Author's Note: Now, at the end of this story, I would like to thank all my readers and especially those who have reviewed and shared their thoughts about the various chapters with me for keeping me company on a year-and-a-half long journey and for making it so much more enjoyable. I look forward to your responses to the finished story, and I wish you all the best.

Disclaimer: All rights belong to the inimitable J.K. Rowling. Special thanks to her for Severus Snape.

Too Deep for the Healing

Chapter 40


While Harry Potter was watching scene after scene from his mother's short life (from a birthday at home to a Christmas at Hogwarts, from sneaking around in Petunia's room to making potions in Slughorn's class, from preparing for exams to wandering in Hogsmeade), Snape and Irene were taking a walk in the sleepy little Muggle village, and he steered her towards the Village Inn.

"We're going to eat there," he said.

He had received his wages in the camp for the last time just a day before, and he did not care if he was going to leave it all there. He wanted the experience.

"Unless you are ashamed to appear with me in public," he added, seeing Irene's reluctance.

"That's blackmail," she replied, leaning her head on his shoulder. "How can you even suggest such a thing?"

The meal was more of a demonstration than a celebration, but as long as it meant some recompense to Severus, if it helped him rebalance his troubled soul, Irene was willing to assist. As always, the customers of the inn included wizards (off-duty guards and other employees of the camp) as well as local Muggles. Snape made sure the light of the lamps fell on his visitor's bracelet as they entered. He ordered champagne with the air of someone who was almost looking forward to a confrontation, yet if he was hoping for a chance to triumphantly shove his symbol of freedom into a guard's face, he had to be disappointed. The wizards who were present took notice of his changed status with curiosity but with little surprise, which Irene could have foretold if he had asked her.

The trial had been the talk of the camp for the past couple of days, and, according to Mrs Primrose, guards had been placing bets on or against the convict who had Harry Potter's support; therefore they must have already found out what the verdict was. A few people even raised their glasses towards Snape with happy winks – they were clearly the ones who had bet a significant sum on him and were now considering themselves part of his victory.

It was already dark when they left the place. The village streets were empty, though there were lights beyond the windows. They walked holding hands.

"Aren't you tired?" he asked.

"A little," she answered. "I have hardly been out lately."

"Shall we go back then?"

"What are your plans?"

His plans…

"I wish I could take you to a place of my own."

Her response was light-hearted.

"Do you? And what would that be good for?"

"To keep you there forever. I wish I had such a place."

Her hand squeezed his.

"How about going to my place here in the village?"

"I would like that, too."

"So why don't we Apparate back to the camp, collect my things and your things and get done with the moving?"

"Let's do that."

It did not take long for Snape to pack his possessions in the camp. He was congratulated by Weasley and Mrs Primrose and stared at by the convicts, who had already heard the news, too. In the hospital, Draco gave him a sour look.

"So you're leaving. It's over for you," the boy said almost reproachfully.

"Unlike some others," Snape replied coldly, "I never belonged here."

A vicious sneer appeared on Draco's face.

"You did six months here by mistake! Bad luck, isn't it?"

"Never mind my luck, Draco. Mind yours."

Draco kept staring at him, and his expression gave Snape an uncomfortable feeling. He had seen that expression just a few days before – when Draco was crying, clutching his hand and begging him desperately to help.

"You're not a child," he continued, and his voice lost all its previous coldness. "If you can take your medicine like a man, it will be easier to look ahead."

Draco dropped his gaze and shrugged. Snape hesitated.

"There are second chances," he said. "Remember that when the times comes."

With this, he turned round and hurried away as though there was something indecent in the fact that he was giving advice to a repentant young Death Eater. Who was he to act as a mentor or to offer a moral compass? He nevertheless wondered if Draco had understood his words as he had meant them - as an offer of future help.

It was a relief to leave behind the camp with Irene; but as they entered her house, he was increasingly aware of a change that did not make him particularly confident. He wished the duration of the invitation had been explicitly specified. Of course, on the one hand, Irene was not likely to send him out into the night, and, on the other hand, he had already mentioned to her his appointment with Minerva the next day. Of course, Irene loved him. Of course, it would not be their first night together. Yet, he felt in the new situation their relationship had to be redefined; and until it was done, he could take nothing for granted.

In the living room, Irene put down the cage of her exotic owl and glanced round.

"I'll have to do some cleaning before my parents get here tomorrow."

