A/N: Thank you so much for all the reviews and your patience! Many thanks also go to M and to Clairvoyant for all their advice, encouragement, and grammar skills. School finishes in two weeks, and I hope to speed up the editing process at that time. Until then, I hope you enjoy this longish chapter!


June 14, 2010

Dear Rose,

The little I've seen of Australia has already imprinted itself vividly in my mind. In the letter I'm sending you and your dad this week, I've tried to convey the jewel-like beauty of this land. That's not to say that England is not beautiful—the subtle differences in nature's palette make me feel more at home than these vivid, contrasting colours—nor that I wish to settle here permanently. But it is breathtaking. Last time, I was too concerned with finding my parents to fully appreciate this land.

I do wonder why we've never spent a holiday here before. From my bed at Keidas House, I can distantly see the meeting of the cloudless sky and the ocean. 'Keidas' is the Finnish word for oasis, a sentiment I echo. I wish you were here with me.

Although our Portkey departed last night (in an attempt to avoid any press), the time change means that we arrived extremely early this morning in Sydney. While Canberra is the capital of Australia, Sydney is the home of the Ministry of Magic. There are sub-branches in each of the states and territories, but the headquarters are in Sydney. We were "unofficially" greeted by the heads of the Department of Mysteries and the Department of Magical Transportation, who expressed the regrets of the Minister, who couldn't be here without drawing suspicion. I believe these two departments have oversight over our expedition because we have free rein to create Portkeys and have the credentials to be trekking in World Heritage sites.

From Sydney, we went directly to Keidas House, the home of Neil and Adelaide Erhling. Neil's parents emigrated from Finland before he was born and settled in Queensland, and I believe this is their original home. I'm not quite certain how far we are from Brisbane, but I do know that we are closer to the coast than the various rainforests. I'm amazed at how varied Queensland is—there is the Great Barrier Reef, the outback, and numerous tropical and temperate rainforests within this one state. Thank Merlin, we only have to deal with rainforests; then again, I don't know how they are going to find our poison's source in places of such incredible diversity.

It's midmorning, and we will be meeting soon to make last-minute preparations. I have yet to meet Adelaide Erhling, and I believe we will be travelling to the wizards' district in Brisbane to pick up supplies. I'm sure there will be so much to tell you later.

Thinking of you fondly,

Mum

June 15, 2010

My darling girl,

Well, the expedition has departed, and this enormous house is empty, save for Adelaide and me. I hope you and your dad are having a wonderful time looking after Calla! It was a surprise, I must admit, when Professor Snape requested that the two of you look after his dog. Would you be astonished if I told you I was slightly jealous that you've gained Professor Snape's approval in two meetings while I still feel somewhat like a schoolgirl trying to impress him? Nevertheless, I hope Calla is keeping you occupied and cheerful.

Professor Snape left with the expedition this morning, but he will be back shortly. As Potions master, he will spend most of his time in the lab here at Keidas House. I believe he wishes to observe Neville (who has been wonderful—he is so confident and sure of himself I highly doubt Professor Snape can intimidate him anymore) and ensure proper collection techniques. It was of some debate where to go first—the source's residuals revealed that it was extracted near a prominent ley line that just happens to run inland along the entire coast. Naturally, more than one rainforest resides along this line. However, the consensus is to begin in the south, in Lamington National Forest, and then work northward.

Meanwhile, Adelaide is taking me tomorrow to Targan Conservatory of Magic, Hogwarts' counterpart in Queensland. Adelaide Erhling might be the most extraordinary woman I've ever met. While she is shorter than me, she has such presence that I feel quite small next to her. However, she is such a warm-hearted and nurturing individual that I was immediately drawn to rather than intimidated by her. Adelaide, as she invited me to call her, is silver haired but looks much younger than someone her age. Neil adores her, and even Professor Snape is cordial in her presence. I will have to ask her how they met. Adelaide is also a brilliant witch; she is a former student of Nicholas Flamel and also worked with Dumbledore. Currently, she is studying how alchemists and physicists transmute metals differently. A Muggle physicist can create new particles from the collisions of old particles, but they can never produce a Sorcerer's Stone, she says. Adelaide wants to discover what magic really is, or at least, how it works.

Yes, Rose. I've died and gone to intellectual heaven! Adelaide has just made lunch for the two of us—and I haven't even told you about the wizards' district yet! Perhaps I will wait until Market Day—Adelaide told me that it is a sight unlike any you'd see in Diagon Alley.

Hope you are well!

Love,

Mum

June 16, 2010

Dear Rose,

I think I once wrote that it would take a life-or-death situation to find me willingly near a snake. Now I will be spending the next week or so in a school that honours snakes! I'm actually quite fascinated. The most prominent figure in Murri mythology is the "rainbow serpent," a giant snake that lives in the Australian waterways and reveals itself as a rainbow. It has the power to destroy and to heal, to name and to create. Such a complex character reminds me of how our own community viewed Slytherins rather single-mindedly and failed to recognize their many qualities. It is also apparent to me that we are much more aware of prejudice directed towards us than our own intolerances.

Adelaide Apparated us to the school this morning. Targan is located somewhere in the interior before it becomes the outback. After seeing a snake embellishing the school gates, I was somewhat nervous, which was rather silly of me, as it is a beautiful school run by a wonderful staff. Targan is one of the names for the rainbow serpent, I learned, and is commemorated quite tastefully in the design. I especially love the indigenous artwork decorating the school. Targan is not a castle but a series of bungalows situated in a grove of trees. The children wear short gauzy robes that seem to be the fashion in the warm weather (winter here is nothing like our winters) and are separated into Houses like Hogwarts. Adelaide explained that Houses are randomly assigned and change every two years. Australian wizards are not so concerned about coming from a Muggle background; instead, relations between Murri and non-native Australians have been a source of conflict. I am trying not to be distracted from my own task, but I have a new desire to study the integration of indigenous shamanism into wizard lore.

We met briefly with the deputy headmaster and then proceeded to the library. Adelaide is an old friend of the current librarian, a wizard by the name of Ferdinand Harrell. Unlike Madam Pince, who treated every student as a potential liability, Master Harrell is an enthusiast. If you ask for a book on northeastern Australian flora, you will receive at least two with an accompanying list of sources to cross-reference and other tomes of interest.

I took the proffered books and settled down at a desk near the south wall. The library itself is, amazingly, made of glass, yet protects the books from light and heat damage. My desk looks out over an elaborate fountain crowned by a stone serpent erupting from the water. Ordinarily, I might feel exposed in a glass room, but I loved the continuity from the room into the outdoors. Frank Lloyd Wright, the American architect, followed a similar philosophy, I believe.

I expect I will be here for more than a week. Targan possesses a large collection of books exploring native plants and potions, and I will probably read them (or at least skim) cover to cover until I can create a classification system to narrow down what the team is looking for in Lamington Forest.

Market Day is Friday—I will have a letter out for you hopefully soon. I've already written 13 inches of parchment—Professor Snape would say I'm being excessive again.

