(Scene four. The Sick Ward. Severus sits in a normal, high-backed chair and looks his usual, impeccably-robed self. There is a rolled parchment on the bedside table. Next to the table is a small, rather battered suitcase. Hermione enters, holding the clipboard and quill.)

SEVERUS: Miss Granger, good morning.

HERMIONE: Good morning, Professor. (Hermione points at the suitcase) You are leaving?

SEVERUS: Yes. I'll spend a week or two at home, to sort things out, and then I'll ...

HERMIONE: It's true, then? You've accepted Professor Carmichael's offer?

SEVERUS: How did you know?

HERMIONE: Professor Carmichael mentioned it during the interview. She asked what my plans were, and I told her I wanted to go to Bridgeford. Then she said that might be two good additions in one day. I asked what she meant, and, well …

SEVERUS: I see. You'll certainly be a good addition.

HERMIONE: Oh, I don't have a place yet, but if my marks are good enough, I'll get an interview.

SEVERUS: That's excellent news. About my own position, could I ask you not to mention it to anyone yet? I'll see Min… that is, Professor McGonagall this afternoon, and she should hear it from me, not on the grapevine.

HERMIONE: Oh, absolutely. But she may know already. When Professor Carmichael mentioned you, she said that Professor McGonagall would be pleased.

SEVERUS: Not about me, surely. I know she had other ideas. No, she'll be pleased to hear that you're going to Bridgeford – she went there herself, you know.

HERMIONE: (very surprised, and in a puzzled voice) No, it can't be about me. She was definitely talking about you – Professor McGonagall thinks I should be an Auror. That's why she started that whole silly … (Hermione stops, looks embarrassed, and scribbles some meaningless lines on her clipboard.)

SEVERUS: Miss Granger, this needs sorting out. I'm perfectly convinced that any hidden agenda on the Calendar Project is to do with me. But I did notice a certain reluctance on your part concerning this whole job. What are your ideas, then?

HERMIONE: Well, it's like this. Everyone expected me to go and work for the Ministry, either as an Auror, or in a place where I could further S.P.E.W. You know about S.P.E.W.?

SEVERUS: I do. Please, go on. You weren't interested?

HERMIONE: No. I've never wanted to be an Auror, and after last year … It's the last thing I'd want. And S.P.E.W. … it's not that I don't care about House-Elf rights. I do care, a lot. It's just … Oh, I don't know how to explain it. Everyone goes on about me not being my old self. And how being Crucio'ed has traumatised me. Well, it hasn't, at least, I don't think so. What happened at Malfoy Manor shouldn't define my life, and I'm not letting it. But … oh …

SEVERUS: I think I know what you mean. You have changed. Not in a negative, poor victim manner. But because of … everything you've done, everything you've seen … it does change people. This is perfectly normal. No-one is the same person at eighty as at eighteen. Although, now I think of it, that notion is perhaps a tad optimistic. An unfortunate amount of people seem to reach their peak of intellectual maturity when their seventeenth birthday changes them from underage little sods into adult sods. As you will realise when you meet your former classmates later in life.

HERMIONE: Speaking from personal experience? I mean … sorry, Professor, that was …

SEVERUS: That was a logical deduction, Miss Granger, no need to apologize for it. Yes, speaking from personal experience. And I know there's nothing more annoying than getting advice – except, perhaps, getting good advice – but do avoid school reunions. There's no need to add to the sum of human misery by inflicting that particular ordeal on yourself. Instead, build up a new life at Bridgeford. You're old enough to know what you want; there's no need to remain stuck at twelve-year-old-Hermione for ever.

HERMIONE: That's just it! (surprised) You do understand. Why can't the rest?

SEVERUS: They're afraid, I think. They've lived through terrible things. But they started with the idea that, after the War, life would be normal again. That was what they were fighting for: their ordinary, pleasant lives. And that's what they want, hence the insistence on all of us being our old selves. Did you ever think about the kind of normal life you'd go back to?

