Severus Snape: The Middle Years – The Fourth Year, 1984-1985 (5)

The boats were kept busy for hours, and Hogwarts was crowded that evening – mostly with witches and wizards who had a son or daughter at the school and insisted on leaving with the child in tow. Surprisingly, none of the students complained about being forced to start the Easter break early, and Dumbledore refused to press the issue (not that anyone asked him to). By ten o'clock that night, the school was nearly deserted.

"Do you think they'll return in two weeks?" McGonagall asked, having checked and ascertained that not one Gryffindor student remained in the castle. She herself looked a bit antsy, as if wanting to be off home as well.

"It will depend on how well Hogwarts holds up during that time. Now that our exchange professor is gone, we should not have any more problems." Dumbledore swirled the mead in his glass. "Did you wish to have a holiday as well, Minerva?"

"If you could spare me. It seems all my charges are gone, so I have no real duties here."

"And you, Pomona? Filius? Severus? Are your houses empty as well?"

They all nodded. Not one of their students was left in the castle either.

"A momentous occasion," said Dumbledore. "It appears we all may take some time off this Easter. Will you go home as well, Severus? You have no family."

"I think so, sir. I mean, my neighbors don't know there was anything wrong, but I do, and it'll be good getting away. Just a couple of questions, though."

"Have you ever been at a loss for questions in all the years that I have known you?"

"I guess not. But really… First, what are you going to do about the house-elves? And second, when is Romanovsky having his hearing. I'd like to be there. To speak out against leniency, naturally." Romanovsky had been unceremoniously hauled off to the Ministry where the Aurors were to entertain him for a while. Snape knew those cells rather well, but was still unable to work up any sympathy for the erstwhile Dark Arts professor.

"I understood that a formal hearing was contemplated for May, date not yet set," Dumbledore answered. "As for the elves, it depends on the terms of the contract."

"Contract? I thought they were bound to serve one house and one family forever."

"I am sure even you have noticed, Severus, that Hogwarts is neither a house nor a family. The elves were contracted out by their families. I have been checking, and the terms of the contract seem to be for as long as Hogwarts retains its position in the wizarding world. When the building began to crumble and the magic was suppressed, they left. Now that Hogwarts's position is restored, I expect them back. Three have already arrived, did you know? It turns out that in the last thousand years their original families died out, and they had nowhere to go. They were quite thrilled to learn that they could come back without violating the contract."

"That's good to know," Snape sighed. "I was getting tired of being chief cook and bottle washer."

"How long a vacation do you think you will take?"

Snape thought for a moment. "Just a few days," he said. "I have a promise to keep."

"And what would that be?" Dumbledore looked truly curious, as did the other three heads of house.

"I need to find a lady squid who's interested in having her own lake in the high-rent part of town," said Snape. "I promised the giant squid that when the barrier went down I'd look."

"You are a glutton for punishment," McGonagall chuckled.

They all departed the next morning.

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"Russ! Russ Snape, whatever are you doing home this time of year?"

Snape turned to greet Mrs. Hanson and was immediately pressed into tea at four, an invitation he accepted gratefully. He was at the market, shopping for supplies for the upcoming week. It was only natural to run into his old baby-sitter.

"It's the Easter break right now," he explained. "I have several days free, and I had this intense desire to come home for a bit. It'll only be for about a week."

The week was wonderfully reinvigorating. Snape wandered the moors, threw the odd dart or two at the local pub, visited Mrs. Hanson, and studied. Studied late into the night every night. What he found was that giant squid live in many areas of the world, including the northern British Isles. He also found they live hundreds of feet below the surface of the sea, and that coming to the top could kill them.

So how does our squid survive, and how do I get a female to even talk to me, much less travel to the Grampians to join him?

xxxxxxxxxx

Paul Hooper lived in Norfolk, and Snape sent an owl from the Leaky Cauldron before dropping in for a visit.

"So you're the potions chap," said Mr. Hooper Sr. as he opened the door to admit Snape to their home. "Bit young for a head of house, aren't you?"

"I was four years ago when I got the job," Snape replied, remembering that the man had been in Gryffindor, and was an auror as well. "But I assure I am daily growing older."

"Well, that's all right, then. You've got Paul to settle down, and that's good, too. Come in and tell us what you need."

The sitting room was cozy, and Snape accepted a cup of tea from a plumpish Mrs. Hooper who was far more impressed about 'settling Paul down' than Mr. Hooper was. Paul himself joined them after a minute or two.

"Hey Professor, what're we after this time?" he said as he walked in.

"Whales," Snape replied. "Sperm whales. They're in the Arctic right now, so dress warmly."

"Wicked, but I thought you needed a squid."

"The squid are deep under water. The whales have to come to the surface to breathe. The whales hunt the squid. If we find the whales, chances are there'll be squid below."

"So we just fight off the whales and rescue a squid, right? Piece of cake."

"If you don't mind my asking," Mr. Hooper said calmly, "just how big are these whales anyway?"

"The males are about forty tons, the females about twenty-two tons. Paul should definitely bring his wand."

"He's under age."

"It doesn't matter," Snape pointed out. "We'll be in international waters, outside Ministry jurisdiction."

"Wicked," was all Hooper Jr. could think of to say.

The boat was a fast little motor launch that Snape rented in the Hebrides in straightforward muggle fashion, then operated by magic. It took some getting used to, especially since Hooper kept saying things like 'squid off the starboard bow' and pointing left.

"Starboard is right!" Snape yelled at him for the twelfth time. "Port is left! And don't say anything until you actually see something!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

After a while, with nothing to look at but sea and sky, Hooper began to get bored and to notice how cold it was. "When are we going to find the whales?" he started asking.

"How am I supposed to know?" Snape snapped. "You're the one who can think like animals. You tell me."

"That way," said Hooper, pointing vaguely northwest. "I'll bet there're some over there."

They sailed on for a couple of hours, seeing nothing but sea and sky. "Over this way, eh," Snape commented after a while. "Any more bright ideas, Sherlock?"

"How big are these whales, Professor? I mean, how long?"

"Males, fifty to sixty-five feet. Females, thirty-five to fifty-five feet."

"How long is our boat?"

"Fifty-two feet."

"Then I guess that one over there is too small to be a sperm whale."

Snape stopped the motor launch about as fast as you can stop a speeding motor launch without scuttling it. "Where?" he demanded.

"Over there," said Hooper, pointing. "It just came to the surface a minute ago."

"That's odd," said Snape, turning the launch toward the small whale. "If it's a baby, it shouldn't be alone. Sperm whales travel in groups and are very protective of each other."

Three hundred yards off the starboard bow, a female whale breached high into the air and came down with a crash of water like a bursting dam. Churning foam in its wake, it raced toward the launch and the baby whale beside it. On either side and behind, more whales were surfacing.

Snape had his wand out in a flash, though he wasn't sure what spells he could cast. If charms and spells of protection didn't always work on Hagrid because of his size, how could he expect them to work on a twenty ton monster? Surprisingly enough, however, the whales didn't ram the launch. Instead they surrounded the baby whale, and one of them swam over to the launch to investigate. Snape pushed Hooper forward. "Find out what they're going to do," he hissed.

