolate."

            "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"

            Remus grinned, tired face lighting up with a spark of mischief.  "Of course not."

            "Oi, Moony," Sirius called from within the room.  "Who is it?"

            "Claire," Remus called back.  "She's come to give you doggie treats and rub your ears."  He ushered Claire into the room, nudging the door closed behind her with an elbow.

            Sirius was sitting on the couch, a mug cradled in his hands.  He looked even more exhausted than Remus did, skin pale and eyes distinctly bruised-looking.  He still had Snuffles's collar around his neck, like a piece of odd, punk jewelry.  Combined with the long hair and borrowed black clothing, it made him look rather like one of those muggle "Goths."  All he needed to complete the picture was an ankh pendant and a collection of silver earrings.

            "Claire."  He looked up at her through feathery wisps of black hair and smiled.  "Come to check up on the Dementor-bait?"

            Claire could have sworn she felt herself blushing slightly.  "I just wanted to… make sure you were alright."

            Behind her, she heard Remus opening the door again.  "I'll be in my office, if anyone needs me," he said, ducking out of the room before either of them could protest.

            "Our chaperone just left," Claire remarked dryly.  "I think that may be a hint."

            "If it was, he's a bit optimistic about my powers of seduction."  Sirius shifted his mug to a one handed grip and waved the other hand at the vacant half of the couch.  "Come on, sit down.  Have some hot chocolate.  Remus forgot his cup."

            Claire took the offered seat, but left Remus's abandoned cocoa mug alone.  "Are you sure you ought to be out of the Hospital wing so soon?" she asked.  "You looked horrible last night.  So still and white.  I thought you were dead for a moment when Remus brought you back inside."  Claire couldn't repress a shudder at the memory of Sirius's motionless body, spread out on the floor of the Great Hall like a discarded rag doll.  The sight had scared her in a way that few things ever had, leaving a sick, hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach.  When he had followed Snape into the staff room earlier, it had been all she could do not to throw herself down on the floor and fling her arms around Snuffles's furry neck, to make sure that he was all right.

            "If the Dementors really had gotten me, I would be," Sirius said.  "Remus promised."  Then he seemed to realize that what he had just said might not be very reassuring.  "I mean, it's alright.  I'm fine now."

            "You make my blood run cold sometimes, Sirius."  Claire twisted around slightly in order to face him.  "I remember you as the fifteen-year old who stayed up all night with me to watch the Persiad meteor shower, and now you tear Death Eaters' throats out and talk about dying in order to avoid capture as if it were an everyday thing.  Which I suppose it must be, for you."  She smiled, trying to soften the statement so that he wouldn't be offended.  "One thing hasn't changed.  You still claim to be fine when you're obviously not."

            "You know, I think that's the first time you've called me by my name and not said something like 'widdle Snuffle-wuffles' or 'oh sweet Merlin, it's Sirius Black.'"

            "You're changing the subject."

            "Yes."  Sirius leaned back against the back of the couch, closing his eyes.  He had the most extraordinarily, unfairly long eyelashes.  "I don't scare you, do I?"

            "Of course not."  Claire shook her head, forgetting that he would not see the gesture.  "Your sister scares me.  Severus scares me.  Last night scared me.  You don't."  She scooted closer to him to prove her point, until her shoulder rested against his.

            "You certainly screamed loud enough the first time you saw me untransformed."  Sirius grinned down at her, eyes open again, and slid one arm around her shoulders.

            Claire groaned.  "Will no one ever let me forget that?"

            "You nearly set the rug on fire."  He waved a hand at the oriental carpet covering the grey flagstones.  "There are little scorch marks.  And some of the Gryffindor first years are still convinced that you're going to elope with Voldemort any day now."

            "Let's not talk about him, please."  Claire didn't want to think about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the moment.  She wanted to concentrate on more pleasant things, like the warmth of Sirius's arm around her shoulders, and the way his hair might feel if she ran her hands through it.  "Do you realize that this is the closest we've ever been to each other when you're not in animagus form?"