HERMIONE: No! No … I didn't. I didn't see any kind of life. Everything just went on and on, and I had no idea of what would come next … I didn't think there would be a 'next'. (Hermione pauses to look intently at Severus. Then, rather hesitatingly) Is that what it was like for you, too? Is that why …

SEVERUS: Yes. I was convinced there would be no next. I didn't particularly care, so there's no need to look upset. And perhaps that's why I understand. For what my opinion is worth, I think you've made an excellent choice. The academic life will suit you very well. And while I'm afraid you'll have to live with a certain amount of –shall we call it Pottermania? – you'll manage to find a … new life for yourself.

HERMIONE: Thank you, Professor. I'm glad there's at least one person who feels I'm doing the right thing. And you know what most annoys me? When I was still at Hogwarts, everyone told me S.P.E.W. was silly, and I would grow out of it. And now they all say, "but what about your plans?" as if it was the best idea they'd ever heard.

SEVERUS: Quite. Several of my Order colleagues want to see my old self back, and, given their lack of enthusiasm when it was there to enjoy, I utterly fail to see why.

(They both grin briefly.)

HERMIONE: Well, we'll both start a new life then. But … you said there was a hidden agenda in the Calendar project? You may be right …

SEVERUS: ( interrupts quickly) Oh, I am!

HERMIONE: As I said, you may be right, but it was about me. I asked Professor McGonagall to be left out of the fundraising in order to prepare for Bridgeford, and she said I'd do well enough, and being on the project would do me all sorts of good. It would give me an interest, she said, it would take me out of the library now and then. She stopped just short of trotting out all work and no play, but it was perfectly clear what she meant. And besides, Professor Carmichael was definitely talking about you.

SEVERUS: But – why, of course, that's it! Professor Carmichael really thinks Minerva will be pleased – and she's wrong. Professor McGonagall wanted me to take on this project because I'd handed in my resignation. She wanted me to reconsider, said I wasn't my old self – as you see, I was less fortunate with the clichés I got – and she thought it would give me an interest.

HERMIONE: What – you too?

SEVERUS: Yes. It'll be a bit of a blow for her. It's not often that two of her best-laid plans go awry. And it's ironic we both start a new life in Bridgeford. Not that you have to worry about running into me – I understand that this collaboration can't have been all joy for you.

HERMIONE: Oh, but it was! Really, I enjoyed myself.

SEVERUS: You're too kind, Miss Granger. But given that we'll be in different departments, you'll hardly see me. Not till you're a fully-fledged member of staff. You'll find that even in a new life, staff parties are unavoidable.

HERMIONE: ( smiles) Were they as bad as that?

SEVERUS: Not always. Professor McGonagall and I quite enjoyed being sarcastic together. I'll miss that. Of course, there's the time you'll be a colleague to look forward too. It'll improve those gatherings no end.

HERMIONE: (sounding somewhat depressed) Thank you. You're right, of course. I don't think we'll see each other before. The place is so big, you'd have to make an appointment to meet up.

SEVERUS: (hesitatingly) Yes, you might feel a bit lost, at first. If you think you might enjoy …

HERMIONE: Yes!

SEVERUS: … dinner, I thought – or just drinks, perhaps…

HERMIONE: I'd love to. Either. Dinner.

SEVERUS: Well… that's … erm … (Severus grabs a quill and starts making notes) I'll give you my address. Then you can send your address when you know it, and I'll … I'll Owl you. (he hands the parchment with the address to Hermione) I … I have to get packed now. And to speak with Professor Minerva … I mean … Professor McGonagall.

HERMIONE: Yes. Yes, of course. I'll send you my address, Professor.

SEVERUS: I'm not your Professor any more … Perhaps you could start the new life by dropping the title, Miss Granger … I mean …

HERMIONE: (laughing) You mean we'll call each other Miss Granger and Mr Snape?