"Your parents?"

"They wanted to come as soon as they heard I was ill, but it took ages to get the permit."

"They are coming here to help you, not to criticize you," he said. "You are in no condition to start sweeping and scrubbing."

"But I want to create a good impression."

"Leave it to me then," Snape offered. "It'll be quicker with magic even though I'm a bit out of practice."

"You could have fooled me," she chuckled. "Out of practice, indeed!"

Though his magic was in perfect condition, Snape had never cared much for household charms, and now he worked quite hard to do his very best until he saw that she was satisfied with the result. She gave him a grateful smile, which he could not return.

Irene had often mentioned her parents, but she had ever only spoken about things pertaining to the relationship between her and them. Snape had no mental picture of Mr and Mrs Burbage as a wizard and a witch who could be met and talked to, as people with lives of their own, only as Irene's parents doing things parents (real, normal parents) could be expected to do. He had always carefully avoided asking any questions about them. Now he did not like the idea that Irene wanted to impress them so much. How would he, an ex-convict, fit this picture? It was one thing to be officially exonerated; shaking off the shadow of suspicion was something quite different. But at least he had an excuse to leave before they arrived – he did not believe he was ready to create a good first impression yet.

He was still thinking of Irene's parents late at night, when they were at last comfortably settled on the sofa by the warmth and the light of the fireplace. On the mantelpiece, there were two goblets of red wine.

"Do your parents… know about me?"

"They do. Why?"

There was some shyness in her answer that Snape found worrisome.

"Make sure you tell them I'm acquitted and free," he said after a pause.

"I hope I won't forget," she replied cheerfully. "But I guess they will have learned it from the paper by the time they get here."

"I can already see the headlines. Death Eater Walks Free Again…"

"They will hear the true story from me," she said kindly.

Snape was again reminded of what Healer Juniperus had told him - that Irene was ready to sing his praise any time and that she was biased.

"They're not likely to be thrilled by the company you keep here."

"If you mean yourself, let me just tell you that my mum knows you."

Snape gaped at her.

"Your mother and I have met?"

"She says so."

"Let me guess," he replied wryly. "Is she another member of the Wizengamot who voted against my acquittal?"

"They wouldn't need to learn the news from the Prophet then."

"Ah… true enough."



"My mum was angry with you a few years ago."

So much for a good first impression, Snape thought.

"I don't remember offending any other Burbages but Charity and you."

"Oh, she is more widely known by her maiden name. That's how she became famous, and only her friends and her family know her married name. She says you let her down. She invited you to work in her team for a few months because she thought you were just the kind of potioneer her team needed. You accepted the offer but later changed your mind without explanation."

Snape gaped at her again.

"Your mother is Professor Wood," he said, astonished. "She was here in the summer, directing the work out there."

"I think she accepted the assignment mainly to see what kind of workplace her daughter had chosen."

"She must have tried to talk you out of it."

"Oh, yes. But since no one was able to talk her out of exploring the magic of wild places, she shouldn't be surprised to see her daughter can't be talked out of a chosen job either."

Irene picked up the goblets and gave one to him.

"There's no need to be shocked," she said. "Cheers, Severus."

They clinked their goblets together but Snape hardly drank. In his mind's eye, he could see Professor Wood on a summer day, fighting off the tendrils of a dangerous plant.

"In those days, the Dark Lord was regaining power and Dumbledore needed me," he began. "The night the Dark Lord returned I was sent to him on a secret mission as a spy. I had to break my promise to your mother so I could keep another one. I'm sorry if I was a disappointment."

"She saw you in the wetland," Irene said by way of reply, "saving someone from Devil's Snare."

"It was Draco. Your mother saved us both, in fact. I hoped she didn't recognize me."

"At first she didn't. She had no idea you were here… she had not followed the trials very closely. You see, she is still a bit out of touch with the world beyond rainforests. It took her some time to remember who you were, but she did remember eventually."

"I recognized her at once," Snape muttered.

"You didn't let her know though."

"Of course not."

She put down her goblet and reached for his hand.

"Don't be ashamed of that meeting. Your name has been cleared. The sentence is null and void."

"I'm perfectly aware that I can't wipe it out of my past. It will always be attached to my name despite the acquittal."

She squeezed his hand warmly.

"You can regard it as a war injury," she said. "Just move on and hold your head high. All right?"