            "Oh, sorry."  Sirius started to pull his arm back.  "I can move if you want."

            "No, stay," Claire said hurriedly.  "It's fine."  She smiled again, and reached up to fiddle with one earring.  "You know, I'm probably the only Hogwarts alumnus who ever spent the night atop the Astronomy tower with you and didn't at least get a hug or a kiss."

            Sirius smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling.  "Not all of those stories are true, I swear.  Especially not the one about Fuchsia White."

            "I never heard that one.  It must have been from after I graduated.  What did you not do with Fuchsia?"

            "Well, this, for example."  Sirius leaned forward and brushed his lips against her cheek, very lightly.  He straightened again, eyes staring into hers, as if waiting for her to flinch or pull back.  Sirius Black, the man who feared nothing save Dementors, the only beater in Hogwarts history to ever knock a bludger away from a teammate by flinging himself bodily in front of it, the same Sirius who'd once allegedly taken a different girl out riding on his bike every month, was nervous about kissing her.  It was almost cute.  I don't think I'll tell him that, though.  He'd die of embarrassment.

            "Good," she said.  "Fuchsia was a giggly little twit."  And still staring into those pale, intense blue eyes, she leaned forward, tipped her face up, and returned the kiss--but not on the cheek.

            Sirius was still for a moment, then his arm tightened around her and his free hand came up to cup her face, fingers trailing along her jawline.  Claire did what she had been wanting to do for what seemed untold ages and slid her own fingers into that tangle of black hair, pulling the hair tie out and letting it fall down to frame both their faces.  It was, indeed, as soft as it looked, and it tickled, too, brushing against her face like fur.  She decided on the instant that she liked long-haired men.  Sirius tasted like chocolate.  Chocolate, and just a hint of something alcoholic, whatever the cocoa had been spiked with.

            They both kept their eyes open the entire time, blue gazing into blue.  Sirius's eyes were fascinating; lattices of blue and grey and silver, with a darker ring around the edge of the iris.  They were a huskies' eyes, canine eyes, Padfoot's eyes.  Claire found herself wondering fancifully if they shined in the dark, the way Remus's did.

            The kiss could have lasted seconds, it could have lasted hours.  The two of them finally drew apart, still watching each other.  Claire continued to play with a handful of Sirius's hair, brushing the ends of the strands against her fingers, and he left his right arm very firmly in place about her shoulders.

            "I never did that with Fuchsia either."  Sirius's voice was soft, weighted with fatigue, but still teasing.  The distinctive sound of London's East End slipped in around the edges of his words, traces of the accent his years at Hogwarts had never completely eradicated.  "You sure about this?"

            "About what?"  Claire settled herself against Sirius's side, leaning her head against his shoulder.  "The kiss, or the whole package?"

            "Both, either."

            "I'm sure.  I'm not a teenager anymore, Sirius.  I know what I'm getting myself into."

            Sirius leaned his head back against the couch cushion again, eyes drifting closed once more.  "I'm wanted for murder, and I think I'm as much dog as I am human, and I have screaming nightmares.  Oh, and I bite.  Just ask Nott."

            "All right, I think that severely unfunny joke needs to die a sudden and permanent death."

            "Severely," Sirius made a little, half-laughing sound.  "Snape's jokes are severely unfunny.  Good pun."

            "You're not allowed to make fun of anyone else's name.  Not with a set of initials like yours."  Claire sighed, dragging the conversation back on topic again.  Holding a serious conversation with Sirius was sometimes like refereeing a quiddich match, trying to keep track of four balls and fourteen players--or four topics and as many tangents--at once.  Changing the subject and deflecting personal questions or uncomfortable topics with humour could be as evasive as Severus's cold silence, in it's own way.  "I know what I'm getting into," she repeated.  "Especially after last night.  I know you've been to Hades and back, and may have to go on the run again any day, but I don't want to waste the time we might have now."