Loads of love,

Mum

June 18, 2010

Dear Rose,

Market Day will have to wait. This morning, I put in a few hours of reading at Targan and then came home for lunch. Research is actually a very complicated process. Some subjects are so specific that there are only a few treatises, but most of the time, it is a long, tiresome process. I have very few leads—I am looking for:

i. a magical plant in Queensland that is

ii. most likely located along the longest ley line in the state and

iii. most likely containing a neurotoxin.

I like to create a classification system in order to bring some sense of control to an otherwise chaotic reading session. So far, I've begun familiarizing myself with native magical flora and am also reading some theses on identifying Muggle properties in plants. The fields of potions and herbology have only recently begun integrating Muggle research into their own fields. The fact is a plant is still a plant whether it has magic or not. Honestly, I'm feeling overwhelmed. This morning, I came to the realization that I would only be able to move forward once I understood the expedition's methods.

What a fortuitous thing, then, that I was surprised by Neville while finishing my letter to you and your dad.

"Neville!" I cried out. He grinned at me.

"Surprised to see me so soon?"

"Of course. We weren't expecting you until next week!"

"Snape wanted to bring back some early samples and brew some more salve. Neil ran afoul of some Devil's Snare tracing a line into a cave and got pretty banged up before we were able to extract him."

"Devil's Snare?" I repeated, wondering how Adelaide was taking it. She'd confided in me the other night that she had her concerns, letting her husband go off into the rainforests (he's done most of his work in the outback), but respected his enthusiasm too much to forbid it.

"Yeah. Lamington is really cool and foggy—it reminds me of that dinosaur movie Ron discovered. There are lots of waterfalls and parrots. We're not expecting to find a huge variety of plants here—mostly trees and ferns—but we want to rule them out all the same."

"How do you like leading an expedition?" I conjured another chair, which Neville took. He stretched out his legs with a sigh.

"It's fine. Everyone really respects each other—even Snape, although he's not much of a talker—and most of the time there's no need to assert my authority. Rolf guides us, and Sinead and I handle the plants. Snape's been teaching us these quick diagnostic spells that identify magical plants much quicker than the traditional methods. Neil has them perfected already—makes sense, as he helped developed the theory behind them—and he's also taking measurements of the ley lines. I don't quite understand everything he's doing, but it's like he's making a magical survey. You'll have to ask him."

I'm not quite a fan of camping anymore, although I would love to take you out at least once before… anyway, I briefly wished that I could go with them.

Neville asked me about the research. I complained about the difficulty in setting parameters, and he made some suggestions.

"I would talk to Snape as well," he added. "He's going to stay here and run tests while we collect samples."

"What's your impression of him?"

"He is imposing but not intimidating. He hasn't tried to make any snide remarks about my authority, but you get the sense he's always watching and judging. Frankly, it's a good thing he and Neil get along well; when we were learning the spells, Neil knew what questions to ask in order to help us master them. Otherwise, I'm sure Snape would have flayed me alive when I couldn't get them to work at first."

"I'm sure you've earned his respect, in one way or another."

He shrugged. "Listen, I just wanted to see how you are doing before I go write a letter to Hannah. She's been incredible, letting me take off like this. How are the…" He gestured towards my legs.

"They've been a bit sore today. It's starting to work itself into my calves." Research has kept my mind off my legs, except when I do my exercises. I've taken to reciting my favourite texts by memory in order to concentrate on something else.

Neville grimaced in sympathy. "We're working as hard as we can. We'll find it."

I smiled in thanks.

After Neville left, I sealed my letter and went downstairs to borrow Adelaide's parrot, Marcel. Eastern Australians tend to use parrots rather than owls to deliver post—Harry received a couple letters from Sirius this way when we were at Hogwarts. Sinead and I met on the way and went to have tea in the kitchen. Rolf, Neil, and Adelaide were already there, munching on biscuits. Tea was wonderful, and conversation easily flowed between us all. Rolf is quiet and serious—not vague, like I originally thought—but has a brilliant sense of humour while Sinead deftly draws ideas out of her companions.

We shared our independent projects with each other, weighing in new ideas or concerns. Neil explained that his interest in ley lines originated in the Murri ideas of "pastage," or Dreamtime. The Murri believe the lines are "turingas," paths created by the gods and revitalized throughout the year by energies. Murri shamans used them to send messages, which influenced Neil's hypothesis that ley lines serve as a coordinate system for magical output. Turinga coordinates can determine Portkey destinations without needing to personally know and visualize the destination. The Australian government is actually financing our expedition so that Neil can map out the rainforests.

I had more questions about the turinga analysis, but Neil referred me to Professor Snape. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to corner him, as he stayed in his lab brewing all night and made only a brief appearance at supper. Since he will be remaining here while the expedition returns to Lamington tomorrow, I hope he will be amenable to my asking questions. Your dad would call that a "fat chance"—Professor Snape's favourite name for me was, after all, "insufferable know-it-all."

That reminds me: there is nothing wrong with learning as much as you can. I just urge you to be responsible with your knowledge. Our ability to communicate is one of our greatest strengths. Professor Snape was right; my eagerness to demonstrate my abilities cost others chances to prove themselves. Always consider how the information you wish to share will influence the people and events that surround you. On the other hand, never be afraid to say, "I love you."

And I do!

Mum

June 20, 2010

Dear Rose,

I am a fraud. Your dad and uncle touted my abilities as a researcher, but how could I expect myself to jump into a field I have not seriously studied since Hogwarts and produce the expected results? I'm staring at five piles of books stacked around me and cannot fathom how I'm going to find an answer.

Chin up, I keep telling myself. Look for patterns. Take Neville's suggestion of classifying plants by their function and properties and keep chiselling away at the shapeless granite before me. There has to be a sculpture in there.

My mind keeps coming back to you. Are you and your dad getting along? How is his cooking? Is Calla keeping you company? Are you missing me? I listen for your laughter, waiting for you to tug me towards your most recent discovery, and go to bed missing our daily read-aloud.

Darling, what am I doing here? Clearly, I am of little use to anyone.

Keidas House feels empty now that the expedition has departed again. Adelaide and Professor Snape have remained in their laboratories all weekend, no doubt engrossed in their own work. I rarely see them except at meals, and even then, Professor Snape avoids my entreaties into conversation. There has been no opportunity to seek his advice without disturbing him in his lab—something I dare not do.

As for myself, I travel between Targan and Keidas House daily. Mostly, I read and take notes on plant anthologies, looking for some clue that might lead me towards the source. Today, I decided to address my classification problem by organizing geographically by forest, but it, too, is a slow and tedious route. If only more wizards knew about neurotoxins! Most plant descriptions are limited to physical appearance, handling procedures, and common usage. I'm not usually prone to dark humour, but it seems fitting to me that there are few mentions of poisons—it would spoil their effect.

What's more, I cannot bring myself to enjoy all the interesting detours my research uncovers! There is no joy in this task, only frustration.