Hooper was, understandably, not enthused about the contact. There was no place to hide, though, so he edged his way to the guard rail and inched along it to where he could look at the whale's eye. As soon as he established contact, the whale shifted its position to stare intently at him.

"She wants to know if we're the ones who stop the hunters," he called over to Snape after a moment. "She's seen people in small boats come out and get in the way of the hunters, and if we're like them, she won't hurt us."

"Agree with that. We're not hunting whales. We're not going to hurt any of them."

"She wants to know why we came close to the baby."

"Tell her we were surprised to see the baby and wanted to know if it was hurt."

This took a few moments, but whales are a lot smarter than squids, so the communication could be detailed and nuanced. Hooper drew away, thought for a second, then said to Snape, "The baby whale's sick."

"Sick in what way?"

"They don't know. It's sick. They don't know what to do. When they're sick, they sometimes try to beach themselves so they can be sure to keep breathing. You're a healer, right?"

"I'm not the greatest of healers, and I've never healed a whale. Don't even suggest it." It was Snape's turn to think. "If we got close to the whale, could you see what was wrong with it? I've done it with people, but I can't do it with animals."

This was passed on to the whale, who went to speak to the others. Ten minutes later, Snape was edging the launch close enough to the baby so that Hooper could look into its eye. When he was finished, he turned to Snape. "There's something in there that's all blocked up by something and whatever's supposed to go through it isn't going through."

"Wonderful," said Snape. "From that I'm supposed to make a diagnosis." He paused to reflect. "Does it have to do with the stomach?"

"No, it's beyond that, past that."

A sudden thought came to Snape. "What color are its eyes?"

"Black. No, wait. The white part of the eye is kind of yellow."

"Jaundice. Why didn't I study whale anatomy instead of History of Magic? Can you see or feel the intestine?"

"Yes."

"Is it going from a gland into the intestine? Or from a gland that goes into another gland into the intestine?"

"Uh, not sure. There's only one gland that goes into the intestine. It's really big, and the tube between the two is blocked up."

This took some thinking. Do whales have gall bladders? Aren't there some animals that don't have gall bladders? Why doesn't Hogwarts teach anatomy? To Hooper Snape said, "What about the blockage? Is it hard or is it spongy?"

"Spongy."

"Okay, I'm going to assume a tumor blocking the bile duct. Gad I wish I knew more about whales. Tell the whales I'm going to try something that might help, but I'm not sure how much it will help."

"Okay. Do you have to touch the baby to do it?"

"Now how am I supposed to touch a baby whale in the North Sea?"

"I just thought it was better if you touched it."

"Only if nothing else works. And even then, I don't want to get into the water with a whale."

"You could ride the back of a whale."

"You ride the back of the whale, you little imp. You want me alive. I have to steer the boat!"

One of the whales next to the baby left its side to allow the launch to come closer. Others pushed against the launch to slow it so that it wouldn't bump the baby too hard. When launch and calf were side by side, Snape could almost touch the young whale, who held itself very still. Holding his wand out over the creature, Snape began a low, rhythmic chant, one his grandmother Nana had used for various kinds of growths, including cancer.

Almost immediately, Snape could 'feel' the lump, and knew instinctively that except for its size and location, it was benign. He'd never thought before about the possibility of non-human species having cancers and tumors, but really it was logical. Around him he could 'feel' the clicks, whistles, and thrumming pulses that quickly harmonized with and supported his chant. The calf clicked and wriggled in discomfort, but the older whales would not let him slip away.

After half an hour, Snape could 'feel' the lump begin to soften. Its tissue was losing its integrity, the first step on the way to dissolving. The calf felt something, too, and whistled, causing the adults to increase the volume of their song. Another hour and the tumor began to break up. Another hour and it was gone. The calf expressed its relief at the removal of pressure by relieving itself.

"Merlin!" Hooper shrieked. "That stinks! What'd it do?"

"Exactly what you would do in similar circumstances. It's just bigger is all. Control yourself." To tell the truth, Snape was having some trouble controlling himself, but he had to set an example. "Wait a couple of years and that could be worth a lot of money."

"Whale poo? How?" Hooper gasped.

"Ambergris. Some of what's in there is going to coalesce and harden and be worth a fortune in the perfume industry. They can't kill whales for it anymore, so most of the time they use an artificial substance, but now and then some ambergris washes up on a beach…"

"They put whale poo in perfume! Ick! How do you know stuff like that?"

"Not all of it, just the ambergris. The rest washes away. And I read. You know – words on paper that impart information to the educated…"

The baby whale, meanwhile, was being led away by two of the adults who seemed inordinately pleased by its odoriferous productivity. The rest of the adults remained near the launch. Hooper renewed contact.

"They want to know how they can help us now that we've helped them," Hooper relayed to Snape.

There was no time to ponder the workings of a Providence that would bring a sick baby whale to exactly the right spot at exactly the right time to aide Snape in his quest. Pondering would have to wait until later. "Tell them I need an adult female giant squid, and I need her alive," Snape said.

There was extended conversation. "They don't understand why you would want a live squid. Don't you intend to eat it?"

"I intend to breed it to another squid and have lots and lots of baby squid."

"They think you're crazy. Besides, squid can't…" Hooper struggled for the word. "They can't do that thing where whales come up fast and jump right out of the water."

"Breach. And we know that. Can they bring it up slowly?"

"They don't know. They've never tried to bring a squid up slowly. You move too slow, and the squid fight back. That one whale there? She got those scars on her head when she moved too slowly and a squid fought back. Apparently a squid in a corner is a nasty thing."

"Still, we want one. Can they get it?"

There was a cetacean conference, and then one of the whales reported back. "Wow!" was Hooper's reaction. "They're smart! They usually catch the squid by stunning them with a really loud pulse, but they think that if they use clicks and whistles they can drive the squid ahead of them in the direction they want it to go and gradually bring it to the surface. If they go slowly in cold water, it should be okay. There's icebergs north of here, and they'll move in that direction if we want to meet them there."

Snape started to question the presence of icebergs in the North Atlantic at the beginning of April, then remembered the Titanic. I guess the whales really do know what they're talking about.

While the whales hunted, Snape left Hooper to apparate back to Hogsmeade, and rushed up the hill and through the castle to Dumbledore's office. "I need to be able to apparate into the lake from the North Sea," he gasped, panting from the exertion, to an astounded Dumbledore. "Can you lift the defenses? And by the way, how do you handle side by side with something that could weigh six hundred pounds?"

There were apparently a decent number of squid in the area, and the whales soon isolated one. Inch by inch and yard by yard, they coaxed it upwards and northwards until it was at the surface and close to the launch. Snape had returned, and Hooper was preparing to communicate with yet another squid.