            Sirius tightened his hold on her momentarily, a sort of half-squeeze/half-hug, silent acknowledgement.  "Harry comes first.  Always.  You need to know that right off."

            "Somehow, I managed to guess that.  Perhaps it was your willingness to risk capture, exposure, the loss of your human psyche into Padfoot's, and being stampeded to death by teenagers in order to keep an eye on him?"

            "Come on, it's not that dangerous.  It took more than half the term for the secret to come out.  Anyway, Harry needs someone to keep an eye on him.  He's too much like James, rushing into things without telling anyone or thinking about how dangerous they could be."

            Privately, Claire thought that that sounded less like James, who had, after all, been Head Boy, and more like Sirius himself.  "He was in a fight today in Potions, you know.  With several of the Slytherins."

            "Good," Sirius said proudly.  "I hope he flattened them.  I mean," he corrected himself, "that was very wrong, and I'll have to talk to him about it."

            "It will probably just denigrate into a blow-by-blow retelling of the fight, with you offering helpful advice."  Claire reached across and slid her fingers into those of Sirius's free hand.  "Trust me.  Teenage boys do not need any encouragement."

            "Yeah, I remember."  Sirius sighed, relaxing back into the couch.  "You going to stay here a while?"

            "Not indefinitely," Claire answered.  "Remus is bound to be back soon.  His tactfulness only extends so far."  She didn't move, however, but instead merely leaned closer into Sirius.

            "Remus."  Sirius yawned.  "I think he's not so subtly nudging us together."

            "I think you may be right."

            "He and Harry are my alpha and omega, you know.  Pack."  He yawned again, voice a tired mumble.  "The alpha female position's still open, if you want it."

            Claire laughed.  "Are you inviting me to start a relationship with you, or with Remus?"

            There was no answer.  Sirius had fallen asleep.


Minerva inspected the sheaf of parchments in her hand and sighed.  She really couldn't blame Emma Grubbley-Plank for handing them off to her--Severus's office was a realm few residents of Hogwarts cared to enter, even the staff--but she wished that the other woman hadn't chosen to give her the stack of ungraded essays from the day's potions classes quite so late in the evening.  Well, seven-thirty wasn't really so very late, but after the events of the night before, it certainly felt it.  More than anything else, Minerva wanted a hot, lavender-scented bath and a cup of tea.  Instead, she had been made responsible for Severus's paperwork.  I really ought to wait, she told herself, and give it to him tomorrow.  But then he'll be angry that I didn't hand it over sooner, so that he could open class with a blow-by-blow critique of everything that was wrong witht his students' essays.  But if I do give it to him now, he'll be annoyed with me for disturbing him.  She sighed.  Sometimes, when dealing with Severus, you just couldn't win.

So here she was, a bare three-quarters of an hour after bidding Severus good-night, hovering outside the door of his office and debating whether or not to knock.  Before she could make up her mind, the issue was decided for her.

"If you are a staff member, stop dithering outside my door and come in," Severus's voice snapped from beyond the door.  "If you are Potter, I suggest you go away before I give you a month's worth of detentions."

Minerva obediently opened the door, rapping on it lightly a fist and poking her head around the jamb.  "It's me.  I'm sorry to bother you, but Emma Grubbley-Plank wanted me to give you these."  She extended the sheaf of essays.  "How did you know that I was out here?"

"You're a Gryffindor," Severus informed her, as if that fact alone were an explanation in itself.  "If anyone from your house comes within five feet of my door, it sets off the wards." 

"Wards," Caius echoed from the corner of Severus's desk.  "Can't come in.  Can't come in.  Pot-ter.  Ten points from Grif-in-dor."  He cocked his head from side to side to inspect Minerva from first one beady, black eye, and then the other.