This is not the portrayal of your mother I wish you to see. If only I could wave my wand and intuitively know the answers I seek—then again, I've never put any stock in Divination.

Your dad would tell me to quit whinging—he's right, too.

Love,

Mum

June 22, 2010

Dear Rose,

My favourite part of Keidas House is the veranda overlooking the south side of the house. In the morning, I slip outside with a cup of Darjeeling (Adelaide has not had the privilege yet of trying blackcurrant—when we go to the market this week I will try to find some for her) and watch the birds fly about the yard. Queensland is home to over 600 species of avis, each with a distinct plumage and voice. If I'm lucky, I even spot a koala lounging in the nearby eucalyptus grove.

I came home exhausted from another fruitless day at Targan. My spirits lifted, however, when I found the letter waiting for me. Your dad's familiar handwriting adorned the epistle, and I hobbled out to the veranda to enjoy it. Because it faces south, it receives a fair amount of sunlight even in the evening. I settled in my favourite Adirondack chair and began to read the letter.

The birds had mostly settled down; there were only a few bursts of squawks and song accompanying my laughter. Ron had written a very funny account of Calla stealing a drumstick from his plate one night and his attempt to retrieve it from her. I was very glad to hear he'd settled well into my house and your routine. The toy broomstick comment did not escape my notice, however, and I promise to send him a stern warning to be careful. On the other hand, I would be very happy if you didn't inherit my fear of flying. This was the surprise he promised at the end this of the letter:

Dear Mum

I miss you and so does Calla. Its fun playing with Daddy but he doesnt read like you. When are you coming home? Tell Mr. Snape Calla is well and likes me telling her stories.

Love

Rose

I loved your surprise! Your first letter—every painstakingly written word was beautiful and every missed apostrophe endearing. How long had you laboured at it? Quickly, however, my pride became tears. You missed me. How I wanted to run on legs that didn't work towards the nearest Floo and come straight home.

Twilight came, but I was only aware of my heart hurting, the only sound my sobs.

"Are you unwell?" Professor Snape stood in the entryway. I tried to speak, but the lump in my throat prevented me from contradicting him. My desolation overrode any embarrassment I felt in being discovered by him. Surprisingly, he shut the door to the veranda and silently took the chair next to mine. I could see his face in my peripheral, stoic but not unkind.

I finally found my voice in between sobs. "No, just distressed."

"That is obvious," he spoke with a hint of amusement, but the tone was gentle. "Have you received unpleasant news?"

"No—I…" I faced him, only to find him waiting patiently, no trace of mockery in his expression. I didn't know why he was out here or why he sought to comfort a grieving woman whom he drove to tears years ago. However, the words began tumbling out: my frustrations with research, my fears of letting down the expedition, my need to be with my daughter.

The tears continued to slide down my cheeks as I told Professor Snape all of this. When I finished, my head hung in despair. Even the chipped varnish I wore on my toenails was a sign of my disgrace.

"Naturally, you are correct." My head jerked up to meet his impassive gaze. "Is that what you wish me to tell you? That while your love of your daughter is admirable, your presence here clearly demeans your commitment to her?"

Mute, I listened to my most insistent insecurities vocalized by the sardonic man beside me. Of course he was correct. Leaving you behind was a mistake—how could I have put my own interests ahead of you?

"Quit this ridiculous self-flagellation!" he snapped, clearly reading my mind and thus startling me out of my tears.

"You wished to feel useful. That is the natural reaction of any patient kept from their usual activities. And so you are here. Do not flatter yourself—you would not be here if you were not truly needed. Longbottom barely outclasses you at his own subject, with your proclivities for swallowing every book you come across."

He frowned. "Although," he added as he stood up and loomed over me, "I suppose your work contains more analysis and original thought than those regurgitated monstrosities you used to throw at me. That is beside the point, however." He looked angry now. "During Lupin's year as a teacher, I heard that your boggart represented your fear of failure. Will you let down an entire team who is counting on you for direction, whose members have thrown away their lives for the next few months, because you are experiencing a disappointing start? Let me tell you, Miss Granger, these things never come easily."

He stopped pacing. "No child should be left without a mother," he said quietly. "Would you really trade a lifetime for a few months with Rose?"

I stared at him, transfixed by his intense expression. Finally, I spoke.

"When you put it that way, I really am a dunderhead." His lips twisted wryly. I swiped at the tear tracks as he returned to his seat.

"Everyone knew my boggart was Professor McGonagall telling me I failed everything?" I suddenly asked. He smirked.

"Highlight of the staff meeting," he replied. I turned red.

"Do you think I have a chance?"

"No," he said flatly. We were silent.

"But my initial impressions of your classmates have been erroneous; there is no reason why I should not be mistaken now," he continued. "Perhaps the time has come to stop proving your abilities to yourself and to simply act."

"Thank you," I whispered. "In law, we are taught to examine the situation from multiple perspectives. I—I forgot…"

A peculiar look came over his face as I trailed off. With a sigh, he rubbed a hand over his face.

"Guilt," he spoke quietly, "is the most powerful of all masters." He unfolded his tall frame and strode to the door.

"Please..." I bit out as his slim fingers curved around the handle. He whirled around, eyes wide and nostrils flared. Belatedly, I remembered that those same words had brought about the death of another. How cruel of me to remind him after he had shown me such consideration.

"Call me Hermione," I offered weakly. His face relaxed infinitesimally, and he inclined his head.

"Goodnight," I called after his retreating form.

Perhaps the time has come to stop proving your abilities to yourself and to simply act.

I keep returning to that moment, wondering about the man who sat next to me, who listened and offered his own form of comfort, who exposed his soul briefly for the sake of a woman he barely knew.

I thank him from the bottom of my heart. Where there's life, there's hope—I am going to die in five months, Rose, unless I prove Professor Snape wrong. He's laid down the gauntlet—on purpose, I'm sure—and I am determined to succeed.

I almost feel guilty that in order to rise to his challenge, your dad won't be the only one breaking our promise to value Professor Snape's privacy.

All my love,

Mum

June 23, 2010

Dear Rose,

If I applied new varnish to my toes and wore my nicest work clothes, it was because I wanted to feel confident, not just to impress Professor Snape. Normally, he makes an appearance before I have finished my morning ablutions, but I dressed with more speed than usual in order to catch him before he disappeared into his lab for the day. As such, I nearly lost him as I turned into the main corridor.

"Professor Snape!" I called, causing him to pause at the far corner. He turned, a resigned look on his face as he watched me hobble towards him.

"Yes, Miss—Hermione," he corrected himself. The sound of my name coming from his thin lips caused my mind to blank momentarily.

"Good morning." I winced. The look he gave me was quizzical, impatient, and reserved for miscreants trying to explain themselves.

"Yes," he repeated, drawing out the word. I blushed.

"Last night—I wished to say thank you. For your kindness." Emboldened by his answering nod, I continued. "Is there anything I can do—help brew potions? Assist in any analysis?"