SEVERUS: Hermione, please. I know I just relinquished professorial authority, but must you strike at once? One last order, then: Owl me. Soon.

HERMIONE: I will. Severus.

(Hermione grabs her clipboard and hurries out)

(Scene five. The Sick Ward. Severus packs the last items on his bed into the suitcase. Minerva enters)

MINERVA: Severus! Poppy told me you're well enough to leave. You're going home?

SEVERUS: Yes. But … Minerva, I'm sorry. I know you thought I'd change my mind … (Severus picks up the roll of parchment from the bedside table)

MINERVA: You're handing me your resignation? I see. Well, Hilary Carmichael owes me a dinner for that – pinching my staff.

SEVERUS: She told you, then?

MINERVA: No, I'm merely putting two and two together. And did you hear the other news? Miss Granger is going to Bridgeford, too.

SEVERUS: Yes, she told me – if her marks were good enough, she said. (They both smile.)

MINERVA: Typical. University will suit her.

SEVERUS: Do you really think so? It's not the impression you gave Miss Granger.

MINERVA: I don't wear my heart on my sleeve, Severus. Of course I think she'll be happy at Bridgeford. More so, even, than at Hogwarts. Her love of learning won't set her apart there. And now that she already knows someone – you, I mean – she won't feel as lonely as she did during her first months here. I've had her marked for Bridgeford ever since she managed to solve that conundrum of yours. Remember? When we had to protect the Philosopher's Stone? A student clever enough to outsmart you …

SEVERUS: (laughs at the memory)You're right, I'd almost forgotten. It was very clever of her. I didn't think anyone would get past. But Mr Weasley did well, too, winning from your Giant Chess.

MINERVA: He didn't. He played a marvellous game, true, but he didn't win. He didn't get past. He had to sacrifice himself. And, as you recall, the aim was to stop the player from reaching the Stone.

SEVERUS: (nods, and grins appreciatively) You're right. I never thought of that before – check mate wasn't the end: the final move was getting past.

MINERVA: Did I just destroy your happy bubble of smugness at my imagined defeat? Oh, dear. Chess really is a matter of thinking ahead – you have to plan your moves from the start all the way to the very end of the game, and sometimes beyond that.

SEVERUS: I really must find time to study it. Perhaps, one day, you'll care to play with me?

MINERVA: I think you'll be better off playing with Miss Granger.

SEVERUS: She's a chess player, then? I didn't know. And I don't think I'll see much of her. Bridgeford is a very large place.

MINERVA: She doesn't play yet, which is what makes her suitable. You can learn together. And Bridgeford can be exceedingly small – if you want it to be.

(Minerva smiles and heads for the door. Then she turns round and looks back at Severus.)

MINERVA: Now, you know I'm the last person to claim an Inner Eye, but I can see the two of you spending some pleasurable moments together. As you did on the Calendar Project.

SEVERUS: (thoughtful) Ah, yes. The Calendar Project.

MINERVA: ( settles herself against the door post) I'm so pleased with both your efforts. The calendar looks brilliant, the stories are beautiful, and the selection of subjects … whose idea was it to put Fleur Delacour on December?

SEVERUS: Miss Granger's.

MINERVA: As I thought – she'll make a decent chess player. Thinks ahead. And Rosmerta is an excellent choice for June – your idea to include her, I think? Did you see the finished picture?

SEVERUS: I did. Her dress defies gravity. It'll bring back a lot of happy memories for the alumni.

MINERVA: You see? Miss Granger and you are eminently suited. For chess, I mean. You'll both enjoy it. Not that you'll be anywhere near top player status, not for a very long time. Believe me, it takes years and years of practice to …

SEVERUS: … to learn how to think a game through properly? Getting your pieces just where you want them, for every single move, from the start to the very end – and beyond? I see. Yes, I really begin to see what you mean, Minerva.

A/N And that's the final curtain. But next week, there'll be a little Minerva / Snape something. A very little something. Still, it may entertain you.