"Ignore him and come in," Severus commanded.  He was standing behind his desk, in the doorway that led back to his personal quarters--well, actually, it led to a storage closet where the hidden entrance to his quarters was concealed behind a wall of shelves stocked with potions ingrediants.  "Put the papers on my desk.  I'll get to them tomorrow, before classes."

Minerva chose to take the command as an invitation, and accepted it, stepping into the room and placing her burden on the corner of the desk farthest away from Caius.  He seemed to tolerate her rather better than he did most people, but she was wary of pushing his toleration too far.  There were rumours that the creature had once blinded an auror.

As she stepped through the doorway, she thought that she felt a slight tingle run across her skin.  It might have been the edge of Severus's ward, or it might merely have been her imagination.  She had a sneaking suspicion that the magical security system was set in blood, which would make it near impossible for anyone other than a dark wizard or trained auror to detect.  Remus's quarters had acquired a similar set of warning systems at some point during the year.  Fortunately, Auror Black had never inspected them very closely, so she hadn't recognized her brother's handiwork.

"Gryffindor-specific wards," she commented.  "You do realize how paranoid that makes you seem?"

"Not paranoid," Severus objected.  "Merely practical.  Ravenclaws consider cheating a crutch for weak minds, Hufflepuffs would never even think of it, and my Slytherins know better than to try anything so obvious as breaking and entering with me.  Hence, the only students who might try sneaking into my office are Gryffindors."

Minerva shook her head slowly.  "Severus… oh, nevermind, I give up.  Honestly, from the way you act, one would think it was my House which produced all of the criminals and dark wizards."

Severus glared at her.  "Normally, I would take offense at that comment.  At the moment, however, I can't be bothered to summon up the energy."  He waved his good hand at her imperiously.  "As long as you're here, you may as well come in.  There's tea," he added, in what she supposed must have been an attempt at graciousness.

"Thank you."  Is he actually inviting me into his quarters?  Minerva couldn't suppress a stab of curiosity at the idea of actually seeing the other professor's rooms.  No one save the house elves and possibly Dumbledore had ever been inside them before, as much because Severus, like Filch, seemed to live in his office as because of their owner's antisocial nature.  In the absence of any proof to the contrary, persistent rumours circulated among the younger students that Severus lived in an old torture chamber and slept in a coffin. 

Minerva wasn't exactly sure what she was expecting--though certainly not a crypt--but the mysterious lair behind the section of swing-out shelving was surprisingly normal, if rather sparely decorated.  Clearly, the man had never heard of throw rugs or wooden paneling.  Or the custom of placing pictures of one's relations on the mantelpiece.  Then again, I wouldn't want to sleep in the same room as a portrait of Caligula Snape either.

There was a brief awkward moment when the pair of them realized that there was only one armchair in front of the fireplace--and thus nowhere for a guest to sit--but Minerva solved the problem by seating herself on the footstool before Severus could protest.

"So," she began, feeling, for some odd reason, almost self-conscious, "what prompted this invitation?"

Severus hesitated a moment before answering.  He had apparently decided that his tea was more interesting than she was, judging by the way he kept staring into the cup instead of meeting her eyes.  "You looked as if you could use some tea," he said finally, gesturing to the tray sitting on a table beside his armchair.

Minerva noticed that there was a second cup and saucer set out beside the teapot.  She reached over and helped herself.  It was bad manners, but Severus still had one hand out of commission—and might not have thought of pouring for her even had he been uninjured.

"You'll have to drink it plain," he told her.  "There's no cream or sugar, and I'm not about to call a house elf to fetch some.  I'm not in the mood to deal with one of the wretched creatures."  He sneered, and affected a high-pitched, excited voice.  "Squeaky is happy to be bringing the professors milk.  Is the professors wanting anything else?  Squeaky is bringing them tea cakes, and crumpets, and scones, and an entire blasted three course meal."  He switched back to his normal voice.  "We'd never get rid of it."