"Your thanks do not require an additional offer of servitude." He replied. "Unless you are… relinquishing your duties elsewhere?"

"No, no!" I hastened to assure him. How quickly I'd lost control of the conversation! "The offer stands by itself. However, I am in need of your assistance if I am to get anywhere with my own research."

"I see… Very well, then, you may accompany me to my lab." I struggled to keep up with him as he swept down a hallway. How I hate crutches! It is much easier to navigate the stairs at Keidas House than at his house in Cambridge, so I was able to temporarily avoid further embarrassment.

Professor Snape's lab was on the ground floor of Keidas House. Several cauldrons stood in the middle of the room with stasis charms over them, and a series of large glass bell jars containing various specimens lined one of the counters. On the opposite counter was what appeared to be an empty terrarium. Professor Snape transfigured a stool into a straight-backed wooden chair and offered it to me.

"Before we begin," he said as he turned to the closest counter and began sharpening a knife—I swallowed nervously. "I would remind you that I am no longer your professor and do not require you to address me as such. My surname will suffice."

"But that sounds so disrespectful!" I objected. No doubt you've noticed I always referred to him by his full title—it's a habit I haven't lost since school.

"Severus, then. You are my colleague now," he said impatiently. My eyes widened. How ironic that he recognizes me as such when I feel childish!

"Thank you," I said sincerely. He made a gesture of dismissal.

"You expressed a frustration with your research last night. What methods have you tried?" He began to dice some hellebore.

"Categorization by location, function, and magical properties," I recited.

"A logical beginning. Have you begun to cross-reference categories?" His hands deftly worked through the pile of flowers next to him.

"No, I—"

"Why ever not?" he demanded.

I wilted slightly. "There are so many native species I haven't been able to categorize them all yet."

He spun around, brandishing his knife. "You've never used the Search Spell?" Confused, I shook my head. His eyes widened. "All those extra references in your essays—do you mean you read them all?"

"Most of them. Sometimes there were tables of contents I could refer to."

Severus (why is writing his name so thrilling?) shook his head in disbelief. "I did you a partial disservice, then," he said mysteriously. "The Search Spell allows you to find a specific word or phrase."

"Like a search engine!"

"Precisely, only the spell works on a single book at a time. The incantation is Ostendo Sum Libri," he demonstrated the wand movement, "and then you immediately say the topic or phrase you wish to find."

"Thank you!" I repeated. Once again, he made a dismissive gesture; only this time, it was done gently.

"Is there anything else you wish to ask me?"

"Yes!" I jumped at the invitation. "How do you determine the different characteristics of the residuals? If I know what characteristics you use, I can add them to my matrix."

"You hardly need to know the first to answer the second." He pointed out. I smiled sheepishly.

"I've wanted to know how you do it since you collected my residuals."

He smirked. "And what if it is a trade secret?"

I must've looked disappointed enough because he gave a short, biting laugh. "Very well—as long as I don't find you've written the incantations down anywhere."

Severus retrieved a glass vial filled with clay-coloured residue from a cold chest and emptied it into the terrarium. The residue was from a flitterbloom collected in Lamington Forest. The series of spells he proceeded to cast (and that I shall not repeat) on the residue are derived from the theory of magical imprinting. Golden Snitches have flesh memories, which identify the first person to touch it. Similarly, the makeup of the plant and the conditions it grew in imprint on the plant's residuals. Severus identified not only the ley line imprint but also the quality of the soil the flitterbloom grew in, the amount of nutrients it received, and in what ways it could be used magically.

Severus is revolutionizing the field of potions development. It was a revelation watching him in his element—both intensely focused and tender with his movements. He was also surprisingly open to my questions, answering them readily. Although he spoke to me as an equal, I wondered if he saw me as an adult physically. My body has more curves in it from pregnancy, and my hair is cut in such a way (thanks to a Muggle stylist) that the bushiness has condensed into curls (by the way, Rose, if your hair is similar to mine, don't brush it!—you will only add to the frizz). Of course, he has made no mention of it. I don't mean to imply that I want him to be attracted to me! Simply, that I see him through an adult's eyes now and wonder if he does the same. I'm not making sense even to myself.

Maybe I do find his voice and hands sensual, his face striking…

Enough of that! It is sufficient to say that I have some new ideas to apply to my methods and that Severus was civil, if not pleasant. The Search Spell is a miraculous invention for times like these (usually I enjoy working my way through an entire book), and all in all, today has been the highlight of the trip!

Love you lots,

Mum

June 26, 2010

Dear Rose,

I've spent the last few days furiously making my way through Targan's herbology collection. The Search Spell allows me to follow a paper trail for each individual topic rather than read entry after entry in the hopes of finding connections. My matrix is coming along quite nicely, and I expect to be making some Arithmancy calculations soon.

We visited the market in Brisbane yesterday—all the exotic sights and smells threatened to overwhelm my senses! I wrote a long letter describing it to you and your dad and included a lovely bracelet I bought from a Torres Straight Islander for you. Although I couldn't find any blackcurrant tea (I asked your nana to send me some), I picked up a nice local blend.

The expedition also returned this morning with more samples for Severus to analyse. They are enjoying their "bushwalking," as Neil says, and took the opportunity to jump off a waterfall this past week! Insane.

Severus caught me at lunch. "If you still wish to be serviceable, I am in need of some assistance," he murmured. I was delighted to be of help. The last few days we have had very little contact except at meals—although he has done me the civility of acknowledging my presence, unlike before.

I expect I will be very busy over the next few days. We are promised a grand seafood dinner tonight, and I will be busy preparing ingredients for those potions being replenished. It is gratifying to be trusted by a Potions master to prepare his ingredients!

Oh, and today I saw a wallaby hop across the yard! I wish you could have seen her—although I'm sure you would have begged me to take her home and I would have had the great misfortune to refuse you.

Will you still love me despite not bringing home a wallaby?

Mum

June 30, 2010

Dear Rose,

Five days ago, I would have laughed if you had told me I could walk into Severus' laboratory while he was working and announce that we were looking in the wrong part of Queensland without facing a physical or verbal ejection. As such, he merely raised an eyebrow and continued to lean over a terrarium, extracting residue from a specimen. I settled into the chair he'd left transfigured since I began helping him Sunday, my hands fingering my work robe in anticipation.

When the soft green residue was completely encased within a thin glass vial, he turned toward me.

"You are going to fall out of that chair if you keep fidgeting. Here," he sent a small, dirty bronze cauldron my way, "keep your hands busy while you elaborate."

I rolled my eyes, but summoned a rag and some cleaner. Severus' lips twitched again in that wry expression I'd come to interpret as the closest thing he had to a smile, and he began cleaning his own workspace.

"What brought about that conclusion?" he asked. I tore my eyes from the disarming sight of my former imposing teacher scrubbing away and focused on my own task.

"I ran some Arithmancy calculations on my matrix compared to the readings you gave me from the source yesterday. There is an 8.7% likelihood of finding the source in Lamington Forest. I kept running over the characteristics, trying to find out what we were missing."