One might argue that the situation was unfair. The squid was, after all, in immediate danger of being eaten, and hardly in a position to negotiate a better deal. It should be noted, however, that squid have none of those embarrassing anthropomorphic qualities that engender feelings of guilt in humans who exploit animals. Not only do they not mate for life, it appears that down in the sunless depths they are not always sure who or what they are mating with. The basic rule seems to be, if you bump into it in the dark and it doesn't eat you, have fun. Excitement induces hunger, and females have been known to munch on their mates… On second thought, you don't really want all this information, do you? Snape didn't either, but he had little choice since he was on a quest.

Suffice it to say that, having expected to be dinner and now being offered a romantic interlude with a lonely bachelor in a private lake with a view of the castle, the female squid was more than happy to go along.

Snape had selected one side of the lake for the new squid's introduction to Hogwarts, sealed it off from the rest of the water, and now he had to prepare it. First he apparated with Hooper back to the lake by the grotto to tell the giant squid what was happening. Then he returned to the North Sea to cut and transport ice from the berg to the isolated and temporarily walled off section of the lake where the new squid would be able to adjust to the temperature change gradually.

Dumbledore was waiting with Hagrid next to the spot designated as the holding tank, a large area about three hundred feet square. "So you really think you can do it, then? It can be tricky dealing with non-magical creatures, you know."

"Just a matter of proper, prior planning, sir."

"I take it you have yet to splinch a squid. Not a pretty sight, I can assure you."

"Do I understand by that that you have splinched a squid, sir?"

Dumbledore peered at Snape over his glasses. "Do not get cheeky with me, young man. I am a lot older than you and have experienced much more."

"What about the salt?" Hagrid asked.

"The only experience I'm interested in now, sir, is squid experience. Anything else is of little practical use." Snape was monitoring the ice melt and checking that the magical barrier confined the drop in temperature to the tank.

"What about the salt?" Hagrid repeated.

"I understand, Severus, that you are determined to complete this task because of a possibly misguided sense of obligation to a creature that would not even remember you next Tuesday if you did not constantly remind him. The effects of your actions on a wild animal cannot yet be determined…"

"Salt!" Hagrid yelled at the top of his voice, causing both Snape and Dumbledore to jump a good meter into the air.

"I don't think salinity should be a problem," Snape replied after his heart rate had dropped back under a hundred. "After all, our squid has no problem with the lake water."

"That's 'cause he's a magical squid. Born and bred here from a line o' lake squid."

"Bred? But there are no females, no other squid… How can you breed from a population of one?"

"That were a mistake," Hagrid said, glaring significantly at Dumbledore, "but as it happened before my time, I ain't gonna comment on it. As for them wild squid, they need salt in their water like the ocean. Thirty-five parts per thousand, as I recall, or they gets sluggish and then die."

"How do you know that?" Snape asked.

"I'm the gamekeeper."

"Oh." Snape stared first at Hagrid, then at Dumbledore. There was no help for it, so he swallowed his pride and said quietly, "I'm open to suggestions."

"Excellent!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "In that case, I have a possible solution. We could provide the lady squid with a cocoon that will encase her in a saline solution to protect her from the lethal lake water. What parts need to be… eh… accessible?"

That was easy, since Snape had already studied that part. "The arms and tentacles, sir. That's all. It's… it's not like people."

"Thank goodness for that. We should be able to wrap the rest of her in sea water and even protect the greater length of the appendages. Are you going to invite me onto your boat, Severus? I would be more than happy to assist you."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Snape said humbly, and he and Dumbledore apparated to the North Sea while Hagrid waited by the side of the lake to receive the new squid when she arrived and get her settled in properly.

It took all of Hooper's ingenuity to convey to the female squid that she was to be wrapped in sea water. Snape tried to work out a formula to express the weight/buoyancy issue, taking into account the relative densities of fresh and salt water, warm and cold water, factoring in the effect of ammonia… The squid didn't care because the lake wasn't deep enough to make any difference to her. Snape wanted to clarify the issue. This met with the combined resistance of Hooper, Dumbledore, and the squid. The whales also were getting impatient, and Snape gave in.

Dumbledore's first spell was Bombylis, which enclosed the squid in a gelatin-like package that kept most of its body parts surrounded by water of the proper salinity. A quick check with the squid revealed that she found this rather comfortable. Then came the hard part - apparation.

Snape left this last entirely up to Dumbledore, who had himself lowered by winch next to the squid's mantle, carefully avoiding the arms and tentacles. Quantities of deliberation and a lot of determination later, Dumbledore and the squid were on their way to the destination, leaving the whales and the launch to flounder for several minutes in the wave movement caused by the sudden disappearance of such a volume of actual and displaced water. Bidding farewell to the whales, Snape and Hooper then disapparated as well, and found themselves on the lake shore witnessing a scene of considerable power.

Apparently, as soon as the female arrived, the giant squid attacked the barrier. The female responded by attacking back. The barrier suffered, but held.

"Good heavens," Snape cried in alarm. "What are they doing?" It looked as if the two were fighting with murderous intent, or at least with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

"They are in love," replied Dumbledore, his smile more beatific than usual.

"They're going to kill each other!"

"Ah, yes. The perennial risk of dismemberment. But I am certain the two of them agree that the satisfaction is worth the risk."

"And you were worried that I might hurt them?"

"Your interference would cause unnatural harm. Their interaction may cause harm, but it would be entirely natural. I am certain you understand the distinction. If you do not, then I would advise you to take up a different hobby. Knitting, perhaps."

"Thank you, Headmaster. I shall keep it in mind. Do you think they've… eh…"

"I doubt it," said Dumbledore. "The angle was wrong. I also doubt that either one of them cared. There are certain advantages to dealing with cephalopods."

Snape left then to return the launch to the Hebrides. It was a couple of hours before he returned. Nothing had changed with regard to the squid and his new girlfriend. They mated, and then the squid swam around looking for another mate. He inevitably found the same female, though whether or not he knew it was the same female was anybody's guess. The female made no attempt to avoid the encounters, anticipating them with the same eagerness the male did. Given that there was a barrier between them, Snape sincerely doubted the mating had any effect, but the two squid didn't seem to care. Arms and tentacles interlocked in the air above the barrier, and nothing else was required. At least for the first day.

By morning, the female squid had adjusted to the temperature difference and could leave the enclosure. This proved a disruption to the ecological balance of the entire lake, since neither of the squids had any sense of propriety or decorum. Their lovemaking brought arms and tentacles perilously close to beaks, and soon bits of squid were floating randomly on the lake.

Naturally Snape thought of sushi. It was the wrong thought.

"Merlin! What a terrible taste! I thought squid were at least relatively mild, if a little chewy. What's wrong with this?"

"I do not taste anything wrong," said Dumbledore to the obvious disbelief of McGonagall and Sprout, neither of whom would probably ever try sushi again. "It reminds me of a candy I tried in Finland. Salmiakki I believe it is called. An acquired taste, I admit, but once acquired, quite nice."

"Nice? It tastes like cats'…" Snape's comment was arrested by McGonagall's glare and died unspoken. "It tastes like window cleaner smells," Snape continued, and McGonagall nodded emphatically.