"Don't be cruel, Severus."

"I wasn't being cruel, I was being accurate."

There was a pause.  Minerva lifted her cup and took a sip of the tea.  Lapsang, a touch stronger than she liked it.  She preferred Earl Grey, usually with cream.

"If this is what you drink at night, no wonder you never sleep."

"I like tea," Severus responded, not quite snapping, "not tea-flavoured water.  Would you prefer a saucer of milk?"

Minerva raised an eyebrow, determined not to take offense.  "Certainly.  Just set it on the floor, please." 

Severus was silent, staring at her.  Apparently, he was so shocked that someone had actually joked with him that he didn't know what to say.

"Oh for goodness sakes, Severus, I'm not insulting your choice of tea.  I'm trying to make conversation."

"Oh."  Severus considered this for a moment.  "What did you wish to converse about?"

Minerva set her teacup down and sighed.  "Nothing, everything.  I don't know.  How glad we both are that last night is over with.  How annoying Sirius's sister is.  How much I want to throttle Albus for asking you to go out and risk your neck spying on a vicious lunatic who tortures his subordinates, and want to throttle you for actually going.  How much Percy Weasley has grown since he graduated.  How much make-up my sister wears.  Anything."

"You worry about me?"  Severus sounded surprised.  "Is that why you stayed with me last night?"

"Of course I do!" The words burst out before she could stop them.  "I've worried about you since you were sixteen.  You're a horrible, anti-social, unpleasant man, but I don't want you to die!"

Caius let out a squawk at the unexpected shout and beat his wings once, nearly taking off from the back of Severus's chair.  "Meow.  Meow.  Ten points for Grif-in-dor."

"And I swear you taught him to say that," she added.

"I didn't.  The only thing I ever taught him was my name, and I regret teaching him that.  He picks it up on his own."  He did not look at her.  She did not look at him.  They both studied their teacups intently and pretended that her outburst of a moment before had not occurred.  The cups were bone china, Minerva noted.  Off-white, with little gold rims around the top and the Hogwarts crest on the side.  Severus really ought to have his own tea set, instead of using the school's china.  Oh God, why did I say that?

"Do you really find me horrible and unpleasant?"

"Yes!" Minerva said forcefully.  "You bully students, and play favourites, and smirk unbearably whenever your House wins the Quiddich Cup.  And I think you stand in front of the mirror in your spare time and practice sneering."

"I play favourites?  If Potter were a Slytherin, you would have had him kicked out of Hogwarts by now."

"If Potter were a Slytherin, you'd like him."

"No I wouldn't." 

"You like Malfoy."

"Malfoy likes my class," Severus half-snarled.  "And some teacher has to be supportive of him, or he's going to turn into a bitter, vengeful young man on a one way track to Azkaban."

There wasn't really much that one could say to that, especially when one recognized it for the subtle dig that it was.  "I really could kill Azrael Bale," she finally managed.  "Of all the times to have someone like that as head of Slytherin…  I wish I'd listened to Vesta when she told me that we were neglecting all of the Slytherin students, but, well, she was my little sister.  By that point, I had turned tuning out the sound of her affected, non-Scottish, screen starlet voice into an art."

"You're jealous of her, aren't you?"  Severus asked.  He smiled slightly, in an infuriatingly smug way.

"Oh please.  Of course not. 'Sev dahling'…" She let her voice trail off in disgust.  "Who does she think she is?  Morganna LeFay as played by Marlene Dietrich?"

"Where as you're Elizabeth Bennet as played Katherine Hepburn?  An old Katherine Hepburn."

"Better an old Katherine Hepburn than a dead Alan Rickman."

"Who's Alan Rickman?"  Severus looked honestly confused.  As well he might, since his total knowledge of muggle culture came from listening to Franklin Watts's long rants about disco and film noir.  Somewhat unfortunately, their Muggle Studies professor's knowledge of his subject stopped well before 1980.  Or possibly he'd just chosen to ignore everything that had happened after that.