"And?" He prompted me as I focused all my attention on a particularly gritty spot. Good. He was intrigued.

"We've been looking too much at individual characteristics—moisture, soil content, and magical proximity."

"Increasing the number of variables reduces the number of likely candidates, though."

"Yes, but an overall condition can be missed if a single variable is missing."

"Hermione—" he warned.

"Climate, Severus! We checked moisture and soil content but not air temperature. Lamington Forest is a temperate forest; it's too cool!"

An expletive left his mouth. "That was particularly idiotic of me," he said with an edge of irritation. Severus set aside his cleaning, Summoning clean parchment. I continued to scrub at my cauldron, accompanied by the scratching of a quill as he worked furiously beside me. Severus remained focused on his task even as I began to finish cleaning the counter space around him.

"Do you need any more assistance?" I asked.

"Go away," he replied absent-mindedly. I smiled and left.

Severus worked through dinner, and Adelaide took a plate down to him before joining me on the veranda. The last few days we have spent our evenings out enjoying the twilight. Winters in Queensland are very warm and dry whereas summer is the wet season. I extended the invitation to Severus the previous day, but he'd declined. It was just as well; Adelaide and I spent the entire time talking about our children and grandchildren. She has two sons and five granddaughters who live in Sydney and Mumbai. Talking with her has helped me adjust to our separation. I miss you lots, Rose, and I hope you find comfort in your family whenever you are.

Hugs and kisses,

Mum

July 1, 2010

Happy July, Rose!

We had a rare rainstorm this morning to welcome the new month! I was at the Targan Library when it struck. The long trails of water streaming down the glass walls were an impressive sight. The humidity's effect on my hair was not.

Severus remained in his lab long after I went to bed and was already in it this morning. I imagine he is creating a new analysis spell to determine temperature. Confident in my results, I began researching Wizarding accounts of the various subtropical rainforests in Queensland. To my surprise, Lamington National Park contains both temperate and subtropical rainforests. Other likely candidates were the Eungella and Daintree Rainforests in northern Queensland.

The lab was locked when I returned this afternoon to Keidas House. Adelaide assured me that he was eating and was almost finished with the new analysis. I was surprised, however, when he joined us on the veranda this evening. There was more activity among the birds than usual, perhaps to make up for the day's drenching. Adelaide and I were sipping our tea and enjoying the impromptu concert when the door to the veranda opened and Severus stepped through.

"Good evening," he said as he nodded to the two of us, revealing a bottle of wine and three glasses in his hands. I did a poor job concealing my surprise, causing him to smirk as he poured me a glass of Viognier.

Adelaide gently inquired into his activities. Severus savoured his glass before turning to me.

"You were correct. The source indeed came from a warmer region than a temperate forest. We will have to send word to Longbottom."

"Not necessarily," I interjected. "I've been remiss in thinking of Lamington Park as one forest when it is in fact several different types of forests."

"But the subtropical forests in Lamington are farther from the ley line and are less likely to match the potency readings," he contradicted. "I take it you began looking at suitable locations today?"

I recited the various forests I had come across today. Adelaide told us what little she knew of them, and then we put aside the subject until the expedition returns. I imagine we will see them late tomorrow.

My glass was more than half-empty when I asked Adelaide and Severus to tell me how they met. Severus snorted.

"He merely acts disgruntled." Adelaide gave him a look. "I think your pride has sufficiently recovered since then. We actually conversed via letters, oh, nearly twenty years ago when our research interests crossed paths. Albus facilitated our correspondence."

I snuck a glance at Severus, whose face was expressionless as Adelaide narrated.

"We didn't actually meet until a joint alchemy-potions convention nine years ago in Cairo," she continued. "You'd been travelling for a few years then?"

She directed that at Severus, who nodded in assent.

"I have a gift for identifying Glamours and quickly saw through Severus's. We'd lost contact about the time you English began having your… political problems again, but I wished to introduce myself."

Severus gave a sharp laugh. "You call pulling me into a side hallway and wandlessly disarming me an introduction?"

"I merely wished to inform you in private that I knew who you were and thought Albus had used you horribly. I only disarmed you because you'd immediately backed me into a wall."

"And I was only reacting to a perceived threat because a strange old woman had yanked me into a dark corridor and cancelled my means of concealment! And, after you offered me your… friendship, you saw fit to inform me that I was in need of a hair—" He broke off, glaring at me. I did my best to hide my smile.

"You do look much healthier now," Adelaide observed. The look he gave her was both indignant and long suffering. Despite their first meeting, they clearly had great respect, if not fondness, for each other.

We lapsed into a pleasant silence, listening to soft tat-a-tat of raindrops falling from the eucalyptus grove into the ferns below. Adelaide presently pleaded tiredness and left the two of us to our own thoughts. I was bursting to know what all Severus had done after the war but valued my privacy enough to know when to respect his. I must have fallen asleep outside because I woke up later in the dark and found myself mysteriously in my room. My inability to sleep keeps me up, writing to you and thinking about the man who carried me inside. Isn't it interesting that most of his kindness happens under the cover of darkness, physically and metaphorically?

Love,

Mum

July 4, 2010

Some American tourists are lighting fireworks down on the beach. Today is their Independence Day—are you aware that most English history books gloss over the American Revolution? I find it especially fascinating given the Americans' own reluctance to acknowledge the less glorified aspects of U.S. imperialism both historically and currently.

Keidas House has been invaded by maps! Charts detailing topography, watersheds, ley lines, species, and population cover every surface in the kitchen and sitting rooms. Neville, Rolf, Neil, and Sinead arrived two days ago, and since then, we've engaged in numerous debates trying to determine where to search next. The final decision will be Neville's, of course, but everyone has his or her own opinion.

Neville and Sinead are disappointed to be leaving Lamington. They discovered a plant with a black, sponge-like flower they're jokingly calling Vortexus squishee, as it has the peculiar tendency to absorb anything that touches it. Severus has promised to analyse it in order to determine possible uses.

It is difficult to find solitude with the expedition here. Tonight, I managed to escape out to the veranda and found Severus already there. I turned around to leave without disturbing him, disappointed, only to hear his soft voice.

"Is my presence so disturbing?" His mild voice censures just as well as his acidic tones.

"No!" I said a little more forcefully than I intended. "I didn't wish to disturb your—"

"If you can find the power to refrain from speaking… about anything remotely connected to a forest, I will forgive you." Was he teasing me?

His pauses contain more meanings within them sometimes than the sentence itself—I found myself back in his classroom being ordered to remain silent. When I was eight years old, I heard a Bach suite for piano and decided I wanted to be a composer. This was after I set my sights on a Nobel Prize. My parents indulged all my interests by taking me to the library. When I attempted to read a text on composing, I came across a rule: there is an art to composing silence equal to the art of crafting notes in between. It came to me then that listening to Severus speak was not that far off from listening to Bach.