"That, my dear Severus," Dumbledore said, "is the ammonia. I thought that you told me yourself that squids use ammonia for buoyancy."

"Yes, but I didn't think they would taste of it."

"Man ist was man isst," said Dumbledore. "In the winter the Finns feed their chickens with fish meal, and in the spring the chickens taste like fish. You must get used to it."

"I'll never get used to the taste of ammonia," Snape insisted, then thought of Marmite and declined to pursue the conversation further.

Another subject that was discussed at that meal sent Snape rushing downstairs. At the entrance hall he skidded to an abrupt halt. The hour glasses, which had remained empty during the magic blackout, were back, with loads of gems reflecting the points that Dumbledore had apparently calculated all the way back to September. What caught Snape's eye was the green of the emeralds – the emeralds that outnumbered the other gems – and the fact that Slytherin was ahead of everyone in the race for House Cup. His heart skipped a beat, and then he continued on down to the Slytherin common room.

It was Sunday, and all the students who had been gone for the Easter break were back, getting ready for classes the next day. Snape wasn't interested in all the students. He was interested in Josh Van Zandt.

"Who do we have for a Quidditch team?" was the first thing out of Snape's mouth when he saw Josh lounging in front of the fireplace.

"You're joking, Professor," was Josh's reply. "We haven't been able to fly all year."

"Neither have the others, so we're all in the same boat, figuratively speaking. Who do we have? Professor Dumbledore wants a match every Saturday in May and the first half of June."

Other students were gathering around now, a sense of excitement beginning to fill the room. "I don't know, sir," Josh said after a moment's thought. "We'll be at a disadvantage."

"How so?"

"No Seeker. Lionel graduated last year. Sergey, too, but it's easier to find a Beater than a Seeker. All the other houses have good Seekers, and we'll not only have to find one, but train one in two weeks."

"Task too hard for you, then?"

Josh grinned. It was clear he'd missed the chance to play Quidditch in his last year. "Too hard, sir? No way! I'll have a team out there to play, sir. We'll show them what Slytherin is made of!"

Suddenly the entire school was hit with Quidditch mania, and the rivalry extended well into the teaching staff.

"No offense, Severus, but gambling is gambling, and there's no room for sentiment. You'll have an untried Seeker, and I'll have to back Gryffindor." To be honest, Kettleburn didn't look particularly depressed at this development, since betting had never been a sentimental issue for him.

"You wait, you mercenary old dog. We'll beat the pants off Gryffindor and make you eat crow!" Snape glanced up at McGonagall, who'd come over to join the conversation. "That Cup is going to be a Slytherin Cup this year, just like the House Cup."

"You think so?" said McGonagall, settling into a chair next to Snape. "I see you made out like a bandit on the points so far. Sympathy points is all, just because you got flooded out. We've got two months to go, and we're going to overtake you and leave you in the dust. Part of that is Quidditch. We'll bury you in Quidditch. You don't even have a Seeker."

"We'll get a Seeker. We've been having tryouts for two days now, and several good prospects."

"I've seen those prospects, laddie, and I want you to know that I'm not exactly shivering in my boots. If I see anything to make me worried, I'll let you know."

"Any advice you give me, I'm checking with my team captain. You're a shrewd one, and I wouldn't put it past you to try to lead me astray."

"Drat," said McGonagall. "Foiled again."

In the middle of everything, around the first of May, the Ministry sent for Dumbledore in the matter of Hogwarts v. Semyon Romanovsky. Dumbledore asked Snape to accompany him as a material witness.

Snape was not thrilled at the prospect of reentering the Ministry and going down into the criminal courts area. He was sure Scrimgeour, Moody, and Robards would be there, and the memories were unpleasant. Still, it was necessary.

The involvement of the aurors was not the only unpleasantness. The Minister of Magic, Millicent Bagnold, was there as well, probably due to the presence of the Headmaster of Durmstrang, an intimidating wizard named Gorbachenko. The staff member accompanying Gorbachenko was another rude surprise.

"I thought Igor Karkaroff was in Azkaban," Snape whispered to Dumbledore.

"He was, but his sentence was suspended for his assistance in rounding up others."

"Was I one of the others?"

"It was after your trial. Nothing he said had any effect on what happened to you."

Snape noticed, however, that Karkaroff seemed even more uneasy at being inside the Ministry than Snape himself did, and that he kept glancing over in some trepidation, as if he had cause to be afraid of either Snape or Dumbledore. I'll bet he did give them my name, Snape thought. Gave them my name and was intensely disappointed to find that it could no longer buy him any favors.

The hearing was a convoluted one. Gorbachenko claimed breach of contract in that Hogwarts had not provided him with a Dark Arts professor in accordance with their agreement. Dumbledore countered by presenting the documents they'd found on Romanovsky showing that the Durmstrang professor was responsible for the barrier that had kept Hogwarts incommunicado from September to April, and in his turn charged Romanovsky with espionage and Gorbachenko with conspiracy to commit.

The judge was curious as to how Dumbledore acquired the documents, which led to a description of Hooper talking to the giant squid, and from there to the accusation that Romanovsky had deliberately induced the squid to attack Slytherin house, at which point Gorbachenko demanded that Paul Hooper be brought as a witness. Moody then confirmed the boy's talents, evidence accepted by the judge, and Gorbachenko charged the judge with bias.

Court was recessed to allow tempers to cool.

In the end the decision was a compromise designed to preserve international peace and cooperation. All of Romanovsky's dubiously acquired documents would remain at Hogwarts. Romanovsky himself would be remanded into the custody of Gorbachenko. Romanovsky was forbidden to return to Britain under penalty of making the acquaintance of several dementors in a northerly setting. The judge and Minister left, and the others went through the cold formality of shaking hands and wishing each other well.

Snape meandered over to Karkaroff. "How are things going, Igor?" he asked in a conspiratorially low tone of voice. "I'm glad to see you not in custody. I hear state's evidence can be very convenient."

Karkaroff glared at Dumbledore's back, then turned coolly to Snape. "I do not know what you are talking about, Severus. I was innocent, and I was released. I heard you were working for two masters."

That was not welcome news. There were too many who would consider that information a reason for seeking vengeance. "You shouldn't believe everything you hear," Snape countered.

"The source is generally considered impeccable," rejoined Karkaroff, nodding in Dumbledore's direction.

"Are you planning to stay long in Britain?"

"I am not planning to stay in Britain at all. The farther away I am, the happier I am."

"I wish you great happiness," said Snape, and went to stand by Dumbledore, thankful that Karkaroff was as eager to stay out of the company of former colleagues as Snape was. As long as he was at Durmstrang, he was no threat.

"Can we talk?" Snape asked Dumbledore after they'd left the Ministry. "Some place private."

Some place private was a pub at the foot of Fleet Street for a late lunch. The business crowd had thinned out somewhat, but the place was still crowded and noisy, and the last place other wizards would choose to meet. Snape selected steak and kidney pie and a pint while Dumbledore chose chicken Kiev and wine. Snape cast a nonverbal Muffliato, and for a minute or two they ate in silence.