"Nevermind.  It's not important.  He's a muggle actor with a very large nose."

"Why is it that when everyone has run out of ways to insult me, they feel compelled to mock my nose."  Severus reached up and pinched the bridge of said nose, probably an unfortunate gesture, as it only drew more attention to it.  "Surely there's something else about me that people can insult."

"Well, I wasn't being as insulting as I could be.  Alan Rickman is actually rather good looking."  Oh dear.  Why did I say that?

"So is Katherine Hepburn.  At least, she doesn't look that bad in Watts's vintage film posters."

Minerva sighed.  "I've seen his collection of Emma Peel merchandise.  I don't even want to imaging what this poster looked like."

"Who is Emma Peel?"

"The one in the skin-tight black leather."  She shook her head.  "The muggle media presents a very demeaning portrait of women."

"I don't think I've seen these pictures.  He only shows those sort of things to Flitwick."

Minerva started to laugh helplessly.  The mental image of Filius looking at photographs of scantily clad muggle actresses was too absurd to resist.  Surely Severus was making it up.  Then again, she wasn't sure he was capable of being that whimsical.

"I thought we were insulting my sister," she gasped out finally.

"You were insulting your sister," he corrected.  "I was listening to you express your latent and painfully obvious jealousy."

"Of Vesta?"  She tried to sound skeptical, as if to imply that the mere notion was nonsense.  'So, speaking of Vesta, how are things between to two of you?"

"They aren't," Severus said flatly.  "I think the end came when I called her a murdering whore who should have been sorted into Gryffindor."

"My," Minerva cleared her throat.  "That even rhymed.  It lacks your usually subtlety, though."

"I was nineteen, and she had just killed one of my only friends."

"Oh, yes."  Minerva returned to inspecting her tea.  The conversation had drifted into forbidden territory.  She was not Polaris Black.  She was not going to make the admittedly correct statement that it had been Evan's own fault.  For one thing, she knew where the information that had gotten him arrested had come from.  She also remembered the rather ugly scene a few days afterwards when the informant in question had tried to quit.  The Ministry, of course, had not let him.  "She was very upset about it.  That was the only time she ever killed anyone in the line of duty."

"Unusual, for an auror," Severus commented.  "I think she's forgiven me for calling her that, since she didn't say anything about it earlier.  I may even have forgiven her for casting that hex on him."  He looked away, reaching up to pet Caius.  Caius was, apparently, an even better distraction than tea.  "I don't think she'll ever forgive herself, though.  And I… To this day I'm not sure I did the right thing.  I wonder if Pettigrew ever felt guilty about what he did to the Potters?  Probably not.  He's a Gryffindor.  They always have the gods on their sides."

"You and Pettigrew cannot be compared in any way," Minerva snapped.  "He sacrificed his friends because he was too cowardly to do the right thing.  You did the right thing even though it was hard.  And a bit late."

"We both broke sacred oaths," Severus pointed out.  He gestured at the sling his left arm still rested in.  "Of course, he didn't have anyone write it down on his arm for him to help him remember, which must have made it difficult for him." 

Well, there wasn't much one could say to that.  Conversations with a thoughtful Severus had a way of becoming either disturbing or distinctly awkward.  Often, they were both.

"It's just a scar, Severus."  Minerva reached over to lay one hand on his left shoulder.  "Scars heal."

Severus stiffened.  I've invaded his twelve-foot bubble of personal space, she thought dryly.  Now, he's going to throw me out.

"Not really.  They just fade.  And some don't even do that.  After Dolohov died in Azkaban, the Ministry had him autopsied," Severus said softly.  Minerva blinked, thrown by the apparent complete non sequitor.

"They found discoloured patches on his radius and ulna.  It's burned into our bones, Minerva.  Literally."  He didn't look at her, or acknowledge the hand she still had resting on his shoulder.  Obviously, he was waiting for her to pull it away and leave.