Once again, we found companionship in silence, except for the distant booms of firecrackers. As I was about to depart for bed, your postscript flashed in my mind, and I hastened to give Severus your message. He chuckled—chuckled! And said you were a good girl. And then ignored my demand to know how you impressed him! Prat. I'm glad he thinks highly of you, despite all this.

All my love and irritation,

Mum

July 7, 2010

Dear Rose,

As much as I love my dear colleagues, I am thankful for the peace and quiet now that they've left. We settled on exploring Eungella (pronounced yun-guh-luh) National Park first. It is a mountainous park—very inaccessible—and due to its isolation from other rainforests, hosts several unique species of animals and plants not found anywhere else. I'm extremely jealous to be unable to walk with them—Eungella is famous for its platypuses!

My own duties are similar to last week's: I spend my mornings and part of the afternoon at Targan, researching magical plant species in the Daintree and Eungella Rainforests, and help Severus in the lab until dinner. We tend to work in companionable silence, our infrequent conversations usually limited to the tasks at hand. I like to think that we are learning to perceive each other without the dressings of our past life. Also, he is less likely to sneer at me if I don't speak at all.

Severus and I continue to tactfully overlook our mutual appreciation for evenings on the veranda and simply make room for the latecomer. Our tacit rule is that whoever arrives first chooses the beverage. Until last night, I was content to sit quietly with him and absorb the nocturnal sounds. Setting down my teacup, I felt emboldened to satisfy my curiosity.

"Where did you travel afterwards?"

My voice dissipated into the night, and I feared I had ruined our quiet companionship. It was an innocent question, but what could it lead to? Neither of us wished to pry into each other's history, but one answered question would set a precedent for more.

Severus looked into his teacup and, after a long moment, sighed. "No doubt you have been waiting to ask that for days."

"Sometimes even I find myself insufferable," I replied, rewarded with a breath of laughter.

"Very well, since your curiosity won't kill you this time. You already know I was in Egypt nine years ago… " He told me about visiting Japan, Borneo, India, and Argentina. Investigating rare potions and learning to prepare ingredients in different ways. Meeting Neil and becoming fascinated with ley lines.

"I followed Neil around the outback as he surveyed ley lines for two years. When you feel you are about to discover something significant, you cannot help but remain."

"And you discovered the subtle science of potion-making," I said softly, entranced by the intensity barely contained in the man next to me. He gave me a considering look.

"It was a memorable speech," I explained.

"When did you return to England?" I prompted, discomfited by his continued scrutiny. His narrative had been interrupted, however, and it took a few minutes to prepare a neutral answer.

"I wished to begin creating new experimental techniques. England was… convenient."

"So is Australia," I pointed out.

"You're prying, Hermione," he warned. I threw him an exasperated look.

"I think I've been doing that all evening."

"Insufferable—"

"We've already established that, I think. And clearly, I don't know it all, as I am endeavouring to come to know you better."

We stared at each other askance. I'd definitely ruined our companionship.

"I apologise," I said softly, struggling to remove myself from my chair. "You've been very kind to me, and I've been nothing if not disrespectful."

"Sit down." His voice was flat. I dropped to my seat, crutches clattering to the floor. He returned my nervous look impassively.

"You are… correct."

I nodded, waiting for more censure.

"Australia was also convenient." To my surprise, he continued, no sign of rage in his voice.

"Shacklebolt had promised me an annual sum, however, which could allow me to start a private business while pursuing my experiments. And after four years of travel, I wished to establish a home. England, despite its… characters, is still… dear to me." He sipped his tea, grimacing when he found it cold.

I didn't know what to say except thank you: for giving up his home temporarily, for his unspoken forgiveness, for his attempt to acknowledge and return my companionship. We returned to our silent contemplations until I was too tired to remain outside. Severus graciously handed me my crutches as I rose.

"You realise that it will be my turn next to be inquisitor," he informed me. My delight at this peace offering was counterbalanced by my recollection of the horrible Umbridge. Thank Merlin, she is safely in Azkaban and unable to do anyone harm.

"As long as you leave off the kittens and Veritaserum." I shuddered. He merely looked amused.

"I make no promises." And he swept down the hallway once I'd passed through the veranda doorway.

I'm not quite sure yet, Rose, but I think we are friends now. I'm not sure I deserve it, but I am sincerely thankful he is not holding a grudge. Then again, his teasing threat at the end might prove otherwise…

Love from your

Mum

July 9, 2010

Dear Rose,

Adelaide joined us the past two nights on the veranda, so I've been able to dodge any personal questions from Severus. I'm not afraid to reveal myself, although my initial tendency is to keep things private. But Severus' willingness to continue, despite any personal discomfiture the other night, changed everything. If he, who is so deft at ambiguity, can entrust me with his truths, I cannot shirk my own responsibility. Nevertheless, we haven't discussed personal matters in the lab—perhaps evening is the magical hour in which all truths are revealed (never mind that the brothers Grimm claimed otherwise).

Nor is Adelaide's presence unwelcome. It is easy to converse with her; even Severus is almost chatty. Wednesday's conversation revolved around advancements in Muggle sciences (they are achieving results that rival some magical devices, but at a detriment to the environment), and Thursday's a lament at the poor quality of Wizarding fiction (does the ability to wield magic limit the imagination?). We also argued over the banishment of Dementors from Azkaban and whether the new safeguards and human security would be as effective at controlling prisoners. I would be content to sit back and listen to Adelaide and Severus debate; that they voluntarily ask and challenge my opinions is tantamount to any Order of Merlin or Nobel Prize!

And I swear I caught Severus stuffing a Sudoku puzzle into his trouser pocket this afternoon!

I hope you know I love you more than anything else and encourage you to not let your dad take any more Chocolate Frog cards than you are willing to part with. I'm being rather silly, aren't I? The truth is I'm feeling rather chuffed having just read a delightful letter from you and your dad.

Cheers,

Mum

July 10, 2010

Dear Rose,

Any trepidation I might've felt when meeting Severus last night was nullified by my cheerfulness after reading your letter. We were alone, and I was about to be questioned by one of the most fearsome people in all of England.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "A successful day?"

I smiled brilliantly. "Reasonably. I received a letter from Ron and Rose."

He nodded and frowned. "It is… curious that you and Weasley remain so… close after your divorce."

And so the inquisition had begun. If I didn't owe him anything, I certainly owe you the full story.

"We actually didn't rush into marriage after the war," I began as he poured me a small glass of brandy. The liquid's unfamiliar fire burned my throat, but gave me confidence. "Although we'd certainly been dancing around each other those last few years. Things were said, feelings shared, and suddenly, we were a couple. Immediately after the war, we travelled to Melbourne to reverse my parents' Memory Charms but were unsuccessful the first time. I didn't know enough, so I returned to Hogwarts to take my NEWTs. Professor Flitwick was able to help me fix my parents' memories while Ron and Harry were at the Auror Academy. Both of us joined the Ministry and were busy for the first few years with the cleanup.