Then Snape asked, with apparent calm, "How does Karkaroff know I was working for you while the Dark Lord was still with us?"

Dumbledore's fork stopped halfway to his mouth. "Who says that he does?"

"He does. According to him, the source of his information is impeccable. There are few impeccable sources of information in the wizarding world, so I thought I'd start at the top."

Dumbledore sighed. "Do you remember that after your trial I had to go to London several times for meetings of the Wizengemot? One of them included Karkaroff's hearing. He implicated several people, most of whom were already in custody."

"I was one of them?"

"You were, and I reminded the Council that I had already spoken for you and that your service to our cause was already known."

"Did you mention that I'd passed you information?"

"I said you had been at great risk."

"So if any of the others talk to Karkaroff, it'll come straight back to me. Or if Bella's right and he's not dead, and he talks to Karkaroff…"

"But you are at Hogwarts, Severus, and Karkaroff is in eastern Europe at a school that sets great importance on secrecy. I would not worry if I were you."

Snape was unusually quiet as he and Dumbledore apparated back to Hogsmeade. It seemed that everything was arranged to ensure that he remain at Hogwarts under Dumbledore's control. Both the Ministry and the former Death Eaters were a danger, and only in Hogwarts was there safety. Snape was intensely depressed by the whole thing.

Luckily, the moment he set foot in Hogwarts again, there was Quidditch. It was a measure of the depths to which Snape had sunk in such a short time that Quidditch was suddenly one of the bright spots in his life. Van Zandt had, however, come through, and the team was shaping up. A third year named Lorelei Deverill was the second Beater, and Alvira Carstairs had surprised everyone by turning out to be a rather talented Seeker. They were raw and untried, and the team had very little time to practice together, but at least it was something.

Slytherin was not in the first match, which was played the very next weekend, on Saturday the fourth of May. The first game was Gryffindor against Ravenclaw, and Sprout and Snape separated McGonagall from Flitwick in the reviewing stands. A large number of spectators had come from outside, including Moody and Bill and Charlie Weasley's entire family. Arthur greeted Snape briefly, but Molly still refused to approach him.

The game would have been boring if it weren't for…

Madam Hooch threw the Quaffle into the air and, in his excitement, a Gryffindor Beater, mistaking it for a Bludger, slammed it right into her nose. Blood spurted, the crowd roared in response, and a penalty was awarded to Ravenclaw. Hooch had to retreat while Pomfrey tended her nose, letting Kettleburn substitute as referee. "Bias!" Snape screamed. "He has a bet on Gryffindor!" but nobody heeded him, and Gryffindor scored three times before Hooch returned to the match. "That was a foul! A blatant foul!" Snape yelled at Kettleburn as the latter resumed his seat. "If they win by just ten points, I'll get you, you miserable bloodsucking toad!"

"Severus," said Flitwick gently, "they're playing Ravenclaw, not Slytherin. I do appreciate the support, but do you think you might tone it down a bit?"

"He was trying to cheat you out of a vic…"

"The game has only just started. Please sit down. Please, Severus, sit down. You're calling attention to yourself."

Snape sat, and Sprout patted his arm in a maternal sort of way. "It's been a hard year for us all, dear," she said gently, "but most of all for you. Try to think of it as just a game."

"That's right," Flitwick said. "It's only a game."

Five minutes later, Ravenclaw's Keeper was floored with a Bludger to the head, and as Gryffindor began racking up score after score, Flitwick hoisted himself onto Snape's shoulder to scream, "Stop him! Knock him off his broom! If she won't call an obvious foul, do what you have to! You can knock a Cloud Rider out of the air if you set fire to the twigs! Get the cheating little…"

"Professor Flitwick!" snapped McGonagall with her best pursed-mouth frown. "Show a little decorum, if you please! This is not a pit at a cock fight!"

"Oh, really?" Snape rejoined. "And why would the pit of a cock fight come first to mind, dear lady? Have you been known to bet on a quick pair of spurs?"

"Watch your mouth, child. I'm old enough to be your mother!"

Grandmother – Snape mouthed, which admittedly was cutting it close, but all is fair in love and Quidditch rivalry.

You are going down! McGonagall mouthed in return, and the rest of the match was spent with McGonagall on her feet, fist in the air, while Snape carried an exuberant Flitwick on his shoulders – exuberant until Gryffindor's seeker found the Snitch, and the match ended with Gryffindor on top, 210 to 140.

"We beat you in everything!" Flitwick screamed at McGonagall all the way back up the hill to the castle. "Our Beaters beat your Beaters! Our Chasers beat your Chasers! Even unconscious our Keeper beat your Keeper! The only thing you had was a lucky Seeker, because before he got the Snitch it was 140 to 60! But he's a seventh year, isn't he, and next year you're toast!"

Snape was quiet, for once paying attention to the Quidditch talk. Next weekend his team faced Hufflepuff, which was not too serious. Hufflepuff always fielded a competent team, but they lacked the fire of Gryffindor, or the drive of Slytherin, or the pride of Ravenclaw. You had to be careful when you played Hufflepuff, but if you were, you generally won. What he was paying attention to was the weekend after that when Slytherin played Ravenclaw. They would be thirsting for a win, and as cunning as it was possible for Ravenclaw to be. Snape needed to talk to Van Zandt.

Dumbledore met them at the entrance to the castle to invite everyone into the Great Hall to celebrate the first Quidditch match of the year, and to congratulate Gryffindor on its win. It was then that it occurred to Snape for the first time that Dumbledore never appeared at a game, yet always seemed to know what was going on.

It was as if he had a secret way of watching.

And then a week had passed, and Slytherin played Hufflepuff. Now Snape would sit with Flitwick and McGonagall between him and Sprout, but something subtle had changed. Snape thought it was Flitwick. Flitwick said it was McGonagall and Sprout.

"It's the fact that they're women," the little professor insisted as they walked together down the hill for the match. "One game is pretty much like another to them unless their own team is involved, and then they get very excited. We men, now, we see each game as a unique and unrepeatable event, each game having its own personality so to speak. It's the difference in perspective between the hunters and the gatherers."

"We being the…" Snape prompted.

"Hunters, of course. Plants are cyclical while prey is individual. You'll see. McGonagall will be calm regardless of what happens, while Sprout will be excited regardless of what happens."

"I seem to recall you being fairly excited about your own team last week."

"That, young man, was due to the individual events of the game. If today's game is exciting, I'll be enthusiastic. If not, I won't."

Snape thought about this carefully. And I don't usually give a pinch of owl dung about any Quidditch game unless Slytherin's winning or losing, or advancing, or falling behind. So what does that make me? Hunter? Gatherer? What's in between – exciting and cyclical? unique and at the same time devoid of individual personality? Fishing. I'm the fisherman. Fight like mad while the shad are running, then forget all about them until the next season. A pox on both hunters and gatherers. Fishing is the real sport.