"That was a needlessly creepy bit of information," she informed him.  "Am I supposed to be disgusted?"

"Most normal people would be."  Severus eyed her in a slightly nonplussed way.  Clearly, she was supposed to have reacted more vehemently.

"I know it's there," she continued.  "I've seen it.  Making a fuss about it won't make it go away."

"You are so practical that sometimes I want to hit you."  His voice was flat, emotionless, making it difficult to tell whether or not he was being serious.

Minerva withdrew her hand, and took another sip of her overly strong tea.  "I don't fight the injured."

"Of course not.  It would be dishonourable."

Minerva felt her lips twitching slightly, in spite of herself.  "You mean, it would be un-Gryffindor-like?"

"One of your eyes twitches every time I use the word 'Gryffindor.'  I thought that perhaps I had better stop."

The smile won.  "It's just that you say it as though it were some sort of insult."

"You mean, the same way all of the other Houses say 'Slytherin'?"

Ouch.  "You may have a point," she admitted. 

He raised an eyebrow.  The other one wouldn't move, because his eye was still swollen half-way shut.

"May," Minerva repeated.  She was head of Gryffindor, after all.  She had a reputation to uphold.  Although, considering that she was sitting in the Head of Slytherin's personal quarters, sipping tea, it may have been a little late.  Actually, she recalled, it was very late.  And since Severus was a stubborn fool, they both had classes to teach the next day.

"I really ought to be going," she said, setting her teacup down and rising.  She shook out her skirts, sending a black feather drifting to the floor.  "It really is getting late, and I'm sure you must be tired."

"You're fleeing because I won the argument."  Was that actually a glint of humour in one black eye? 

"Were we arguing?  I don't think we were."  She looked at him, still sitting in the armchair with Caius perched over one shoulder like a small, feathered gargoyle.  Severus looked rather gargoylish himself at the moment, all bruises and bloodshot black eyes.  His hair looked even worse than usual.  Poppy had probably washed it while he was asleep and unable to escape her, which meant that it was currently drifting around his head as if possessed of a life of its own.  He really ought to either cut it all off or start pulling it back like Sirius does.  Of course, he'd never do that, because that's what Sirius does.  "It was… a rather more enjoyable argument than usual."

"Yes."  Severus started to get up, to see her out, and she gestured at him to remain sitting.

"Don't.  I can find my own way out.  Unless the wards are going to fry me if I go through them without you?"

"That would be against regulations."  He paused for a beat.  "Wait just a second and I'll come with you."  Severus climbed to his feet awkwardly, leaning his weight on his right arm.  Minerva averted her eyes for a second so that she wouldn't have to see him flinch.

When the two of them reached the door, she paused for a second and glanced back over her shoulder.  Caius was still sitting on the back of Severus's armchair, eyeing her suspiciously as if to make sure that she wasn't sneaking out the silver beneath her skirt.  "Meow.  Sev-ah-rus.  Mine."

She winked at him.  He didn't look happy.

"What are you doing to my familiar?" Severus asked suspiciously.

"Severus, just admit it.  He's a pet.  And I wasn't doing anything," she added.

"He is not a pet," Severus said defensively.  "He's very useful."

Minerva began ticking points off on her fingers.  "He doesn't deliver messages, he doesn't help you perform spells, you feed him your potions ingredients, and when he steals things, you lie to Filch and say that the students must have done it.  He's a pet."

"Me-ow," Caius chose that moment to repeat his "name" for her.

"And I still think you taught him to call me that."

"I've told you.  He picks it up on his own."

"Even 'Gilderoy is an ass'?" she queried.

"He's a very intelligent raven."  Severus smirked.  "And he tends to repeat things he hears a lot.  And he doesn't really steal.  He just likes shiny things."

"Speaking of which, you wouldn't happen to have my old spectacles lurking about somewhere in your room, would you?  They just disappeared one day."