"I'm trying. At the moment I can still feel the chains pressing into my flesh whenever I'm reminded of the trial."

Her eyes opened wide.

"The chains?"

"Defendants are usually chained. Not a great experience."

Her hand began tracing his body slowly, tenderly.

"I can make that feeling go away. Tell me where it hurts."

"Here," he murmured with mock complaint, directing her caressing hand. "And here… and here, too. But I'd rather you didn't switch to healer mode now."

"Would you object to a therapy of kisses?"

"Not to that. Not at all… And I'm aching all over, so you'd better make the treatment appropriate."

"It'll take a long time then."

"And so it should. You have no idea what I endured for you… You gave me the will and the strength to go on fighting."

"And now that you have fought and won like a valiant knight… you are claiming the prize."

Like a valiant knight… He was glad Irene had not seen him in the courtroom. But he was certainly claiming the prize. He was ready to take it, too, and he left no doubt in her mind about that.



"Let's go to my bedroom."


"I want more and more of this."

Snape rested his hand on Irene's waist, savouring the warmth of her body and the smoothness of her skin. They had already had their fill of pleasure. They both were, in fact, rather exhausted, and his professed insatiability made her smile.

"I'm game," she said. "But you should get some sleep. You are having a job interview tomorrow and you don't want Professor McGonagall to believe that a few months of forced labour have worn you out so much."

"I'd love to brag about the real reason. What makes you think it's a job interview?"

"What else could it be?"

"Well… she may want to congratulate… to check how I am… No, she has already done that… She may have problems with some of the wards I put up last year… there may be things they haven't figured out yet. Perhaps she wants my advice."

"She's a very able witch, Severus."

"She's a Gryffindor, and she thinks like a Gryffindor. Some of my tricks were decidedly… Slytherin."

Irene laughed, but was not convinced.

"Would you like to teach Potions again?"

"Hogwarts has a Potions teacher. It would be too convenient if Horace wanted to resign just when I needed a job. It's a safe bet he will stay at Hogwarts until he has enjoyed a good many anniversary celebrations commemorating the Battle."

"Healer Juniperus will be happy to employ you anyway."

He spent some time playing with a lock of her hair before speaking again.

"You haven't told me of your plans yet."

"My plans?"

"Healer Juniperus says you can take up work in a few days. You have a job here. You live here. If you intend to stay here, I want to know."

"Does it matter where I work?"

"This is not a place where one can Apparate at will. One needs permission for every single visit. I want to be near you. I want to see you every day, not only on special occasions. If you stay here, then here I must find a place for myself."

"A place?" Irene asked in a strange voice.

"A place to live… and I might have to apply for a job here… The camp needs a potioneer."

"You must be joking."

"I have to build my life from scratch," he said. "I'm free as a bird with no obligation to any employer, not even a true home to return to. I can adapt."

"Adapt to a life here?"

"To a life near you."


She showered him with kisses and caresses.

It was worth it… just to feel her like this, so close to him every day, would be worth it.

"So that's settled," he said quietly, stroking her head as though he wanted to soothe her.

Her voice was gentle like that of a healer talking to a troubled patient.

"Do you think I would accept such sacrifice from you even if this were the most beautiful place on Earth? To make you live here, here, of all places, and give up all other opportunities in the world? But I'm touched, Severus, I'm thoroughly touched that you're willing to do it. I'll never forget it."

"Will you leave this place then? I don't know where I'm going, but I can't imagine the future without you."

"I need some time," she said. "Weeks, maybe a month... I'll be the only healer here when Healer Juniperus returns to London. I must wait until Titania recovers from dragon pox or until they find a new healer. You can't waste your time watching over me. You have so much to make up for... Start building your new life and visit me when you can."

"You are too conscientious to just quit, aren't you?"

"I also need time to find a new job and a new home."

Snape knew what the best reply to these words would be, but something kept him from saying it. He did not feel ready. Not for that. Not yet.

He kissed her again instead, his desire reviving.


Irene was right. Professor McGonagall did intend to speak to Snape about a job-related issue, but she found it unusually difficult to start. They were drinking tea together, talking about the past six months, about the trial and Harry Potter. Finally, Minerva made up her mind.

"I need your advice, Severus," she said.

Snape regarded her with the gaze of someone who had heard exactly what he had expected.

"It is about the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. It has been left vacant this school-year, and I wonder if there is any way to check how safe it is."