"Harry, Ron, and I owed quite a bit of money to Gringotts for… damages… "

"I heard about the dragon."

"Yes, well, we were lucky, in a horrible way, for Voldemort—"

Severus grabbed at his forearm reflexively.

"—Killed quite a few goblins as a result. Those remaining took their anger out on the entire Wizarding community rather than just the three of us and, in addition to our fine, taxed all of us to use their vaults while repairs were being made."

"You treat the matter rather callously."

I shrugged. "I don't shed tears for them, if that's what you mean. They clung to their own form of neutrality while playing the two sides against each other."

"As did I." He was voluntarily bringing up his own part in the war?

I shook my head. "No—you were forced to maintain your cover! You did your best to protect the students from the Carrows. What I dislike about the goblins is their refusal to reason, their inability to empathize or have morals. Perhaps there are some in their code of conduct, but they have yet to admit that."

"And yet you were willing to pay for their damages."

"Of course! We had destroyed quite a bit of the establishment in our escape. It was our responsibility to help rebuild."

He sneered. "They have enough gold to rebuild on their own."

I shrugged. It didn't make any difference to me. Actually, that is a lie—there is a very sensitive line in wizard-goblin politics you do not want to cross.

"I imagine they were trying to reassert their influence post war," I mused. We argued politics for a few minutes before Severus brought us back to our original subject.

"You and Weasley put off getting married because of a goblin debt?"

"In a sense. We wanted our own house, and it took us six years to pay off the debt and earn enough money to afford both a house and a wedding. The first year was wonderful, although we continued to argue several times a week. Making up was always worth it, though, so we didn't consider it a detriment to our marriage. In hindsight, I realise that we didn't live well together in close quarters, letting our grievances fester into resentment.

"The second year, I found out I was pregnant. It was a shock, as Ron and I wanted to wait to have children, and so our fights were influenced by our fears of balancing parenthood and our careers and my hormones. But when Rose was born—" I smiled in remembrance. You were the most beautiful creature I had ever beheld. And still are!

"Those first months with Rose were the happiest of our marriage. Ron never suggested that I quit working, although I did take a few months off. We were too enthralled being parents to argue. However, all too soon we started to bicker again.

"One day, I think shortly after our third anniversary, we started fighting. I don't even remember why we grew angry enough to pull our wands on each other because Rose started crying. We'd forgotten she was in the kitchen with us and were horrified to think she might have been hurt. That was the first time we sat down and truly shared our thoughts with each other.

"Just like that, we decided we couldn't stay married. How long would the attraction last before all we did was fight? Our parents thought that splitting would be worse for Rose, but we disagreed. Neither of us could bear the thought of hurting her physically or emotionally because we knew growing up with constantly fighting parents would do that. And we were right. We've become such close friends now that we aren't married, and Rose is growing up knowing her parents love her and have great respect for each other."

"And you've never decided to… become close again, now that you are friends?" His voice was incredulous. All of a sudden, I remembered that he was a man who'd loved the same woman obsessively his whole life. If he had had the chance to reunite, to rebuild with Lily Evans before she became Lily Potter…

"Once, I would have been very tempted," I replied carefully. "But we are strong enough friends to know we cannot keep a spark going. Love must be a mixture of attraction and companionship to endure. Our relationship has always existed at the opposite extremes."

"That is very wise of you."

"I grew up," I replied. He looked me over in such a way I blushed.

"Yes," he said, a look of confusion on his face. "That would appear to be so."

That was the extent of last night. I've spent the morning writing this account and was supposed to be at Targan an hour ago. I need to confirm some suspicions about my research before taking them to Severus. He can tear apart my theories easily if I do not cover every angle, and he always seems to find an additional complaint.

I hope you understand your parents a little more now. We love you dearly!

Mum

July 12, 2010

Dear Rose,

How could I be so stupid? I can't even begin to describe my frustration—the answer to my suspicions has been in front of me ever since Severus extracted the poison's residuals! Unable to pace, I wrote question after question down on parchment, trying to find that elusive key. This morning, exhausted from a long day yesterday helping Severus extract residuals from the latest specimens, I awoke with a realisation.

I've been acting like a witch, not a Muggle. Magic solves everything, yes? How painfully false! Magic cannot prevent people from discrimination or evil. The absence of Love, which I do recognize now as the most powerful, most mysterious force, is, in my opinion, the most destructive force of all. But I digress.

I've approached this problem with the mindset of a witch: there is a magical aspect to the problem; therefore, the solution must be magical as well. Consider this, however: I have known since the beginning that my problem was neurological, and Severus confirmed it was a poison drawn from a plant. Therefore, it is a neurotoxin. We are in agreement. My research focused on identifying plants with magical uses that might match the characteristics provided by Severus because the neurotoxin acts invisibly—a magical act. Point two. I have since then scoured nearly the entire herbology collection at Targan and have been unable to provide any assistance besides a few suggestions of plants to examine, which have since proved to be different than our source.

I have tried to discover whether a plant could possibly be an identical match to the sample rather than search for a plant known to have a neurotoxin—my attempt was thwarted by the lack of Muggle biochemistry in herbology and potions, and I abandoned that avenue quickly.

My answer, so obvious now, is simply this: could the mystery plant be a completely non-magical plant?

I'm going to go down to Severus's lab and tell him my theory. This could change everything!

With lots of love and hope,

Mum

Later

Remember what I told you already, Rose? Severus takes great relish in poking holes in other's postulates. I'm sure he derives some pleasure in proving someone's idiocy, but the real reason, I've come to understand, is that a potioneer's life is always at risk when experimenting. If one part of a theory is not completely sound and the potioneer is unaware of the potential risks, they are lucky not to die painfully.

I'm quite put out because Severus told me my theory was preposterous.

"You are not thinking," he ridiculed me. "You are clearly ignoring the neurotoxin's magical properties."

I raised my hands in exasperation. "I'm tired of looking at a plant with magical properties and wondering whether it might contain a neurotoxin or not!"

"You are tired," he sneered. "How… quaint." I flushed in anger.

"Severus, we've not had a single match yet in a month's worth of effort! My work is superfluous right now, as you are disproving every suggestion I have, every specimen the team brings in. You might think this is completely impossible, but it is worth pursuing. The scope of our analysis could be cut down significantly."

"Then do it!" He snapped. My head jerked up, startled. He sighed and began more gently this time. "Hermione, this is why you are here. The rest of us do not have the time to follow outrageous leads."

I bristled at the insinuation.

"If you are correct and discover an answer to this paradox, then perhaps Lupin accurately judged you. Besides, I have never been able to control your use of time."