"Well, if I were Black, I'd probably tell you that you could come back tomorrow night and check."  His voice was suspiciously dry, in that "am I joking, or insulting someone?" way of his.

"Perhaps I will," she said.  His nose really wasn't so bad at close quarters, she noted.  It gave his face character, of a sort.

"I shall have the house elves bring an extra pot of watery Earl Grey for you.  And a saucer of milk."

"I shall look forward to it," she told him, before bidding him goodnight and making her way up the seemingly endless flights of stairs toward Gryffindor tower.  And the strange thing was, she would.


The End.  Mostly.  The storyline is continued in "A Terrible Beauty," but I'll warn y'all, it's rather depressing.


Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has stuck with me for so long, in spite of my slow writing speed and long gaps between posts.  I've had fun writing this story, and I'm glad some of y'all had fun reading it. *grins * There will be a short author's note added on in a couple of weeks to respond to any reviews of the last chapter, and to reviews of "A Terrible Beauty."

AndromacheCassandra:  Thanks!  I'm glad that you like the Sirius/Severus sniping.  About Sirius's less-than-kind adolescence, well, he did try to kill Snape once.  He was probably a horrible, hyperactive, impossible to teach twelve year-old.  Oh, and how dare you say that your stuff isn't good?  "Sirius's Slightly Secret Diary" is hilarious.

Ozma & Alla: Thanks!  Yes, Severus and Sirius will eventually learn to respect/tolerate/grudgingly like one another.  They're already halfway there.  Thanks also for the approval of Polaris's continued bitchiness.  Like y'all said, she couldn't get any softer and still be Pols.  *grins * Filch is in here because of the "Squib" stories, you know.

Coconut-ice agent: Thanks!  Actually, the reason I do so many of the older characters is that I have trouble writing Harry.  About mailing lists—I don't have one of my own, but I'm on several.  They're all slash, though.

Kit Cloudkicker:  Thanks!  Sorry this baby took so long.  Will Sirius be cleared?  Yep.  After "A Terrible Beauty," when a certain person's body is found.

Giesbrecht, Zetta, & Angel of the North:  Thanks!  Especially for the compliments on characterization.  That and dialogue are probably what I work on the hardest.

Bobbi & Zeptron-Zulu: Thanks!  I'm glad that y'all liked the Sirius & Remus interaction—I tore my hair out over some of those scenes trying to keep this story from edging into R/S slash territory.  It's good to know that I succeeded.

Sean Mulligan:  Thanks!  I've already seen the petition, actually.  Several people on my Yahoo groups referred me to it.  I doubt it'll work, though.

Madoushi-Clef:  Thanks!  Especially for the constructive criticism.  I'm not sure if I did any better on the description in this chapter or not, but I appreciate the tip.  About the bat thing—Minerva was threatening to transfigure Severus into one, similar to the way Moody turned Draco into a ferret.

Daniz: Thanks!  I'm glad you like Pols and Caius.  * grins sheepishly * Caius was actually invented by a friend of mine, so I can't really take credit for him.

Michelle & Luna Daisy:  Thanks!  You two read this whole thing in one sitting?  * whistles * That's a lot of reading.  Thank you!

WeasleyTwinsLover1112:  Thanks!  Remus couldn't neuter Snuffles.  Claire would kill him (and so would Sirius).  I, too, think he'd be cute in a spiky collar, BTW.

M.E.:  Thanks!  I'm glad that you thought the baptism thing was cool.  It was just too twisted for me to leave out.

Netrat:  Thanks!  Especially for pointing out the two slip-ups.  The second one was intentional—Minerva was exaggerating—but the Wilkes detail I simply forgot to check.  * grins evilly * Remus and Sirius's pre-Voldemort relationship is reeaally interesting in "Gravity," but most of the fun parts of that storyline didn't occur in the "Scars"-verse.