Snape responded with a somewhat impertinent smirk.

"Do you wish to test it on me?"

"No," the Headmistress protested. "I simply need your … opinion."

"Is there another candidate?"

"I'd like you to understand me. I haven't considered any candidates yet. I must be sure first that the job is free of the curse at last."

"Would you consider me – if I were willing to try?"

"You would be my first choice," Minerva replied, "but I don't want to expose you to further danger. You've already done enough for Hogwarts."

"I happen to need a job," Snape said slowly. "Even if the contract expires in a year, it'll be worth trying."

"I don't know, Severus. There may be other opportunities out there for you. You'd deserve something more … peaceful."

"I know nothing about peaceful jobs. But listen to me, Minerva. If you only want my opinion, I'll say the position is probably not more dangerous than any other Hogwarts jobs. If the curse hasn't worn off yet, it must have at least weakened considerably."

"How can you tell that? Not all spells wear off with the caster's death."

"I tend to think the only permanent magic the Dark Lord ever produced was the Killing Curse, and even that is only because of the irreversible biological process it set off. He never planned his own death. He never had any plans for a world in which he lived no more. I doubt he ever bothered to make his spells, or anything else, last beyond his death. All his efforts were aimed at immortality. He never cared about anything else."

"If you are certain," said Minerva, "I'll be pleased to welcome you at Hogwarts again, as our Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. I suppose you realize I can't appoint you Head of Slytherin. That position has been filled by Horace ever since Dumbledore's death; besides, I'm sure it is better for our Slytherin students to have a Head of House who doesn't have your aura of..."

She broke off, looking for words.

"Of deception and duplicity?" Snape offered helpfully.

"I didn't mean to use those words."

"But you meant to …. mean them? Never mind, Minerva. I'm quite satisfied with your offer."

Professor McGonagall was again observing Snape. He had changed… though perhaps not in a way one could be expected to change during months of captivity and forced labour. She liked this new Severus, but she was also rather awed by him - he reminded her of a wild animal that remained friendly only as long as he chose to.

"You haven't heard all of it yet. Your responsibilities will include looking after the potions supply of the Hospital Wing," she said.

"That's traditionally the Potions teacher's job."

"Horace has too many tasks on his hands at the moment, and he's an old man. We will break with tradition. When can you start?"

"As soon as you wish."

She considered the question for a minute.

"Today is Wednesday… How about next Monday? I can make a new timetable until then. Will you be ready?"

Snape nodded.

They discussed a few more details; then Snape went to his old private room, where he found his possessions exactly as he had left them. Being there gave him a cosy sensation, a sense of belonging that he did not want to feel now. In the long run, the school would be his workplace, not his home.

He was not surprised to find he would have to start at the bottom again – the least wanted job, fewer responsibilities, probably a bad timetable as well. He did not envy Horace the Head of House position though. It was going to be awkward enough to teach the students who had known him as the Dark Lord's choice of Headmaster; becoming Head of Slytherin would be too much now, Minerva was quite right about that. Besides, he needed more freedom than he had had before, because he was making plans – a lot of plans.

First of all, he had to make a research plan before the week was over, and he had to take it to Healer Juniperus. Then he would need time for the research… He also had to plan his Defence Against the Dark Arts course. There was a lot to make up for; Hogwarts students had not had proper DADA lessons for a year and a half. And he would need time to spend with Irene, time simply to … live.

The next day, he visited the old DADA classroom. It was in poor shape, in a part of the castle that had been severely damaged during the battle. It had been rebuilt – after a fashion – and then it had apparently been used as a storeroom for all sorts of things currently out of use. He considered having a couple of house-elves clear up, but he changed his mind. It had been his classroom for a year, and one might never know… he wanted to go through the things in there first.

It was a tiresome task, but he worked hard and with meticulous care. His precaution was rewarded when he looked behind the largest cabinet and saw a huge object wrapped in sheets of unattractive brown paper. He pulled it out, carefully lifted an already torn part of the wrapping – and gaped, dumbstruck, at the ornate gold frame that he recognized at once.