Fishing made Snape think of the giant squid, and he realized he hadn't seen a lot of thrashing going on in the lake recently. He really had to study more about squid. Maybe they went into heat like dogs and cats. Maybe one of the two was sick. Maybe one of the two was dead. There is a certain disadvantage to making love with the same technique that you use to combat a mortal enemy.

The game started predictably. Part of this was due to Richie Gamp, Slytherin's Keeper. Richie had been a third year when the Dark Lord was defeated, and his father's allegiance to the Dark Lord had been made public. Richie had been singled out as a target and from that moment had played a defensive game every day of his life against students who wanted to make him responsible for every act committed by every Death Eater since the Dark Lord's advent. Aggressive defense was his whole life. Richie was a superb Keeper, one of the best in Hogwarts's history. Hufflepuff could not score a single goal. Slytherin, on the other hand, scored twice in the first twenty minutes, and Sprout began to bounce in the staff bleachers.

Then the whole game fell apart because Alvira Carstairs, Slytherin's new Seeker, suddenly decided to play like a brain-dead Gryffindor. She saw the Snitch, and she dove for it.

"Go, Alvira!" McGonagall yelled above the roar of the crowd. "Get that Snitch! Show them what you're made of!"

Snape was on his feet in an instant. "No!" he screamed. "Not 'til we have at least seventy, you fool! Not until we have at least seventy!"

Beside him, McGonagall grabbed Snape's arm and tried to push him back into his seat, all the while urging, "Be quiet, Severus. Leave the poor girl alone. She's doing a fabulous job and doesn't need you interfering with her."

It was hard at that moment to behave both like a head of house and like a gentleman. Head of house won, and Snape shoved McGonagall back into her seat, himself rising and clambering onto the bench where he'd been sitting, to join a now frantic Van Zandt and Commyns who were screaming, "No, Alvira! Not yet!" but it was already too late. Carstairs had the Snitch, Slytherin won the game 170 to nothing, and Gryffindor was still in the lead by forty points.

"I'm sorry, sir," was all Carstairs could say later in the locker room. "I wasn't thinking."

Snape wisely kept his mouth shut, since all he could think of to say were sarcastic, condescending insults. Instead he deferred to Van Zandt who was, after all, captain of the team.

"It's all right, Alvira," Van Zandt assured her. "It was your first game. You were excited. We can still make it up. I'll admit it'll be harder, but we can still make it up. Let's go over this now – what are you supposed to pay attention to?"

"The overall strategy. Gryffindor has 210. We needed at least 210. That's where I screwed up. We've only got 170."

"After the strategy?"

"Make sure they don't get the Snitch before we do."

"When you dove, was there any danger of Hufflepuff getting the Snitch?" Van Zandt asked gently.

"I don't know. I didn't look."

"Next time you'll remember," Van Zandt said, and Carstairs nodded emphatically.

Snape sought out Hooper. "Is everything all right with the squid?" he asked.

"I don't know," Hooper replied. "We're not exactly pen friends or bosom buddies. I don't think he remembers I exist… unless he needs me, of course."

"Could you check? I haven't noticed him for a while. I hope it's nothing serious."

The next Quidditch game, Saturday the eighteenth of May, was Gryffindor against Hufflepuff. It was a surprisingly intense game, given the distance between the two contestants, and one where two women heads of house were pitted against each other. It was fortunate that Snape and Flitwick sat between McGonagall and Sprout, or hair might have been torn. Gryffindor, after a hard-fought defensive battle, was victorious, 180 to 40.

The following Saturday was the Slytherin/Ravenclaw match, and this time Snape was grateful for the presence of McGonagall and Sprout, for Flitwick gave every indication of wanting to gouge Snape's eyes out. Slytherin won, 200 to 50.

It was now Gryffindor against Slytherin. The June first battle between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff was a minor entertainment. Hufflepuff won, but it did not affect the upcoming duel on the eighth, when Slytherin, with 370 points, would meet Gryffindor, with 390. Whoever won the Quidditch Cup would win the House Cup as well.

xxxxxxxxxx

Hooper found Snape the first week in June. "He isn't happy," was the first thing out of Hooper's mouth.

"Not happy!" Snape exclaimed. "I moved heaven and earth to get him a girlfriend, and he's not happy? What does he want from me?"

"Look," said Hooper, "he doesn't understand heaven at all, and earth isn't the easiest concept to get across either. He knows you worked hard, but she's not what he expected."

"What the heck did he expect? All they do is hit each other with their tentacles, and from what I can gather, that's as good as it gets. What more does he want?"

"She's not happy," Hooper explained. "She keeps complaining. Why isn't the lake deeper? Why isn't the water colder? Why aren't there more fish? Why aren't there other cephalopods she can eat?"

"Other cephalopods? Is she a cannibal?"

"From what I can gather, sir, all squid are. It positively increases your respect for humans, talking to squid does. By the way, she's also complaining about salinity, algae concentration, lack of ocean access, the unavailability of other male squid, and accuses him of being a poor provider and a mediocre… uh… mate."

"Has she compared him yet to the Joneses?"

"I'm not sure, sir…"

Snape forbore to comment further, having grown up in a small village and knowing exactly what the female squid was complaining about. "Has she asked to go home to mother?" he inquired.

"I'm not sure I understand, sir. There seems to be an external, x-chromosome specific fixation…"

"You are not a second year. You cannot be a second year. I am going to ask Dumbledore to promote you to at least fifth year."

"Thank you, sir. What do we do about the squid?"

"Does he want her to stay?"

"I don't think so, sir. He keeps thinking about how nice it was here before she came. Whenever he thinks about her, it's kind of mixed. I mean, he thinks about… thrashing his tentacles around, but he also thinks about peace and quiet, and how he hardly ever gets any…"

"Good," said Snape. "Tell him we can get rid of her and report back on his reaction."

"Yes, sir."

And then, in the middle of end-of-year exams, it was Saturday again. It was Saturday, and time for the showdown between Slytherin and Gryffindor. Time for the decision on who would win both Quidditch Cup and House Cup. Time for the decision on which house was the best…

There was no question in Snape's mind which house was the best. Which house had been flooded out, lost all its possessions on the first day at school, and risen to the top anyway, no other house being even in contention for fortitude in adversity? No other house could take that away just because of Quidditch.

The school trekked en masse to the Quidditch field for the last match of the season. Not only were the house stands full, the visitors' stands were packed as well. Snape saw Moody and Robards almost immediately and, was he imagining it, Judge Bones as well. The Weasley clan was there, and so were several Slytherin families, including the Van Zandts and the Deverills.

As the teachers approached their stand, Snape was seized by a puckish mood. Stepping to one side, he waved McGonagall ahead of him, whispering as she passed, "Age before beauty."

Her reaction was almost… almost everything he could have wished, for she hesitated, frozen in a pause pregnant with suspense. Then, remembering her youth and the fascinations of Mrs. Parker and the Algonquin Club, McGonagall turned, smiled, and rejoined, "Pearls before swine, Professor. Pearls before swine."