The glitter of his eyes and the sneer on his lips insinuated something much greater than his command of me in the classroom. Oh dear. Here's a bit of our history I have yet to share with you. In our third year at Hogwarts, Harry's godfather Sirius Black broke out of Azkaban in order to find Peter Pettigrew—James', Lily's, Lupin's and Sirius' friend who had betrayed the Potters to Voldemort and framed Sirius for the deed. Harry, Ron, and I learned of Sirius' innocence shortly before Severus came to capture him. Severus blamed Sirius for a childhood assault and the murder of his greatest friend and was "responsible" for capturing him. I hope Severus doesn't hold a grudge for the three of us knocking him out while he attempted to capture Sirius and for later robbing him of an Order of Merlin when we used my Time-Turner to go back in time and help Sirius escape on the hippogriff Buckbeak!

I made my escape from the lab in order to avoid (for now) any confrontation about my third year. My intention now is to seek out Adelaide and determine how to find a decent Muggle library. I am determined to prove Severus wrong and, just maybe, win his approbation.

Love from your stubborn

Mum

P.S.: If you are anything like me, you'll complain that I've left out all sorts of pertinent information in my narration, such as Lupin revealing his lycanthropy and the Dementors' attack, but there isn't enough time today to tell such a complicated story. I'm sure your father or uncle will be happy to oblige your curiosity. However, I will tell you why I could travel back in time. I decided to take every class offered to third years, and Professor McGonagall provided me a Time-Turner in order to take classes offered at the same time. A word of advice: do not sign up for more classes than you can manage without resorting to going back in time! One of my mistakes was to believe that I had to know everything at once. You have an entire lifetime to learn—don't be afraid to put some things aside for when you will wish you could learn something new!

July 14, 2010

Dear Rose,

It's very early—I have not slept comfortably at all. Yesterday, Adelaide took me to the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane. While I infinitely prefer the Bodleian Library, the modern architecture of the State Library was quite… remarkable. Oh dear. I'm beginning to sound like Severus!

I spent the first part of my day examining books about neurotoxins. Mind-altering and Poisonous Plants of the World was not helpful at all—I really doubt Cannabis is responsible for my condition. After a few similar books, I abandoned that angle and began looking for local accounts of neurological conditions. The librarians were helpful in finding old newspaper articles that explored such problems. It was late afternoon when I discovered a farmer's letter to the editor complaining about his cattle's zamia staggers. I actually laughed at the term, thinking it was slang for some kind of drunkenness, before I read the reply. The editor referred to a prominent Australian scientist who confirmed that there was no cure for it if the cattle already displayed loss of mobility in their lower limbs.

Loss of mobility in their lower limbs—Rose, for a second I thought someone had given me a cow's disease! Immediately, I began a new search on my computer where I'd been viewing the old articles (the Internet is incredible—wizards have nothing like it) for zamia staggers, but came up with nothing in the catalogue! Fortunately, I performed a Google search and found a definition on a highly suspect encyclopaedia called 'Wikipedia.' And I thought only wizards came up with ridiculous names!

The definition: Zamia staggers is a form of cycad toxicosis, a term for the fatal nervous disease affecting cattle where they browse on the leaves or fruit of cycads. It is characterised by irreversible paralysis of the hind legs because of the degeneration of the spinal cord. It is caused by a toxin, often called cycasin or macrozamin, a β-glycoside (the sugar of which is primeverose) of methylazoxymethanol (MAM), and which is found in all cycad genera. Following ingestion the sugar is removed by bacterial glycosidase in the gut, with the MAM being absorbed. The metabolized toxin produces tumours of the liver, kidney, intestine and brain after a latent period which may be a year or longer. The disease has been known in Australia since the 1860s and was the subject of a Queensland Government investigation during the 1890s.

Thankfully there are some differences, as the x-rays from the hospital did not reveal any tumours and I know I did not digest any poison. On the other hand, here I have a plant with no magical properties that causes nerve degeneration! My plan today is to investigate the cycad plant more thoroughly.

When I told Severus this last night, his face grew dark. "If this is possible, your assailant has a particularly nasty sense of humour."

I was confused. How could he know that?

"It is my nature to be suspicious of everything." He frowned. "This individual carefully chose a poison and method unknown. Someone that meticulous with the application must have a symbolic message implied."

"But what would that be?"

Severus leaned forward. "Use that prodigious mind of yours! What have you been working on these past months?"

"Kingsley suspected this might be an attack on the magical equity laws I was writing," I said slowly. "This individual obviously does not want Muggle-borns to have the same—" I paused, my mouth wide in disgust. "But that's horrible!"

Severus grimaced. "Deriving a poison from a condition famous for killing livestock is a rather… blatant declaration of their opinion of you or your work."

I shuddered. "But why go to such trouble to conceal the work if I was expected to discover the meaning all the same?"

Severus chose his words carefully. "I imagine that they wished you to be aware of the symbolism as you died a very slow and, in the end, humiliating death. I agree that this is a very likely source, but if we cannot determine what is influencing its unusual magical properties, then I will be unable to design an antidote that addresses all of its aspects. I'm afraid they intend you to die frustrated with that knowledge."

After some moments of silence, Severus cleared his throat.

"I will do everything in my power to prevent this end," he promised to my surprise. "But if I cannot find a solution, there… are ways to make… the end comfortable."

My eyes filled with tears. I shook my head fiercely. "I will not ask you to bear that burden, Severus! You have done so much for us already."

He looked away. "It is never enough," he murmured. I vehemently disagreed, but he shushed me with a bitter smile.

"I lived, Hermione. My death would have been proof of my atonement, but you poured a vial of Dittany on my throat so that you could give Potter a container for my memories."

I froze. So he had known my secret all along! All these years, I was afraid a life debt might exist between us, and I never wanted him to be tied to another person.

"You're wrong," I said forcefully. "On both accounts. You, of all people, have more than atoned completely. Can you not see that you were gifted a chance to live a life for yourself now?"

He scornfully raised an eyebrow. "And so you decided to be merciful?"

"No! I—I had no knowledge of your loyalties. All I knew, watching you," my voice broke, "was that no one deserved to die like that. We all had nightmares of that night afterwards! When Harry needed a vial, my hand closed around the Dittany. It was instinct," I finished lamely.

Pathetically, I asked in the silence, "Do you hate me for what I did?"

A pause.

"Don't be a dunderhead, Miss Granger." He added gently, "I had no knowledge of your role until recently. Any anger I felt in those first months after the war has since turned to resignation. I did not have to drink unicorn blood to live a half and cursed life."

My shock turned to anger. "What a waste," I said coldly.

"I beg your pardon?" he asked dangerously.

"A waste. You, Severus, are an addict! You cling to guilt like a drunkard! I've never known you to not nurse a grudge. But that is no way to live! Don't you think Lily... " His eyes were full of rage. "…would want you to forgive yourself?" And as quickly as it came, my anger evaporated, leaving me with a sick feeling. I knew I had just crossed a line.

Severus stood up and stalked away.

Rose, that man has become my closest friend these past few weeks. We work comfortably together, and I look forward every night to our time on the veranda. However, I could no longer sit back and see him punish himself for the crimes we've already forgiven, even at the cost of his friendship!

Why does this hurt so much?

Love from your

Mum


A/N: Thank you for reading!