The classroom was obviously a hiding place – such an object could not be carelessly tossed away; therefore the right thing was to put it back behind the cabinet immediately. Yet… the seductive brilliance of the gold frame brought back the old feelings of enchantment and torment… yes, torment, too, perhaps mostly torment, that he had experienced all those years before, in another world perhaps, or maybe in another life. He was curious – and afraid at the same time. Would it be a good idea to look into it again and risk his peace of mind for … what exactly? For nothing. But it was too late to be wise. He wanted to know. He could delude himself, but the mirror would face him with the truth. He wanted to face the truth.

Slowly, he unwrapped the Mirror of Erised and stood in front of it. Once again, he might have been glued to the spot. The mirror had lost nothing of its power over the years. He was drinking in the sight with painful joy and acute longing. It was what he had hoped for – and also what he had not yet dared to hope for. But one could not ignore one's heart's desire when it was glaring – no, not glaring but laughing – into one's face. With determined effort, he tore himself from the sight finally, and wrapped the mirror again.

Naturally, the mirror was correct. He could only blame his own stupidity… He, of all people… As a teacher, had he not seen enough to make him reject the very idea? Anyway, he just was not the type. How could he be? The memories of his childhood served as a dire warning. And not even Dumbledore had set a proper example in this respect. As for the staff of Hogwarts in general, they were but a bunch of bachelors and spinsters, and he would have remained one of them forever if he had not been forced to leave the place for a while…

Now, other men of his age… But it was ridiculous to compare himself to anyone. And quite frankly, his contemporaries had not done an admirable job of it at all. James Potter, the hero of his son, had been dead before he could really get down to it. Granted, he had died protecting his family, but that was about the only important thing he had ever got to do - unless one counted his fatal mistake of trusting Pettigrew.

Potter's friend, Lupin, had been in no hurry; but finally he had taken an enormous risk - with the usual Gryffindor foolhardiness, Snape supposed. Then he was gone, too. And Black had never been more than a godfather. Snape shuddered. The war was over – but who could tell…? There was also Lucius, who, with all the opportunity he had got, had spoilt everything… Had he, Severus Snape, ever seen a real role model in his life?

Yet, the image of what he had found in the mirror stayed with him. It kept popping up again and again in his mind, during the hours he spent in solitude. He wished he could talk about it with Irene, but Irene was far away, and the official procedure to get a visitor's permit to enter the camp area was very slow indeed. Besides, there were other, more urgent things for the two of them to discuss, and he still did not know whether he was up tothat discussion to start with.

In the meantime, he began teaching. On average, his students seemed less put off by the extra lessons they had to take than he had expected; and some of them were eager enough to learn Defence Against the Dark Arts at last. Snape suspected that part of the excitement was caused by the curse the teaching position might or might not entail, but it did not bother him. In particular, he was positively surprised by Ginny Weasley's diligence – though he was careful not to show it. He was yet to see whether her enthusiasm would last.

His research plan having been accepted by St. Mungo's, he now divided his time between the school and the hospital. He regularly commuted from Hogwarts to London, and one evening he ran into Potter in Diagon Alley. The invitation to Grimmauld Place was repeated, and this time Snape accepted it. He had been thinking of talking to Potter about a certain matter anyway.

He got back to Hogwarts late at night, and a few days later Potter's head appeared in his fireplace.

"He's agreed," Potter announced. "It wasn't easy because he's still awfully depressed. But everyone encouraged him to try. In the end he said, since he and Fred had recruited guinea pigs at Hogwarts for their own inventions, it would only be fair if he lent other inventors a helping hand, too." Potter hesitated for a second. "Er… you are positive that it's going to work?"

"I wouldn't suggest that he try if I weren't," Snape snorted. "And I won't start experimenting on George Weasley before I've made sure that it's completely safe. I got the idea because of him in the first place."

He fell silent suddenly, and for a minute Potter was silent too. It was all too clear that he knew Snape had let slip something he had not intended to.

"It would definitely mean a lot to the whole family," Potter said finally. "By the way, they all understand that it was an accident. Percy talked about you a lot at Christmas. Do you know he will be moved to a Ministry office in London next month? Anyway, Mr Weasley says they would be delighted if you could visit them at the Burrow one of these weekends to discuss the details of the therapy. I'm usually there, too. Or you could meet Mr Weasley and George at Grimmauld Place if you'd rather do that."

"All right," Snape replied, his voice hoarse. "Either way would be fine with me."

