Severus and Minerva had walked the distance from Hogsmeade to the Castle in silence. The night was clear. Stars hung breathless, like snowflakes that had forgotten to fall to earth, and each step was the pressure of the hand that probes the numbness beneath layers of scars, finding that the old wounds will no longer bleed.

As the door of the staff room finally closed behind them Severus felt himself relax. He had survived the ordeal, and was simultaneously grateful for and amused by Minerva's high-handedness.

A touch dramatic, don't you think?

Minerva raised her eyebrows. 'Would you have preferred the alternative?'

He supposed that he wouldn't.

The cold air of the corridor was softened at the edges with a faint scent of nutmeg and oranges, but above all the Castle still smelt of itself; dust and armor polish, flagstones and age. Not quite as it had been, of course; a great deal of repair work had been necessary, Minerva had told him. Walls and windows smashed down in blasts and blazes of coloured light - or so he assumed; he had not seen it. And then rebuilt; not quite the same.

In the darkness, as Minerva's breathing steadied and slowed, Severus smiled.