It was an augury of what was to come. In the past four years, McGonagall and Snape had begun to develop a relationship of friendly rivalry tinged with a barbed respect for each others' wit. Their two teams had also developed a rivalry, with Slytherin no longer the weak pushover it had been, now a rival to be respected and handled with care.

The Quaffle rose into the air, and Gryffindor took possession at once. A series of passes from Chaser to Chaser carried the Quaffle down the pitch, but then they had to deal with Richie Gamp. The first attempt at a goal was swatted back like a fly. Gryffindor recovered the Quaffle and tried again with as little success. Again they recovered, and now the Gryffindor Chaser flew at the hoops, then suddenly passed to another Chaser coming up to the second of the three hoops, but Richie was just as fast and managed to connect his toe with the Quaffle and send it flying across the field with a mighty kick.

To the regular chant of "Fly high, Gryffindor!" was now added the Slytherin response of "Bye, bye, Gryffindor," complete with a banner displaying the words just in case anyone was unclear about it.

Now Slytherin was blocked at the hoops, but on their second pass the Chaser feinted left, veered down and then back up even further left, confusing the Gryffindor Keeper and scoring a goal. Slytherin's cheers were joined from the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff stands, as were Gryffindor's boos.

"What do you think your chances are, Severus my boy?" Kettleburn yelled in Snape's ear, just a touch louder than was actually necessary.

"Small to none for Slytherin!" McGonagall interjected. "We're going to plaster them all over the field!"

"I'd say we had a pretty good chance," responded Snape. "We're hungrier than they are. Hunger has a lot to do with winning."

"So does skill," McGonagall snapped.

"We're not lacking in that either," Snape replied, watching Commyns streak across the sky and a well-aimed Bludger nearly unseat the Gryffindor Seeker. High above everyone, her eyes darting around for the Snitch, Alvira Carstairs waited patiently. This time she didn't have to worry about strategy. The game would go to the team that captured the Snitch

Gryffindor scored next, and then for fifteen minutes it became a Bludger war, with Beaters aiming at anything near a Quaffle. Snape was in his element, having always preferred the Bludgers anyway. A Gryffindor Chaser was knocked from his broom, which continued forward into the guest stands, sending Moody and Robards to the floor in a dive to escape it. "Go Bludger! Go Broom!" Snape yelled, far enough away so the two aurors would never be able to distinguish his voice. "Serves you right, you bloodsuckers!"

"My, we are taking this personally," Sprout commented, then was on her feet herself as Slytherin made a run for the hoops and scored again.

"Keep your eyes open," Snape called to Alvira, who couldn't hear him, "pretty soon you go Snitch hunting, girl!"

Gryffindor began a run, but the Quaffle was intercepted by Slytherin, and the green and silver scored again. Gryffindor retaliated with another goal, but Slytherin was still ahead by ten.

The Slytherin stands were frantic, screaming themselves hoarse, when disaster struck. Disaster pure, simple and unavoidable. The Snitch appeared, and it appeared right in front of the Gryffindor Seeker's nose. He lunged for it and missed, his fingers brushing its wing. High above, Alvira saw what was happening and dove. The Snitch zig-zagged between players and Bludgers, Gryffindor's Seeker right behind it, while Alvira plummeted down at what looked like an eighty-five degree angle, heading for the spot where the Snitch was going to be in three seconds…

The Seekers reached for the Snitch at the same time, on a collision course with each other, fingertips outstretched and broom crashing with broom in a horrible jumble that fell to the grass in a confusion of red and green. For a moment it seemed the Snitch had disappeared, but then it was suddenly visible – in the hand of the Gryffindor Seeker.

Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup, and by doing so, the House Cup as well.

Dust and ashes. It was a truly sobering thought that he, Severus Snape, could feel this way about Quidditch. He turned toward McGonagall, who was fairly bouncing with joy and excitement, with what he hoped resembled a cheerful countenance. "Congratulations, Minerva," he said, reaching past Flitwick and Sprout with his right hand extended. "An exciting end to an exciting game."

McGonagall was laughing. "Ye fought well, laddie, but we couldn't very well let you take Gryffindor's cup away from us, now could we? Ye'll have to face facts – there are some battles ye just canno' win."

Snape excused himself, saying that he had to be with his team, and went quickly down to and across the grass. Inside he was beginning to seethe. Gryffindor's cup? Battles that cannot be won? There are four houses in this school, and no law that says one of them is destined to always be on top. The Quidditch Cup is one thing. It depends on the outcome of six games that are decided as much by chance as by skill. Look at today. The Snitch was practically throwing itself at the Gryffindor Seeker, and if he'd had any skill, the game would have ended earlier. But the House Cup rewards long term teamwork and community spirit, and we were well in the lead – deservedly so – until Quidditch reared its ugly head.

His team waited off to one side of the pitch while the center was taken up by madly celebrating Gryffindors and their supporters. Snape noticed that a good percentage of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were, however, trudging back up the hill to the castle along with the Slytherin students. Not everyone agrees that the cup belongs by right to Gryffindor. There are others who'd have been happy to see us take it away from you.

"Rotten luck, sir," said Josh Van Zandt with a rueful grin as Snape approached.. "I was just telling Alvira that was a great dive she made."

It occurred to Snape that this was much more disappointing for Van Zandt than for himself. The boy was a seventh year, and this had been his last shot at the cup. "You were outplaying them," he said calmly. "If it was a question of skill, the cup would be yours. Tell me, Van Zandt, how does one factor luck into a game strategy?"

"I don't know that we can, sir. The tournament is always stacked against us and in favor of Gryffindor."

"How's that?"

"This year was different, Professor, but in a normal year we always play Gryffindor first, and Gryffindor generally plays Ravenclaw for the last game of the season. They go into that game knowing exactly how many points they need to win the cup, and they can use delaying tactics to prolong the game until they have enough. Ravenclaw's no pushover, but they don't take the risks Gryffindor does, or use the Bludgers the way Gryffindor does, so it's a pretty good bet that Gryffindor will win. They wait until they have the right number of points, then they go for the Snitch."

Snape thought for a moment. "That only works if they've won most of their matches," he said. "Wins count more than points for the cup."

"Sure," Van Zandt conceded. "If they'd lost to both Slytherin and Hufflepuff going into the Ravenclaw game… but can you see Gryffindor losing to Hufflepuff?"

"Or if Slytherin had already won all its games. The key may be winning that first November game against Gryffindor. I'm thinking of making Gamp our Quidditch captain next year…" The gasps, smiles, and sudden patting of Richie Gamp on the back told Snape this was a popular decision. "…and I was rather hoping the lot of you – you too, Van Zandt – could spend some time now, before the term ends, discussing next year's strategy."

Van Zandt's grin had gotten broader. "Sounds like you're getting more interested in Quidditch than you were four years ago, sir."

"Let's just say I'm getting tired of hearing Professor McGonagall refer to the Quidditch Cup as the Gryffindor Cup."

xxxxxxxxxx

That left the squid.