He finished the conversation hastily, because once again his mind was full of the image the mirror had shown him. He knew what it had been triggered by. Arthur Weasley... The man was nothing exceptional, at least Snape had never seen him as such, yet Arthur Weasley had undeniably achieved something. He had raised a family that was still together, a family where everyone could count on others for support, a family where even outsiders, like Potter or the Granger girl, had found home. There must be a secret the Weasleys had discovered and which he might never find out…

He realized that it had come at a price. They had lost Fred and nearly lost Percy though in a different way, and they were obviously grieved by George's misfortune, too. (With this last issue at least, he might be able to help them.) He wondered how a real father could cope with it all. For reasons of his own, he was suddenly very eager to see Arthur Weasley.


It was early on a snowy Sunday morning and Irene was still asleep when Severus arrived. She had not expected him and she was sleepy and quite bewildered now. He had not managed to visit her yet since his departure in early January. She knew it was because of the visitor's permit, but she also suspected that Severus was too blissfully busy doing all sorts of things nowadays to really have time for her. They were in daily contact, however, and she would have expected to be notified of his arrival in advance, if only to get a chance to look her best and prettiest when they met.

"Hurry up," he said by way of greeting. "Get dressed, we're leaving."

"B-but…" she stammered, "where? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Surprise," he replied, embracing her.

To him, it never even occurred that she might look lovelier if she had been able to prepare. He found her perfect – and when he touched her, he felt tempted to change his plans for the day. It was only a strong sense of purpose that helped him master the impulse and stay in control of himself.

"Can you get ready in five minutes?"

"That's out of the question. If you had only told me yesterday-"

"I didn't know. I've only got the permit today."

"What time is it, like half past seven? How did you get a permit at dawn on a Sunday?"

"I couldn't bear waiting any longer. I broke the door on Shacklebolt and demanded a special ministerial permit at once."

"You didn't do that."

"I reminded him that I deserved this much for my troubles. He wasn't pleased. He said he had wanted to give me something better for my troubles than mere permission to enter my former prison but he might just change his mind."

"And you?"

"I told him to forget it."

Irene thought Severus might have just forfeited the Order of Merlin, but she knew better than to say it aloud. They travelled across the bog together, and Snape put his arms round her as soon as they were on the other side.

"Ready to Disapparate?"

"Where to?"

"Trust me. It's a surprise."

Irene closed her eyes and opened them only when she was standing firmly on her feet again. They had landed in front of a house and a garden in a village street.

"Where are we?"

"Make a guess."

She looked round carefully.

"This is Hogsmeade."

"Correct. Let's go in."

The house was a nice little place, though it definitely required refurbishing. The furniture was old and worn-out and seemed to have been dropped onto the floor without any particular concept. But the house was clean, and warm. The fireplace was in perfect working order. There were flowers on the mantelpiece.

"Why have we come here?"

"Don't look at the furniture, it is temporary only. I thought this place could be turned into a cosy home. Don't you agree?"

She laughed.

"It certainly could, but …" Her lips parted with amazement. "You mean it is-"

"My house. My new house. Do you like it?"

"You have bought a house..?"

"I had an old one in a Muggle neighbourhood, which I sold. I wanted something better, and I thought this one would do nicely. It's not big, as I didn't want to borrow an unreasonable amount of money from the goblins, but I think it has … potential."

"You've borrowed money from Gringotts? It's a risky business."

"I couldn't avoid it. I can't live at Hogwarts forever. I have had to build up a new life before, but this time it will be different. This will be my own life and I won't have it as a gift from anyone. I need a place of my own."

Irene was watching him closely.

"It's a lovely house," she said. "Congratulations."

"I wanted it as a surprise for you. I… couldn't wait any longer. I have a job and an income. The research is going well. I have plans. This house is a start."

He took her hand as he spoke. He wanted to do it at least tolerably right. He wanted to meet her standards.

"Will you marry me?"

Though he had no reason to doubt her answer, Irene saw a nervous glint in his eyes, which she found very endearing.

"I will, Severus. And I would even if you didn't have a job or a house."

The slight tension in his eyes did not seem to ease.

"That's because you're a naïve romantic," he replied.

"No, it's because I love you."

"All the same," he said, still so apparently nervous that Irene was beginning to wonder what the matter was, "it's important that I have all these things, because I have one more wish."

"One more wish?" she repeated with a touch of tender irony in her voice. "And what would it be, my love?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, and saw again the picture laughing at him from the Mirror of Erised. He suddenly felt relaxed… and quite certain.

"I want to be a father."