"They don't get along," Snape confessed to Dumbledore that same evening after supper. "I mean, at first they did, in the, eh, excitement of getting to know each other, but now it seems she's something of a nag."

"Does this mean that all my exertions and risks on your behalf were for nothing? I seem to recall being rather chilled in the waters of the North Sea." Dumbledore was peering at Snape over the rims of his glasses, but there was a twinkle in his eyes that clearly said he was more amused than anything.

"I wouldn't say it was for nothing," Snape replied. "He knows we keep our promises. That's something. He also had some good times while it lasted, even if he won't ever have full use of that third left arm again…"

"She bit that much off of it?"

"I'm afraid so, sir. Luckily he regards it as normal wear and tear. Anyway, something has to be done soon because she's forming those… egg things, egg sacks, on her arms, and if the eggs are laid in the lake it's going to get rather crowded."

"You mean she is pregnant."

"I don't know that pregnant is the right word, sir. It doesn't happen the way it does with people, or cows, or birds, or even fish. It's kind of an external thing. I never realized before how multi-functional a squid's tentacles were."

"But you are telling me, are you not, Severus, that these new baby squid will grow up without a father."

"Actually, sir, if we get her out now, the new baby squid will grow up with one less predator. He has no clue what those eggs are, and he doesn't associate them with himself at all. Even if we could explain the biology to him, he'd probably regard sex as a way of breeding a few more meals. They're better off without him."

"Are you not being overly pessimistic, not to mention condescending to another species?"

"We are talking about the second cousin to a garden snail, Headmaster. You should see Hooper after they've had a conversation. He gets all glassy-eyed and has trouble articulating his feelings for a good five hours."

"I shall take your word for it. What do you wish me to do?"

It was a repeat of the operation that had brought the female squid to Hogwarts at Easter time, except now they didn't need the help of any whales. Instead, Snape and Hooper went out onto the lake in a boat to 'talk' to the female squid and find out if she was agreeable to returning to the ocean. It turned out to be a dangerous task, since the female had no real concept of future time and was incensed that the transport back to the ocean wasn't happening at that very moment. Luckily Dumbledore was assisting from the lake shore, and the boat made it back to dry land sufficiently in advance of the squid to permit Snape and Hooper to leap to safety. The boat was not so fortunate.

The next time they went out – which happened to be just an hour later, since no one at this point wanted to waste any time – Dumbledore used an enlarging spell on the boat to prevent the female squid from scuttling it. Another conversation ensued between a very nervous Hooper and the squid, and Dumbledore once more lowered himself into the water, well away from her tentacles. Destined and determined, Dumbledore disapparated.

He was back five minutes later, looking very tired.

"What happened, sir?" Snape asked. "Is she all right?"

"She is fine, Severus, and her reflexes are excellent. I have just spent the last couple of minutes trying to avoid becoming supper. Do you think we might return to the castle now. I should like a glass of mead."

Hooper went eagerly back to the Slytherin common room while Snape and Dumbledore walked up to the headmaster's office. There, over more than one glass of mead, they reflected on how truly remarkable the Hogwarts giant squid was.

"Did you know," asked Snape, "that he remembers that he's talked to you, and even recalls what the conversation was about? He saved me from that vortex because he was actually thinking about the situation. Thinking! Not analyzing, mind you. I mean, he's only Wonder Squid when you compare him to other squid. Speaking in an interspecies context, there's no competition at all. A gerbil has more analytical ability. But in the world of squid…"

"Exactly so, Severus. I could not have said it better myself." Dumbledore poured them both another glass of mead.

On the whole, it was not a bad end to the school year. Certainly better than the beginning and a great improvement on most of the spots in between, though despite the peaceful end, it was a safe bet that neither Snape nor any of the Slytherin students who had been there that memorable year would ever feel quite as secure in the Slytherin common room as they had before.

Snape was standing by a window on the second floor of the castle watching as the students filed out the great oaken doors into the thestral carriages on their way to the train station. He had to look left and down because he had positioned himself at the southeast corner of the building where he could watch the students through one window and the squid through another without himself moving more than to turn slightly.

On the lawn side there was movement and noise as the excited students wished each other a good summer and piled into the carriages. On the lake side the squid rolled lazily in the sunlit water, unaware that the students were leaving. Suddenly, there was motion along the face of the cliff. Hooper was rushing down the path to make his farewells.

Snape watched quietly as boy and squid communed for one last time, Hooper presumably trying to explain his upcoming absence. All in all, the squid seemed to be taking a calmer view of things since his brief romantic interlude. Perhaps the old saying was true – better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Of course, Snape hastened to remind himself, the adage only applies to squids, not to anyone else.

Lunch was blissfully sedate. The teachers talked about their summer plans – Kettleburn was going to South America – and Snape played cribbage with Flitwick. McGonagall was discussing Quidditch with Sinistra, which started Snape thinking of strategies to take the cup away from Gryffindor. He thought about it so much that Flitwick skunked him three games running.

"Your mind's not on the game, is it?" Flitwick gloated as they packed up the cards and pegs.

"Not this game at any rate," Snape replied. "I'm plotting a revolution against her majesty."

Flitwick glanced over at McGonagall. "Frankly, I thought Slytherin deserved to win this year. Pity Dumbledore had to reinstate the Quidditch matches. No one beats Gryffindor at Quidditch."

"Has anyone ever won the House Cup without getting the Quidditch Cup, too?" Snape asked.

Flitwick grinned. "Hufflepuff, 1732," he said, "but only because two Gryffindor students kept dueling in the third floor corridors and lost points that way."

"You're joking."

"Actually, I am. But the situation is still a rare one."

"Maybe. But I'd bet a dedicated house could do it."

"And you think Slytherin is dedicated enough to manage it. Best of luck to you, Severus. Next year may turn out to be quite interesting. Not, I hope, as interesting as this year, but interesting."

The rest of the day and the day following were spent putting the classrooms and the castle in order for the summer, and then the teachers left, too, for a well-deserved break. "See you in August," they called to each other as one by one they walked down the hill to the gate and disapparated home.

Snape popped right into his own sitting room, set his Gladstone bag down in a corner, and went straight into the kitchen to light the grate and fix a pot of tea. The next couple of hours were spent with Lord Peter Wimsey, Bunter, and the sinister goings-on in an advertising agency. Then Snape went out to shop for his supper.

A pint at the local pub caught him up with the news, and the leisurely selection of just the right cut of meat for beef Stroganov gave Mrs. Hanson the opportunity to bring him up to date on the gossip. Life was blessedly normal, and Snape was content to have it so. For an entire month he would be free of classes, students, floods, earthquakes, mad Russians, and squids. Life was good.

And, if Snape had his way, after he returned to Hogwarts life would get better. For Snape was working that summer on a project. The project was a plan which, with the cooperation of the Slytherin students and the help of a little luck, would change the colors of next summer's farewell feast from red and gold to green and silver.

Winning the House Cup was quickly becoming an obsession.

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Thus ends the academic year 1984-1985.

The next story will be posted if and when the author writes it.